The Belem Ecosocialist Declaration

Posted by admin on February 21, 2009 under Climate Change, Energy, Socialism, Strategy | 3 Comments to Read

[This was submitted by the Northern California CCDS for discussion, and then as a proposal for adoption.]

“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’s Choice

Humanity today faces a stark choice: ecosocialism or barbarism.

We need no more proof of the barbarity of capitalism, the parasitical system that exploits humanity and nature alike. Its sole motor is the imperative toward profit and thus the need for constant growth. It wastefully creates unnecessary products, squandering the environment’s limited resources and returning to it only toxins and pollutants. Under capitalism, the only measure of success is how much more is sold every day, every week, every year — involving the creation of vast quantities of products that are directly harmful to both 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, air and soil like sewers for the disposal of industrial waste.

Capitalism’s need for growth exists on every level, from the individual enterprise to the system as a whole. The insatiable hunger of corporations is facilitated by imperialist expansion in search of ever greater access to natural resources, cheap labor and new markets. Capitalism has always been ecologically destructive, but 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 irreversible, 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.

Left unchecked, global warming will have devastating effects 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. Air, water and soil will be poisoned. Epidemics of malaria, cholera and even deadlier diseases will hit the poorest and most vulnerable members of every society.

The impact of the ecological crisis is felt most severely by those whose lives have already been ravaged by imperialism in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, and indigenous peoples everywhere are especially vulnerable. Environmental destruction and climate change constitute an act of aggression by the rich against the poor.

Ecological devastation, resulting from the insatiable need to increase profits, is not an accidental feature of capitalism: it is built into the system’s DNA and cannot be reformed away. Profit-oriented production only considers a short-term horizon in its investment decisions, and cannot take into account the long-term health and stability of the environment. Infinite economic expansion is incompatible with finite and fragile ecosystems, but the capitalist economic system cannot tolerate limits on growth; its constant need to expand will subvert any limits that might be imposed in the name of “sustainable development.” Thus the inherently unstable capitalist system cannot regulate its own activity, much less overcome the crises caused by its chaotic and parasitical growth, because to do so would require setting limits upon accumulation — an unacceptable option for a system predicated upon the rule: Grow or Die!

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.

Capitalist Strategies for Change

There is no lack of proposed strategies for contending with ecological ruin, including the crisis of global warming looming as a result of the reckless increase of atmospheric carbon dioxide. The great majority of these strategies share one common feature: they are devised by and on behalf of the dominant global system, capitalism.

It is no surprise that the dominant global system which is responsible for the ecological crisis also sets the terms of the debate about this crisis, for capital commands the means of production of knowledge, as much as that of atmospheric carbon dioxide. 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 market mechanisms and of the system of accumulation that commands the world economy.

But a person cannot serve two masters — the integrity of the earth and the profitability of capitalism. One must be abandoned, and history leaves little question about the allegiances of the vast majority of policy-makers. There is every reason, therefore, to radically doubt the capacity of established measures to check the slide to ecological catastrophe.

And indeed, beyond a cosmetic veneer, the reforms over the past thirty-five years have been a monstrous failure. Isolated improvements do of course occur, but they are inevitably overwhelmed and swept away by the ruthless expansion of the system and the chaotic character of its production.

One example demonstrates 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 achieve certain reductions in emissions, and projects in the global south — the so-called “Clean Development Mechanisms” — to offset emissions in the highly industrialized nations. These instruments all rely upon market mechanisms, which means, first of all, that atmospheric carbon dioxide becomes a commodity under the control of the same interests that created global warming. Polluters are not compelled to reduce their carbon emissions, but allowed to use their power over money to control the carbon market for their own ends, which include the devastating exploration for yet more carbon-based fuels. Nor is there a limit to the amount of emission credits which can be issued by compliant governments.

Since verification and evaluation of results are impossible, the Kyoto regime is not only incapable of controlling emissions, it also provides ample opportunities for evasion and fraud of all kinds. As even 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 Bali climate meetings in 2007 opened the way for even greater abuses in the period ahead. Bali avoided any mention of the goals for drastic carbon reduction put forth by the best climate science (90% by 2050); it abandoned the peoples of the global south to the mercy of capital by giving jurisdiction over the process to the World Bank; and made offsetting of carbon pollution even easier.

In order to affirm and sustain our human future, a revolutionary transformation is needed, where all particular struggles take part in a greater struggle against capital itself. This larger struggle cannot remain merely negative and anti-capitalist. It must announce and build a different kind of society, and this is ecosocialism.

The Ecosocialist  Alternative

The ecosocialist movement aims to stop and to reverse the disastrous process of global warming in particular and of capitalist ecocide in general, and to construct a radical and practical alternative to the capitalist system. Ecosocialism is grounded in a transformed economy founded on the non-monetary values of social justice and ecological balance. It criticizes both capitalist “market ecology” and productivist socialism, which ignored the earth’s equilibrium and limits. It redefines the path and goal of socialism within an ecological and democratic framework.

Ecosocialism involves a revolutionary social transformation, which will imply the limitation of growth and the transformation of needs by a profound shift away from quantitative and toward qualitative economic criteria, an emphasis on use-value instead of exchange-value.

These aims require both democratic decision-making in the economic sphere, enabling society to collectively define its goals of investment and production, and the collectivization of the means of production.  Only collective decision-making and ownership of production can offer the longer-term perspective that is necessary for the balance and sustainability of our social and natural systems.

The rejection of productivism and the shift away from quantitative and toward qualitative economic criteria involve rethinking the nature and goals of production and economic activity in general. Essential creative, non-productive and reproductive human activities, such as householding, child-rearing, care, child and adult education, and the arts, will be key values in an ecosocialist economy.

Clean air and water and fertile soil, as well as universal access to chemical-free food and renewable, non-polluting energy sources, are basic human and natural rights defended by ecosocialism. Far from being “despotic,” collective policy-making on the local, regional,  national and international levels amounts to society’s exercise of communal freedom and responsibility. This freedom of decision constitutes a liberation from the alienating economic “laws” of the growth-oriented capitalist system.

To avoid global warming and other dangers threatening  human and ecological survival, entire sectors of industry and agriculture must be suppressed, reduced, or restructured and others must be developed, while providing full employment for all. Such a radical transformation is impossible without collective control of the means of production and democratic planning of production and exchange. Democratic decisions on investment and technological development must replace control by capitalist enterprises, investors and banks, in order to serve the long-term horizon of society’s and nature’s common good.

The most oppressed elements of human society, the poor and indigenous peoples, must take full part in the ecosocialist revolution, in order to revitalize ecologically sustainable traditions and give voice to those whom the capitalist system cannot hear. Because the peoples of the global south and the poor in general are the first victims of capitalist destruction, their struggles and demands will help define the contours of the ecologically and economically sustainable society in creation. Similarly, gender equality is integral to ecosocialism, and women’s movements have been among the most active and vocal opponents of capitalist oppression. Other potential agents of ecosocialist revolutionary change exist in all societies.

Such a process cannot begin without a revolutionary transformation of social and political structures based on the active support, by the majority of the population, of an ecosocialist program. The struggle of labour — workers, farmers, the landless and the unemployed — for social justice is inseparable from the struggle for environmental justice. Capitalism, socially and ecologically exploitative and polluting, is the enemy of nature and of labour alike.

Ecosocialism proposes radical transformations in:

1. the energy system, by replacing carbon-based fuels and biofuels with clean sources of power under community control: wind, geothermal, wave, and above all, solar power.

2. the transportation system, by drastically reducing the use of private trucks and cars, replacing them with free and efficient public transportation;

3. present patterns of production, consumption, and building, which are based on waste, inbuilt obsolescence, competition and pollution, by producing only sustainable and recyclable goods and developing green architecture;

4. food production and distribution, by defending local food sovereignty as far as this is possible, eliminating polluting industrial agribusinesses, creating sustainable agro-ecosystems and working actively to renew soil fertility.

To theorize and to work toward realizing the goal of green socialism does not mean that we should not also fight for concrete and urgent reforms right now. Without any illusions about “clean capitalism,” we must work to impose on the powers that be — governments, corporations, international institutions — some elementary but essential immediate changes:

* drastic and enforceable reduction in the emission of greenhouse gases,
* development of clean energy sources,
* provision of an extensive free public transportation system,
* progressive replacement of trucks by trains,
* creation of pollution clean-up programs,
* elimination of nuclear energy, and war spending.

These and similar demands are at the heart of the agenda of the Global Justice movement and the World Social Forums, which have promoted, since Seattle in 1999, the convergence of social and environmental movements in a common struggle against the capitalist system.

Environmental devastation will not be stopped in conference rooms and treaty negotiations: only mass action can make a difference. Urban and rural workers, peoples of the global south and indigenous peoples everywhere are at the forefront of this struggle against environmental and social injustice, fighting exploitative and polluting multinationals, poisonous and disenfranchising agribusinesses, invasive genetically modified seeds, biofuels that only aggravate the current food crisis. We must further these social-environmental movements and build solidarity between anticapitalist ecological mobilizations in the North and the South.

This Ecosocialist Declaration is a call to action. The entrenched ruling classes are powerful, yet the capitalist system reveals itself every day more financially and ideologically bankrupt, unable to overcome the economic, ecological, social, food and other crises it engenders. And the forces of radical opposition are alive and vital. On all levels, local, regional and international, we are fighting to create an alternative system based in social and ecological justice.

  • admin said,

    I do not agree with endorsing this document. It needs to be discussed.

    There is much in it that I disagree with. I also think that it places us outside the efforts of the progressive majority to address the climate and economic crises.

    Ted Pearson, Chicago
    ——

    ‘the efforts of the progressive majority to address the climate and

    economic crises’

    when did the progressive majority have its convention and what program did it adopt that adequately addressing either the climate change or economic crises?

    we’re being caught up in rhetoric.

    carl bloice, san Francisco
    ——

    I’ve yet to see it spelled out anywhere, however, that capitalism, of necessity, requires the burning of carbon and uranium to survive, as opposed to harassing all the renewables rooted in the Sun and Moon–wind, wave, geothermal, hydro, photovoltaics. A good number of venture capitalists already see the writing on the wall and are scrambling to get to the trough early.

    I’ll agree that it’s very difficult and will require massive struggles and campaigns to make such a major structural change at the heart of all current economies. But it’s not structurally impossible, or otherwise an oxymoron, for there to be both a capitalism and a socialism running entirely on renewable energies. The hydrocarbon industry will have to be restricted into irrelevance, as was the traffic in slaves and slave production; in the case of the latter, capitalism not only survived, it thrived, even though its birth was rooted in the latter as well.

    The Green Jobs battles, as envisioned by Van Jones and others, are already embarked on the task. In that sense, I think CCDS endorsing his ‘Green Collar Economy’ book would be a better move than endorsing this Belem document.

    Moreover, I have no idea what the Belem document means by ‘productivity socialism,’ which it opposes. I certainly would hope that a socialism of the 21st century is both productive and makes good use of profits as one measure of the efficiency of its of its environmentally regulated firms. I would also expect it to produce an even greater number of high quality goods and services, high quality in that their ‘high design’ uses fewer of the Earth’s resources and leaves a lighter footprint. In other words, we can both restrict junk while expanding both the quantity and number of ecologically sound products. We’ll have to, if we want to meet the needs of a growing world population–and it will continue to grow, albeit in managed form. The population zero and population reduction schemes of some ‘deep ecologists’ is not where we want to go.

    As for the ‘expand or die’ dynamic of the capitalist market economic, the best case for restricting this down to zero is spelled out in David Schweickart’s ‘After Capitalism,’ in his Economic Democracy model, which can be viewed as either the first step into a socialist market economy or as a bridge to it. In any case, it’s perfectly possible for worker-owned firms that have eliminated the ‘expand or die’ compulsion to both survive and thrive in an otherwise capitalist market. The Mondragon Coops in Spain are a case in point.

    ‘Eco-socialism or barbarism,’ in my view, is a good organizing principle projecting the left’s ultimate aims. But as a slogan for mass agitation and mass action today, it’s out of synch with the next steps we need in the mass democratic struggles. We need to be battling for ‘Green Jobs, Good Jobs’ in high-road capitalist firms, (and worker-owned one as well) and demanding the conversion to a green energy market economy. It’s very strange to insist on winning something, while at the same time, declaring that it can’t possibly work or even exist. That just imprisons you in a far left cul-de-sac.

    Carl Davidson, Aliquippa, PA
    ——

    It is my opinion that there is a majority in the country that is progressive, and that it has expressed a concern for global climate crisis and the economic crisis in many ways around the world, including in the United States in the 2008 general election. This is a debatable question. Let’s talk about it.

    Regardless, my beef with this document is that it is not serious. It does not relate to the mass movements of today and the urgent needs of the world’s people for solutions today. It is mostly irrelevant to anything that anyone is actually doing. There is not clarity on what’s needed to address these issues among the people. This document does not contribute to clarity, in my opinion, it contributes to confusion and despair.

    We need to discuss this at the NCC meeting.

    Ted Pearson, Chicago

    ——-

    davidson wrote:

    ‘Eco-socialism or barbarism,’ in my view, is a good organizing principle projecting the left’s ultimate aims. But as a slogan for mass agitation and mass action today, it’s
    out of synch with the next steps we need in the mass democratic struggles. We
    need to be battling for ‘Green Jobs, Good Jobs’ in high-road capitalist firms,
    (and worker-owned one as well) and demanding the conversion to a green energy
    market economy. It’s very strange to insist on winning something, while at
    the same time, declaring that it can’t possibly work or even exist.’

    i tend to agree with that. i hope that’s how i approach the struggle in real life.

    but how about: ‘while at the same time not asserting that “battling for ‘Green Jobs, Good Jobs” is the ultimate answer to the multiple threats to the biosphere or that socialism would not be a better context in which to succeed.” ?

    what bothers me is this constantly repeated idea that people who posit socialism as an imperative in the long range struggle to preserve the physical environment are ‘hand- wringing’ do-nothings, standing apart from the mass movement today. there may be people like that; i don’t know any of them.

    after all, i’m for socialism but i keep going to meetings, conferences, demonstrations where the subject is never mentioned.

    alas, the economic situation is far worse than we are being told and the measures needed to deal with it damn sure more radical than any being proposed by the white house or the ‘progressive majority.’ saying that won’t prevent me from going to a demo next week protesting city budget cuts in services for seniors.

    interesting point about ‘what the Belem document means by “productivity socialism.”

    At the eco socialism conference,, in the the workshop on environmental justice, the two young people of color making the presentation kept referring to industrial production as a negative. i challenged them on it and pointed out that the room was the result of production, as was the bart train i came in on. They began to backtrack; evidently hadn’t thought much about it. still and all, the question of whether the capitalist ‘rate of growth’ is sustainable – or inevitable – is a challenging question.

    at a meeting here a couple of weeks ago of over 100 leftists who consider themselves part of the ‘obama coalition, a 40-something african american woman stood up to say the word ‘green’ turned her off because it implied something that had little relation to the problems confronting her community. we have a lot of work to do.

    all for now.

    carl bloice

  • Walter Teague said,

    I think the issue is not just what should be best position of pro-socialist organizations, but more importantly, what positions and goals should we and ultimately all political organizations be taking on this crisis. If the Left and socialists fail to connect the science and politics, to develop a realistic strategy against catastrophic climate change, we could all lose.

    At our last CCDS convention we adopted a resolution that said in part “CCDS asserts that a successful “What is to be done” for a climate change plan requires a socialist point of view. This eco-socialist perspective means a realistic, scientific and humanistic based analysis of environmental changes, the related economics and political issues and the consequences of addressing these factors all based on the interests of the majority of the world’s people. To obtain this plan will require a mass based demand on the current world leadership, both those in power and those controlling the resources. This leadership must be required to truthfully inform people of the specific dangers and likely time lines of climate change and the science based realities of effectively countering climate changes. This leadership must also quickly develop and implement a global plan based on preventing as much as possible of the damages from climate change and all in the interests of the majority of the people of the world.”

    In essence, we and the world are facing some externally defined deadlines, tipping points that are not only scientific, but also political. The choices discussed in the comments above can be seen as asking whether we should accept an adaptive or preventative strategy. Each approach can have many facets and steps, but the question of whether we ultimately succeed is determined by whether we prevent sufficient climate catastrophes that we have the time and means of reaching any of the social and political goals.

    Therefore if not socialists, who will make sure the public understands and demands a winning strategy against the irreparable catastrophes of climate change? You only have to look our collective failures to prevent or even prepare for the many relatively smaller and easier challenges and resulting catastrophes such as Katrina, Haiti, and so many others.

    People may be fearful of the coming storms, but they will better prepare if they know what to do. That is our job, all of us together and unafraid to point out both the scientific and political realities. And I think we fail to be relevant if we don’t include this as part of our publicly professed strategy.

    Walter Teague 3/22/2010.

  • David Schwartzman said,

    The Belem Declaration states:

    “To theorize and to work toward realizing the goal of green socialism does not mean that we should not also fight for concrete and urgent reforms right now. Without any illusions about “clean capitalism,” we must work to impose on the powers that be – governments, corporations, international institutions – some elementary but essential immediate changes: [and then goes on to list some really radical changes such as drastic and enforceable reduction in the emission of greenhouse gases, the development of clean energy sources, and the elimination of nuclear energy, and war spending.]

    So I disagree with the implication that the Declaration is ultraleft because it argues we sit by and wait for capitalism to be replaced with ecosocialism before the climate crisis can be confronted. This Declaration does assert “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.” Yes, this formulation is problematic. Just how much change in “real existing capitalism” is necessary to mount a successful campaign to avoid the tipping points which would result in catastrophic climate change (“C3”)? The Military Industrial Fossil Fuel Nuclear Terror Complex (“MIC”) is now hegemonic in real existing capitalism, with US imperialism being its front line enforcer. I have argued that the undermining and termination of MIC will remove the main obstacle to implementing a global prevention program to avoid C3 and at the same time will open up an unprecedented path out of capitalism (March 2009, Capitalism Nature Socialism; I will send a pdf upon request; dschwartzman@gmail.com). To be sure, we can construct computer models of sustainable reproduction of capital in a global solar capitalism. However, the historical legacy of real capitalist development makes its realization virtually impossible. A global ‘‘solar capitalism’’ is an illusionary prospect, because the level of red and green struggle required to solarize global capitalism will itself likely result in ecosocialist transition.

    I think we all agree that replacing Capitalism with Ecosocialism cannot be a prerequisite to begin taking effective preventative action to avoid climate catastrophe. But ecosocialist theory and practice are essential to make this prevention possible, thereby creating a real opportunity to end the global rule of capital on our planet.

    Carl Davidson wrote:

    “Moreover, I have no idea what the Belem document means by ‘productivity socialism,’ which it opposes.”

    (The Declaration states: “It [ecoscocialist movement] criticizes both capitalist “market ecology” and productivist socialism, which ignored the earth’s equilibrium and limits. It redefines the path and goal of socialism within an ecological and democratic framework.”)

    I interpret “productivist socialism” as the dominant form of real existing socialism of the 20th Century. On the other hand, the one real living model of ecosocialism, with all its imperfections, is a survival from 20th Century socialism, Cuba. The WWF’s Living Planet Report 2006 assesses sustainable development using the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Human Development Index (HDI) and the ecological footprint. The index is calculated using life expectancy, literacy and education, and per capita GDP. The UNDP considers an HDI value of more than 0.8 to be high human development. According to the ecological footprint, a measure of human demand on the biosphere, 1.8 global hectares per person or less denotes sustainability. The only country in the world that met both of the above criteria is Cuba. ((Viva La Revolución Energética, Laurie Guevara-Stone, Solar Energy International). And if Cuba, a living example of ecosocialist transition, could accomplish so much, under such difficult circumstances imposed by U.S. Imperialism, just think of what is really possible for our future!

    Finally, I propose CCDS substitute Ecosocialism for Socialism in our name, making Ecosocialism our “brand”, since the only viable socialism of the 21st Century is Ecosocialism and I know of no other U.S. socialist group to proudly proclaim itself as ecosocialist (our Metro DC CCDS has by its website name redandgreen.org and its contents).

    And recognizing its imperfections, the Belem Ecosocialist Declaration still inspires and envisions a 21st Century Socialism. I have no regrets in signing it and urge others to do likewise. And lets get on with the actual struggle isolating MIC, defeating its Imperial Agenda and helping to create a broad class base for truly clean energy, green jobs and drastic and rapid cuts in carbon emissions with a chance to prevent C3.

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