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COPing out: what will it take to overcome the environmental movement’s impasse?

By Nicholas Beuret - Novara Media, December 4, 2015

The activist part of me is pissed off at the French government for banning the protest marches that planned to target the UN Climate Change conference (known as the COP21) in Paris this December. It would have been amazing to see thousands of people taking to the streets demanding climate justice and breaking the stale grey commentary surrounding international climate change politics. That bit of me hopes the protests still go ahead.

But another part of me hopes no one turns up at all, and is actually glad the marches won’t happen. Not out of despair, or in some sneering ultra-left sense, but because the environmental movement is stuck and protests like the ones planned for the COP are part of the reason for the current impasse. I hope people don’t turn up because, in the end, spectacular protests such as these are making things worse.

Despite 20 years of activism…

We are heading towards a 3-4C global temperature rise. Despite creative actions, grassroots climate movements and committed NGO campaigns (and even some government action) climate change hasn’t been stopped. Sure enough, we shouldn’t dismiss what has been achieved. That climate change might be limited to 3-4C is actually an achievement, which has happened largely due to the campaigns of environmentalists and the emergence of a strong public belief that climate change has to be tackled by governments. But it’s not enough, not by a long shot. It is not enough according to the standards governments, scientists and activists hold themselves to. A 3-4C rise in global temperatures is actually disastrously bad.

The red line many in the climate movement have been pushing is a maximum increase of no more than 2C – a rise which is possibly too dangerous already. The maths of staying below 2C relies on global emissions peaking this year. What is becoming increasingly clear is that it is probably too late to stay below a 2C rise in global temperatures.

Despite 20 years of activism climate politics is stuck. Climate change is a problem so big, so complicated (everything has to change) and so urgent (it has to happen now, now, now) that for the most part the environmental movement finds itself with few options for action. Because climate change means changing everything, any progress on a small, local or even regional scale feels inadequate. Because it’s so complicated it seems resistant to democratic politics – just imagine what it is going to take to get everyone to agree on how we are going to solve the problem, even on a local scale. Because it’s so urgent there is no time for negotiating with people, a third of whom don’t think climate change is all that serious anyway. It is for all these messy, difficult reasons that climate change protests take the form of mass spectacular actions like the ones planned for the Paris COP21.

The COP21 protest isn’t so different to the actions that happened at COP15 in 2009, or any of the ones before that. It’s also not so different from Climate Camp or, going further back, most of the summit protests of the anti-globalisation movement. In each case you had a symbol of a global problem around which people could mobilise, and in each case you had no real opportunity to affect the thing being protested against. What happened in each case – and what will continue to happen – is what we could call ‘militant lobbying’. These actions were/are stunts intending to put pressure on governments to act, even when carried out in the name of anti-state politics or anti-authoritarian practice. They can’t be anything else.

While they are almost always billed as direct actions, what makes an action ‘direct’ is its capacity to disrupt or stop something without recourse to some other power. A useful example would be the anti-roads movement in the UK. The government of the day had scheduled a massive programme of road construction, often through existing neighbourhoods or woods. People banded together to form local campaigns against the specific roads, and created a number of action camps which physically blocked road construction. One by one the camps fell, but not before costing the government large sums of money and slowing the project down immensely. In the end the disruption became too much and the government cancelled most of the programme.

We can contrast the anti-roads movement with the planned actions at COP21. In Paris, at best they will block some delegates from leaving a meeting that will have concluded, the content of which will have largely been decided over the prior months of negotiations. Which means the planned protests won’t affect the outcome, and won’t affect climate change in any way directly either. The action is and can only be intended to put pressure on governments to make a stronger agreement. But then, given the scale, complexity and urgency of climate change, who else could possibly deal with it as an issue?

Murray Bookchin: Anarchism without the Working Class

By Wayne Price - Anarkismo, December 3, 2015

Although he died in 2006, Murray Bookchin is recently in the news.  Staid bourgeois newspapers report, with apparent shock, that part of the Kurdish revolutionary national movement has been influenced by the ideas of Murray Bookchin, a U.S. anarchist (Enzinna 2015).  However, I am not going to discuss this development here. My topic is not how Bookchin’s political philosophy may apply to the Kurds in Rojava (important as this is), but how it might apply to the U.S.A. and other industrialized and industrializing countries.

Nor will I review the whole range of Bookchin’s life and work (see White 2008).   Bookchin made enormous contributions to anarchism, especially—but not only—his integration of ecology with anarchism.  At the same time, in my opinion, his work was deeply flawed in that he rejected the working class as playing a major role in the transition from capitalism to anti-authoritarian socialism.  Like many other radicals in the period after World War II, he was shaken by the defeats of the world working class during the ‘thirties and ‘forties, and impressed by the prosperity and stability of the Western world after the Second World War. Previously a Communist and then a Trotskyist, he now turned to a version of anarchism which rejected working class revolution.

This was not the historically dominant view held by anarchists.  Bakunin, Kropotkin, Malatesta, Makhno, Goldman, Durrutti,  the anarcho-syndicalists and the anarcho-communists—they believed that  “anarchism is a revolutionary, internationalist, class struggle form of libertarian socialism…. Syndicalism [revolutionary unionism—WP] was a form of mass anarchism…and the great majority of anarchists embraced it.” (Schmidt & van der Walt 2009; 170)  For them, the “broad anarchist tradition” was “‘class struggle’ anarchism, sometimes called revolutionary communist anarchism….” (19)

However, in his 1969 pamphlet, “Listen, Marxist!” (republished in Bookchin 1986; 195—242), Bookchin denounced “the myth of the proletariat.”  He wrote, "We have seen the working class neutralized as the ‘agent of revolutionary change,’ albeit still struggling within a bourgeois framework for more wages [and] shorter hours….The class struggle…has [been]…co-opted into capitalism…. " (202) The last collection of his writings repeats his belief, “…The Second World War…brought to an end to the entire era of revolutionary proletarian socialism…that had emerged in June 1848” (Bookchin 2015; 127). By an “era of revolutionary proletarian socialism,” he did not mean there had been successful workers’ revolutions, but that there had been mass working class movements (Socialist, Communist, and anarchist), with a number of attempted revolutions.

He wrote, “…The worker [is] dominated by the factory hierarchy, by the industrial routine, and by the work ethic….Capitalist production not only renews the social relations of capitalism with each working day…it also renews the psyche, values, and ideology of capitalism” (Bookchin 1986; 203 & 206). (Why these deadening effects of industrial capitalist production did not prevent the existence of a movement for “revolutionary proletarian socialism” for an “entire era” from 1848 to World War II, he did not explain.)

Bookchin did not deny that there still were workers’ struggles for better wages and shorter hours, but he no longer saw this low level class conflict as indicating a potential for a workers’ revolution.  Nor did he deny that workers might become revolutionary, but only, he said, if they stopped thinking of themselves as workers, focused on issues unrelated to their daily work, and regarded themselves as declassed “citizens.”

Socialist Internationals in History

By Richard Greeman - Institute for Social Ecology, October 4, 2015

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’s.

This study is based on the premise that any profound social transformation in our era of globalized capitalism would have to take place on a planetary scale. History has shown that revolutionary movements, when geographically isolated, are inevitably either crushed or assimilated into the capitalist world system. This internationalist conclusion first became apparent to working people during the 19th century as capitalism and the Industrial Revolution spread across Europe, and it was first elaborated theoretically by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in their 1848 Manifesto of the Communist League with its ringing conclusion: “Workers of the world, unite!”

SIDEBAR

In point of fact, the French socialist and feminist Flora Tristan (1803-1844), ahead of her time, was the first to call for a “universal union” of workers. Moreover, Tristan’s “union” was truly “universal” because she proclaimed the necessity of uniting “workers of both sexes” – in Working Class Unity (L’Union Ouvrière). It took two years before the International Workingmen’s Association, of which Marx was a founder, began to admit women as members and it was three years before a woman, the feminist Harriet Law, was added to the General Council.

Reversing the Tide: Cities and Countries Are Rebelling Against Water Privatization, and Winning

By Tom Lawson - Occupy.Com, September 22, 2015

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’s.

Private companies have been working to make a profit from water since the 1600s, when the first water companies were established in England and Wales. The first wave of water privatization occurred in the 1800s, and by the mid- to late-19th century, privately owned water utilities were common in Europe, the United States and Latin America, and began to appear in Africa and Asia.

But the privatization flurry faded, and throughout much of the 20th century water was largely a publicly controlled resource. In the U.S., for example, just 30% of piped water systems were privately owned in 1924, dropping from 60% in 1850.

It wasn't until the late 1980s that the idea of private companies managing water re-emerged on a large scale. Under Margaret Thatcher, the U.K. government privatized all water companies in England and Wales in 1989 – making it the first country to do so. Coupled with the global emphasis on free market capitalism after the fall of communism, it began the second wave of water privatization that continues today.

Privatizing water was, and still is, encouraged by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, which make public-to-private takeovers a condition of lending. As a result, the early 1990s saw a rush of cities and countries around the world signing over their nations' water resources to private companies.

It is argued by industry and investors that putting water in private hands translates into improvements in efficiency and service quality, and that services will be better managed. Privatizing also provides governments an opportunity to gain revenue by selling off water services, and for companies to generate profit. But with profit the main objective, the idea of water as a human right arguably becomes a secondary concern.

Problems with water privatization often begin to occur soon after the initial wave of enthusiasm – from lack of infrastructure investment to environmental neglect. A 2005 study by the World Bank said that overall evidence suggests "there is no statistically significant difference between the efficiency performance of public and private operators in this sector." The most common complaint about water privatization concerned tariff increases, which occur in the vast majority of cases, making safe water inaccessible for many.

Despite these issues, aid agencies, water companies and many governments around the world continue to pursue privatization of water in the name of profit. In 2011, economist Willem Buiter described water as "an asset class that will, in my view, become eventually the single most important physical-commodity-based asset class, dwarfing oil, copper, agricultural commodities and precious metals."

But opposition to this ideology is mounting. Known as remunicipalisation, more and more communities and governments are choosing to resist and reverse private water contracts. According to a 2014 report by the Transnational Institute, around 180 cities in 35 countries have returned control of their water supply to municipalities in the past 15 years.

Capital Blight: Common Cause or a Neighborhood "Linch"-Mob?

By x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, September 19, 2015

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’s.

Recently, a member of the IWW EUC posted a link to a May 27, 2015 editorial by four anonymous members of the Common Cause anarchist-communist federation, titled, Active Corrosion: Building Working-class Opposition to Pipelines, and I must say, it's very thought provoking. They definitely raise some important issues and ask some pertinent questions, but ultimately their criticisms of the IWW EUC and the conclusions they draw based on that fall far off the mark. Furthermore, although I share many of their criticisms of the environmental movement across the spectrum from mainstream NGO to radical direct-action eco-radical, I find their proposed remedies, while well intentioned, to be insufficient and, quite frankly, formulaic.

Who Misquoted Judi Bari?

Perhaps it's best to begin with their rather shallow understanding of the current orientations within Earth First!. In section II of their piece, (The Lay of the Land), they declare:

There are the assertions of Earth First!-types, as expressed by the organization’s co-founder Dave Foreman that it is “the bumpkin proletariat so celebrated in Wobbly lore who holds the most violent and destructive attitudes towards the natural world (and toward those who would defend it).”

It's interesting that they would reference that particular statement of Foreman's, since it was made almost twenty-five years ago, in a debate with Murray Bookchin, conducted as Dave Foreman was dropping out of the Earth First! movement in response to the latter incorporating class struggle into its radical ecology perspective (due, in no small part, to the influence of Judi Bari whom they so quickly dismiss--but more about that later). Many of Foreman's supporters within Earth First! who held similar views would soon follow within the next few years, and for the most part, most of them never returned to the fold. These days, Earth First!, while far from consistent or perfect on matters of class struggle or workers issues, is significantly more inclusive of them. If one were to read, for example, any of the rather detailed articles by Alexander Reid Ross, and they would see that some Earth First!ers have a fairly deep and extensive understanding of workers' issues. While it is true that there is also a strong primitivist--as well as a persistent insurrectionist--streak within that movement (one that I am often willing to criticize when he deems it necessary), these leanings do not preclude social anarchist perspectives.

Moving on from there, the editorialists opine:

In contrast, there is the commitment of the Wobblies’, otherwise known as the Industrial Workers of the World, Environmental Unionism Caucus to strategize about, “how to organize workers in resource extraction industries with a high impacts [sic] on the environment”, which lacks a broader vision of addressing industries which cannot exist in their current form or at all, if we are to prevent crisis.

Perhaps before making this rather sneeringly dismissive comment, the authors might have--perhaps--read some of the texts and articles on our site, ecology.iww.org, such as the numerous texts arguing against extractivism, including this statement by the South African Mine and Metal Workers' Union (NUMSA), this article by Jess Grant, or this series of articles arguing against "socialist" apologies for Nuclear Power, including my own pieces (Part 1; Part 2), just to name a few. Better yet, would it have been asking too much for the writers to actually contact us and ask us our opinions on the matter? You'll please forgive us if we regard such lack of due diligence as mentally lazy.

Transitions towards New Economies? A Transformative Social Innovation Perspective

By Flor Avelino, et. al. - Transformative Social Innovation (TRANSIT), September 2015

There are numerous social innovation networks and initiatives worldwide with the ambition to contribute to transformative change towards more sustainable, resilient and just societies. Many of these have a specific vision on the economy and relate to alternative visions of a ‘New Economy’. This paper highlights four prominent strands of new economy thinking in state-of-the-art discussions: degrowth, collaborative economy, solidarity economy, and social entrepreneurship.

Taking a perspective of transformative social innovation, the paper draws on case studies of 12 social innovation initiatives to analyse how these relate to new economies and to transitions toward new economic arrangements. The 12 cases are analysed in terms of a) how they relate to narratives of change on new economies, b) how they renew social relations, and c) how their new economy arrangements hold potential to challenge established institutional constellations in the existing economy.

Read the text (PDF).

Back to the future for work

By Andrew Curry - The Next Wave, August 20, 2015

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’s.

Most discussion of the future of work assumes that the work, or the lack of it, is our coming problem. But what if we’ve got the question the wrong way around? What if we’re slowly, or not so slowly, giving up on the idea of work? After all, we all know that most work is dull. And even the interesting stuff is exploitative, somewhere along the line.

The thought struck me while reading Dan Hancox’ book The Village Against The World, about the anarcho-syndicalist village of Marinaleda, in Andalusia. After 20 years of intense political struggle, the village won some land for itself, and later added some food processing plants. Unemployment there is five or six per cent, a fraction of the level in other parts of Andalusia. But the young people, generally, are less willing to work in either. Work in the fields is hard; work in the processing plants is boring. And this is, pretty much, a universal truth.

In The Village Against The World, a young woman called Christina who lives part-time in the village and part time in the larger town of Estapa explains it to Hancox this way:

“A thousand euros a month is fine – 1,200 euros a month is pretty good.” We were talking about the mileuristas, her generation, so called because they had learned to get by on a one thousand euros a month. Christina was living with her mother in Marinaleda while also renting a room in a flat in Estapa, where she works as a teacher some of the week.

A thousand euros a month is about £750 or $1,400; not a lot, in other words. Spain, of course, has an acute version of this problem. But even if it an outlier, it is not unusual. The labour contract with capitalism is breaking down.

Murray Bookchin: The Bernie Sanders Paradox: When Socialism Grows Old (1986)

By Murray Bookchin - Socialist Review issue 90, November & December 1986

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’s.

The posters that appeared all over Burlington — Vermont’s largest city (pop: 37,000) in the winter of 1980-81 were arresting and provocative. They showed an old map of the city with a label slapped across it that read: “For Sale.” A bold slogan across the top, in turn, proclaimed that “Burlington Is Not for Sale,” and smiling amiably in the right-hand corner was the youngish, fairly well-known face of Bernard Sanders, sans tie, open-collared, almost endearingly shy and unpretentious. The onlooker was enjoined to rescue Burlington by voting for “Bernie” Sanders for mayor. Sanders, the long-time gubernatorial candidate of Vermont’s maverick Liberty Union, was now challenging “Gordie” Paquette, an inert Democratic fixture in City Hall, who had successfully fended off equally inert Republican opponents for nearly a decade.

That Sanders won this election on March 3, 1981, by only ten votes is now a Vermont legend that has percolated throughout the country over the past five years. What gives Sanders almost legendary qualities as a mayor and politician is that he proclaims himself to be a socialist — to many admiring acolytes, a Marxist — who is now in the midpoint of a third term after rolling up huge margins in two previous elections. From a ten-vote lead to some fifty-two percent of the electorate, Sanders has ballooned out of Burlington in a flurry of civic tournaments that variously cast him as a working-class hero or a demonic “Bolshevik.” His victories now make the New York Times and his trips outside of Burlington take him to places as far as Managua, where he has visited with Daniel Ortega, and to Monthly Review fundraising banquets, where he rubs shoulders with New York’s radical elite. Sanders has even been invited to the Socialist Scholar’s Conference, an offer he wisely declined. Neither scholarship nor theory is a Sanders forte. If socialist he be, he is of the “bread-and-butter” kind whose preference for “realism” over ideals has earned him notoriety even within his closest co-workers in City Hall.

The criss-crossing lines that deface almost every serious attempt to draw an intelligible sketch of the Sanders administration and its meaning for radicals result from a deep-seated paradox in “bread-and-butter” socialism itself. It trivializes this larger issue to deal with Sanders merely as a personality or to evaluate his achievements in the stark terms of lavish praise or damning blame. A sophomoric tribute to Sanders’ doings in the Monthly Review of a year ago was as maladroit as the thundering letters of denunciation that appear in the Burlington Free Press. Sanders fits neither the heaven-sent roles he is given in radical monthlies nor the demonic ones he acquires in conservative letters to moderate dailies.

To dwell heavily on his well-known paranoia and suspicious reclusiveness beclouds the more important fact that he is a centralist, who is more committed to accumulating power in the mayor’s office than giving it to the people. To spoof him for his unadorned speech and macho manner is to ignore the fact that his notions of a “class analysis” are narrowly productivist and would embarrass a Lenin, not to mention a Marx. To mock his stolid behavior and the surprising conventionality of his values is to conceal his commitment to thirties’ belief in technological progress, businesslike efficiency, and a naive adherence to the benefits of “growth.” The logic of all these ideas is that democratic practice is seen as secondary to a full belly, the earthy proletariat tends to be eulogized over the “effete” intellectuals, and environmental, feminist, and communitarian issues are regarded as “petit-bourgeois” frivolities by comparison with the material needs of “working people.” Whether the two sides of this “balance sheet” need be placed at odds with each other is a problem that neither Sanders nor many radicals of his kind have fully resolved. The tragedy is that Sanders did not live out his life between 1870 and 1940, and the paradox that faces him is: why does a constellation of ideas that seemed so rebellious fifty years ago appear to be so conservative today? This, let me note, is not only Sanders’ problem. It is one that confronts a very sizable part of the left today.

Turkish Army burning Kurdish forests: Call for a delegation

By Ercan Ayboga - Mesopotamian Ecology Movement, August 18, 2015

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’s.

With the restart of the war in North-Kurdistan by Turkish state in end of July 2015 the Turkish Army has started to burn down forests. After 2,5 years of negotiations about the start of a peace process between the Turkish government and the Kurdish Freedom Movement, the Turkish side decided to attack the PKK Guerrilla HPG (Peoples Defense Forces) and legal political activists.

In a planned and systematic manner the Turkish Army shoots with munition and bombs which result in forest fires. Particularly in the provinces of Dersim (Tunceli), Sirnex (Şırnak) and Amed (Diyarbakır) the Army has burned down several ecologically highly sensitive forests in its operations against the HPG. Thereby the Turkish Army hopes to limit the mobility of HPG. This method in fighting the long-lasting Kurdish rebellion has been used widely already in the 90’s in North-Kurdistan. Almost every greater forest in the contested regions has been burned down in that years.

The most forest fires have been initiated in areas which have been declared by the Turkish government as “security areas” just after the restart of the war. That is why local people and activists – like from our movement – have been hindered by the Turkish Army to go to the affected areas and try to extinguish the fires. These initiatives have been created while the responsible governmental bodies did not act. We assume that they have been instructed by the government not to intervene. To date several hundred hectares of forests have been burnt down in North-Kurdistan where the main tree type is the oak.

We call on the international political activists, social movements and NGO’s working on ecological issues to join an international delegation. This delegation could investigate the dimension and impacts of the forest fires of the last weeks, the subsequent behavior of Turkish officials, the efforts of locals to extinguish the fires and if existing the ongoing fires and inform the international public based on their observations. We think that the extremely destructive behavior of the Turkish State in this dirty war must be treated also on international level. The period for the international delegation is planned from the 8th to the 12th September 2015. Write us in case of interest.

Ercan Ayboga (e.ayboga [at] gmx.net)
for the Mesopotamian Ecology Movement

Another World is Possible, but How Can We Get There?

By Ablokeimet - Melbourne Anarchist Communist Group, August 10, 2015

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’s.

This is the text of a presentation given by a MACG member during a debate on the class struggle approach to Anarchism held at the Melbourne Anarchist Bookfair on Saturday 8 August 2015. It was delivered almost verbatim.

Thanks. I’m going to take it for granted that we want an Anarchist society – one where capitalism and the State have been abolished, where all forms of social oppression are eradicated and the human race lives sustainably and in harmony with the Earth. What we’re debating here is how to get there – the path from present day capitalism to an Anarchist society.

The traditional Anarchist view of the route to an Anarchist society is through a workers’ revolution, which occurs as the culmination of a progressively intensifying phase of class struggle. This is the position I support. I think workers’ revolution is both possible and necessary, for reasons I will go on to elaborate.

First of all, though, I’d like to clear up the concept of class, since it is often a source of great confusion. The working class is composed of those with nothing to sell except their labour. You don’t have to work in a factory to be working class, or even to have a job at all. You don’t have to be a white, heterosexual male, either.

Now, I’m going to read out a list of categories of people. See if you’re in any of them:

  • Your main source of income is interest, rent and/or dividends;
  • You own a business and work inside it for your main income, regardless of whether you employ anybody else. It doesn’t count if the so-called “business” is the supply of your own labour to a single employer that supervises your actions as it would an employee and is only doing it to avoid taxation and/or industrial relations laws;
  • You are a manager in the public or private sector with the right to hire and fire;
  • You are a copper, a prison warder, a military officer or member of the security services (e.g. ASIO);
  • You are a Member of Parliament or a local government Councillor, or a judge, magistrate or person with similar powers (e.g. member of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal).
  • You are employed by a trade union, political party or NGO as an organiser or office bearer.
  • You are reasonably confident that, in the next five or ten years, you will be in one of the above categories. It doesn’t count if you’re just hoping or if you’ll need a bit of luck for it to come off;
  • You stand to inherit, whether from a spouse, parent or otherwise, millions of dollars over and above a house to live in.

If you’re in one of those categories, can you put your hand up? You don’t have to say which one it is, because there are some it may be embarrassing to admit to being a member of. OK. Everyone who didn’t put their hand up is a member of the working class. You have an objective interest in getting rid of capitalism, over and above any ethical commitment you may have. Those of you who did put your hand up, you can still join the struggle as an ally, provided you have the ethical commitment to do so. You’re just not in the same position to have an impact.

So, what’s important about the working class? As we’ve just shown, it comprises the vast majority of society. You can’t change society without having at least a majority of the working class on your side and, if you want a revolution, the vast majority. Second, it is the experience of co-operation in the capitalist workplace that provides the experience that is necessary to co-operate in the class struggle.

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