Finding Pathways to a Better Future

By John Foran

A proposal that our movements confront the issue of Political Power, finding new ways to take and use it.

Where Have We Been?

Unlike other ecosocialists, I have long argued that the path to radical social transformation called for the formation of the most inventive social movement the world has ever seen. But as a scholar of twentieth-century revolutions and twenty-first century movements for radical social change, I have started to come around to the idea that the urgency of the crisis in which we find ourselves, and the lack of adequate action on all sides (myself very much included) means that we need to consider the necessity of imagining something akin to a new kind of party. What if we rejected the binary between movement and party, elections and direct action, acted upon the urgency of the mandate for thinking in new ways, and embraced a creative synthesis of the two? This essay will explore our predicament and the prospects for ways out of it along these lines.

The world as we know it is crashing around us. The signs are evident, and they are everywhere: intense, extreme storms, floods, drought, heat, rain, fire, and winds – nothing is as it was. Politicians don’t know what to do, and the actions of so many of them seem downright cruel, vacuous, or incompetent. The devastation of war, military operations, policing, lethal drones, and physical attacks roll over populations entirely innocent of any crime. The slow grind of debt, privation, and daily exploitation wears on more than half of Earth’s human inhabitants. Non-human creatures are dying out in record numbers as Earth’s systems are polluted, contaminated, and wracked by the endless extraction of fossil fuels, minerals, and the loss of healthy soil and water.

We are called, therefore. To what, we do not know exactly. In the face of the Anthropocene and the climate crisis, militarism and inequality, and a widespread lack of political voice it is hard to know what to do. Very hard.

Yet it is precisely this question, this existential challenge, to which we must bring our imaginations and love, in search of the greatest transformation we are capable of conjuring up – a Great Transition of all our systems – to something whole and nourishing for the planet and for the generations of Earthly creatures to come.

The good news is that millions – perhaps billions – of us know the score, and are ready to rise or already rising to the call. Transition initiatives, intentional communities, networks of educators, activists, and ordinary people, social movements large and small, streets of neighbors, and here and there political groupings have all emerged in recent years, determined both to block the machinery of death and to create the means of life.

It is to these beginnings of hope that we should now turn our attention. To continue with business as usual is to slowly sink into chaos. The time is now and the agents are us, and those around us, in every corner of the Earth. To turn away is to go extinct. We must rise.

Naming the Enemy

A sober look at the root causes of the present crisis points unambiguously to the normal workings of capitalism as an economic system and a way of life as a (and perhaps the) prime reason for the interconnected ills that beset us. Underlying this, we find the patriarchal and racial hierarchies that capitalism’s elites thrive on, the history of their colonial plunder and the dysfunctional operation of neoliberal globalization, and the militarism, violence, and lack of participation that permeate and poison our cultures. On top of it all, the climate crisis, made by the endless search for profit over people, the planet, and life itself, now condemns us to a future of extreme weather in ecosystems that will not recover for an eternity of generations to come. To be clear, it’s the interconnected nature of the economic, political, and cultural crises of our times with the climate crisis that is at the root of our predicament in this century.

A fossil fuel based capitalist economy is destroying the world’s ecosystem. (A thermal power station in New Delhi, India. Pic. Ashish Kothari).

What is more, the governments and the economic elites of the world do not have this steadily worsening crisis under control. The Paris Agreement signed by 195 nations of the world in December 2015 offers no chance of containing global warming under the thresholds that science suggests must not be passed. The Agreement is weak because it is not legally binding, and the pledges, even if all met, would still raise global temperatures in this century by around three degrees Celsius, well past the “extremely dangerous” two degree threshold. The casual stinginess and blinkered selfishness of the wealthy nations of the global North which refuse to pay their climate debt with generous financing of the renewable energy revolution required by the under-resourced countries of the global South greatly magnifies the problem.

Meanwhile, the proven reserves of the fossil fuel corporations and oil-exporting countries propel a business model that entails burning more than five times the amount of fossil fuels that the Earth can handle. If one wants to hold to the more stringent, far safer limit of 1.5 degrees, and have a better than 80 percent chance (Russian roulette odds) of staying under that, we have less than nine years left till the planet runs the risk of passing the tipping points that may trigger runaway climate chaos.

What could the solution be to all of this?

Political Cultures of Opposition: A Brief History of the Twentieth Century

Let’s step back for a moment and look at the broad course of human-made radical social transformation in the twentieth century. After promising beginnings, the great revolutions of the century – in Mexico, Russia, China, Cuba, Nicaragua, Iran, and in many former colonies – all failed to realize the dreams and visions of those who made them. For the most part, these were led by men and fought by means of armed insurrection, two fatal (if arguably necessary) flaws which led to the construction of new revolutionary states that were long on repression of speech and short on accountability to the people they ruled. This is not to deny, at all, the great material gains that were made in some places, and the notable improvements in the lives of millions of people. Nor is it to minimize the daunting challenges of providing a decent life in societies ravaged by colonial and imperialist domination, often threatened with force of arms by global powers like the United States. In the one place where revolutionaries came to power in free and fair elections, under the Popular Unity government of Salvador Allende in Chile in 1970, the “Chilean path to socialism” was ruthlessly crushed by the military and the United States. The list of interventions by the United States between 1945 and the present includes several dozen instances of such fatal meddling. Attempts at radical social transformation were everywhere met by nearly overwhelming force across the twentieth century. Where a people survived, as in Cuba, the substantial gains that resulted were paid for dearly with a lack of political voice and other freedoms.

If we return to the original impulse that animated these grand, tragic attempts at deep social change, and ask what drove them, against all the odds, we see in every case strong and vibrant political cultures of opposition and resistance (PCOs) that proved capable of bringing diverse social groups to the side of movements. These political cultures originated in people’s experiences and emotions and were expressed in complex mixtures of popular, everyday ways of articulating grievances – whether in terms of fairness, justice, dignity, or freedom – and more consciously formulated radical ideologies such as socialism, nationalism, liberation theology, and anti-colonialism.

Figure 1      The making of twentieth-century political cultures of opposition in the Mexican, Russian, Chinese, Cuban, Iranian, and Nicaraguan revolutions

In any given society, there usually exist multiple political cultures of opposition, for people do not necessarily share the same experiences, speak similar idioms, or respond as one to the call of formal ideologies. The most effective revolutionary movements of history found ways to tap into whatever political cultures emerged in their society and to bridge the gaps between them, often through the creation of a clear and concise common demand such as “the regime must step down” or “the foreign powers must leave.” When this happens, a movement’s chances of growth and success are considerably increased.

The forging of a strong and vibrant political culture of opposition is thus an accomplishment, carried through by the actions of many people, and, like revolutions themselves, such cultures have been relatively rare in human history.

Political Cultures of Creation: A Brief Survey of the Present

Those who would bring about deep social transformation in the present century have proceeded in some crucially different ways from their forerunners in the twentieth, above all by their stress on non-violence and deep participation. The most encompassing of these include the global justice movement, the Arab Spring, the Occupy movements across the world, and today’s global climate justice movement. Today, a vast, loose network of movements involves many thousands of local initiatives, movements, and campaigns.

In the twenty-first century, movements for radical social change (1) – a term more suited for purpose to this century’s great social movements than revolution – have themselves changed, as activists, reformers, dreamers, and revolutionaries globally have increasingly pursued nonviolent paths to a better world, intending to live and act as they would like that world to be. That is, the ends of justice are no longer held to justify the means of violence, but the means of non-violent resistance reflect and guarantee the ends that they seek. In this, they embody and illustrate the virtues of ‘prefigurative politics’ and in particular horizontalist ways to realize them.

Movements for change are emerging from the immediate socio-ecological contexts of the communities. (A protest rally against the Narmada Dam in India. Pic. Ashish Kothari)

In this way, today’s movements, in addition to political cultures of opposition and resistance, also place strong emphasis on what might be called political cultures of creation ” (or PCOCs, which may be conveniently read out loud as “peacocks”!). This recognizes that movements become even stronger when they add a positive vision of a better world to a widely felt culture of opposition and resistance, thus providing an alternative to strive for that could improve on or replace what exists .(2) In this sense, some of the differences between old and new movements for radical social change include the attempt to get away from the hierarchical organizations that made the great revolutions of the twentieth century and move in the direction of more horizontal, deeply democratic relations among participants; the greater expressive power of popular idioms than appeals to ideology; visionary narratives and compelling stories using all manner of media; the growing use of civil disobedience and militant nonviolence; the building of intersectional coalitions as networks that include diverse outlooks; and the salience of political cultures of creation alongside political cultures of opposition and resistance. And to be fair, the great social revolutions also possessed political cultures of creation, in their own fashion, more aligned on ideologies of socialism, nationalism, and anti-colonialism.

Figure 2      The emergence of “new” political cultures of opposition and creation in the twenty-first century (dotted lines indicate relationships that are more loosely connected): the Zapatistas and the Global Justice Movement are bolded so as to stand out from the italicized Pink Tide of elected left governments in Latin America, with commonalities in plain text.


The obvious political question is: Can all our new political cultures of opposition and creation produce – or at least contribute to – the type of global transformation that is needed to deal with a world in crisis? Twenty-first century movements for radical social change have shown an ability to move beyond ideology in favor of the strengths of popular idioms and powerful, strategic memes demanding social justice (e.g. Black Lives Matter! and Water is Life!). But how to fashion large-scale popular spaces for democracy, and how to articulate the discourses that will bring together the broadest coalitions ever seen onto a global stage constitute great challenges.

The left has achieved state power in an important set of Latin American countries but it has not possessed the will, internal support, or in some cases the global room for maneuver to decisively redirect resources to the poorest sectors of society. The desultory experiences of Obama and the European Center-Left have shown rather clearly the limited room for maneuver and the dimming prospects for significant reform, domestically or globally, through these parties, locked as they are inside the straitjacket of neoliberal capitalist globalization. The Zapatistas have registered dramatic communal gains on a local level, but they have not been so successful at generalizing these accomplishments beyond Chiapas. The global justice movement raised significant opposition to neoliberal institutions like the World Trade Organization in Seattle, but it was unable – perhaps understandably – to reverse the tide of neoliberal capitalism, especially after George Bush’s invasion of Iraq forced much of it to evolve into a peace movement..

What, then, is to be done?

What We Might Try

What lies in fact between or beyond direct action, prefigurative communities, and meaningful elections? One idea that occurs to me (and has occurred to others, as well – see Micah White’s excellent The End of Protest: A New Playbook for Revolution) (3) is to combine electing some as yet unknown kind of “progressive” government and forging social movements to push it from below and alongside to make good on its promises, and for the new kind of parties that would lead such governments to make links with other movements, nations, and organizations everywhere. In other words, rather than the dichotomous choice between seeking to change the world through elections versus building a new society from the bottom up, the future of radical social change may well lie at the many possible intersections of deeply democratic social movements and equally diverse and committed new types of parties and political coalitions.

Existing Models

To be sure, the political parties of the future don’t yet exist, but we can catch glimpses of them and hopefully learn from such experimental forerunners as the political movement that grew up in Iceland after the great crash of 2008, and the electoral foibles and fortunes of Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain (one could reference the Labour Party in Britain under Jeremy Corbyn (4) as trending in the direction we wish, and also the much-heralded political experiment under way in Rojava, in northern Syria. Meanwhile, in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador, the Latin American Pink Tide has also been working near this intersection. Other struggles that point toward this include the long movement for radical reforms in Kerala, India; the experiences of the world’s Green parties; and the global climate justice movement. Each of these, and perhaps most of all, Podemos, suggest or hint at a new kind of political entity or party, without yet being that party.

In Kerala, for example, a series of elected, non-charismatic (in a positive sense) left-of-center governments over the past fifty years have raised the quality of life – whether measured by nutrition, health, life span, access to food and shelter, or literacy education – to standards that are superior to elsewhere in India and would be the object of envy in most of the world. They have done this despite a lack of monetary resources, a low per capita GNP, and even with deep structural unemployment, because they have been pushed from below by strong, independent social movements in civil society, of workers, women, and lower castes. This synergetic relationship has succeeded in forging and maintaining relatively equitable, more participatory conditions of life for the more than 35 million people who live there, with reforms remaining intact even in periods when the left has not been in power.(5)

The world’s Green parties also embody a new political culture of creation, sometimes themselves acting to bridge the divide between those who seek to take state power and those who seek to transform the very nature of power. Though far from power in the U.S. and U.K., and having made truly invidious compromises when in government as in Germany, they also hint at the powerful combination of social movement dynamism from below and a new kind of party organization. Moreover, they are transnational in vision and organization in a way that other parties, including those on the left, are not.

Iceland undertook a hopeful political experiment dubbed the “Saucepan Revolution” when the raucous banging of pots and pans in well-attended street protests in January 2009 forced the right-of-center government responsible for the precipitous collapse of Iceland’s banks to yield power to a new governing coalition of socialists, democrats, greens, and the left, who were affirmed in a general election in April 2009. In the face of a horrific economic crisis, the creative actions of the Left-Green Movement and Social Democratic Alliance government, and the many networks that pressured and supported them produced solutions such as the 2009 referendum in which 98 percent of the population rejected the previous government’s agreement to repay the foreign debt of the failed banks, another indication of this new political. (6) The fragility of the new situation was laid bare in the April 2013 elections which returned the center-right to power and scuppered the promise of the newly drafted but unratified crowd-sourced People’s Constitution.

Yet all of these experiments provide real-world instances of the new political cultures of opposition and creation, and none of these movements – including the Arab Spring and Occupy Everywhere – is “over,” in the sense that most of their participants are not permanently lost to activism. As one activist put it: “When the Indigenous resistance against the Dakota Access pipeline was ended, one of the activists, White Eagle said: ‘Just because we’re being removed from that area doesn’t mean it’s over. We just have to continue to work together as a whole for this common cause, which is the protection of Mother Earth.’” (7)

What Comes Next?

Instead of these halting if promising precursors, though, what we need is some excitingly new and original kind of party (or network, or coalition) that in each country or case comes out of the social movements that would bring it to power and can then be held strictly accountable by them as it turns the ship around. Such a “party” (and the name is apt for the convivial connotations it holds) will be the patient, challenging, loving product of the actions of many people, and it will embrace the multiple, richly diverse threads of the new political cultures of opposition and creation.

The political party of the future will emerge from an eco-socialist understanding of the contemporary world and a radical imagination to make change possible.

What if we could harness the people power, radical imagination, and boundless energy of all of these new actors of the future, starting by facilitating discussions among the new social movements, then brainstorming how to fashion some new kind of party to take power where that is possible and in the process beginning to support and enable all the emerging transition initiatives to co-create radical social transformation from the local to the national level? It sounds simplistic and unrealistic, too good to be practicable. But what have we got to lose? We aren’t winning at present. We need to try something different, something we haven’t really tried before, but which has predecessors in Chile in the 1970s and the Latin American Pink Tide in this century, even though all have been contained by the great countervailing economic and political power of the global one percent, not to mention their own limitations and mistakes.

So let’s think about these pieces. The social movements have been introduced above. Not just the Arab Spring and Occupy, but their brilliant, short-lived predecessor, the global justice movement,(8) and their offspring in Black Lives Matter, Standing Rock, and many, many other rising voices, the vast majority of them not yet well known.

Meanwhile, Transition initiatives, whether by that name or (more often) some other, have sprouted and are being tended in multiple locations today, from Totnes in the U.K. to the ZAD in the woods and fields of France. The U.S. Transition Towns Gathering in the summer of 2017 brought together people engaged in this work from all parts of the country. The French film Demain and the accompanying book in English Tomorrow capture the vibrancy and possibility of these movements, across a global space that runs from urban gardens in Detroit, to a zero-waste processing plant in San Francisco, local currency in Bristol, England, a paper factory in France run on the principles of the circular economy, organic farming with solar panels on La Réunion in the Indian Ocean, and a refreshing experiment with village democracy in Kuthambakkam, India.

And if it isn’t clear now, or yet, we are striving to eventually build a future without this system, without capitalism, without endless growth, without obscene inequality, without the violence of militarism, and with democratic participation from bottom to top and back to the bottom again.

A valuable recent approach to the problem of making change in the midst of diversity and chaos is that heralded in the title of adrienne maree brown’s 2017 book, Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds. This approach counsels activists to work from the bottom up in an inclusive way to generate a collective analysis that enables all present to focus on articulating their desires and most sought-after outcomes. After starting with an assessment of the current state of relevant issues, an emergent strategy moves on to a visioning exercise to identify our ideal state, follows this with a “change analysis” stage, which outlines what needs to change in order to achieve those visions, and ends with an “action” exercise to identify the projects that group members are most passionate about, with the potential to be put into motion.

The perspective is based on strategies for organizers building movements for justice and liberation that leverage relatively simple interactions to create complex patterns, systems, and transformations – including adaptation, interdependence and decentralization, fractal awareness, resilience and transformative justice, nonlinear and iterative change, creating more possibilities.

And now it’s like … ways for humans to practice being in right relationship to our home and each other, to practice complexity, and grow a compelling future together through relatively simple interactions. Emergent strategy is how we intentionally change in ways that grow our capacity to embody the just and liberated worlds we long for.

And maybe, if I’m honest, it’s a philosophy for how to be in harmony and love, in and with the world. (9)

If this sounds more evocative than prescriptive, that’s because it’s about attending to process, cultivating relationships, maximizing our diversity, and staying open to learning and deciding in uncertain, unfolding situations, which are skills much more useful to social movements than any step-by-step list of activities to check off.

Linking Arms: A U.S. Scenario

Let us end with a speculative future set in the United States, ground zero of capitalism.(10) In the 2016 elections, the dissatisfaction of Americans with their political system was manifest, with tens of millions more eligible voters choosing not to register or vote than the number of ballots either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton received.

What if a future election in the U.S. featured candidates emerging from the young activists of the social movements and the older ones in the transition initiatives, allied with those members of the Green and other progressive parties that were willing to share the stage, disaffected Sandernistas, and committed and passionate individuals everywhere, from all across the country?

Who would run for office in this scenario? The urban gardener in Detroit, the young indigenous activist in Standing Rock, the women leading Black Lives Matter in St. Louis and many other places, the local community leaders everywhere – teachers, community organizers, daycare providers, activists, and organizers, many of them much younger than the bland batch of candidates put forward by today’s Democans and Republicrats.

A number of “blueprints” for a radical governmental policy of the future already exist. Let’s consider one of the better ones, that of Ian Angus and Simon Butler, who have written: “In every country, we need governments that break with the existing order, that are answerable only to working people, farmers, the poor, indigenous communities, and immigrants – in a word, to the victims of ecocidal capitalism, not its beneficiaries and representatives.” They continue by suggesting some of the first measures such ecosocialist governments might take:

  • Rapidly phasing out fossil fuels and biofuels, replacing them with clean energy sources such as wind, geothermal, wave, and above all, solar power;
  • Actively supporting farmers to convert to ecological agriculture; defending local food production and distribution; working actively to restore soil fertility while eliminating factory farms and polluting agribusinesses;
  • Introducing free and efficient public transport networks, and implementing urban planning policies that radically reduce the need for private trucks and cars;
  • Restructuring existing extraction, production and distribution systems to eliminate waste, planned obsolescence, pollution, and manipulative advertising, placing industries under public control when necessary, and providing full retraining to all affected workers and communities;
  • Retrofitting existing homes and buildings for energy efficiency, and establishing strict guidelines for green architecture in all new structures;
  • Ceasing all military operations at home and elsewhere; transforming the armed forces into voluntary teams charged with restoring ecosystems and assisting the victims of floods, rising oceans and other environmental disasters;
  • Ensuring universal availability of high quality health services, including birth control and abortion;
  • Launching extensive reforestation, carbon farming and biodiversity programs. (11)

Each of us will have their own list, and mine would add free lifelong education to the above, along with some kind of guaranteed income or provision of basic needs such as food and shelter. Undoubtedly, many conversations lie ahead, in which such lists are compared and synthesized into the powerful manifesto that we may one day craft.

Going Global

What if those of us in the United States pulled off something spectacular like this? That would surely alter the global balance of power for the better. And this would only be strengthened if others carried some version of it that made sense in their own contexts. Were such a government to come to power in the United States – against all odds, admittedly – it could work with others in the global North to honor their collective obligations to 1) degrow their own wasteful and harmful economies and their carbon footprints 2) cancel the debt of the global South, 3) transfer technology and other assistance to supply clean, abundant energy to all global citizens, 4) pay or make reparations for colonial and imperialist exploitation, 5) de-militarize down to the bone, and 6) guarantee fair and scientifically sustainable shares of the atmosphere and all resources to all.

The powerholders of capitalism scoff at the idea of such a movement, though in their words one can hear the faint stirring of fear that it might come to pass. Lawrence Wittner, Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany, has assembled some striking examples.

Using her Conservative Party conference to rally support for leaving the EU, British Prime Minister Theresa May declared contemptuously: “If you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere.”…

Following his surprise election victory, Trump told a rally in December 2016: “There is no global anthem. No global currency. No certificate of global citizenship. We pledge allegiance to one flag and that flag is the American flag.” After wild cheering from the crowd, he added: “From now on it is going to be: America First. Okay? America first. We’re going to put ourselves first.”

But consider this history of a global identity also presented by Wittner:

Indeed, over the centuries cosmopolitan values have become a strong current in public opinion. They are usually traced to Diogenes, a philosopher of Classical Greece, who, asked where he came from, replied: “I am a citizen of the world.” The idea gained increasing currency with the spread of Enlightenment thinking. Tom Paine, considered one of America’s Founding Fathers, took up the theme of loyalty to all humanity in his Rights of Man (1791), proclaiming: “My country is the world.” Similar sentiments were expressed in later years by William Lloyd Garrison (“My country is the world; my countrymen are all mankind”), Albert Einstein, and a host of other globalist thinkers.

And this rich data he provides from the present moment:

The Climate Justice Movement has underlined the essential fact that we’re all global citizens, now.

A poll of more than 20,000 people in 18 countries, conducted by GlobeScan for the BBC World Service from December 2015 through April 2016, found that 51 percent of respondents saw themselves more as global citizens than as citizens of their own countries. (12) This was the first time since tracking began in 2001 that a majority felt this way. (13)

Globally, the climate justice movement might now be the name for the network of these movements all in the service of radical climate justice, in the broadest, most intersectional understanding of the term. Its sustaining meme is one that young climate justice activists carried literally on a banner through the frosty streets of Copenhagen on the occasion of the ill-fated COP 15 negotiations in December 2009, demanding “System Change Not Climate Change.” (14) Let us all exercise our right to imagine new names for our movements, “parties,” and their key demands.

Concluding Thoughts

We are going to have to leverage the strength and power and beauty of our many movements and ideas into a new kind of entity – a completely new kind of party – that can take political power away from those who hold it, in place after place. In time, these experiments with the unknown would be able to support each other and link themselves together to find and co-create the pathways to the future we want. The new entities that come out of our movements must be made to live up to their promise and to enact our dreams by us, their only possible guarantors.

Such new parties, if they emerge, and the broader, diverse social movements that must drive and hold them accountable, will need to link arms firmly with existing transition initiatives and the many more projects of creation that will need to be built everywhere. And they must synergistically support each other’s efforts to fashion the collective power we need for global governance. Then we would see a people’s COP articulate a “FAB” (fair, ambitious, and binding) universal climate treaty. Then we would be able to tax and legislate the fossil fuel corporations out of business. Then we would be able to take on the legacy of inequality and genocide that the United States has been built on. Then

As the Zapatistas, those un-professionals of hope, often say, “We want a world where many worlds fit.” That world, containing somehow our many worlds, will be created and constructed by all of those who are willing to seek it, to do the hard work (which, let’s not forget, also brings so much joy and purpose), and to embrace hope, imagination, and heart, in equally abundant measure.

This essay is offered in the hope of generating further participation and passionate commitment among readers and the millions of ordinary people who must rise to our common occasion. Else, nothingness awaits us after extreme and unimaginable suffering, which however likely, is simply not acceptable.

The path will be long, hard, dangerous, and difficult, friends, so let’s get going!


(1)“Movements for radical social transformation (or change)” are characterized by actions which move in the direction of greater economic equality and deeper democratic participation. This is thus an umbrella term covering both the great social revolutions of the twentieth century and the movements of this century which concern us here.

(2) This is an argument increasingly being made: by Naomi Klein in No is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need (Chicago: Haymarket, 2017), Charles Derber in Welcome to the Revolution: Universalizing Resistance for Social Justice and Democracy in Perilous Times (New York: Routledge, 2017), George Monbiot in Out of the Wreckage: A New Politics for an Age of Crisis (London: Verso, 2017), and Kate Raworth in Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist (White River Junction: Chelsea Green, 2017), not to mention Paul Raskin’s Journey to Earthland: The Great Transition to Planetary Civilization (Boston: Tellus Institute, 2016), as well as the work of The Next System Project at

(3) The devastating impact of the Trump administration has spurred a slew of exciting books about social movements, organizing, elections, and resistance generally in the United States since late 2016: Sarah Jaffe, Necessary Trouble: Americans in Revolt (New York: Nation Books, 2016); Jonathan Matthew Smucker, Hegemony How-To: A Roadmap for Radicals (Oakland: AK Press, 2017); Dennis Johnson and Valerie Merians, editor, What We Do Now: Standing Up for Values in Trump’s America (Brooklyn: Melville House, 2017); Becky Bond and Zack Exley, Rules for Revolutionaries: How Big Organizing Can Change Everything (White River Junction: Chelsea Green, 2016), and the special Fall 2016 issue of Jacobin, “The Party We Need.”

Some excellent work on the topic came out even before: Mark Engler and Paul Engler, This is an Uprising: How Nonviolent Revolt is Shaping the Twenty-first Century (New York: Nation Books, 2016); Patrick Reinsborough and Doyle Canning, Re:Imagining Change: How to Use Story-based Strategy to Win Campaigns, Build Movements, and Change the World, updated and expanded second edition (Oakland: PM Books, 2017 [2010]); L.A. Kauffman, Direct Action: Protest and the Reinvention of American Radicalism (London: Verso, 2017).

Some has come from non-US sources: Manuel Castells, Networks of Outrage and Hope: Social Movement in the Internet Age, second edition (Cambridge: Polity, 2015) and Srdja Popovic and Matthew Miller, Blueprint for Revolution: Hot to use rice pudding, Lego men, and other non-violent techniques to galvanise communities, overthrow dictators, or simply change the world (Melbourne: Scribe, 2015).

(4) The always perceptive Hilary Wainwright makes the case here: “A Movement Preparing for Power” (October 3, 2017), .

(5) Richard Franke and Barbara Chasin, Kerala: Radical Reform as Development in an Indian State (San Francisco: The Institute for Food and Development Policy, 1994); Patrick Heller, The Labor of Development: Workers and the Transformation of Capitalism in Kerala, India (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1999).

(6) Christophe Chataigne, “Iceland and the Saucepan Revolution.” Socialist Review (March 2009); Paul Krugman, “The Path not Taken” New York Times (October 27, 2011),, Andri Snaer Magnason, Dreamland: A Self-help Manual ( London: Citizen-Press, 2009); Rebecca Solnit, “News from Nowhere: Iceland’s Polite Dystopia” Harper’s Magazine (October 2008),; Robert Wade and Silla Sigurgeirsdóttir, “Lessons for Iceland” New Left Review (65) (September-October 2010), 5-29.

(7) Kosha Joubert and Leila Dregger, “Global Ecovillage Network | Sacred Activism,” Kosmos Journal, September 19, 2017 Newsletter,

(8) It is useful to observe that the global justice movement wasn’t defeated or ran out of steam, but rather that it was forced to morph into a kind of more fractured global peace movement with the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003, only to rise up again in many places at once in 2011 and after.

(9) adrienne maree brown, Emergent Strategies: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds (Oakland: AK Press, 2017), 23-24.

(10) The doyen of politically relevant climate-fiction has been and remains Kim Stanley Robinson, and his 2017 book New York 2140 (New York: Orbit) offers a scenario where people’s refusal to make payments crashes the financial system and a progressive government then nationalizes and gains control over the financial sector, enabling the making of a world that provides for the basic needs of all people. He also traces out such a scenario in an essay, “Climate Change Forces Post-Capitalism,” his contribution to the forthcoming Climate Futures: Re-imagining Global Climate Justice, edited by Kum-Kum Bhavnani, John Foran, Priya Kurian, and Debashish Munshi (Berkeley: UC Press/Luminos), and a talk he gave on this topic can be found at the website devoted to the nearly carbon neutral conference “The World in 2050: A Nearly Carbon-Neutral Conference,” The talk was transcribed by Krystal Baca and edited by John Foran, and can be found here:

(11) Ian Angus, Facing the Anthropocene: Fossil Capitalism and the Crisis of the Earth System (New York: Monthly Review, 2016), chapter 12, citing Ian Angus and Simon Butler, Too Many People? Population, Immigration, and the Environmental Crisis (Chicago: Haymarket, 2011), 198-9.

(12) BBC World Service, “Global Citizenship a Growing Sentiment among Citizens of Emerging Economies: Global Poll” (April 27, 2016),

(13) The passages quoted here are found in Lawrence Wittner, “World Citizenship Is More Popular Than You Might Think” (September 17, 2017),

(14) This is also the name and acronym astutely adopted by a small but feisty network of North American ecosocialists with whom I am engaged, and whose analyses and discussions can be found on their website:

 John Foran works passionately as a scholar-activist on and within the global climate justice movement, which he sees as at the center of the struggle for any prospect of achieving social justice and radical social change in the 21st century. A lot of his work is published at It can also be found in two places that he has helped co-create: the websites of the International Institute of Climate Action and Theory (, and the Climate Justice Project ( John is a professor of sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. His research interests include global climate justice; radical social movements, revolutions, and radical social change; Third World cultural studies; and Latin American and Middle Eastern studies.

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8 thoughts on “Finding Pathways to a Better Future”

  1. Hi John! This is an idea that you might like:

    Despite the high quality of life that some of the so-called developed nations have achieved, the truth is that the world, considered as a group of countries located in a fragile and geographically limited biosphere, is threatened with extinction due to human conflicts and the depredation of the environment.
    Notwithstanding the good and very important actions taken by groups and individuals in favor of a better world, deterioration at all levels continues to increase dangerously.
    After more than thirty years dedicated to these matters, and since “an image is worth a thousand words” we have come up with a novel idea of designing a model city that has all the characteristics of infrastructure and organization inherent to the peaceful and sustainable society that we want for ourselves and our descendants, whose representation in the form of scale models, animated series, feature films, video games and theme parks, would constitute a model to follow to generate the necessary changes.
    The prototype that we present has some characteristics that are opposed, sometimes in a radical way, to the religious, economic, political and educational traditions and customs that have been transmitted from generation to generation, yet are the causes of the aforementioned problems, and therefore must be transformed.
    If you are interested in knowing about this project, or even participating in it, we invite you to visit our website (written in Spanish and English), where we are working in that sense.

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