What's Next for the Ecosocialist International Network?

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The Ecosocialist International Network was founded with great enthusiasm and optimism in October 2007, but since then it seems to have stalled. A discussion has begun on what needs to be done now.

By Ian Angus

I was one of the original ‘group of four’ who called for a new international organization of ecosocialists in 2007. I participated in the founding meeting. I thought, and still think, that the Ecosocialist International Network was a good idea.

With virtually no promotion, more than 500 people in nearly 40 countries signed the EIN’s Belem ecosocialist declaration. That proves that there is interest in and support for the ideas the EIN stands for.

But we have not succeeded in turning that interest into activity. The EIN is still a “good idea” but it isn’t  a “good organization.”

Several EIN members have been discussing how to move forward. Joel Kovel (another of the original four) has made a series of organizational proposals. Steve D’Arcy (of London Ontario Mobilization for Climate Justice) and I have argued that the problem is not organizational but political. The discussion has been very friendly, with none of the sectarian rancour that often marks left debates.

In an attempt to expand the discussion, I posted the following submission to the EIN email group today. I hope Climate & Capitalism readers will join in, either by commenting here on C&C or (better) by participating in the EIN email group at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/EI-Network/

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EIN: What’s next?

By Ian Angus

Where is the Ecosocialist International Network going? What should ecosocialists be doing now?

Joel Kovel attempted to start a discussion on those questions a few months ago, in “The EIN Chapter Two: What Is to Be Done?” which is available on the EIN website, at http://ecosocialistnetwork.org/Docs/Kovel-BuildingEIN.pdf.

This led to some offline email exchanges, but there has been very little discussion in this forum. So, in an attempt to kick-start the discussion, I urge everyone to read Joel’s original article and the following four contributions. I hope this will lead to comments and a broad discussion.

Below you will find:

  • “Looking Ahead,” by Joel Kovel. (private email, posted with JK’s permission)
  • “A response to J. Kovel’s ‘EIN, Chapter 2: What is to be Done?’” by Steve D’Arcy (previously posted on this email group)
  • “A comment on Looking Ahead” by Ian Angus
  • “Another comment” by Joel Kovel. (private email, posted with JK’s permission)

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Looking Ahead (Joel Kovel, May 19, 2009)

I’m writing to put forth some ideas about organizing the EIN, realizing that in principle, we are not constituted in any formal way—that is, neither the EIN nor this little group has any structure of an enduring or functional kind. The 20 person group “established” in Belem has, so far as I know, done nothing, nor is there any sign within it of a life that can be transmitted to the EIN as a whole. I find this unacceptable and would like to try and move out of this morass. SO here are some suggestions for us to kick around amongst ourselves, and then, if we get somewhere, to turn to the 20 person executive committee and try to get it moving in a constructive direction. This is based upon conversations I’ve had over the last few months, most recently with Michael in NYC the week before last; and also on the stuff I published after Belem.

  • I have two target dates in mind. Provisionally, the US Social Forum, which met in Atlanta in 2007, is gearing up to meet in Detroit in June, 2010. There is some possibility that this may also turn into the next WSF, though it’s rather unlikely (if only because of justifiable suspicion of the US immigration services.) Most likely, so I’ve been told, the next WSF will take place in Dakar in January 2011.
  • The general idea is to initiate a two-step process: a. set up national — or subnational or transnational — chapters: call them “intermediate” b. have these meet on one of those occasions to set up a “secretariat” for the EIN as a whole.
  • One schedule would be to have the intermediate chapters work at getting going between now and 6/08, and have our international meeting in Detroit in 6/10, where the secretariat will be organized.
  • Another would be to just have the US intermediate chapter(s) use Detroit for meeting and organizing themselves; and to have the next international meeting in Dakar, where the secretariat would be set up. This is perhaps the more likely possibility.
  • We should be very flexible about the constitution of the intermedate chapters, if only to avoid any kind of national chauvinism. That is, there could be a national chapter, say, Turkey; or a regional chapter, say, the Western US; or a cross-border chapter, say, indigenous folk in Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador. This is just to get started and give us a preliminary skeleton; the matter will be worked on further at the international meeting(s).
  • there needs be some member-driven funding mechanism, I suppose, a dues system. There needs be a surplus generated this way that can be used to fund the Secretariat.
  • the structure of said secretariat is an open question, just so long as there is one. I personally am open to the idea that this rotate from country or region, or continent; or that it have members from different continents. There are lots of possibilities, all with +’s and -‘s
  • the point is to get the EIN moving!!!

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A Response to J. Kovel’s ‘EIN, Chapter 2: What is to be done?’ (Steve D’Arcy, June 8, 2009)

Hello ecosocialists,

I would like to contribute some thoughts on Joel Kovel’s document, “The EIN, Chapter Two: What is to be Done?” which has been circulated and discussed on this list, and is featured on the EIN web site.

First, I want to thank him for writing it, and for trying to work out some tentative elements of a vision for how the Ecosocialist International Network might grow over the coming years. It is important that we try to push the project to develop into something more meaningful than an email list, whatever the merits of email lists.

Second, however, I want to express some reservations about the approach he has taken (if I understand correctly how he approaches these issues). My main concern is that he seems to be proposing a sort of independent, autonomous trajectory of development for the EIN, based on organizational development (such as the development of infrastructure for communication, publishing, information processing, and so on) and growing ideological or analytical clarity emerging from ongoing discussion and debate.

The problem with this way of posing questions about the future development of the EIN is that it seems to by-pass something that I regard as crucial, if there is to be a meaningful, vital role for the EIN to play. What it omits from consideration is the rootedness (the potential, but not-yet-actual rootedness) of the ecosocialist project in emerging forms of mass struggle, on the terrain of environmental justice.

It is there — at the point of intersection between struggles for social justice and economic democracy on the one hand, and struggles for ecological sustainability and other broadly ‘environmental’ issues on the other hand — that ecosocialism must take root. It is these struggles that will pose the questions, in the minds of activists, to which ecosocialism can begin to suggest answers. If ecosocialism is to be a living political current, it will have to live within the ‘medium’ of mass struggles for social and environmental justice.

It is my perception that some (but probably not all, and possibly fewer than half) of the participants in the EIN are engaged in practical organizing to promote social and environmental justice. But there is very little in the discussions that happen via email, at least, to suggest either (a) that these practical organizing experiences are feeding into the development of an ecosocialist political project, or (b) that, conversely, ecosocialist politics are helping to shape the strategies and tactics of activists in their practical work.

The fear that I’m trying to articulate is that the EIN might gravitate, quite unintentionally and contrary to everyone’s hopes, in the direction of a certain sort of “sectarianism,” in the sense of a doctrinally-defined, relatively small group, with little or no connection to mass struggles or social movements, and a way of framing political questions that is quite detached from the “burning questions of our movement” (if I may borrow a phrase from Lenin).

The best protection against this ignominious fate is an explicit orientation toward popular mobilization: not just a commitment to its importance, on paper, but an actual, ongoing practice of trying to organize it, and seeking answers to the theoretical, analytical and strategic questions that this work poses for us and our fellow activists.

So, although I appreciate the attempt to ‘think out loud’ about possible lines of growth and development for the EIN, I feel that Kovel’s piece largely leaves out the really crucial thing: the necessity for the ecosocialist idea to take root in environmental justice movement-building and popular mobilization. (By the way, you can check out the “climate justice” project that I’m working on at the following web site: http://m4cj.wordpress.com/)

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A Comment on ‘Looking Ahead’ (Ian Angus, June 9, 2009)

This is a much-belated and too-brief comment on Joel’s email regarding the future of EIN.

Yesterday, Canadian ecosocialist Steve D’Arcy posted a very relevant message on the EIN Yahoogroup. Essentially he says this: before we discuss how to create an EIN apparatus, structure etc., we should answer the question “what is the EIN going to do”? Any structure we create should be based on an existing movement of activists who are actually participating in building the broader movement.

We don’t have anything like that. As it stands, the EIN is a name and a website, nothing more. There are real ecosocialist groups in some countries, but not one of them is actively building the EIN in any way. They are focusing on building their own movements, as they should.

The real red-green movement is being built outside of the EIN — in particular through groups like Climate Justice Now and the Movement for Climate Justice. We shouldn’t have a fetish about the EIN as an institution — if the real movement is elsewhere, then that’s where ecosocialists should go. We need to put our efforts into building the climate justice movement as it exists in each of our countries, especially the protests planned for this fall.

In short — I don’t know whether it was premature to launch EIN, but  I think it is definitely premature to start planning a superstructure when we don’t have a base.

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Another Comment (Joel Kovel, June 23, 2009)

The proof of the pudding is in the eating, as they say, or in this case, in the non-eating. The fact is bitter and painful that the EIN has not gotten off the ground. I tried to jump-start the process with my posting that was also a CNS editorial; but except for these two letters, both more negative than affirmative, and Danielle’s letter, more affirmative than negative, I have seen no response. And this fact speaks more eloquently than any of our particular arguments: however we understand the notion of “effective force”, it does not seem to hold for the building of the EIN. Not enough people care enough to put aside their busy schedules to join into the project.

I make no excuses for myself, either, although the fact is that the last six months have been one protracted crisis for me. Still, I have managed to get a fair amount of other stuff done, like editing CNS, or working against Zionism—and considerably less on the EIN.

I don’t think the explanation for this lies, however, in the direction brought forward by Steve and Ian, that there is no “base” for ecosocialist organizing as such since the “real movement” is elsewhere, as in climate justice. No one, and certainly not myself, is advocating an ecosocialist movement divorced from organizing on the ground, whether in climate justice, or against GMO’s, etc.

What is “real” about the real movement, however, includes the consciousness of what is immanent within practical political activity. And here it makes an enormous difference, both in level of militance and in the reaching out to comrades in networks of solidarity, that the struggle be consciously developed within a framework that insists upon recognition of capitalism as the driving force manifesting itself in one or another form and needing transformation. From the same standpoint, it means seeing “red-green” politics as prefigurative of a new kind of socialist transformation.

To me, the point of the EIN is to promote that awareness and in so doing, to bring about both an essential deepening as well as broadening of struggle.

That this is not happening — yet — also means to me that we (and I include myself) are largely incapable of grasping the root of capital within given struggles. It’s not that it is just too big, but too internalized, too hard to recognize and grasp—at least for now. And I fear that the relative absence of this, which is to say, the inability of the EIN to get going, is a sign that struggles will remain insufficiently radical to achieve our goals.

For this reason, I think it’s still important to keep the notion of ecosocialism out there as an anti-capitalist imperative, which is to say, to keep going with the hard work of rousing folk into making more of the EIN.

Having said that, I should also say that there are some steps being taken here to build a US ecosocialist network, ie, to actualize that particular goal of movement building within a national framework, one that can also serve as a launching pad for international movement. So I am not ready to throw in the towel yet, and I hope you are not, either.

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Related Reading:


  • As I also posted at the EIN group, a loose, direct democratic and devolved network (rather than a ‘good organization’), of individual EIN Members, perhaps taking the form of local circles but not national chapters (or, worse, parties) could be more realistic, and also help minimise bureaucracy, infighting, nationalism. My guess is that EIN Members can be found in various political families ranging from greens and social democrats, to communists and anarchists, thus a loose structure may lead to better results.

  • Zane:

    Thank you for these comments. I hope you will also post them on the EIN yahoogroup, so that EIN supporters who don’t read C&C can read them as well.

  • Having read the 4 actions agreed to at the Belem conference could I suggest the EIN document for circulation at Copenhagen be part of an easily printed and folded a4 document which contains not only a condensed version of the Belem ecosocialist declaration, but also some short articles from a selection of members giving a rough picture of campaign work by members in their local region/country. These can of course be distributed both at the conference and everywhere else around the world at protests and meetings coinciding with the summit.
    As mentioned in my above post i am happy to do the laying out of the PDF if needed.

  • To me the ecosocialist international is something that will be of more importance as the struggle grows and takes on an international character, at which point international collaboration and organisation will become important.
    For now i think the main imperative is to build the climate movement domestically in each of our own countries.
    I am active in the Australian climate movement but have not really had much to do with the EIN.
    I still think its an important network and it is useful to be laying the groundwork now for international collaboration as the movement picks up.
    One possible way forward might be to come up with a concrete campaign or project that the EIN’s membership can work on…
    This might sound childish but what about a quarterly zine which people can print out which features 10 short articles about local climate campaigns from differrent members around the world.
    Real basic. Someone from each country writes a 300 word piece about a local campaign, someone lays it out (i can do that) and then there is a PDF people can print out. We could chuck in a couple of short pieces from CNS and have content directing people to the EIS website and encouraging them to join.
    I don’t know what it is like in other countries but there are certainly a couple of socialist groups in australia dragging their feet on the climate movement and I would like to be able to give them a copy of the EIN zine.
    Also there are NGO’s like greenpeace, friends of the earth etc which have international branches, it might bolster local ecosocialist groups to have propaganda that shows we are part of an international current too.
    Anyhow this is all off the top of my head, for me the EIN has a sign on statement but not a project- though admittedly i havent been playing close attention.
    I think the EIN is a good idea and we shouldn’t despair if its not as epic as hoped just yet.
    An actual concrete project, however modest, might be a good way of getting more traction.

    Zane A

  • “Insufficiently radical to achieve our goals” makes me want a list of radical goals.

    The first goal must be to turn away from our path toward extinction. The “base” of support for survival includes most people. All we need to do is to have a plan that will work, but few have a clue. Disagreement abounds.

    If we want to invent a working system we must consider: leisure in the industrial age, a resource theory of value, inheritance with population stability, and the virtues of un-earned income. These items are not mainstream socialist.

    The second goal is to provide a place for every person, which means setting up a non-destructive economy. Enough already more and more!

    The third goal is justice. The rulers can always claim that justice is on their side. If we propose to take away the free speech of big money calls for justice will come to their aid.

    Justice for any group stands in the way of justice for all. Justice for the future stands in the way of our freedom to consume as much as possible to stay busy.

    If we don’t stop needless activity soon we are toast. Do we deserve it?

    Barry Brooks