2017-18 Alternatives in a World of Crisis


Jun 15th, 2017 by Raphael Hoetmer

From 12th until 19th of May the Global Working Group Beyond Development, hosted by the Brussels office of the Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung, held its second meeting in Ecuador, Latin America, in order to collectively analyze the opportunities and challenges, as well as the practical strategies, for the construction of multidimensional alternatives which would respond to the current civilizational crisis to which capitalism and its economic, social and cultural dynamics have led.

The second meeting of this group of thirty engaged researchers, activists and popular educators included a public conference at the Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar in Quito, a three day workshop and a field visit to the municipality of Nabón in the southern Azuay province of Ecuador, aimed at learning from the experience of building Buen Vivir or living well from the bottom up, as it has been practiced by the communities and associations of Nabón with the support of the alternative local government led by two female mayors of the indigenous Pachakutik political movement, during four successive periods of government.

The discussions of the group were also inspired by five case studies on the construction of multidimensional alternatives in different regions of the world: the self determination of the local people of the village Mendha Lekha in India; the community resistance against oil extractivism and the closely associated colonial state in the Niger Delta in Nigeria; the current building of an alternative municipalism in Barcelona, Spain; the creation of social urban alternatives in the midst of economic crisis in Greece; and the process of the Bolivarian revolution, later labeled as Socialism of the 21st century, in Venezuela.

Historical moment of civilizational crisis

The meeting was marked by a particularly critical historical context that underlines the urgency of the debate on multidimensional alternatives which are able to address issues of class, gender, race, coloniality, state power and sustainability. Climate change and ecological destruction put the future of humankind at risk, whilst extractivism is expanding its grip on livelihoods around the world, and an “imperial mode of living” based on consumerism and individualism without limits has been installed in elites and spreads in middle classes around the world. The global (counter-) offensive of a confluence of right wing populism, religious conservatisms of different kinds and aggressive capitalism have put the global left on the defense, whilst social movements are threatened by different forms of state repression, criminalization, and private violence in new corporate-state formations.

The group agreed that these tendencies are the effects of a civilizational crisis, rooted in patriarchal, colonial and imperial capitalism and its predatory relations with nature, which are being further promoted by the development paradigm. Radical transformation is imperative and urgent, but at the same time, it is precisely social movements proposing alternatives as much as different modes of living which persist or are constructed in different local contexts as alternatives that are under attack.

Learning from our experiences

It is necessary to learn from the last decades of social mobilization, in which popular insurgency and the building of constituent power several times destabilized the status quo, particularly in Latin America, Southern Europe, West Africa and the Arab World. However, as many of these efforts prioritized taking control over the State at the national level as their main strategy, the posterior moment of their institutionalization and government ended in the best case in a more limited change then was hoped for, and in other cases in clear disappointment and setbacks.

In Latin America, the results of these processes have been particularly contradictory in what regards the transformation of economic structures and modes of production, the relationship with indigenous autonomies and the postulates to build plurinationality as an alternative to the monocultural nation state and to implement gender justice. Also, the predatory relations with nature deepened under the influence of progressive governments. One of the lessons of this cycle might be that politics as we know it is not enough for the kind of transformation the world needs. At the same time, the political legacies, instruments and analytical horizons of the global left seem to be insufficient to meet the contemporary challenges, as they were developed to overcome a very different capitalism in the XIXth and XXth centuries.

New strategies and challenges for the Left

The current context presents particular challenges for the legacy of the Left, as its role in emancipatory politics has grown increasingly ambivalent due to its difficulties to overcome state- and class-centered, productivist and economicist politics which often still conceive themselves as vanguardist. At the same time, the global left remains the principal reference of organization and action against capitalism in the World, so that its refoundation seems necessary for multidimensional transformation.

This refoundation not only requires the recuperation of the own plural history of the lefts and its legacies beyond the currents that historically became hegemonic. It also needs to engage in a critical dialogue, a learning process and constructive alliances with indigenous, feminist, Gandhian and other emancipatory movements beyond the Left. This implies the necessity of intercultural dialogue regarding grammars of social transformation.

The current historical moment implies different temporalities of transformation which are best met by different, eventually complementary political strategies. In the short term there is a need to stop the accelerated ecological, political and social processes of destruction and dispossession. Thus strong social movements of resistance all levels, local, regional, national, continental and global are necessary and this struggle will require a multitude of strategies including different approaches toward the state. These include the politics of left political movements or parties which dispute the legal and institutional conditions for transformation within the framework of the State.

Strategies of prefigurative politics have so far been most successful when bound to specific territories with significant ranges of autonomy from national state institutions – with local governments, accountable through mechanisms of direct democracy, sometimes serving as allies as in the cases of Nabón in Ecuador and the municipalism in Spain. Making use of the own instituent power in order to preserve existing commons or create new ones and thus de-link from the logics of the globalized capitalist world market emerged as a path forward for the deepening of democracy and self-determination, as well as the transformation of relations with nature, depatriarchalization and decolonization.

It is a matter of further debate and practice, how these and other strategies combine for a radical and multidimensional transformation that achieves profound cultural and political change and can put an end to exploitative economic and social relations.

New perspectives on global relations

Finally, responding to the purpose of a global working group, the debates addressed the need of rethinking the concepts and traditions of solidarity and internationalist relations. Here, emphasis was made on the need of overcoming money-centered and paternalistic logics of aid or the tradition of supporting specific struggles abroad, which are abandoned when another new struggle comes up. The alternative would be engaging actively in the transformation of the own sociopolitical context, while taking into account the effects that this context necessarily generates elsewhere on the globe, and engaging in reciprocal and horizontal interpeoples relations which allow intercultural dialogue and experience-based learning processes.

International conference “World in crisis. Alternatives from the five continents “

The graduate program of Latin American Cultural Studies from the Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar in Quito Ecuador, in cooperation with the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation organized the international conference “World in crisis. Alternatives from the five continents ” with participants of the Global Working Group Beyond Development on May 18th 2017.


10h30-10h50 Opening

Jaime Breilh, Rector of the UASB
Claus-Dieter König, Deputy Director Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung Brussels
Miriam Lang, Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar
Civilizational crisis and alternatives – reflections on the challenges of the present. This paper will address some assumptions, hypotheses, and theoretical and political challenges surrounding the civilizational crisis and the construction of alternatives.
Table 1: Europe 11h10-12h20
Maxime Combes, Attac France
Post-election and resistance scenarios in France.

While in France the extreme right is encouraged by the implosion of political and institutional frames of reference, the winners of globalization try to save ‘the system’ and a new left finally incorporates ecological aspects, following socio-ecological struggles that have influenced its visions.
Mauro Castro, Polytechnic University of Catalonia and Collective the Cooperative Hydra, Catalonia
Seizing Institutions: The Barcelona Communist Municipal Movement
The victory of “citizen platforms” in the 2015 municipal elections in Spain has been a milestone of electoral democracy in the recent political history of Europe. In this presentation some analysis keys about Barcelona en Comú, a movement-party that has governed the city of Barcelona for 21 months, will be exposed.

Moderator: Beatriz Rodríguez-Labajos, Institute of Environmental Science and Technology, Autonomous University of Barcelona
Table 2: Asia 12h20-13h30
Mary Ann Manahan, Focus on the Global South, Philippines
In Defense of the Commons: Resistances and Alternatives in Southeast Asia Land and resource appropriation, commodification, and privatization are major challenges for popular and social movements in Southeast Asia that practice shared access, collective use and governance of natural resources as a common form of tenure. The defense of these commons, however, opens spaces for social mobilization, resistance and the construction of alternatives.
Maduresh Khumar, National Alliance of People’s Movement, India
Social movements and resistance to capitalist expansion in India. With the current market-based neoliberal growth strategy, India’s 1.2 billion people will soon be faced with a massive ecological and social crisis. The talk will focus on the resistance of various social and environmental movements, the State’s response and the challenges of articulating an alternative discourse to the dominant forms of development.
Moderated by: Ivonne Yánez, Acción Ecológica, Ecuador

13:30 – 15:00 Break
Table 3: Americas 15:00 – 16:30

Edgardo Lander, Central University of Venezuela
Learning from the progressive cycle in Latin America. This paper will present a reflection on what the experience of the so-called progressive governments has been based on a key question: To what extent have these experiences brought us closer to overcoming capitalism and have opened gaps in the direction of exit to the deep civilizing crisis that humanity faces today?
Irma Velásquez, Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and Duke University, Guatemala
Latin America today from the perspective of indigenous women In Guatemala, after a 36-year-old armed conflict, women survivors of the genocide, who also faced sexual violations and servitude, seek justice using national courts. The case of Ixil and Sepur Zarco Guatemala women will be briefly addressed.
Elandria Williams, Highlander Research and Education Center, USA
Building transformative solutions in the belly of the beast: socio-economic and organizational dynamics in the southern United States. The United States faces a frontal right-wing attack that is not limited to Donald Trump, but is part of a cycle related to the 400-year heritage of colonialism, imperialism and capitalism rooted in genocide and slavery. In this moment of setback, the left in the United States is fighting and laying the foundations for a reconstruction based on the principles of community self-government, the solidarity economy, reparations, and sustainable and healthy communities.

Moderator: Karin Gabbert, director of the Rosa Luxemburg Andean Region Foundation
16:30 – 17:00 Coffee
Table 4: Africa 17h00-18h15
Mabrouka M’Barek, Middle East Institute Washington D.C./ Tunisia
Perspectives to six years of the Arab spring. Mabrouka will give an overview of the current situation in the Arab region, focusing on the Maghreb and Yemen. Several cases of civil resistance will be discussed in the areas of climate justice, economic justice and transitional justice.