This past weekend in Troy, New York, a town with radical roots that trace back to Underground Railroad, the spirit of our ancestors sang loudly. People concerned with the future of the planet and all the life it contains, met to collectively confront the dire urgency of our situation. The discussions vibrated, there was always song, children playing, animals running, but most of all minds were stirring.
For three days the Eco-Socialist Convergence, hosted by The Sanctuary for Independent Media, buzzed as folks tried to iron out a declaration of intent to frame and guide the course they were embarking on. Quincy Saul, lead organizer and co-founder of Eco-Socialist Horizons sat down with me after the conference to answer a few questions and talk about what it eco-socialism has to offer.
Eco-socialism: “Ecosocialism is a movement that postulates socialism fully realized in society and nature alike as the precondition for an ecologically rational society. Ecosocialism is more a path than a destination, though it is a destination as well, which is prefigured in the shaping of the path” (www.ecosocialisthorizons.com)
Elivs Méndez: Tell me more about eco-socialism?
Quincy Saul: Ecosocialism is necessary because both environmentalism and 20th century anti-capitalism have failed. The idea that you can solve the biggest problem on planet Earth with some sort of market solution is becoming increasingly ridiculous. Environmentalism without a systemic anti-capitalist perspective is useless, and there is increasing consensus globally around this. It’s only among liberals in the first world that there is any confusion on this point. But the other side of the coin is that an anti-capitalism that is not ecological is also useless, because it doesn’t matter if we can divide the fruits of our labor equally if we do not have a planet.
EM: What does eco-socialism have to say about militarism and our war economy?
QS: Even amidst catastrophe we have to have an analysis. Why is there a war economy? Why is there permanent war? To understand that you have to follow the money. To understand war you have to understand our whole economic system. The way we got out of the world economic depression in the 1930s was to build this war economy. It started in World War 2 and never stopped. The military industrial complex is one way to cut the Gordian knot of the accumulation crises of our economic system. Capitalism has always struggled with overproduction, and part of the way this has been solved has been to build a permanent war economy. This solves the problem of overproduction because weapons have a unique property, in that they are built to be destroyed. So you’re not creating and selling them the same as you would most commodities.
The way we got out of the world economic depression in the 1930s was to build this war economy
Meanwhile, the war industry doesn’t really obey market laws. It’s all government contracted and lobbied for; the price does not reflect the supply. If you produce a ton of missiles it’s not like the price goes down necessarily, you can produce this stuff infinitely. Smedley Butler said it long ago; war is a racket, a global protection racket for Wall Street.
EM: What about the ecological aspect of war?
QS: There is an ecological aspect of war that we should bear in mind and this is particularly brutal when thinking of Iraq. The use of depleted uranium munitions has created massive Iraqi birth defects. Look at the pictures online if you want nightmares. This is something that will not go away, we know this from Japan and Ukraine, but it's not confined to the borders of those countries. This is damage that goes beyond the human time frame. The damage we are wreaking in Iraq, in the cradle of civilization, is also not just on human life, it’s killing whole ecosystems, not only now, but in the future as well.
There are more climate refugees than war refugees
To gain perspective on the problem it’s important to keep in mind the fact that there are more climate refugees than war refugees, and that the CIA has identified climate change as the biggest security threat.
As many people die in Kabul from air pollution as they do from violent death resulting from the occupation. The amount of people that die from lung cancer and emphysema is enormous. I think the main point is that we have to move beyond this basic innocent humanist perspective on war, which can't explain the causes of war, and haven't been able to stop it.
EM: Have you seen links or connections between anti-imperialist movements and indigenous movements seeking to reclaim and improve their ecosystem?
QS: This is a very important question. This is a raging, existential debate in Latin America, with the highest of stakes. The Bolivian government of Evo Morales for instance is very much anti-imperialist, and very much deserving of support in that sense, and yet it is being severely criticized by own people because of the heavy resource extraction going on there. This is a big blind spot on the left, especially in the U.S. Let's put it this way: all eco-socialists are anti-imperialists, but not all anti-imperialists are eco-socialists.
There are people who talk about anti-imperialism who don't go far enough in challenging what imperialism really is in the first place. In the 20th century, anti-imperialists (Russia and China are the biggest examples) were obsessed with trying to catch up with the West. Kruschev said "We will bury you!" This kind of socialist hyper-production is the opposite of what we need today. The anti-imperialism that I would like to see, an eco-socialist anti-imperialism, would challenge this entire mode of development itself, which is built on the ransacking of nature, which is inseparable with the exploitation of people. What we need to learn from the debates in Ecuador and Bolivia today is that redistributing the surplus of industry more equitably is not enough. It’s very easy to imagine cutting down a whole forest and distributing it evenly. That is why an eco-socialist perspective has become historically necessary: we need to reconcile the socialist tradition with the self-determination and cosmo-vision of indigenous peoples.
The writing is on the wall. Everyone now knows about catastrophic climate change, but even before then we’ve been in the middle of a mass extinction for decades. Mainstream environmentalism is bankrupt. And socialism that doesn’t have ecological principles at its very core is obsolete and toxic. Otherwise you might as well be talking about building a socialist spaceship so we can leave planet Earth.
Please check out long time Civil Rights, SNCC and NAACP activist and US Senate candidate Colia Clark’s address at the convergence:
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the entire War Times project
Elvis Méndez is a worker organizer and peace activist. Originally from the Dominican Republic and now living in Boston, Massachusetts. Elvis has worked as a counter-recruitment organizer for AFSC, and later as an organizer with the United Electrical Workers’ Warehouse Workers for Justice campaign organizing temporary workers along the supply chain. He is now the Coordinator of the mmigrant Workers Center Collaborative in Boston, Mass.
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