Joel Kovel: Organizing the Ecosocialist International Network

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Since its formation in 2007, Joel Kovel has been a leading figure in the Ecosocialist International Network. In this letter, Joel discusses where the EIN is going, including plans for forming chapters in the United States and Canada.

Joel’s comments were posted on July 5 in the EIN’s egroup. We encourage readers to join in the discussion of  these issues there:

I am sorry to take so long in getting this out to you following my return from Detroit and the USSF; and I have appreciated the postings that a number of you have made in the interim. Richard Greeman, who was active in Detroit, has been the latest to do so. I am placing a copy of his letter at the end of this, along with a thread spun off by other members of that list.

Essentially Richard says that the founders of the Ecosocialist International Network and its steering committee have done basically nothing to further the organization, and asks that we do not leave the members of the EI list and the ecosocialist movement in general in the lurch.

I am totally sympathetic to what Richard says and hope to rectify this with the present communication. Here are some thoughts and observations on the matter, all subject to debate and development:

1. There is nothing that has happened over the last decade that has disabused me of the conviction that ecosocialism is the most important idea before humanity and will remain so whether it succeeds or fails in being realized. However if it fails, so do we as a species. There is no need to rehearse once more the reasoning behind this, which I can assume that everyone who reads this shares.

2. Nobody should be thickheaded enough to think that the principles of ecosocialism are transparently known. Indeed, aside from the core principles that capitalism must be overcome and that whatever overcomes it must include an ecocentric ethic, there are, as I see it, only two axiomatic rules for ecosocialism—that it needs to be planetary in scope (ie, the notion of “ecosocialism in one country” is even more absurd than that of socialism in one country); and that it must be created, indeed, at this stage the main task for ecosocialists must be to provide the conditions so that ecosocialism can be built as a freely developing and nonhierarchical international collective.

3. Thus we need an organization that can be international in scope and geared toward the open development of ecosocialism: the Ecosocialist International Network (EIN).

4. People affirm their membership in the EIN by expressing basic agreement with the 2d Ecosocialist Manifesto (available on our website) while retaining the right to participate in its further development, ie, the Manifesto is by no means deemed to be a finished or perfect project, merely sufficient for the job at hand. People may join as individuals or as members of an ongoing collective, for example, a climate justice organization, or one promoting anti-militarism, or agroecology, etc, etc.

5. The EIN needs to be international but it cannot be simply a collection of individuals, else it distintegrates into chaos. It needs, rather, to have a confederal organization that builds from different sites, whether continental, national or regional/local. We might think of these as “nodes” of the network.. This cannot be done in advance, but rather it needs to incorporate a great range of developing collectives as these emerge from specific places of struggle and develop to the point of constituting themselves as members of the network.

6. The EIN also needs a kind of “secretariat” that keeps the whole in mind. At this moment, the Paris 2007 meeting, the Belem 2009 meeting, and the upcoming September (26 and possibly 27th, to be announced) 2010 meeting can be seen as efforts to build both the organization as a whole and also its secretariat. Klaus Engert has graciously offered to play a role in coordinating this level, while Michael Löwy and I have offered to co-convene the session. The Paris 2010 meeting is open to all who affirm the basic principles of the Manifesto. We will post further information about it shortly.

7. The agenda of Paris 2010 is in process of development. I would suggest that it include, but not necessarily be limited to, the following:

  • report of activities, planning of future activities
  • structure of the secretariat. This would include re-visiting the nature and composition of the Steering Committees assembled in 2007 and 2009, and which have not been effective
  • the question of by-laws, that is, some kind of formalization of structure and function. It is understood that this process can only be initiated at the September meetings, to be carried through over time.
  • the relation between secretariat, “nodal” structures (see #5), organizations that join the network, and individuals that join the network. This may include the question of financing the EIN.

8. A comment on the above. No one who has worked with the EIN envisions a centrally controlled organization. We may be analogous to the various Internationals 1 – 4, but this can be no Comintern, nor representative of a Marxist-Leninist “line of march.”

Such would be antithetical to the basic principles set forth above, especially in #2—though it needs emphasis that existing socialist formations are welcome to participate so long as they recognize the fundamentals of the Manifesto. In particular, we recognize that a diversity which represents the whole history of the world will be drawn into this process, united about the need to bring down capital wherever it intervenes to destroy ecosystems, including the Commons in its myriad forms. Thus “nodes” will be shaped by struggle employing site-specific relations such as gender and indigeneity as well as class. The ecological crisis has in our view obliterated the
19-20thcentury opposition between anarchism and socialism.

And although political parties can join the EIN so long as they affirm the Manifesto, the EIN is not to be envisioned as a political party, indeed, the whole question of the state, and the “political” itself, needs rethinking. The issue now is what allows life to flourish as against what is destroying it. The ecological crisis is in many ways a novel threat, and the worldview of ecosocialism should be seen as a radically new opening, within which the EIN can be a forum that serves to gather together like-minded folk on a planetary scale and develop the consciousness of this new opening, while at the same time enabling mutual communication and planning of actions.

9. The ENNA. The recently concluded USSF in Detroit was the site of an initiative to create a new “node” for the EIN, very large and very thinly articulated, comprised of ecosocialistically minded people/activists from the United States and Canada, with each country being a chapter in the “Ecosocialist Network of North America” (the status of Mexico to be determined).

We are under no illusion as to how far we are from comprising an effective force across so great an area, one occupied as it is now by two nation-states representing some of the most retrograde and ecodestructive activities on the whole planet Earth. No doubt this is audacious and perhaps quixotic, but the intensifying crisis (just think of Copenhagen, Alberta and Deepwater Horizon!) demands that a beginning be made; indeed, nothing can be more irrational than passive acceptance of what is transpiring.

Some twenty five people signed onto this project in Detroit; others have expressed interest from the existing EI Yahoo list; others still are active elsewhere on this vast terrain and have made themselves heard. Many more will step forth—if we only devise ways of reaching them. If this takes hold, we can expect that the ENNA will further differentiate itself.

10. That is for the future. We can begin: by gathering together these names into an effective body, an embryo of sorts, and prepare to appear in Paris in late September. We need for people to step forward, and also to suggest and volunteer for various functions: record-keeping, website functioning; indeed, various activisms, for example, preparing to make an appearance at Cancun, MX, in December at the next round of UN-sponsored climate talks; or to specify and develop relations with the Cochabamba process.

This by the way, raises important questions of the degree to which the ENNA (and/or the EIN) relates to already functioning entities with which we share basic values. At Cochabamba, as you know, President Evo Morales articulated what was perhaps the first ever ecosocialist statement made by a head of state: a very major advance, to say the least. Clearly, ENNA/EIN needs integration with the Cochabamba process.

At the same time, I would argue against submerging our identity into that of Cochabamba, precisely for the reason that it has been sponsored by a nation-state, however virtuous, that also has to obey the exigencies of living within the capitalist system. But these are the questions that becoming an ecosocialist formation entails.

11. I am willing to take up the initial listing of participants in ENNA. Simply reply with an affirmative to the email I am sending. However, given my situation, while I will always play a role in its development, I cannot undertake the principle role of organizing ENNA and its relations with EIN. I will pass this along to those qualified person(s) who will undertake the task.

Ecosocialism or Barbarism! There is no third choice.


Attachment: Message from Richard Greenman

Dear Joel (bonjour à Michael),

Joel it was great talking with you in Detroit, and I’m sorry I missed you in NY — I came down with a cold and didn’t want to infect your household at such a critical moment. I hope all turned out well.

I write to direct your attention to the following discussion on the EIN listserve concerning structure. It feels to the troops that God created the EIN and then went away and left the ‘members’ waiting for Godot, since they don’t seem to know who the 25 members of the steering committee are, and none of the EIN ‘leaders’ is visible in the ongoing discussions of the ‘members’ such as we are. There is grumbling in the ranks and talk of mutiny, indeed of self-organization.

I write to you two founders personally out of respect before they start talking about walking the plank and the like. Frankly, I think this would be a good opportunity to encourage such initiatives and open up a frank discussion about who we are, what we hope to accomplish, etc.

My personal opinion is that our strength is the international dimension. Several ecosocialists like Dave Schwartzman have participated in conferences in ex-Soviet space, and we have excellent relations in Brazil, Greece etc. That and our clearly developed systemic anti-capitalist approach.

We could help coordinate a truly international movement, uniting the various eco-socialist fractions in different countries in a common discussion and common actions. But we will need a lot of serious discussion to figure out how to relate to other movements.

I think we can be most useful at the moment as speakers and writers, and I have just hired a really good professional web person to perfect my Radical Alternatives Network project and launch it so folks like us and the others who had the dedication to turn up at Detroit can get out on the hustings and speak to the broader public directly on campuses and in community centers.

Meanwhile, as someone who was present at it’s Baptism (briss?) I appeal to you parents to pay some attention to your orphaned offspring the actually-existing EIN.

Hugs from Montpellier where it’s hot,