'Environmentalists don’t like to use the “c” word for risk of offence, but it’s about “capitalism”.'
He spoke to Green Left Weekly’s Simon Butler about the politics of ecosocialism.
* * * What are the most valuable insights ecosocialists can bring to discussions about the source of our ecological problems? Ecosocialism, without being reductionist, cuts to the roots of the ecological crisis. The destruction of the environment is not an accident. It is not simply a problem of false ideas and it is not a product of inappropriate policies that can easily be dealt with by electing a new set of politicians. The assault on the basic life support system of our planet, the basic biological cycles, climate being just one, is caused by our economic and social system. We live in a capitalist society and capitalism tends towards the destruction of the conditions necessary to sustain life.
To deal with ecological problems we have to focus on capitalist assaults on the rest of nature. I don’t condemn individual lifestyle change but changing ones consumption is not key to creating social change. The present system demands that we work harder, produce more, consume more and throw more away at ever increasing rates.
Ecosocialism is pragmatic, not utopian. It is strategic. One example will suffice, the Peruvian Amazon.
The Amazon is key as a carbon sink, absorbing CO2. It is fantastic for biodiversity. Why is it under assault? Primarily because corporations aided by corrupt elites in Peru want to slice it up for gas, oil and biofuels. Environmentalists don’t like to use the “c” word for risk of offence, but it’s about “capitalism”. Yes, we can try not to buy timber from the Amazon. Yes, we can support NGOs. But the political and economic realities of Peru, to give one example, must be recognised. The indigenous organise to fight for the Amazon. They formed a federation of over 40 ethnic groups — Aidesep — to gain unity. They ally with workers in the cities and social movements across Peru. They have used non-violent direct action to stop the forests being taken and for their pains they were massacred at Bagua [in 2009]. They have intervened politically in Peru and helped elected [Ollanta] Humala, another left leader in the mould of [Bolivia’s Evo] Morales and [Venezuela’s Hugo] Chavez.
They have achieved new forest laws to protect their land. If they are betrayed, they will take militant but non-violent action. Ecosocialists give solidarity. Aidesep have worked closely with the legendary ecosocialist and indigenous leader Hugo Blanco. Ecosocialism, with its focus on fighting capitalist destruction and articulating with indigenous [people] and workers, is a pragmatic, effective response to the crisis on our planet.
Capitalism is an articulated system. A key node is of course property rights, but capitalism links economics, culture and politics — it’s a whole system and it’s a process that exploits and degrades both humanity and the rest of nature. To fight the enemy one must know the enemies name: ecosocialism names.