Thursday, December 17, 2020

Révolution écosocialiste: A strategic perspective for uniting ecosocialists in Quebec

Newly formed organization proposes a green, ecosocialist and democratic program for building a mass movement in the 21st century.


Published below is the “Basis of Unity” adopted by Quebec ecosocialist activists at the founding meeting on October 18 of a new organization, Révolution écosocialiste. First published in the web journal Presse-toi à gauche, the statement was signed by prominent members of the left party Québec solidaire. My English translation was first published in Climate & Capitalism.

Interviewed by the magazine Nouveaux Cahiers du Socialisme, Benoit Renaud explained that he and the other signatories felt that an earlier networking group, the Réseau écosocialiste founded in 2013, was no longer the activist organization they had originally envisaged, and instead functioned as little more than a “talk shop” (lieu d’échange). The new organization, he said, would succeed the Réseau, which will now be dissolved. “The mass mobilizations of recent years over climate change and the emergence of more radical groups within this movement (like Extinction Rebellion) indicate to us that the future of the struggle for socialism will probably unfold to a large degree through the political development of the ecology movement.”

Asked about the new group’s relation to Québec solidaire, Renaud said that while they thought the electoral and parliamentary action of QS was essential, it should be “subordinate to the development of social struggles.” A mass ecosocialist party is needed, but whether QS could become such a party was an open question, he said. As a result of its electoral success, the party was becoming bureaucratized, a small minority of “political specialists” tending to substitute for the membership and to see themselves as the party leaders. Révolution écosocialiste would fight to get the party to adopt “horizontal, inclusive and participationist structures,” and to help make QS more a “party of the streets,” not just the ballot box.

It would also seek to radicalize the party’s orientation, to make it a party of system change. “But we are not ‘resolutionaries’. Révolution écosocialiste wants to build the movements that will enable us to overcome the present crisis of civilization.”

In an accompanying article on “a green, ecosocialist and democratic plan for the 21st century,” founding members Bernard Rioux and Roger Rashi critique the Legault government’s “green economy plan” — “a smokescreen” — and outline their idea of “a green plan that opens the way to a fundamental transformation.” It includes nationalization of the energy industry, socialization of the banks and financial institutions, and massive public investment in green, quality jobs.

The founding members have also published proposals on the structures and functioning of Révolution écosocialiste. They plan to hold general membership meetings “every two months or more often as needed.” Among the proposed structures are an editorial committee to manage an RE web site, and an educational committee, each with at least four members elected on a gender-parity basis. As well there will be a women’s caucus. Membership dues will be set at $10 a month.

Révolution écosocialiste was publicly launched on December 15 in a webinar featuring presentations and comments by some of RE’s founding members. Pending development of its website, RE can be contacted at the following address:

Révolution écosocialiste has set itself ambitious goals. Socialists outside Quebec will want to collaborate with RE and learn from it in a spirit of solidarity.

Richard Fidler

* * *

Ecosocialist Revolution: Basis of Unity

Révolution écosocialiste contributes to the construction of a socialist movement in which a mass socialist party will be called upon to play a key role. This requires a renewal of the trade union movement and the development of combative and democratic social movements. To be successful, our campaigns ‒ electoral, union or social ‒ must be situated within an overall strategy, which must itself be based on an analysis of the economic and political system and our historical situation. Our basis of unity, which unites us, presents our strategic perspective and our vision of the socialist movement to be built.

A. For socialism

A1 We want to help build a socialist world that will end the exploitation and oppression that are inherent in capitalism. Everyone has the right to a free and fully creative life. In a socialist society, a democratically planned and administered economy will enable us to meet the challenge of climate change and to preserve our ecosystems and biodiversity. A socialist democracy will redefine politics by extending democracy to our workplaces and within our communities.

B. The strategic centrality of the class struggle to overthrow capitalism

B1 Capitalism is based on exploitation and commodification. Capitalist society is divided into classes. A small minority dominates the economy and monopolizes the means of production and distribution from which the great majority subject to this domination is dispossessed. The resources to which people are entitled and what they must do to survive are determined by their social class, but also by their racialized group, gender identity, and ability.

B2 Capitalist firms are in competition and must therefore maximize profits by reducing costs, intensifying labour and adopting technologies that increase its productivity while making it more precarious. Financial companies are also competing for a share of household debt and developing more and more murky financial products for this purpose. This frantic race for profitability in the context of an unplanned economy leads to recurring crises, both economic and ecological.

B3 While immense wealth is produced, the majority of the population struggles to make ends meet, and our access to what is necessary for a dignified and fulfilling life remains far removed from what it could be. At the top, society is dominated by the capitalist class ‒ a small minority of large property owners and their managers. The profits of this class are derived from the efforts of the vast majority, the working class.

B4 The profits of those above depend on the work of the vast majority below. This gives us enormous potential power, therefore. We have the power to stop production and the flow of profits, or to create a political crisis with a public service strike. We are the vast majority of the population and we have the power to transform a political system that protects the power of capital.

B5 Improving our lives now and eventually putting an end to capitalism requires the mobilization of this immense potential power and poses the central strategic question of the organization of the working class ‒ the construction of its unity in all its diversity. This project is at the heart of our strategic perspective.

C. Against the other systems of exploitation

C1 Capitalism and the other systems of exploitation ‒ racism, colonialism and patriarchy ‒ are co-constituted; that is, they are interdependent and feed on each other. Employers use sexist or racist tactics to divide their employees. Beyond these tactics, the normal process of capitalist accumulation inevitably fuels racial and gender divisions within society. Conversely, the division of society into classes is also modulated by patriarchy, racism and various other systems of oppression and exploitation (castes, capacities, religions, heteronormativity, cissexism, colonialism, poverty, etc.). In particular, class membership is determined in part by gender and even more largely by race.

C2 Fighting against patriarchy and racism requires confronting the power of capital because it opposes, for example, the taxation of its profits that is necessary to finance a network of public, free and quality childcare centres, or because it helps maintain the hyper-precarious status of migrant workers. Conversely, effectively confronting capital involves attacking patriarchy, racism, and all the forms of oppression and exploitation that divide us. In this, we recognize that the sexual and racial division of labour (including self-employment and underemployment) as well as racist and patriarchal violence (including police, domestic and sexual violence) are central issues that cannot be solved only by struggle against capitalism.

C3 Ecofeminism must also be part of our analysis of oppressions. If the capitalist can transform the earth into a commodity by extracting natural wealth and that he can mutilate, burn, or sterilize the earth, so also does he treat women as a commodity, and people who identify as women suffer rape, violence, assault and feminicide.

C4 In order to build a truly free society, the socialists therefore aim to end all oppressions and forms of exploitation. To achieve this goal, we strive for the organization of workers as a class united in all its diversity. This implies balancing the demands of class, gender and ethnic origins.

C5 We stress the importance of struggles for demands from which the entire working class will benefit ‒ free and quality public health and education systems; the right to decent housing; the strengthening of trade union rights, etc. ‒ to the extent that they also make it possible to attack other oppressions and forms of exploitation. These demands are particularly beneficial for those who identify as women and for people of colour, as they reduce the competition for resources that fuels prejudice and divisions within the working class. By contributing to the socioeconomic security of oppressed and superexploited people, they thereby reduce the power of the oppressors and exploiters, including that of abusive bosses, violent spouses, abusive government practices or racist landlords.

C6 These demands, which will benefit all workers, are however insufficient. Socialists must also directly address the forms of domination and exploitation that divide the working class and and we must support the autonomous movements of oppressed groups. In Quebec, this includes, among others (but not exclusively!) the fight against violations of the rights of racialized minorities, for example Islamophobia; the defense and extension of the right to abortion; the fight against the sexual division of labour and violence against women; support of Indigenous struggles;defensee of the rights of LGBTQ + people; and defense of the rights of people with disabilities.

C7 The socialists must help turn these struggles into mass mobilizations and work to integrate their demands into an overall strategy. While some argue that the organization and autonomous struggles of people who identify as women or of racialized people undermine class solidarity, we believe on the contrary that they can nourish it. The experience of collective power of people who identify as women and / or racialized people in struggle can lead them to aim for broader class solidarity, and inspire other groups to build our power in the face of capital. Solidarity is contagious.

C8 Our search for class unity, on the other hand, leads us to reject the perspective which would simply attribute oppressions and the various forms of exploitation to erroneous or harmful ideas rather than target their systemic sources, and which resort to shaming tactics in order to transform behaviour. Such a perspective makes emancipation dependent on the goodwill of the oppressor and undermines class solidarity and struggles against exploitation and oppression by dividing our forces. Having said that, we consider the concept of privilege, as well as the theory and activism informed by this concept, to be compatible with a socialist approach, and we recognize that a political group must have an internal and formalized policy in order to fight against the oppression within it.

C9 To fight against other systems of exploitation, the groups concerned must necessarily organize and fight on an autonomous basis. For example, history shows us that the demands, the realities of women, the violence they suffer are not resolved only by the abolition of capitalism. Patriarchy has for too long survived different forms of social organization. It is necessary that the groups concerned organize themselves on their own bases and remain organized throughout the various struggles, both at the very base in the unions, political parties, neighbourhoods, and community groups with forms of caucus and on regional, national, continental and global bases in broad, gender-specific and democratic coalitions. Women-only forms are essential to enable the groups concerned to take their place, to develop their confidence and to combat the violence suffered. This is the best way to make clear the stigma left by the different systems of exploitation and oppression.

C10 A socialist organization that claims to be feminist must work to build such autonomous movements. For example, socialist activists who are involved in the struggles of the women’s movement work to strengthen this unity and solidarity of all people who identify as women without exception. But as socialists, they must also advance demands that challenge patriarchy and capitalism and create within this autonomous movement a class-struggle current. The World March of Women brings together groups, coalitions and women’s centres internationally and is the embryo of such a movement. And from this autonomous movement, it is possible to organize mass movements bringing together first people who identify as women. The Chilean and Argentine examples are important demonstrations of this.

D. The neoliberal offensive against our gains

D1 Anchoring our struggles against exploitation and oppression in the current historical context requires taking note of the defeat of the working class, a defeat which put an end to the struggles and achievements of the post-war boom. Trade union rights are under attack, union membership stagnates or shrinks, the number of strikes is at record lows, and workers are forced into unending concessions. Many social movements have limited themselves to their narrow corporate interests and been co-opted by the State. The social democratic parties have taken a decidedly neoliberal turn, and the communist parties continue their long decline to insignificance. For the first time since the end of the 19th century, the working class in many countries no longer has parties capable of expressing their interests.

D2 Neoliberalism has a material anchorage and is not just an ideology ‒ it is the politics of Capital but it is not encountering effective mass resistance. The defeat and fragmentation of the working class leads to a degradation of working and living conditions. It entails as well a stagnation in real wages, even as labour productivity continues to rise. The erosion of social programs and the commodification of public services encourage recourse to debt. All of this fuels the growth of inequalities and prompts the search for regressive individual solutions such as tax cuts.

D3 The economic situation is characterized by a triple crisis. The Great Recession of 2008 (as well as the slowdown in growth and the period of austerity it opened), the ecological and climate emergency, and the crisis of liberal democracies (parties succeed each other in office, neoliberal policies remain, and the far right gains ground!) are among the many dimensions of the growing loss of legitimacy of the political and economic systems in place.

D4 It is in this context that many large-scale mobilizations have taken place in recent years. For lack of organizations and strategic perspectives that would allow it, however, most of these struggles produce little or nothing in the way of an accumulation of popular anticapitalist forces.

D5 After an initial impetus in this direction in Latin America, we have more recently seen a return of resistance movements towards partisan politics in the countries of the Global North. Québec Solidaire, Bernie Sanders, the Labour Party under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, and Podemos are just some of the examples. These are promising signs that may allow for better articulation and defense of the interests of the working classes.

D6 Social mobilizations and partisan politics must, however, find a way to express themselves within an overall strategy.

E. Advance towards socialism

E1 We know that winning elections is not the same as taking power. Without an organized class of workers (primarily in the workplace, where our potential power is greatest), a socialist electoral victory means little.

E2 We reject a strategy limited to gradual reforms which does not contemplate the necessary break with capitalism. Fighting for reforms is essential but reformism, which aims to administer the capitalist economy to the advantage of both capital and workers, means locking ourselves into a dead end. Reformism seeks to support the profitability and productivity of companies in order to create the resources necessary to finance better wages and social programs ... even as the support of profitability and productivity under capitalism requires slashing wages, intensifying work, and liberalizing markets. While some progress can be achieved during a period of growth, crises ‒ recurrent and inevitable under capitalism ‒ will eventually impose austerity policies. These are the “automatic” and inevitable disciplinary mechanisms of capitalism.

E3 Many historical examples clearly show the impossibility of a reformist approach: the social democratic government of the 1970s in Sweden, the socialist government of François Mitterrand in the early 1980s, the government of the NDP in Ontario in the early 1990s, or the one developed by Syriza, in Greece, from 2015 to 2019, to name just a few. All of these leftist governments abandoned their progressive agendas in favour of austerity measures.

E4 There are reasons for this. In addition to the disciplinary mechanisms already mentioned, the capitalists, if their interests are threatened, will lead ‒ or threaten to lead ‒ an “investment strike.” A socialist government will also be exposed to sabotage by the senior civil service, the command structures of the police and armed forces ‒ which may lead to the suspension of democracy, as was the case in Chile in 1973.

E5 Conversely, we also reject an ultra-leftist posture that substitutes the adventures of a small number of activists in place of organized and democratic mass movements. We reject a sectarian and purely propagandist political posture that adopts an air of radicalism but which can rally only a small minority of people who are already convinced.

E6 A break with capitalism is clearly not on the political agenda in the short term. The question is therefore how we can advance towards this rupture.

E7 The work of socialist organization must be directed towards the great majority of workers who are not yet politically active. We need to get people to openly confront the capitalists and their politicians on the basis of immediate demands, while linking each specific immediate issue to its root cause: capitalism. Our aim is to create a mass movement that forces the elites to make concessions ‒ and eventually ousts them from power.

E8 Accordingly, our strategic perspective aims to combine the work of social mobilization and electoral work within a socialist outlook. Our essential task is to participate in the reconstruction of the power of the working class, which will ultimately have to fight for the seizure of power. In our work within the social movements we must seek above all to organize a current that gives priority to the development of a class and mass struggle perspective. In Quebec, this means today striving to make Québec solidaire a mass party of the working class.

E9 Québec Solidaire must become a party that will combine its electoral campaigns with the support of extra-parliamentary mobilizations in order to convince a growing number of workers of the impasse of capitalism and the need for socialism. This requires fighting for structural reforms which, in addition to improving living conditions, bring about a transfer of power from capital to our class. These are transitional reforms which go beyond the capitalist horizon, and which involve struggles that develop capacities and raise the expectations of working people.

E10 We do not claim to know exactly how the transition from capitalism to socialism will take place, but we wish to contribute to the construction of a party is able to intervene in the crisis of legitimacy of capitalism and of the State as it becomes more acute. Québec solidaire could even contribute to creating such a crisis by supporting the development of democratic resistance movements controlled by their rank and file ‒ masses of people leading in the organization of strikes, the occupation of workplaces, student strikes, massive demonstrations ‒ and by forming a government that implements structural reforms that attack the power of capital.

E11 Such massive and democratic mobilizations, combined with a government committed to structural reforms, will have to lead to a situation of rupture with capitalism. Since the ruling class never cedes power without resistance, a socialist government supported by popular mobilizations will have to do whatever is necessary to defend democracy and its mandate and to accomplish a program of redistribution, expropriation, and radical democratic reform of state institutions. At the same time, the government will have to support the development of new popular democratic institutions that are sure to emerge from the grassroots in the workplaces and communities.

F. Class-struggle election campaigns

F1 We want to form a mass class-based party that both conducts election campaigns and helps to build the social movements. We want Québec solidaire to become such a party. This implies contributing to the development of struggles and a class unity that is much greater than what exists today.

F2 Just as the party’s goal cannot simply be to win elections, its election campaigns cannot be reduced to “communications strategies”. The interests of workers are not created by rhetoric. The party discourse must articulate material interests and class conflicts that already exist latently in society. Between the lukewarmness of opportunist discourse and propagandist slang, we must develop a discourse that is anchored in people’s daily problems, explicitly links them to class relations, and helps to build our mobilizations.

F3 For the majority of the population, politics boils down to elections. To ignore the importance of electoral work is therefore to confine oneself to the margins and political insignificance. Our aim, however, is to help broaden the popular conception of politics, to take it beyond elections and parliament.

F4 One of our biggest challenges is to use electoral politics to develop our power while avoiding the trap of cooptation. The deputies and the governments of the left must serve our movement, never the other way around. Socialist politicians should act first as organizers of the movement, and then as legislators. They must use their positions and parliamentary resources to support the organization of workers and demonstrate how capitalist politicians are standing in the way of necessary changes.

G. A bottom-up strategy

G1 The most important task for socialists is to help develop a combative movement of workers, diverse and democratic. Our class-struggle electoral campaigns must be part of a socialism “from below” which involves democratically organized struggles and enables those leading them to develop their capacities and their political consciousness. As we strive to change our political and economic context, we transform ourselves ‒ it is this process of self-transformation and development of our capacities that will help us to organize our political and economic institutions democratically.

G2 Because capitalists depend on their exploitation for profit, the greatest potential power of workers is in the workplace. These places bring together individuals from all social backgrounds and generate common interests that can serve as a basis for powerful movements.

G3 With this in mind, socialists should help organize grassroots workers and build the link between a socialist movement and the militant minority that is already organizing and struggling in the workplace. Together, we can build democratic and combative unions that confront employers, organize unorganized workers, and lead political campaigns that go beyond the workplace. Likewise, we must support democratic and combative tendencies in other social movements.

G4 It is above all not a question of “infiltrating” and interfering in trade union and social movements without their knowledge, but on the contrary of contributing to the democratization and autonomy of movements within which we ourselves are rooted. There is a gradation of levels and methods of support. We can provide concrete, tactical and material support for the organization of struggles on the ground. We can produce analyzes that situate struggles in their broader political and socio-economic context. Eventually, and when a real implantation allows it, we can contribute to the strategic debates that orient the struggles in a transparent and democratic way.

G5 Given our limited resources, our attention should shift to strategic economic sectors and social movements ‒ those in which workers have the best chance to organize and exercise maximum power over employers. Where possible, we should work with union leaders and institutions, bearing in mind that union leaders and staff are often resistant to our perspective of union renewal. Knowing this, and when possible, we must prioritize the formation of caucuses of members who aim to democratize and revitalize their union organizations from the grassroots.

H. The struggle for independence

H1 The Canadian state was built through a colonial policy aimed at the assimilation of the Aboriginal, Métis, Inuit, Acadian and Quebec nations. The social and political struggles waged from the 1960s made it possible to largely decouple class exploitation and the national oppression of the Québécois, which had until then been largely interwoven. Today, workers in Quebec are exploited as much by Canadian, American and globalized capital as by that of Québec Inc., whose leaders have sided with the federalist camp. The Quebec nation is not an ethnic group or a simple subjective identity, but a block of classes linked by a common history and territory, a culture in constant evolution, a diversity of social groups and common institutions that define its trajectory and its possibilities.

H2 However, the rights (political, economic, social, etc.) of the Quebec nation are still being violated. The Canadian Constitution does not recognize the existence of a distinct Quebec nation and the federal state denies it its right to self-determination and dispossesses it of several fundamental political and economic levers. Today, national oppression is expressed in the constitutional and fiscal constraints that the federal state imposes on the Quebec state. These are first of all the inability of the Quebec nation to freely determine its political future (the Clarity Act), the imperialism of the Canadian state (a petro-state state, laws serving the interests of of mining companies, tax havens) and the division of powers between the federal and provincial governments prevents the Quebec nation from acting collectively to improve its conditions, to develop a society that is just, ecological, democratic and based on social solidarity.

H3 At the same time, the First Nations continue to suffer a degrading oppression and a denial of their fundamental rights. The colonial oppression suffered by Indigenous peoples is as much the responsibility of the federal state as of the Quebec provincial state, which is a subordinate cog of the Canadian state. The liberation of Quebec and Indigenous peoples therefore implies breaking the Canadian colonial state. Regardless of who its perpetrators are, colonialism must be fought in all its forms: territorial dispossession, denial of human rights, cultural genocide, exploitation of immigrants and people of colour by the bosses, the state and its police, environmental destruction, manufacturing and sale of arms in support of imperialist projects, etc.

H4 The struggle for the independence of Quebec and the liberation of the other oppressed nations must be a key element of our socialist strategy. One of the main flaws of Canadian capitalism lies in the federalism which serves as its political envelope while oppressing the minority nations within it. The struggle for independence must go beyond the provincialist framework and be firmly part of a pan-Canadian strategy. This struggle must break out of the bourgeois nationalist straitjacket ‒ the idea that our interests are closer to the capitalists here than to those of workers in other nations. The task is not to oppose the Quebec nation to the minorities within it, as the identity-based nationalists so crudely, but to bring together the working classes, the unemployed, subordinate groups and Indigenous peoples within a plurinational liberation project. An emancipatory independence project must provide a socialist, anti-racist and decolonial content to the national question, and this implies a break with the Parti Québécois, which has turned the aspiration for national independence into its opposite, in particular by supporting free trade and US foreign policy. The nationalist elites have also promoted a conception of national identity that has fuelled racism, Islamophobia and xenophobia.

H5 The independentist left must instead link its struggle to a project for a socialist society while supporting the self-determination of the Indigenous nations and developing solidarity with popular mobilizations across Canada. Thus, the struggles of the Quebec nation for independence and of the Indigenous peoples for their self-determination can and must encourage workers in the Rest of Canada to break with the majority nationalism which is part and parcel of their exploitation. We support any approach aimed, on the one hand, at the immediate decolonization of current Canadian and Quebec institutions, and on the other hand, the constitution of new institutions based on the principle of self-determination of peoples as well as the democratization of political and economic life in the territory occupied by Canada. Thus, we want to contribute to the establishment of a common front between the different forces at work to put in place concrete measures such as reparations for Indigenous peoples, popular constituent assemblies, the abolition of tax havens for mining companies, as well as the dismantling of the Canadian military-industrial complex.

J. A necessary internationalism

J1 The struggle for independence and for socialism in Quebec must also necessarily be part of an internationalist policy. The Canadian state is a full-fledged imperialist state and a partner of US imperialism. The struggle within ‒ and in opposition to ‒ the Canadian state must be waged in solidarity with resistance to imperialism and colonialism throughout the world. Likewise, we must confront the Quebec state, which supports the exploitation of labour and natural resources internationally and on its territory (the employment of temporary migrant workers).

J2 We are in solidarity with socialist and democratic struggles, against capitalism and against dictatorships everywhere on the planet. Consequently, we reject the false logic that “the enemy of our enemy is our friend” (sometimes called “camp-ism”) ‒ a political position that can lead to the defense of dictatorships in the name of anti-imperialism.

J3 Although these struggles must be fought in separate national frameworks, workers ultimately form a class exploited by capital on a global scale. We therefore want a socialist movement which accumulates victories throughout the world. This implies building strong relationships with socialist parties and organizations in other countries, and therefore sending and receiving delegations, participating in international strategic debates and ultimately coordinating our respective national strategies.

K. Just transition and ecosocialism

K1 The international scientific community is clear: a rapid and decisive change of course must be carried out in the face of the climate and environmental emergency. We cannot trust the capitalists to do this. A small number of large multinational companies produce the majority of carbon emissions. The solution to the climate emergency cannot be based on individual actions, or even simply on technical and scientific proposals. It is a question of power and control over the economy, which requires powerful collective action.

K2 In other words, the environmental issue is a class issue. First, because it is the poorest everywhere on the planet who suffer the most from the impacts of climate change. Secondly, because avoiding the necessary energy transition serves the interests of capital, while large companies produce the commodities that limit and guide our consumption choices while maximizing their profits. Finally, because it is the workers who are best positioned strategically to impose a transition on the capitalists by exercising the power they have to stop the normal functioning of the economic system.

K3 The environmental struggle must therefore be based on the working class and actively involve the trade union movement. It must be carried out in such a way as to explicitly serve the material interests of this class, not to blame its members.

K4 Carbon taxes and carbon trading go against the interests of workers and are ineffective; in Canada the revenues generated are largely paid as compensation in the form of dividends rather than financing the transition. These policies leave the initiative in the hands of private companies ‒ which necessarily prioritize maximizing their profits ‒ and total carbon emissions therefore continue to rise. What needs to be taxed is not a molecule (carbon) ‒ it is the rich and the corporations that benefit from this system. The revenues generated must be used to finance a just transition plan that allows us to exit the carbon economy. This plan must substantially and immediately improve the living conditions of the workers. This means, for example, infrastructure projects and the conversion of large undertakings that guarantee green, quality jobs, the development of mass public transit that drastically reduces congestion, and the nationalization and democratization of key economic sectors.

K5 There will be no green capitalism, and socialism will have to be “ecosocialism,” helping to bring about a transformation of our relationship with nature through a democratization of the economy. We will then be able to organize production not to maximize profits, but to meet our needs while preserving the only planet we have.

(Thanks to Roger Rashi for assistance with the translation.)

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Ecosocialism: A vital synthesis

Posted Dec 12, 2020 by Michael Löwy

Originally published: Global Ecosocialist Network (December 10, 2020) |

Abstract: The capitalist system, driven at its core by the maximization of profit, regardless of social and ecological costs, is incompatible with a just and sustainable future. Ecosocialism offers a radical alternative that puts social and ecological well-being first. Attuned to the links between the exploitation of labor and the exploitation of the environment, ecosocialism stands against both reformist “market ecology” and “productivist socialism.” By embracing a new model of robustly democratic planning, society can take control of the means of production and its own destiny. Shorter work hours and a focus on authentic needs over consumerism can facilitate the elevation of “being” over “having,” and the achievement of a deeper sense of freedom for all. To realize this vision, however, environmentalists and socialists will need to recognize their common struggle and how that connects with the broader “movement of movements” seeking a Great Transition.


Contemporary capitalist civilization is in crisis. The unlimited accumulation of capital, commodification of everything, ruthless exploitation of labor and nature, and attendant brutal competition undermine the bases of a sustainable future, thereby putting the very survival of the human species at risk. The deep, systemic threat we face demands a deep, systemic change: a Great Transition.

In synthesizing the basic tenets of ecology and the Marxist critique of political economy, ecosocialism offers a radical alternative to an unsustainable status quo. Rejecting a capitalist definition of “progress” based on market growth and quantitative expansion (which, as Marx shows, is a destructive progress), it advocates policies founded on non-monetary criteria, such as social needs, individual well-being, and ecological equilibrium. Ecosocialism proffers a critique of both mainstream “market ecology,” which does not challenge the capitalist system, and “productivist socialism,” which ignores natural limits.

As people increasingly realize how the economic and ecological crises intertwine, ecosocialism has been gaining adherents. Ecosocialism, as a movement, is relatively new, but some of its basic arguments date back to the writings of Marx and Engels. Now, intellectuals and activists are recovering this legacy and seeking a radical restructuring of the economy according to the principles of democratic ecological planning, putting human and planetary needs first and foremost.

The “actually existing socialisms” of the twentieth century, with their often environmentally oblivious bureaucracies, do not offer an attractive model for today’s ecosocialists. Rather, we must chart a new path forward, one that links with the myriad movements around the globe that share the conviction that a better world is not only possible, but also necessary.

Democratic Ecological Planning

The core of ecosocialism is the concept of democratic ecological planning, wherein the population itself, not “the market” or a Politburo, make the main decisions about the economy. Early in the Great Transition to this new way of life, with its new mode of production and consumption, some sectors of the economy must be suppressed (e.g., the extraction of fossil fuels implicated in the climate crisis) or restructured, while new sectors are developed. Economic transformation must be accompanied by active pursuit of full employment with equal conditions of work and wages. This egalitarian vision is essential both for building a just society and for engaging the support of the working class for the structural transformation of the productive forces.

Ultimately, such a vision is irreconcilable with private control of the means of production and of the planning process. In particular, for investments and technological innovation to serve the common good, decision-making must be taken away from the banks and capitalist enterprises that currently dominate, and put in the public domain. Then, society itself, and neither a small oligarchy of property owners nor an elite of techno-bureaucrats, will democratically decide which productive lines are to be privileged, and how resources are to be invested in education, health, or culture. Major decisions on investment priorities—such as terminating all coal-fired facilities or directing agricultural subsidies to organic production—would be taken by direct popular vote. Other, less important decisions would be taken by elected bodies, on the relevant national, regional, or local scale.

Although conservatives fearmonger about “central planning,” democratic ecological planning ultimately supports more freedom, not less, for several reasons. First, it offers liberation from the reified “economic laws” of the capitalist system that shackle individuals in what Max Weber called an “iron cage.” Prices of goods would not be left to the “laws of supply and demand,” but would, instead, reflect social and political priorities, with the use of taxes and subsidies to incentivize social goods and disincentivize social ills. Ideally, as the ecosocialist transition moves forward, more products and services critical for meeting fundamental human needs would be freely distributed, according to the will of the citizens.

Second, ecosocialism heralds a substantial increase in free time. Planning and the reduction of labor time are the two decisive steps towards what Marx called “the kingdom of freedom.” A significant increase of free time is, in fact, a condition for the participation of working people in the democratic discussion and management of economy and of society.

Last, democratic ecological planning represents a whole society’s exercise of its freedom to control the decisions that affect its destiny. If the democratic ideal would not grant political decision-making power to a small elite, why should the same principle not apply to economic decisions? Under capitalism, use-value—the worth of a product or service to well-being—exists only in the service of exchange-value, or value on the market. Thus, many products in contemporary society are socially useless, or designed for rapid turnover (“planned obsolescence”). By contrast, in a planned ecosocialist economy, use-value would be the only criteria for the production of goods and services, with far-reaching economic, social, and ecological consequences.[1]

Planning would focus on large-scale economic decisions, not the small-scale ones that might affect local restaurants, groceries, small shops, or artisan enterprises. Importantly, such planning is consistent with workers’ self-management of their productive units. The decision, for example, to transform a plant from producing automobiles to producing buses and trams would be taken by society as a whole, but the internal organization and functioning of the enterprise would be democratically managed by its workers. There has been much discussion about the “centralized” or “decentralized” character of planning, but most important is democratic control at all levels—local, regional, national, continental, or international. For example, planetary ecological issues such as global warming must be dealt with on a global scale, and thereby require some form of global democratic planning. This nested, democratic decision-making is quite the opposite of what is usually described, often dismissively, as “central planning,” since decisions are not taken by any “center,” but democratically decided by the affected population at the appropriate scale.

Democratic and pluralist debate would occur at all levels. Through parties, platforms, or other political movements, varied propositions would be submitted to the people, and delegates would be elected accordingly. However, representative democracy must be complemented—and corrected—by Internet-enabled direct democracy, through which people choose—at the local, national, and, later, global level—among major social and ecological options. Should public transportation be free? Should the owners of private cars pay special taxes to subsidize public transportation? Should solar energy be subsidized in order to compete with fossil energy? Should the work week be reduced to 30 hours, 25, or less, with the attendant reduction of production?

Such democratic planning needs expert input, but its role is educational, to present informed views on alternative outcomes for consideration by popular decision-making processes. What guarantee is there that the people will make ecologically sound decisions? None. Ecosocialism wagers that democratic decisions will become increasingly reasoned and enlightened as culture changes and the grip of commodity fetishism is broken. One cannot imagine such a new society without the population achieving through struggle, self-education, and social experience, a high level of socialist and ecological consciousness. In any case, are not the alternatives—the blind market or an ecological dictatorship of “experts”—much more dangerous?

The Great Transition from capitalist destructive progress to ecosocialism is a historical process, a permanent revolutionary transformation of society, culture, and mindsets. Enacting this transition leads not only to a new mode of production and an egalitarian and democratic society, but also to an alternative mode of life, a new ecosocialist civilization, beyond the reign of money, beyond consumption habits artificially produced by advertising, and beyond the unlimited production of commodities that are useless and/or harmful to the environment.  Such a transformative process depends on the active support of the vast majority of the population for an ecosocialist program. The decisive factor in development of socialist consciousness and ecological awareness is the collective experience of struggle, from local and partial confrontations to the radical change of global society as a whole.

The Growth Question

The issue of economic growth has divided socialists and environmentalists. Ecosocialism, however, rejects the dualistic frame of growth versus degrowth, development versus anti-development, because both positions share a purely quantitative conception of productive forces. A third position resonates more with the task ahead: the qualitative transformation of development.

A new development paradigm means putting an end to the egregious waste of resources under capitalism, driven by large-scale production of useless and harmful products. The arms industry is, of course, a dramatic example, but, more generally, the primary purpose of many of the “goods” produced—with their planned obsolescence—is to generate profit for large corporations. The issue is not excessive consumption in the abstract, but the prevalent type of consumption, based as it is on massive waste and the conspicuous and compulsive pursuit of novelties promoted by “fashion.” A new society would orient production towards the satisfaction of authentic needs, including water, food, clothing, housing, and such basic services as health, education, transport, and culture.

Obviously, the countries of the Global South, where these needs are very far from being satisfied, must pursue greater classical “development”—railroads, hospitals, sewage systems, and other infrastructure. Still, rather than emulate how affluent countries built their productive systems, these countries can pursue development in far more environmentally friendly ways, including the rapid introduction of renewable energy. While many poorer countries will need to expand agricultural production to nourish hungry, growing populations, the ecosocialist solution is to promote agroecology methods rooted in family units, cooperatives, or larger-scale collective farms—not the destructive industrialized agribusiness methods involving intensive inputs of pesticides, chemicals, and GMOs.[2]

At the same time, the ecosocialist transformation would end the heinous debt system the Global South now confronts the exploitations of its resources by advanced industrial countries as well as rapidly developing countries like China. Instead, we can envision a strong flow of technical and economic assistance from North to South rooted in a robust sense of solidarity and the recognition that planetary problems require planetary solutions. This need not entail that people in affluent countries “reduce their standard of living”—only that they shun the obsessive consumption, induced by the capitalist system, of useless commodities that do not meet real needs or contribute to human well-being and flourishing.

But how do we distinguish authentic from artificial and counterproductive needs? To a considerable degree, the latter are stimulated by the mental manipulation of advertising. In contemporary capitalist societies, the advertising industry has invaded all spheres of life, shaping everything from the food we eat and the clothes we wear to sports, culture, religion, and politics. Promotional advertising has become ubiquitous, insidiously infesting our streets, landscapes, and traditional and digital media, molding habits of conspicuous and compulsive consumption. Moreover, the ad industry itself is a source of considerable waste of natural resources and labor time, ultimately paid by the consumer, for a branch of “production” that lies in direct contradiction with real social-ecological needs. While indispensable to the capitalist market economy, the advertising industry would have no place in a society in transition to ecosocialism; it would be replaced by consumer associations that vet and disseminate information on goods and services. While these changes are already happening to some extent, old habits would likely persist for some years, and nobody has the right to dictate peoples’ desires. Altering patterns of consumption is an ongoing educational challenge within a historical process of cultural change.

A fundamental premise of ecosocialism is that in a society without sharp class divisions and capitalist alienation, “being” will take precedence over “having.”  Instead of seeking endless goods, people pursue greater free time, and the personal achievements and meaning it can bring through cultural, athletic, playful, scientific, erotic, artistic, and political activities. There is no evidence that compulsive acquisitiveness stems from intrinsic “human nature,” as conservative rhetoric suggests. Rather, it is induced by the commodity fetishism inherent in the capitalist system, by the dominant ideology, and by advertising. Ernest Mandel summarizes this critical point well:

The continual accumulation of more and more goods […] is by no means a universal and even predominant feature of human behavior. The development of talents and inclinations for their own sake; the protection of health and life; care for children; the development of rich social relations […] become major motivations once basic material needs have been satisfied. [3]

Of course, even a classless society faces conflict and contradiction. The transition to ecosocialism would confront tensions between the requirements of protecting the environment and meeting social needs; between ecological imperatives and the development of basic infrastructure; between popular consumer habits and the scarcity of resources; between communitarian and cosmopolitan impulses. Struggles among competing desiderata are inevitable. Hence, weighing and balancing such interests must become the task of a democratic planning process, liberated from the imperatives of capital and profit-making, to come up with solutions through transparent, plural, and open public discourse. Such participatory democracy at all levels does not mean that there will not be mistakes, but it allows for the self-correction by the members of the social collectivity of its own mistakes.

Intellectual Roots

Although ecosocialism is a fairly recent phenomenon, its intellectual roots can be traced back to Marx and Engels. Because environmental issues were not as salient in the nineteenth century as in our era of incipient ecological catastrophe, these concerns did not play a central role in Marx and Engels’s works. Nevertheless, their writings use arguments and concepts vital to the connection between capitalist dynamics and the destruction of the natural environment, and to the development of a socialist and ecological alternative to the prevailing system.

Some passages in Marx and Engels (and certainly in the dominant Marxist currents that followed) do embrace an uncritical stance toward the productive forces created by capital, treating the “development of productive forces” as the main factor in human progress. However, Marx was radically opposed to what we now call “productivism”— the capitalist logic by which the accumulation of capital, wealth, and commodities becomes an end in itself. The fundamental idea of a socialist economy—in contrast to the bureaucratic caricatures that prevailed in the “socialist” experiments of the twentieth century—is to produce use-values, goods that are necessary for the satisfaction of human needs, well-being, and fulfillment. The central feature of technical progress for Marx was not the indefinite growth of products (“having”) but the reduction of socially necessary labor and concomitant increase of free time (“being”).[4] Marx’s emphasis on communist self-development, on free time for artistic, erotic, or intellectual activities—in contrast to the capitalist obsession with the consumption of more and more material goods—implies a decisive reduction of pressure on the natural environment.[5]

Beyond the presumed benefit for the environment, a key Marxian contribution to socialist ecological thinking is attributing to capitalism a metabolic rift—i.e., a disruption of the material exchange between human societies and the natural environment. The issue is discussed, inter alia, in a well-known passage of Capital:

Capitalist production […] disturbs the metabolic interaction between man and the earth, i.e., prevents the return to the soil of its constituent elements consumed by man in the form of food and clothing; hence it hinders the operation of the eternal natural conditions for the lasting fertility of the soil. […] All progress in capitalist agriculture is a progress in the art, not only of robbing the worker, but of robbing the soil […]. The more a country […] develops itself on the basis of great industry, the more this process of destruction takes place quickly. Capitalist production […] only develops […] by simultaneously undermining the original sources of all wealth—the soil and the worker. [6]

This important passage clarifies Marx’s dialectical vision of the contradictions of “progress” and its destructive consequences for nature under capitalist conditions. The example, of course, is limited to the loss of fertility by the soil. But on this basis, Marx draws the broad insight that capitalist production embodies a tendency to undermine the “eternal natural conditions.” From a similar vantage, Marx reiterates his more familiar argument that the same predatory logic of capitalism exploits and debases workers.

While most contemporary ecosocialists are inspired by Marx’s insights, ecology has become far more central to their analysis and action. During the 1970s and 1980s in Europe and the US, an ecological socialism began to take shape. Manuel Sacristan, a Spanish dissident-Communist philosopher, founded the ecosocialist and feminist journal Mientras Tanto in 1979, introducing the dialectical concept of “destructive-productive forces.” Raymond Williams, a British socialist and founder of modern cultural studies, became one of the first in Europe to call for an “ecologically conscious socialism” and is often credited with coining the term “ecosocialism” itself. André Gorz, a French philosopher and journalist, argued that political ecology must contain a critique of economic thought and called for an ecological and humanist transformation of work. Barry Commoner, an American biologist, argued that the capitalist system and its technology—and not population growth—was responsible for the destruction of the environment, which led him to the conclusion that “some sort of socialism” was the realistic alternative.[7]

In the 1980s, James O’Connor founded the influential journal Capitalism, Nature and Socialism. The journal was inspired by O’Connor’s idea of the “second contradiction of capitalism.” In this formulation, the first contradiction is the Marxist one between the forces and relations of production; the second contradiction lies between the mode of production and the “conditions of production,” especially, the state of the environment.

A new generation of eco-Marxists appeared in the 2000s, including John Bellamy Foster and others around the journal Monthly Review, who further developed the Marxian concept of metabolic rift between human societies and the environment. In 2001, Joel Kovel and the present author issued “An Ecosocialist Manifesto,” which was further developed by the same authors, together with Ian Angus, in the 2008 Belem Ecosocialist Manifesto, which was signed by hundreds of people from forty countries and distributed at the World Social Forum in 2009. It has since become an important reference for ecosocialists around the world.[8]

Why Environmentalists Need to Be Socialists

As these and other authors have shown, capitalism is incompatible with a sustainable future. The capitalist system, an economic growth machine propelled by fossil fuels since the Industrial Revolution, is a primary culprit in climate change and the wider ecological crisis on Earth. Its irrational logic of endless expansion and accumulation, waste of resources, ostentatious consumption, planned obsolescence, and pursuit of profit at any cost is driving the planet to the brink of the abyss.

Does “green capitalism”—the strategy of reducing environmental impact while maintaining dominant economic institutions—offer a solution? The implausibility of such a Policy Reform scenario is seen most vividly in the failure of a quarter-century of international conferences to effectively address climate change.[9] The political forces committed to the capitalist “market economy” that have created the problem cannot be the source of the solution.

For example, at the 2015 Paris climate conference, many countries resolved to make serious efforts to keep average global temperature increases below 2o C (ideally, they agreed, below 1.5o C). Correspondingly, they volunteered to implement measures to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. However, they put no enforcement mechanisms in place nor consequences for noncompliance, hence no guarantee that any country will keep its word. The US, the world’s second-highest emitter of carbon emissions, is now run by a climate denier who pulled the U.S. out of the agreement. Even if all countries did meet their commitments, the global temperature would rise by 3o C or more, with great risk of dire, irreversible climate change.[10]

Ultimately, the fatal flaw of green capitalism lies in the conflict between the micro-rationality of the capitalist market, with its short-sighted calculation of profit and loss, and the macro-rationality of collective action for the common good. The blind logic of the market resists a rapid energy transformation away from fossil fuel dependence in intrinsic contradiction of ecological rationality. The point is not to indict “bad” ecocidal capitalists, as opposed to “good” green capitalists; the fault lies in a system rooted in ruthless competition and a race for short-term profit that destroys nature’s balance. The environmental challenge—to build an alternative system that reflects the common good in its institutional DNA—becomes inextricably linked to the socialist challenge.

That challenge requires building what E. P. Thompson termed a “moral economy” founded on non-monetary and extra-economic, social-ecological principles and governed through democratic decision-making processes.[11] Far more than incremental reform, what is needed is the emergence of a social and ecological civilization that brings forth a new energy structure and post-consumerist set of values and way of life. Realizing this vision will not be possible without public planning and control over the “means of production,” the physical inputs used to produce economic value, such as facilities, machinery, and infrastructure.

An ecological politics that works within prevailing institutions and rules of the “market economy” will fall short of meeting the profound environmental challenges before us. Environmentalists who do not recognize how “productivism” flows from the logic of profit are destined to fail—or, worse, to become absorbed by the system. Examples abound. The lack of a coherent anti-capitalist posture led most of the European Green parties—notably, in France, Germany, Italy, and Belgium—to become mere “eco-reformist” partners in the social-liberal management of capitalism by center-left governments.

Of course, nature did not fare any better under Soviet-style “socialism” than under capitalism. Indeed, that is one of the reasons ecosocialism carries a very different program and vision from the so-called “actually existing socialism” of the past. Since the roots of the ecological problem are systemic, environmentalism needs to challenge the prevailing capitalist system, and that means taking seriously the twenty-first-century synthesis of ecology and socialism—ecosocialism.

Why Socialists Need to Be Environmentalists

The survival of civilized society, and perhaps much of life on Planet Earth, is at stake. A socialist theory, or movement, that does not integrate ecology as a central element in its program and strategy is anachronistic and irrelevant.

Climate change represents the most threatening expression of the planetary ecological crisis, posing a challenge without historical precedent. If global temperatures are allowed to exceed pre-industrial levels by more than 2° C, scientists project increasingly dire consequences, such as a rise in the sea level so large that it would risk submerging most maritime towns, from Dacca in Bangladesh to Amsterdam, Venice or New York. Large-scale desertification, disturbance of the hydrological cycle and agricultural output, more frequent and extreme weather events, and species loss all loom. We’re already at 1° C. At what temperature increase—5, 6, or 7° C—will we reach a tipping point beyond which the planet cannot support civilized life or even becomes uninhabitable?

Particularly worrisome is the fact that the impacts of climate change are accumulating at a much faster pace than predicted by climate scientists, who—like almost all scientists—tend to be highly cautious. The ink no sooner dries on an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report when increasing climate impacts make it seem too optimistic. Where once the emphasis was on what will happen in the distant future, attention has turned increasingly to what we face now and in the coming years.

Some socialists acknowledge the need to incorporate ecology, but object to the term “ecosocialism,” arguing that socialism already includes ecology, feminism, antiracism, and other progressive fronts.  However, the term ecosocialism, by suggesting a decisive change in socialist ideas, carries important political significance. First, it reflects a new understanding of capitalism as a system based not only on exploitation but also on destruction—the massive destruction of the conditions for life on the planet. Second, ecosocialism extends the meaning of socialist transformation beyond a change in ownership to a civilizational transformation of the productive apparatus, the patterns of consumption, and the whole way of life. Third, the new term underscores the critical view it embraces of the twentieth-century experiments in the name of socialism.

Twentieth-century socialism, in its dominant tendencies (social democracy and Soviet-style communism), was, at best, inattentive to the human impact on the environment and, at worst, outright dismissive. Governments adopted and adapted the Western capitalist productive apparatus in a headlong effort to “develop,” while largely oblivious of the profound negative costs in the form of environmental degradation.

The Soviet Union is a perfect example. The first years after the October Revolution saw an ecological current develop, and a number of measures to protect the environment were, in fact, enacted. But by the late 1920s, with the process of Stalinist bureaucratization underway, an environmentally heedless productivism was being imposed in industry and agriculture by totalitarian methods, while ecologists were marginalized or eliminated. The 1986 Chernobyl accident stands as a dramatic emblem of the disastrous long-term consequences.

Changing who owns property without changing how that property is managed is a dead-end. Socialism must place democratic management and reorganization of the productive system at the heart of the transformation, along with a firm commitment to ecological stewardship. Not socialism or ecology alone, but ecosocialism.

Ecosocialism and a Great Transition

The struggle for green socialism in the long term requires fighting for concrete and urgent reforms in the near term. Without illusions about the prospects for a “clean capitalism,” the movement for deep change must try to reduce the risks to people and planet, while buying time to build support for a more fundamental shift. In particular, the battle to force the powers that be to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions remains a key front, along with local efforts to shift toward agroecological methods, cooperative solar energy, and community management of resources.

Such concrete, immediate struggles are important in and of themselves because partial victories are vital for combatting environmental deterioration and despair about the future. For the longer term, these campaigns can help raise ecological and socialist consciousness and promote activism from below. Both awareness and self-organization are decisive preconditions and foundations for radically transforming the world system. The amplification of thousands of local and partial efforts into an overarching systemic global movement forges the path to a Great Transition: a new society and mode of life.

This vision infuses the popular idea of a “movement of movements,” which arose out of the global justice movement and the World Social Forums and which for many years has fostered the convergence of social and environmental movements in a common struggle. Ecosocialism is but one current within this larger stream, with no pretense that it is “more important” or “more revolutionary” than others. Such a competitive claim counterproductively breeds polarization when what is needed is unity.

Rather, ecosocialism aims to contribute to a shared ethos embraced by the various movements for a Great Transition. Ecosocialism sees itself as part of an international movement: since global ecological, economic, and social crises know no borders, the struggle against the systemic forces driving these crises must also be globalized. Many significant intersections are surfacing between ecosocialism and other movements, including efforts to link eco-feminism and ecosocialism as convergent and complementary.[12] The climate justice movement brings antiracism and ecosocialism together in the struggle against the destruction of the living conditions of communities suffering discrimination. In indigenous movements, some leaders are ecosocialists, while, in turn, many ecosocialists sees the indigenous way of life, grounded in communitarian solidarity and respect for Mother Nature, as an inspiration for the ecosocialist perspective. Similarly, ecosocialism finds voice within peasant, trade-union, degrowth, and other movements.

The gathering movement of movements seeks system change, convinced that another world is possible beyond commodification, environmental destruction, exploitation, and oppression. The power of entrenched ruling elites is undeniable, and the forces of radical opposition remain weak. But they are growing, and stand as our hope for halting the catastrophic course of capitalist “growth.” Ecosocialism contributes an important perspective for nurturing understanding and strategy for this movement for a Great Transition.

Walter Benjamin defined revolutions not as the locomotive of history, à la Marx, but as humanity’s reaching for the emergency brake before the train falls into the abyss. Never have we needed more to reach as one for that lever and lay new track to a different destination. The idea and practice of ecosocialism can help guide this world-historic project.


[1] Joel Kovel, Enemy of Nature: The End of Capitalism or the End of the World? (New York, Zed Books, 2002), 215.

[2] Via Campesina, a worldwide network of peasant movements, has long argued for this type of agricultural transformation. See

[3] Ernest Mandel, Power and Money: A Marxist Theory of Bureaucracy (London, Verso, 1992), 206.

[4] The opposition between “having” and “being” is often discussed in the Manuscripts of 1844. On free time as the foundation of the socialist “Kingdom of Freedom,” see Karl Marx, Das Kapital, Volume III, Marx-Engels-Werke series, vol. 25 (1884; Berlin: Dietz Verlag Berline, 1981), 828.

[5] Paul Burkett, Ecological Economics: Toward a Red and Green Political Economy (Chicago, Haymarket Books, 2009), 329.

[6] Karl Marx, Das Kapital, Volume 1, Marx-Engels-Werke series, vol. 23 (1867; Berlin: Dietz Verlag Berlin, 1981), 528-530.

[7] See, for example, Manuel Sacristan, Pacifismo, Ecología y Política Alternativa (Barcelona: Icaria, 1987); Raymond Williams, Socialism and Ecology (London: Socialist Environment and Resources Association, 1982); André Gorz, Ecology as Politics (Boston, South End Press, 1979); Barry Commoner, The Closing Circle: Man, Nature, and Technology (New York: Random House, 1971).

[8] “An Ecosocialist Manifesto,” 2001,; “Belem Ecosocialist Declaration,” December 16, 2008,

[9] See for an overview of the Policy Reform scenario and other global scenarios.

[10] United Nations Environment Programme, The Emissions Gap Report 2017 (Nairobi: UNEP, 2017). For an overview of the report, see

[11] E. P. Thompson “The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth Century,”

Past & Present, no. 50 (February 1971): 76-136

[12] See Ariel Salleh’s Ecofeminism as Politics (New York: Zed Books, 1997), or the recent issue of Capitalism, Nature and Socialism ( 29, no. 1: 2018) on “Ecofeminism against Capitalism,” with essays by Terisa Turner, Ana Isla, and others.

Michael Löwy is a French-Brazilian Marxist sociologist and philosopher. He is emeritus research director in social sciences at the CNRS (French National Center of Scientific Research) and lectures at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS; Paris, France). Author of books on Karl Marx, Che Guevara, Liberation Theology, György Lukács, Walter Benjamin, Lucien Goldmann and Franz Kafka, he received the CNRS Silver Medal in 1994.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Venezuela: Socialist election victory masks deeper problems

Voting in Venezuela’s elections           Photo: PSUV Facebook page

By Federico Fuentes

Green Left Weekly, December 11, 2020

With a majority of the opposition boycotting and an abstention rate of almost 70%, the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) obtained 69% of the vote in the country’s December 6 National Assembly (AN) elections. The PSUV and its allies will now hold 253 of the 277 seats in the new parliament.

This is in sharp contrast to the 2015 elections, when the right-wing opposition won an overwhelming majority in the AN, and announced it would remove President Nicolas Maduro from power “within six months”.

Speaking on election night, Maduro said it was crucial for the new AN to open up a national dialogue involving all political parties and economic and social sectors “to discuss a national agenda for economic recovery”.

Addressing the opposition, he called on them “to make use of [US president Donald] Trump’s defeat to abandon its extremist path, and ask that the sanctions on Venezuela be lifted.”

US-imposed sanctions have crippled Venezuela’s oil industry, blocked the country’s access to international financial markets and scared off potential investors under threat of financial punishment. The result of these sanctions has been devastating on the country’s economy and the lives of millions of Venezuelans.

Taking up Maduro’s call, newly-elected opposition deputy Luis Eduardo Martínez said the inauguration of the new AN on January 5 would “mark a new era of peace and reconciliation, in which all National Assembly deputies should work together to overcome the difficult situation Venezuela is going through”.

“The priority has to be to work towards ending the international, immoral and unjust sanctions, which hurt everyone equally, and recovering the republic’s assets abroad to enable access to fresh funds to attend to urgent needs, especially those arising from the [COVID-19] pandemic,” he said.

Strategy of concessions

This turnaround from five years ago can, in part, be explained by the failures of the strategy pursued by hard-line elements within the opposition. Since 2015, they have sought every avenue possible to depose Maduro, including violent protests, economic warfare, attempted assassinations, calls for a military coup, paramilitary incursions and support for economic sanctions and foreign intervention.

But, with little to show for all this, and demoralisation rising within the opposition’s base, more moderate sections have sought to pursue their own independent path. This led to a group of opposition leaders agreeing to enter into dialogue with the government and ultimately participate in the recent elections.

Discussing this process of convergence between the government and more moderate sectors of the opposition, Latin America researcher and author Steve Ellner wrote that it was, in part, the result of “Washington's policies and the untold suffering they have inflicted on the Venezuelan people”.

But he also believes it was a product of “Maduro's adroit strategy of accepting some of the demands of the centrists, while pursuing a hard-line approach against the insurgent opposition.”

The importance of this convergence, said Ellner, lies in the fact that “the emergence of a bloc of non-leftist parties that either explicitly or tacitly recognise the legitimacy of Venezuela’s political system could pave the way for a new era in the country's politics devoid of the internecine warfare of the past”.

Together with the lifting of the sanctions, it would represent a tremendous leap towards lifting Venezuela out of the years-long crisis it has been engulfed in.

But this strategy has come at some cost to the government.

Revolutionary activist and former Maduro minister Reinaldo Iturriza told Green Left that, as part of this strategy, the government decided it was necessary to grant concessions to business interests in pursuit of “forming an alliance with certain sections of the capitalist class”.

The problem, Iturriza stressed, was not the alliance per se, as “being in a position of weakness, it is not only predictable, but even correct, sensible and recommendable to cede some ground, while reorganising your forces.

“However, what has occurred since then has resembled a disorderly retreat more than anything else.”

As the economic situation worsened with the dramatic tightening of the sanctions in 2017, the government’s policy has largely been to simply offer further concessions.

By 2018, according to ex-minister for the productive economy Luis Salas, the government was essentially implementing the kind of monetary policies adopted by neoliberal governments in the region, “not because of its conviction, but in order to survive”.

The result was the pulverisation of workers’ wages (now the lowest in the region), rising poverty and a de facto dollarisation of the economy that has largely benefited those sectors that can get access to dollars, either due to their wealth, access to the state or corruption.

Acknowledging this reality on December 9, Maduro said: “I recognise that we have gone backwards regarding socialism as a result of the battle we are engaged in, but the battle is not lost.”

Describing the de facto dollarisation as an “escape valve” people have used to overcome the economic war inflicted on Venezuela, he added: “We are going to protect workers’ incomes. When are we going to do it? When Venezuela is able to completely break the blockade, when it recuperates its income from exports.”

In the meantime, protest numbers continue to rise across the country. While the Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflicts is yet to put out figures for November, its October report noted it was the most conflictive month so far in 2020, with almost 1500 protests taking place, including an average of 18 a day over the issues of wages.

Drawing up a balance sheet of this period, Iturriza said “there is more than enough evidence to show that, in attempting to find a way out, we have ended up deeper within the labyrinth.

"If what occurred was a disorderly retreat, then what is required now is to reorganise our forces to be able to go back on the offensive.”

Disaffiliated Chavismo

The need to reorganise forces was a key factor in the decision taken by dozens of political parties, community organisations and social movements to set up the Revolutionary Popular Alternative (APR) to stand candidates against the PSUV.

In the end, however, the APR won just 3% of the vote and elected a solitary parliamentarian.

The APR largely put this down to the unfavourable conditions in which they competed: several parties involved in the APR were subject to court interventions and had their electoral registration handed over to minority pro-PSUV factions, while state media outlets refused to cover their campaign.

But it is more likely that the APR’s discourse, which focused on attacking the government rather than proposing genuine solutions, failed to gain any real traction among Chavistas.

This can in part be attributed to the strong desire for unity among an important section of Chavistas who viewed voting for the PSUV as the best option, regardless of any criticism they may have of the government.

But the APR also failed to mobilise even a small fraction of the millions of former and current Chavistas who chose not to vote.

“We have a government that, without doubt, has had the merit of resisting successive violent poundings and, despite everything, has remained in power, but at a terribly high cost in strategic terms,” Iturriza said.

“If I had to summarise the profound impact this situation has had in the popular camp, I would say that what we have seen is a phenomenon of mass political disaffiliation.”

“In my opinion, the largest political bloc today could be described as being composed of disaffiliated Chavistas,” he said. They do not see themselves reflected in “the government or the PSUV”.

Faced with this challenge, Iturriza said the left needs to “recover the fundamentals of revolutionary politics”.

Whether they voted for the PSUV, APR, the opposition, or abstained, working people “belong to the same class,” he said. “We need a politics for the working class, with the working class, no matter which party they identify with or whether they identify with none, as is currently the case with many people.

“That is where we need to do politics.”

Friday, October 30, 2020

Quebec, Canada and the Indigenous Peoples: Toward Plurinational Alliances around a Decolonial Outlook?


The latest issue of the Quebec journal Nouveaux Cahiers du Socialisme, published in September, revisits the Quebec national question in light of the mounting struggle against climate catastrophe, the growth of Indigenous resistance, and the crisis of Quebec’s national movement. A number of articles probe the potential for creation of the strategic class alliances and perspectives that are needed if we are to begin a fundamental social transformation that re-imagines not only the Quebec reality but its place in the creation of an ecosocialist society in the Canadian, North American and global context.

I publish below, in my translation, an article by NCS editor Pierre Beaudet introducing some of the key themes in this issue, followed by what I consider an outstanding contribution by Dalie Giroux that challenges the Quebec left to rethink national emancipation within a decolonial perspective that can help enlist Indigenous and international solidarity around a common project of rethinking the relationship between national and social emancipation.

Richard Fidler

* * *

Our friends in Canada

By Pierre Beaudet

Until the 1960s, the left in Canada and in Quebec was mainly Canadian and Anglophone. During Premier Maurice Duplessis’s “Grande Noirceur” (the great darkness), the provincial government drew heavily on the reactionary right wing of the Catholic church, making life very difficult for Quebec progressives. Some trade unionists and artists chose exile instead. In this period, as well, the Canadian left, from the Communist party to the social-democracy (later the NDP) held fast to the idea of a strong federal state as the vehicle for implementing the social changes sought by the popular classes, such as medicare, social welfare, etc.

Quebec demands for national emancipation were relegated to the sidelines, regarded as an abhorrence to be fought by all means. The CP denounced the “separatist threat” in terms not notably dissimilar from those used by Ottawa’s political establishment; a courageous exception, sometimes, was the party’s intellectual leader and historian Stanley Ryerson who defended the right to self-determination of the Quebec people. After much debate, the NDP shut the door on its Quebec branch, which went on to form the Parti Socialiste du Québec and called for constitutional protection of that right. Later, the NDP campaigned alongside the parties of reaction for the No side in the 1980 and 1995 referendums. However, while this effectively eliminated the Canadian left from Quebec it opened room for the creation and development of a pro-independence Quebec left.1 But the links between Canadian and Quebec progressives remained infrequent apart from the efforts of a few courageous trade unions that fought for social emancipation linked with national emancipation. Examples are the Canadian Union of Postal Workers and the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

Some decades later

This non-dialogue had many perverse effects. In Canada, the left failed to wage a resolute fight against the post-colonial state structures, not even when the Constitution was “patriated” by Pierre Trudeau in 1982 in the face of intense opposition from Quebec’s National Assembly and public opinion. After the 1995 referendum, the NDP members of Parliament (with few exceptions) voted for the so-called “Clarity bill” which limited even the likelihood of a negotiated agreement with Canada following a Quebec vote for independence. In the short period during which he led that party, Jack Layton tried to shift the party’s position, but after his death the party under Thomas Mulcair’s leadership returned to its hard-line federalist alignment. Quebec’s attraction to the NDP was short-lived.

The non-dialogue did not help the cause of the left in either Quebec or Canada, and efforts to achieve coordination on inter-provincial issues were difficult and uncertain. During the Summit of the Peoples of the Americas, in Quebec City in April 2001, in opposition to the proposal of a hemispheric free-trade area of the Americas (FTAA), groups such as the Council of Canadians tried to impose the same Canadian perspective “from coast to coast.” Canadian unions more attuned to Quebec concerns supported the position of almost all Quebec participants that the fight against the FTAA was not tied to “strengthening” the Canadian state. A progressive magazine published in Winnipeg, Canadian Dimension, upheld this point (as it still does), providing Canadian progressives with information and analyses concerning Quebec’s popular movements and struggles.2

Subsequently, attempts at dialogue outside the framework of the formal organizations were initiated by André Frappier of Québec solidaire, who met over several years with various left-oriented groups in Toronto, Edmonton, Halifax and Vancouver.3 The basic idea was to meet and discuss the national questions in the Canadian state, in an effort to combat the substantial indifference on these issues in both the Quebec and Canadian left. Some progress was made with a small part of the Canadian left, but it can hardly be said that the fundamental idea in the Quebec left of combining anticapitalist struggle with a challenge to “made in Canada” colonialism is widely understood or accepted among Canadian progressives.4

This timid reopening to dialogue has been encouraged by political developments among the Indigenous peoples. Their reawakening and leadership of some mass movements targets the very essence of the Canadian state, built upon a persisting colonial dispossession and thus challenging the legitimacy of the federal government. As the Dené intellectual activist Glen Coulthard has said, the Indigenous struggle will go nowhere if it does not become a wider anticapitalist, anti-imperialist and anticolonial struggle.5

In recent years some Indigenous leaders like Roméo Saganash have voiced publicly what many Indigenous think, that their anticolonial struggle will be strengthened if it finds ways to interface with the struggle for Quebec emancipation. And this requires that the Québécois openly acknowledge the right to self-determination of the Indigenous peoples.6

The Quebec challenge

The struggle for Quebec emancipation will be conducted in Quebec, of course. However, we must be conscious of the balance of forces that exists between this project and its opponents. Those elites are politically organized around the federal state and its subaltern relays in the provinces. They have their counterparts in the Quebec bourgeoisie and its political expressions in the Quebec Liberal party and the Coalition Avenir Québec, now the government. They are supported overwhelmingly by U.S. imperialism, which our first sovereigntist premier René Lévesque failed to see when he tried to convince the big shots in New York and Washington that the sovereigntist project would be completely harmless in the North American context and that Quebec would remain a subaltern ally like Canada. This dream that Quebec’s independence could be negotiated peacefully misled the people, including in the two referendums. It is not hard to see that for U.S. imperialism, access to Canada’s rich resources, and the interests of continental defense against the Russian and Chinese “threat” are priorities, which means that it is imperative for the rulers in both Washington and Ottawa to keep Canada as it is. Long ago Pierre Vallières and Charles Gagnon, to mention only them, understood this very well, which is why they emphasized the need for connecting with the forces of change in the Americas.

Break down the wall

How are we going to breach this wall of indifference in English Canada? As Andrea Levy and André Frappier argue,

“it is necessary to define a strategy of common organized struggle to retake power in the Canadian state. The struggle must be common because in Quebec alone we cannot manage to create an egalitarian and independent society without confronting the Canadian state, and because an ecologist perspective cannot be implemented solely within our borders. Quebec needs the support and collaboration of the workers and popular groups in English Canada, and these cannot develop an emancipatory perspective without adhering to a strategy of common anticapitalist struggle with the progressive forces of Quebec.”7

That was in fact the message that was conveyed in 2014 with the Peoples Social Forum that brought together in Ottawa several hundred activists and thinkers from Quebec, Canada and the First Nations. With Québec solidaire and the social movements, we need to continue these efforts, engaging in manifestations of mutual support and solidarity.

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Indigenous peoples and Quebec: Rethinking decolonization

By Dalie Giroux

Dalie Giroux teaches in the School of Political Studies, University of Ottawa. She has published, inter alia, many studies on the cultural and scientific relationships between the Indigenous peoples and state cultures within capitalist society.

My purpose here is to outline some thoughts that can assist in a reassessment of the question of Quebec independence in light of relations between Quebec and the Indigenous peoples. This entails in part undertaking a necessary albeit painful critique of the history of these relations since the election of the Parti québécois (PQ) in 1976. It also means proposing some principles that can guide us in a new development of Quebec anticolonialist thinking, which up to now has failed to question the British colonial regime from a truly inclusive standpoint, and without serious or sufficient consideration being given to the Indigenous presence on this continent for thousands of years.

Quebec’s colonial legacy, its obscure expression in law, its mentality, the form of its productive activity, was established in successive steps through the operation of a set of dispossession measures that we must inspect, understand, criticize and dismantle if we are to pursue a collective policy of fighting this dispossession. Approaching dispossession from a decolonial perspective based on the Quebec situation is not inspired by some patriotic necessity but rather expresses the need to confront a history that we did not choose but inherited, as we have inherited and cultivated the ethical tensions inscribed in our political life. This rethinking must address the following questions:

  • How can we escape, all of us, in the here and now, from the complex structure of dispossession that is the legacy of French and British colonialisms?

  • How are we to undermine and eliminate the measures of dispossession by accumulation that define that structure?

  • How, especially, can we combine all the mutual expressions of struggles for emancipation – decolonial, antiracist, feminist, pro-immigration, ecologist – within a materialist horizon, without eliminating the singular features of the places, affects, temporalities, and narratives that constitute, traverse and animate our specific common habitat?

Masters in our own house?

Let us begin by backtracking a bit. Modern Quebec arose at the turn of the 1960s around the proposal to become “Maîtres chez nous,” masters in our own house, and to take control of the whole of the provincial territory the limits of which had been fixed in 1912 by federal legislation. Retroactively, it must be observed that this Quebec, master of itself, had been built on the basis of a colonial-type state. Quebec’s exit from the Canadian constitutional fold, as set out in the sovereignty project put forward by the Quebec nationalist forces, was not an accomplished movement of decolonization, that is, of rupture with the structure of dispossession inherited from French and British colonialism. It rather involved giving the Québécois the privilege of acquiring the status of colonizer they had lost with the British Conquest. As Zebedee Nungak writes:

“No one would question the ‘masters’ part of the slogan if Quebec’s borders were confined to the locations in which Champlain’s descendants lived and farmed the land in order to maintain and sustain their distinct French identity, their language and culture as they wished. The problem lies in the part that reads ‘in our own house,’ which has come to encompass Eeyou Estchee (the Cri territory) and the Inuit nunangat, including large swathes of territory where there is not an ounce of French history, language or culture. These lands should never have been incorporated in the French ‘house.’ But that is exactly what happened when Quebec rushed headlong toward carrying out its James Bay hydroelectric project.”8

In reality, a major portion of the territories over which Quebec governments have exercised their power to the explicit benefit of the Francophone majority have never been surrendered within the meaning of the British Canadian colonial regime. Access to the territory north of the 49th parallel, and its occupation by the populations needed for colonization, exploitation and control over the groundwater, hydro-electric, forest, mineral, marine and tourist resources, have been defended both by the Canadian courts and successive Quebec governments as pertaining, in Canadian legal language, to “compelling and substantial governmental objectives.” Moreover, although the Canadian and Quebec governments have signed a series of treaties in the terms peculiar to modern treaties, the result has been the consolidation of the Crown’s sovereignty and the colonial enterprise of generalized extraction to the benefit of the owners of the means of production and the resulting rents. The jurisdictional and financial compensation negotiated between the Indigenous groups and the state, and the renunciation of the inherent right to the territory implied in almost all of the cases involving this type of treaty have constituted an irreparable loss of sovereignty for all of the Indigenous peoples and the consolidation of an extractive economy of dispossession.

The contradictions in the PQ project

The election of the Parti québécois in 1976 marked an important turning point in the march of the “Masters in our own house” and highlights the ambiguous political role of the Québécois within the British empire. An explicitly sovereigntist government was in place in Quebec City and held the reins of the provincial state. Today it is hard to imagine the power of that moment for the descendants of the “anciens Canadiens”: an illiterate, residual people with a bastardized language, had acceded to the institutional pinnacle of the state, through their own efforts and in opposition to the entire history of British Canada which had sought its tranquil submission and cultural assimilation. The people without a state proved to the English colonizer that it was worthy of a state and of power. It was a revenge and an exploit, promising a new world – a victory over themselves and over the adverse forces of history.

It was not long, however, before this enthusiasm came up against the Indigenous question. Rémi Savard, the anthropologist who studied this question for many years, himself a fervent independentist, asked himself whether the Indigenous policy of the first PQ government, headed by René Lévesque, could really challenge the colonial relationship between Quebec and the First Nations. Instead, he found that the Quebec of the PQ’s first term of office had positioned itself along the lines of British colonialism:

“In the spring of 1977 Bérubé, the minister, was proclaiming on Radio-Canada, without batting an eyelid, his government’s formal and definitive opposition to any recognition of the right of the Indigenous to self-determination, explaining that it was inconceivable since ‘we are the proprietors of the soil’.”9

Yves Bérubé was at the time minister of natural resources and lands and forests, and what he was defending against the sovereignty claims of the Indigenous peoples was also clear: the exploitation of natural resources is the foundation of Quebec’s strategy of mastery in its own house, through economic development in French and in our name. This mastery of resources was accompanied by a claim to “ownership of the soil” and referred to the public land held by the state. The unceded Indigenous territories of north-eastern Quebec were located, as it happens, almost entirely on these public lands, 90% of the territory of the Province of Quebec. The PQ minister’s statement was quite explicit about the nature of the mastery claimed by the Québécois through their “national” government: “we are the lords of the public lands, and no political claim over these lands is conceivable.” In the following year Gérald Godin, now the minister, repeated the PQ position, citing the right of conquest inherited from the British crown. Savard concluded that the sovereignty project was proclaiming explicitly the pursuit of the genocide anticipated by the Canadian government “and which has often targeted the Québécois people.”10

Some dissident approaches

While the sovereignty project has been unable to go beyond the colonial framework, there is no denying the transformative potential of Quebec’s struggle for national emancipation. This struggle, which to a large degree has ensured the passage from servitude to mastery, is one of the major political experiments of the 20th century. Moreover, some Quebec intellectual and political actors have indeed seen the need to integrate a global overcoming of colonialism within the liberatory dynamic. For example, Pierre Vallières stated that the Indigenous peoples were more oppressed than the French Canadians of Quebec. That led him to nurture a certain distrust toward the promotion of nationalism as the ultimate goal of Quebec struggles and to uphold the claims of Indigenous sovereignty.11 Charles Gagnon, too, thought it was necessary to integrate the anti-racism fight and the Indigenous struggles in his revolutionary project of anti-imperialist and anticapitalist struggle:

“This does not mean, and cannot mean, making Quebec a new Mexico, politically ‘independent’ but economically exploited, pillaged, dispossessed. It does not mean creating one or more Black or American Indian capitalist states subject to imperialism. It does mean destroying imperialism and racism; it means building in North America a new society in which the different races and ethnic populations cohabit in harmony because each has endowed itself with the structures and institutions it considers favourable to its fulfilment.”12

Rémi Savard, the anthropologist, through his research and his attempts to develop solidarity between the Quebec and Indigenous peoples, thought the opposition of the Québécois to Indigenous claims was linked to the fact that they themselves were wronged by the Canadian constitutional regime. He criticized the colonial posture of the first independentist government in Quebec’s history which, he said, while comprising an undeniable economic motivation, was based on an opportunist legal conservatism. This posture profoundly shaped the relations between the Quebec state and the Indigenous peoples on the territory that we have inherited, through its refusal to respect the minimal requirements of peoples’ justice that the Indigenous peoples were developing on the international level.

The missed encounters

Overall, the independentist movement failed to take the hand proferred to it by the Indigenous peoples, and this was a factor, as we know today, in its political marginalization and the failure of its project. Savard reports that in 1978, two years before the referendum on Quebec sovereignty, Noel Starblanket, then chief of the National Indian Brotherhood (which became the Assembly of First Nations in 1982), wrote to René Lévesque:

“We have studied your project of sovereignty-association. This political platform suits us because it coincides with the demands of the Indians throughout Canada who want to exercise the greatest possible power over their natural resources and establish normal relations with their neighbours. We are starting from a position the opposite of yours: you are in Confederation and want to put a foot outside of it, while we who have never been a confederative club want to set foot in it. In practice, however, we agree completely. Extend us your hand. Let us, together, put an end to the federal government’s colonial power over us. But to the benefit of our respective collectivities. Not to put the Indians under the rule of some other white power, in this instance that of Quebec and the other Canadian provinces.”13

As to the sovereignty-association proposed by the Parti québécois, the chief stated, on behalf of his organization, that “this political platform suits us.” The subaltern position of the Francophones in the Canadian regime, as well as their existence as a collective entity, were acknowledged outright. Starblanket went on to propose an alliance between Quebec and the First Nations, against the colonial power of the federal government. This alliance, he said, was conditional on the equality of the parties: Quebec, in its approach to independence, was not to replace the federal government as a colonizer. It would have to work for the concurrent liberation of the First Peoples. In short, to break up the post-British Canadian regime in the interests of the peoples, Francophone and Indigenous, who were minorities within it.

Like Noel Starblanket, another leading Indigenous leader, Georges Erasmus, openly called for an alliance between the Indigenous peoples and Quebec to counter Ottawa’s approach to patriating the Constitution without recognizing the national minorities.

“We the Indigenous, have been pushed, along with Quebec, under the rug of the country that Trudeau and his sidekicks of the English provinces have just constituted. I call on the government and people of Quebec, and on René Lévesque in particular, to make known their reaction to this and to express their feeling about the rights of the Indigenous populations to self-determination. I challenge the people of Quebec – if in fact this people believes in self-determination – now is the time to support the Indigenous people. It is not the time for us to remain separated and to lead ourselves individually to defeat. We must act now. This is the moment of our reckoning. We, the Indigenous, need Quebec’s support in the coming hours. We need the support of the Quebec people. The country is in a state of national emergency and this demands that the Indigenous and Québécois unite their forces.”14

Given these quite dramatic statements at the time, Savard was adamant as to the conditions of any possible Francophone political existence in America:

“As to the project of Quebec self-determination itself, I think there is no chance it will come about in the short, medium or long term unless it begins to articulate the pan-Amerindian dynamic. [...] The worst disservice we can render to our descendants is to underestimate the political meaning of Indigenous aspirations and the continental reach of the present immense political awakening.”15

He lamented the fact that this invitation to an alliance had remained a dead letter, testimony to the sovereigntist élite’s very poor understanding of the continental colonial situation at the time.

“The imprecise desires of the Indigenous peoples for political autonomy may very well unleash furious reactions among many citizens against the threat of creating so many de facto holes in our national territory. That’s the Canadian side, somewhat buccaneering I would say, of our nationalism. It is also what prevents us, to the great relief of the federalists, from grasping the historical perch now being tendered to us, as explicitly as can be, by the Indigenous peoples of Canada as a whole.”16

Rethinking the terms of emancipation

The history of decolonization experiences offers many examples of national emancipation carried out by the state and capital that produce the results we have experienced in Quebec: the self-dispossession of the peoples through the exercise of the privileges of a national-state within the framework of a globalized economy, and the renewal of the oppressions suffered by other, subaltern populations, other minorities.

That said, the Quebec republican resistance, which has taken the colonial institutions as its emancipation model, has helped to constitute within the continental colonial space a place of distinct power, Quebec, the existence of which has undeniable ethical, political and epistemological value. If we start from that reality, that place, it is possible for us today to rethink emancipation in a more complete and more inclusive form. But this reconsideration must be radical, and not make any commitment as to the continental, colonial, historical and economic situation of Quebec.

To reinterpret the spirit of independence that gave rise to “Masters in Our Own House,” it is truly and urgently necessary to rethink the relations between the peoples inhabiting the territory of the province, the ways in which they mutually conceive the frontiers of this territory, and the way in which we draw from this our subsistance and the powers of dispossession that we support (and that support us). The emancipatory policy of the 21st century, which will be conceived on the basis of Quebec’s situation, cannot elude this thinking, which necessarily challenges the life style of the majority and the legitimacy of the claim to mastery over the “national” territory, but has the merit that it invites us to escape the colonial political imagination and to begin to think about the alliance that remains to be formulated.

A second dimension that must be advanced if a decolonial tension is to be introduced in the Quebec emancipation current is that of the Indigenous presence in the territories placed under the jurisdiction of the Province of Quebec, 90% of which is classified as being property of the Quebec state – the Quebec equivalent of Crown lands.

The chain of solidarity that could begin to develop through a rethinking of independence within North America and the need for alliances that must inform it can only be developed or experienced not from the Quebec “majority” standpoint, but by and through a psycho-political and material process of dis-identification with the colonial state and the capitalist, extractive life of dispossession that this state imposes, supports, renews, generalizes and legitimates. Accordingly, we must in this context study the genealogy of the cognitive, material and political tools through which the populations involved in the colonization self-identified existentially with the structures of dispossession that were, for better or worse, the conditions of formation of the peoples of the New World. We have to revisit frankly our relations with the other peoples on this territory as well as the genesis and onto-juridical framework of our present relations.

The big challenge

This is a sizable challenge for a people whose existence is closely linked to the colonial undertaking, a motley people, intrinsically diasporic, without age-old tradition or inherent rights toward which to turn as the basis for its coherence and collective action, who do not and will not have the political aura of the European colonizer or the prestige of the white decolonizations of the 19th century, or the ethical presence of the present decolonial and antiracist forces today. For a people dismissed and removed from power over the territory, a people whose initial segment is a product of a remaining, residual, demobilized, rebellious population lacking in social mobility and the possibility of representation, this seems to me to be also an opportunity to think otherwise and directly the questions of possession and dispossession, to go counter to colonization, to invent other ways of living, and to constitute ourselves as a hybrid, perhaps in a hitherto unseen form of upstream humility and downstream hospitality.

The political issue for Quebec in the 21st century will not be to find the road to becoming masters in our own house – which would mean pursuing the European colonization of the Americas in our own name – but to think and act in terms of the real and urgent objective of abolishing, through a grand alliance, all relations of servitude that make up the French and British colonial forms of dispossession that we have inherited.

1 See Pierre Beaudet, “La gauche canadienne et le Québec. Les multiples dimensions d’un dialogue inachevé,” in Nouveaux Cahiers du socialisme, No. 24, Autumn 2020.

2 Canadian Dimension, Among the regular contributors to CD are Andrea Levy and André Frappier, members of the NCS Collectif d’analyse politique.

3 Frappier also attended the 2016 Socialist Scholars conference in Calgary, where he participated as a resource person in several workshops. -- R.F.

4 See “Le défi de lutter ensemble,” by André Frappier and Andrea Levy, NCS No. 24.

5 Glen Coulthard, “Marx et la grande tortue,” NCS No. 21 (Winter 2019).

6 Which Québec solidaire has done, unlike the other parties including the Parti québécois.

7 “Le défi de lutter ensemble,” NCS No. 24.

8 Zebedee Nungak, Contre le colonialisme dopé aux stéroïdes. Le combat des Inuits du Québec pour leurs terres ancestrales (Montréal, Boréal, 2019 [2017]), p. 42.

9 Rémi Savard, Destins d’Amérique. Les autochtones et nous (Montréal: L’Hexagone, 1979), p. 109.

10 Ibid., p. 110.

11 Daniel Samson-Legault, Dissident. Pierre Vallières (1938-1998). Au-delà des Nègres blancs d’Amérique (Montréal: Québec Amérique, 2018), p. 391.

12 Charles Gagnon, Feu sur l’Amérique. Écrits politiques, Vol. 1 (1966-1972) (Montréal: Lux, 2006), p. 117

13 Savard, op. cit., p. 145. [My retranslation from the French. - R.F.]

14 Quoted (and translated from the English) in Jean Morisset, Sur la piste du Canada errant (Montréal: Boréal, 2018). [My retranslation from the French – R.F.]

15 Savard, op. cit., p. 110.

16 Ibid., p. 154`