The premise of this publication is that we are living a systemic crisis that can only be solved through systemic alternatives. Humanity is facing a complex set of crises from environmental, economic, social to civilizational crisis. All of these crises are part of a whole. We cannot solve one of these crises without addressing the others. Each one is constantly receiving a strong feedback from the others. Strategies that focus only on one dimension of the crisis will not be able to solve the current systemic crisis and can even aggravate the current situation.
Since the first known civilization 8,000 years ago, humanity has suffered different crises that have combined several of those dimensions. However, it is the first time that we are facing a global crisis that covers every corner of the planet and is even altering the geological era of the Holocene in which different cultures emerged thanks to the stability of the climate. The magnitude of the crisis is so great that what is at stake is no longer a particular civilization but the fate of humanity and life as we know it. The systemic crisis is of such magnitude that, it is triggering the sixth extinction of life on Earth. As in the past, the planet will continue, but the environmental conditions that made possible the development of millions of life forms including human life will be totally disrupted.
This systemic crisis has been provoked by a set of factors among which stands out the incessant search of profit by the capitalist system at the expense of the planet and humanity. This system is leading to the extinction of species, significant biodiversity loss, the degradation of humanity and relentlessly pushing the limits of the planet. This is not one more cyclical crisis of capitalism in which after suffering a depression, recovers with record figures of growth and is then able to continue its expansion. This is a much deeper crisis that has spread to all aspects of life on Earth and now has its own dynamics without the possibility of reverting within the framework of the capitalist system.
Far from imploding by its internal contradictions, capitalism is being reconfigured and continues to search for new mechanisms to increase its rate of profit squeezing people and the planet until the last drop. Everything can be commodified. Everything becomes an “opportunity” for new business: natural disasters, financial speculation, militarism, human trafficking, the so-called “environmental services” of forests and water. There are no limits for capitalism. Overexploitation, overconsumption and waste are the main engines of this system that requires unlimited growth in a finite planet. Increased inequality and destruction of nature’s life cycles are its legacy.
Alternatives to the current system can only be constructed if we deepen our understanding of the process of reconfiguration of capitalism. Capitalism has shown its great flexibility to adapt, capture, reshape and create options for itself. What begins as a progressive movement or idea is captured, transformed and incorporated to maintain and reproduce the system.
However, although capitalism is a very important factor, it is not the only element that has led to this systemic crisis. Other key causes are productivism and extractivism that gave rise to capitalism and that have survived even in economies that wanted to overcome capitalism. The idea of a thriving society based on continued economic growth has led to the breakdown of the climate balance achieved by the Earth system 11,000 years ago.
In addition to these factors we have the patriarchal structures and culture that have survived for centuries and nourished different forms of concentration of power in favor of privileged elites in both public and private spaces. Capitalism has not created patriarchy but it has accentuated it in a particular way by making invisible and devaluing the care and reproductive work that women and other human groups develop in spaces outside the market.
Finally, it is important to highlight the dominant anthropocentric vision that regards humans as a superior being that is separate and above nature. Just as patriarchy views women as an object, anthropocentrism views nature as something that can be exploited and transformed for human/man benefits. This anthropocentrism that already existed in several pre-capitalist societies has increased exponentially with the industrial revolution and the development of technology.
In this context when we talk about building systemic alternatives we refer not only to alternatives to capitalism but to strategies that are capable to confront and overcome patriarchy, productivism, extractivism and anthropocentrism.
Alternatives do not emerge in the vacuum. They emerge in the struggles of social movements, in their concrete experiences, initiatives, victories, defeats and resurgences. They emerge in a process of analysis, practice and proposals that are validated in reality.
There is not just one alternative. There are many alternatives. Some come from indigenous peoples, like the concept of “Vivir Bien” (living well). Others, like degrowth are conceived in industrialized societies that have surpassed the limits of the planet. Ecofeminism brings up the women dimension that is essential to overcome the current patriarchal regime that is interlinked to anthropocentrism. The Rights of Mother Earth seeks to build new forms of relationship with nature. The Commons emphasizes the self-management of human communities. Deglobalization focuses on the analysis of the current process of globalization and the development of alternatives for a world integration centered on people and nature.
These proposals are not the only ones that can contribute to the construction of Systemic Alternatives. Ecosocialism, food sovereignty, the solidarity economy, Ubuntu and other visions contribute from different perspectives to this process. All have strengths, limitations, contradictions and points in common. All are proposals under construction. They are pieces of a puzzle that have multiple answers and that is altered with the aggravation of the systemic crisis.
None of these proposals, neither Vivir Bien, Degrowth, ecofeminism, deglobalisation, the rights of Mother Earth, nor the Commons can adequately face the systemic crisis alone. All of these proposals and many others have to engage in processes of complementarity to forge systemic alternatives.
Complementarity means to complement one another to form a whole; to articulate with others to respond to the complexity of the problem we are facing; to learn from others; to see your own conclusions through the eyes of the other visions; to discover your strengths, common weaknesses and gaps; and to build deeper systemic alternatives.
The complementarity of visions does not seek to build just one single alternative but to develop multiple systemic alternatives. The diversity of realities that interact on our planet require several systemic alternatives. That is why we are speaking in plural. The main goal of this publication is to promote a constructive and creative dialogue between these different visions.
This book is the result of the Systemic Alternatives initiative, which is coordinated by Focus on the Global South-Asia, Attac-France and Fundación Solón- Bolivia. The different chapters of the publication on the one hand reflect the opinion of its authors and on the other hand are the expressions of the processes of interactions and collective construction that have occurred throughout different events and exchanges organized by the Systemic Alternatives initiative that were made possible with the generous support of CCFD, Fastenopfer and DKA.
The coordinators of this publication hope that it will awaken and trigger new debates and increasingly deepen and articulate approaches that will help to deal with the systemic crisis that we live in.