Climate justice, climate debt, and anti-capitalism: An interview with Patrick Bond

Upping the Anti #10, May 2010

http://uppingtheanti.org/journal/article/10-climate-justice-climate-debt-and-anti-capitalism-an-interview-with-patri/

Patrick Bond is a political economist and activist living in Durban, South Africa, where he teaches political economy and eco-social policy at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN). Before the African National Congress came to power in 1994, he was active in the international anti-Apartheid movement as well as the US student movements and community movements in the 1980s. He continues to be active in labour, ecology, and anti-racist struggles in South Africa and internationally, and has written prolifically on neoliberalism, imperialism, ecology, the politics of global justice movements, structures of racism in global political economy, and on various aspects of South African and Zimbabwean politics. Bond’s books include: Climate Change, Carbon Trading and Civil Society: Negative Returns on South Africa’s Investments (co-edited with Rehana Dada and Graham Erion for Rozenberg Publishers and UKZN Press, 2008, 2007); The Accumulation of Capital in Southern Africa: Rosa Luxemburg’s Contemporary Relevance (co-edited with Horman Chitonge and Arndt Hopfmann for CCS and the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, 2007); Looting Africa: The Economics of Exploitation (Zed Books and UKZN Press, 2006); and Trouble in the Air: Global Warming and the Privatized Atmosphere (edited with Rehana Dada for CCS and TransNational Institute, 2005). Chandra Kumar interviewed him in February 2010.

CK: Why have you been critical of what’s been called the ‘cap and trade’ approach to dealing with carbon emissions and climate change – a strategy that has even been endorsed by people on the left such as Robin Hahnel?

PB: For the tiny group of left environmentalists who genuinely support carbon trading – and Canada has its share – there are two problems: first, believing your own progressive politics will fail against the neoliberal enemy and hence adopting mainstream logic, which is the main reason for most of the controversies with pro-market greens (such as Robin); and believing the claims of neoliberal hucksters that a carbon market can work.

Those claims have been systematically debunked since October 2004, when the Durban Group for Climate Justice gathered activists and intellectcual critics from around the world and began networking and expanding our critique. Serious climate activists have made opposition to carbon trading a fairly central plank, such as in the global critique of Kyoto’s market provisions and various national legislative debates, as well as at the Third World coalface in Clean Development Mechanism projects and forest campaigning, led there by indigenous peoples. Carbon market conferences are now regular scenes of protest.

This stance contrasts with most of the Big Green groups – though not Friends of the Earth – whose leadership think carbon trading is the last best hope for legislation in North America, for stronger implementation in Europe, and for the buy-in of big Asian and Latin American polluters on the basis of complex market incentives.

But it turns out that due mainly to right-wing opposition, the cap and trade legislation supposedly ready for passage in the US and Australia in 2009 was defeated. So there’s really no hope for a coherent global market, with carbon priced sufficiently high to fund renewable energy (at $50+/tonne), which is what these light-green advocates had expected would be in place by now. It turns out that the pragmatists hoping to cut a deal with more enlightened fractions of capital – such as allegedly far-sighted financiers – overestimated the level of support for pricing carbon. They also assumed that widespread fraud would be eliminated instead of spreading, as we saw with the Hungarian government’s resale of carbon credits that wrecked European prices in March.

As a result, with the gridlock at Copenhagen and on Washington’s Capitol Hill, as well as in Ottawa and Canberra, the carbon market is dead. Of course, we’ve argued that it was already dead as an ecological project, for the purpose of financing renewable energy. After all, from mid-2008 to early 2009, the price fell from more than €30/tonne to less than €9/tonne. And this was the third such carbon market crash.

Market chaos is helpful, though, because genuine climate activists – even some who still work, however uncomfortably, within Canada’s Climate Action Network – are now able to more readily jettison vain hopes of climate policy alliances with liberals, bankers and corporations. That leaves us better able to seek direct caps on polluters through regulation, as well as direct-action strategies and tactics to keep the oil in the soil, coal in the hole and tar sand in the land. Plenty of excellent Canadian and US activists are leading these battles, such as indigenous people in Alberta, networks of anarchists, radical greens and eco-socialists.

CK: Climate talks broke down at Copenhagen. The G77, representing 130 countries, suspended talks because they felt the countries of the North – with the US and Canada being the most glaring culprits – were unwilling to accept responsibility for their emissions. We heard the phrases ‘climate debt’ and ‘climate justice’ coming from representatives of the South. What do these concepts refer to and how do you think activists in countries such as Canada should take them up?

PB: ‘Climate Justice’ is the phrase that was popularized as a movement slogan at the December 2007 launch of the network Climate Justice Now! in Bali. The idea of climate justice brings together radical environmentalism with global justice currents such as those forged by Zapatismo, and by the protests in Seattle, Quebec City, Soweto, Bhopal, the Narmada Valley and several other cases of recent indigenous activism and anti-capitalism. The indigenous, small island, African and Andean leadership we’ve seen is vital, given this movement’s need to take direction from those most adversely affected, and it has been aided by political-strategic inputs from inspiring organisations like Focus on the Global South, whose best-known intellectuals, Walden Bello and Nicola Bullard, are influential critics of neo-liberal, Northern-dominated ‘multilateralism’.

Another great boost came from the research and eloquent reportage of Naomi Klein, who in late 2009 assisted many in the North to realise how much they owe the South in damages for taking up too much environmental space: ‘climate debt’. The phrase is most closely associated with Quito-based Accion Ecologica and its advisor Joan Martinez-Alier of Barcelona, but Jubilee South chapters from Manila to Buenos Aires have also made this a campaigning issue.

Last April, in an inspiring statement to the UN General Assembly, the Bolivian government played a leading role in putting climate debt on the UN’s agenda. In September the World Council of Churches endorsed the idea, in spite of some Northern member opposition. And then we figured the big breakthrough in the last half of 2009 was the willingness of the Ethiopian tyrant, Meles Zenawi, to demand a Copenhagen commitment of up to $100 billion/year by 2020 for Africa, without which the Africans would walk out. They even did a November dress rehearsal at a preparatory meeting in Barcelona.

Hearing this, our Durban guru Dennis Brutus replied, ‘Then we should “Seattle Copenhagen”, with the left outside protesting and African elites inside denying consensus, so as to delegitimize the process and outcome, just as we did in 1999.’ That was a logical trajectory for climate politics, especially when even the establishment scientist James Hansen cogently argued in the New York Times in December that because of carbon trading, no deal at Copenhagen would be better than a bad deal. No one I met in the CJ movement in Copenhagen had any illusions that an agreement worth endorsing would emerge.

Exactly a week before Brutus died, on December 19, the Copenhagen circus imploded because, as Bill McKibben of 350.org put it, ‘Obama blew up the UN.’ This news pleased Dennis immensely, given the contours of a bad US-driven deal: insufficient CO2 cuts, unwillingness to pay the climate debt, and inability to break from the centrality of a carbon market.

After signing on, the South African president Jacob Zuma looked like a hapless mugging victim staggering drunkenly home from a pub. He really didn’t know what hit him in the negotiating room on December 18, and along with everyone else, his environment minister shook her head the following week and said, ‘I’m disappointed’ – because the SA ruling class, like Canada’s, needs legitimacy for ongoing mineral-based plunder, and they didn’t get it. Three of the last words Dennis said to me were, ‘Serves them right!’

As for the climate debt demand, some of us (myself included) were naive to believe Zenawi, who detoured to Paris on his way to Copenhagen, and with the enthusiastic support of Nikolas Sarkozy, promptly cut his demands in half by accepting lower financial transfers and removing the walk-out threat. But now that the climate debt genie is out of the bottle, US officials – in denial of course, refusing to acknowledge the concept – and Europe will continue to be badgered to pay by Climate Justice activists. So will South Africa, which owes the continent a vast amount, given that we emit 42% of Africa’s greenhouse gases but have less than 8% of the population.

One of the nuanced debates is whether the debt should take the form of individualized and potentially commodifiable ‘Greenhouse Development Rights’ or whether instead we can move towards more transformative and collective strategies for claiming debt. Another is what form the climate debt would be paid in, since no sensible climate debt activist trusts the kinds of strategies that the likes of Hillary Clinton offer: ‘Clean Development Mechanism’ expansion via carbon trading, or traditional corrupt, corporate-dominated and geopolitically-influenced aid, of the sort CIDA is infamous for. We’re unsure of the reliability of even the G77 climate financing demands, which include public payments but also market mechanisms.

CK: You were a student of David Harvey. In The New Imperialism (2003), he provides an updated Marxian analysis of US imperialism in the context of a neoliberal order bent on ‘accumulation by dispossession.’ What do you make of the fact that despite his critical analysis, he ends the book by calling not for building socialist movements to actually overthrow the prevailing economic order, but for a return to something like Keynesian social democracy?

PB: Yeah, I love that book, except those last pages. In 2003, having recently moved to New York and possibly envisaging a President Howard Dean – who was then making a good run in the early going and sounding globo-Keynesian in the wake of the world’s 1997-2001 financial chaos – David had every reason to hope that a rational US elite would replace the madman Bush. In retrospect, proclaiming such an early death for neoliberalism, was overly optimistic. After all, even the 2008-09 chaos left the IMF’s most enlightened minds advocating Keynesianism for the North but increasing austerity nearly everywhere else – even in South Africa in late 2008, where we were running budget surpluses yet had vast unmet social needs.

Still, the times have been ripe for that sort of idealism, and there’s probably no harm in making a Keynesian argument now and again, even if just to help provoke Stiglitz, Sachs, Krugman and Soros leftwards. However, my problem with a call for global Keynesianism or global governance is that it distracts us from the harsh reality of power imbalances at the global scale. Since the 1996 Montreal Protocol ending CFCs, and perhaps some subsequent minor advances in the Convention on Biodiversity, it’s abundantly clear that the world rulers cannot get their act together. Hoping for meaningful change from these global summits has become an exercise in frustration: from Kyoto (1997) to Copenhagen on climate, from Monterrey (2002) to Gleneagles (2005) to Washington (2008) to London and New York (2009) on global financial reform and development finance, from Seattle (1999) to Cancun (2003) to Geneva (2009) on trade and WTO reform, from one failed Bretton Woods Institution or UN General Assembly and Security Council reform to the next, from the UN Millennium Development Goals (2000) to whatever gimmicks will come next, from the G8 to the G20 (Canada 2010), from Davos to Davos to Davos, from the Washington Consensus and neoliberalism to neoconservatism to an alleged Post-Washington consensus after 2008. What a merry-go-round of grand rhetoric and stultifying inaction.

These guys are desperate for a global solution for even one single global problem, and they are not getting anywhere close. All they really have to offer is stale analyses and then inaction. And that’s mainly because their own national capitalist classes are up against the wall. They go into negotiations with a mindset that exacerbates the problems, as was evident in Copenhagen.

Given this adverse balance of forces, which will continue into the foreseeable future, any talk of global governance is a dangerous distraction, whether of the Keynesian or Giddensian Third Way or neoliberal sort. Instead, I believe our offensives should be planned mainly where the left can generate a genuine change in power relations, such as at the national level and perhaps in regional combinations, as the Bolivarian bloc has sometimes been capable of doing.

Of course, we’re nowhere close to the left taking power elsewhere, and so we’ve come to realize, these past couple of decades, that it’s really at the local spheres where movement building can shake the global elites, something Harvey acknowledges by putting ‘accumulation by dispossession’ at the centre of his recent analysis. Like Rosa Luxemburg’s theory of imperialism in The Accumulation of Capital in 1913, or Naomi Klein’s privileging of extra-economic coercion in The Shock Doctrine, or our own race-class debates in South Africa regarding the ‘articulation of modes of production,’ or Trotskyist (and post-Trotskyist) references to combined and uneven development, the crucial insight concerns the extreme stretch of market power into the non-market sphere during periods of long-term capitalist downturn and amplified financial crisis.

As Polanyi’s idea of the ‘double-movement’ suggests, very serious political resistance can be found in the consequent pushback. Our best case is probably the Treatment Action Campaign’s successful demand for access to AIDS medicines, in which local activism joined by ferocious international solidarity beat the Clinton-Gore administration in 1999, the Big Pharmacorps in 2001, and Thabo Mbeki’s regime here from 2003-08 – resulting in 800,000 South Africans with AIDS getting free AntiRetroViral (ARV) drugs today. The cost of this war was high, for in the process, 330,000 lives were unnecessarily lost because Mbeki took so long to surrender.

Still, thanks to this precedent, millions are getting access elsewhere in Africa, consuming pills made as generics in African factories, and not paying for patents in New Jersey or Zurich. A decade ago these treatments would have cost $15,000/year each, and so decommodification and deglobalisation of capital through the globalisation of people’s struggles represents the formula needed to defeat accumulation by dispossession in one of the most critical areas: intellectual property rights.

Local resistances to water and electricity privatization offer another set of excellent struggles. Harvey writes encouragingly of the precedents set in Soweto’s water wars, which helped kick Suez, the French water company, back to Paris in 2006. These struggles take us through decommodifying ‘socio-economic rights’ discourses, right up to their limits (in South Africa it turns out to be 25 litres of water/day per person for free but no more), and now – after a Constitutional Court defeat for activists last October – beyond rights-talk into ‘commons’ narratives, such as mutual aid in the liberation of water from the despised prepayment meters thanks to crafty neighbourhood re-plumbing teams. In Canada, Maude Barlow’s Council of Canadians, David McDonald at Queens University, and Tony Clarke’s Polaris Institute have come along on this journey with us.

Our challenge remains stitching together these sorts of victories across the expanse of the New Imperialism, and linking them up into a coherent political strategy. We’d hoped the World Social Forum would do so, and when David and I strolled through Porto Alegre in late January discussing this, it was with sadness that we realized there is still too much WSF ‘open space’ and not enough connecting-the-dots. Maybe the Fifth International project launched by the Bolivarians will help, but let’s see.

CK: In terms of climate politics and climate justice, how should we orient ourselves to the emergence of more social democratic language since the financial meltdown of 2009 in the US and the election of Barack Obama?

PB: Simply listen and look at the evidence soberly. It wasn’t surprising to me that after a kind of bailout-based financial crony capitalism for Obama’s Wall Street friends, Larry Summers would arrange a budget freeze. This merely amplifies the damage being done by what’s called ‘the fifty Herbert Hoovers’ (i.e., all the austerity programs at the state level).

With this sort of evidence, I think you’ll end up reacting to Obama’s occasional populist bank bashing by replying, ‘Talk Left, Walk Right’, as we do here in South Africa, and also maybe ‘Obummer!’ Or even ‘You Lie!’ as do his rightwing critics.

Then the illusions in US Democratic Party politics will lift, and it will be back to the hard but rewarding task of grassroots and labour organizing.

I spent 2003-04 at York University in Toronto with the single most talented group of English-speaking political economists, and they are really tackling this matter of Washington’s excessive power and residual neoliberalism. While I have occasional differences with Leo Panitch and his comrades about interpreting capitalist crises, they know the US state as well as any analysts out there.

As for climate politics, having spent a month in San Francisco after Copenhagen, I was very inspired by the willingness of Climate Justice Movement-West cadre there to tackle Chevron, with dozens of arrests. They also protested at the Danish Embassy, at Senator Barbara Boxer’s office and at City Hall, and on Tax Day (April 15) will disrupt an emissions market conference. Carbon traders have also become targets in Chicago and New York. I’m also impressed that activists and lawyers have beaten back applications for nearly all the proposed new coal plants in North America. Most impressively in the US, West Virginia critics of mountaintop removal are doing brilliant activism, including a March sit-in at the Environmental Protection Agency which forced their director, Lisa Jackson, to move towards a ban on coal blasting that destroys those Appalachian streams and reivers.

And most important of all, halting Tar Sands exploitation in Alberta is crucial. Shannon Walsh, our Montreal-based comrade made a film – H2Oil – that teaches us so much, and helps make linkages from Alberta to the community I live in, South Durban, which is Africa’s major oil refining site south of Nigeria.

CK: You have written about what you and others call ‘global apartheid’, signifying a racist global economic order that shares certain characteristics of the apartheid system. How do you relate issues of race to questions of climate change and ecology generally?

PB: The most obvious is waste disposal, including greenhouse gases, with the most adverse impacts occurring in residential areas predominantly populated by people of colour.

Remember the famous December 1991 World Bank memo by its then chief economist Summers – actually plagiarised from his friend Lant Pritchett – saying that ‘Africa is vastly underpolluted’, since ‘the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste on the lowest-wage country is impeccable, and we should face up to that.’ Once you look at where Obama plans to build his new nuclear plants, you’ll see ongoing evidence of environmental racism.

The same goes for Africa. Here in Durban, the largest landfill in Africa is Bisasar Road, situated just south of the famous Kennedy Road and its 4000 black ‘African’ shackdwellers who until last September included leadership of the group Abahlali baseMjondolo, amidst working-class and lower-middle-class ‘Indian’ and ‘coloured’ communities. This case of extreme environmental racism began under apartheid in 1980 when the dump was forced onto unwilling residents, who fought it hard and who believed African National Congress promises of closure in 1994. In part because Summers’ toxic logic spawned carbon trading, the World Bank and neoliberal municipal bureaucrats came with their own crazy promises, of jobs and university scholarships for the communities, if only the dump could be kept open longer and methane gas from rotting rubbish be turned into electricity, albeit with a massive increase in flaring, with all manner of hot super-toxins released in the process. And from 2009, carbon credits began flowing into Durban municipal coffers at $14/tonne, so that Northern polluters can keep warming the climate. No, none of the Abahlali members got jobs or bursaries; that was a World Bank and municipality hoax.

Bisasar is South Africa’s most famous and largest ‘Clean Development Mechanism’ (CDM), and the leader in the continent. Thanks to Sajida Khan, who hosted the inaugural Durban Group for Climate Justice meeting in 2004 and in 2007 died of cancer – which she got twice breathing in Bisasar fumes every day – we know more about how CDMs are closely correlated to this kind of global-apartheid climate-racism, and how they cement in local racism borne of state power and capital accumulation.

Still, what we learned from the five stooges who co-signed the Copenhagen Accord last December is a shocking confirmation of global climate apartheid. Quite simply, these five men of colour – Obama, Zuma, Manmohan Singh of India, Wen Jiabao of China and Lula da Silva of Brazil – represented the interests of mainly white-owned industrial capital and mainly white over-consumers, against the masses of climate victims who are predominantly people of colour.

Some of the very worst-off rural victims of the coming climate disaster will be the Luo of Kenya and the Zulu of South Africa. The sacrifice by Obama and Zuma of their relatives on behalf of big capital and consumer hedonists is especially poignant, reminiscent of the way Fanon described the pitfalls of African leaders’ ‘national consciousness’ in The Wretched of the Earth.

CK: In the face of a global capitalism dominated by the most ecologically destructive states, mainly in the global North, how would you suggest that activists in places like Canada and the US form productive alliances with movements in the South that not only challenge ecological destruction but also the rule of capital more generally?

PB: South Africa has an exceptionally vibrant climate justice movement, and we need one because of the extreme contributions that global capital makes to South Africa’s climate footprint. Measured by the CO2 emissions in the energy sector per person per unit of output, we’re 20 times worse than the US here. And that’s so BHP Billiton, Arcelor Mittal, Anglo American Corporation and others can enjoy the world’s cheapest electricity – between US$0.01 and $0.02/kiloWatt hour, cross-subsidised by low-income consumers who are paying as much as $0.10/kWh through prepayment meters. The first figure will stay the same thanks to apartheid-era deals locking in cheap power for decades, while poor and working people are facing price hikes of 300% over the last couple and next three years.

So there’s a proliferation of community protests, many over ‘service delivery’ – e.g. excessively expensive electricity or simple lack of access in places like Kennedy Road, hence repeated shack fires and internal respiratory health problems. We’ve not been successful in connecting the red and green dots, though, and linking these protests, especially to trade union struggles against electricity privatization. I feel that such linkages will occur in coming years. Eskom and the World Bank will be useful targets in the next weeks, given the latter’s US$3.75 billion loan to the former. We have a couple of hundred groups lined up to protest, stretching across the world.

The South offers very serious climate justice leadership, such as indigenous people and environmental and community activists in the Niger Delta and Ecuadoran Amazon. Accion Ecologica persuaded Ecuadoran president Rafael Correa to consider an oil-in-the-soil plan to prevent drilling in the Yasuni National Park in 2007, which by June 2009 was rewarded with a $50 million/year commitment by the German government, though it appears to be in trouble now.

Most spectacularly, Niger Delta activists keep vast amounts of oil in the soil through both non-violent and armed struggle. In the former category, Environmental Rights Action in Port Harcourt insisted on an end to extraction and exploration. In the latter, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta continues to kidnap foreign oil workers, demanding they vacate the Delta for good. Thanks in part to organising by the Ogoni Solidarity Forum, Shell Oil was kicked out of Ogoniland in June 2008, 13 years after the company arranged for Ken Saro-Wiwa’s execution, an act for which they settled an Alien Tort Claims Act lawsuit out of court in June 2009 for $15.5 million.

Here in Durban, the radical NGO groundWork linked Oilwatch to several dozen anti-oil activist groups from across the continent at a September 2008 conference, and a month later, citing climate concerns, the South Durban Community and Environmental Alliance began a legal appeal to the national government, aiming to reverse a $2 billion Durban-Johannesburg pipeline investment which would double oil refining in the polluted community.

These are examples of serious strategies in place to halt climate change at the supply side. Proponents believe that though they are still microscopic in nature, these strategies and tactics could be much more effective than carbon markets in stopping emmissions. Many have been inspired by Alaskan and Californian environmentalists’ ability to withstand US oil company pressure to drill in the tundra and off the coast. The struggles against Chevron in the Bay Area are really good models, including actions at the company’s racist Richmond refinery.

CK: How can labour be radicalized on the question of climate change? What about all those workers whose livelihood depends on carbon-emitting industries? With regards to the union movement is the problem with the leadership or is it just something to do with the relatively higher standards of living enjoyed by unionized workers in the global North?

PB: It’s a tough question. The leading union on these issues here is the National Union of Metalworkers, and their leaders know it makes sense to make a ‘Just Transition’ from these untenable jobs in aluminium smelting to equally skilled and remunerated work doing the construction, installation and maintenance of passive-solar hot water heaters. These are needed atop every home across this country and continent. Lacking is the $1200 per unit subsidy required, so that’s a point of contestation with a government these unions helped to put into power, to replace the neoliberal Mbeki regime in 2008.

It turns out, though, that the Zuma regime is just as bad in most areas, but a communist minister of trade and industry, Rob Davies, is now making the right noises about green jobs. The metalworkers have to keep their eyes on a fast-changing industrial policy, on macroeconomics – where they lead the country in criticising monetarism – and on maintaining leftward momentum in union and Communist Party politics. It’s a hell of a hard job.

One of the great inspirations for them is the writing and speeches of Sam Gindin at York University. And they have learned lots about the failings of corporatist strategy from the US United Auto Workers and the more recent foibles of Canadian auto workers.

These problems are partly leadership failure and partly, as you say, a function of the old ‘labour aristocracy’ defence of living standards. We all need a bigger dose of critical education – such as The Story of Stuff and other attempts to address rampant consumerism – so as to organize for more free time and a better quality of life, instead of two McJobs, overpriced real estate, nonstop television advertisements and underpriced consumer goods which do environmental and social harm.

CK: Do you think that the anti-globalization movement has evolved into the global climate justice movement? Do some of the same problems within the global justice movement haunt the climate justice movement?

PB: Climate justice politics are picking up the best lessons from the last fifteen years or so of global justice activism. We saw that with the Climate Justice Action mobilizations in Copenhagen. Climate is an issue that encompasses so many others, like trade did for those Seattle activists in 1999. It will only get stronger, and hence a great deal of time is being spent negotiating good process, such as how to make the Cochabamba meeting called by Evo Morales in late April as effective as possible notwithstanding financing and language challenges. Every so often, a huckster will pop up trying to claim the traditions of climate justice, such as we saw with the tcktcktck campaign, so vigilance about what qualifies as justice is critical, now that the Climate Action Network membership is in disarray with their carbon trading strategies and tactics so discredited.

In addition, we still need every component of the global justice movement to toughen up. There are roughly three dozen fields of action where transnational movements of radical civil society forces have generated formal networks and sites of solidarity, often under severe difficulties, but the difficulty of working out of the silos remains.

CK: What is the significance of the experiments with “Bolivarian Socialism” in Venezuela and Bolivia for the global climate justice movement?

PB: Of course, the Bolivian indigenous and radical social movements’ transition from opposition to state power is inspiring, and we’ve followed the complexities through the principled stance of the Cochabamba water movement, partly because their April 2000 coming out party and the South African independent left’s emergence were so similar (Cochabamba’s autonomist Oscar Olivera discussed this so eloquently with Soweto’s socialist Trevor Ngwane over coffee in a DuPont Circle bookshop during the World Bank protest mobilization, to mutual benefit).

We’re very inspired to hear that Ecuador is moving back to a saner macroeconomic policy with its 2009 default on the foreign debt, ejection of World Bank staff, and its work with the Bank of the South. We’re even more inspired to know that indigenous people in the Ecuadorean Amazon and Accion Ecologica are fighting so hard against the petro-Keynesianism of Rafael Correa, who looks increasingly repressive.

Can Hugo Chavez move to a post-petrosocialist vision more motivated by decentralised power and resources? Following dispatches from Marta Harnecker, Edgardo Lander, Michael Liebowitz, Fred Fuentes and Kiraz Janicke in Caracas, and Michael Albert’s persistent efforts to inject participatory ideas into the Fifth International, sure, Venezuela has its ups and downs on this path beyond capitalism.

We’re desperately hoping Chavez becomes as serious a climate justice leader as we heard him hint at becoming in Copenhagen. As evidence to the contrary, in September 2008, he sold the idea of a new oil refinery in South Africa to import his junk dirty-shale, and outgoing president Mbeki bought it just before being tossed out of power. So we may be stuck with a white-elephant $8 billion refinery for the state company PetroSA.

When, a month later in Caracas, Dennis Brutus and I asked Chavez and his environmentalists, could they please keep their oil in the soil, ‘si’ was not the answer we were given. For now, though, the critique we share of global capitalism is the basis for much more collaboration and debate. And from there to unifying action is inevitable, as we try to keep the coal in the hole in South Africa, requiring a great deal more pressure from the Bolivarians against our ruling party, a process that has already begun when in Copenhagen, Chavez and Morales chastised Zuma for his sub-imperialist climate posture. But as Marx said, each proletariat has to deal with its own bourgeoisie first, and that’s still the most critical thing for us to bear in mind before we are sucked into unrealistic alliances aimed at global deal-making.