To Asghar Ali Engineer Saab, I say …

By- Ramu Ramanathan

To the local astrologer, I went and asked
Junaab: yeh inquilaab kab aayega?
His followers prohibited from worshiping idols
Yet his lordship prays to his fleet of Rolls Royce engines
Instead of blessing his tribe with the Ta’wil and Ta’fsir
When they crawl for the Sajda under his feet
Spies, spies, they are everywhere
Imprisoning you for what you think
Ali Sardar Jaffri
Khwaja Ahmed Abbas
Krishnan Chander
Unlike you
All of the above, sign Madame’s letter
Instead of throwing the pen, away
You say to me
The Ganges may be Holier
But the canal
Near Maliyana and Hashimpura
Is bloodier


The first story you told me
About the E Maidan
Where factories rioted with factories
And the brassware industry lived unhappily ever after
The second story you told me
About the constabulary
Who severed her legs
And yet, the young girl (known for her personal hygiene)
Crawled to the river in Logaingaon
To complete her daily bath
The third story you told me
About potatoes
Who were persecuted under Section 153 A
Since the innocent blood
Found beneath the soil
Improved crop cultivation
We have been notified
The 300 mini-riots in 1990
Cannot be classified as riots
It was an endeavour in communal harmony
To recycle the dead beings into medical implants
For the other
Asghar Ali Engineer Saab
To you, I say
Gaali khaya
Maar khaaya
Jihaad kiya
Now let’s go to a disco
Where I know a dervish DJ
We can drink all night
Till our faith fades away …

(Dr Asghar Ali Engineer passed away on 14 May 2013)

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#India -‘It is an insult to women’s cricket to be treated this way’ #Vaw #Gender

Interview by Abhishek Purohit

January 29, 2013

Diana Edulji, a former India captain and one of the pioneering woman cricketers from the country, represented India between 1976 and 1993. Years after her retirement, she and Shanta Rangaswamy are among the most widely known names in Indian women’s cricket. Edulji has served on the BCCI‘s women’s committee and has also been manager of the Indian women’s team in 2009. She currently works for Indian Railways, which has played a very important role in supporting women’s cricket over the last three decades. Edulji spoke to ESPNcricinfo on the eve of the 2013 ICC Women’s World Cup.
Jhulan Goswami prepares to send down a delivery, India v Pakistan, ACC Women's T20 Asia Cup, Guangzhou, October 28, 2012

Diana Edulji: “The selectors get the maximum [money in Indian Women’s cricket], then come the match referees and then the players” © Andy Campbell/UTPMEDIA

What has actually changed on the ground after the BCCI has come into women’s cricket?
Initially everybody was happy with the merger in 2006, when we requested Mr Sharad Pawar, who was then the president of the board. Earlier the women’s association did not have funds, the players did not have good facilities. [After the merger], domestic players started getting more money, they travelled better, stayed in good hotels and got good grounds to play on. But I think that was just the beginning, and that was it. It was a dream, and then the bubble burst. I am not too happy with the situation at the moment.

The BCCI is running women’s cricket because they have to run it, since the ICC is now running both men’s and women’s cricket.

I would say it is an insult to women’s cricket to be treated this way. There is no cricket. Domestic cricket comprises only one T20 tournament and one 50-over tournament. There are no longer-format matches and no Test matches. I cannot understand why we cannot play one Test match at least during a bilateral series. If Australia and England can play the Ashes, why can’t India play Tests?

When I was on the [women’s] committee, I had an argument with Mr [Shashank] Manohar and Mr Srinivasan. I asked them why we couldn’t play the longer version. When we went to England in 2006, we won a Test series.

The T20 mindset, where you go and hit from the first ball, is not going to help. There is a little bit [of long-form cricket] at Under-19 level, nothing at the Under-16 level. So how is the game going to develop?

The team can have one or two Tests. You don’t have to have seven ODIs or five T20s for the women. You bifurcate the full series, see how many days a team can play, and then work out a schedule. It is not necessary to play only 50-over or 20-over cricket.

Compared to the times you grew up in, what incentive does a young girl have to play the game today in India?
When we started playing, we had nothing. We were paying from our pocket. When I went to the World Cup in 1982, each girl had to pay Rs 10,000 to go to New Zealand. We put it in the papers, and Mr Antulay, the Maharashtra chief minister, came to the rescue of the four Maharashtrian players: myself, Vrinda Bhagat, Anjali [Pendharkar] and Shubhangi [Kulkarni]. He signed a cheque and told us, “You all will go.”

There was a tin shed here [at the Western Railways ground in Mahalaxmi, Mumbai] where there is now a hostel. The Indian team have slept there on tables. They have travelled unreserved in a train from Mumbai to Delhi. Compared to that, what these girls [points to the Western Railways side practising nearby] have got at the moment is absolutely five-star treatment.

But where is the game? Where is the dedication? What we played was total, absolute enjoyment. Even my own team here are not enjoying the game. They are playing because they have got jobs [with Railways] and they are satisfied.

I have been telling the girls that they must not be satisfied with the breadcrumbs thrown at them. Jhulan [Goswami]Mithali [Raj], nobody can throw them out of the team. They have got their backing with their performances. If they demand something, it has to be heard. But they are satisfied.

The board has kept us away because it knows that they are not going to say anything. They threw Shanta [Rangaswamy] out, they threw me out, now Shubhangi is out because Mr Pawar is not there.

All those who are pushing for women’s cricket have been put on the back burner, so there is nobody to present the players’ cases. The people who are in the committee at the moment are all “yes girls”. How many meetings does the BCCI women’s committee have? One in a year, just before the general body meeting. The next year, the committee changes.

Players should be getting the maximum. In women’s cricket, it is the other way round. The selectors get the maximum, then come the match referees and then the players. So how are you going to get girls into cricket?

And what is the domestic match fee? Rs 2500. Where are you going to eat if you stay in a four-star hotel? The fee for T20 is Rs 1250.

When you have a World Cup shifted from a ground to accommodate a Ranji game, what does that say?
It is an absolute disgrace. And why are we having it [the World Cup] only in one centre? Promote it in the smaller areas. When we played in the late 1970s, in Patna, in Jamshedpur, we used to have 30,000 people watching. When we won the Test against West Indies, the scenes were unbelievable. Even at the Eden Gardens, in 1975, the pavilion side was packed with spectators. Maybe people came out of curiosity, but at least crowds came to see the match. Who is coming today?

I am happy with the advertisements that ESPN is doing now on women’s cricket. Like: who is the first person to make an ODI double-hundred? It is a woman. Why is Sachin [Tendulkar] getting credit for the double-hundred? It has to be Belinda Clark [who made a double in 1997].

Now that the BCCI is running cricket, it shouldn’t be that they should run only men’s cricket. They should be happy with the women’s cricket too.

Where are the photos of the women’s team captains in the BCCI office? Why are there only photos of male cricketers? There was not a single ladies’ toilet in the old BCCI office till I went and fought for it.

What about the one-time benefit? Srinivasan has just refused. What have we asked for? We are not asking to be paid at the same level as men’s cricket. All we have asked is that women cricketers who have played between one and ten Test matches should get Rs 10 lakh (approximately US$18,000); those who have played between ten and 20 Tests can get Rs 20 lakh ($36,000).

But when Mr Srinivasan took over as president of the board, he said, “Why should we give you money? What have you all done?”

Mithali has said that India women’s matches must be televised to create visibility. I may be boasting, but when I go to movies or restaurants, I am still recognised. But I am sure if Mithali is with me, she won’t be recognised. It is sad. I still feel nice when someone comes up to me and introduces me to their children. Why shouldn’t these girls get the recognition? Jhulan is a Padma Shri winner – she’s an Arjuna awardee, so is Mithali. Why can’t more articles be written about them?

“What is the domestic match fee? Rs 2500. Where are you going to eat if you stay in a four-star hotel?”

I guess the media also has to be blamed for failing to cover women’s cricket adequately?
Yes. I have been after Arnab [Goswami], Rajdeep [Sardesai], Barkha [Dutt], especially for this one-time benefit. Even the National Commission for Women took it up. What happened? Nothing.

Look at the pension for women cricketers. We are getting Rs 15,000 as pension. Fair enough. But the pension is given only to cricketers who have played five Tests and more. Why? What about people who have played less than five Tests? Suddenly the ICC said some matches have been declared unofficial. Why? We played as India, we went abroad as India. The government gave a sanction for India. Just because the English or Australians said we sent an U-19 or an U-21 team? The International Women’s Cricket Council did not recognise it, so the ICC did not, too. But did you take us or our board into confidence, asking: have you played official series? [Edulji is referring to three series between 1975 and the mid-80s, which included a tour by an Australian women’s team to India in 1975 and a tour to England by the Indian women in 1981.] If a [male] domestic cricketer can get a pension, why not [a woman] who has played even one Test? They get Rs 5000. I cannot understand this logic at all.

What do you think motivates people like you, Jhulan, Mithali and the others to keep going?
It is just the love of the game, even in these circumstances. I was driving and on Marine Drive I saw this whole bunch of red t-shirts coming. I realised it was the India women’s team. They were walking from the hotel to the Wankhede. I stopped my car, and the way they greeted me, I felt nice, but I also felt that this is the Indian national team, and they are walking on the street? And where are they playing? Police Gymkhana, Hindu Gymkhana, Bombay Gymkhana? Would any men cricketers play there?

When I went as the manager for the England tour in 2009, it was cold and we had no warm clothing. I rang up Nike and also informed BCCI that we would need jumpers. I was told, “It is not in the budget.” I said, I don’t care. That is the first time they got jumpers. I am told that, at times, they are even given used kits, left over by men. The sizes don’t match, patches are put [to hide the names]. Is this the way you treat them? This mindset has to change.

I think the media has to have the guts, otherwise women’s cricket will die in a few years. Tell me, where are the back-ups? Where are the U-19 players? I have asked for the Under-19 squad to be given at least one tour. Why will that player come on to the ground? She will pick up another sport, like hockey or squash.

How does a woman make a living out of cricket in these times of inflation?
She can’t. Unless you really click, like Jhulan or Mithali. The only positive is the Railways. Players get a permanent job there. In spite of that, the board is anti-Railway. They won’t let players get an NOC.

What is your match fee? How are you going to survive on it? At least in the Railways, players start with a minimum salary of Rs 15,000-Rs18,000, if they get a Group C job. They also get free medical care and free travel for life.

The Indian Railways is the lifeline of Indian women’s cricket. Air India closed down once the BCCI came in, because they were not an affiliated unit. We were lucky we were affiliated, as we play Ranji. So Railways got an entry, while Air India did not. Services do not have a women’s team. So it is just one organisation.

Sport is on the decline in the Railways too. Jobs are not easy to get.

What about the grassroots level? The Ministry is talking about the core group – those who are shining at Asian or Commonwealth level – so is the Railways. But where did they come up from? You have to give them the support at the grassroots for them to come up.

Belinda Clark looks on ahead of a game against England, Somerset, September 2, 2005

Belinda Clark, the first player in history to hit a double-century in ODIs, is now a part of Cricket Australia’s Centre for Excellence © Getty Images

Are there any decent players on the horizon? What after Jhulan and Mithali go?
No, because there’s hardly anything happening at the Under-19 and Under-16 levels. It just shows that they are not interested in letting it go further. Look at the set-up in Australia and England. It is so professional.

The ECB have arranged jobs as coaches for their women players…
Yes. And Belinda [Clark] is at Cricket Australia’s Centre for Excellence. They are being respected, their achievements are being recognised.

Do you think the women’s game can be made marketable?
Why not? Anything is marketable. During the IPL I was watching a game with Mr [Lalit] Modi and Mr Pawar and suggested that a five-over game for the women could be held, to promote women’s cricket; an international team could come over; you could mix the Indian players with the internationals and have one match during the semi-finals and one during the final. What is wrong in that? You can do anything if you want to. But if you don’t want to, then all sorts of excuses come forward.

Why is the Indian women’s team not allowed to wear the Sahara logo? Why does the men’s team wear the logo? Sahara pays the BCCI, a share comes to the men. It doesn’t come down to the women. Sahara is the BCCI sponsor. It hasn’t said, “Don’t sponsor the women.” Think about it.

Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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Judge attacks forced marriage that put disabled woman ‘at risk’ #goodnews


A judge has said the forced marriage of a Muslim woman with learning difficulties should be annulled and condemned the “insulated” families who arrange them.

Daily Life: 3rd prize singles: Andrew Biraj, Bangladesh, Reuters. Overcrowded train approaches station, Dhaka, Bangladesh

An overcrowded train approaches station, Dhaka, Bangladesh Photo: Andrew Biraj, Bangladesh, Reuters
Martin Beckford

By , Home Affairs Editor, The Telegraph

5:00PM BST 16 Aug 2012

Mrs Justice Parker also criticised doctors and social workers for failing to raise the alarm when the woman was sent to Bangladesh to be married to a cousin, which allowed him to settle in England.

She said video of the wedding ceremony showed the bride was “almost comatose” and needed help to repeat vows she did not understand, while her relatives had made “false and misleading” statements about her condition.

And the judge brushed aside claims by the woman’s parents that having her marriage annulled would bring shame upon their family, in a case that was even considered at by the Government’s most senior lawyer, the Attorney General.

Mrs Justice Parker said that forcing marriage on someone who lacks mental capacity is a “gross interference” with their dignity and autonomy, particularly as it means having sex and possibly becoming pregnant without being able to consent.

Under the far-reaching powers of the Court of Protection, which can make life-or-death decisions on behalf of those deemed unable to understand them, the judge ruled that the woman’s foreign marriage should not be recognised as valid in England. She also declared it would be in the woman’s “best interests” for a nullity application to be issued.

“The communities where this is likely to happen also need to be told, loud and clear, that if a person, whether male or female, enters into a marriage when they do not have the capacity to understand what marriage is, its nature and duties, or its consequences, or to understand sexual relations, that that marriage may not be recognised, that sexual relations will constitute a criminal offence, and that the courts have the power to intervene.”

According to the recently published judgment, the woman – known only as DD to protect her identity – has a “very significant degree of learning disability” and needs help with almost all daily tasks.

In 2003 she married a cousin in Bangladesh and after two failed attempts he was granted a spousal visa in 2009, allowing him to move in with his wife at her family home in an English town.

“Eventually” the local authority found out about the situation and police obtained a Forced Marriage Protection order, leading to experts giving evidence on her capacity.

The judge said the council has “accepted its failures” while the woman’s GP had not raised concerns despite being asked on at least three occasions about “marriage and pregnancy”.

At a hearing in 2010 the judge ruled, “in the face of very strong resistance” from relatives, that DD lacked the capacity to marry or consent to sex and that it was unlawful for her husband to have intercourse with her.

Evidence was then considered as to whether or not the marriage should be annulled, leading to the latest ruling.

The judge said the woman lived in a “very traditional family” in a “close-knit community” that was not integrated with other Bengalis in the area.

“Her parents are very largely insulated from mainstream English society and are mistrustful of non-Bengalis. They do not communicate well in English: her mother understands and speaks almost none. They are devout Muslims.”

The judge said DD was a “loved and valued member of her family and that her parents are devoted to her”, and that in their culture it is seen as parents’ duty to arrange marriages and find spouses for disabled children.

Her mother, father and husband “begged” the judge not to quash the marriage as “there would be considerable stigma in Bangladesh for them”.

But Mrs Justice Parker insisted the bride “does not have even the most basic understanding of marriage” and she “rejected” her family’s account of how the wedding came about.

She said the union had “exposed her to great risk” and led to family tensions as well as conflict with social services who look after her.


The great unmentionable in disability politics #mustread


English: Barnstar for WikiProject Disability

English: Barnstar for WikiProject Disability (Photo credit: Wikipedia)



RAHILA GUPTA , 31 July 2012


 “I felt there was no space for me to express grief at my son’s disability”. The grief of those who care for people with a disability is betrayal of the Cause.  Rahila Gupta asks: how do you value disability at the same time as mourn the loss of ability?

Most political movements at their inception demand radical resolution of the wrongs and injustices that they have been set up to overturn – and the disability movement is no different. My first brush with the movement happened in the 80s when I began the battle for a proper education for my son who had cerebral palsy as a result of a difficult and negligent birth. There was a huge amount of institutional oppression and individual prejudice which was hard to fight as an individual both in physical and emotional terms. There was no right to a mainstream education enshrined in the law and various groups of parents and carers of disabled children and disabled people themselves came to our support at critical moments in the struggle. As I had been involved in race and gender politics, it would have been a natural transition to become active in the wider disability movement, a transition I did not make and which I put down to a lack of time then. Gradually I became aware that there were some deep seated reservations which I had not articulated even to myself. Only now, ten years after I lost my son, I realise that the contradictions of the movement had me in a vice like grip which I can only now begin to untangle.

There is no doubt that the history of disabled people is littered with the most grotesque and inhumane attempts to wipe them off the face of this earth – even progressive socialists, like the Fabians, of the early twentieth century supported the idea of eugenics to create a super race until Hitler’s experiments with it consigned the idea to the scrapheap.  Of course, the first step towards unwinding this hatred would be to promote positive images of disabled people, of the excavation of a hidden history of great contributions, of heroic stories, of moving towards light and glory, of asserting the right to exist, of being and becoming visible. It has been the inevitable pattern, with some variations, of the feminist, anti-racist and gay movements among others. But this is where the similarity ends, or should end. Whereas the attributes of sex or race or sexual orientation become a ‘handicap’ because of patriarchy, racism or heterosexism, there is a point at which impairment becomes a ‘handicap’ not merely because of disablism but a condition which can cause pain, discomfort, aggravation and frustration to the individual concerned, regardless of how far society travels in its attitudes and how far technology succeeds in bridging that gap.

This is not to promote the suffering, helpless victims deserving of charity narrative. Important insights have emerged from the disability movement which challenge those narratives, namely the distinction between the medical and social models of disability. The medical model sees disability as an individual problem to be ‘cured’ and ‘treated’ whereas the social model recasts this as a problem inherent in the way that society and the physical environment have been structured, so wheelchair users cannot attend a meeting not because they are in wheelchairs but because no ramps have been provided.  As Vic Finkelstein puts it, ‘What was paramount was our focus on the need to change the disabling society rather than make us fit for society.’

I completely agree with the flaws of ‘the fit for society’ model. And yet, and yet what about being fit for your own sake?. Somewhere between the medical and social model stood individuals like me and my son. We did both: I campaigned for schools to admit him which meant they had to do a lot more to become accessible than merely provide ramps but devise and implement policies of inclusion and initiate a thoroughgoing change of attitudes. At the same time, I tried Botox on the advice of the doctors so that it might make his eating more efficient, his muscles less stiff and therefore less painful. He had operations on his leg muscles to prevent his hips becoming dislocated. He wore a variety of splints and braces, the line between chasing a ‘cure’ or increasing comfort often a blur.

The attempt to rescue disability from its tragic status tipped over into a glorification of disability. A similar trend was apparent in the early days of the women’s movement when it was impossible to be openly critical of mothers or to even admit the possibility that women could be violent. The great immigration lawyer Steve Cohen said towards the end of his life when severe arthritis had all but stopped his campaigning and writing, ‘I’m not disabled and proud, I’m disabled and pissed off!’ Like him, I felt there was no space for me to express grief at my son’s disability. It was the great unmentionable in disability politics – the grief of those who care for them. How do you value disability at the same time as mourn the loss of ability? By separating the disability from the person, by valuing the disabled person, would be one answer, another version of the biblical exhortation to ‘hate the sin but love the sinner’. It is, of course, hard to separate these in practice: the disability is so much a part of a disabled person’s identity that any comment on the disability feels like an assault on the person.  I raised these knotty questions in The Ballad of Nihal Armstrong,  a dramatic monologue performed at the Arts Theatre in London last June, in which I recount the story of our struggle and triumphs in the fight for my son’s rights. Perhaps it is the intense love for my son that permeates the Ballad that gives me the ‘permission’ to mourn his loss of ability.

There are some who see disability as a gift, a position which finds particular favour among religious groups. Eleanore Stump, an American Professor of Philosophy, argues that suffering makes one grow and narrates approvingly  the story of a mother with an autistic child ‘who came to see that even the suffering (i.e. her autistic child) of her life was a gift’ in her book, Wandering in Darkness: Narrative and the Problem of Suffering. The language and perspective of this position, while trying to be positive, would be dismissed by most disabled people because of its equation between suffering and disability.

This idea of disability as a gift, as something special and worth reproducing was taken to its logical, but in my view extremely troubling, conclusion by a deaf couple in 2008 who wanted the right to select an embryo with the deaf gene. They wanted their child to be part of a proud linguistic minority although it was not clear why a hearing child could not be brought up in that culture with the additional advantages that hearing brings such as the ability to enjoy music. The argument as seen from the perspective of the disability lobby is twofold: an interpretation of equality, if you have the right to discard a deaf foetus, you should have the right to discard a hearing foetus rather than an equality between people with more strings to their bow; and doing anything that reduces the number of disabled people in the world is evidence of discrimination, an argument that underpins the opposition to abortion and the right to die movement.

Definitions of impairment are becoming wider so that, from some perspectives, the size of the disabled community in most societies is larger than ever.  Laying claim to greater numbers has often been the strategy used by minorities to tackle their powerlessness – black people claiming powerful ‘white’ men and women rumoured to have black antecedents as their own, for example – although as we have seen numbers are no guarantee of increased bargaining power as women are still widely oppressed.

As political movements mature and strengthen, they move from striking either/or positions to a recognition of the complexity of human situations and responses. Having established its presence, a movement does not feel threatened by a multiplicity of opposing views. I believe the disability movement is at that point. Baroness Jane Campbell, Commissioner of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said in 2008, ‘I believe our position as disabled people is fundamentally different to what it was 20, 10, even 5 years ago. I believe we have a powerful voice.’  She argues that is time for the disability movement to join forces with other disadvantaged groups, even carers, because ‘the ideas of the disability movement – barrier removal, reforming public services to give people greater control over their own lives, and equality legislation based on accommodating difference rather than ignoring it – are the blueprint for the next stages of promoting equality and human rights overall.’  The movement should be ready to accommodate a carer’s perspective without feeling threatened and to explore the contradictions that dishearten potential allies.




‘Sponsored’ doctors under scanner’ #Goodnews :-)


English: Shivraj Singh Chauhan, Chief Minister...

English: Shivraj Singh Chauhan, Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, India. Français : Shivraj Singh Chauhan, chef de l’exécutif (Chief Minister) du Madhya Pradesh, Inde. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)



By Express News Service – NEW DELHI

11th July 2012 10:18 AM

Eleven doctors from Madhya Pradesh, who allegedly went with their families to England and Scotland, are facing a probe, with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare suspecting that a pharmaceutical company could have sponsored their trip.

Speaking to Express, Medical Council of India (MCI) Secretary, Dr Sanjay

Shrivastava, said he is yet to receive a formal order from the Health Ministry for a probe against the doctors.

“Our ethics committee, which has eminent members on the board, will examine the matter after receiving the complaint and only after getting the report we will decide the next course of action,” Shrivastava said.

However, the doctors who figured in the list sent to the PMO denied taking a sponsored trip and said the group of doctors paid for the entire travel. One of the doctors, Srikant Rege of Indore told Express that he never accepted any free tickets from any drug  company and that the allegation was a farce. Another medical practitioner from Jabalpur, Dr Harsh Saxena, said somebody with ulterior motives had complained to Member of Parliament Dr Jyoti Mirdha about the group travel and there seemed to be some misunderstanding as it was a self-financed tour. He also refuted the genuineness of evidence submitted to the Prime Minister’s Office by the Mirdha.

MP Jyoti Mirdha, along with her letter, had enclosed the ticket and PNR numbers, as well as the itinerary prepared by drug manufacturing company for the travel to England and Scotland.

“As I’m writing this letter a total of 11 doctors along with their families are holidaying in England and Scotland on a trip financed by Intas Pharmaceuticals Ltd. Details including names of passengers along with their addresses, ticket numbers, hotels and itinerary are attached for your perusal. Needless to say, acceptance of such trips is in violation of MCI rules,” Mirdha’s communiqué to PM stated.

She has also raised the issue of dichotomy in rules set up to govern the sponsorship issues. “While the MCI rules bar doctors from accepting gifts, tickets, hospitality from healthcare industry, there are no corresponding obligations on the part of the drug industry not to offer such freebies and face penal action in case of violations,” the letter dated June 1, 2012, said.

After some multinational companies were fined by regulating authorities for inducing doctors through unethical means, the MCI notified a mandatory code of ethics to be followed by all medical practitioners. The gazette notification dated December 10, 2009, prohibits the acceptance of gifts, hospitality, travel grants, funds and endorsement of commercial products by doctors.


Intas.Doctors on holiday




Climate change and social justice towards an Ecosocialist perspective

Global Warming & Climate ChangeAsit Das

After the Kyoto protocol and the IPCC report, climate change has emerged as a serious issue facing mankind. Climate change and the issues of social justice should be seen in the context of the urgency of the global ecological crisis.

Some writers think that the origins of today’s global ecological crises are to be found in the unusual response in Europe’s ruling states, to the great crisis in the 14th century 1290 -1450. There are indeed striking parallels between the world system today, and the situation prevailing in a broadly feudal Europe. At the dawn of the 14th century, the agriculture regime, once capable of remarkable productivity, experienced stagnation. A large population shifted to cities; western trading networks connected far-flung economic centers. Resource extraction like copper and silver, faced new technical challenges, fettering profitability. After some six centuries of sustained expansion, by the 14th country, it had become clear that feudal Europe had reached the limits of its development, for reasons related to its environment, its configuration of social power, and the relations between them.

What followed was either immediately or eventually the rise of capitalism. Regardless of one’s specific interpretation, it is clear that the centuries after 1450 marked an era of fundamental environmental transformation. It was to be commodity-centered and exclusive, it was also an unstable and uneven, dynamic combination of seigniorial capitalist and peasant economics.

This ecological regime of early capitalism was beset with contradiction. In the middle of the 18th century, England shifted from its position as a leading grain exporter to major grain importer. Yield in England’s agriculture stagnated. Inside the country, landlords compensated by agitating for enclosures, which accelerated beyond anything known in previous centuries. Outside the country, Ireland’s subordination was intensified with an eye on agricultural exports. This was the era of crisis for capitalism’s first ecological regime. For all the talk of early capitalism as mercantile, it was also extraordinarily productivist and dynamic, in ways that went far beyond buying cheap and selling dear. Early capitalism had created a vast agro-ecological system of unprecedented geographical breadth, stretching from the eastern Baltic to Portugal, from southern Norway to Brazil and the Caribbean. It had delivered an expansion of the agro-extractive surplus for centuries. It had been, in other words, an expression of capitalist advancement following Adam Smith and occasionally, combining market, class and ecological transformations in a new crystallization of ecological power and process.

By the middle of the 18th century, however, this world ecological regime had become a victim of its own success. Agricultural yields, not just in England but also across Europe, extended even into the Andes and Spain. It was a contributor to the world crisis. It was a world ecological crisis, i.e., not a crisis of the earth in an idealist sense, but a crisis of early modern capitalism’s organization of the world nature of capitalism and not just a world economy, but also a world ecology. For even many on the left have long regarded capitalism as something that acts upon nature treating it as a commodity. This world ecological crisis can be characterized as capitalism’s first developmental environmental crisis, quite distinct from the epochal ecological crisis that characterized the transition from feudalism to capitalism. It was a crisis resolved through two major successive waves of global conquest – the creation of North America, and increasingly India as a vast supplier of food and resources; and then, by the later 19th century, the great colonial invasion and occupation of Southeast Asia, Africa and China.

The Industrial Revolution retains its hold on the popular imagination as the historical and geographical locus of today’s environmental crisis. It was a view that co-existed with the profound faith in technological progress. It can be viewed that the industrial revolution as the resolution of an earlier moment of modern ecological crisis and a more expansive, more intensive reconstruction of global nature. The industrial revolution offered not merely a technical fix to the developmental crisis that marked capitalisms ecological regimes, but within this revolution, was inscribed a vast geographical fix, which at that time was as limiting as it had once been liberating. Such a perspective of world ecological crisis offers a more historical name and a more hopeful way of looking for a pro-people approach for thinking and acting about the problems of ecological crisis in the modern world. While the technological marvels of the past two centuries are routinely celebrated, it had become clear in the 1860s that all advances in resource efficiency promised more aggregate resource consumption. This is how the modern world market functions, towards profligacy and not conservation. The technological marvels have rested on geographical expansion neither more nor less than they did in the formative centuries of capitalist development. The pressure to enclose vast new areas of the planet and to penetrate even deeper into the niches of social and ecological life has continued unabated. Now we are witnessing the imperial process of new enclosures, with a partnership with the ruling elites, and the corporate sector of the Third World countries. All this has been reinforced in the same manner by a radical plunge into the depths of the earth to extract oil, coal, water and different types of strategic resources. It is an ecological regime that has reached, or will soon reach, its limits. Whatever the geological veracity of the peak oil argument, it is clear that the American led ecological regime that promised, and for half a century delivered cheap oil, is now done for – this is a bigger issue than present limits of oil reserves.

It is from this standpoint that an accounting of earlier crises may help us to discern the contours of the present global ecological crisis. At the outset, it seems capitalism’s preference for externalizing its crisis through colonial expansions, plunder and conquest of new territories for resources and markets, has reached its definite and destructive geographical limits. As long as fresh land existed beyond the reach of capital, the system’s socio-ecological contradictions could be managed. With the possibilities for external colonization foreclosed by the 20th century, capital has been compelled to pursue strategies of internal colonization, among which we might include the explosive growth of genetically modified plants and animals since 1970. Drilling even deeper and to even more distant locales for oil, water and minerals; converting human bodies, especially those of women, people of color, workers and farmers into toxic waste dumps for a wide range of carcinogenic and other lethal substantives.

There has been lots of critical analysis of different dimensions of contemporary environmental degradation, of government policies, and the role of multinational international agreements. What is needed is sufficient care given to the task of situating these factors systemically and historically.

There is a certain urgency to the present ecological crisis. Now it has been proved that the world economy has been driven to the limits, and in some cases beyond a whole range of ecological thresholds. The global ecological crisis is not impending, it is already here. To understand the structural logic of this crisis, we have to have a historical perspective on globalization and distinguishing the new from the old, in the present juncture and trying to situate the contemporary dynamics of the world historically. Our response to the fate of human civilization depends on how we deal with this age of ecological catastrophes. By locating today’s ecological transformations within long run and large-scale patterns of recurrence and evolution in the modern world, we may unravel the distinctiveness of the impending ecological catastrophe. This means that we have to situate ecological relations internal to the political economy of capitalism and not merely placing concepts of ecological transformation and governance, alongside those of political categories of political economy from the standpoint of the historically existing dialectic of nature and society. Once ecological relations of production are put into the mix, one of the chief things that come into view is the production of socio-ecological regimes, both regional and on world scale. These initially liberate the accumulation of capital, only to generate self-limiting contradictions that culminate in renewed ecological bottlenecks to continued accumulation each time the cycle starts anew; historically, this has been more expansive and intensifies relations between capital labour and external nature. The task before us is to identify the different forms and kinds of the unfolding ecological crises.

The Writing on the Wall

Ecology: The Moment of Truth

Explaining the magnitude of the crisis and the urgency to deal with it, John Bellamy Foster in his note “Ecology: The Moment of Truth” says: “It is impossible to exaggerate the environmental problem facing humanity in the twenty-first century.” Nearly fifteen years ago he observed (John Bellamy Foster, “This Vulnerable Planet”, 1994): “We have only four decades left in which to gain control over our major environmental problems if we are to avoid irreversible ecological decline.
Today, with a quarter-century still remaining in this projected time line, it appears to have been too optimistic. Available evidence now strongly suggests that under a regime of business as usual we could be facing an irrerevocable “tipping point” with respect to climate change, within a mere decade.

Other crises such as species extinction (percentage of bird, mammal and fish species “vulnerable or in immediate danger of extinction” are “now measured in double digits”).

The rapid depletion of the oceans’ bounty; desertification; deforestation; air pollution; water shortages/pollution; soil degradation; the imminent peaking of world oil production (creating new geopolitical tensions); and a chronic world food crisis – all point to the fact that the planet as we know it and its ecosystems are stretched to the breaking point. The moment of truth for the earth and civilization has arrived.”

To be sure, it is unlikely that the effects of ecological degradation in our time, though enormous, will prove apocalyptic for human civilization within a single generation, even under conditions of capitalist business as usual. Normal human life spans, there is no doubt that considerable time is still left before the full effect of the current human degrading the planet comes into play. Yet, the period remaining in which we can avert future environmental catastrophe, before it is essentially out of our hands, is much shorter. Indeed, the growing sense of urgency of environmentalists has to do with the prospect of various tipping points being reached as critical ecological thresholds are crossed, leading to the possibility of a drastic contraction of life on earth. (See “Ecology: The Moment of Truth” by John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark and Richard York, Monthly Review, July-August 2008).

Capitalist and Socialist Response to the Present Ecological Crisis

Under capitalist conditions, the environment is more and more transformed into a contested object of human greed. The exploitation of natural resources, and their degradation by a growing variety of pollutants, results in man made scarcity, leading to conflicts over access to them. Access to nature is uneven and unequal, and the societal relation of man to nature therefore is conflict-prone. The ecological footprints of people in different countries and regions of the world are of very different sizes, reflecting severe inequalities of incomes and wealth. Ecological injustices, therefore, can only usefully be discussed if social class contradictions and production of inequality in the courses of capital accumulation are taken into account. The environment includes the energy system, climate, biodiversity, soils, water, wood, deserts, ice sheets, etc., the different spheres of planet earth and their historical evolution. The complexity of nature and the positive and negative feedback mechanisms between the different dimensions of the environment in space and time are only partly known. Therefore, an environmental policy has to be made in the shadow of a high degree of uncertainty. This is why one of the basic principles of environmental policy is that of precaution. The effects of human activities, particularly economic activities on natural processes and the feedback mechanisms within the totality of the social political and economic systems, constitute the so-called societal relation of man to nature. Only a holistic attempt to integrate environmental aspects into discourses of political economy, political science, sociology culture studies, etc., can make possible a coherent understanding of environmental problems and yield adequate political response to the challenges of the ongoing ecological crisis.

Green Capitalism and Capitalist Response to the Ecological Crisis

Mainstream environmentalists seek to solve the ecological problems almost exclusively through three mechanical strategies: (1) technological solutions, (2) extending the market to all aspects of nature, and (3) creating what are intended as mere islands of preservation in a world of almost universal exploitation and destruction of nature habitats. In contrast, a minority of critical human ecologists have come to understand the need to change our fundamental social relations.

The Capitalist Response to Global Ecological Crisis

The ecological crisis is a complex mix of dangerous trends. Capitalist ideology characteristically views only the components of this crisis, thereby obscuring its systemic nature. The build up of greenhouse gases and the consequent spectres of climatic tipping points have been widely, if reluctantly, acknowledged within the US ruling class, although for the most part without any matching sense of urgency. Little attention is paid to this in official mainstream campaign discourses. Different dimensions of the crisis are viewed either as a local problem, or more alarmingly, as opportunities for future profit. One can see these in the spread of toxins, the depletion of vital goods – notably fresh water, and biodiversity; the increasingly intrusive and reckless manipulation of basic natural processes as in genetic engineering, cloud seeding, changing the course of rivers, etc.

An adequate response to the crisis will ultimately involve addressing all these dimensions. We are still only in the earliest stages of necessary awareness. This means that we must first convincingly address the arguments of those who would downplay the depth of the transformation that long-term species-survival will require. One part of this task responding to those who deny human agency in climate crisis is a matter of pitting straightforward scientific reasoning against assertions made principally by representatives of corporate capital. Another challenge comes to social ecology from those who put forward the view that the only feasible green agenda is a capitalist one.

Green Capitalism

Among the many possible illustrations of “Green Capitalism”, a small news item in the financial section of the March 7, 2008 issue of the New York Times, provides a useful lead. Captioned “Gore gets rich”, it reports that former US Vice-President Al Gore, fresh from winning the Nobel Peace Prize for his cautionary filmed lecture about global warming, invested 35 million dollars with Capricorn Investment Group, a firm that puts clients’ assets into hedge funds and invests in makers of environmentally friendly products. The article also notes that Gore has flourished from his business ties with Apple and Google, and that he was recently made a partner at Keiner Perkins Caufield, the top tier Silicon Valley Venture Capital firm. A visit to the Capricorn Group’s website leads to stories about the various projects in which its funds have been invested, one of which is Mendel Biotechnology, which is working with BP and Monsanto supported by a 125 million dollar grant from the US Department of Energy, to find a way to propagate Miscanthus – a potentially more efficient fuel-producing plant than corn, for quick planting and maximum yield.

This is quintessential capitalism; its only green attribute is the notion of crop-derived fuel as offering a clean and green form of energy. The following core aspects of the ecological crisis, however, remain unaddressed – if not aggravated, in this scenario:
Although bio fuels may produce less greenhouse gas than petroleum, their aggregate impact in terms of air and water pollution, soil degradation and food prices may be more severe.

No recognition is given to the need to reduce the total amount of energy consumption of paved surfaces.

Large-scale use of cropland as a fuel source impinges on food crops without reducing pressure on the world water supply.

Agri-business practices, whatever the product, have their negative impact on bio diversity.

Monsanto is implicated in the coercive imposition of genetically modified organisms (GMO).

Silicon Valley is at the cutting edge of capitalist hyper-development that has accelerated innovation and obsolescence, a generation of vast quantities of toxic trash.

The US Government continues to provide subsidies to corporations rather than supporting efforts directly to address long-term human needs.

The more familiar image of green capitalism is the one of small grassroot enterprises offering local services, solar housing, organic food markets, etc. It is true and promising that as ecological awareness spreads, the space for such activities will grow. We should also acknowledge that the related exploration of alternative living arrangements might contribute in a positive way to the longer-term conversion that is required. More generally it is certainly the case that any effective conservation measures, including steps towards renewable energy that can be taken in the short run, should be welcome, no matter who takes those steps. However, it is important not to see in such steps any repudiation by capital of its ecologically and socially devastating core commitments to expansion, accumulation and profit.

To remind ourselves of this core commitment is not to claim that capital ignores the environmental crisis, it is simply to account for the particular way it responds to it. This includes direct corporate initiatives and measures taken by capitalist governments. At least in the US, however, the former thrust predominates. The accepted self designation of these approaches, ‘corporate environmentalism’ defined as environmentally friendly actions not required by the law and thereby signifying explicitly that the corporations themselves are setting the agenda. The most tangible expression of corporate environmentalism is a substantial across-the-board jump through the 1980s in the numbers of management personnel assigned to deal with environmental issues.

On the basis of both theory and performance, and viewing the corporate sector as a whole, we can say that this new emphasis has made itself felt in two ways. On the one hand, corporations have been alert to opportunities for making environmentally positive adjustments, where these coincide with the standard business criteria of efficiency and cost reduction. On the other hand, more importantly, corporations have acted directly on the political stage, with an exceptionally free hand in the US. Both by lobbying and direct penetration of policy making bodies, they have moulded regulatory practices, censored scientific reports and shaped a defiant official posture in the global arena exemplified by US withdrawal from the Kyoto accords. In addition, they have undertaken vast public relation campaigns (Green Washing) to portray their practices as environmentally progressive. From outside, as well as within the US, they have attempted with considerable success to define in their own interest, the internationally accepted parameters of sustainable development – initially through the continuing activity of the World Trade Organization, as well as corporate partnerships with United Nations Development Agencies.

None of these efforts embodies the slightest change in basic capitalist practice. On the contrary, they reflect a determination to shore up such a practice at all costs. The reality of green capitalism is that capital pays attention to green issues; this is not at all the same as having green priorities. Insofar as capital makes green oriented adjustments beyond those that are either profit-friendly or advisable for PR purposes or protection against liability, it is because those adjustments have been imposed, or as in the case of wind turbines in Germany, stimulated and subsidized by public authority. Such authority, even though exerted within the overall capitalist framework, reflects primarily the political strength of non or anti-capitalist forces like environmentalist organizations, trade unions, community groups, grassroot coalitions, etc., although these may be supported in part by certain sectors of capital, such as alternative energy and insurance industries.

As this whole current of opinion becomes stronger, advocates of green capitalism pick up on the popular call for renewable energy, but accompany it with a vision of undiminished proliferation of industrial products. In so doing, they overlook the complexity of the environmental crisis which has not only to do with the burning of fossil fuels, but also with assaults on the earth’s resource base as a whole, including for example, the paving over the green space, the raw material and energy costs of producing solar collectors and wind turbines, the encroachment on natural habitats not only by buildings and pavements, but also by dams, wind turbines, etc; the toxins associated with high-tech commodities and the increasingly critical problems of waste disposal; in short, the routine spin-offs from capital’s unqualified prioritization of economic growth.

Proponents of green capitalism respond to this by saying that economic growth, far from being the problem, is what holds the solutions. Environmentalism in this view is a purely negative response to ecological crisis giving rise to unpopular practices like regulation and prohibition. Hence, the singular “green capitalist” caricature of environmentalists. All of them direct our attention to stopping the bad, not creating the good. The “good” from this perspective, is a scenario of jobs, material abundance, and energy independence, understood however, within a characteristically capitalist competitive framework. While the need to cut greenhouse gases is recognized, the challenge is posed in narrowly technological terms. Attempts to resist consumerism are belittled, on the assumption that innovations, along with massive public investment, will solve any problem of scarcity; the vision is emphatically centered on the visited states, with China invoked to signify that the growth is unstoppable. The very existence of an environmental nexus is called into question, on the grounds that the category “environment” can only be conceived either as excluding humans or as being synonymous with everything – at either of which extreme it is seen to make sense. The biological understanding of the environment as a matrix with inter-penetrating parts is not entertained. Ultimately, green capitalism is a contradiction in terms.

One pole is referring to a complexly evolving equilibrium encompassing the growth of one of its particular components. Ironically, the core capitalist response to ecological crisis is a further deepening of the logic of commodification. Capitalist practice has come to pose not just as a material threat to ecological recovery, but also as an ideological threat to socialist theory and by extension to the prospects for developing a long-term popular movement with an inspiring alternative vision.

Socialist Response to Global Ecological Crisis: Towards Ecosocialism

Human beings depend on functioning ecosystems to sustain themselves, and their actions affect those same ecosystems. As a result, there is a necessary “metabolic” interaction between humans and the earth, which influences both the natural and social history. Increasingly the state of nature is being defined by the operations of the capitalist system, as anthropogenic forces are altering the global environment on a scale that is unprecedented. The global climate is rapidly changing due to the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation. No area of the world’s ocean is unaffected by human influence, as the accumulation of carbon, fertilizer runoff, and over-fishing undermine biodiversity and the natural services that it provides. The millennium ecosystem assessment documents show that over two-thirds of the world’s ecosystems are over-exploited and polluted. Environmental problems are increasingly interrelated. Experts have been warning that we are dangerously close to pushing the planet past its tipping point, setting off cascading environmental problems that will radically alter the conditions of nature.

Although the ecological crisis has captured public attention, the dominant economic forces are attempting to seize the moment by assuring us that capital, technology and the market can be employed so as to ward off any threats without a major transformation of society. For example, numerous technological solutions are proposed to remedy global climate change, including agro-fuels, nuclear energy, and new coal plants that will capture and sequester carbon underground. The ecological crisis is thus presented as a technical problem that can be fixed within the current system, through better ingenuity, technological innovation and the magic of the market. In this view, the economy will be increasingly dematerialized, reducing demands placed on nature. The market will ensure that new avenues of capital accumulation are created in the very process of dealing with environmental challenges.

Yet this line of thought ignores the root causes of the ecological crisis. The social metabolic order of capitalism is inherently anti-ecological, since it systematically subordinates nature in its pursuit of endless accumulation and production on ever-larger scales. Technical fixes to socio-ecological problems typically have unintended consequences and fail to address the root of the problems – the political economic order. Rather than acknowledging metabolic rifts, natural limits, and ecological contradictions, capital seeks to play a shell game with the environmental problems. It generates, moving them around rather than addressing the root causes.

One obvious way capital shifts around ecological problems is through simple geographical displacement. Once resources are depleted in one region, capitalists search far and wide to seize control of resources in other parts of the world, whether by military force or markets.

One of the drives of colonialism was clearly the demand for more natural resources in rapidly industrializing European nations. However, expanding the area under the control of global capitalism is only one of the ways in which capitalists shift ecological problems around. There is a qualitative dimension as well, whereby one environmental crisis is solved (typically only in the short term) by changing the type of production process and generating a different crisis, such as how the shift from the use of wood to plastic in the manufacturing of many consumer goods replaced the problems associated with wood extraction by those associated with plastic production and disposal. Thus, one problem is transformed into another – a shift in the type of rift.

The pursuit of profit is the immediate pulse of capitalism, as it reproduces itself on an ever-larger scale. A capitalist economic system cannot function under conditions that require accounting for the reproduction of nature, which may include time scales of a hundred years or more, not to mention maintenance.

This is where the socialist response to global ecological crisis assumes importance. The social order of capital is characterized by rifts and shifts, as it freely appropriates nature and attempts to overcome, even if only whatever natural and social barriers it confronts. It only makes shifts or proposes technological fixes to address the pressing concern, without addressing the fundamental crisis, the force driving the ecological crisis – that is – capitalism itself. As Istevan Meszaros has said, “In the absence of miraculous solutions, Capitals’ arbitrarily self-asserting attitude to the objective determinations of causality and time in the end, inevitably brings a bitter harvest, at the expense of humanity and Nature itself”. (See Istevan Meszaros, “Beyond Capital”, Monthly Review Press, New York).

The global reach of capital is creating a planetary ecological crisis. A fundamental structural crisis cannot be remedied within the operations of the system. Capitalism is incapable of regulating its social metabolism with nature in an environmentally sustainable manner. Its very operations violate the laws of restitution and metabolic restoration. The constant drive to renew the capital accumulation process intensifies its destructive social metabolism imposing the needs of capital on nature, regardless of the consequences to natural systems. Capitalism continues to play out the same failed strategy.

The solution to each environmental problem further generates new environmental problems – one crisis follows another, in an endless succession of failure, stemming from the internal contradictions of the system. If we are to solve our environmental crisis, we need to go to the root of the problem – i.e., the social relation of capital itself, given that this social metabolic order undermines the vital conditions of existence. Resolving the ecological crisis thus requires in the end a complete break with the logic of capital and the social metabolic order it creates.

It is here that the socialist response to global ecological crisis assumes importance. A socialist social order, that is a society of associated producers, can serve as the basis for potentially bringing social metabolism in line with the natural metabolism, in order to sustain the inalienable conditions for the existence and reproduction of the chain of human generation. Given that human society must always interact with nature, concerns regarding the social metabolism are constant, regardless of the society. But a mode of production in which associated producers can regulate their exchange with nature in accordance with natural limits and know, while retaining the regenerative properties of natural processes and cycles, is fundamental to an environmentally sustainable social order.

The above clearly shows that to solve the world ecological crisis we should struggle for the creation of a socialist social order.

The transition from capitalism to socialism is a struggle for sustainable human development on which societies in the periphery of the capitalist world system have been leading the way.

The transition from capitalism to socialism is the most difficult problem of socialist theory and practice, the question of ecology magnifies the importance of finding a way out of this global ecological mess. Human relation with nature lies at the heart of the transition to socialism. An ecological perspective is pivotal to our understanding of capitalism’s limits, the failures of the early socialist experiments, and the overall struggle for an egalitarian and sustainable human development.

The real prospects for the solutions of global ecological crisis can be seen in the struggles to revolutionise social relations in the strife for a just and sustainable society, and are now emerging in the periphery of the world capitalism system, that is the third world societies. They are somehow mirrored in movement for ecological and social revolution in the advanced capitalist world. It is only through fundamental change at the centre of the system, from which the pressure on the planet principally emanates, that there is any genuine possibility of avoiding ultimate ecological destruction. For ecopessimists, this may seem to be an impossible goal. Nevertheless, it is important to recognize that there is now an ecology as well as political economy of revolutionary change known as ecosocialism. The emergence in our times – the struggles for sustainable human development in various people’s struggle in the global periphery could mark the beginning of a revolt against both world alienation and human self-estrangement. Such revolts, if consistent, could have only one objective – i.e., the creation of a society of associated producers rationally regulating their metabolic relation to nature, and doing so not only in accordance with their own needs, but also in accordance with those of future generations and life as a whole. Today the task of transition to socialism and the transition to an ecological society are one.

The Idea of Ecosocialism

Richard Smith wrote in “The Engine of Eco Collapse”, published in the Ecosocialist journal ‘Capitalism, Nature and Socialism’, Vol. 16, No. 4, 2005:

“If capitalism can’t be reformed to subordinate profit to human survival what alternative is there but some sort of nationally and globally planned economy? Problems like climate change require the “Visible hand” of direct planning. Our capitalist corporate leaders can’t help themselves, have no choice but to systematically make wrong, irrational and ultimately – given the technology they command – globally suicidal decisions about the economy and the environment so then, what other choice do we have than to consider a true ecosocialist alternative?” (Richard Smith)

The concept of ecosocialism has been advanced by socialist thinkers like Andre Gorz, James Conner, Paul Burkett and John Bellamy Foster et al.

Ecosocialsm is an attempt to provide a radical civilizational alternative to capitalism’s destructive process. It advances an economic policy founded on the non-monetary and extra economic criteria of social needs and ecological equilibrium. Grounded on the basic arguments of ecological movement and Marxist critique of political economy, this dialectical synthesis attempted by a broad spectrum of authors from Andre Gorz to Elma Aluater, James O’Connor, Joel Kovel and John Bellamy Foster. It is at the same time a critique of market ecology which does not challenge the capitalist system, and of “productivist socialism” which ignores the issue of natural limits.

According to O’Connor, the aim of ecological socialism is a new society based on ecological rationality, democratic control, social equality and the predominance of use value over exchange value. (See James O’Connor, ‘Natural Causes, Essays in Ecological Marxism’, The Guilford Press, York, 1998). The above aims require: (a) collective ownership of the mean of production by, and (b) democratic planning, which makes it possible for society to define the goals of investment and production, and (c) new technological structure of the productive forces. In other words, a revolutionary social and economic transformation.

For ecosocialists, the problem with the main currents of political ecology represented by most Green parties is that they do not seem to take into account the intrinsic contradiction between the capitalist dynamics of the unlimited expansion of capital and accumulation of profits, and the preservation of the environment. This leads to a critique of productivism, which is often relevant but does not lead beyond an ecologically – reformed ‘market economy’. The result has been that many Green parties have become the ecological alibi of centre left social – liberal governments. (For detailed critique of existing green politics, see Joel Kovel – ‘Enemy of Nature’.)

A critique of the productivist ideology of progress and of the idea of a socialist exploitation of nature, appeared already in the writings of some dissident Marxists of the 1930s, such as Walter Benjamin. But it is mainly during the last few decades, that “ecosocialism” has developed as a challenge to the thesis of the neutrality of productive forces which had continued to predominate in the main tendencies of the left during the twentieth century.

Many scientific and technological achievements of modernity are precious, but the whole productive system must be transformed and this can be done only by ecosocialist methods, i.e., through a democratic planning of the economy which takes into the account the preservation of the ecological equilibrium. This may mean, for certain branches of production, to discontinue them – for instance nuclear plants, certain methods of mass/industrial fishing (which are responsible for the near extermination of several species in the seas), the destructive logging of tropical forests, etc.

The list is long. It first of all requires a revolution in the energy system, with the replacement of present sources (essentially fossils) that are responsible for the pollution and poisoning of the environment by renewable sources of energy: water, wind and sun. The issue of energy is decisive because fossil energy (oil and coal) is responsible for much of the planet’s pollution, as well as for the disastrous climate change. Nuclear energy is a false alternative, not only because of the danger of new Chernobyls, but also because nobody knows what to do with the thousands of tons of radioactive waste toxic for hundreds of thousands and in some cases millions of years, and the gigantic masses of contaminated obsolete planets. Solar energy, which has never aroused much interest in capitalist societies (for not being profitable or competitive), must become the object of intense research and development – a key role in the building of an alternative energy system.

All this must be accomplished under the necessary condition of full and equitable employment. This condition is essential, not only to meet the requirement of social justice, but in order to assure working class support for the structural transformation of the productive forces. This process is impossible without public control over the mean of production and planning, that is public decisions on investment and technological change, which must be taken away from the banks and capitalist enterprises in order to serve common good.

The whole society should be able to choose democratically which productive lines are to be privileged and what percentage of resources are to be invested in education, health and agriculture. The prices of goods themselves would not be left to the law of supply and demand, but determined as far as possible according to social political and ecological criteria. Initially this might only involve taxes on certain products, and subsidized prices for others, but ideally, as the transition to socialism moves forward, more and more products and services would be distributed free of charge, according to the needs and will of the citizens.

The passage from capitalist destructive progress to socialism is a historical process, a permanent revolutionary transformation of society, culture and mentalities. Politics is central to this transformative process. It is important to emphasize that such a process cannot begin without a revolutionary transformation of social and political structures, and the active support by the vast majority of the population of an ecosocialist programme. The development of Socialist Consciousness and ecological awareness is a process, where the decisive factor is people’s own collective experiences of struggle, moving from local and partial confrontations to the radical change of society.

This transition would lead to not only 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 reigns of money, beyond consumption habits artificially produced by advertising, and beyond unlimited production of commodities that are useless and harmful to the environment.

This requires a qualitative transformation of the development paradigm itself. This means putting an end to the monstrous waste of resources by capitalism, based on the production, in a large scale, of useless and harmful products: the armaments industry is a good example. A great part of the goods produced in capitalism with their inbuilt obsolescence have no other usefulness; is not excessive consumption acquisition of pseudo novelties imposed by fashion through advertisement and mass culture? A new society would orient production towards the satisfaction of authentic needs, beginning with those which could be described as the basic requirement of a democratic egalitarian society – water, food, clothing, housing, including basic services like health, education transport and culture.

Only through an ecosocialist politics we can avoid the impending ecocatastrophe, thus saving the planet and human beings.


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