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Syndicalism, Ecology and Feminism: Judi Bari’s Vision

By Jeff Shantz - January 12, 2001 [PDF File Available]

According to the late Wobbly organizer and Earth Firster, Judi Bari, a truly biocentric perspective must really challenge the system of industrial capitalism which is founded upon the ‘ownership’ of the earth. Industrial capitalism cannot be reformed since it is founded upon the destruction of nature. The profit drive of capitalism insists that more be taken out than is put back (be it labour or land). Bari extended the Marxist discussion of surplus value to include the elements of nature. She argued that a portion of the profit derived from any capitalist product results from the unilateral (under)valuing, by capital, of resources extracted from nature.

Because of her analysis of the rootedness of ecological destruction in capitalist relations Bari turned her attentions to the everyday activities of working people. Workers would be a potentially crucial ally of environmentalists, she realized, but such an alliance could only come about if environmentalists were willing to educate themselves about workplace concerns. Bari held no naïve notions of workers as privileged historical agents. She simply stressed her belief that for ecology to confront capitalist relations effectively and in a non-authoritarian manner requires the active participation of workers. Likewise, if workers were to assist environmentalists it was reasonable to accept some mutual aid in return from ecology activists.

In her view the power which manifests itself as resource extraction in the countryside manifests itself as racism and exploitation in the city. An effective radical ecology movement (one which could begin to be considered revolutionary) must organize among poor and working people. Only through workers’ control of production and distribution can the machinery of ecological destruction be shut down.

Ecological crises become possible only within the context of social relations which engender a weakening of people’s capacities to fight an organized defence of the planet’s ecological communities. Bari understood that the restriction of participation in decision-making processes within ordered hierarchies, prerequisite to accumulation, has been a crucial impediment to ecological organizing.[1] This convinced her that radical ecology must now include demands for workers’ control and a decentralization of industries in ways which are harmonious with nature. It also meant rejecting ecological moralizing and developing some sensitivity to workers’ anxieties and concerns.

To critics this emphasis on the concerns of workers and the need to overcome capitalist social relations signified a turn towards workerist analysis which, in their view, undermined her ecology. Criticisms of workers and ‘leftist ecology’ have come not only from deep ecologists, as discussed above, but from social ecologists, such as Murray Bookchin and Janet Biehl, who otherwise oppose deep ecology. Social ecology guru Bookchin has been especially hostile to any idea of the workplace as an important site of social and political activity or of workers as significant radical actors. Bookchin repeats recent talk about the disappearance of the working class [2], although he is confused about whether the working class is ‘numerically diminishing’ or just ‘being integrated’. Bookchin sees the ‘counterculture’ (roughly the new social movements like ecology) as a new privileged social actor, and in place of workers turns to a populist ‘the people’ and the ascendancy of community. Underlying Bookchin’s critique of labour organizing, however, is a low opinion of workers which he views contemptuously as ‘mere objects’ without any active presence within communities.[3]

Ecology and Class: Where there’s Brass, there’s Muck

By the (UK) Anarchist Federation - ca. 1998

Many people are aware of the worldwide problem of environmental pollution and destruction. Rainforests such as Amazonia are being decimated, large areas of land turned into desert. Droughts, floods and earthquakes affect millions; large-scale pollution is causing dangerous climatic change. Ecology (the science of living things and how they interact with each other), is therefore vital, literally a matter of life and death.

In Africa and Asia, deforestation and desertification reinforce the effects of grossly unfair land ownership, producing starvation and malnutrition for millions of people. In Europe and North America, cancers from the environmental degradation caused by mass industrial society affect tens of thousands; the death and injury toll from cars is huge and the resulting air pollution causes a worsening asthma problem. Drinking water is becoming more polluted due to pesticides from farming, pollution from industry and, in Britain, water suppliers may soon be compelled to add the harmful chemical fluoride to water because of its supposed benefits to children’s teeth. Food is generally laden with chemicals (additives, pesticides, pollution, irradiation (to prolong shelf life), and is increasingly genetically modified.

Ecological analysis needs to be part of a wider class analysis. For too many environmentalists however, green issues and politics are “neither left nor right” or “beyond politics”. This is dangerous nonsense. It leads to flirtations (or worse) with paganism, eastern religions and mysticism. It encourages people-hating ideologies. Let’s not forget the nationalism and racism of leading American Earth First! activists in the 1980s or links to neo-fascist ideas (David Icke, for instance, or the Third Stream groups in Britain and elsewhere). On the other side, class analysis cannot ignore ecology, for instance by treating all technology as neutral.

If it does, it will be incapable of creating a future society that is free and equal (anarchist communism); such a society must be in harmony with the rest of nature.

This pamphlet is the result of the Anarchist Federation’s commitment to developing a coherent ecological analysis and practice as a vital part of our politics. It does not claim to be the last word, merely the start of the process. Ecology is an important strand in anarchist communism through people who were both theorists and activists, such as Kropotkin, Mumford, and, in the present day, Murray Bookchin’s description of ecologies of freedom.

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Ecology or “Anarcho”-capitalism?

By Iain MacSaorsa - ca. October 19, 1995 [PDF File Available]

Can “absolute” private property rights protect the environment?

According to Libertarians, only private property can protect the environment. Rothbard claims that “if private firms were able to own the rivers and lakes... anyone dumping garbage... would promptly be sued in the courts for their aggression against private property... Thus, only private property rights will insure an end to pollution-invasion of resources” (Rothbard, For a New Liberty, page 256).

This ignores one major point, why would the private owner be interested in keeping it clean? Why not just assume that the company makes more money turing the lakes and rivers into a dumping site, or trees into junk mail. Its no less plausible, in fact more likely to happen in many cases. Its just another example of Libertarianism’s attempt to give the reader what he or she whats to hear.

But, of course, the Libertarian will jump in and say that if dumping was allowed, this would cause pollution which would affect others, who would sue the owner in question. Maybe, is the answer to that. What if the locals are slum dwellers and cannot afford to sue, or if they are afraid that their land-lords will evict them if they do so (particularly if they also own the polluting property in question)?

But, beyond these points lies the most important one. Namely, is the option to sue about pollution really available in the free market? Rothbard thinks it is. Taking the case of factory smoke in the 19th Century, he notes that it and “many of its bad effects have been known since the Industrial Revolution, known to the extent that the American courts, during the... nineteenth century made the deliberate decision to allow property rights to be violated by industrial smoke. To do so, the courts had to — and did — systematically change and weaken the defenses of property rights embedded in Anglo-Saxon common law... the courts systematically altered the law of negligence and the law of nuisance to permit any air pollution which was not unusually greater than any similar manufacturing firm” (Rothbard, op cit, page 257).

In this remarkably self-contradictory passage, we are invited to draw the conclusion that private property must provide the solution to the pollution problem from an account of how it clearly did not do so! If the nineteenth century USA — which for many Libertarian’s is a kind of “golden era” of free market capitalism — saw a move from an initial situation of well defended property rights to a later situation were greater pollution was tolerated, as Rothbard claims, then property rights cannot provide a solution to the pollution problem.

It is, of course, likely that Rothbard and other “Libertarians” will claim that the system was not pure enough, that the courts were motivated to act under pressure from the state (which in turn was pressured by powerful industrialists). But can it be purified by just removing the government and placingcourts into a free market? The pressure from the industrialists remains, if not increases, on the privately-owned courts trying to make a living on the market.

The characteristically Libertarian argument that if X was privately owned, Y would almost certainly occur, is just wishful thinking.

Anarcho-Syndicalism, Technology and Ecology

By Graham Purchase - Kick It Over, #35, Summer 1995 [PDF Available]

In an anarchist society, the absence of centralized state authority will permit a radically new integration of nature, labour and culture. As the social and ecological revolution progresses, national boundaries will become cartographical curiosities, and divisions based upon differences in geography, climate and species distribution will re-emerge. This essay addresses the question of what role unionism will play in these changes.

First, it seems obvious that telecommunications, transportation and postal networks all require organization which extends far beyond the individual ecological region, and activities like road building between communities require cooperation beyond that of individual locales. Thus, a return to a community-based lifestyle need not and cannot imply a return to the isolation of the walled medieval city or peasant village.

Anarcho-syndicalists (that is, anarchist unionists) argue that the best way to address such needs is for the "workers of the world" to cease producing for capitalist elites and their political allies. Instead, they should organize to serve humanity by creating not only communication and transportation networks, but industrial, service, and agricultural networks as well, in order to ensure the continued production and distribution of goods and services.

Yet there are many people in anarchist and radical environmental circles who regard anarcho-syndicalism with distrust, as they mistakenly identify it with industrialism. They argue that global industrialism has been responsible for centralized organization and environmental destruction. They view industrialism as necessarily based upon mass production, and the factory as inevitably involving high energy use and dehumanizing working conditions. In short, critics believe that providing six billion people with toilet paper and building materials (let alone TVs, VCRs and automobiles) necessarily involves large-scale, mass production techniques ill-suited to ecological health - regardless of whether capitalist leeches or "free" workers are running the show. Industrialism, it is argued, is an environmental evil in and of itself; it is only made slightly more destructive by the narrow, short-term interests of capital and state. Such critics argue that technology has likewise outgrown its capitalistic origins, and has taken on a sinister and destructive life of its own.

I am not unsympathetic to this argument. That children and adults alike spend hours on end surrounded by deafening noise and blinding lights in video arcades, in an utterly synthetic technological orgy, is ample evidence of our species' sick fetish for non-organic, superficial pleasures. The regimentation of the work day, and the consignment of leisure and play to half-hour television slots interrupted by nauseating commercials, is nothing short of the industrial robotification of human nature - an alarming process that has led many to argue that humanity should abandon the industrial and technological revolutions altogether. They further argue that we should return to small-scale, minimally industrial technologies that utilize simple devices such as the hand loom. Given the enormously destructive effects of today's industrial system, such a course may ultimately be the only path open to humanity. At this point, however, simply abandoning our cities and our technologies and hoping that our species will somehow return to a small-scale, pre-industrial existence appears both unlikely and reckless.

Revolutionary Ecology, Biocentrism, and Deep Ecology

By Judi Bari - 1995 | [PDF File Available]

I was a social justice activist for many years before I ever heard of Earth First!. So it came as a surprise to me, when I joined Earth First! in the 1980s, to find that the radical environmental movement paid little attention to the social causes of ecological destruction. Similarly, the urban-based social justice movement seems to have a hard time admitting the importance of biological issues, often dismissing all but "environmental racism" as trivial. Yet in order to effectively respond to the crises of today, I believe we must merge these two issues.

Starting from the very reasonable, but unfortunately revolutionary concept that social practices which threaten the continuation of life on Earth must be changed, we need a theory of revolutionary ecology that will encompass social and biological issues, class struggle, and a recognition of the role of global corporate capitalism in the oppression of peoples and the destruction of nature.

I believe we already have such a theory. It's called deep ecology, and it is the core belief of the radical environmental movement. The problem is that, in the early stages of this debate, deep ecology was falsely associated with such right wing notions as sealing the borders, applauding AIDS as a population control mechanism, and encouraging Ethiopians to starve. This sent the social ecologists justifiably scurrying to disassociate. And I believe it has muddied the waters of our movement's attempt to define itself behind a common philosophy.

So in this article, I will try to explain, from my perspective as an unabashed leftist, why I think deep ecology is a revolutionary world view. I am not trying to proclaim that my ideas are Absolute Truth, or even that they represent a finished thought process in my own mind. These are just some ideas I have on the subject, and I hope that by airing them, it will spark more debate and advance the discussion.

Class Struggle and the Environmental Crisis: A South African Anarchist Pamphlet

By Zabalaza - ca 1995

The Earth is facing an environmental crisis on a scale unprecedented in human history. This environmental crisis is already responsible for high levels of human suffering. If the crisis continues to develop at its current rate, the ultimate result will be the extinction of human life on the planet.

We call for action to end the environmental crisis because of the threat it poses to humankind, and because we recognise that nature and the environment have value in their own terms. Although we hold human life above all other life on the planet, we do not think that humans have the right to destroy animals, plants and eco-systems that do not threaten our survival.

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Anarchism and Environmental Survival (Graham Pucrhase)

By Graham Pucrhase - See Sharp Press, 1994

As a result of the environmental crisis, the once-unshakable belief that the human species should dominate nature is being challenged on all sides. "Survival" has come to mean something more complex than the simplistic notion of "survival of the fittest" or the right of dominance by a "superior" species. Increasing numbers of people are coming to see that regional and planetary environmental health, and human survival itself, depend upon a respectful approach to nature and to non-human life forms. We now know that healthy soils, animals, forests, grasslands and river systems are biological necessities for human survival. Ecological science further tells us that genetic and species diversity, not homogeneity, ensures the health and stability of ecosystems, and that the health and stability of the Karth itself can be no greater than that of its combined ecological regions. Our contemporary understanding of survival, then, and the means necessary to its realization, is a far cry from the individualistic struggle for existence—"Nature red in tooth and claw"—once depicted in elementary biology texts. Human survival depends not upon competition with other species (and within our own), but rather upon the adoption of cooperative and nurturant ways of life—a sustainable course of co-evolution with all living things.

At the same time, people are increasingly looking for nongovernmental ways to solve pressing social and environmental problems. They realize that it is everyone’s responsibility to create a greener, healthier, and more sustainable future for their families and communities. People are beginning to plant trees in suburban "green belts," to campaign against the pollution of local rivers, and to take the time to appreciate the wildlife in their regions. They notice that the massive and imperialistic military and economic ventures of nation states and multinational corporations are more often than not harmful to the regions in which they are imposed. Corporate capitalism, from Tokyo to Berlin seems determined to cover the delicate ecoregions of our living planet with a universal landscape of asphalt highways, golf courses, shopping malls, and theme parks. People everywhere are realizing that our survival is dependent upon environmental stability, and that the pathological interests of governments and multinational corporations pose the single biggest threat to the health of the Earth.

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The Limits of Environmentalism Without Class: Lessons from the Ancient Forest Struggle of the Pacific Northwest

By John Bellamy Foster - 1993, Monthly Review Press - Capitalism, Nature, Socialism

John Bellamy Foster is an associate professor of sociology at the University of Oregon. He was served as the editor for Capitalism, Nature, Socialism, which is a project of Monthly Review Press. He has written numerous books, including The Vulnerable Planet and The Theory of Monopoly Capitalism. He is also a regular contributor to The Monthly Review.

Acknowledgment. The author would like to thank Michael Dawson, Chuck Noble, Doug Boucher, and Alessandro Bonanno for their comments and support at critical stages in the preparation of this article. Acknowledgment is also given to Judi Bari, whose criticisms were useful in the development of the final version of this manuscript.

This pamphlet is a joint project of Monthly Review Press and Capitalism, Nature, Socialism/Center for Ecological Socialism. It will be published in a slightly different form in Capitalism, Nature, Socialism 4, no. 1 (March 1993).

Capitalism, Nature, Socialism (CNS) is an international journal of theory and politics which combines the themes of history and nature, society and environment, and economics and ecology, and promotes the ideals of ecological socialism and feminism. The journal is especially interested in joining the discourses on ecology; feminism; struggles for social and environmental justice; radical democracy; and the theory of capital and politics of class struggle.

CNS is published four times a year. The journal is edited by an International Editorial Board of 50 members from 18 countries and over 150 Editorial Consultants on every continent. CNS regularly publishes reports on red green politics in different countries; theoretical and empirical articles; debates; theoretical notes; conference reports; research notes; poems; review essays; and reviews.

Ecologia Politica, the Spanish language edition of CNS, is published in Barcelona and Capitalismo Natura Socialismo, the Italian language edition, in Rome. A Sibling journal, Ecologie Politique has been launched in Paris. Plans are being made for an international Forum of left ecology journals in different countries, spearheaded by Lokoyan Bulletin (India) and CNS (USA).

CNS is non-sectarian; it is affiliated with no political party or organized political tendency and is open to diverse views within the international red green and feminist movements. The journal seeks to maintain the highest possible standards of scholarship, as well as to encourage discussions and debates about all of the issues bearing on our subject.

A Perspective on Sydney’s Green Ban Campaign, 1970-74

Burgmann, V. - Power and Protest, 1993

The background to the green-ban struggles is the story of the destruction of Australia's major cities in the 1960s and early 1970s, when vast amounts of money were poured into property development: giant glass and concrete buildings changed the face of our cities and valuable old buildings were razed in the process. The interests of home buyers and architectual heritage lost out against often purely speculative construction. At one stage, there was ten million square feet of vacant office space in Sydney's business district, while people looking for their first homes or flats could find nothing.

In 1971, the New South Wales branch of the Builders Labourers' Federation (BLF) decided this destruction should stop, even though they were the people employed to do it. The New South Wales branch was led by three men who soon became notorious. They were either loved or hated – Jack Mundey, Bob Pringle and Joe Owens. They argued that:

In a modern society, the workers' movement, in order to play a really meaningful role, must engage in all industrial, political, social and moral struggles affecting the working people as a whole…In this context, building workers are beginning to demand of governments, employers and architects that buildings which are required by the people should have priority over superfluous office buildings which benefit only the get-rich-quick developers, insurance companies and banks.

The union insisted priorities be reversed, that the construction of flats and houses was more important than piling up empty or under-used commercial office buildings. They claimed the right to intervene in the decision-making process and exert a degree of workers' control, determined as they were to use their labour in a socially useful manner. The campaign maintained that 'all work performed should be of a socially useful and of an ecologically benign nature'.

The movement got under way in 1971 when a group of women from the fashionable suburb of Hunter's Hill sought the help of the NSW BLF to save Kelly's Bush, the last remaining open space in that area, where A.V.Jennings wanted to build luxury houses. They had already been to the local council, the mayor, the local state member and the Premier, all to no avail. The union asked the Hunter's Hill women to call a public meeting at Hunter's Hill, to show that there was community support for the request for a union ban on the destruction of Kelly's Bush. Over 600 people attended the meeting, which formally requested a ban. This ban was called a green-ban, to distinguish it from a black-ban, a union action to protect the economic interests of its own members, in this case the union was going against the immediate economic interests of its members for the sake of a wider community and environmental interest.

Sabotage in the American workplace: anecdotes of dissatisfaction, mischief and revenge

Originally posted at LibCom.Org, July 21, 2017

A truly fantastic study of everyday employee resistance at work. First person accounts of sabotage, beautifully illustrated and intermingled with related news clippings, facts and quotes. Note that "Mail Handler Judi" is, in fact, Judi Bari 9as confirmed elsewhere).

Published in 1992.

If you enjoy this text, please become a Friend of the publishers, AK Press, or give them a donation here on their website: https://www.akpress.org/friends.html

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