• Report of the International transform! Conference in Copenhagen 17 March 2018
  • “Global and Institutional Crisis and Red-Green Alternatives”

  • Von Inger V. Johansen , Gitte Pedersen | 28 Jun 18 | Posted under: Europäische Alternativen
  • Transform!Danmark organized its seventh international conference on 17 March 2018 in Copenhagen on developing left economic and ecological alternatives and so continued the path of the 2015 to 2017 conferences to link red and green alternatives and bridge the gap between the two.

    However, this time the focus was on the urgency to combat climate change, with a view to the insufficiency of present policies and efforts, including those of the radical left, and secondly to develop the debate on commons. Being closely linked to the multiple global crises of our time the climate crisis highlights the need for system-breaking initiatives, especially to mobilize for an urgent strengthening of the movement and of radical efforts to work for alternatives.

    In a preamble to the programme of the conference the basic concerns of the conference were outlined:

    “How to respond to the growing systemic crisis in Europe and globally? This is a combination of multiple crises - political, social, climate and environmental - requiring systemic alternatives. System criticism is not enough. The conference is a contribution to the debate on if and how to break with the capitalist system underlying the crises and to develop red and green alternatives.”

     

    The conference was organized as previously with a plenary in the morning with two speeches outlining the urgency to combat climate change, the insufficiency of green capitalism and technical fixes, and the need to increase popular consciousness. We were happy to have as contributors Daniel Tanuro, who is the author of “Green Capitalism. Why it Can’t work” and Elizabeth Mpofu, the General Coordinator of La Via Campesina movement, both focusing on the lack of needed policies and consciousness to deal with the climate crisis. There were two parallel seminars in the afternoon: one on strategic alternatives such as ecosocialism and ecofeminism and how to mobilize the labour movement in the struggle against climate change. And the other seminar developing the debate on our common goods and how to use commons concretely to oppose privatization – including the commodification of nature - and reclaim public services, which play a key role in reducing the inequality – the gaps in society.

    This last seminar was as well a follow-up on public meetings on this issue organized by Transform!Danmark during the past year since the previous conference in March 2017. As a renewal of the conferences a number of workshops were organized just before the concluding session of the conference, which invited the participants to discuss the contents of the contributions with the speakers in order to promote more activism and hopefully to further networking on the issues after the conference.

    As the conferences the previous years this was very successful, the audience somewhat larger than in 2017, and mixed with regard to age, sex, and background, but generally from the broad left and some with academic backgrounds.

    The conference had an impact outside the conference, as a couple of the speakers were invited to give lectures at the Copenhagen and Roskilde Universities as well as at the University in Lund, Sweden. There were a couple of public meetings, especially with Elizabeth Mpofu, and interviews with periodicals and one daily newspaper.

    Besides Transform!Danmark and transform!europe, the conference was co-organized by Enhedslisten/the Red-Green Alliance, the Danish radical left party, as well as a number of left-wing and environmental organizations and periodicals.

    Speakers and their focus:

    Daniel Tanuro: “Urgency of an Ecosocialist Alternative. How to fill the gaps in emissions and in consciousness?”

    Elizabeth Mpofu: “Alternatives to the ecological crisis, the food crises and the climate crisis”

    Yayo Herrero: "Ecofeminist views to confront the Anthropocene"

    Asbjørn Wahl: ”The role of labour in the fight against climate change”

    Birgit Daiber: “Left politics and Commons-movements in Europe”

    Wanda Wyporska: “Our common goods – reclaiming public services”

    Nanna Clifforth: “Earth Incorporated: The impacts of trade and privatisation on nature”

    Written speeches from the conference, see: www.transformdanmark.dk 

     

    The morning plenary:

    The focus of the two contributions in the morning plenary of the conference was on the urgency of radical climate action: One by Daniel Tanuro was an analysis of the dire situation and the consequences of belated political and economic change, underlining the close link between this and the core demands of the capitalist system – the other by Elizabeth Mpofu viewing the situation from the South and noting as well the problem with a lack of consciousness of the situation among policy makers and the general population. 

     

    Here is a short report of their contributions:  

     

    Daniel Tanuro, Belgium, author of ‘Green Capitalism: Why it can’t work’ and contributor to the book ‘Økosocialisme – fra systemkritik til alternativ’ (Solidaritet, 2015), ecosocialist and writer in La Gauche, certified agriculturalist.

    “Urgency of an Ecosocialist Alternative. How to fill the gaps in emissions and in consciousness?”

    There is an objective gap between the path of emissions reduction compatible with a 1.5°C temperature increase on the one hand, and the projections based on the Nationally determined contributions (NDC) on the other hand. There is also a huge subjective gap between the ecosocialist consciousness needed to break with the productivist logic of capitalism, on the one hand, and the alienated consciousness of the vast majority of the population, on the other hand. Bridging the first gap entails bridging the second. What strategy for ecosocialism? 

     

    Daniel Tanuro underlined the seriousness of the climate crisis, which has been underestimated. It is a major threat and interconnected with most other threats, he said.  The coming special IPCC report on the 1.5°C objective illustrates the huge difference in impacts between a 2°C and a 1.5°C temperature rise: as an example, 780 million people will suffer severe droughts each year in the first case, 450 million in the second one. At the moment, the temperature rise is a bit more than 1°C and this modest increase already provokes worrying consequences: coral bleaching, violent hurricanes, forest fires, droughts, floodings, extreme weather events in general…  

    The COP21 in Paris decided to keep the temperature rise well below 2°C and to continue the effort to maintain it under 1.5°C. If the Paris figures for 2020 are not met, the 2°C will be exceeded. Within a few decades the situation will become irreversible, and the Earth System would enter a new dynamic equilibrium regime with huge consequences for biodiversity, for all living creatures and especially it would endanger the lives of hundreds of millions of poor people and with the risk even to contribute to the collapse of our species.

    Necessary to address the causes of the climate disaster:  the mode of production, that green capitalism is impossible – anti-capitalism is needed, we need caring for both humans and nature.

     

    First of all, Daniel Tanuro stressed that we need a new project – eco-socialism, which is the only alternative, and a number of concrete anti-capitalist measures. Among them he mentioned the socialization of the energy sector, the abolition of private ownership of natural resources and intellectual knowledge, the abolition of all forms of inequality and discrimination etc.

    An eco-socialist strategy is needed to cope with the difficult reality, he said:

    Firstly, a programme to bridge the big gap between what is needed and the consciousness of people – we need to close this gap - it is necessary to mobilize the labour movement in the climate struggle.

    Secondly, we need a practice of convergence and intersectionality in the fight for the programme. There is the input of the radical left, who can play a significant role by joining theoretical and practical dimensions of the struggle.

    The oppression of women and indigenous people and youth give them a direct role in the struggle, there must be a convergence of the social and environmental struggle. Daniel Tanuro gave as a concrete example the victory of the fight against the new airport in France “Notre Dame des Landes”, where a struggle of local peasants supported by radical youths etc. developed into a national political one supported by the trade union GDT of the enterprise Vinci, who had expressed most interest in building the airport.

     

    Elizabeth Mpofu, Zimbabwe, General Coordinator of La Via Campesina International.

    “Alternatives to the ecological crisis, the food crises and the climate crisis”

    How can we promote alternatives to the ecological, food and climate crises that we are experiencing today?  These crises have been caused by decades of the Green Revolution or Industrial forms of agriculture promoting conventional forms of agriculture emphasising increased usage of hybrid seeds, synthetic fertilizers, agro chemicals and currently GMOs by capitalist multinational corporations and agro dealers.  Our ecology and food systems have been destroyed - land, deforestation, freezing of our rivers and lakes, soil system and our forests including our indigenous or traditional seed and knowledge seed systems.

    Elizabeth Mpofu told that La Via Campesina (LVC) fights for the access of peasants to land, clean water and natural resources, and that this includes as well fisher folks.  It is a movement fighting for social justice, in particular focusing on women’s right to land, bearing in mind that 70% of foodstuffs globally are produced by women. The LVC has 182 member organizations in 81 countries. Elizabeth Mpofu and LVC have a close cooperation with FAO, the UN food and agricultural organization, which now works to promote agro-ecology.

    The central focus of La Via Campesina is food sovereignty, defined as ”the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems.” This marks a difference with the term food security, which is the goal of governments in the Global South who focus on food sufficiency, disregarding the use of chemicals or pesticides in the food and where it comes from. This often leads to illnesses and overweight. The LVC is opposed to GMOs and biomass.

    Climate change crisis has led to a fall in productivity, loss in livestock and peoples’ livelihoods especially women, small scale and peasant, affecting crop, indigenous, pastoralists, fisher folks and mountain farmers, Elizabeth Mpofu said.

    Other questions that we again need also to ask are how we can convince our policy makers to promote alternatives when the policy makers collude with funders of the Green Revolution for funding. They only care about themselves. Our former president had 14 farms! Important to introduce policies that protect the peasants. Real alternatives are premised on promoting sustainable agricultural practices such as agro ecology, food sovereignty and increased usage of indigenous seeds.  How can we convince the urban consumers and younger generations to consume traditional foods? How do we promote and campaign for agro ecology that can reach out to our policy makers and other farmers?

    A number of questions by the audience allowed Daniel Tanuro and Elizabeth Mpofu to further elaborate on their views. Elizabeth Mpofu observed with regard to the ownership of land that land had been taken away from the peasants by investors, who are not producing food and have the access to water. Our governments are influenced by people with money, she said. But we organize farmer’s schools. To teach people to work together.  We can train our members to use solar energy.

    Daniel Tanuro underlined ecosocialist consciousness as a precondition. But that the left also should be modest, as it took far too long for the radical left to realize the problem of climate crisis, ecology etc.

    Elizabeth Mpofu mentioned the problem of young people migrating, as farms are taken away from peasants. Daniel Tanuro saw migration and landgrabbing as linked. Food sovereignty is an alternative to migration.

     

    Seminar 1: To combat climate change – the role of ecosocialism and ecofeminism

     

    Yayo Herrero, Spain, Anthropologist, Director of FUHEM, Ecologistas en Acción

    "Ecofeminist views to confront the Anthropocene"

     

    Humanity has reached the twenty-first century facing the material foundations that sustain life. This war against life is manifested in a systemic crisis (ecological, economic and social) that generates a deepening of the inequalities between people in all the axes of domination (class, gender, age, origin, etc.). The eco-dependence and interdependence are constitutive features of the human essence, but the notions of production, development and welfare have been built ignoring the insertion of the human species in a nature that has limits and hiding the vulnerability of human life.

    Ecofeminism can help to shape a different perspective that gives light to invisible and undervalued aspects, but unavoidable if you want to start a transition before a more than likely collapse.

     

    Yayo Herrero argued that capitalism, economics and politics are developing against life and that it is important to stop for thinking. Nature is limited, and we have to rethink how to use minerals for a transition to sustainability.

    Human life takes place through the body. And it is women who take care of people with needs. Not because women have a special ability for taking care but because of the patriarchal organization of the labour market. Women’s work is underpaid and underestimated but capitalism cannot survive without women’s caring work. Production of labour is taking place in the home. We cannot survive without nature there is an interdependence between us and nature. And we cannot live without caring for our bodies. capitalism is colonial because it is stealing resources from other countries. And capitalism is patriarchal because it is stealing women’s work. Capitalism destroys nature. Capitalism is unfair because it is capitalistic. Capitalism creates conflicts and women are in the middle of the conflicts. Women’s bodies are also in the fight and the punishment for these bodies is violence. Women are the place where the fight is appeased. Women are not only victims of the eco-killing but are the forefront of many places in the struggle. Women create new ways of thinking and living.

    The dialogue between feminism and ecology is to establish what are human needs. Capitalism does not speak of needs but only supply. A lot of the products which are produced do not cover the human needs. The production of goods and services in the rich countries are dependent on resources from other countries. Feminist movements have to work together with ecological movements on an ecological politics. 

     

    Asbjørn Wahl, Norway, author and trade unionist, director of the Campaign for the Welfare state

    ”The role of labour in the fight against climate change”

    Action to combat climate change will require major societal transformation. We have most of what is required in terms of technology, knowledge and competence to avert a climate disaster. What we lack is the social power to translate words into action. The role of organized labour will therefore be decisive. The climate struggle will have to be unified with the social struggle.

     

    Asbjørn Wahl argued that the climate crisis changes everything. Until now, the trade unions and the labour movement have found compromises, but with the climate crisis, it is no longer possible. We are facing multiple crises and that creates fear as well as hope. Emissions have risen by 60 % since 1990. 

    The climate struggle is at the core of social struggles. We need a more systematic approach to find solutions. Endless growth and a reckless exploitation of nature is inherent in capitalist economy. We need a distribution of wealth. The role of the working class in the struggle for the climate is to create green jobs. We have to question the way we consume. 7 out of 10 of the biggest companies are in fossil energy.

    Trade unions are for an energy democracy.  There may be some benefits with the politics of climate.

     

    Seminar 2: Our common goods – resisting privatization; reclaiming public services

     

    Birgit Daiber; Germany, author and publisher, Transform commons working group, The Common-Good-of-Humanity-Network

    “Left politics and Commons-movements in Europe”

    Commons-movements are spread all over the world – and so they are in Europe. The impressive and rich diversity of commons initiatives all over the world can be seen as acts of resistance against exploitation of nature and people, or more specific: against the continuous and ever-growing greed of reactionary politics and capital for privatisation of natural resources. It’s time to discuss strategies on European level: Commons as one dimension of initiatives to reclaim a social, ecological and democratic Europe.

     

    Birgit Daiber outlined the important theoretical inspiration from Francois Houtart, who is going back to Karl Marx’ theory of value, which revealed the contradiction between exchange value and use value.  Houtart says in his basic manifesto of 2011 that Commons initiatives focus on use value, democratic participation and autonomy, being part of a new post-capitalist paradigm.

     

    Daiber pointed out that in nearly all parts of the globe, initiatives and projects on commons are on the rise, they strike all four general dimensions of life: nature, land, capital and labour and in most of the cases these four dimensions are interlinked.

    So: the actual rise of commons can be seen as acts of resistance against the destruction of life conditions and basic needs.  On the one hand they defend traditional commons (as land, access to coastal areas for fisherman and others) on the other hand they create new dimensions of cooperation and conquer new spaces and resources for common action.

    In order to move society, we need the social movements and trade union movements. to enforce politicians. Commons initiatives should be implemented as part of the agenda of the European Left.

    Birgit Daiber summed up the elements of some successful actions in Europe:

    The municipal level: most of commons initiatives are local activities, in cities as well as in rural areas. Urban Commons are prominent and well documented.  Cities as Seoul (KOR), Barcelona (ES), Naples (IT), Ghent (BE) and Frome (GB) show how to realise urban commons and how municipalities can work together with commoners. There are legal competences too supporting commons initiatives. The Berlin Senate for example has the right to confiscate abandoned property (but they don’t use it yet and there is no obligation for social use).

     

    National level: The movement for Water as commons in Italy initiated a referendum with the result that 51% of Italian citizens voted for it. The water-movement is putting the question of Commons in the context of re-thinking the role of the public in the management of goods and services related to the universal human rights.

     

    Wanda Wyporska, Britain, Executive Director at The Equality Trust, campaigning organization working for greater equality

    “Our common goods – reclaiming public services”

    Access to and provision of public services play a key role in inequality, whether reducing or increasing the gaps in society. How the fragmentation of education, health and social security is affecting the UK and those who deliver these services.

    The Equality Trust was launched in 2009 by Bill Kerry, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett after the publishing of “The Spirit Level – Why Equality is Better for Everyone” (In Danish: “Lighed – Hvorfor alle klarer sig bedre i mere lige samfund”).

     

    Wanda Wyporska’s contribution was a power-point presentation. Here are some main points from the presentation.

    Wanda Wyporska argued that the biggest deflation of wages had taken place in Britain almost since the 1800s, at the time of Queen Victoria.  The average annual wage is now GBP 26.000. Around 14 million people are below the poverty line with expected further 1.5 million in 2021 – 2022. 

    An investigation has found an excess of mortality of 120.000 people during the four years 2012-2016 as a result of social cuts. Not least, many elderly people have died of cold, because heating has become too expensive. Although there is a modest heat subsidy to collect in public funds, the problem is rising because energy prices have risen. For comfort, the elderly are offered good advice to keep in the room that is easiest to heat up, etc. 

    Housing inequality has been a topic of the Equality Trust (ET) from the outset, Wanda Wyporska told, and housing costs not least in London are so high that it is virtually impossible for low-paid people to live there. I.e. Social housing constructions are threatened, especially of course those located in the parts of the city that are next in the queue to be 'gentrified' (upgrading the housing stock in entire neighbourhoods so that they change the socio-economic and aesthetic profile). Social housing complexes are typically owned by the local authority with a council in the forefront. These councils, many of which have Labour management, often fall for temptations either to sell the buildings to 'developers' or to engage in complex projects with them. This causes the residents to be chased out of their apartments, either directly or indirectly, because they cannot afford to stay.

     

    ET publishes a so-called 'pay tracker' that compares the top pay in the large listed companies with ordinary salaries. The last report is from March 2017 and shows that the best paid top manager earned 2550 times more than average wage in 2015. In this connection, ET also publish a wealth tracker. By 2017, they found that the 1,000 richest had a fortune of GBP 658 billion, a growth of GBP 82.5 billion compared with the previous year.

    Pay differentials between the sexes were among ET's first campaigns, and the development with regard to this is one of their areas of interest. ET also works with the link between 'identity' and class because it is clear that racism and sexism are linked to classes. Black, newly immigrated and women are overrepresented among the marginalized and low-paid.

    ET has a good relationship with Corbyn's Labour, but also works with "conservative with a soft side, a conscience". But all in all, Wanda Wyporska is not optimistic about the future. The Conservatives will continue to "punish the poor and reward the rich". She thinks it would be difficult to get a Labour government, because Labour has lost a lot of Scottish parliamentary seats to the SNP. In addition, Labour is in conflict with itself over Brexit, which does not produce any clear policies. This means that if Brexit has been negotiated, when a new Labour Government takes over, it will be a starting point, but much will probably continue to be muddy.

    Nanna Clifforth, Denmark, NOAH – Friends of the Earth Denmark

    “Earth Incorporated: The impacts of trade and privatisation on nature”

    Nature, biodiversity and ecosystem functions are increasingly included in trade agreements as well as turned into aims of financialisation and off-setting with severe environmental and social consequences.

     

    Nanna Clifforth’s contribution was also a power-point presentation, focusing on EU policies that turn nature into a commodity. Despite the fact that the EU has a policy of protecting nature.  The explanation is that other EU policies pull in a different direction.  Bio-diversity and eco-systems are increasingly seen as goods to be traded, with the consequence that the EU does not reach its objectives.

     

    Nanna Clifforth outlined three ways that help turn nature into a commodity and are used within the EU:

    -          One is off-setting, which means that destructive activities with regard to biodiversity should be compensated for. This is based on the so-called No Net Loss-policy (NNL). If biodiversity is reduced in one place, it should be improved in another. This justifies off-setting, even if the consequences need not necessarily be so.  However, the overall objective with off-setting is not to protect biodiversity but to achieve economic gain and create new markets and business opportunities. Through off-setting irreplaceable nature and biodiversity as well as ecosystem functions are priced, and the presumed protection of them is made for commodities.

    -          Off-setting is a symbol of increased financialization and commodification of nature. According to the biodiversity strategy of the EU “biodiversity and associated ecosystem services must be valued” by 2050. In “The Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe” the wish to invest in natural capital is repeated. Financialization is a way to create new markets and goods – and is an expanding economic activity. The private sector is deeply engaged in this as a new way to create profit. But the financial mechanisms are also open to speculation.  Off-setting and other methods based on increased financialization and commodification mean that direct regulation, legal restrictions, planning, public participation or any kind of intervention by the state which is not based on private property rights and operates through the market are overrun. Terms like green growth and green capitalism are increasingly used to convince us that we can continue the same way with a huge use of and unequal allocation of resources. Financialization is part of this process, which pretends that increased environmental degradation can be restored by the system that created it.

    -          Trade and investment agreements first of all have an impact on biodiversity and ecosystems, as they mean on one hand trading with animals, wood and plants, on the other with products like for example palm oil and soya, which are very important for the state of biodiversity and ecosystems. Therefore, it makes no sense to import goods, which destroy biodiversity in other parts of the world outside the EU or are produced in a way that do so. This leads to biodiversity dumping and worsens the state of biodiversity outside the EU.

     

    Conclusion

    The focus of the contributors of the day was on how to continue the struggles that had been outlined in their presentations. They agreed that a real power struggle was the next step – we have to switch the power of forces.  We need solidarity and make sure that we are not only a talking shop. But the struggle needs to take place from the bottom up.

    It was also underlined that the enemy is in deep crisis. Deeper than ours. We need to exchange information and knowledge. We need to realize that the new capitalism is making caring another business.  TISA will privatize this. Therefore, we need to defeminize caring and include men.  We also need to grow our own food and reduce animal consumption. Revive our cultures – knowledge and ideas.

     

    Workshops

    At this year’s conference, we tried something new for getting a broader discussion. Before ending the conference, we made some workshops. A workshop for each speaker. The participants could go in the workshop they wanted for having a discussion or ask question to the speaker. The workshops were good with lots of discussion. The participants in the workshop with Daniel Tanuro decided afterwards to form a group and work with ecosocialism. The group function on its own and is not dependent on Transform!Danmark. But some from the Transform!Danmark board are in the group so we hope for a good output of the groups.


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