Joel Kovel Speaks in Toronto

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TORONTO, MARCH 4, 2007: Joel Kovel, author of The Enemy of Nature: The End of Capitalism or the End of the World? and co-author of “The Ecosocialist Manifesto,” spoke in Toronto last night.

A recording of Joel Kovel’s talk is posted online HERE.

His talk, “A Very Inconvenient Truth: The Left After Kyoto,” was sponsored by the Ontario Public Interest Research Group, Socialist Project, New Socialist Group, International Socialists, and Canadians Against Israeli Apartheid.

There were 60 or so in the audience. Many were from established green and socialist groups, but there were quite a few faces I didn’t recognize.

The meeting was opened by Nadia Daar, Chair of the OPIRG-Toronto, and Kovel was introduced by Greg Albo of Socialist Project.

Kovel spoke for about 45 minutes. Early in the talk he made a particular point of introducing me from the audience and praising the Climate and Capitalism website. He later told me that he “tells everyone” to get on the C&C mailing list. (A sentiment I obviously agree with — Thank you, Joel!)

He said that he has written a second edition of The Enemy of Nature which should be published later this year. The basic ideas are the same, but events since it was published in 2002 make it both more essential and more possible to build an ecosocialist movement now. We can now see more clearly “towards ecosocialism” even though the details are still unclear.

An ecosocialist society would be based on two fundamental principles – Marx’s view of socialism as a society based on the free association of labor, and “ecocentric values” that recognize that humans are not superior to nature but part of it. He described this as “old-fashioned Marxism.”

A movement for ecosocialism must be built on people grasping intellectually and emotionally that capitalism is ecocidal, and that global warming may have catastrophic effects in our lifetimes. We must neither minimize the danger nor panic at the prospect, but work to end capitalism.

It is now evident that the struggle against global warming is both the pathway towards ecosocialism, and the key issue that must inform our practice.

He argued that there are three types of ecological “interventions” – those that strengthen capitalism, those that propose or implement positive democratic changes within this system, and those that directly assault the system.

In the first category he placed the Kyoto Accord, which has no redeeming characteristics. Kyoto’s two central principles are Emissions Trading and Clean Development Mechanisms. Neither actually works – and both give control over the “clean up” to the very corporations that are doing the damage. Kyoto is an entirely pro-capitalist, pro-imperialist scheme, and socialists cannot support it in any way.

The second category included such things as carbon taxes and investment in renewable energy. We should support them but demand that implementation be placed under democratic control.

The third type of intervention, direct assaults on the system, is taking place primarily in the Third World. As examples he cited peasant movements against the oil industry in the Niger Delta and Costa Rica, and to Evo Morales nationalizing resources in Bolivia. Cuba provides an excellent example to the world, and the Cuba-Venezuela axis is “very important and powerful.” Chavez is consciously intervening to weaken the oil interests in Venezuela.

We have to support such movements to fight the global oil regime. We must say to them that “We are with you,” but for that to be really true, we need to change the system here so that we do not depend on the resources of third world countries.

The discussion period, which ran about an hour, was dominated by the issue of whether socialists should support the Kyoto Accord.

John Bell of the IS argued that if socialists condemn Kyoto, we will be on the sidelines, isolated from mass sentiment for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. He said that Kyoto has a positive side, in particular the fact that it focuses on the need for the advanced countries (ie, not China & India) to cut emissions,

He argued for the demands that have recently been advanced in the Canadian Socialist Worker: “Canada must honour its Kyoto commitments and, to do that, the tar sands development must be stopped.”

Ernie Tate of Socialist Project argued strongly that we should oppose Kyoto. If we think it is wrong we must tell the truth, and trust the people to understand and support it. He said we could call for democratic nationalization of energy industries.

I suggested that most Canadians who say the government should “implement Kyoto” simply mean that greenhouse gas emissions should be reduced – they’ve never heard of Emissions Trading or Clean Development Mechanisms. That is a positive sentiment that we can support while explaining why we oppose the Kyoto mechanisms.

In his summary, Kovel reiterated his firm opposition to any support of Kyoto. It won’t reduce emissions, and it involves playing with the devil. Including support for Kyoto in our mix of demands is unacceptable.

He finished by reasserting the need to find a balance between urgency and panic, in order to build an effective movement.

POSTSCRIPT: Joel Kovel’s most recent book, Overcoming Zionism: Creating a Single Democratic State in Israel/Palestine, (Pluto Press and Between the Lines) was launched at another Toronto meeting on March 5.


–Ian Angus


1 Comment

  • thanks for this, Joel is great and has really inspired the ecosocialists in the green party of England and wales to get organized, he has also powerfully influence the left in the US green party and of course promoted ecosocialism to important left groups outside of the Greens.He is a great inspiration! must incidentally link your blog to mine!