The Movement Has Begun

December 2, 2011

On December 1st, the Democratic Left Front, a movement of movements based in Johannesburg, South Africa, inaugurated its arrival in Durban with an all-day conference on ecosocialism at the University of KwaZulu Natal. This event was a turning point for me personally, and as I will outline below, a powerful message to us all that an ecosocialist movement is not only growing on the horizon, but has already begun.

The objectives of the conference were outlined in the program:
“Understand the link between the climate crisis and capitalism; Situate South Africa within this; Explore and understand the concept of ecosocialism; Learn from existing experiences of ecosocialism; and Explore and think about ecosocialism in relation to alternatives like food sovereignty, climate jobs, solidarity economy, etc.”

I was honored to be a featured speaker, along with fellow Ecosocialist Horizons co-founder Joel Kovel, and an incredible panel of ecosocialists from all over the world: Renowned ecofeminist Terisa Turner, former Bolivian ambassador Pablo Solon, the one-and-only South African organizer Trevor Ngwane, Canadian ecosocialist organizer Roger Rashi, Vishwas Satgar from the Democratic Left Front, and many others. The speakers covered a wide range of subjects, from the crisis of capitalism and its false alternatives, to the theory and practice of ecosocialism, to ecofeminist world revolution, and to concrete experiences of ecosocialism from Bolivia to South Africa. (You can listen to the speeches by Pablo, Terisa, and Roger on this page under “Audio.”)

DancingThe real depth and spirit of the conference came not from the speakers however, but from the audience. They arrived by the hundreds, dancing and singing in four-part harmony, tranforming a lecture hall into a revolutionary celebration. These were not the academics or the usual leftist suspects that you might expect to attend a conference on ecosocialism. The vast majority of the audience were from the Southern African Rural Women’s Assembly, a network of rural women organizers from all over Sub-Saharan Africa, and from the Democratic Left Front, a large federation of radical grassroots organizers from all over South Africa. Throughout the day, they were not participants but protagonists, not spectators but subjects, not listeners but leaders.

From beginning to end, the assembly challenged the speakers with penetrating questions that forced us to distill and articulate in clear terms the theory and practice of ecosocialism. The discussion ranged from the struggle for basic necessities and the relation of these struggles to an ecosocialist vision, to a question about the organizational structure necessary to implement ecosocialist theory as a guide to action, and much more.

In particular, members of the Rural Women’s Assembly challenged the speakers to engage more deeply with the struggle against patriarchy. This was an unforgettable wake up call and reminder, for me and for so many, that overcoming patriarchy must be absolutely central to any revolutionary project. The liberation of women from male supremacy cannot be an afterthought, or an item on a list of demands. Absent a radical ecofeminist center, ecosocialism cannot be worthy of the name.

They were very eager to take our brochures (beautifully designed by Arabelle Clitandre!), and impressed and grateful that we had a translation into isiZulu (thanks to Faith Manzi!). I have never before encountered such an engaged audience on this subject, and Joel, who has lectured on every continent about ecosocialism, agreed.

I have lost count of the number of times that I have been told by people in the “First World” that ecosocialism will never get anywhere because it includes the word socialism. Take a look at the video here of these people singing “I’m a socialist” in spontaneous harmony, and think again. Moreover, both the ten speakers and the audience of hundreds all demonstrated a rigourous and dynamic understanding of the necessary next step in the evolution of socialism — toward a fundamental unity with nature. As Pablo Solon says in his talk, we must not only liberate humans from exploitation, we must also free nature from slavery.

The ecosocialist tide is coming in. This day was a profound demonstration, for me and for everyone, of who the revolutionary subjects for ecosocialist transformation really are. While there is no single privileged subject or agent of this transformation, there can be no doubt about where the movement is. In this context it became very clear to me how important it is for us as ecosocialists to follow the advice of Amilcar Cabral and “return to the source” — to learn from the people for whom ecosocialism in not an abstraction but a tangible platform for struggle and liberation. The movement has begun. Stay tuned!

COP 17 South AfricaThis post is part of a series. A delegation from Ecosocialist Horizons is in Durban, South Africa, bringing you reports from the United Nations conference on climate change, known as COP 17.