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Dave Foreman

Radical Ecology and Class Struggle: A Re-Consideration

By Jeff Shantz (Toronto-NEFAC) - ca December 2002 [PDF File Available]

Introduction

In recent years a variety of social movement and environmental commentators have devoted a great deal of energy to efforts which argue the demise of class struggle as a viable force for social change (See Eckersley, 1990; Bowles and Gintis, 1987; Bookchin, 1993; 1997). These writers argue that analyses of class struggle are unable to account for the plurality of expressions which hierarchy, domination and oppression take in advanced capitalist or what they prefer to call "postindustrial" societies (See Bookchin, 1980; 1986). They charge that class analyses render a one-dimensional portrayal of social relations. The result of this has been a broad practical and theoretical turn away from questions of class and especially class struggle.

In my view, both orthodox Marxist constructions of class struggle and the arguments raised against that conceptualization have been constrained by conceptually narrow visions of class struggle. Commentators have either taken class to mean an undifferentiated monolith (Bookchin, 1986; 1987) which acts, or more often fails to act, as the instrumental agent in history or else as a fiction generated to obscure hopelessly divided and antagonistic relations within the working class (Laclau and Mouffe, 1985; Bourdieu, 1987). What is generally missing from these otherwise disparate accounts is a dynamic understanding of people as workers and workers as activists.

Indeed one might argue that much of the difficulty arises from arguments over the sociologically constructed working class (e.g. the Marxist "totality" which treats workers in a deterministic manner) rather than the working class in its variety of daily negotiated manifestations. While it is worthwhile to criticize the economistic construction of the working class as constituted by orthodox Marxism, the outcome of such critiques should not be a rejection of the central importance of class and the revolutionary implications of class struggle.

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]

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.

The Secret History of Tree Spiking - Part 2

By Judi Bari - Anderson Valley Advertiser, March 8, 1993; reprinted in Timber Wars, © 1994 Common Courage Press.

Tree-spiking is a failed tactic by any standard. It has been practiced by Earth First! for 10 years now, and I think it's fair to say that the results are in. Here's [an excerpt of] Dave Foreman's description of tree-spiking from Eco-Defense

Tree-spiking is an extremely effective method of deterring timber sales, which seems to be becoming more and more popular. If enough trees are spiked to roadless areas, eventually the corporate thugs in the timber company boardrooms, along with their corporate lackeys who wear the uniform of the Forest Service, will realize that timber sales in wild areas are going to be prohibitively expensive.

Believing this to be so seems to be an article of faith for some Earth First!ers. But a look at the actual history of Earth First! tree-spiking will show that it hasn't really worked out that way.

The most intensive spiking campaigns occurred in Oregon and Washington, although there have also been tree-spikings in California, Colorado, Montana, Idaho, New Mexico, Arizona, British Columbia, southern Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, and New Jersey, to name a few. And I'm not going to say that none of them saved any trees, because in a few cases they did, especially early on, or in areas without a timber based economy. But the successes have been few and far between. Even unabashed Earth First! apologist Chris Manes, writing in his well researched book Green Rage, could only come up with two timber sales that were canceled because they were spiked, one in George Washington National Forest in Virginia, and one in the Wanatchee Forest's Icicle River drainage in Washington state. I don't know about the trees in Virginia, but the Icicle River sale has since been cut. Earth First! activists from Shawnee in Southern Illinois also report that when the hard-fought Fairview sale was finally clear-cut, the only trees that were left were a few oaks that had been spiked.

But there have been scores and scores of tree-spikings, and in the vast majority of cases, the Forest Service or timber company just sent people in with metal detectors and, often with great public fanfare, removed the spikes and cut the trees. Sometimes spikes were missed and sometimes they hit the blades in sawmills. But the timber industry has made it quite clear that this is a price they are willing to pay.

The first known tree-spiking in Earth First! history occurred in the Siskiyou Mountains of Oregon in 1983, on the Woodrat timber sale on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land. Notice was given of the spiking, and some of the trees were marked with yellow ribbons to make them easy to find and verify. The BLM reacted by having the loggers cut the trees and leave them on the ground for firewood cutters to saw at their own risk.

In 1984, a group calling itself the Hardesty Avengers mailed a letter to the Oregon Register-Guard announcing that a 132-acre sale on Hardesty Mountain in the Willamette National Forest had been spiked. The area was scheduled for helicopter logging by Columbia Helicopter. The Forest Service responded with a plan it called "Operation Nail." sending 20 Forest Service employees into the woods to remove the nails before they went ahead and cut the trees.

The Secret History of Tree Spiking - Part 1

By Judi Bari - Anderson Valley Advertiser, February 17, 1993, and the Earth First! Journal, December 21, 1994; reprinted in Timber Wars, © 1994 Common Courage Press.

In May, 1987, sawmill worker George Alexander was nearly decapitated when a tree-spike shattered his sawblade at the Cloverdale Louisiana-Pacific mill in northern California.

This grisly accident sent shock waves through our community, and eventually led Northern California Earth First! to renounce tree spiking. Southern Oregon and Southern Willamette Earth First! joined us, as well as a few Earth First!ers from Stumptown, but that's all.

The rest of Earth First! still endorses spiking, and many of them even today react to our no-spiking policy by denouncing us as traitors and dismissing us as wimps, without ever considering the reasons for our actions. Because of this, because there are so many new Earth First!ers who don't know this history, I think it is time to re-examine the issue of tree-spiking. A few years ago, George Alexander and his wife Laurie agreed to talk to me about the 1987 incident. The following account is based on my conversation with them.

"I was the perfect victim," began George Alexander, "I was nobody." George, a lifetime Mendocino County resident and son of an old-time Willits logger, was 23 years old and just married, with his wife Laurie three months pregnant at the time of the accident. George's job at the mill was called off-bearer. The off-bearer operates a huge band saw that makes the first rough cut on logs as they come into the mill, sectioning off slices of wood that will later be cut to standard lengths and planed for finished lumber.

Off-bearer is one of the most dangerous jobs in the mill. The saw that George Alexander worked on was sized for old-growth logs-52 feet around, with a ten-inch blade of high tensile steel. "That saw was so powerful that when you turned it off you could make three more cuts through a 20-foot log before it stopped," George told me. One of the dangers of working as off-bearer is that if the blade hits a hard knot or metal debris (from old fences, choker chains, nails, etc., embedded in the wood), the sawteeth can break. To protect against this, workers have to wear a heavy face mask and stay on the alert, checking each log as it goes through.

George knew the job was dangerous, but he also was confident of his skill. "I always figured that if the blade ever hit me, it would hit me on the urn." he said. He knew every sound the saw made, and could tell by listening when something was going wrong. He also knew to look for the tell-tale black stains that usually show up on the smooth surface of the de-barked logs if metal is present in the wood.

Although George Alexander was an LP employee, he was no company man. Louisiana-Pacific had earned his disrespect long ago through the callous way they treat their employees. "We're not even people to them," he said. "All they care about is production." The perfect example of this L-P management attitude was Dick Edwards, the day shift foreman. Edwards was always after everyone, but he seemed to go out of his way to harass George. In the months before the tree spiking, Edwards would often stand on the catwalk overlooking George's work station with LP Western Division head Joe Wheeler, just watching George work.

L-P has never been known to spend too much time maintaining equipment or worrying about worker safety. But in the weeks preceding the tree spiking incident, conditions had gotten worse than usual. The bandsaw blade was wobbling when it ran, and cracks had begun to appear in it. But when George and other workers complained, Edwards shined them on, saying the new blades were not in yet, and they would have to ma1ke do. "That blade was getting so bad," said George, "That I almost didn't go to work that day."

Normally when a big tree is sawed, they start from the outside and square off the edges first. But the tree that George was sawing on May 8, 1987 was a 12-inch pecker-pole, and because it was so small he took the first cut down the middle. Halfway through the 20-foot log, the saw hit a 60-penny nail. "That nail must have been recently placed and countersunk," George told me. He had checked the log when he started cutting it and had seen no sign of the metal. And because he hit the nail square-on, there was no warning sound. "Usually there's a high-pitched metal sound and you have time to get out of the way," explained George. "This time I didn't hear nothing but 'BOOM!'"

The next thing he knew, George was lying on the floor covered with his own blood. "I knew I was dying. And all I could think about was Dick Edwards, and all the shit he gave me when I complained about the saw. I tried to get up, but they pushed me back down. I tried to beckon to Edwards so he would come close enough for me to get my hands around his throat in a death grip. If I had to die, I wanted to take that bastard with me."

A Conversation with Earth First! Activist Judi Bari

by Christine Keyser - On the Issues, Summer 1991

The spirit of Mother Jones lives on today in the backwoods of Northern California. The North Coast's most eloquent anti-chainsaw organizer, Earth First's! Judi Bari, is back at work defending the ancient forests from corporate slaughter after surviving a crippling car bomb in Oakland last May and the FBI's subsequent attempt to pin the blame on her and her companion Darryl Cherney. Just as the grandmother of the American labor movement fought King Coal a century ago, Bari has taken on the Big Timber barons armed with a bullhorn and a diehard credo, "No Compromise in Defense of Mother Earth."

Ban's battlecry has reverberated from California's redwood forest to Wall Street to embrace a broad-based progressive agenda rooted in a profound reverence for the earth and its creatures. For the chief architect of 1990's Redwood Summer— the celebrated nonviolent campaign to save the vanishing remnants of California's once verdant old-growth coastal forest—stopping environmental destruction has profound urgency.

Bari has grafted environmentalism onto peace, social justice, equal rights and other progressive concerns. A former Maryland labor organizer, she is a longtime crusader for the dispossessed, the disenfranchised and the downtrodden in factories, fields and offices across the land.

Bari has put her organizing skills to work on the North Coast building coalitions with timber workers to fight corporate abuse. She founded a Mendocino chapter of the Industrial Workers of the World and represented a group of mill workers who were poisoned by leaking PCBs at Georgia Pacific's Fort Bragg pulp mill.

In a wide-ranging interview at her rustic "hippie shack" in the backwoods of Mendocino County where she lives with her two young daughters, Bari shared her perspectives on the impact of Redwood Summer, progressive coalitionbuilding in the 1990s, the "feminization" of Earth First!, and the departure in August of Earth First! co-founder, Dave Foreman, who, in a parting swipe, publicly denounced Bari and her feminist compatriots for injecting "class struggle" and "humanism" into an organization he conceived to preserve wilderness.

Why I Hate The Corporate Press

by Judi Bari - Anderson Valley Advertiser, April 24, 1991

Last Sunday (April 21, 1991) the San Francisco Examiner printed an Op-Ed article by me in answer to the outrageous "ex-CIA agent" attack on Earth First! that they ran the week before. Basically the article came through as I wrote it. But the editors couldn't just let it be. They made subtle and not-so-subtle changes that brought the words printed under my byline more in compliance with their own biases. Here is the article, with the changes marked:

San Francisco Examiner Op-Ed Page, 4/21/1991

"Tabloid attack" on Earth First

By Judi Bari

When I looked at my Sunday paper last week, I thought I had accidentally picked up the National Enquirer. But no, it really was the Examiner, running a supermarket tabloid-style article called "Tale of a Plot to Rid Earth of Humankind."

"It's a strange story," the article begins. And indeed it is. Apparently an ex-CIA agent claims that Earth First has "small organized clandestine cells" of highly educated scientists working to develop a virus that will wipe out the human race while sparing other species.

Not only is this claim preposterous, it is also unsupported by any evidence. The ex-CIA agent who is the source of the story offers no details or proof. The best the author of the article can come up with is an anonymous letter-to-the-editor from a 1984 edition of the Earth First Journal, carefully excerpted for maximum shock value.

The Examiner does not take responsibility for the views of every screwball who writes a letter to the editor, and neither does Earth First. Did the article's author pore over 10 years of tiny print in the journal's letters column to find this "gem," or did the ex-CIA agent point it out as his own source?

Lacking evidence to support the "mad-scientist" theory, this article then goes on to try to discredit Earth First by associating us with violence. It says Earth First co-founder Dave Foreman is under federal charges of conspiracy to "blow up" power lines.

This is false. Earth First doesn't advocate use of explosives. It has never been involved in their use -- except as a target in the car bomb attempt on my life last year. [I wrote "except as a victim in a car-bomb assassination attempt on me last year." (Assassinations are political, attempts on peoples' lives don't have to be.)]

Earth First! The Underbelly Exposed

By Chris Shillock - Libertarian Labor Review (Anarcho Syndicalist Review) #6, Winter 1989

Several years ago the activist community was fired by news of a group of militant ecologists who called themselves Earth First!. Anarchists particularly felt a kinship. Earth First!’s uncompromising defense of the environment and their rejection of government stewardship of the wilderness echoed our own experience of the futility of working within the system. Their use of direct action was taken from our own history. Their full-blooded all-out enthusiasm for nature promised a robust, holistic radicalism.

Lately, as people learned more about the group, some truly disturbing facets of Earth First!’s ideology have come to light. By now it is clear that not only is Earth First! hostile to any meaningful social analysis, but it is freighted with so much nationalist and racist baggage as to make them obnoxious to any worker.

Earth First!’s philosophy, also known as Deep Ecology, is set out in a book of that name by Bill Devall and George Sessions (Peregrine Smith, Salt Lake City, 1985). It borrows from Zen Buddhism, Native American religions and from Heidegger, but is based on an immediate intuition of the “wilderness experience.” They urge us to go into the woods, to just feel. The result will be that feeling of the oneness of all creation which we have probably all known when we find ourselves alone under the stars.

Deep Ecologists go on to reason that “The well-being and flourishing of human and nonhuman Life on Earth have value in themselves…These values are independent of the usefulness of the non-human world for human purposes.” Deep Ecologists condemn other social and scientific views as “anthropocentric” in contrast to their “biocentric” outlook. This epithet is hurled throughout the pages of their journal, Earth First!, to clinch a point or to dismiss opponents.

So far, okay, aside from a few quibbles in logic. Earth First! has the potential to be a noble and passionate worldview. Instead their concept of “biocentric egalitarianism” turns the corner into a Malthusian blind alley shadowed with dark visions of a vengeful Earth lashing back at the species that uses her. Malthusianism has always been a pseudoscience serving the need of right wing ideology. In the Nineteenth Century, Social Darwinists used Malthus’ simplistic predictions of a dwindling food supply to justify doing nothing to alleviate the misery of the poor. Variations of this philosophy have been used in the Twentieth Century to buttress everything from eugenics to Third World starvation.

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