Nature, Neoliberalism and Sustainable Development: Between Charybdis and Scylla

Harry Cleaver's paper on the effects of capitalist development on the environment.

Submitted by libcom on August 10, 2005

This paper was prepared for the 4th Ecology Meeting on "Economy and Ecology" held by the Instituto Piaget, Viseu, Portugal, April 17-19, 1997.


"And all this time, in travail, sobbing, gaining on the current, we rowed into the strait --Scylla to port and on our starboard beam Charybdis, dire gorge of the salt sea tide." (Odysseus)1

At this point in history, policy thinking about human relationships with Nature seems unable to escape either the whirlpool of Neoliberalism or the mist-shrouded dangers of sustainable development. On the one hand free-marketeers tout an overt subordination of every aspect of the world to private property, commodity production and quick profit making; on the other, the critics of such short term calculus search for ways to continue the same processes indefinitely. What a choice!


Neoliberalism is a variation on the classical liberalism of the 19th Century when British and other imperialisms used the ideology of market competition and "free trade" to justify both capitalism at home and colonialism abroad. Revolt in the North by industrial workers and the unemployed in the 1930-40s and in the South in the 1940-50s by anti-colonial struggles ended classical liberalism and most colonialism. These efforts, however, were contained by Keynsianism: government management of the wage and collective bargaining, subsidies to industry to support productivity growth, the welfare state for the unwaged and a mixture of counter-insurgency and "development" for the new neo-colonies.

Within less than 30 years, another international cycle of worker, woman, student, peasant and pro-ecology revolt in the 1960s and 1970s ended Keynesianism which was replaced by Neoliberalism. Workers slowed down the growth of productivity while driving up wages and benefits, thus rupturing the post-WWII productivity deals and undermining profits. Women stepped up their refusal of patriarchal authority in the home while fighting for greater access to income and self-determination. Students, often taking a cue from their mothers, challenged authorities in schools and in governments demanding rights to pursue their own interests and not to be sent to imperial wars. Peasants fought to keep or reclaim their lands and to avoid being forced into low-waged, high risk jobs in alienated cities. Greens challenged the capitalist definition and exploitation of Nature as object/other/raw-material and sought new and more harmonious relationships with all elements of a world whose "naturalness" was being constantly reconstructed. Attacked from all sides, the carefully crafted but ultimately fragile structure of Keynesian command collapsed. In this historical perspective, Neoliberalism can be seen as the latest capitalist response to the power of people to break loose from previous forms of exploitation while setting their own varied agenda for social evolution.

Neoliberalism came to be widely named as such in Latin America in the wake of the international debt crisis that exploded in 1982 when Mexico announced it could no longer meet its debt service obligations. Faced with soaring interest rates (driven by the American Federal Reserve Board's campaign against global inflation, i.e., against wages), collapsing world output and plummeting trade that made earning increased foreign exchange impossible, Mexico and then other countries threatened to default on their foreign borrowings. In response, the International Monetary Fund and the banks that looked to it for leadership, demanded the substitution of market oriented policies for previous state guided approaches to development as part of their conditions for repeated debt bailouts and roll-overs. Local governments, whether with regret or ill-hidden glee, embraced this shift with a vengence. The policy mix which has been implemented in debtor countries, however, differs little in essence from the more general orientation of capitalist policy elsewhere in the world --so the term "Neoliberalism" can serve well enough as a general descriptor in this period. Like some criminals Neoliberalism has many aliases: Reaganomics, Thatcherism, supply-side economics, monetarism, new classical economics, shock therapy and structural adjustment. No matter the alias, capitalist policy makers and apologists in this period have enthusiastically embraced greed and profits while coldly turning their backs on working people and the poor. Their ferociously pro-business, pro-profit, anti-wage and anti-labor policies have led some to speak of a "new class war."2 Their attitudes are reminesent of the behavior which provoked Cupid's angry denunciation of loving things instead of people in Camoes' LUSIADS:

"As for those whose duty it was to dispense to the poor the love of God and to treat all men charitably, they were in love only with power and riches, and made an empty show of justice and integrity. Right to them meant ugly tyranny, harshness, severity to no purpose. They made laws in favor of the king and allowed such as favoured the people to lapse." (Camoes)3

In all of its guises, Neoliberalism is both an ideology and a strategy. The IDEOLOGY of Neoliberalism worships the market and the subordination of all of life to its demands, including government, individuals and Nature (all carefully defined in terms of its own logic). As STRATEGY Neoliberalism involves privatization, slashed food and housing subsidies, disinvestment in education, multiplying prisons, a celebration of the death penalty, union busting, land enclosure, lower wages, higher profits, monetary terrorism, the substitution of export-oriented for import substituting development, free capital mobility, a crackdown on immigrants, accentuated racism, an anti-feminist counteroffensive, intensified low-intensity war against peasants and the accelerated commodification of Nature --all this under the banners of freedom, efficiency and profit. Should not such policies enrage not only Cupid, but all men and women who believe social institutions should be elaborated for the welfare of society and earth as a whole rather than for the power and wealth of a few?

Sustainable Development

As an ideology, sustainable development originally appealed most to those preoccupied with the tendencies of capitalist development to lay waste to the world in its haste to convert anything and everything into commodities which could be sold for a profit. Many advocates of sustainable development have seemed to reason within Western traditions that see humans as stewards of Nature, with responsibility for its care.

I never kept sheep, But it is as if I did watch over them. My soul is like a shepherd, Knows the wind and the sun, And goes hand in hand with the Seasons To follow and to listen. (Pessoa)4

Against the destruction of forest clear cutting, for example, has been posed the selective extraction of well chosen trees.5 Against the exhaustion of non-renewable resources was posed the conservative tapping of renewable ones. And so on. In general, the idea is to so manage the extraction and tapping so that it can go on endlessly. The perspective cuts transversally across the Neoliberal preoccupation with markets versus other institutions of development to emphasize a desirable framework rather than a particular technique. All methods which are "sustainable" are open for discussion. Unfortunately, by focusing on the adjective (sustainable) instead of the noun (development) well-intentioned proponents of sustainable development have left themselves open to instrumentalization.

Although discussions started much earlier, the official embrace of sustainable development dates from approximately the same moment as the onset of the debt crisis which provided the occasion for the Neoliberal policy offensive. The Brundtland Commission was launched in 1983 about a year after Mexico declared bankruptcy.6 Its deliberations and final report OUR COMMON FUTURE (1987) gave sustainable development the stamp of high level approval in the world of development managers.7 Sustainable development --a term which implicitly critiques "unsustainable" approaches to development-- has proved susceptible to such a diversity of interpretations as to be integrable even within the policy orientations of the most notable proponents of Neoliberalism, e.g., the World Bank.8

In the wake of the Brundtland report, sustainable development spread rapidly as a new and appealing framework for doing business. There was some resistance from free market ideologues who incanted Hayek's name, denounced the report's failure to insist on private property rights and went so far as to call the concept of sustainable development "a euphemism for environmental socialism."9 But on the whole the concept was received positively.

In the period around the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, discussion of sustainable development evolved along a trajectory which soon brought it into alignment with market capitalism. The year before the Summit, the International Chamber of Commerce's creation of The Business Charter for Sustainable Development demonstrated clearly which way the wind was blowing. Jim MacNeill, who had been secretary general of the Brundtland Commission and primary author of its report went over to the Trilateral Commission and co-authored BEYOND INTERDEPENDENCE: THE MESHING OF THE WORLD'S ECONOMY AND THE EARTH'S ECOLOGY which was published in advance of the Summit.10 The Worldwatch Institute's pre-conference book SAVING THE PLANET was subtitled "How to Shape an Environmentally Sustainable Global Economy".11 Later, one of its authors, Christopher Flavin would write: "The challenge is to adopt policies that make economic and ecological imperatives converge, redirecting market forces to achieve the environmental goals."12 Instead of juxtaposing the economy and the environment, instead of critiquing the economy per se, these authors seek "convergence" assuming that there is no alternative to working within the system. When the UN established its Commission on Sustainable Development in the wake of the Summit, and then the US President created a Council on Sustainable Development, their constitution also assumed from the beginning that solutions to sustainability could be found within the context of multinational business and markets. The economy and ecology, in the words of the Trilateral Commission, could be "meshed."

In good Neoliberal style the role of the government is generally portrayed in the sustainable development literature as subsidiary and complementary to the central role of business --a position quite satisfactory to such entirely corporate groups as the Business Council for Sustainable Development set up by an industrialist who was advisor to the UN Secretary General at the Earth Summit. "Governments," the Council's major report enjoins, must "create the frameworks in which business can produce the technology, the innovations, and the processes for sustainable development. Business leaders are looking forward to improved conditions as governments begin to deregulate markets, privatize enterprises, and stabilize basic economic conditions."13

Resistance to Neoliberalism & Sustainable Development

As a result of the systematic imposition of Neoliberal policies in Latin America in the wake of the international debt crisis, their impact on humans, forests, rivers, oceans, and the atmosphere have been widely observed and intensely critiqued. The dramatic discrepancies between the proclaimed principles and practice, between pro-environmental laws and their non-enforcement, have become too obvious to ignore. Governments that have sworn to safeguard "Nature's treasures", look aside as state firms and multinational corporations plunder the earth and cover what is left with toxic wastes. Pledged to sustainable agrarian practices they drive peasants from the land and collaborate with drug lords and Northern police and banks to create the biggest export industry of all: narcotics --one proven to have meshed all the necessary attributes of sustainability and profit. All together they declaim the urgent necessities of preserving sea and air while profiting mightly from overfishing, waste disposal on land and at sea, endless burning and the production of ozone killing gases.14

The rapaciousness of Neoliberal policies --whether in Latin America or elsewhere-- have provoked an increasingly widespread resistance. Efforts to reduce wilderness to natural resources are being fought by eco-warriors.15 Efforts to privatize communal lands and to impose corporate property rights on their cultural heritage and environmental knowledge are being fought by peasants and by indigenous peoples everywhere. Efforts to turn communities into waste dumps for the poisonous by-products of socially irresponsible Neoliberal development are being resisted by Ogoni blacks, Texas red-necks and European Greens. From the indigenous Zapatista uprising in Southern Mexico to recent anti-nuclear waste mobilizations in Germany struggles are spreading, linking up and complementing one another. Many have recognized Neoliberalism as a whirling maelstrom of greed, hot money, narrow vision and brutal violence threatening to suck down and destroy all who come within its reach.

"That lesson is always the same: 'Act like you know what you're doing.' 'This is the fundamental axiom of power politics under Neoliberalism,' their teacher has told them. And they asked her, 'and what is Neoliberalism, dear teacher?' The teacher doesn't respond, but I can deduce from her perplexed expression, her red eyes, the drool that drips from her parted lips, and the evident wear on the sole of her right shoe, that the teacher doesn't dare to tell the truth to her students. And the truth is that, as I discovered, Neoliberalism is the chaotic theory of economic chaos, the stupid exaltation of social stupidity, and the catastrophic political management of catastrophe." (Don Durito of the Lacandon, 1995)16

In reaction to this understanding of the dangers of Neoliberalism, many are rowing hard to port to avoid the maelstrom on their starboard beam. But as Odysseus' men discovered to their horror, alternatives unclearly seen can be every bit as dangerous as the blatantly obvious. Indeed, as the corporate world moved rapidly in the late 1980s and early 1990s to adopt "sustainable development" as its own banner, the monster in the mist was growing new heads with frightening rapidity.

Fortunately, with time, study and experience the outlines of Scylla have been perceived and sketched, the "high-jacking" of ecological issues by business and state planners has been analyzed and warning buoys have been deployed. One such buoy, or set of buoys, is the work of German Green, Wolfgang Sachs, editor of the DEVELOPMENT DICTIONARY (1992) and GLOBAL ECOLOGY: A NEW ARENA OF POLITICAL CONFLICT (1993).17 In his own work Sachs has traced the co-optation of sustainable development into an ideology that provides a new rationale for "environmental management" and reinforces the role of "experts" at the expense of the grassroots.18 In the Development Dictionary he assembled a variety of buoys in the form of warning essays from various parts of the world, some North, some South. Among them can be found essays by Serge Latouche from France who wrote FAUT-IL REFUSÆ’ LE DEVELOPPEMENT? (1986) and LA PLANÆ’TE DES NAUFRAGÆ’S (1991), Vandana Shiva from India, author of STAYING ALIVE: WOMEN, ECOLOGY & DEVELOPMENT (1989), Ivan Illich founder of CIDOC in Cuernavaca, Mexico and Gustavo Esteva from Mexico author (with Madhu Suri Prakash of India) of the forthcoming book GRASSROOTS POSTMODERNISM: HUMAN RIGHTS, THE INDIVIDUAL SELF AND THE GLOBAL ECONOMY (1997?).19 All of these authors have not only elaborated critiques of sustainable development but, eschewing utopian speculation or ideological rhetoric, have evoked or sought to map existing alternatives at the grassroots.

At the heart of these critiques is a shift in focus from the adjective to the noun, from "sustainable" to "development". The "lost decade" in Latin America produced by Neoliberal responses to the debt crisis generated plenty of critiques of Neoliberalism. But all too often by focusing on the practical incompatibility of Neoliberal reforms with sustainability, those critiques wound up denouncing merely a form and missing the substance: development itself. The shift in focus to "development" has amounted to a wholesale assault on the economy as such and the modern hegemony of the economy over all of social life. With this theme, these authors have picked up a thread of social critique that ran from Karl Marx through Karl Polanyi to a wide variety of both Marxist and non-Marxist critics of capitalism. Among them Ivan Illich is probably the most central figure in this renewal as he has, in his own idiosyncratic way, extended the Marxist critique of commodification from manufacturing to the services (schools, medicine, housework) while favoring Polanyi's language over Marx's, e.g., what is critiqued rather than capitalism is industrialism (a few years back) or the economy (more recently) and the possibilities of renewal are discussed in terms of the vernacular, or subsistence, rather than communism or self- valorization.20 Despite these differences, the similarities are many and the preference for a new language in the wake of the Soviet appropriation of Marxism as an ideology of domination and exploitation is easy to understand.

Discourse analysis aside, the basic thrust of the critique is quite clear: there is no form of development, sustainable or otherwise, compatible with the health of Nature as a whole, including human beings within it. The economy, i.e., capitalism, IS the problem and cannot be part of the solution. To hand over the protection of Nature to business amounts to delivering it to those who have been systematically abusing it for centuries. The urgent work of undoing the damage already inflicted and avoiding more in the future must be taken into the hands of those for whom Nature is more than a resource to be exploited in a sustained manner.

Yet, this intellectual work of resistance has been done very much on the sidelines of mainstream policy discussions. The discussion has even been marginal to the most fervent advocates of sustainable development and has only recently begun to receive the attention it deserves, and only now as a result of much more dramatic forms of refusal --above all the Zapatista Rebellion in Southern Mexico.

The People of the Corn Strike Back

Since erupting into public view on January 1, 1994 the Zapatista Rebellion in Chiapas has become a world-event. A rag-tag indigenous army with more wooden rifles than real ones, and with more human dignity in its few thousands than the whole corrupt Mexican government and its army put together, the Zapatistas have found ways of expressing the hopes and aspirations of Chiapanecan peasants that have touched hearts and fired imaginations throughout Mexico and around the world. In a simple language, rooted in the day to day lives and cultures of its communities, Zapatista communiqu*s and writings have elaborated a critique of Neoliberalism that while focused on Mexico has resonated with its victims and opponents in both hemispheres. At the same time, their major spokesperson Subcommandante Marcos has conjured from the same source visions of alternatives that have had an equally wide appeal despite their largely local origins and framing.21

Against Neoliberal reforms the Zapatistas have revealed its brutal reality: the final enclosure of the Mexican commons, deepened exploitation, increased suffering from malnutrition, lack of medical care, daily violence and cultural genocide against the indigenous. Against the Mexican government's Neoliberal Dream of a competitive Mexican ship rowing vigorously in a free market sea captained by Harvard-trained economists, the Zapatistas have revealed a Nightmare. The boat, they have pointed out, is no free adventurer but a slave ship, the rowers are chained to their oars and the captains either corrupt or delusional. Ex-president Carlos Salinas and current President Ernesto Zedillo are neither Jason nor Odysseus but mad Ahabs who have been steering their country to catastrophe.22 Faced with such madness, the Zapatistas have demanded direct democratic control over their own lives and convoked others (in civil society) to demand the same.

Against the vertical subordination of indigenous needs to those of "Mexican" development, whose dynamic in turn has been subordinated to global markets (i.e., capitalist global policy in this period), the Zapatistas have called for a horizontally interlinked and cooperative pattern of autonomy --for the indigenous communities, for women, and for bioregions. No pastoralists, despite their agrarian origins, they envision no abandonment of modern industries and technologies that can be turned to good account, but instead offer a fundamental reordering of social priorities and liberation from all mandates of development (accumulation).

At the same time, they have refused to be caught in what Marcos calls the trap of mirrors, in illusions of difference which upon close examination turn out to be but inverted mirror images. The most important of these mirrors have been political ones: oppositional political parties which remain integral cogs of a repressive political machine and more broadly socialism as mirror image of capitalism, differing only in patterns of ownership and the distribution managerial responsibility among private and public sectors, but at the core no different from its supposed nemesis. Such a perspective almost guaranteed immunity from the seductions of "sustainable" development.

By July of 1994 the Zapatista Rebellion had turned "sustainable development" into an issue of National Security in the United States. Not only was the US Defense Department aiding the Mexican government with advice and matriel for low intensity warfare, but Senator Timothy Wirth gave a speech before the National Press Club in which he suggested that sustainable development could provide a policy framework to replace the now vanished Cold War. One of his examples was Chiapas where "resource conflicts", he argued, "underlie the insurgency".23 Unfortunately, the concrete contribution of the US government to sustaining Neoliberal development in Mexico has been to ship more military hardware (e.g. helicopters) for political repression and vast monies ($50 billion) to bailout panicked speculators (in the wake of the Peso Crisis in December 1994).

For a great many of the grassroots who have heard or read the Zapatista message around the world, on the Internet or in local translations, the portrayal of reality and the vision of viable alternatives has been like a breath of fresh air. Thousands have, in turn, responded with enthusiasm. In country after country (almost 50 at last count) they have mobilized opposition to the Mexican repression of the Zapatistas and the indigenous and they have entered into discussions about and dialog with the Zapatista analysis and proposals.

The extent of this influence was difficult to measure because it was so spread out. It became easier and even more impressive when the Zapatistas issued in January of 1996 an open Call to civil society for a global dialog on Neoliberalism and alternatives.24 They suggested a series of continental encounters to be held in the Spring of 1996 and then an Intercontinental Encounter for the Summer of that year. They issued their call with some trepidation and little expectation. Who were they, after all, to convoke the world? To their amazement the call was answered with enthusiasm. Continental meetings were in fact organized in the Spring and drew thousands of grassroots militants (the one in Europe met in Berlin). The Summer Intercontinental drew over three thousand participants from some 42 countries and five continents.25 Unlike international meetings organized by business, the state, or academics, e.g., Rio in 1992, these gatherings had no institutional funding, no high-tech conference facilities and no promise of payoff (neither profits nor publication) except for the opportunity to accelerate the struggle to build a new world.

In a week of intensive interaction, in the rain and mud of Chiapanecan jungle villages, these thousands discussed and debated the global relevance of the Zapatista critique of Neoliberalism and began a discussion of alternatives --a discussion in which "sustainable development" was often evoked, and critiqued. The manifest differences in perspective and analysis were many and expected. What was unexpected was the extraordinary consensus that the real problem, of which Neoliberalism was only the current manifestation, was capitalism. Gustavo Esteva and several other contributors to the DEVELOPMENT DICTIONARY mentioned above attended the Intercontinental Encounter and their anti- economy critique of development, sustainable and otherwise, was received with sympathy or with echoes. But by far the central object of critique and ire was capitalism, not this or that kind of capitalism, but capitalism per se. What also became apparent was that even among the politicos in attendance, among those whom one might have expected to evoke past visions of socialism or communism, the Zapatista discourse and example of looking for alternatives within concrete communities overshadowed old inclinations and stirred new imagination.

Since the first few weeks of the Zapatista uprising, their struggle has been primarily political rather than military and their victories have been multiple. Surrounded by tens of thousands of Mexican troops and constantly subjected to all the ploys of low intensity warfare, the Zapatistas have repeatedly confounded and confused the officials of the Mexican government. They have reenacted, in their own ways, the ancient Mayan story told in the POPOL VUH of the defeat of the vicious Xibalbans by two children: little Hunahpu and Xbalanque. In that story the Xibalbans are portrayed in words quite appropriate for the Mexican government:

They are makers of enemies, users of owls, they are masters of hidden intentions as well, they are black and white, masters of stupidity, masters of perplexity

Like the two boys, the Zapatistas have been achiving victory over the more powerful not through the force of arms but "only through wonders, only through self-transformation."26 Their imagination and creativity in struggle is already legendary.27

Many who have read the ODYSSEY, upon coming to the passage where Odysseus must choose between Charybdis and Scylla have asked themselves the obvious question: why didn't he just sail somewhere other than the Straits of Medina and avoid two bad choices? Why take Circe's word that no other path was feasible? She may have been a Goddess, but by that time Odysseus should have learned to be wary of advice from on high! (It was jealous Circe [capital?], after all, who had turned Glaucus' [ecologists?] lovely Scylla [respect for Nature?] into a monster [sustainable development?].) Drawing on an entirely different mythological tradition, that of Mesoamerica, the Zapatistas have avoided Odysseus' mistake. They have looked sideways, not up, for advice, to peasants (Old Man Antonio) and even beetles (Don Durito) and they have been rethinking many things, including the relationship between humans and the world around them.

In Mayan mythology as in the daily life of the men and women of the corn, Nature is not a unified something but a multiplicity of which they are a part. The MILPA from which they draw sustenance from the earth and sky and the COMIDA where together they consume it link them with the rest of the cosmos.28 In some ways their vision was expressed in poetic echo by Fernando Pessoa in the 20th Century:

I saw that there was no Nature, That Nature does not exist, That there are mountains, valleys, plains, That there are trees, flowers, grasses, That there are streams and stones, But that there's not a whole to which this belongs, That any real and true connection Is a disease of our ideas. Nature is parts without a whole. This is perhaps that mystery they speak of. (Caeiro/Pessoa)29

The Zapatistas are revolutionaries, not ecologists, certainly not environmentalists, but they have learned on the ground that there can be no harmony in the indigenous cosmos without a reversal of their separation from the land and a grounding of their own health in that of the soil, the forests and the rivers. The people of the Zapatista communities are not hunter gatherers, they are not forest dwellers and when the Mexican Army has forced them to flee into the deep jungles and mountains they have suffered atrociously. They are people of the soil, agriculturists, even when they go into the cities to work for wages because other options have been stolen from them. In their public discourse the Zapatistas have emphasized these particularities of their roots and their culture but they have not held it forth as a universal guide, or template, for others to follow or fit themselves into. They have set them forth to demonstrate not THE way, but one way, one alternative to what are usually presented as the only options. And by so doing they --like other indigenous groups in recent years-- have stirred others, even city folk, to look away from the mirrors of reflected inverted images for real, instead of illusory alternatives.

From my point of view, one of the most attractive things about Zapatista thinking and politics is just this emphasis on multiplicity, on the power of collective bodies and on diverse paths or lines of flight that these bodies can trace into the future.30 Two great mistakes in the Western revolutionary tradition have been the obsession with totalization and the idea that system must follow system. Revolutionaries, despite their rejection of capitalism's imperial efforts to absorb the world and impose a universal hegemony, have still thought the future in terms of unity and counter-hegemony. Many Marxists have believed that just as a unifying capitalist system followed feudalism, so must some unifying system called socialism (or communism) be constructed to replace capitalism. Many radical environmentalists, while condemning the destructiveness of capitalism's imposed unity, think in terms of bio-systems, of a holistic Gaia. To use Marcos' metaphor of mirrors, such conceptions, even in the intellectual form of the dialectic, or the spiritual form of Goddess worship, never escape an endlessly repeated mirroring of the past in which the best you get is inversion (e.g., public instead of private ownership, Mother Nature instead of God-the-Father) but no liberation of human society from a single hegemonic framework for the organization of life, no liberation of humans or the rest of Nature from the imposition of singular measures of value (e.g., money or labor). To see that mirrors can be set aside and newness crafted links the Zapatistas' vision to the best of contemporary Western thought, to a certain anti-dialectical tradition of philosophy, to the embrace of difference within contemporary feminism, to autonomist Marxism and to the most interesting biocentric explorations of deep ecologists.31

The implications of this line of thinking are at least two-fold: first, recognizing that we can reject the normally inescapable framework of the economy (capitalism) means that we are freed to see what alternatives are already being elaborated, and second, freed from the search for a single comprehensive alternative, we can take a more enjoyable phenomenological and experimental approach to the study of and participation in the crafting of alternatives. Unlike Odysseus, we can thank Circe sweetly for her "roasted meat and good red wine" and sail off into the sunset on courses of our own choosing. Whether we sail in search of CamÝes' Isle of Love or follow Odysseus to Lisbon or head off into completely unknown waters, we are truly free to choose. We can even, like Old Man Antonio, simply paddle our log canoe into the middle of a quiet mountain lake, under a full moon, have a smoke and tell old tales for each other's amusement and edification.32

To conclude. We must find ways to link the emerging alternative new approaches to redefining and organizing the genesis and distribution of "wealth" and to crafting new relationships among humans and between them and the rest of the universe in ways that are capable of linked or complementary action. There are many on- going experiments around the world whose experiences and creativity can be shared. This does not mean unity for socialism or any other singular post-capitalist "economic" order, but rather the building of cooperative interconnections among diverse projects. Nor does it mean a delinked and divided localism. It means putting together a new mosaic of interconnected alternative approaches to meeting our needs and elaborating our desires. It means inventing new politics that welcome differences but provide processes of interaction which minimize antagonism.

Harry Cleaver Austin, Texas April, 1997


* This paper was prepared for the 4th Ecology Meeting on "Economy and Ecology" held by the Instituto Piaget, Viseu, Portugal, April 17-19, 1997.

1 Homer, THE ODYSSEY, translated by Robert Fitzgerald, Garden City: Anchor, 1963, Book 12, Lines 210-217.

2 See, for example: Francis Fox Piven and Richard Cloward, THE NEW CLASS WAR: REAGAN'S ATTACK ON THE WELFARE STATE AND ITS CONSEQUENCES, New York: Pantheon, 1982.

3 In Camoes' time (the 16th Century) concern for the poor was the province of the clergy. Athough in the present period it is supposedly in the hands of politicians, the evil that roused Camoes' ire remains the same. Here is the original from Lu's de Camoes, OS LUSIADAS, Segundo o legitimo texto, Tomo Segundo, Avinhao: Francisco Seguin, 1818, Canto Nono, #28, p. 120.:

Ve que aquelles que devem a pobreza Amor divino, e ao povo cariadade, Amam somente mandos, e riqueza, Simulando justica, e integridade Da fea tyrannia, e de aspereza, Fazem direito, e va severidade: Leis em favor do Rei se estabelecem, As em favor do povo so perecem.

4 Fernando Pessoa, SELECTED POEMS, 2nd Edition, translated by Jonathan Griffin, London: Penguin, 1982. This passage is from poem 1 of Pessoa's The Keeper of Sheep. Here is the original from Fernando Pessoa, OBRA POETICA E EM PROSA, Porto: Lello & Irmao Editores, 1986, p. 740:

Eu nunca guardei rebanhos Mas e como se os guardasse. Minha alma e come um pastor, Conhece o vento e o sol E anda pela mao das Estacoes A seguir e a olhar.

5 Such arguments led to the UNCED statement on the principles of forest management, conservation and sustainable development.

6 At the level of global policy discussions the problem of sustainability had been raised earlier by the Club of Rome report LIMITS TO GROWTH (1972) and the World Conservation Strategy (1980).

7 World Commission on Environment and Development, OUR COMMON FUTURE, New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.

8 See, for example, The World Bank, WORLD DEVELOPMENT REPORT 1992: Development and the Environment, New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

9 Thomas J. DiLorenzo, "The Mirage of Sustainable Development," FUTURIST, September-October 1993, Vol. 27, No. 5, p. 14(6).

10 Jim MacNeill, Pieter Winsemius and Taizo Yakushiji, BEYOND INTERDEPENDENCE: THE MESHING OF THE WORLD'S ECONOMY AND THE EARTH'S ECOLOGY, A Trilateral Commission Book, New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.

11 Lester R. Brown, Christopher Flavin and Sandra Postel, SAVING THE PLANET: HOW TO SHAPE AN ENVIRONMENTALLY SUSTAINABLE GLOBAL ECONOMY, New York: W.W.Norton & Company, 1991.

12 Christopher Flavin, "Shaping the Next Industrial Revolution (environmentally sustainable development)" USA TODAY (Magazine), March 1994, Vol. 122, No. 2586, p. 78(4).

13 Stephan Schmidheiny with the Business Council for Sustainable Development, CHANGING COURSE: A GLOBAL BUSINESS PERSPECTIVE ON DEVELOPMENT AND THE ENVIORNMENT, Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1992.

14 See for example, Philip Howard and Thomas Homer-Dixon, ENVIRONMENTAL SCARCITY AND VIOLENT CONFLICT: THE CASE OF CHIAPAS, Mexico, American Association for the Advancement of Science and University College, University of Toronto, 1995 and Joel Simon, ENDANGERED MEXICO: AN ENVIRONMENT ON THE EDGE, Sierra Club, 1997. The greatest critiques of the ecological devastation of neoliberal policies, however, come not from academics but from the grassroots. See the collection of articles on the large-scale protests of environmental and agricultural damage done by the Mexican national oil company PEMEX in Tabasco at URL: gopher:// basco%20Conflict Similar damage and similar struggles can be found in Ogoniland in Nigeria where Shell Oil has wrecked environmental and human havoc. See The World Council of Churches' report Ogoni: The Struggle Continues, 1996, especially the chapter on "environmental devastation." So widespread are such indigenous and campesino protests that an International Indigenous People's Tribunal is being organized for the Summer of 1997 to hold hearings on the contradictions between the Rio Summit principles and the actual practices of government-sanctioned multinational corporate investors.


16 Don Durito of the Lacandon is a beetle, the literary creation of Subcommandante Marcos, principle spokesperson for the indigenous Zapatista National Liberation Army in Chiapas, Mexico. Don Durito plays Don Quixote (on a turtle named Pegasus) to Marcos' Sancho Panza and the dialogs between the two provide a comical frame for introducing outsiders to the problems, analyses and solutions being discussed within the Zapatista communities. A complete (so far) set of the dialogs has been translated into English, illustrated and made available on the World Wide Web at URL:

17 Wolfgang Sachs (ed), THE DEVELOPMENT DICTIONARY: A GUIDE TO KNOWLEDGE AS POWER, London: Zed Books, 1992. Wolfgang Sachs (ed), GLOBAL ECOLOGY: A NEW ARENA OF POLITICAL CONFLICT, London: Zed Books, 1993.

18 See, for example, his essay on "Environment" in The DEVELOPMENT DICTIONARY, Ibid.


20 See, for example: Ivan Illich, DESCHOOLING SOCIETY, New York: Harper & Row, 1971, Ivan Illich, TOOLS FOR CONVIVIALITY, New York: Harper & Row, 1973, Ivan Illich, MEDICAL NEMESIS: THE EXPROPRIATION OF HEALTH, New York: Pantheon, 1976, Ivan Illich, et. al., DISABLING PROFESSIONS, Boston: Marion Boyars, 1977, Ivan Illich, TOWARD A HISTORY OF NEEDS, Berkeley: Heyday Books, 1977, Ivan Illich, SHADOW WORK, Boston: Marion Boyars, 1981.

21 Although the general thrust of this statement is accurate, it is also true that Marcos is clearly familiar with and able to speak in terms of concepts and conceptual frameworks familiar to Northern intellectuals. This has enhanced his ability to translate and make accessible the local, historically rooted experience and ideas of the Zapatista communities.

22 In terms of the Mayan story of the children Hunahpu and Xbalanque mentioned earlier, Salinas and Zedillo find their counterparts in the duplicitous One and Seven Deaths, the two principle Lords of Xibalba, the underworld. Like those mythical Lords, modern Mexican leaders rule only through blood sacrifice. The main difference between these two thanatocracies being that instead of getting "cleanly blotted blood" through public sacrifice, these modern Xibalbans get their dirty blood in isolated villages through murder by soldiers and White Guards and in prison cells through torture and executions by the state police.

23 Timothy E. Wirth, "Sustainable Development and National Security" (statement before the National Press Club), US DEPARTMENT OF STATE DISPATCH, July 25, 1994, Vol. 5, No. 30, p. 489(5).

24 The Call was entitled "First Declaration de la Realidad" (La Realidad being a village in highland Chiapas). That declaration can be found on the WWW at URL: realidad.htm

25 Materials from and about the First Intercontinental Encounter can be found on the WWW at URL: ntinental/Welcome.html

26 The POPUL VUH is the classic remaining text of Mayan mythology (the Spanish conquistadors burned all the others as the first act in a 500 year history of attempted cultural genocide). For the story of Hunahpu and Xbalanque see Part III of POPOL VUH: THE MAYAN BOOK OF THE DAWN OF LIFE, translated by Dennis Tedlock, revised edition, New York: Touchstone, 1996, pp. 116- 139.

27 When the government sent 15,000 troups against the Zapatistas in early 1994, they responded with an appeal to civil society that brought hundreds of thousands into the streets of Mexico City and numerous observers to Chiapas --which forced the government into a cease-fire and negotiations. When the government sought to keep their struggle hidden from the world through its control of the media, they responded with a deluge of interviews, communiqu*s and stories whose seriousness, detail and humor were translated and appreciated in country after country. Their supporters responded by elaborating a complex alternative information system trough the Internet that completely outflanked the government monopoly of mass media. When the government sought to maintain the fiction that the locus of Mexican politics was formal elections in mid- August 1994, the Zapatistas organized an alternative politics through an unprecedented, huge gathering of 6,000 grassroots Mexican activists in the jungle of Chiapas a week earlier. When the government stole the elections, Zapatista supporters responded with an alternative local government in Chiapas and the creation of Consulats in Exile in many countries. In the wake of the government's unilateral abrogation of the cease-fire and negotiations in February of 1995 by sending 50,000 troops into Zapatista communities, the EZLN retreated into the mountains and jungles while its supporters in civil society launched widespread protests so much greater than than the previous year that once again the government offensive was defeated. Subsequently, the Zapatistas regained the political initiative by organizing first a national and international referendum (in which millions participated) about the form that their struggle should take and later the Continental and Intercontinental Encounters mentioned above. In each of these movements the Zapatistas have defeated the government not with guns but by using their imagination and creativity to transform their struggle in ways that have outflanked and bypassed the state's repressive measures.

28 There is a nice discussion of the comida and its significance in Esteva and Prakesh's forthcoming book.

29 Fernando Pessoa, SELECTED POEMS, 2nd Edition, translated by Jonathan Griffin, London: Penguin, 1982. This passage is from poem 47 of Pessoa's The Keeper of Sheep. Here is the original from Fernando Pessoa, OBRA POETICA E EM PROSA, Porto: Lello & Irmao Editores, 1986, p. 775:

Vi que nao ha Natureza Que Natureza nao existe, Que ha montes, vales, planicies, Que ha arvores, flores, ervas, Que ha rios e pedras, Mas que nao ha um todo a que isso pertenca, Que um conjunto real e verdadeiro € uma doenca das nossas ideias. A Natureza e partes sem um todo. Isto e talvezo tal misterio de que falam.

30 For an extremely interesting study that draws parallels between mesoamerican mythology, contemporary Mayan social practices and Gilles Deleuze's reworking of Spinoza's concepts of collective bodies see: Byrt Wammack, BETWEEN DELEUZE AND CHAAC: BODIES, POWER AND SPACE, Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Texas at Austin, August 1997.

31 On the anti-dialectical tradition see the work of Gilles Deleuze. The feminists include Luce Iragaray and Donna Haraway. For a brief introduction to the autonomist Marxist tradition see the introduction to Harry Cleaver, READING CAPITAL POLITICALLY, Austin: University of Texas Press, 1979. On deep ecology and biocentrism see: Bill Devall and George Sessions, Deep Ecology, Salt Lake City: G.M.Smith, 1985.

32 Old Man Antonio's tale telling appears in Subcommandante Marcos' BOOK OF MIRRORS, (English translation) that is available on the WWW at URL: .