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the World People’s Conference on Climate Change (CMPCC) in Cochabamba, Bolivia has received much attention and fanfare, and is considered the corrective to what many had hoped for in Copenhagen.  the summit stands to challenge the continuation of US Empire and the resulting ecological devastation that has taken place in the process.

with this in mind, the participation of Bolivian president Evo Morales should come as no surprise.  along with Hugo Chavez, Morales and other Third World heads of state have been a vocal opponent to the past 40 years of almost uncontested global hegemony by US Empire.

but the nature of Venezuela and Bolivia has definitely not been uncontested.  they have received support, criticism and opposition by the Left.  are they something qualitatively different from capitalism?  do their claims of “Socialism for the 21st Century” or Idigenismo (coopted by the Morales government to purportedly represent the indigenous people of Bolivia) mark a shift away from capitalism?

as many revolutionaries have identified capitalism to be at the root of the ecological crisis, the CMPCC and the nature of the programs that are put forward by Morales pose strategic questions for the ecology movement.  the long term strategy of the CMPCC to present resolutions to the UN may provide us with a clue to the conference’s limitations.

the best analysis i’ve read that describes the class nature of the Bolivian state and the Morales government, though dated, is published by Solidarity:

Bolivia After the Referendum by Jeffery R Webber

below, Democracy Now! covers a working group that is discussing issues that have been banned from the official CMPCC agenda.  called Mesa 18 (working group 18), the discussions center around ecological devastation that has been caused by development plans of the Morales government.


the broader ecology movement has always been composed of different shades of ‘green.’  there have been both conservatives and radicals, reformists and revolutionaries in the movement.

in light of the current crisis, many have wondered if more is possible today than what might have been for the last 40 years.  the economic, political and military hegemony of US Empire and neoliberalism have fractured for the entire world to see, and as the rulers scurry around to pick up the pieces and hold it together, we’ve begun to see sparks of autonomous movements from below.  the student and worker movement to defend public education advancing in California is probably the most well known example of activity from below independent of official society’s channels for reform.  it might finally be asked on a mass level what we can do independent of the Democratic Party, and labor and university bureaucracies.

the same might be happening within the ecology movement.  green anarchists and environmental anti-authoritarians have long worked parallel reformist environmental groups such as Greenpeace and the Sierra Club with, however, much criticism, but a gulf has long existed between the two.  in addition to this, ideas of independent activity from below that challenged the powers of the state and ruling parties among the rank-and-file has been either sparse or met with reticence.

while the failure at Copenhagen might be considered nothing new by many radical tendencies in the movement, the mass activity that preceded that disappointing week could be thought to have raised both the expectations and confidence of environmentalists across the world.

recently there has two items in the news that raise the question of new possibilities in the ecology movement:

Save Greenpeace
Greenpeace has long utilized radical tactics, but without theoretically questioning the role of the state or capital in the devastation of the environment.  with the appointment of the new director for the organization’s climate campaign, some in the organization are challenging the leadership’s willingness to collaborate withsome of the worst polluters.  the question is, will this be generalized to include all of the ruling class?  will some of the membership swing to the left and help build an ecology movement from below?

The Wrong Kind of Green
reflecting on Copenhagen, journalist Johan Hari has published an indictment of those environmental organizations that have begun working with some of the worst polluters, such as Conservation International and The Nature Conservancy.

(here is an interview with Hari on Democracy Now!)

in his article, Hari cites other examples, so how is this new?  is this the beginning of an accelerating trend in the ecology movement, in which more and more organizations swing to the right and lose even the veneer of maintaining “independent” environmental position?

part of this may be due to the crisis by which capital and the state have lost the ability to afford granting concessions, but if this is the beginning and the middle falls out of the ecology movement we can only expect increased polarization.  if this is the case then the left wing of the ecology movement needs to, now more than ever, organize, organize, organize!

in an exchange over at turbulence it was briefly asked how the ecological crisis can be understood as it specifically relates to the current neoliberal epoch of capitalism.  it’s an important question.  different aspects of both the capitalist and ecological crisis would have to be used to explain each other on a case by case, or issue by issue basis.

Loren Goldner offers an explanation of neoliberalism that includes an ecological dimension.  he describes the form of ecological devastation during the present era as part of the need for what he calls “looting,” or primitive accumulation.  currently, the claims to wealth by the capitalists exceed the actual amount of wealth in the world.  so, along with wages and public infrastructure, the environment is being looted to make up for that lack of real wealth.

Goldner argues that this is a contraction of social reproduction, which means that capitalism is cannibalizing its means to expand its ability to create real wealth.  instead of real wealth, the stock market and other speculative financial measures create what Goldner calls “fictitious capital.”

As of the end of 2005, there was  $33 trillion in outstanding debt (Federal, state, local, corporate, personal) in the U.S. economy, three times GDP. (No one knows how much is tied up in the international hedge funds and derivatives, and the estimated $7-8 trillion in Federal debt does not include trillions more in commitments for Social Security and Medicare.)  The state (including Federal, state and local levels) consumes 40% of GDP. The net U.S. debt abroad is between $3 and $4 trillion (at least $11 trillion held by foreigners minus $8 trillion in U.S. assets abroad) i.e. it is comparable (at 30% of GDP) to the situation of crisis-ridden Third World countries.  That amount is growing by $800 billion a year at current rates. Ominously, in late 2005, foreign income from investment in the U.S. exceeded U.S. income from overseas investment (the one remaining strong pillar of the U.S. international position) for the first time. Foreigners hold an increasing percent of U.S. government debt; the four major Asian central banks (Japan, China, South Korea, Taiwan) alone hold nearly $2 trillion.  It is the Federal government’s debt, and hence these foreign loans, which make possible the reflationary actions of the Federal Reserve Bank. Since the early 1980’s, a kind of  “financial arbitrage capitalism”, in which investment in increasingly focused on different possible financial instruments instead of production, has been put in place.  Thus the old conceptualization of the role of the banking system and the Fed’s (apparent) ability to expand and contract credit availability through it,  is superseded;  increasing amounts of “virtual” credit are created by “securitized finance” independent of banks. One must also consider the government-linked entities (Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae), which backed the reflation of mortgages of the past 4 years, leading to an incredible housing bubble. This entire edifice has depended on 1) low inflation in the U.S., as higher inflation would scare off foreign lenders; 2) the willingness of U.S,  “consumers” to go more and more heavily into debt (with debt service now taking 14% of incomes, as opposed to 11% a few years ago) 3) the willingness and ability and above all the need of foreigners to go on re-lending U.S. balance-of-payments deficits back to the U.S., allowing increasingly indebted U.S. “consumers” to be the “locomotive” of the world economy […]

Accumulation is threatened because the totality of capitalist paper claims to wealth (profit, interest and ground rent), starting with the $3-4 trillion “nomad dollars” held outside the U.S.,  exceed the surplus value available for their valorization. This excess of fictitious claims is, as sketched above, the result of decades of debt pyramiding aimed at delaying a deflationary crisis, and can be maintained only by reducing the global wage and through “primitive accumulation” (non-reproduction or non-exchange) from incorporating petty producers from Third World agriculture into the global working class, the running down of capital plant and infrastructure, and the looting of nature. It is quite different from earlier, “normal” capitalist expansions in which these claims grow alongside the expanded reproduction of society. Today, capitalist paper expands and social reproduction contracts.

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there’s an important debate in the latest edition of turbulence over which demands should be put forward by the ecology movement:

Green New Deal: Dead end or pathway beyond capitalism?

turbulence co-editor Tadzio Mueller and former German Green Party European MP Frieder Otto Wolf dispute over whether there exists a progressive kernel within the proposal for a Green New Deal… whether it can be considered a transitional set of demands for the Left.

Tadzio begins by pointing out that endless growth, a defining characteristic of capitalism, is at the heart of the ecological crisis (what Tadzio calls the ‘biocrisis’).  the continuous need for profit by capital means that capital must seek out, develop and invest in new productive forces creating an increasing demand on natural resources at a growing rate.

the Green New Deal, Tadzio argues, in the middle of the current capitalist crisis, would only jump start capitalism with new, so-called ‘green’ technologies that don’t fundamentally change the aforementioned social and economic characteristics of capitalism.  any energy (capital) that is saved through these technologies would just be reinvested anyway.  the dominance of Clean Development Mechanisms as the ruling class method for addressing climate change is evidence of this.  under any Green New Deal the ecological contradiction of capitalism would go unaltered.

Frieder, on the other hand, responds that the current crisis presents the unique opportunity to inject ecological demands into capitalist recomposition that address both its social and economic dimensions.  short of world revolution, capitalism will, by the end of the crisis, reconstitute itself, so it is best to get what concessions the ecology movement can for the time being.  behind his approach is Frieder’s lamentation over the worldwide weakness of the Left.

Tadzio rejoins that Roosevelt’s New Deal was not a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ between politicians and economists.  it was a maneuver by the ruling class to coopt a powerful and vibrant working class movement centered around the CIO.  without such a movement, there are almost no possibilities of wresting any concessions from the rulers.

from The Simpsons episode entitled 'Bart the Mother'

what’s in a transitional method?

this is important, and worth exploring more.  the crisis of working class power, self-activity and organization cannot simply be lamented and left behind.  it needs to remain at the center of any discussion of transitional demands.

Trotsky’s Transitional Program is helpful for thinking through this.  written in 1938, this document takes up this issue of working class self-activity… well, sort of.  Trotsky and his comrades thought the problem was a crisis of the “right” type of vanguard leadership of the working class.  (it’s worth asking how much Trotskyist visions of socialism has historically differed from Stalinist rule-from-above, but not here.)  communists of all stripes were working through the contradiction between powerful working class movements, and the Stalinist parties and bureaucracies that coopted them.

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some friends and i are looking for films to screen at our next organizing event and i just finished watching “Palante Siempre Palante” a documentary by Iris Morales on the rise and fall of the Young Lords.  the Young Lords Organization was mainly a Puerto Rican group in the late 60s/early 70s that spread like a wild fire across the east coast.  they were a part of that generation of people of color who took a militant and international approach to fighting white supremacy and US Empire.

it’s a great documentary that touches on key political questions of the era.  a definite recommendation.  it’s a kind of rare and hard to find, though.  i hope the film makers work on making it more widely available.

black 'n' brown in revolt

black 'n' brown in revolt

the relevance of the Young Lords Organization to the discussion on this blog can be found in the origins and organizing methods of the New York chapter.

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the text in the picture says, "i don't know why"

by most accounts the climate talks that are supposed to take place in Copenhagen this December can already be pronounced a dismal failure.

big surprise.

in addition to the popular recognition that the climate bill now in the Senate is as much a steaming, GHG-producing pile of shit as its predecessor in the House, and that the accomplishments of the protests at the G-20 talks in Pittsburgh are anybody’s guess,  it can be fair to expect many of the Left and those in the ecology movements will continue to follow the developments of the talks, some pleading, some protesting, but in the end all disappointed.

the question now facing the ecology and climate movements: what next?

the crisis facing the ecology movement is not only social, biological or humanitarian; it’s not just that many will suffer, that many will die, and that eco-systems will be ripped to shreds.  the crisis in the ecology movement is one of our own organization and actions.

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i posted the following on Gathering Forces.  i haven’t posted anything in a while and i just wanted to get something up.  the piece is more or less my thoughts – a few scattered puzzle pieces, really – on the connection between the issues and questions facing the ecology movement as it relates to the broader political climate.

Gathering Forces, by the way, is a project i work on with a number of other folks.  it takes up broader political issues and questions of revolutionary organization.

There has been a lot of excitement by the left and the ecology movement lately, particularly around the G20 protests in Pittsburgh, the climate bill proposed by the House and recently amended by the Senate, and finally around the upcoming UN climate talks in Copenhagen.  But it’s worth noting how the broader political terrain today forms the hot topics of the ecology movement if we’re to effectively plan our campaigns and strategies.

This past spring, despite the hopes of environmentalists that lined up behind Obama’s presidential campaign, the EPA okayed over 40 mountain-top removal coal-mining projects without scrutiny. This form of coal mining is one of the more the ecologically destructive methods of coal mining.  The process dumps tons of chemicals and unwanted material down the sides of the mountain. burying wildlife and vegetation on the sides, and contaminating local water supplies.  It also allows mining companies to lay-off workers and cut labor costs because less people are needed than traditional forms of mining.

But just before labor day the EPA released a letter that indicates that the Obama administration and the EPA are seeking to block one of the largest mountain top mining permits issued, citing violations of the Clean Water Act.

Around the same time, the NYTimes began a series on water pollution noting violations of the Clean Water Act by coal mining companies.  The piece sites the lack of oversight and enforcement as a major problem, with companies dumping as much as 1000% of the allowed chemical concentration into local water systems in W Virginia.

So why the about-face?  Is Obama finally fulfilling his campaign promises to the environmental movement?

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