Anacristina Rossi is the author of the ecological novel La Loca de Gandoca (The Madwoman of Gandoca), derived from her own experience to protect a Costa Rican preserve. This article was adapted by the translators, Carol Polsgrove and Paloma Fernández Sánchez, from a longer essay published in the Revista de Ciencias Sociales of the University of Costa Rica.
Cracks in the concrete of capitalism
Anacristina Rossi CounterPunch USA July 28, 2014
In a Monthly Review article several years ago, “What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know About Capitalism,” John Bellamy Foster and Fred Magdoff put forward a point of view sometimes heard on the Left: that we cannot save the earth from becoming inhospitable to human life without abandoning capitalism. There is no such thing as “green capitalism,” they maintained, since the very logic of capitalism requires increased production.
In light of the dawning global awareness of climate change, we need to ask ourselves, “What, then, can weaken the power of the capitalist system?”
Bellamy and Magdoff themselves give us the clue. In Marxist and dialectical form, they show what in the present contains the seeds of future. They say we need to listen to what is growing in the interstices of society because that is where the germs of a new society are being born, “just as the bourgeoisie itself arose in the ‘pores’ of feudal society. “
These movements in the interstices are all around, they tell us. They are the Bolivian indigenous groups that are proposing an ethical relation with the Earth, the Pacha Mama; the Vía Campesina (the Peasants’ way); Brazil’s Movimiento de los Trabajadores sin Tierra (Movement of Workers without Land). They are the ecologist and anti-globalization movements around the world. All these groups want new relations among people and with nature. All oppose the logic of capital.
Curiously, Bellamy and Magdoff only value interstices outside their country and place no importance on something that may be key to the future. That something is movements appearing in the interstices of the United States and Canada.
These are not just ecological movements, although without exception, they do propose a harmonious relationship with nature: intentional communities, eco-villages, movements of urban and organic agriculture, movements to recover public lands for communities, permaculture movements, nonviolent communication, collective and alternative commercial projects, voluntary simplicity movements, and many others. As Detroit activist Grace Lee Boggs put it in an interview with Amy Goodman, the community gardens of Detroit are “the symbol of a new kind of society, of people who grow their own food, of people who try and help each other,” a society in which “we begin to think,not so much of getting jobs and advancing our own fortunes, but how we depend on each other.“
In short, there are life choices that reject what Bellamy and Magdoff call the logic of capital.
What is new in the North American movements is that, in the very heart of developed capitalism, in its ideological bastions, their strength and numbers are growing. That points to a great dissatisfaction with the system and an important questioning of capitalism from within, and not, as up till now, from the periphery.
Related: How a people, its chiefs and a chief justice have bravely ennobled the Canadian spirit.
To the Tsilhqot’in, with gloves
Ian Gill TheTyee.ca British Columbia Canada July 26, 2014
Years ago, I came into possession of a pair of deerskin gloves through a transaction that involved two parties who brought different things to the table: me (the money), and an elderly aboriginal woman (the gloves). The exchange was, I believe, a fair one. She set the price, I paid it; she got the money, I got the gloves, which have remained among my most prized possessions.
The transaction was conducted with free and informed consent, a rare thing in this country when it comes to dealings between white settlers and Indigenous peoples.
Ours was admittedly a very small deal, but where it took place recently has become a very big deal in Canada. At the time, I was in Xeni Gwet’in, or the Nemiah Valley, in the heart of a large swath of territory claimed as their own by the Tsilhqot’in Nation — the People of the Blue Water. (The Xeni Gwet’in are one of six communities that comprise the Tsilhqot’in national government.)
Xeni Gwet’in Chief Annie Williams served as translator and witness to the purchase of the gloves, but mostly she was helping me understand why the Xeni Gwet’in had, in 1989, unilaterally declared their territory to be an “Aboriginal Wilderness Preserve.”
There was no legal force behind the declaration at the time, but the Tsilhqot’in people had a history of bucking convention that stretched back to one of the great moments of resistance in B.C. history, the so-called Chilcotin War of 1864. Then, an attempt to build a road from Bute Inlet up to the Cariboo goldfields was brought to an abrupt and bloody end when several members of the road crew were killed; in retribution, six Tsilhqot’in men were arrested, tried and eventually hanged, even though they were later proven not to have taken part in the original war party.
The upshot was the road never got built. Until the 1980s, when an explosion of logging and logging roads spread across the Chilcotin Plateau, the Nemiah Valley remained one of the remotest and most spectacular (undeclared) wilderness areas in all of Canada. Then, a few years after the Haida Nation out on the coast made its stand against B.C.’s logging companies, the Xeni Gwet’in made theirs.
The court process in defence of the Tsilhqot’in’s rights and title — a long, ugly, unseemly and expensive battle, as they always are — ended a few weeks ago when the Supreme Court of Canada affirmed Aboriginal title a quarter of a century after the Tslihqot’in called the question.
Make no mistake, this is a spectacular victory for the Tsilhqot’in and an emphatic rebuke to the swindlers who have ruled and attempted to ruin this province since they first clapped eyes on the place. Finally, a rare serving of natural justice, and from the darkness of modern times, some news that offers a glimmer of hope for a better world.
But while pausing to savour what has just been won, it’s hard not to worry that the barbarians are still at the gate, and may be all the more dangerous for being wounded.
To go back to Xeni Gwet’in for a moment, I bought those gloves when on assignment for CBC television visiting the Nemiah Valley to report a documentary series called The Battle for the Chilcotin. It was the first of many docs I was privileged to do for CBC that focused on the struggle of B.C. First Nations — the Cheslatta, flooded from their lands; the Haisla, trying to save the Kitlope from logging; the Ingenika and Fort Ware people, flooded from their lands; the Nuu-chah-nulth, fighting for their place in the battle over Clayoquot Sound, and many more.
Those halcyon days, when CBC journalists were allowed to tell Canadian stories to Canadians, when we even dared to air the complaints of Aboriginal people at the downstream consequences of our having built an unnatural economy from the unchecked extraction of “natural” resources — those exuberant, story-telling days have given way to a harrowing hollowing out of our public broadcaster to the point that, to cut costs, we are witnessing the imminent demise of in-house documentary production. Whose vision of Canada does that serve?
And it’s not just the CBC. Where to look, across Canada’s increasingly barren media landscape, for an articulation — without fear or favour — of what the Tsilhqot’in case means for Canada? We need good journalism because as the Tsilhqot’in case so aptly underlines, governments and industries can’t be trusted to tell the truth. But what we get instead is mere reaction. …
Alone among our public institutions, the Supreme Court has managed to sustain a vision of a Canada that remains recognizable to Canadians, including our very first Canadians, and much of the credit for that can be laid at the feet of Madam Justice Beverley McLachlin herself.
It is one of the happier accidents of history that it was in 1989, the year the Tsilhqot’in launched their case in the B.C. Supreme Court, that Beverley McLachlin was promoted from being Chief Justice of that court in order to take up an appointment to the Supreme Court of Canada. She has served that court ever since, the past 14 years as its Chief Justice, and it was she who wrote the 8-0 judgement in favour of the Tsilhqot’in.
You can put it down to mere coincidence, but I believe there is an almost dreamlike serendipity in the fact that the most powerful judgment ever written in favour of Aboriginal rights in Canada — possibly the most powerful such judgment anywhere in the world — was written by arguably the only national leader in Canada whose stature has risen, not fallen, in the 25 fractious and dispiriting years we have just lived through.
Madame Justice Beverley McLachlin is not just a great judge at law, she is the greatest living judge of our national character, and its greatest defender. Masterfully, she has time and time again found a moral centre, all be they couched, as of course she must, in legal arguments that have confounded the worst excesses of a polity that has long since lost any sense of what Canada stands for. For two and a half decades now, she has exhibited a legal dexterity, an intellectual agility, purposeful leadership and enormous personal courage in taking on cases of such weight and complexity that any single one of them would defeat most of us to even understand, let alone render judgment on.
Just the other day I heard U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer describe someone with a rare clarity of thought as having a “moonlight mind,” and he could well have been describing Canada’s Chief Justice. In recent months, her court has clarified many important issues for Canadians. On labour rights, the Court found for the union after a Walmart in Quebec closed its doors when workers dared to organize; on privacy rights, the court said police need a warrant to access our information stored with Internet service providers; on prostitution, it has stood up for sex-trade workers; on criminal justice, it has curbed the Tories’ over-reach for mandatory minimum sentences; regarding its own composition, the court outright refused to be saddled with Stephen Harper’s unqualified choice for the bench, Justice Marc Nadon. This has been every bit the doing of Beverley McLachlin, the most trusted voice in the land. And now this. In crafting the Tsilhqot’in decision, she ends a journey that she and Roger William set out on 25 years ago. They took very different paths to arrive at the same place. Between them, they have given a face and a voice, and finally, the force of law to help Canadians come to terms with the fact that we are all People of the Blue Water now. Indeed, we always have been.