At its Headcorn meeting in August 2008 Green Left agreed that the second draft of the Ecosocialist manifesto represented a clearer statement of aims than the first draft. We understand that further revisions may be being discussed and other revisions, amendments and additions will be discussed on the Green Left email discussion list.
The first draft of the Ecosocialist Manifesto was agreed and adopted by Green left at its meeting on 27 January 2007. The first draft can also be viewed on this page below the second draft.
EcoSocialist Manifesto: 2nd Draft
“The world is suffering from a fever due to climate change, and the disease is the capitalist development model.”, Evo Morales, president of Bolivia, September 2007
Humanity today faces a stark choice: ecosocialism or barbarism.
To the barbarities of the last century, 100 years of war, brutal imperialist plunder and genocide, capitalism has added new horrors. Now it is entirely possible that the air we breathe and the water we drink will be permanently poisoned and that global warming will make much of the world uninhabitable.
The science is clear and irrefutable: climate change is real, and the main cause is the use of fossil fuels, especially oil, gas, and coal. The earth today is significantly hotter than it was a few decades ago, and the rate of increase is accelerating.
Left unchecked, global warming will have catastrophic impacts on human, animal, and plant life. Crop yields will drop drastically, leading to famine on a broad scale. Hundreds of millions of people will be displaced by droughts in some areas and by rising ocean levels in others. Chaotic, unpredictable weather will become the norm. Epidemics of malaria, cholera and even deadlier diseases will ravage the poorest and most vulnerable members of every society.
The impact will be most devastating on those whose lives have already been ravaged by imperialism many times over, the people of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, and indigenous peoples everywhere. Climate change has justifiably been called an act of aggression by the rich against the poor.
Ecological destruction is not an accidental feature of capitalism: it is built into the system´s DNA. The insatiable need to increase profits cannot be reformed away. Capitalism can no more survive limits on growth than a person can live without breathing.
Under capitalism, the only measure of growth is how much is sold every day, every week, every year, including vast quantities of products that are directly harmful to humans and nature, commodities that cannot be produced without spreading disease, destroying the forests that produce the oxygen we breathe, demolishing ecosystems, and treating our water and air as sewers for the disposal of industrial waste.
Capitalism has always been ecologically destructive. From power plants in the U.S.A. to the forests of Indonesia; from tar sands in Canada to oil wells in Nigeria, the global drive for profit has caused untold damage to nature.
In our lifetimes, these assaults on the earth have accelerated. Quantitative change is giving way to qualitative transformation, bringing the world to a tipping point, to the edge of disaster. A growing body of scientific research has identified many ways in which small temperature increases could trigger runaway effects, such as rapid melting of the Greenland ice sheet or the release of methane buried in permafrost and beneath the ocean, that would make catastrophic climate change inevitable.
If capitalism remains the dominant social order, the best we can expect is unbearable climate conditions, an intensification of social crises and the spread of the most barbaric forms of class rule, as the imperialist powers fight among themselves and with the global south for continued control of the world´s diminishing resources. At worst, human life may not survive.
Capitalism is the primary enemy of nature, including humanity. Abolishing it has never been more urgent.
Capitalist Strategies for Change
The world is awash with strategies for contending with ecological ruin, including the ruin looming as a result of the reckless growth of atmospheric carbon. The great mass of these share one common feature: they are devised by and on behalf of the dominant global system, capitalism.
It should not surprise that the same system which drives the ecological crisis also sets the terms of the debate about the ecological crisis. For capital commands the means of production of knowledge as much as of atmospheric carbon. And just as it would be inconceivable for capital to awaken and turn itself into an ecologically rational system of production, so must it pretend to be able to heal the wounds it has inflicted on the earth. Accordingly, its politicians, bureaucrats, economists and professors send forth an endless stream of proposals, all variations on the theme that the world�s ecological damage can be repaired without disruption of the free market and of the system of accumulation that commands the world economy.
But a person cannot serve two masters, here, the integrity of the earth and the profitability of capitalism. One must be set aside, and since money rules our world, the needs of mere nature, and therefore of human survival, will be deferred under capital so that accumulation may continue. There is every reason; therefore, to radically doubt the established measures for checking the slide to ecological catastrophe.
And indeed, beyond a cosmetic veneer, essentially equivalent to the plantings in the atria of corporate headquarters, the reforms over the past thirty-five years have been a monstrous failure. Individual improvements do of course occur. Yet these inevitably become overwhelmed and swept away by the ruthless expansion of the system and the chaotic character of its production.
One fact can give an indication of the failure: in the first four years of the 21st Century, global carbon emissions were nearly three times as great per annum as those of the decade of the 1990s, despite the appearance of the Kyoto Protocols in 1997.
Kyoto employs two devices: the “Cap and Trade” system of trading pollution credits to reach certain reductions in emissions, and projects in the Global South–the so-called “Clean Development Mechanisms” (CDMs)–to offset emissions in the industrial nations.
These instruments all rely upon market mechanisms, which means, first of all, that atmospheric carbon directly becomes a commodity, hence under the control of the same class interest that created global warming in the first place. Capitalists are not to be compelled to reduce their carbon emissions but in effect, bribed to do so, and in this way, allowed to use their power over money to control the carbon market for their own ends, which needless to say, include the devastating exploration for yet more carbon resources. Nor is there a limit to the amount of emission credits which can be issued by compliant governments under the control of capital.
When we add to this the literal impossibility of verification or of any uniform method of evaluation of results, it can be seen that not only is this regime incapable of rationally controlling emissions, it also provides an open field for evasion and fraud of all kinds, along with the neo-colonial exploitation of indigenous people as well as their habitat.
As the Wall Street Journal put it in March, 2007, emissions trading “would make money for some very large corporations, but don´t believe for a minute that this charade would do much about global warming. ” The Journal called the carbon trade “old-fashioned making money by gaming the regulatory process”
And yet this worthless system remains the chosen path. All of the U.S. Democratic Party presidential hopefuls affirmed the Cap and Trade model in a recent debate. And in December, 2007, at the Bali interim climate meetings held to prepare the way for the replacement of Kyoto, which expires in 2012, opened the way for even worse abuses in the period ahead. Bali avoided explicit mention of the drastic goals for carbon reduction put forth by the best climate science (90% by 2050); it more or less completely abandoned the peoples of the South to the tender mercy of capital, giving jurisdiction over the process to the World Bank; and made offsetting of carbon pollution even easier. In sum, Bali was an orgy of neoliberalism, as no fewer than 300 corporations registered as NGOs in to gain access to the trough of pollution credits.
A tremendous world-wide radical response to the predatory system of climate regulation, and to all aspects of the life-threatening ecological crisis, is underway It has made itself felt at Bali and elsewhere, with the simple, and life-affirming principle that the only rational and just solution to the climate crisis is to keep carbon in the ground in the first place.
Beyond the great range of valuable interventions proposed by this “movement of movements”,one singular and overarching perspective is beginning to be discussed: that in order to affirm and sustain our human future, a revolutionary transformation is needed, in which all particular struggles are to be seen in the light of a greater struggle against capital itself. This larger struggle cannot be merely negative. It must announce a different kind of society, and this we name ecosocialism.
Stop Capitalist Ecocide! The Ecosocialist Alternative
Capitalist attempts to solve the ecological crisis have failed: only a profound change in the very nature of civilization can save humanity from the catastrophic consequences of climate change.
The ecosocialist movement aims to stop and reverse this disastrous process. We will fight to impose every possible limit on capitalist ecocide, and to build a movement that can replace capitalism with a society in which common ownership of the means of production replaces capitalist ownership, and in which the preservation and restoration of ecosystems will be a fundamental part of all human activity.
In other words, ecosocialism is an attempt to provide a radical civilizational alternative to the capitalist/industrial system, through an economic policy founded on non-monetary criteria: social needs and ecological equilibrium. It combines a critique of both “market ecology, “which does not challenge capitalism, and of “productivist socialism”, which ignores the earth´s natural limits.
The aim of ecosocialism is a new society based on ecological rationality, democratic control, social equality, and the predominance of use-value over exchange-value. These aims require both democratic planning that will enable society to define the goals of investment and production, and a new technological structure for humanity�s productive forces. In other words: a revolutionary social and economic transformation.
Emancipation of gender is integral to ecosocialism. The degradation of women and of nature have been profoundly linked throughout history, and especially the history of capitalism, in which money has dominated life. To defend and enhance life, therefore, is not just a matter of restoring the dignity of women; it also requires defending and advancing those forms and relations of labour that care for life and have been dismissed as mere “women´s work “or “subsistence. ”
In order to stop the catastrophic process of Global Warming before it is too late, we must introduce radical changes in:
- the energy system, by replacing the fossil fuels that are responsible for the greenhouse effect (oil, coal) with clean eolic and solar, sources of power;
- .the transportation system, by drastically reducing the use of private trucks and cars, replacing them with free and efficient public transportation;
- .present consumption patterns, which are based on waste, inbuilt obsolescence, and conspicuous competition.
To avoid endangering human survival, entire sectors of industry and agriculture must be suppressed (nuclear energy, armaments, advertising), reduced (fossil fuels), or restructured (automobiles) and new ones (solar energy, ecologically-sound agriculture) must be developed, while maintaining full employment for all. Such a change is impossible without public control over the means of production and democratic planning. Democratic public decisions on investment and technological change, must replace control by banks and capitalist enterprises in order to serve society´s common good.
Far from being “despotic”, planning is the whole society´s exercise of freedom: freedom of decision, “and liberation from the capitalist system”and liberation from the alienated and reified “economic laws” of the capitalist system, which has controlled individuals´ lives and death, and locked them in what Max Weber called an economic “iron cage. ”
The passage to ecosocialism (is an historical process, a permanent revolutionary transformation of society, culture and attitudes. This transition will lead not only to a new mode of production and an egalitarian and democratic society, but also to an alternative way of life, a new ecosocialist civilization, beyond the reign of money, beyond consumption habits artificially produced by advertising, and beyond the unlimited production of commodities that are useless and/or harmful. It is important to emphasize that such a process cannot begin without a revolutionary transformation of social and political structures based on the active support, by the vast majority of the population, of an ecosocialist program.
To dream and to struggle for a green socialism does not mean that we should not fight for concrete and urgent reforms now. Without any illusions about “clean capitalism,” we must try to win time and to impose on the powers that be; governments, corporations, international institutions ;some elementary but essential changes:
- drastic and enforceable reduction in the emission of greenhouse gases,
- free public transportation
- taxation on polluting cars,
- progressive replacement of trucks by trains,
- Introduction of eco friendly means of air and sea transport
- shifting of war spending to the ecological reconstruction of homes and workplaces.
These, and similar demands, are at the heart of the agenda of the Global Justice movement and the World Social Forums, a decisive new development which has promoted, since Seattle in 1999, the convergence of social and environmental movements in a common struggle against the system.
Global Warming will not be stopped in conference rooms and treaty negotiations: only mass action by the oppressed, by the victims of ecocide can make a difference. Third World and indigenous peoples are at the forefront of this struggle, fighting polluting multinationals, poisonous chemical agro-business, invasive genetically modified seeds, and so-called “bio-fuels” that put corn into car tanks, taking it away from the mouths of hungry people. Solidarity between anticapitalist ecological mobilizations in the North and the South is a strategic priority.
This Manifesto is not an academic statement, but a call to action. The entrenched ruling elites are incredibly powerful, and the forces of radical opposition are still small. But those forces are the only hope that the catastrophic course of capitalist” growth” will be halted. Walter Benjamin defined revolutions as being not the locomotive of history, but as humanity reaching for the emergency breaks of the train, before it plunges into an abyss.
EcoSocialist Manifesto: 1st Draft
Underlying all of Green Left’s activities is the desire for an equitable, sustainable world, and the understanding that such a world cannot be achieved under capitalism. While the vision of Green Left is encapsulated in our founding statement, we are also in sympathy with the wider ‘ecosocialist’ movement across the world. In that spirit of comradeship, we reproduce the EcoSocialist Manifesto on this page, though please note it is not a Green Left document.
The idea for this ecosocialist manifesto was jointly launched by Joel Kovel and Michael Lowy, at a September, 2001, workshop on ecology and socialism held at Vincennes, near Paris. We all suffer from a chronic case of Gramsci´s paradox, of living in a time whose old order is dying (and taking civilization with it) while the new one does not seem able to be born. But at least it can be announced. The deepest shadow that hangs over us is neither terror, environmental collapse, nor global recession. It is the internalized fatalism that holds there is no possible alternative to capital´s world order. And so we wished to set an example of a kind of speech that deliberately negates the current mood of anxious compromise and passive acquiescence. This manifesto nevertheless lacks the audacity of that of 1848, for ecosocialism is not yet a spectre, nor is it grounded in any concrete party or movement. It is only a line of reasoning, based on a reading of the present crisis and the necessary conditions for overcoming it. We make no claims of omniscience. Far from it, our goal is to invite dialogue, debate, emendation, above all, a sense of how this notion can be further realized. Innumerable points of resistance arise spontaneously across the chaotic ecumene of global capital. Many are immanently ecosocialist in content. How can these be gathered? Can we envision an “ecosocialist international?” Can the spectre be brought into being?
The twenty-first century opens on a catastrophic note, with an unprecedented degree of ecological breakdown and a chaotic world order beset with terror and clusters of low-grade, disintegrative warfare that spread like gangrene across great swathes of the planet–viz., central Africa, the Middle East, Northwestern South America–and reverberate throughout the nations. In our view, the crises of ecology and those of societal breakdown are profoundly interrelated and should be seen as different manifestations of the same structural forces.
The former broadly stems from rampant industrialization that overwhelms the earth’s capacity to buffer and contain ecological destabilization. The latter stems from the form of imperialism known as globalization, with its disintegrative effects on societies that stand in its path. Moreover, these underlying forces are essentially different aspects of the same drive, which must be identified as the central dynamic that moves the whole: the expansion of the world capitalist system.
We reject all euphemisms or propagandistic softening of the brutality of this regime: all greenwashing of its ecological costs, all mystification of the human costs under the names of democracy and human rights. We insist instead upon looking at capital from the standpoint of what it has really done. Acting on nature and its ecological balance, the regime, with its imperative to constantly expand profitability, exposes ecosystems to destabilizing pollutants, fragments habitats that have evolved over aeons to allow the flourishing of organisms, squanders resources, and reduces the sensuous vitality of nature to the cold exchangeability required for the accumulation of capital. From the side of humanity, with its requirements for self-determination, community, and a meaningful existence, capital reduces the majority of the world’s people to a mere reservoir of labor power while discarding much of the remainder as useless nuisances. It has invaded and undermined the integrity of communities through its global mass culture of consumerism and depoliticization. It has expanded disparities in wealth and power to levels unprecedented in human history. It has worked hand in glove with a network of corrupt and subservient client states whose local elites carry out the work of repression while sparing the center of its opprobrium. And it has set going a network of transtatal organizations under the overall supervision of the Western powers and the superpower United States, to undermine the autonomy of the periphery and bind it into indebtedness while maintaining a huge military apparatus to enforce compliance to the capitalist center We believe that the present capitalist system cannot regulate, much less overcome, the crises it has set going. It cannot solve the ecological crisis because to do so requires setting limits upon accumulation�an unacceptable option for a system predicated upon the rule: Grow or Die! And it cannot solve the crisis posed by terror and other forms of violent rebellion because to do so would mean abandoning the logic of empire, which would impose unacceptable limits on growth and the whole ‘way of life’ sustained by empire. Its only remaining option is to resort to brutal force, thereby increasing alienation and sowing the seed of further terrorism . . . and further counter-terrorism, evolving into a new and malignant variation of fascism. In sum, the capitalist world system is historically bankrupt. It has become an empire unable to adapt, whose very gigantism exposes its underlying weakness. It is, in the language of ecology, profoundly unsustainable, and must be changed fundamentally, nay, replaced, if there is to be a future worth living. Thus the stark choice once posed by Rosa Luxemburg returns: Socialism or Barbarism!, where the face of the latter now reflects the imprint of the intervening century and assumes the countenance of ecocatastrophe, terror counterterror, and their fascist degeneration.
But why socialism, why revive this word seemingly consigned to the rubbish-heap of history by the failings of its twentieth century interpretations? For this reason only: that however beaten down and unrealized, the notion of socialism still stands for the supersession of capital. If capital is to be overcome, a task now given the urgency of the survival of civilization itself, the outcome will perforce be ‘socialist’, for that is the term which signifies the breakthrough into a post-capitalist society. If we say that capital is radically unsustainable and breaks down into the barbarism outlined above, then we are also saying that we need to build a ‘socialism’ capable of overcoming the crises capital has set going. And if socialisms past have failed to do so, then it is our obligation, if we choose against submitting to a barbarous end, to struggle for one that succeeds. And just as barbarism has changed in a manner reflective of the century since Luxemburg enunciated her fateful alternative, so too, must the name, and the reality, of a socialism become adequate for this time.
It is for these reasons that we choose to name our interpretation of socialism as an ecosocialism, and dedicate ourselves to its realization.
We see ecosocialism not as the denial but as the realization of the ‘first-epoch’ socialisms of the twentieth century, in the context of the ecological crisis. Like them, it builds on the insight that capital is objectified past labor, and grounds itself in the free development of all producers, or to use another way of saying this, an undoing of the separation of the producers from the means of production. We understand that this goal was not able to be implemented by first-epoch socialism, for reasons too complex to take up here, except to summarize as various effects of underdevelopment in the context of hostility by existing capitalist powers. This conjuncture had numerous deleterious effects on existing socialisms, chiefly, the denial of internal democracy along with an emulation of capitalist productivism, and led eventually to the collapse of these societies and the ruin of their natural environments. Ecosocialism retains the emancipatory goals of first-epoch socialism, and rejects both the attenuated, reformist aims of social democracy and the the productivist structures of the bureaucratic variations of socialism. It insists, rather, upon redefining both the path and the goal of socialist production in an ecological framework. It does so specifically in respect to the ‘limits on growth’ essential for the sustainability of society. These are embraced, not however, in the sense of imposing scarcity, hardship and repression. The goal, rather, is a transformation of needs, and a profound shift toward the qualitative dimension and away from the quantitative. From the standpoint of commodity production, this translates into a valorization of use-values over exchange-values�a project of far-reaching significance grounded in immediate economic activity.
The generalization of ecological production under socialist conditions can provide the ground for the overcoming of the present crises. A society of freely associated producers does not stop at its own democratization. It must, rather, insist on the freeing of all beings as its ground and goal. It overcomes thereby the imperialist impulse both subjectively and objectively. In realizing such a goal, it struggles to overcome all forms of domination, including, especially, those of gender and race. And it surpasses the conditions leading to fundamentalist distortions and their terrorist manifestions. In sum, a world society is posited in a degree of ecological harmony with nature unthinkable under present conditions. A practical outcome of these tendencies would be expressed, for example, in a withering away of the dependency upon fossil fuels integral to industrial capitalism. And this in turn can provide the material point of release of the lands subjugated by oil imperialism, while enabling the containment of global warming, along with other afflictions of the ecological crisis.
No one can read these prescriptions without thinking, first, of how many practical and theoretical questions they raise, and second and more dishearteningly, of how remote they are from the present configuration of the world, both as this is anchored in institutions and as it is registered in consciousness. We need not elaborate these points, which should be instantly recognizable to all. But we would insist that they be taken in their proper perspective. Our project is neither to lay out every step of this way nor to yield to the adversary because of the preponderance of power he holds. It is, rather, to develop the logic of a sufficient and necessary transformation of the current order, and to begin developing the intermediate steps towards this goal. We do so in order to think more deeply into these possibilities, and at the same moment, begin the work of drawing together with all those of like mind. If there is any merit in these arguments, then it must be the case that similar thoughts, and practices to realize these thoughts, will be coordinatively germinating at innumerable points around the world. Ecosocialism will be international, and universal, or it will be nothing. The crises of our time can and must be seen as revolutionary opportunities, which it is our obligation to affirm and bring into existence.
Joel Kovel and Michael Löwy Paris, Sept 2001