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Earth First!

Chapter 1 : An Injury to One is an Injury to All!

By Steve Ongerth - From the book, Redwood Uprising: Book 1

Download a free PDF version of this chapter.

The mill men all insist on one thing: that the Government will grant the manufacturers protection from the lawless element of the I.W.W.’s”

—J. P. Weyerhaeuser, 1917

Is there aught we hold in common with the greedy parasite,
Who would lash us into serfdom and would crush us with his might,
Is there anything left to us but to organize and fight?
The union makes us strong…

—Lyrics excerpted from Solidarity Forever, by Ralph Chaplin, ca. 1915

The timber industry has, throughout nearly its entire history, been in the control of an elite minority of the very rich and powerful, and they have been especially avaricious, violent, and repressive towards all who would challenge their power. They have also—in spite of a barrage of slick propaganda trumpeting their careful management of the resource—depleted most of the virgin forests of the Pacific Northwest. Many environmental organizations can trace their origins to opposition to such practices, and in the struggles by environmentalists to preserve forestlands, timber workers have had a reputation for being their fiercest adversaries, and in many cases, this is true. Timber workers have a well deserved reputation for being outspoken about the pride of purpose in their job, as well as a deeply ingrained cultural machismo. Yet lumber harvesting and production is historically one of the ten most dangerous jobs in the industrialized world, and timber workers are among those most exploited by their employers. One would logically expect the timber workers to be highly resistant to such treatment, but in recent years they haven’t been. This wasn’t always so. To understand why, one must examine the industry’s origins.

Before the arrival of European-American settlers to the Pacific Northwest, the entire region stretching from northern California to Canada and Alaska from the Pacific Coast to the Rocky Mountains was dominated by coniferous old growth forests. At least 20 million acres of this land was forested, dominated by various species of trees, some of them hundreds of feet in height, over a dozen feet in diameter, and centuries or even millennia old.[1] In the southwestern part of this region, stretching from Big Sur to roughly what is now the Oregon state line, in a belt that was at least twenty miles wide for most of its expanse a very unique species of tree dominated, Sequoia sempervirens, commonly known as the California redwoods, some of them standing over 350 feet tall. Their close (and similarly large) cousins, Sequoiadendron giganteum, better known as the Giant Sequoia, only grew in a few isolated spots in the southern end of the Sierra Nevada foothills. These vast forests were far more then the trees, however. Hundreds, if not thousands of plant and animal species lived and flourished within these wooded habitats, and as far as is known, the indigenous population of the Americas had no significant lasting impact on California’s ancient redwood forests, nor did they have any lasting effect on the timberlands of the Pacific Northwest in general.[2] Like the Native Americans, the old growth forests of the Pacific Northwest had remained left more or less untouched for thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of years.

The coming of the white man changed all of that. The Russians first began exploiting the redwoods for the construction of Fort Ross in 1812, during their very brief settlement there.[3] As more Europeans arrived, the forests south of San Francisco were the first to be logged, usually through clearcutting, until these ancient stands were completely liquidated by 1860. In those days, loggers used hand saws, and felling an ancient redwood could take anywhere from two-to-five days to complete. The redwoods to the north of the Golden Gate in what is now Marin County were logged next, especially along rivers that allowed easy transportation by the available modes of the day. By this time, around 1881, the steam engine had replaced pack animals. Though this first wave of automation did not have a significant impact on the number of workers involved in the logging process, it greatly increased the impact logging had on the redwoods. Entire forests were liquidated, no matter how small the tree, because even the baby trees were used to build the skid roads used for hauling the larger ones. These forests were never replanted, and very few of them grew back, and in some cases, farmlands replaced them. By the beginning of the 20th Century, all but a few of these ancient trees were gone and logging operations migrated north to Sonoma County. One quarter century later, most of these old growth forests were likewise gone.[4]

Redwood Uprising: Introduction

By Steve Ongerth

Download a free PDF version of this chapter.

The arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice.

—Martin Luther King Jr.

I know, I know. I need to write a book about all this. Fighting to save the redwoods, building alliances with the loggers, getting car bombed and finding out what we’re up against not just the timber industry but also the FBI. Then coming back home and ending up back on the front lines again. I fully intend to write about it eventually, but it’s hard to write about something when you’re still in the middle of it.”

—Judi Bari, introduction to Timber Wars, 1994

“All this,” is a very complex and intriguing story (not to mention a call to action), and while most people have never heard it, a great many are at least partially aware of its defining moment.

On the morning of May 24, 1990, two activists, Judi Bari and her friend and comrade Darryl Cherney, set out from Oakland, California, while on a tour to organize support for a campaign they had organized called Redwood Summer. They were part of the radical environmental movement known as Earth First!, which had a reputation for militant tactics, including the sabotaging of logging and earth moving machinery as well as spiking trees—the act of driving large nails into standing trees in order to deter logging operations. The previous year in Arizona, five environmentalists, including Peg Millett and Earth First! cofounder Dave Foreman, had been arrested and charged by the FBI for a conspiracy to sabotage power lines in protest against nuclear power. Some welcomed Earth First!’s uncompromising reputation. Others denounced them as reckless, or even as terrorists.

According to the mainstream media, Earth First!’s radical agenda earned them the animosity of the timber workers whose jobs the environmentalists supposedly threatened. They were described as “outside agitators” (among many other things) who had “polarized” the timber dependent communities of northwestern California’s redwood region—historically known as the “Redwood Empire”, but more recently as the “North Coast”—with their militant and uncompromising “environmental extremism.” Their alleged hard-line anti-logging stances were seen as too extreme even by most environmentalists, and they supposedly stood upon the radical fringes of the ecology movement. Redwood Summer was reportedly planned as a summer-long campaign of direct actions by these “fringe” environmentalists to thwart the harvesting of old growth redwood timber in northwestern California, specifically Humboldt, Mendocino, and Sonoma Counties.

On May 24, however, Bari’s and Cherney’s planned destination was Santa Cruz County, where—just one month previously—power lines had supposedly been sabotaged by unknown perpetrators calling themselves the “Earth Night Action Group”. Just before 11:55 AM a bomb in Bari’s car exploded, nearly killing her and injuring Cherney. Within minutes the FBI and Oakland Police arrived on the scene and arrested both of them as they were being transported to Highland Hospital. The authorities called them dangerous terrorists and accused the pair of knowingly transporting the bomb for use in some undetermined act of environmental sabotage when it had accidentally detonated. The media spun the event as the arrest of two potentially violent environmental extremists.

IWW WISERA Environmental Committee and NARA IWW EUC Reading Group 1: Judi Bari, "Revolutionary Ecology"

Fellow Workers (and fellow travelers, too!)

We are inviting you to the inaugural session of our monthly, online reading group dedicated to discussing the work of and writings by IWW Organiser and Earth First! environmental activist Judi Bari.

The first text we will be reading is Revolutionary Ecology by Judi Bari, herself, written in 1993 at the height of her involvement in the struggles in northwestern California's old growth redwood forests.

You can read online or download a PDF of the text here: https://ecology.iww.org/texts/JudiBari/Revolutionary%20Ecology

You may also download a PDF of this document if you wish.

This meeting will be held on zoom.  Register here.

An Ambiguous Paradise Built in Hell

By Dan Fischer - New Politics, January 7, 2023

Book Review of: Dilar Dirik, The Kurdish Women’s Movement: History, Theory, Practice (London: Pluto Press, 2022).

On November 20th, Turkey launched Operation Claw-Sword, a large-scale campaign of drone attacks killing civilians and militants in the predominantly Kurdish regions of Syria and Iraq.1 Then, in Paris on December 23rd, a shooter murdered three Kurds in a disturbing echo of the city’s 2013 shooting that killed the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK)’s co-founder Sakine Cansız and two other women.

While the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) suspended military cooperation with Washington, not for the first time, in protest of the assaults that the United States has allowed fellow NATO member Turkey to carry out, Parisian Kurds have also protested en masse against Western complicity in their people’s extermination. Some youths have set cars and garbage bins aflame, echoing the city’s yellow vests insurrections of recent years as well as the ongoing feminist uprisings in Iran where protesters, including non-Kurds, have adopted the Kurdish slogan of “Woman, Life, Freedom.”

Just as world leaders abandoned Jews during the Holocaust, and have kept Bashar al-Assad’s genocidal regime in power (as my co-author Javier Sethness and I previously argued in News and Letters, and as Omar Sabbour argued in these pages), they’ve also systematically approached the Kurds, the world’s largest stateless nation,2 from a deeply realpolitik position. For example, after infamously green-lighting Saddam Hussein’s massacre of Iraq’s Kurds and Shiites in 1991, Washington sent weaponry to Turkey throughout the 1990s enabling the deaths of tens of thousands. Although Washington has militarily supported the SDF since 2015 and has provided air cover in their attacks on ISIS strongholds, committing and covering up war crimes in the process, the United States’ leadership has no intention of permanently supporting Kurdish groups’ direct-democratic experiment of Rojava.

Moscow, meanwhile, has boosted its energy ties with Ankara and has entertained talks about Turkish use of Syrian airspace to bomb Kurdish towns, and, even more ominously, orchestrated a Erdoğan-Assad rapprochement that will likely spell catastrophe for Syrian Kurdish autonomy. Communities of various ethnicities have protested across Northern Syria in late December and early January. One of their concerns has been that Turkey will return Syrian refugees into the hands of the Assad regime.

Sadly, some loud and well-funded elements of the global left have for several years aided (what Leila al-Shami and Noam Chomsky among other signatories have criticized as) an “‘anti-imperialism’ of fools” which joins in the multipolar abandonment of the Kurds, Arabs and other Southwest Asian ethnicities and peoples. Such propagandists, along with right-wing allies, have tragically joined in the imperialist powers’ divide-and-conquer techniques, facilitating ethnic war, and have been complicit in the destruction of perhaps the brightest revolutionary hope since 1994’s Zapatista uprising. In this context, I write a bit hastily and imperfectly—but enthusiastically—to recommend Dilar Dirik’s study of Kurdish women’s resistance movements. It does not tell the whole story by any means, but it tells enough of the story to invite readers to take the nuanced and messy stance that Kurdish anarchist Zaher Baher has summarized: “Our attitude towards Rojava must be critical solidarity.”

Let Nature Play: A Possible Pathway of Total Liberation and Earth Restoration

By Dan Fischer - Green Theory & Praxis, April 2022

Many argue that we are running out of time, but perhaps the problem is time itself. Or rather, it is the alienated time that we spend working on the clock, obsessively looking at screens, letting consumption of commodities dominate our free time and even invade our dreams. And it is the perception we often have of the universe as a giant clock, an inert machine to be put to work. Too often, there is no sense that nature, ourselves included, has a right to relax, a right to be lazy, a right to play.

While Autonomist Marxists define capitalism as an “endless imposition of work” on human beings (van Meter, 2017), we could add that the system also imposes endless work on nonhuman animals and nature. Moving even beyond van Meter’s broad conception of the working class as inclusive of “students, housewives, slaves, peasants, the unemployed, welfare recipients and workers in the technical and service industries” in addition to the industrial proletariat, Jason Hribal (2012) describes exploited animals as working-class. He points to animals’ labor for humans’ food, clothing, transportation, entertainment, and medicine. Corroborating such a perspective, capitalists themselves label exploited ecosystems as “working landscapes” (Wuerthner, 2014), exploited farm animals as “labouring cattle” (Hribal, 2012), genetically modified crops as “living factories” (Fish, 2013), and extracted hydrocarbons as “energy slaves” (Fuller, 1940). As summarized by Indigenous Environmental Network director Tom Goldtooth (2015) the dominant worldview posits that “Mother Earth is a slave.” This endless work has been disastrous for the planet. Humans’ long hours of alienated labor contribute to deeply destructive economic growth (Hickel & Kallis, 2019; Knight et al., 2013). So does the exploited labor of animals, with livestock taking up some 76% of the world’s agricultural land (Poore & Nemecek, 2018). Working landscapes “suffer losses in biological diversity, soil health, and other ecological attributes” (Wuerthner, 2014). And even the cleanest “energy slaves,” wind and solar power, can require large amounts of resources and land in the context of a growing economy (War on Want & London Mining Network, 2019).

Earth Watch: Naomi Wagner on the fight for Jackson State Forest

By Margaret Prescod and Naomi Wagner - Global Justice Ecology Project, January 28, 2022

Sojourner Truth brings you the 1st Earth Watch guest of the week segment of 2022, Naomi Wagner, a non-violence trainer with the Redwood Nation Earth First campaign. To discuss her involvement with the campaign to save Jackson State Forest, a 50,000 acre redwood forest track in Mendocino County, California.

Green Unionism against Precarity

By Steve Ongerth - IWW Environmental Union Caucus, January 1, 2022

Editor's Note: all but one or two of the links in this article link to multiple articles, located on the IWW Environmental Union Caucus site, categorized by topic. Therefore, it is to the reader's interest to explore all of the articles brought forth by each link, at their convenience (and that body of information is ever evolving over time).

An edited version of this article appears in New Politics 72.

In a real sense, under capitalism, all workers are "precarious", meaning that they can be downsized, replaced, deskilled, outsourced, etc. It's simply a matter of degrees.

The ultimate peak in precarity is "gig work" (which has actually always existed; the names simply keep changing, but the concept is the same).

Unions represent a check against precarity, though this occurs on a graduated scale. The stronger the union, the less the workers' precarity.

Union strength manifests in various ways: it can result from a well organized, international, militant democratic union (ideal, but rare, with few real world examples, such as ILWU, and the IWW, of course), though more often than not it's a result of concentration of elite craft workers in skilled trades unions, which represents a strong guard against precarity, but only for workers in the union, in which case, solidarity is limited.

Other checks against precarity include high demand for skilled craft workers in rare supply, High demand for hard to replace workers (such as workers that required skilled credentials, such as teachers or transport workers), or tight labor markets (which exist in our semi-post COVID-19 world, due to a combination of factors spelled out in the Vox article).

This is nothing more than class struggle 101, as expertly phrased by Karl Marx, et. al.

There are new forms of precarity emerging due to climate catastrophe (brought on by capitalism). Workers find themselves facing new health and safety hazards and/or threats to their working environment.

Songs About and by Judi Bari at the Mendocino County Museum, Remembering Judi Bari Exhibit

Can sabotage stop climate change?

By Simon Butler - Climate and Capitalism, April 28, 2021

Despite the climate movement’s growth, epitomized by Extinction Rebellion and Student Strike for Climate, fossil fuel extraction continues to grow, and a safe climate can seem dismayingly distant. Given a choice between forgoing capital accumulation and tipping the whole world into a furnace, our rulers prefer the furnace.

In How to Blow Up a Pipeline, Andreas Malm asks how the climate movement can emerge from the Covid-19 hiatus as a stronger force. In particular, he questions whether the movement’s until now near-universal commitment to non-violent protest is holding it back. “Will absolute non-violence be the only way, forever the sole admissible tactic in the struggle to abolish fossil fuels? Can we be sure that it will suffice against this enemy? Must we tie ourselves to its mast to reach a safer place?”

To make his point, Malm cites examples of popular historic movements, some of which are invoked by today’s climate campaigners as examples of non-violent change. The overthrow of Atlantic slavery involved violent slave uprisings and rebellions. The suffragettes of early 20th century Britain regularly engaged in property destruction. The US civil rights movement was punctuated by urban riots. As part of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa Nelson Mandela co-founded the armed wing of the African National Congress. The Indian National Congress is known for its non-violent tactics but violence also played a role of the resistance to British rule from the Great Rebellion of 1857 until independence.

Malm absolutely rules out violence that harms people, but he wants the climate movement to include sabotage and property destruction in its plans.

He puts forward several reasons why these kinds of protests might help “break the spell” of the status quo. Targeting the luxury consumption of the rich in this way could help to stigmatize the notion that the rich can blithely condemn the rest of us to ecological disaster. Physical attacks on new CO2 emitting devices might reduce their use and make them less popular options for new investment. He also speculates that such actions could help bring together a “radical flank” of the movement, helping to win partial reforms by making elites more keen to compromise with the movement moderates.

Malm believes such tactics could make for some powerful political symbolism: “Next time the wildfires burn through the forests of Europe, take out a digger. Next time a Caribbean island is battered beyond recognition, burst in upon a banquet of luxury emissions or a Shell board meeting. The weather is already political, but it is political from one side only, blowing off the steam built up by the enemy, who is not made to feel the heat or take the blame.”

Malm’s arguments have been met with alarm in some quarters. In a review posted on the Global Ecosocialist Network website Alan Thornett says adopting the book’s proposals would “not only be wrong but disastrous” and anyone who did so would soon have “armed police kicking down their door.” He calls Malm’s argument an impatient “bid for a shortcut” resulting from “frustration compounded by the lack of a socially just exit strategy from fossil energy.”

James Wilt’s review in Canadian Dimension is even harsher: he says How to Blow Up a Pipeline “veers awfully close to entrapment” — a totally unworthy accusation. More to the point, Wilt says Malm doesn’t look deeply at the likely outcomes of his proposals, failing to mention any “planning for the inevitable backlash” and repression activists would face.

But, as Bue Rübner Hansen points out in a Viewpoint Magazine article, Malm’s “provocative title makes a pitch for viral controversy, but its contents are more nuanced and equivocal.”

The Kaleidoscope of Catastrophe: On the Clarities and Blind Spots of Andreas Malm

By Bue Rübner Hansen - Viewpoint Magazine, April 14, 2021

The course of history, seen in terms of the concept of catastrophe, can actually claim no more attention from thinkers than a child’s kaleidoscope, which with every turn of the hand dissolves the established order in a new way. There is a profound truth in this image. The concepts of the ruling class have always been the mirrors that enabled an image of order to prevail. - The kaleidoscope must be smashed. 

- Walter Benjamin, Central Park1

Recently, I announced my intention to write a long essay about Malm to a circle of degrowth communists. One, a researcher and activist of US pipeline struggles, was exasperated at Malm’s apparently contradictory embrace of a strategy of pushing the capitalist state to do the right thing in Corona, Climate and Chronic Emergency (2020) and his stringent support of sabotage in How to Blow up a Pipeline (2021). Another friend, who is a veteran leader in the climate justice movement, responded that Andreas Malm has “single-handedly saved Marxism from irrelevance over the past few years”. High praise for Malm and a harsh reproval of Marxism.

The frustration with Malm’s lack of clarity and the praise for his ability to bring together Marxism and environmentalism are of a piece: they both attest to the enormous expectations generated by his work, and his willingness to place himself in a position of intellectual leadership. More substantially, they testify to the difficulty and importance of the synthesis he is working towards. 

Among environmentalists, a deep disillusionment with Marxism is common. The critiques are by now familiar: Marxism’s commitment to the unfettered development of the forces of production is attached to the idea of human domination over nature. Malm, as we will see, comes out of a very different tradition of Marxism, and one that has done much to demonstrate that Marx - unlike most of his 20th century readers - was an ecological thinker. Malm extends the theoretical and philological groundwork of John Bellamy Foster and Paul Burkett, and more recently Kohei Saito2, into a more empirical engagement with contemporary ecological problems, profused with a profound sense of political urgency.3

Malm is one of too few Marxists to center the question of what needs to be done in the climate crises, and certainly the most prominent. In short, Malm presents as a man of action, both in theory and in practice. His books detail organizing for the 1995 COP1 climate summit in Berlin, deflating SUV tires in Southern Sweden in 2007, and occupying a German coal mine with Ende Gelände in 2019. For Malm the academic, the question of action is also front and center: 

Any theory for the warming condition should have the struggle to stabilize climate - with the demolition of the fossil economy the necessary first step - as its practical, if only ideal, point of reference. It should clear up space for action and resistance (The Progress, 18). 

Malm’s practice may be described with a paraphrase of Gramsci’s old formula: optimism of the will, catastrophism of the intellect. “The prospects are dismal: hence the need to spring into action” (FC 394). It is this approach that has made his name as more than a scholar, but as a militant thinker, and it is this reputation that frustrates readers looking for strategic clarity. Is Malm a Leninist (and therefore authoritarian) or is he a movementist who is ready to try anything from lobbying the capitalist state to blowing up pipelines? The work of any prolific and wide-ranging writer will contain ambivalences, even one as committed to clarity and decisiveness as Andreas Malm. Not all these ambivalences are Malm’s alone: In our current ecological predicament unanswered questions abound: How can we come to want the abolition of the energetic foundation of our everyday life? How do we feel about the end of growth and progress? Is the state part of the solution or the problem? Such questions entail ambivalence because of the gap between what needs to be done, and what we want to do - given our attachments to the present state of things.

Malm develops a method designed to abolish ambivalence: herein lies the clarity of his work. His approach may best be described as kaleidoscopic: it orders the heterogeneous shards of history through the mirrors of his theory of history, while a singular eyepiece provides focus, and the basis for a unified political perspective. But this method only avoids ambivalence in theory. When it comes to practice, ambivalences reappear – but in the blindspot of theory. Reviews of Malm’s individual works may miss these blindspots and ambivalences, but once we read them side by side, we can begin to understand that they are structural to his work.4

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