Systemic Transitions

By Pablo Solón[1]

[Español, Italian] The following proposals[2] seek to motivate reflections on how to deal with the systemic crises. These are ideas that arose from a South American and in particular, a Bolivian context.

1) We must rethink the processes of transitions based on the systemic crises that the Earth community is now experiencing. Although there is no doubt that the ecological and climate crises are the most relevant because they put at risk the continuity of life as we know it, transitions must be multidimensional and inclusive of our relationships with nature, our daily behavior patterns, the State and the political system, the economy, the social, the spiritual, energy, international relations and ethics.

2) The main focus of our attention should be the strengthening of the organization and articulation of the diverse social movements for the self-management of their territories: indigenous-peasant communities, factories, schools, neighborhoods, etc. The vast majority of the left fail because they bet mainly on the State rather than on promoting the self-determination of social articulations that are creative and disruptive of the State. In some cases, it may make sense to relate or pressure the State as it can play a positive role to confront the commodification and privatization of life, but this cannot be the sole strategy, as the State is still an apparatus that has its own logic that it shares with capital the addiction to growth and productivism, and manages violence in favor of the sectors that hold power.

3) The autonomy and self-determination of social organizations is essential to: a) expand the practice of the commons at different levels, b) radically transform the State, c) contain the social decomposition that is underway, and d) counteract the logic of state power that captures and transforms social and left leaders. It is essential to dismantle the cult of personality and caudillismo that undermines the capacity for self-management of social movements.

4) There is not one left but multiple lefts. The left is a relative concept that should be valued not only in relation to the right and imperialism, but also in relation to central issues for systemic transitions such as extractivism, productivism, anthropocentrism, patriarchy, capitalism, racism, the state, human rights and the rights of nature.

5) For democracy to flourish it is essential to promote initiatives outside the political party systems. Indigenous peoples, women’s organizations, workers, Afro-descendant communities, LGTB, students and others must be able to participate in national and sub-national elections independently of political parties. The monopoly of political parties from the right or the left must be replaced by a diversity of forms of democratic participation of the different social actors.

6) We must revolutionize representative democracy also in its anthropocentric character, incorporating the election of delegates who represent nature, defend the rights of Mother Earth and the balance of the Earth system. We need to put into operation, justice mechanisms for the Earth and instruments such as the Ombudsman of Nature.

7) Systemic crises are unleashing constituent processes in several countries that should serve to raise multidimensional structural proposals and empower traditional and new social movements. It is important to promote constituent processes that go beyond normative discussions and that contribute to build in practice forms of self-managing power.

8) The alternative to capitalist chaos is not capitalist or supposedly socialist statism, but rather the empowerment and expansion of the commons for a participatory democratic management that encourages care policies. The nationalization by the State of key sectors of the economy must be accompanied by deep processes of transparency, social control and transfer of certain sectors so that they are self-managed by society. The nationalization and universalization of public health, water, energy, education and digital communication services are essential for survival in times of chaos. The expansion of food sovereignty, dismantling the power of agribusiness, is key to guaranteeing the right to food.

9) The transition towards post-extractivist, post-productivist and post-capitalist economies is not a task for the future but rather a present emergency policy that requires encouraging simple, moderate and respectful ways of life with the other and with nature. The systemic crises will blow up financial bubbles and speculative markets. The need for a non-speculative economy and the nationalization of the financial system will be increasingly essential.

10) Redistributive processes must be structural and never used for electoral purposes or political co-optation. The expropriation of landowners and the distribution of land-territory to indigenous peoples and the landless, preserving the vital cycles of nature, are fundamental for systemic transitions.

11) The dismantling of patriarchal structures that promote a hierarchy of values and practices that devalue and exploit women, peoples and nature requires not only normative processes and equal rights, but also the elimination of privileges and the concentration of power in both public and private spheres.

12) The eradication of systemic capitalist racism against human beings and beings of nature requires: a) subverting the logic of capital and the State that is at the service of capital, b) breaking with the culture of fear of the other, c) recognizing and dismantling one’s privileges, and d) establishing reparation policies for the victims of systemic racism.

13) It is urgent to promote systemic alternatives that recover and coexist with the life cycles of the Earth system and fight against false solutions such as geoengineering, market mechanisms and the financialization of nature that are already being promoted by capitalism to supposedly face the ecological collapse.

14) In response to the false dilemma of trade liberalization agreements or abusive practices of national capitalisms, we must promote asymmetric complementarity processes that recognize the disparity between countries, establish limits to commercial exchanges that destroy nature and social organizations, forgive the external debt, alleviate poverty and unemployment, and contribute to the regeneration of the Earth’s ecosystems.

15) You cannot resort to any measure to confront the reactionary right and imperialism. The means must be in accordance with the end. Violations of democracy and inconsistencies with progressive discourses favor authoritarianism of the right and the left. It is essential to guarantee the human rights of all, including those of our adversaries. It is not about eliminating the other, but about seeking transformative complementarities in order to isolate fundamentalist extremisms.

16) There are declining imperialisms and emerging imperialisms. It is a mistake to surrender to some to defend oneself against others, creating new relations of dependency and colonialism. It is necessary to overcome national borders to face the preservation of eco-regions such as the Amazon and transform the current multilateralism by suppressing the veto power of five countries, giving participation to the peoples and nature. It is key to promote new processes of integration and internationalism, building supranational management and compliance mechanisms to stop ecological collapse.

17) Wars and violence will emerge at every moment and will become a privileged mechanism for capital accumulation in times of chaos. The bunkers of elites and digital surveillance systems will multiply. Forms of apartheid will re-emerge. The dismantling of the military complex is an urgent necessity for the survival of life. The demand for peace will become increasingly revolutionary.

18) To advance in systemic transitions, it is essential to change the correlation of forces through partial victories that galvanize processes of change at the national and international level. The social conflicts that can generate multiple shock waves are those where different social actors converge raising structural demands. That was the experience of the water war in Bolivia in 2000 and it may be again on a global scale in this decade due to the commodification and privatization of water, droughts and natural disasters caused by climate change.

19) To deal with the growing uncertainty and chaos it is necessary to learn from the Andean indigenous communities who planted in different ecological floors to cope with the instability of the climate. This implies constructing our struggles, alternatives, and articulations in various spaces, dimensions, and scenarios to deal with the sudden changes in this time of absence of lasting normalcy.

20) Ethics is at the heart of all systemic transition processes.

[1] Director of Fundación Solón-Bolivia and member of the Systemic Alternatives initiative and the Global Dialogue for a Systemic Change.

[2] This document is based on the presentation I made at the seminar “What should we do?” organized by the Global Dialogue for Systemic Change on December 15, 2020. The proposals presented in a schematic and summarized manner have been enriched with the comments and contributions received during and after said event.