An Ecosocialist Horizon for Venezuela: A Solar Communist Horizon for the World
By David Schwartzman and Quincy Saul
The following paper was written for the “Moving Beyond Capitalism” Conference, which took place Jul. 29-Aug. 5, 2014 at the Center for Global Justice, San Miguel De Allende, Mexico.
En español aqui:Horizonte Ecosocialista para Venezuela, Schwartzman y Saul 2015
Video from the presentation of this proposal at CELARG, Caracas, Venezuela, November 2016
Below, a brief introduction:
PART I. INTRODUCTION: THE WORLD ON THE BRINK OF DOOM; GREAT BIFURCATION
Humanity and existing biodiversity are now facing a huge challenge in this the first half of the 21st century. Shall civilization emerge in a new mode, with the end of what Marx called our prehistory, the rule of capital on our planet, or shall we plunge into a deep abyss of climate hell, climate catastrophe, for the few who survive? This is the great bifurcation ahead, and the outcome is not possible to predict. Only transnational class struggle on a scale not witnessed in human history has any chance of avoiding the abyss (Schwartzman 2013a, b).
There are two threats of unprecedented magnitude. The first is that of nuclear war, which would be deadly even if localized, because of resulting climatic impact on agriculture. The second threat is catastrophic climate change (C3). C3 is very likely inevitable if carbon emissions to the atmosphere are not rapidly and radically reduced and if the already unsafe atmospheric level of carbon dioxide is not reduced by sequestration technologies to a safe level.
Paradoxically, however, we are also privileged to confront this challenge, since the process of removing these threats raises the possibility of ending the rule of capital on our planet.
The Increasing Threat of Climate Catastrophe and the Requirement of a Prevention Program
Our global climate is nearing tipping points to irreversible shifts. “Changes are beginning to appear, and there is a potential for explosive changes with effects that would be irreversible—if we do not rapidly slow fossil fuel emissions over the next few decades. Tipping points are fed by amplifying feedbacks. As Arctic sea ice melts, the darker ocean absorbs more sunlight and speeds melting. As tundra melts, methane, a strong greenhouse gas, is released, causing more warming. As species are pressured and exterminated by shifting climate zones, ecosystems can collapse, destroying more species” (Hansen 2009). Increased climate extremes are now confirmed as driven by global warming (Hansen et al. 2012, 2013), with flooding, extreme droughts, forest fires, greater storm damage all expected to increase with dangerous climate change. Ocean acidification from rising atmospheric carbon dioxide is already observed, with potential for widespread marine ecosystem collapse (Hansen et al. 2008). Arctic sea ice is shrinking to record low levels, with some predicting final collapse within four years (Vidal 2012).
Meanwhile, the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is already above a safe limit (it reached 400 ppm in 2013, with a safe level being no more than 350 ppm, assuming methane, ozone, and black soot decrease (Hansen et al. 2008, 2013). Only the thermal inertia of the ocean responding to the greenhouse forcing of the atmosphere still gives a brief window of time to initiate an effective C3 prevention program. Hansen and collaborators (2013) contend that the IEA and IPCC’s recommended 2°C ceiling is not based in science, rather on a political assessment of the potential of leading carbon emitting countries to radically reduce carbon emissions in the near future.
They wrote: “Increased climate extremes, already apparent at 0.8oC warming, would be more severe. Coral reefs and associated species, already stressed with current conditions, would be decimated by increased acidification, temperature and sea level rise. More generally, humanity and nature, the modern world as we know it, is adapted to the Holocene climate that has existed more than 10,000 years.” Further, “ distinctions between pathways aimed at ~1oC and 2oC warming are much greater and more fundamental than the numbers 1oC and 2oC themselves might suggest. These fundamental distinctions make scenarios with 2oC or more global warming far more dangerous; so dangerous, we suggest, that aiming for the 2oC pathway would be foolhardy.”
The material requirements for a prevention program with any chance of avoiding C3 must include the radical and rapid reduction in carbon emissions to the atmosphere (especially carbon dioxide, methane and soot), coupled with aggressive energy conservation and buildup of global wind/solar power, sufficient to sequester carbon from the atmosphere below the “safe” carbon dioxide limit of 350 ppm. Two technologies to achieve this objective are agroecologies increasing soil carbon and solar-powered industrial C-sequestration (Schwartzman and Schwartzman 2013).
Of course, adaptation to already occurring and projected impacts of global warming must be aggressively implemented, but mitigation, i.e., action to prevent even more dangerous climate change, is imperative, coupled if possible with adaptation. For example, substituting agroecologies for conventional agriculture potentially combines mitigation (reduction of fossil fuel use) with adaptation (shift to more local and resilient food production).
But it is increasingly clear that only with a radical shift to a global regime of peace and cooperation will it be possible to implement an effective C3 prevention program. The threats of C3 and nuclear war pose an unprecedented opportunity to end the rule of capital, because the main obstacle to elimination of these threats is the MIC, the Military Industrial (Fossil Fuel, Nuclear, State Terror) Complex at the core of real existing capitalism (Schwartzman 2009). Thus, the challenge to dissolve the MIC puts an ecosocialist transition on the agenda for humanity—an ecosocialist transition out of prehistory and into a new global civilization, solar communism in the 21st Century.
How much energy does humanity need?
A rough minimum of 3.5 kilowatt/person is required for state-of-the-science life expectancy levels, i.e. highest achievable (e.g., see graph posted on www.solarutopia.org, Schwartzman and Schwartzman 2013).
We note that reaching the minimum 3.5 kilowatt/person is necessary but not sufficient for acquiring the highest life expectancy, noting that several petroleum-exporting countries in the Mid-East as well as Russia fall well below the highest achievable life expectancy. Life expectancy for the Unite States is likewise below most industrial countries of the global North.
Income inequality is robustly correlated with bad health and must be reduced to achieve the world standard life expectancy and quality of life. Supplying the minimum 3.5 kilowatt/person for the present world population of 7 billion people requires a delivery equivalent to
25 Terawatts (TW), with the present delivery equal to 18 Terawatts.
PART II. VENEZUELA IN THE WORLD SYSTEM
It is in the context of this worldwide upheaval and reversal, known throughout indigenous South America as “the Pachakuti” 1, that we turn to the nation of Venezuela. In many ways Venezuela seems a very unlikely candidate to play a progressive role in the resolution of our global ecological crisis. The Saudi Arabia of Latin America, Venezuela is one of the world’s largest oil producers, and home to PDVSA, the largest corporation in the world. Venezuelans can fill up their gas tanks with pocket change. And yet it is in this nation, comparatively skipped over by the revolutionary wave which swept over most of the continent in the 1960s, and home to a large rentier aristocracy and an oil-fueled culture of consumption, where in the last decade, a revolutionary process has emerged and taken hold, which may be one of the last best hopes for people and the planet. As Bertold Brecht said, “in the contradiction is the hope.”
In the early 1900s, an oil boom turned what was a cash crop colony into a bustling metropolis, with skyscrapers and superhighways, stock tickers and supermarkets. Unlike other Latin American nations, whose economies and governments the US and European empires (past and present) could afford to bait and switch with impunity, imposing colonial and neocolonial relations via trade agreements and occasional coups, Venezuela’s position as an oil producer make it a different animal, a player on the world stage of geopolitics. OPEC was born in Venezuela.
For almost a century, US transnationals ran the Venezuelan oil fields, extracting more oil wealth from Lake Maracaibo, according to Eduardo Galeano (1973), than all the silver wealth extracted by the Spanish from the mountain of Potosi in Peru. This was the gas that fueled the birth of the military industrial complex, and greased the way for the US to take over the world, picking up where the Europeans had left off in building its global hegemony of “full spectrum dominance.”
In 1994 when the Zapatista uprising shook the world with the slogan that resonated around the world “ya basta!” (“enough already”), calling for an end to the last 500 years of conquest, a group of revolutionary minded soldiers inside the Venezuelan military were planning a coup. Led by Hugo Chavez among others, they were outraged and repulsed by the Venezuelan elite, the corrupt two party system, and the extreme brutality routinely unleashed on the Venezuelan people. They found inspiration and courage in the revolutionary figures of the anti-colonial struggle in Latin America; indigenous, African and European, who were united in fighting against the Spanish: Simon Bolivar, Guaicaipuro, Jose Leonardo Chirinos, Ezequiel Zamora, Jose Carlos Mariategui, Jose Marti, and many more. A decade later Hugo Chavez was democratically elected president of Venezuela, the entire nation mobilized to rewrite the constitution, and hundreds of social reforms were initiated, including the full nationalization of the oil industry.2
When the Chavez government, with the new constitution as its mandate, implemented a full nationalization of the oil fields, and began to put oil money toward social programs for health and education, the Venezuelan elite responded with a coup attempt and an oil strike. These circumstances radicalized Chavez and his supporters still further, leading Chavez in 2006 to call for socialism, and to begin to frame the social programs more and more explicitly in the context of anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist revolution.
No longer under the thumb of the US, Venezuela continues to flaunt the colonial legacy of the Munroe Doctrine, routinely engaging in diplomatic and trade relations with countries like Iran and China. Now, in the first decade of the 21st century, China has replaced the United States as the main recipient of Venezuelan oil. In the space-time of a couple decades, five centuries of colonial economic and political relations have been severely shaken, if not completely turned upside down. In the space-time spearheaded by Venezuela’s revolutionary process, other nations have followed the lead, with Bolivia, Ecuador and Uruguay, and to lesser but significant extents Brazil and Argentina, throwing out agents of US imperial domination, from diplomats to corporations.
Throughout Latin America the revolutionary process is uneven and embattled, as mixed up paradigms of development clash in a dialectic between movements and governments. We have no desire to romanticize all the so-called progressive regimes of Latin America, as many have done, which in many cases amount to little more than green-washed state capitalist governments.3 Nonetheless, we cannot allow the contradictions of a revolutionary process to confuse or distract us from our primary obligation which is to defend the gains of the revolutionary process from its enemies. Today in Venezuela the opposition is trying yet again to spark a counter-revolution, to unseat President Maduro, and to reverse the dynamics which the revolutionary process has unleashed.
It is our contention that the contradiction and complexity of the revolutionary process are not an indication of its weakness; but precisely the opposite. The situation in Venezuela is so complex and embattled precisely because in so many ways it is the place in the world were the revolutionary process is most advanced and globally significant. With the recent discovery of the Faja del Orinoco, one of the largest untapped oil reserves in the world, Venezuela’s role as a key player in geopolitics will only increase, as peak oil sets in throughout the world. For all the more reason then it devolves upon us all to study the internal dynamics of this place and its people, to discern the vital thread that connects the struggle against catastrophic climate change, to its radical anti-capitalist, and ecosocialist alternatives, all over the world.
PART III. VENEZUELA ECOSOCIALISTA! A PENDING REVOLUTION
Few would have guessed that Venezuela would be the first country in the world to make ecosocialism official government policy. Fewer still are even aware that this has taken place! But this historic fact, the result of decades of activism and advocacy by a wide diversity of sectors all concerned about environmental degradation, is a kernel in the kettle of the revolutionary process which if allowed to fully develop, could change the world. It is already changing Venezuela.
The Plan Patria, the five year plan upon which Chavez ran for his last election, was developed through a constituent process of investigation and research which many Venezuelans have compared to the constituent process convoked to rewrite the constitution. In its fifth and final historic goal, it points toward a legacy and a mission of profound significance in the face of catastrophic climate change, one whose audacity puts to shame the other governments of the world, who have clothed fear, cruelty and indecision in endless jargon. The fifth historic goal of the Plan Patria, understood as Chavez’s legacy, epitaph and last will, is simple: “Contribute to the preservation of life on the planet and the salvation of the human species.” How?
“Build and promote the eco-socialist and productive economic model, based on a harmonious relationship between man and nature that guarantees the rational, sustainable and optimal use of natural resources while preserving the processes and cycles of nature. ”
This plan, which calls for an end to the commodification of nature4, which calls for the creation and amplification of a global movement to fight catastrophic climate change5, and outlines real policies of mitigation and adaptation6, is historic in its audacity and its vision. Unlike most government documents which are written and read only by politicians and lawyers, the Plan Patria is being distributed, read, and debated at all levels of society. From forums in universities, to urban land reclamations, to farmers in the interior, to indigenous and Afro-descendant communities, to seed savers in the mountains, to the National Assembly, the Plan Patria and the meaning of ecosocialism in particular are being debated.7
Already numerous articles and polemics have appeared calling attention to the obvious contradiction expressed in a government whose main source of revenue is oil production advocating ecosocialism.8 Others have called attention to the plight of indigenous peoples in Venezuela, who deserve more recognition for their ecosocialist praxis than a government document.9 To the extent that these critiques and commentaries further our understanding of the blind spots in the revolutionary process, and delineate possibilities and strategies for rectification, these critiques are to be welcomed and encouraged. Unfortunately, a more facile approach is the trend. Instead of celebrating the Plan Patria and the call for ecosocialism, many understand the contradictions as dark secrets that undermine the legitimacy of the revolutionary project.
It is true that all of the tremendous gains in education and health, gains which in fact are unprecedented in scale and speed in human history, have depended on oil money. It is true that Venezuela has the highest per capita deforestation rate of Latin America. It is also true that tens of thousands of Venezuelan are taking Chavez’s mandate of ecosocialism very seriously, and are training cadre in agroecology, bioremediation, sustainable land and water management, seed saving, urban agriculture, and more. “In formal logic, a contradiction is the sign of defeat,” wrote philosopher and historian of science Alfred North Whitehead: “But in the evolution of real knowledge, it marks the fist step toward victory.”
In 2010, Miguel Angel Nunez, director of the Latin American School of Agroecology published a book titled “Ecosocialist Venezuela: A Pending Debate “. Today the debate is no longer pending but underway, from the corridors of government to the streets of Caracas to the mountains of Yaracuy and the llanos of Barinas. Now it is the ecosocialist revolution that is pending, gestating in the hearts and minds of all the protagonists of the Bolivarian process, in Venezuela and beyond, who recognize the urgency of catastrophic climate change, who see the hope in the contradictions, and who believe the words of Simon Bolivar, quoted at the opening of the Plan Patria… “what you have done so far, is only a prelude of what you can do in the future. Prepare for combat, and count on victory.”
This was the sentiment and the hope at the IV Congress of Biological Diversity, where the contradictions between ecosocialism and the oil economy were hotly debated. In the final declaration of the congress, painstakingly compiled and synthesized from a week of forums, lectures, classes and debates, and then collectively revised and rewritten by hundreds in an assembly which lasted nearly six hours, we call attention to the following paragraph:
“We believe that a basic element of any ecosocialist transition is the change in the mode of production and consumption that should be accompanied by a matrix of alternative energy to guarantee sustainability and promote the sovereignty of all peoples.”
This sentence emerged from a debate in the assembly of how to include the question of alternative energy. Against those who called simplistically to include a mention of renewable energy as part of ecosocialism, many successfully argued that to call simply for renewable energy was not enough. The real issue and demand is for a change in the mode of production and consumption, which must be accompanied by renewable energy, and grounded in the sovereignty and independence of the people. Absent this distinction, as we have witnessed in other parts of the world, “green energy” can act as a Trojan Horse to further the privatization of the environment, the creation of massive development projects such as hydroelectric dams, and the creation of intellectual property rights on technologies which do not solve but exacerbate our ecological and social crisis. With this ideological understanding in mind, the declaration went on to say:
“We believe that the current unsustainable rentier petroleum model of our country, upon which we are dependent, is a transitory passageway that should serve to transcend the capitalist mode, toward the construction of the Ecosocialist Communal State. This transformation implies settling the historic social and ecological debt of the State with its peoples and guaranteeing regional integration.”
It is on exactly this note that we wish to proceed. HOW can Venezuela use its oil wealth to seed the creation of an ecosocialist mode of production? How can oil be used in such a way as to eventually leave the oil in the soil, as peoples movements are demanding from the Amazon river to the Niger Delta?10 How can we navigate and guide this transitory passageway, in such a way which opens up not only an ecosocialist horizon for Venezuela, but a solar communist horizon for the world? We believe that all this is not only necessary, but possible, and within the range of current technological capacity. It is within our reason and technique to use fossil fuels to transition towards a solar economy, while at the same time remaining committed to the obligations of the revolutionary government to alleviate poverty. With this courage and conviction, with the audacity and the vision of ecosocialism which is Hugo Chavez’s legacy to the world, that we propose the creation of a new Gran Mision, to accompany the other Gran Misiones of the Bolivarian process; a transversal mission within which all others are understood and directed, to immediately begin the transformation of a solar energy infrastructure which alone could satisfy the highest aspirations of the Bolivarian revolution and the communal state.