- Created: Wednesday, 09 June 2010 22:02
- Written by Sam Mcgill
‘Even an entire society, a nation, or all simultaneously existing societies taken together, are not the owners of the earth. They are simply its possessors, its beneficiaries, and have to bequeath it in an improved state to succeeding generations.’
Karl Marx, Capital, Vol 3
‘Death to capitalism, or death to Mother Earth, life for capitalism or life for Mother Earth.’
With these words, Bolivian President Evo Morales opened the World People’s Conference on Climate Change in Cochabamba from 20-22 April 2010. Over 10,000 international activists and 25,000 Bolivians attended the conference to build a World People’s Agreement about the action that needs to be taken against climate change. SAM MCGILL, who represented the Revolutionary Communist Group at the conference, reports.
The People’s Agreement recognises that: ‘Under capitalism, Mother Earth is converted into a source of raw materials, and human beings into consumers and a means of production, into people that are seen as valuable only for what they own, and not for what they are’. Calling for the establishment of an international Climate Justice Court, the accord also demands that developed countries:
- commit to reducing carbon emissions by at least 50% based on 1990 levels, eliminating carbon markets and other offset mechanisms;
- recognise, support and give full rights to climate migrants;
- establish a climate fund of 6% of their annual GDP created to honour climate debt run up in the destruction of natural environment, seas and contaminated air space.
The conference also committed to building a world people’s referendum on climate change, called for the building of a global people’s movement for Mother Earth, and agreed to hold a Second World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth in 2011.1
The leaders of ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas) who attended the conference, including Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, Evo Morales of Bolivia, Rafael Correa of Ecuador and Cuban Vice President Esteban Lazo, resolved to fight for the recognition of the People’s Agreement at the COP-16 UN Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Mexico in December 2010. They made it clear that this would require an organised activist movement from the people and reinforced the need to meet again in 2011 to take the struggle forward. It is evident that socialist and revolutionary movements in Latin America are leading the international fight against climate change and the underlying cause of climate change: imperialism.
Environmental destruction and extraction economies
The global system of imperialism enslaves the economies of impoverished countries in order to extract their minerals and natural resources. Imperialist countries, including Britain and the United States, ensure that countries like Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria are kept in a permanent state of underdevelopment and poverty by the plunder of raw materials such as gold, diamonds, coltan, oil and gas. These are exported with limited or no secondary processing, undermining industrialisation and obstructing internal economic development in such countries while reinforcing dependency on the imperialist nations that buy the exports. Coupled with manipulated market prices, rising debt levels and dependency on importing expensive manufactured goods, imperialism uses this economic domination to keep the development of exporting countries to the bare minimum.
Until recently this was also the fate of Bolivia and Venezuela, with their economies heavily dependent on gas and oil extraction respectively. The response of the revolutionary governments in these two countries has been to fight for control of their own natural resources, clawing them back from the hands of multinational companies, and nationalising them to fund health care, education and other social projects.
The 2006 nationalisation of gas reserves in Bolivia has seen the hydrocarbon sector increase its contribution to the state budget from $678 million in 2005 to $2 billion in 2009. In Venezuela, with the nationalised earnings from Petroleos de Venezuela South America (PDVSA), oil exports generate about 80% of the country’s total export revenue, make up around half of government income and approximately one third of Venezuela’s GDP. In Bolivia the revenues from the export of gas are being used to increase social spending, paying benefits to pensioners, families with children in school and pregnant women. In Venezuela PDVSA spends 10% of its annual investment budget on social programmes. Oil revenues fund Barrio Adentro (the free health care mission that works in rural and poor barrios), Mision Robinson (literacy mission), Mision Ribas and Mision Sucre (secondary and university education missions). Such money also pays for ‘petrocasas’ – prefabricated houses made from petroleum by-products – that are replacing wide areas of dangerously-built shanty towns.
The consequence of Venezuela’s historic dependency on oil has been an end to food self-sufficiency. After decades of migration from the land to the cities, agriculture which made up around a third of Venezuela’s economy in the 1920s accounted for only 6% in 2003.2 Venezuela has to import food to feed its population. Many of these food imports are subsidised by oil revenues.
Clearly, the economies of both Venezuela and Bolivia remain dependent on the extraction and export of raw materials and will do so for some time. With the recent creation of mixed enterprises for oil exploitation in the Orinoco belt, Venezuela’s oil extraction is likely to continue for decades. For example, the US’s Chevron will have a minority 34% stake in exploration and exploitation while PDVSA will retain 60%. What is at stake is the ability to control and use oil resources to improve Venezuelan society and diversify its economy rather than fill the coffers of the small Venezuelan elite and its imperialist backers. Ending oil exports now would completely undermine the Venezuelan economy and with it the Bolivarian revolution. It would open the doors again to rampant neo-liberalism and unchecked multinational exploitation without any regard to conservation or ecology. Breaking the cycle of oil dependency (or gas dependency in the case of Bolivia) requires two things: first, a global movement against climate change demanding that rich nations pay their climate debt and liberate exporting countries from this dependency, and second, economic diversification within the oppressed nations, allowing them to develop sustainably.
Ecosocialism – developing socialist thought
January 2009 saw the launch of the Belem Ecosocialist Declaration finalised as part of the Ecosocialist International Network in the World Social Forum of Belem, Brazil. Ecosocialism maintains that the ecological crisis is one manifestation of the many effects of the global capitalist system. The declaration correctly identifies that:
‘Infinite economic expansion is incompatible with finite and fragile ecosystems, but the capitalist economic system cannot tolerate limits on growth... Thus the inherently unstable capitalist system cannot regulate its own activity, much less overcome the crises caused by its chaotic and parasitical growth, to do so would require setting limits upon accumulation – an unacceptable option for a system predicated upon the rule: grow or die!’3
Ecosocialism is not in contradiction to traditional socialist thought but rather represents the development of this thought and practice in the context of a global ecological crisis. As John Rice, an Australian founder of the ecosocialist network in Adelaide points out:
‘It’s really important that we observe socialism in action, and not just on paper... For example, Cuba has roughly double the growth rate of other countries in Latin America, and yet is recognised by the World Wildlife Fund as the only country in the world with sustainable development. It’s an example of the fact that it’s not development per se that’s the problem, but capitalist development. This is a real lesson for the western environmental movement, which often argues for a decrease in development and living standards in the developed world. Given thoroughly democratic, community economic planning, there’s no reason why we can’t have wealth for all and a healthy, thriving environment, right across the world.’4
Cuba was forced to put aspects of ecosocialism into practice after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 left it without affordable sources of oil imports. During the subsequent Special Period, Cuba had to develop sustainable agriculture including the famous organiponicos (organic cooperative urban food gardens), provide bicycles and cut down transportation use. Because of its socialist system, this did not stop the country from investing in and developing top quality levels of education and healthcare and thereby continuing to achieve high ratings on the Human Development Index (see FRFI 214). Building on the lessons of the Cuban revolution and using the theory of ecosocialism, Venezuela is addressing its dependency on oil extraction and developing the theory and practice of ‘Bolivarian, Indo-American ecosocialism’.
Venezuela, ALBA and the fight for the future
In March 2010, the Forum for Ecosocialism held a national meeting in Caracas as a precursor to the World People’s Conference in Cochabamba. The forum is formulating plans and ideas to diversify the economy and encourage endogenous development to reduce imports, with a focus on food sovereignty and food production all over the country. This builds on work to conserve water and electricity in the face of the extreme drought Venezuela has faced this year. Part of the task is also to educate and raise awareness of the issues, something that is crucial in a country where there is little consciousness about waste plastic use and rubbish. As Guison Flores, President of the Venezuela Latin American Parliament (Parlatino) highlighted, ‘we need to change consumer behaviour, adapt our thoughts and realise that what we are doing is replacing the capitalist model for a socialist one’.
Some of the proposals that the ecosocialist network is working on include:
- a new social mission ‘Madre Tierra’ (Mother Earth);
- defining and implementing legally binding environmental responsibilities of public institutions;
- joint maintenance and conservation of water in the Caribbean;
- setting up a protection policy for the forests of ALBA countries;
- creating the world’s largest indigenous national park, ‘Katunawe Nondu’;
- prohibiting deforestation and mining in Caura (an important area of Venezuelan rainforest);
- developing national recycling plans and technology alongside a diploma of ecosocialism in the Bolivarian universities;
- the establishment of legislation banning the use of lead, mercury, organochlorines and other harmful substances.
This goes hand in hand with initiatives already taken by the Bolivarian revolution, which to date include Mision Arbol (a 10 million-tree reforestation and forest protection scheme) and free energy efficient light bulb replacement. PDVSA has eliminated lead-based petrol and has assumed responsibilities for environmental recovery and the decontamination of land and rivers affected by oil extraction. In addition to this, in April the government deployed 3,000 National Bolivarian guards in order to stop illegal gold mining in the Caura river basin which has been contaminating and destroying the local rainforest.
Venezuela, Cuba and Bolivia are leading ALBA and confronting the causes of climate change. With the initiative of Evo Morales in calling the recent summit in Cochabamba, the continued resolve of revolutionaries and indigenous people and the fight against false market solutions to solve climate change, ALBA is the only movement currently able to unite activists around the world and lead them in the fight against climate change. It is our job to defend the sovereignty of these countries and their natural resources. We must defend the gains they have made and the projects they develop and continue to highlight their leading role in providing a global alternative to the destructive system of imperialism. ALBA, Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia demand our support.
Jallalla pachamama! Jallalla ALBA! (‘Long live Mother Earth! Long live ALBA’ in Quechua, one of the indigenous languages of Bolivia.)
1. See http://pwccc.wordpress.com/ for the full People’s Agreement.
FRFI 215 June/July 2010