In my holiday reading were two manifestos â€“ how often can you say that? The first arrived by mail just before the break, the Manifesto on Global Economic Transitions, published in September 2007 by the International Forum on Globalization, the Institute for Policy Studies, and the Global Project on Economic Transitions (I will dub this the IFG Manifesto). The second was referred to in the latest Canadian Dimension, and proved intriguing enough that I tracked down the original 2001 Ecosocialist Manifesto, by Joel Kovel and Michael Lowy.
The two together provide an interesting contrast, both starting from principles that I would heartily endorse: more democracy; less inequality; and a shift toward sustainable (carbon neutral) economies. The Ecosocialist Manifesto has the academic edge to it that can be a turn-off to some â€“ lots of antiquated language from the early 20th century. By adding “eco” as a prefix it aspires to sex up socialism that way “neo” worked for liberalism.
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. … 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.
While I find the language somewhat less than appealing, I do like the focus on capitalism, and the deeper question of whether capitalism is fundamentally compatible with a sustainable economy (as Naomi Klein so well documents in the Shock Doctrine, capitalism is frequently not compatible with democracy). Among environmentalists there seem to be at least a couple camps: one that sees capitalism as the saviour, once we “get the prices right” through carbon taxes and other market reforms; and another that questions the very premise of economic growth as an over-riding objective of society (many question growth but do not see how this shoots an arrow at the heart of capitalism). The Ecosocialist Manifesto is decidedly in the latter camp.
But ultimately, while the Ecosocialist Manifesto gets basic principles right around ecology and equity, it then leaves us hanging with little in the way of concrete policy advice. This is as close as we get:
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.
In contrast, the IFG Manifesto is more popular and policy-oriented, although it fails to use the term capitalism at all in its analysis. While arguably anti-capitalist in orientation (the preferred enemy is “corporations”), it eshews use of the term, and that is a shame. Moving forward, it lays out a framwork for “steps toward a new economy of sufficiency, equity, sustainability and peace” with a major theme being a return to largely local, self-sufficient economies:
1) Rapid withdrawal from all carbon-based energy systems, including adoption by all countries of an â€œOil Depletion Protocolâ€, or similar proposals for fixed annual downscalings of oil, coal and gas consumption.
2) Rejection of large-scale so called â€œalternativeâ€ energy systems designed to prolong the industrial growth system. These include nuclear energy, â€œcleanâ€ coal, industrial scale biofuels, and the combustion of hazardous materials and municipal waste, among others.
3) Speedy transition to small-scale, locally oriented and locally owned, ecologically sustainable, renewable energy systems, including wind, solar, small scale hydro and wave, local biofuels. Equally important is a dramatic increase in the practices of conservation and efficiencyâ€”i.e., powering down, together with a corresponding decrease of personal consumption in countries where it has been excessive.
4) Recognition that some nations, because of historic patterns of colonialism, aggression, and resource exploitation have gained disproportionately from control of the planetâ€™s resources. All solutions to the current crises must include awareness and an active effort toward reallocation of global resources to restore an equitable balance between and within nations.
5) Rejection of all the primary negative elements and goals of economic globalization, and the highly undemocratic â€œneoclassicalâ€ economic model itself. These negative factors include: hyper economic growth; export-oriented pro- duction in agriculture, energy, and manufacturing; deregulation of corporate activity; privatization of the natural commons; privatization of public services; â€œstructural adjustmentâ€ of economies toward global trade and away from local needs; emphasis on global markets; destruction of local markets; sup- pression of protective tariffs and investment controls (meant to protect local resources and businesses). Such features of economic globalization are designed to sustain global corporations, not the environment or viable communities. Any sustainable democratic system will feature values and practices which are virtually the opposite of all those.
6) Reorienting the rules of economic activityâ€”trade, investments, standardsâ€”to favor economic localization and local political empowerment (subsidiarity) wherever possible. The many global examples of existing sustainable communities should be acknowledged, and local economic well-being should take precedent over global corporate trade and growth. We favor major reforms of current international trade and finance bodies, such as WTO, World Bank and IMF, and export credit agencies, which are now primary actors in supporting the unsustainable global economy of today. Where institutional reform is not achievable, we seek their replacement by new international, national and local institutions and processes that do not act as surrogates for global corporations, but act in the interests of environmental sustainability, equity among nations and peoples, principles of subsidiarity and democracy; ecological, cul- tural and biological diversity, within the inherent limits of nature. (See also Cavanagh and Mander, Alternatives to Globalization.)
7) We favor less long-distance trade rather than more; more and deeper regulation of corporate activity; less movement of capital across borders; more emphasis on regional and local self sufficiency, sustainability and control; greater community participation on corporate boards, and increased rules of investment that favor local ownership; graduated, negotiated use of import and export controls as necessary, with corresponding transfers of resources from North to South to offset displacements from reductions in trade; use of trade policy to protect small farmers and small entrepreneurs in all countries, while recognizing the special needs for transitions of farmers and workers in less developed countries; re-empowerment of the concept of the local, regional and national commons; redesign of urban and non-urban living environments to conform to the true realities of a post carbon era; restrictions on all con- version of agricultural lands away from food-growing, and reconversion of many lands that have already been removed from agriculture and their return to local community ownership.
8.) Internalization of the full ecological and social costs of corporate production; codification of the â€œpolluter paysâ€ principle.
9) Promotion of an orderly re-ruralization, and revitalization of communities by way of land reform, education and application of eco-agricultural micro- farming methods, import/export controls, and emphasis on local democracy; all of these in preparation for the inevitable de-industrialization of agriculture, as cheap energy supply declines.
10) Reintroduction of a modernized version of â€œimport substitutionâ€, or regional self reliant models among nations, i.e., where nations seek to satisfy their most fundamental needs such as food, housing, energy, resource production and control, and livelihoods, from local systems and resources rather than being dependent on long distance supply, which routinely leads to dependency, insecurity and exploitation, empowering global players while harming local.
11) Introduction of new standards of measurement regarding the success of societies. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and Gross National Product (GNP) must be recognized as inadequate and incompatible with societies that now seek basic shifts in values. Emphasis must now become human well- being, environmental sustainability, and the preservation of â€œnatural capitalâ€ as primary concerns, rather than exponential growth, corporate profit, or personal wealth accumulation.
12) Within the contexts of global carrying capacity, establishment of global limits on total overall quantity of energy production, and the creation of stan- dards of â€œsufficiencyâ€ equity, sustainability and resource reallocation.
13) Prior rejection, and clear limits upon all technologies assessed as environmentally or socially unsustainable. Application of the â€œprecautionary principleâ€ with respect to all technological development.
14) Recognition that protection and preservation of the natural worldâ€”its full biological and genetic diversity, and all of its beings, is a primary goal and necessity of a sane and sustainable system, and that nature has inherent rights to exist on the earth in an undiminished healthy condition, separate from its services to humans.
15) Recognition that personal behavior shares responsibility with systemic conditions for the present problems, and for their solution. Many western industrial peoples have been privileged to enjoy the fruits of the present process, but must now work to change excessive consumption habits, while realizing that such change will actually bring positive benefits via greater free time for personal, family, social, recreational and spiritual pursuits.
16) Recognition that many indigenous societies of today, and many countries of the South, have already established societies with priorities and values such as we have listed above, and should be consulted as models and guides for change.
17) The success of all systems and societies should be judged by fulfillment of five fundamental criteria: ecological sustainability; degree of â€œnet energy gainâ€ or loss; degree of social equity, well-being, and â€œsufficiencyâ€ rather than surplus consumption and wealth; democratic decision-making processes; and non-violent conflict resolution.
18) All nations should conform to these principles.