Dr. Joel Kovel, a Founder of Ecosocialism, Is Dead at 81 - Only Hit Lyrics

Dr. Joel Kovel, a Founder of Ecosocialism, Is Dead at 81


Dr. Kovel metamorphosed from a conventional therapist into a Marxist who abandoned the medical profession as too corporate and commercial. He became a fierce critic of the Vietnam War, imperialists, Zionists and gas guzzlers, together with neoliberals and environmentalists who were insufficiently anticapitalist.

Dr. Kovel was an intellectual father of ecosocialism. A Brooklyn-born son of Jewish immigrants, he also experienced in his later years what he called a Christian spiritual conversion.

When he published his autobiography last year, after so many metaphysical meanderings, he titled it “The Lost Traveller’s Dream,” a nod to the poet William Blake’s reference to wanderers in the wilderness seeking to distinguish between good and evil.

Dr. Kovel rarely defined his positions in shades of gray.

He renounced psychiatry because, he said, he was fed up with “the pernicious system of diagnosis” dictated by professional associations and their manuals, and by insurance companies driven by statistics and reflexive prescriptions.”


Dr. Kovel speaking at an anti-nuclear rally in New York in 1982.

Dith Pran/The New York Times

Whenever he launched an ideological crusade, he did so zealously — even if, as in the case of ecosocialism, its very definition and the collateral demand for an appealing alternative to capitalism were not self-evident.

Under ecosocialist theory, income would be guaranteed, most property and means of production would be commonly owned, and the abolition of capitalism, globalism and imperialism would unleash environmentalists to vastly curtail industrialization and development whose pollution would otherwise cause catastrophic global warming.

“Capitalist production, in its endless search for profit, seeks to turn everything into a commodity,” Dr. Kovel wrote in 2007 on the socialist website Climate and Capitalism. “It is plain that production will have to shift from being dominated by exchange — the path of the commodity — to that which is for use, that is for the direct meeting of human needs.”

Joel Stephen Kovel was born on Aug. 27, 1936, in Brooklyn to Louis and Rose (Farber) Kovel. His father was an accountant and the namesake of the Kovel Rule, a legal doctrine that extended the lawyer-client confidentiality privilege to other professionals and experts. It arose when a federal appeals court voided the elder Mr. Kovel’s one-year sentence for contempt after he had refused to answer questions about a client in a case.

After graduating from Baldwin High School in Baldwin, N.Y., Joel received a bachelor’s from Yale in 1957 and a medical degree from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. While in medical school, he was first exposed to extreme poverty during field study in Suriname. He trained at Downstate Psychoanalytic Institute in Brooklyn.

In addition to his wife, a filmmaker, Mr. Kovel is survived by two children, Jonathan Kovel and Erin Fitzsimmons, from his marriage to Virginia Ryan, which ended in divorce; a daughter, Molly Kovel, from his marriage to Ms. Halleck; her sons, Ezra, Peter and Tovey Halleck, from an earlier marriage; his brother, Alex; and nine grandchildren.

Dr. Kovel was director of resident training in psychiatry at Albert Einstein Medical School in the Bronx from 1977 to 1983. He was also a professor of psychiatry there until 1986, when he left to teach courses in Marx and Freud at the New School in Manhattan. He taught at Bard College from 1988 to 2009.

He was also editor emeritus of the journal Capitalism, Nature, Socialism; wrote for The New York Times Book Review; and, with Michel Lowy, drafted the Ecosocialist Manifesto in 2001, on which the movement was founded.

Among his other books is “A Complete Guide to Therapy” (1976), which, a Times reviewer wrote, “can be recommended to everyone — from people looking for help with emotional problems to those with serious questions about the entire business of emotional help.” Another is “Overcoming Zionism: Creating a Single Democratic State in Israel/Palestine” (2007).

Dr. Kovel was the Green Party candidate for the United States Senate from New York in 1998. (He finished fourth, with about 15,000 votes; Chuck Schumer won, with about 2.4 million.)

He unsuccessfully challenged Ralph Nader for the Green Party’s presidential nomination in 2000. Mr. Nader was nominated at a convention with 295 votes. Two other candidates were tied for second place with 10 each. Dr. Kovel came in last with three.

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