The expansion of colonialism and capitalism has provoked local and translocal resistances that have used the transnational infrastructures of the ruling class to form and organize international alliances. Climate breakdown has changed the game. In his contribution to the “Allied Grounds” text series, researcher Davide Gallo Lassere argues that these material and immaterial bases of struggle are up for discussion today, as polarization and division in the ranks of the oppressed increase in the face of the deepening economic and ecological crises.
I would like to start with two historical initiatives that took place in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, in order to begin, in a provisional and incomplete way, to discuss how an internationalist ecologism can be thought today, a label that is undoubtedly lacking, but that can nevertheless serve to frame theoretically and politically an increasingly urgent problem. The first initiative is the boycott of goods produced on slave plantations by the women of the European (mainly French and British) bourgeoisie (Van Dyk, 2021). The second has to do with the strikes of the British working class during the American Civil War, which led the Palmerston government to refrain from intervening in the conflict in support of the Confederates (Featherstone, 2012).
The refusal to consume sugar as a protest against the abolition of slavery is a form of economic tactic aimed at achieving political change. And a similar argument applies to the British workers who, despite the famine, did not hesitate to go on strike to support the fight against the slavery of the “Southerners.” Both episodes manifest the will to pursue the good of the other, even at the expense of one’s own security and comfort.
Infrastructure of international solidarity and cooperation
These examples, the result of very different political perspectives and social subjects, show two essential features of any form of internationalism: on the one hand, the existence of material relations that socially bind together distant and diverse geographical locations; on the other hand, the establishment of forms of material solidarity that politically bind together not only distant but also heterogeneous subjects. The former action helped foster the then nascent abolitionist international (Sinha, 2016); the latter struggle led to the founding of the first Workers International (Musto, 2014).
What we can deduce from these two schematic examples is that internationalism – beyond the many philosophical and organizational incarnations it has known over the past two centuries in the four corners of the world – has always consisted of a theory and practice of alliances. And alliances, by definition, always take place between (at least) two (more or less) different subjects, fighting (at least temporarily) for a common cause.
So what are today the objective and subjective starting points, so to speak, that constitute the preconditions for an internationalist ecologism? (I am speaking here of “internationalist ecologism” as a political orientation, not of “ecologist international(s)” as concrete coordinations or structures with their own slogans, demands, practices, etc.). What are the (eco-)systemic processes that are increasingly pushing the boundaries of struggles beyond the borders of individual nation-states? And what are the main actors involved who can play a decisive role?
First of all, we should emphasize the fact that it is the globalization of trade and production that has provided the material basis for abolitionist and workers’ internationalism: without a hierarchical international division of labor, there would never have been an international chain of struggles and solidarity among anti-racists and workers. Similarly, it is the global dimension of imperialism that has constituted the geopolitical arena of anti-colonial internationalism: without the global division of territories and the corresponding division of macro-areas of influence, there would never have been an alliance of colonized peoples to free themselves from the Western yoke.
Disturbed by racial capitalism
Today, however, the situation is completely reversed: the planetary effects of the many ecological crises are configuring the whole earth as a theater of new clashes. This paradigm shift is not simply a matter of increasing the scale and complexity of the framework, as in previous phases of the development of global capitalism and imperialism. This major shift involves a true revolution in our habits of thought and action. Indeed, in the “racial capitalocene” (Vergès, 2017), it is not only rival groups of human beings who are fighting each other, but also the non-human and the non-living are full participants in the ongoing historical tragedy.
The destruction of ecosystems, environments, natures, etc. in one part of the world increasingly produces unpredictable feedback loops with catastrophic effects in completely different regions. And the milieus and entities disturbed by racial capitalism are less and less inert backgrounds; their violent intrusion into the political arena, as in the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, often further polarizes antagonisms without necessarily opening up rosy scenarios.
Now, there are many points that could be drawn from this that should prompt us not only to always anchor politics in ecology and the earth, but also to reshape the subjectivities and identities of the collectives involved in politics, drastically rethinking the anthropocentrism that has been at the heart of Western environmentalism and, not least, has characterized both internationalist politics and political ecology. Symptomatically, eco-Marxist approaches also often tend to overlook the political role of the other-than-human (Balaud, Chopot, 2021, and Guillibert, 2021 and 2023) and the very politics of defining ‘the human’ versus ‘the non-human,’ for example in the context of colonial slavery (Robinson, 1983). Rather than enter into these discussions, however, I will limit myself to outlining some general considerations in order to suggest elements for stimulating collective discussions.
Building blocks of internationalist ecologism
In a very preliminary way, I would say that it is a matter of identifying the places, subjects, and causes that could form the geographical, social, and political backbone of an internationalist ecologism. Here are some of them.
Abolition of batshit jobs
The first step could be to target the main sources of the ongoing multifaceted ecological crises, starting with what Rübner Hansen calls “batshit jobs,” that need to be abolished as soon as possible. From fossil fuel extraction to agribusiness, to a whole range of activities harmful to health, society, and the environment, the possibilities for blockades, strikes, sabotage, and other practices of protest and awareness-raising are endless. Despite the contradictions that Hansen clearly highlights, it seems more and more unavoidable to imagine forms of refusal and reconversion of these works, which represent the main nodes of the planetary network of waste and pollution production.
A second point could be the economic, social and cultural promotion of eco-sustainable work, in line with the preservation or restoration of the planet’s habitability conditions. This is obviously a vast program, since it involves a general reconfiguration of production processes, both on a regional and global scale. Nevertheless, from the proposals of a “Degrowth Communism” to that of a “People’s Green New Deal,” from the dissemination of the wide range of commoning practices to the various ecological planning programs, there is no lack of grounds for a stimulating but (partly) contradictory confrontation that should always keep in mind the planetary dimensions of the current ecological catastrophes.
Agriculture and food
A crux that should certainly be placed back at the center of the political agenda, all the more so when North-South relations and alliances are at stake, is the issue of agriculture and food. Indeed, the production and distribution of food, its quality and accessibility, and the allocation and use of land are increasingly at the center of bitter disputes, crises and inequalities that structure global asymmetries. It is therefore no coincidence that many of the problems and contradictions of eco-imperialism, from extreme poverty to the outbreak of pandemics, from peasant struggles of recent years to mass migrations, from deforestation to export monocultures, from the privatization of seeds to (neo-)extractivism, etc., are related to these two issues.
On a not dissimilar wavelength are two other crucial issues for a decolonial and internationalist ecology: the (self-)defense of indigenous peoples and environmental anti-racism. The former focuses on what Pallotta (forthcoming) calls the cosmopraxis of indigenous peoples: “the practice of inhabiting the cosmos, based not on the idea of a private and productivist appropriation of the land, but, on the contrary, on a mode of being in the world defined by belonging to the earth.” The second is the struggle against the environmental injustices that affect the territories and neighborhoods inhabited predominantly by post-colonial immigrants as well as racialized, religious minorities in the countries of the global North.
Renewing the political practice of alliances
Now, it is clear that there are many other points to discuss, from the chiaroscuro balance of the multiple ecological movements that followed one another between Cop21 and the unleashing of the pandemic, to the triptych of animal domestication-exploitation-extrermination, to the still embryonic development of eco-unionism, to the revival of subsistence feminism. What I would like to emphasize in conclusion, however, is how these unresolved knots, beyond their respective specificities and (in)successes, compel us to raise the theoretical and organizational question of the synchronization and federation of differences, renewing the political practice of alliances.
In other words, internationalism by definition always implies the political capacity to translate organizationally and discursively different struggles and claims across heterogeneous spaces, scales and subjectivities. These statements invite us to re-signify what Hardt and Negri recently called the ‘politics of articulation,’ Angela Davis the ‘intersectionality of struggles,’ but also, before them, Guattari’s politics of ‘transversality.’ I am convinced that re-reading these different political perspectives through the prism of the current economic-ecological catastrophes would help us to formulate what an internationalist ecologism could be today.
Note from the editors: This article is a contribution to the Berliner Gazette’s “Allied Grounds” text series; its German version is available here. You can find more contents on the English-language “Allied Grounds” website. Have a look here: https://allied-grounds.berlinergazette.de