Joel Kovel speaks to Occupy Wall Street on ecosocialism

November 10, 2011
Joel Kovel. Image:

US author and ecosocialist Joel Kovel gave the speech below to Occupy Wall Street at New York’s Zuccotti Park on October 28.

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I am honoured to be here this evening because you are the light of the world. I’m not saying this to flatter, but because we have to understand it deeply. Your genius has been to seize upon the emerging hopes of humanity and give them a form of realisation.

Now you are on the threshold of a world-transforming process, and you must decide whether to cross over it.

Most of you have been spurred to come here by economic and political injustice: vicious indebtedness, precarious employment or unemployment, a nightmarish rise in inequality of wealth.

In short, the workings of a system that is corrupt, manifestly broken and, it seems, in terminal crisis. But that is just one side of the problem, and, I fear, the lesser side.

The brutal fact of the other side is that our planetary ecology is breaking down. Climate change, species loss, widening circles of pollution are some of its marks.

All this, and more, testifies to an ecological crisis of unprecedented proportion that threatens the future of civilisation, and even the extinction of our species along with many others. It is the greatest challenge in all human history.

To meet it, we need to begin with a basic truth: that the same system that causes economic and political injustice also causes ecological breakdown.

It follows that to understand and change both sides of our predicament, we need to be able to name and understand this system — and, first of all, to see it as a system and to understand its root, so that we can uproot it. The system, in a word, is capitalism.

Capitalism is more than the set of corporations, though corporations are among its instruments. It is a deep-seated ailment in the human condition that centres around the conversion of everything to money and lives from the expansion of money, or profit, which becomes capital itself.

This expansion is inherently endless, because money is number, and numbers have no limit. We call this capital’s accumulation, and it is the supreme value of the capitalist system. To accumulate, capital has to start somewhere. This takes place in something called a Commons.

A Commons is a portion of nature collectively worked on and enjoyed by people. When the capitalist class takes control of the Commons, it’s called an enclosure. Thus, the history of capitalism can be written as an ongoing and expanding series of enclosures — and the struggles against this.

When the European settlers came here, they saw that the Indians were communists who lived according to the Commons. This aroused their vampire-like greed, and so they set out on a path of destruction and possession.

They enclosed the Commons, put walls around it, and converted it to private property. And yes, Wall Street is named for a real wall built on the actual site of today’s street. It defined an enclosure built to “wall off” the Algonquin Indians and keep them out of the settlers' way.

This can be said to be the launching point of capitalism in North America. It has grown into the metastasizing cancer known as finance capital you see all around you, extending everywhere to the outer limits of empire, and into the depths of our souls.

Indeed, the name, Wall Street, has come to mean capitalism itself. So you see, when you occupy Wall Street you are truly reversing the enclosure of Commons and tearing at the very root of capitalism. Welcome to the Indian Nation!

And this, friends, is the secret to your stroke of genius that makes you the light of the world. If we are faithful to this lesson, we can transform society, bring about justice for all, and overcome the ecological crisis.

For you have created a pathway of “commoning.” Your space of occupation is both a site of resistance and a site of production. This dual nature is what gives strength and resilience to your movement and ignites the spark to inspire the whole world, even as you have been inspired by other examples of creative commoning.

Now a resistant and productive commons is itself a flourishing, integral ecosystem; and the building ground for healing and restoring other ecosystems. It is implied in what Karl Marx wrote in 1848 — and I hope you are not ashamed to learn from Karl Marx — that we will build “an association in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.” Therefore, freedom is the essential condition for a society beyond capitalism.

An association of free people will take care of nature because they see themselves as part of nature. They will struggle for a new world based on a new kind of production that gives nature intrinsic value.

They will develop the tools for overcoming and healing the cancer of accumulation and the ecological crisis it generates. Such a society will be in harmony with nature and not nature’s enemy. I would call it “ecosocialism,” and I hope you will join in its building.

The task is fantastically difficult. But, once you realise that you are not here to want what they want you to want: To help out the Democratic party; to get a seat at the big table; to rationalise the deadly regime of accumulation … New choices open before you. And this is the one for the flourishing of life.

Neither are you here to want what I want you to want. You are here to seize the day whose dawning you have brought about, and to direct it into the future. Much study lies ahead, much frustration, indeed, much sacrifice . . . but also much joy, once you accept the truth that the old order is dying, and the faith that a new one can be born.

[Republished from Deep Dish TV]

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