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Deep Adaptation...or Climate Justice?

By Chris Saltmarsh - The Ecologist, February 1, 2022

A review of Deep Adaptation: Navigating the Realities of Climate Chaos, edited by Jem Bendell and Rupert Read, published by Polity Press.

Activists in Extinction Rebellion are currently discussing the movement's new published strategy. The debates within XR often centre on a difference of approach between long standing members who were influenced by Dr Jem Bendell's paper calling for "deep adaptation" and those who want to focus on climate justice and a rapid dismantling of "fossil fuel capitalism" to avoid the need for such adaption.

This is the context in which many people are now reading Deep Adaptation: Navigating the Realities of Climate Chaos, a collection of essays brought together by Bendell and Dr Rupert Read, his long time collaborator and one of the many XR co-founders.

Read: The new XR UK strategy

Read: XR 2.0: We appreciate power

The book starts from the premise that societal collapse induced by climate change is inevitable or highly likely, arguing that humans should adapt to this new reality by moving away from industrial consumer society. This retains and amplifies the main arguments first proposed by Bendell in his online paper, which went viral and became influential within Extinction Rebellion, including among its co-founders.

Ecosocialism is the Horizon, Degrowth is the Way

Jason Hickel interviewed by Samuel Miller-McDonald - The Trouble, February 11, 2021

“Degrowth” means many things to many people. To most, it probably doesn’t mean much beyond an antonym to “growth,” the process of getting larger or more complex. To some detractors, the term represents a scary violation of the imperative to increase GDP annually, what’s now a holy sacrament to policymakers and economic pundits (though less so to actual academic economists, who are more ambivalent). To its less pedantic and more hysterical detractors, it’s a ploy to take away everyone’s Hummers and return to a mushroom-foraging-based economy. 

At its most distilled, “degrowth” refers to a process of reducing the material impact of the economy on the world’s many imperiled ecologies, abandoning GDP as a measurement of well-being, and forging an equitable steady-state economy.

Although the concept of placing limits to economic growth is not very new, having been articulated by environmentalists several decades ago—most famously by the Club of Rome in 1972—the more recent iteration, only just over a decade old, emerges from the French décroissance. Given that the community and scholarship is so young, there’s still a lot of debate around some of the fundamentals of what the term means, and what it should mean. Some who believe in the principles recoil at the term itself: Noam Chomsky has said “when you say ‘degrowth’ it frightens people. It’s like saying you’re going to have to be poorer tomorrow than you are today, and it doesn’t mean that.” But many degrowth defenders, one of the most prominent being ecological economist Giorgos Kallis, stand by it and see value in such a unifying notion. 

Even so, there lurks some danger in all such terms and political communities, like socialism or democracy, as I have warned elsewhere of the perennial risk of being co-opted and ill-defined by bad-faith actors. If the degrowth critique goes only as far as targeting economic growth, or even general anticapitalism, there’s little intrinsic to it to stop a right-wing authoritarian program from co-opting degrowth rhetoric to justify imposing authoritarianism, or giving cover to cynical Global North states to demand degrowth of the Global South while continuing to disproportionately consume and pollute. Degrowth, if it is to get traction and if that traction is to be desirable, needs to be abundantly clear about what it stands for and what it rejects. Luckily, we have just the book to offer this much needed clarity. 

Economic anthropologist Jason Hickel is among the most eloquent advocates of degrowth, and has been intimately involved in the community’s attempt to stake out a useful, clear meaning for the term and pathway to integrating its principles into a coherent program. Hickel’s latest book, Less is More: How Degrowth Will Save the World published in August 2020 (with a paperback edition released this month), offers an abundance of facts, concepts, and research alongside a passionate defense of ecocentric and humanistic values. Hickel has achieved something many writers of popular nonfiction seek in vain: a high density of ideas and data delivered in a light, enjoyable narrative prose. The book makes a very strong case for a topic in need of strong cases. And Less Is More arrives in good company: degrowth advocate Timothée Parrique counted 203 essays, 70 academic articles, and 11 books on degrowth published in 2020. 

Some bad-faith commentators have attempted to paint degrowth as dressed-up primitivist austerity, intrinsically harmful to the Global South, but Hickel does a persuasive job emphasizing that degrowth actually means the opposite. He musters an army of historical and contemporary data, anecdotes, and theory to argue definitively that an equitable degrowth scenario is more likely to increase material abundance and resource access. If the ideology of growthism offers an ethic of constant amoral expansion and exploitation, degrowth(ism) offers a more restrained ethic that values an abundance of time, leisure, love, and equality over concentrated wealth and distributed waste. 

While the book explores the moral imperative for controlled degrowth, Hickel is equally comfortable arguing for degrowth from a standpoint of a purely rational approach to fundamentally shifting an economy that is currently heating the world to death, guaranteeing centuries of mass death and destruction. The only way to slow the rapid race to collapse civilization and accelerate extinctions is to stop the omnicidal political economy that rules the globe. Given the natural limits that thermodynamics and terrestrial ecologies impose on human economies and non-human populations, degrowth is inevitable: it’s just a matter of deciding whether human agency will play a positive, benevolent role in the process, or continue to maximize the chaos and violence involved. I asked Dr. Hickel via email about some of the major challenges to achieving degrowth reforms and some important peripheral issues. Here is our discussion:

Primitivism and Ecofascism

Primitivism: An Illusion with No Future

By Stephen Booth - ca. January 1, 2005

Web Editor's Note - This very lengthy article was originally written for an anarchist audience as a critique of the so-called "green"-anarchist (i.e. anarchism with a strong ecological orientation) marriage to primitivism. However, this critique can easily be extended to all varieties of primitivism (anarchist or not) and can be useful to anarchists and non-anarchists alike.

Anarchism vs. Primitivism

By Brian Oliver Sheppard - 2003

Web Editor's Note: - This article was written for an anarchist audience. The IWW is not explicitly or exclusively anarchist in its orientation (though it does share a good deal of commonalities with anarcho-syndicalism, in particular). Likewise, neither are "primitivists" exclusively anarchist, nor are anarchists for the most part primitivist. In spite of that, this critique adequately addresses a general anti-capitalist, revolutionary working class critique of the primitivism, and/or "anti-civ" tendency so prevalent among radical environmentalists.

1. The Demonology of Primitivism

“No one has ever been so witty as you are in trying to turn us into brutes: to read your book makes ode long to go on all fours. Since, however, it is now some sixty years since I gave up the practice, I feel that it is unfortunately impossible for me to resume it: I leave this natural habit to those more fit for it than are you and I.”

— Voltaire, letter to Rousseau, August 30, 1755.

Bakunin vs. the Primitivists

By Brian Oilver Sheppard - Originally published at Zabalaza Books, September 27, 2011

In Bakunin’s day, those who longed for pre-capitalist, feudal social relations were the aristocracy. Those who took it even further and hearkened back to the days before feudalism, before slavery and to the days of free nomadic peoples, were the romanticists. They were inspired in the main by the political writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and by much romantic poetry and literature that indicted industrial civilization. They regarded intuition at least as important as rational deliberation, but usually more so.

The values held by these romantic socialists are very similar to those held by anarcho-primitivists [sic.]. Bakunin often spoke against the romanticist socialists; he felt they held individualist values that could only develop in a very privileged milieu and which reflected that privilege and its latent elitism. What Bakunin condemned in the thinking of the political followers of Rousseau are largely the same things found in modern primitivism. It is this commonality between the political romanticism of the Rousseauists and the beliefs of modern anarcho-primitivists that makes Bakunin’s statements applicable to the present state of the anarchist movement, especially to the anti-worker, primitivist element within it.

“In every Congress of the International Workingmen’s Association,” Bakunin lamented in the late 1860’s, “we have fought the individualists or false-brother socialists who say that society was founded by a free contract of originally free men and who claim, along with the moralists and bourgeois economists, that man can be free, that he can be a man, outside of society.” Bakunin’s refers here to the followers of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and his criticism carries weight to this day. In the anarchist movement, the romantic, anti-society sect are the primitivists.

Against Green Reactionaries: Writings on eco-fascists and exterminationists

By various - Green Antifascist - Spring 2020

A compilation of writings against ecofascist infiltration of revolutionary ecology and green anarchist milieus, includes:

  • Confronting the Rise of Eco-Fascism Means Grappling with Complex Systems - by Emmi Bevensee and Alexander Reid Ross
  • There’s nothing anarchist about Eco-Fascism - by Scott Campbell
  • On No Platform and ITS - by William Gillis
  • ITS, or the rhetoric of decay - a Joint statement of insurrectional groups in Mexican territory

Web editor's note: we highly recommend the first three sections of this document. As for the last chapter, we vehemently disagree with their anti-organizational and anti-structural dogma as well as their sectarian denunciations of "the left", but welcome their distancing from ITS and similarly minded eco-fascists. In any case, the document is a package deal. Plus, note our standard disclaimer:

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author.

Download (PDF).

Ghostbusting: Exorcising the Separation Between Workplace and Community Struggles

By anonymous - It's Going Down, January 28, 2019

The following essay, written by Wobblies for a Revolutionary Union Movement, continues the back and forth dialog and discussion on the back and forth dialog about unions, syndicalism, and the IWW.

For the last several weeks, an exchange of articles has appeared on It’s Going Down, on the value of workplace organizing, including “Nothing to Syndicate”, “Aiming at Ghosts”, “Crafty Ghosts”, and several other pieces. Most of these have taken aim at “syndicalism”, and opponents of workplace struggle have insisted on using a restricted, shop-floor-only definition of “syndicalism”, accusing workers who support unions of having a narrow focus on their own workplace, of wanting to run the existing exploitative economy under their own democratic management, and of ignoring oppressions beyond class.

Supporters of workplace struggle, meanwhile, have answered with a broader definition of our organizing based in the real work that we do. Our revolutionary unionism is based in interconnected community and workplace organizing, imagines the radical transformation of the economy and liberation of people from our exploitation as workers, and sees the oppressions that we face on and off the shop floor as our shared concern. We are here as revolutionary unionists speaking about the work we actually do – not as “syndicalists” defending a workplace-only stance that we don’t take.

Several of the pieces, starting with “Crafty Ghosts”, take aim at the General Defense Committee and Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, claiming that these are “entryist” projects, competing with other radical projects. “Crafty Ghosts” specifically names Wobblies for a Revolutionary Union Movement (WRUM), a caucus of the IWW that supports prisoner organizing, the community self defense mission of the GDC, and further democratization of the union. The author of “Crafty Ghosts” specifically mentions “the author of Aiming at Ghosts—and the Wobblies for a Revolutionary Unionist Movement (WRUM) in general”. We’re glad that someone wrote Aiming at Ghosts, but it wasn’t anyone in WRUM.

We are members of WRUM, writing specifically to respond to the charges of “entryism”. However, given the short length of “Crafty Ghosts”, we hope to use it as a jumping off point for clarifying some misconceptions about the IWW’s role in community self defense and prison abolition.

A Response to “Crafty Ghosts”

By anonymous contributor - It's Going Down, January 10, 2019

Another response and continuation of the discussion around syndicalism, work, civilization, and the anarchist movement.

I’ve been reading some of the debates that have been going on lately around the topic of workplace-organizing, economics, ecology and the future. I think its not bad that this is being discussed at all, but the matter is leaving me more and more puzzled due to the way things are being brought up.

There is some kind of contradiction being brought to the forefront that at least in my opinion is not really there. This especially visible in the latest response of the 28th of December called “Crafty Ghosts: A Critique of Entryist Trajectory.” It’s a little related to the actual article “Nothing to Syndicate” and I do recon that by responding to this very article in a way I am adding to the drifting from the original subject. But with such an article actually being published I find it necessary to add a short response. First and foremost the anonymous author of “Crafty Ghosts” is having a different opinion on the value of open organization with membership and organizing that has a nation-wide (or beyond) reach – like for instance the IWW. There can be flaws made with this way of organizing for sure. For instance when the main goal is getting as many people to sign up. But that would be a caricature of the IWW. If there would be a problem around this there is hardly anything being put forward what could be helping to overcome this issue. The concept of membership seems to be just dismissed as a whole.

Instead there author claims that “Anarchist projects like antifa crews, Books to Prisoners, Anarchist Black Cross (ABC), and more [are] […] objectively superior to the GDC and IWOC’s approach.” This is quiet a subjective statement as it is put here and I’d like to see that substantiated. I’ve been an active anarchists for years and I’ve seen many autonomous initiatives over the years by very good comrades. But as far as I know these collectives are subject to very similar problems. I do not see how these initiatives function so much better in terms of E.G. being more productive or easier accessibility. I would suggest they are above all complementary and adding another modus operandus that fits better to certain people. The overcoming of the problems attributed to formal organizing and membership-organizing that the author of “Crafty Ghosts” puts forward, has little to do with membership itself, but more with the question of how a certain organization (formal or informal) is being filled.

Build the Revolution: Anarcho-Syndicalism in the 21st Century

By Radical Education Department - It's Going Down, January 10, 2019

The Radical Education Department (RED) weighs in on the ongoing debate around syndicalism and organizing strategies, arguing that modern variations of syndicalism still offer powerful weapons for autonomous anti-capitalist struggles and movements.

Read and Print PDF HERE

Introduction

Anarchists are debating anarcho-syndicalism once again. If anarcho-syndicalism is a “ghost”—like some critics are claiming—it has proven extremely hard to exorcise. But it is something very different entirely.

The current debate was sparked by “Nothing to Syndicate,” which largely repeats standard criticisms of AS, some of the more recent of which can be seen here and here; see also the summaries here. Then came a critique of “Nothing” (“Aiming at Ghosts”), and then two replies defending the original piece (here and here). The debate has been fairly limited so far. The important first reply to “Nothing,” as well as the defenses that followed, have been wrestling over the details of the original piece. But what’s been missing is a comprehensive response to the original question. What does anarcho-syndicalism offer radicals in the 21st century US?

Some have given this kind of response to critics before, though often in more limited ways (like here). My goal is to go further and deeper. First, I give a systematic historical-materialist analysis of 21st century capitalism in the United States today: its basic drives, structures, and developments. Then I examine the profound limits facing anarchists and their revolutionary allies facing such conditions. (This section tacitly rejects the superficial analysis of the original article.)

And then I offer a vision of what anarcho-syndicalism has to offer. It is far from a ghost. It is a set of inherited, audacious, and sometimes conflicting experiments. Those experiments are still developing. (The ongoing evolution is obvious in more recent syndicalist praxis like green syndicalism and community syndicalism.)

I locate in AS explosive resources for our present—for moving past the fundamental limits of radical organizing today and building revolutionary power to strike at 21st century capital. Defending AS, I explore how its inner resources could be developed to meet the revolutionary needs of the moment.

Anarcho-syndicalism offers badly needed tools for building mass, durable, working-class autonomy inside and outside the workplace for the sake of the revolutionary overthrow of every institution of capitalist control. It is an idea whose time has come again.

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