Tuesday, 6 October 2009


This seminar was held in London on 12 September 2009, and was jointly organised by Green Left and Socialist Resistance.
It was held at Friends House in Euston Road. In the entrance there is a poster with the slogan, PEOPLE NEED WATER, NOT WEAPONS.....a slogan which we could well  adopt for our own campaign!

The open plenary, chaired by Duncan Chapel of Socialist Resistance, was addressed by Romayne Phoenix, Green Councillor in Lewisham, and Ian Angus, author of the CLIMATE AND CAPITALISM blog, and editor of THE GLOBAL FIGHT FOR CLIMATE JUSTICE.

 The main thrust of the argument was the repetition of the idea that the economic crisis is also an environmental crisis...a fact of which we on the left have been aware for years, but is perhaps not universally recognised. Climate Change will inevitably change the NATURE OF WORK in the coming decades, and it is imperative that workers be financially supported during any necessary retraining.
 The point was made that the idea of free market capitalism being a guarantee of individual freedom was a delusion,and that even the Wall Street Journal admitted that "emissions trading is a money making venture for large corporations". (Wall Street Journal, 2007). Global warming is in essence a form of Class War. We need to move to a world of co-operative internationalism, in which we consume less, work less and share more, and uphold human rights for everyone on the planet.
Ian Angus then began his presentation by saying that we are not just heading for Socialism or Barbarism, we are heading for Socialism or Destruction. He raised doubts as to whether the Copenhagen meeting on Climate Change would really lead the world's governments to implement the necessary changes. He followed up with an analysis of Capitalism, that it in is the nature of capitalism that capital has to grow...the only measure of success is how much is sold matter how it is produced and how much destruction comes in its wake. Furthermore, pollution is no accident, it is inherent in the way the system works. One half to three-quarters of input into industrialised countries becomes waste within twelve months, and over half the food produced today is wasted, as it is  NOT PROFITABLE TO STOP WASTE. Most of us (population of the world) are the victims, rather than the perpetrators.
Ian then went on to remind us that ecological ideas are deeply embedded in Marx and Engels, although this tradition was largely ignored by Socialists in the 20th century, who concentrated instead on productivity and industrialisation.
Ecosocialism stands for qualitative growth, not quantitative growth.

After the Opening Plenary, we divided up into separate workshops.
I chaired the workshop on Women, Climate Change and Ecosocialism, at which the speakers were Sheila Malone and Terry Conway. I was glad that I'd been asked to chair the workshop, and I wanted to get more deeply involved in the discussion of the specific contribution women make to the eco-socialist movement.
The meeting began with the observation that women are seen as the main consumers, therefore the main target for advertising. It was also pointed out that most of the world, whether the affluent North or the Global South, is still largely dependent on women's domestic labour and food production.
Sheila Malone then introduced a discussion of Reproduction and reproductive rights, a complex topic which is perhaps avoided in Red-Green discussion groups...for reasons which will become apparent. Governments do have policies on fertility, longevity and mobility and we need to develop a response. Capitalism needs a workforce, and a (docile!) pool of unemployed labour - people are seen as 'economic units'. But there is a colonialist agenda on population - it is nearly always "We" (the affluent North) who think "they" should limit "their" population (with the unspoken sub-text that the population should be tailored to "our" needs for cheap labour). If Family Planning Clinics are to be provided, who should provide them?
The responses from Phil Woods and David Landau reminded everyone to be very wary of the Optimum Population Trust, who may be well-intentioned, but whose policies in fact border on eugenics, and is  a prime example of the imperialist population control policy that had already been touched on. We found the idea of "population control" suspect...just who is controlling whose population, and why?
Terry Conway then spoke on the topic of the intersection of the climate crisis and the economic crisis from the point of view of women. She maintained that ecosocialism without a feminist dimension isn't ecosocialism. She has in fact written an article on this topic for the journal Socialist Resistance - Women and the Crisis of Civilization, which you can read here.  http://socialistresistance.org/?p=656

Women are the hardest hit by the environmental crisis in poorer countries, especially as women globally are responsible for 80% of food production (as had already been observed in the introduction). In many countries of the Global South, women are the main providers of food, water, firewood and childcare, but have little say in society. Loss of traditional resources often means that women are being increasing pressurised to sell sex.
The campaign for equal access to resources for women is linked to the campaigns of indigenous peoples worldwide.
Reference was made to women who were in the forefront of the struggle in the past, such as Rachel Carson, and to women who are active today, such as Vandana Shiva.

In the afternoon I attended a workshop on Sustainable Cities. The emphasis was on transport, with a speaker from the Campaign for Free Public Transport in Manchester.

The current public transport stystem in the UK is unsustainable and inequitable, and perhaps what is important is to reduce the need to travel. ("Is your journey really necessary?") Instead of closing local post offices, hospitals, schools and services, we should be re-building local communities, and reduce the amount of out-of-town business parks and shopping centres, as they are difficult for poor people to access - in fact, they are also difficult for disabled people to access.  One urgent necessity is to develop a travel/transport system that is more broadly affordable, and this is where the Campaign for Free Public Transport comes in. The example of the town of Hasselt in Belgium was cited - it was very congested and in 1996 it was decided to make public transport free. The consequence was a great increase in the use of public transport and a corresponding decline in the use of cars, and also an expansion of cycle paths.
Another example of a cheap and well-organised public transport system is that of Mexico City, but this has a downside, in that the reason for it being cheap and well-orgnaised is that the poor live in barrios and have to use the Metro to go and do jobs for rich people, who have no need of the public transport system.

I will sum up by quoting from Liam Mac Uiad's speech at the final session:

“We very deliberately set out to make it internationalist and pluralistic. As you will have seen it was a genuine collaboration between Socialist Resistance and the Green Left. Both of us brought something of our own approach. Neither side was interested in ‘poaching’ a couple of the other’s members.

“I’m not privy to their inner secrets but I’m guessing that Green Left is not planning entry work in Respect anytime soon and we won’t be joining the Green Party either. It has been a genuine example of two currents who agree on the importance of ecosocialism working together. Nothing more and nothing less.

“The result has been a better event than either of us could have pulled off left to our own devices. Being in separate organizations is a lot less important than agreeing on many aspects of the politics and the event today shows that it is possible to organize together around those parts of politics on which we have a shared understanding.”

It was a really interesting and successful meeting of various strands of Red-Green opinion.

1 comment:

  1. The free public transport movement is already an international movement, of which the Manchester Campaign is an important and leading part. for more: