[R-G] A Canadian Ecosocialist at the World Social Forum
menecraj at shaw.ca
Thu Feb 5 04:53:58 MST 2009
A Canadian Ecosocialist at the World Social Forum
February 3, 2009
Cy Gonick, publisher and co-ordinating editor of Canada's longest-running
left-wing magazine, Canadian Dimension (
http://www.canadiandimension.com/index.php ), was in Belem, Brazil, last
week, for the World Social Forum. The following are excerpts from his emails
The full text of Cy's letters can be found on the Canadian Dimension Blog.
An estimated hundred thousand delegates opened the 2009 World Social Forum
with a spirited march down the main street of this northern port city of
Belem in the heart of the Amazon. An equal number of local residents lined
the streets observing the carnival-like demonstration and cheering on the
boisterous marchers along with their drummers, banners and chanters. .
This veteran marcher/activist had never before been surrounded by such a sea
of humanity as committed as himself to changing the world. I can say that
the feeling was exhilarating, bordering on jubilation -knowing all the work
in organizing, capacity building and struggles of so many diverse movements
that brought these people together but with the usual caution that so much
more needs to be done.
For me the most exciting thing that happened at the WSF today was the moment
the roof collapsed with the ceiling fan crashing down a few feet from where
I was sitting in a meeting room along with 60 others listening intently to a
presentation against the principle of compensation for environmental damage.
This was the first of a series of presentations on ecosocialism at the
2009WSF, the ones I especially came here to participate in. The concept we
were introduced to is that no level of compensation is sufficient to cover
the forever damage to nature inflicted by giant resource corporations in the
course of their everyday operations.
The only acceptable remedy is one of fully repairing the damage/loss so that
the land/waters/air is left in the same shape as it was prior to so-called
development. It was just at the point that Terisa Turner (of the University
of Guelph and an occasional contributor to Canadian Dimension) rose to ask
how very poor indigenous peoples faced with an offer of a large cash
compensation could turn it down, that the roof caved in! Fortunately no one
This session, sub-titled "The Significance of the WSF of the Participation
of the Indigenous Peoples of the World" examined the WSF's special effort to
include indigenous peoples in the planning as well as the content of the
It was explained to us by J'ai Sen who chaired the session, that the first
few years of the Forum were planned as "white settler" events with virtually
no provision for first peoples. That began to change as the WSF shifted from
Brazil to Nairobi and Mumbai. But it was only at this 2009 WSF in Belem that
a real effort was to be made to not only have a strong indigenous presence
at the Forum but their involvement in its planning. Presentations were made
by indigenous representatives from Columbia, India, Peru (Hugo Blanco) and
Canada (Ben Powers). The meeting was conducted in classic participatory
style with statements invited from the audience being responded to by the
Hugo Blanco, the remarkably vigorous revolutionary peasant leader, now in
his mid 80s, is the leader of the Campesino Confederation of Peru. He added
a strong anti-capitalist flavour to the session and his perspective seemed
to be fully supported by the other speakers.
The most insightful presentation was provided by the Canadian, Ben Powers of
the Indigenous Environmental Movement. Ben also acted as translator for
Blanco and other speakers. More than a thousand indigenous peoples, mainly
from within Brazil, made their way to Belem, a two week journey for many of
The three hour session I attended was really interesting. Sponsored by the
Ecosocialist International Network, an organization I'm active in, the
session featured a discussion on indigenous peoples and ecosocialism with
presentations mainly by Brazilian ecosocialists. The session was chaired by
Beatriz Leandro of the Brazilian Network of Socialists.
The session opened with Ana Isla, a South American scholar now teaching at
Brock University and on the editorial Board of Capitalism, Socialism,
Nature, summarizing her research on the impact of the development of the
rainforest in Costa Rica that eats up the soil and robs the people of the
trees that produce their food and livelihood, eventually displacing them
into the cities where women are forced into the sex trade.
Adilson Viera, Secretary General of the Workers Union of the Amazon,
described how the resource workers he represents, like fishermen, are
ecosocialists in everything but name, resisting the encroachment of capital
that destroys their livelihood.
In his history of ecosocialism in Brazil, Mauricius Laxe (Brazilian Network
of Ecosocialists) described how it started back in 1991 with the
ecosocialist manifesto for Brazil that attracted over a hundred supporters
back then. A year later in response to the UN's Earth Summit in Rio de
Janeiro, regarded by them as capital's response to the environmental crisis,
they organized the march of the oppressed.
In 1996 the association of socialists and environmentalists of northern
Brazil was formed and signed onto the first ecosocialist manifesto drawn up
by Joel Kovel and Michael Lowy on the occasion of the 2003 World Social
Formation. A second ecosocialist manifesto has been drafted for this 2009
During the discussion following the presentation, Laxe said that the term
'socialist' is a drawback especially among peasants and indigenous peoples,
and suggested that ecosocialism be replaced by ecopolitics. That generated
awide ranging discussion. We were informed that the ultra violent Shining
Path Maoist group has given socialism a very bad name in Peru.
Joel Kovel intervened to say that in the old USSR, Leon Trotsky expressed
total contempt for rural existence, resulting in a troubled legacy for
socialism among peasants everywhere. Joel went on to give a short discourse
on how in his last ten years, Marx began to re-evaluate his theses that all
peoples had to pass through several stages of history and that none could be
skipped and in particular, that capitalism could not be skipped to arrive at
the socialist stage.
He hinted towards the end of his life that communal societies might not have
to go through capitalism. Joel suggested that ecosocialists need to return
to this question as it relates to indigenous peoples in the age of
globalization. By this time the ageless Peruvian revolutionary Hugo Blanco
joined the session and offered a number of points including that the two
features indigenous peoples "from Canada to Chile" have in common are
collectivism and love of nature and that in their 500 year resistance to
capitalist encroachment on their lands they are natural ecosocialists.
The three hour session on ecosocialism featured two very good talks one by
Joel Kovel, author of the fabulous book, The Enemy of Nature; the other by
Terisa Turner, a prof at Guelph University in Canada. Both Joel and Terisa
have contributed articles to Canadian Dimension sometime in the past two or
Joel Kovel is really the father of ecosocialism. He described how this was
the second gathering of ecosocialists from around the world, the first
having taken place in Paris in 2007. There, a small group of mainly northern
intellectuals decided that it was important that the second gathering
include a large contingent of indigenous people from the global south.
That¹s why they chose to meet in Belem, smack in the middle of the Amazon.
Joel boldly stated that the only way to save the planet is to end capital¹s
compulsion to grow. Some form of world government is necessary to impose
limits to growth which, if effective, would collapse the capitalist system
since its existence requires endless accumulation. But societies will only
transcend capitalism with ecosocialism which he defined as production based
on free association of workers combined with ecocentric means and ends.
Whereas absentee owners can easily damage the environment, when workers come
to own the means of production they work with, they are much less likely to
damage, let alone destroy nature which they are part of, depending upon it
for both their survival and their comforts.
In his concluding remarks Joel said that, inspired by the ecosocialist
measures of Cuba and Bolivia under Evo Morales, he is convinced that
ecosocialists have no alternative but to intervene in state formations as
they currently exist starting with a mass intervention at Copenhagen, site
of the UN meeting to reformulate the Kyoto Protocol. Secondly, he urged the
development of autonomous zones within capitalist societies that would
establish islands of freely associated labour as capitalism lurches from
crisis to crisis. Thirdly, he said that what¹s needed now is a mass
mobilization of society to demand a series of structural reforms to prevent
climate change, reforms that capitalism cannot endure.
Terisa Turner offered the most optimistic prognosis of our immediate future.
She described several examples of grass roots movements successfully
stopping resource multinational corporations and keeping fossil fuel in the
ground. She argued for a joint global strategy of all out support for these
efforts of halting resource development combined with consumer boycott
campaigns - which would deprive capital of energy and resources and markets.
And direct trade deals that cut out the multinatinationals in place of
capitalist trade/investment agreements, citing the arrangement between Cuba
and Venezuela oil for medical services.
She asked, who is engaged in these efforts? Indigenous peoples with women in
What is their means? Direct action to shut-down production and keep fossil
fuel in the ground.
She ended her presentation with a call for a people¹s charter on climate
change in opposition to the Kyoto Protocal and sanctions against governments
and corporations that violate its measures. As for Copenhagen December 2009,
she called for a mass organization to stop the proceedings, like Seattle
[Coming soon: As soon as we receive it, Climate and Capitalism will publish
a report on the Ecosocialist International Network meeting that was held in
Belem immediately after the World Social Forum.]
Fresh Ink is an alternative news service
and sister project of Booksinternationale.com.
Join us! http://booksinternationale.info/mailman/listinfo/freshink
More information about the Rad-Green