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Ecosocialist International Network’s historic meeting in Belem

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(By Cy Gonick) On February 2, the day after the concluding session of the World Social Forum in Belem, Brasil, an estimated 110 delegates turned up at the second ever meeting of the Ecosocialist International Network. The first meeting of the EIN, attracting 60 ecosocialists, was held in Paris in October 2007.

That meeting, made up mainly of northern intellectuals, concluded that the second meeting needed to bring in ecosocialists of the south including indigenous peoples. That goal was fully accomplished at Belem. By my count fewer than 25 of the delegates were of the north (three from Canada, the others mainly European). The rest were South Americans, mainly from Brasil with a sizable group from Peru including the veteran revolutionary Hugo Blanco, and one each from Africa and India.

One of the main objectives of this meeting was to consider the draft of the Ecosocialist Declaration, a revised verion of the Ecosocialist Manifesto written by Joel Kovel and Michael Lowy nearly a decade earlier.

A fair amount of the discussion occurred around the wisdom of using the term “socialist” with its negative associations in Peru where the Shining Path, a Maoist group, killed thousands of peasants over a decade or so ­ but also in Chile, where a weak kneed social democratic government calls itself socialist, to say nothing of the abuses and environmental catastrophes of the old USSR. The conclusion of this discussion seemed to be to retain the name “ecosocialist” but to remind people that this is 21st century socialism of Cuba and Venezuela, not of the Shining Path and Chernobyl.

Joel Kovel explained that if traditional socialism focused on more production and more work, ecosocialism is about the conversion of production and the reorganization of cities along ecocentric principles; and about the reduction of work hours and the democratization of the workplace. Only limits on accumulation will save the planet, he said, concluding that society will transcend capitalism only with ecosocialism

Kovel said that ecosocialism is a new idea, an historic idea with the potential to mobilize millions into action to meet the challenges of energy security, food security and climate change. While the ecosocialist declaration is an evolving document, with vigorous effort and good organization the network, he declared, could get a million signatures world-wide endorsing the declaration, or 10 million and even a hundred million. And ecosocialism needs to be taken into the state, the unions and everywhere. But that requires an organizational structure and a budget, that does not currently exist. The EIN is almost entirely a virtual (on line) organization. An organizational structure now exists in only a few countries.

Although none of the indigenous Canadian organizers of the Defenders of the Land Gathering held in Winnipeg last fall were present at this meeting, I had the impression throughout that they would feel very comfortable here and in terms of their struggles against resource exploitation that they would be in the vanguard of the EIN.

Several delegates emphasized the importance of getting ecology accepted as a central issue within the WSF and introducing ecosocialism to the larger environmental movement. At the moment, ecosocialism is still marginal and, being anticapitalist, anti-imperialist, anti-racist and socialist at the fringes of today’s environmental movement.

Upcoming 2009 events for mobilizations include the October Defenders of Mother Earth in Peru and the December UN Kyoto Round Two meetings in Copenhagen, the latter of which is expected to attract vast numbers of environmentalists ­some of whom aim to shut down the meetings.

As it turned out, the meeting decided that further work on the Ecosocialist Declaration is necessary in particular to make it a shorter, more popular statement and one with more punch. And little was actually decided about organization except to work towards establishing national and regional committees and ultimately an international office.

Obviously, much work lies ahead.

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