This piece is a (till-now) unpublished response to an essay that my friend Val Moghadam, one of our leading scholar-activists of global social justice movements has recently written to start a Paul Raskin-inspired Great Transition Initiative discussion titled Planetize the Movement.
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Since I perpetually seem to lack the bandwidth – as they say – to write a proper response, this short (and possibly improper) one is my offering.
Val’s essay – and the series of comments by leading scholar-activists, including other friends and comrades such as Francine Mestrum, Richard Falk, Christopher Chase-Dunn, Donatella Della Porta, William I. Robinson, and Ashish Kothari – invited us to search for “the missing global actor” that would spark the transition to the post-capitalist world we all dream of and strive for.
Yet, most mysteriously to me, in the entire 15,000-word set of a dozen essays the word “climate” appears only five times, four of them passing nods to the “climate crisis” and only one paired with “justice,” the latter in this passage by Val herself:
The good news is that there is a “new Global Left” that enjoys a multitude of emerging movements, including climate justice groups led by young people. The rich array of activist groups and the dynamism and passion they display excite a sense of possibility. However, the very diversity of movements and their weak interconnection could constrain the Global Left’s ability to achieve meaningful change. Without consensus around a common agenda, how are we to make the great transition from an entrenched global system based on capitalist profit, top-down decision-making, war, and environmental degradation to a world where people and the planet take center stage in politics and policy? Surely we need not only resistance on a multiplicity of grounds, but also agreement on a clear, coherent, and feasible alternative to the unjust, undemocratic, and unsustainable status quo.
The rest of the discussion brings up the desire for a movement of the workers of the world [twelve mentions of workers in Val’s opening piece] on a global scale, mostly in the name of “socialism” [the term is mentioned thirteen times]. Yet not one mention of the term “eco-socialism.”
Why are some of the world’s greatest critics of capitalism and long-time activists unable to identify the actor – not missing – right under their noses?
I can’t answer the question because I don’t understand why this is so.
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The interlocked triple crisis of capitalist globalization-driven inequality, bought- and paid-for democracies, pervasive cultures of violence – from our most intimate relationships to the militarism of the United States – has for a long time been bound up with the truly wicked fourth of climate chaos. And now the wake-up moment of the coronavirus is breaking upon these structural, systemic burdens.
Yikes – seems like we might have a quintuple crisis on our hands!
The “common cause” that I feel personally called to is a simple one: global climate justice. A youth-energized, multigenerational movement. A frontline- and indigenous-led movement. A connect-the-dots, halt the bad stuff, co-create the systemic alternatives DIY movement.[i] A networked, broad, deep, and radical movement for the planet, with space for the Climate Justice Alliance, the Indigenous Environmental Network, the Sunrise movement, 350.org, Extinction Rebellion, the Zapatistas, the Occupiers, and so many, many others. For an intersectional ecosocialist vision, as one might call it.
A movement that looks forward, in the U.S. at least, to a Green New Deal. That globally looks forward, not backward, to an ever-blossoming movement of movements, as Val and so many of us have put it. In our backward look for inspiration, let us also discard the worst practices of the past. It is time to re-invent, re-imagine, retool.
As Val says, let us take power, but non-violently (my friend John Holloway would disagree, but we have agreed to disagree).[ii] A movement that is not limited to the new global left, which is not big enough, broad enough, or visionary enough. A confederation of new kinds of parties, everywhere, not another set of parties vertically organized although globally linked.[iii]
Here’s a little bit of poetry I jotted down upon reading Val’s piece and Paul Raskin’s invitation in this time of the handful of interlocking crises.
With fear and isolation abroad in the world
how much can we hold
a world where many worlds fit
each full of loving, of justice?
Let’s planetize the climate justice movement in the name of love of and hope for systemic, planetary change.
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Bonus one sentence film review of Planet of the Humans
Michael Moore’s newest film has provoked a healthy outpouring of criticism, some friendly and some quite heated, and thus, like the initial reaction to David Wallace-Wells’s The Uninhabited World essay and later book, has forced a lot of people to think a bit beyond their initial assessments by raising some very difficult and uncomfortable questions, like “Is there a contradiction between the renewable energy revolution and the resources that will need to be extracted to pull it off at scale, such that we need to think of post-capitalism?” [for those who don’t consider capitalism the problem] and “Will we not have to shrink [“degrow” is the technical term] the world economy many-fold to achieve a post-capitalist society based on climate justice?” [for the many post-capitalists among us].
“The end of the world to a caterpillar is what the rest of the world calls a butterfly.” – Jed McKenna
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What, then, is the end of all butterflies to the world?
What, then, is the end of the world to a butterfly?
This essay is dedicated to the memory of my brother-in-law, Nil Ghosh…
[i] For an inspiring set of systemic alternatives, see Ashish Kothari, Ariel Salleh, Arturo Escobar, Federico Demaria, and Alberto Acosta (editors), Pluriverse: A Post-Development Dictionary (New York: Columbia University Press and New Delhi: Tulika/AuthorsUpFront, 2019). An English-language pdf of the book, which I wish were in everyone’s hands and in every language, can be found here.
[ii] The irony is that I managed to write my book, Taking Power: On the Origins of Third World Revolutions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), http://www.iicat.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Taking-Power-by-John-Foran-2005-Cambridge-University-Press.pdf in total ignorance of John Holloway’s beautiful vision in Change the World without Taking Power: The Meaning of Revolution Today (London: Pluto, 2002), from which I have learned so much. I have tried to articulate our differences and their intersection in John Foran, “Let Us Change the World without Taking Power Violently,” Journal of Classical Sociology (12) (2) (May 2012): 240-247, www.iicat.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Foran.Change-the-World-Without-Taking-Power-Violently-JCS-2012.pdf
[iii] John Foran, “Finding Pathways to a Better Future: A proposal that our movements confront the issue of political power, finding new ways to take and use it,” Radical Ecological Democracy (December 16, 2017), http://www.radicalecologicaldemocracy.org/finding-pathways-to-a-better-future/