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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.

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.

Earth First! vs. the Rumor Mongers

By Lobo x99 (Franklin Rosemont) - The Industrial Worker, September 1988

The May (1988) issue of the Industrial Worker featuring Radical Environmentalism and especially the most radical environmentalists of all, the Earth First! movement, has provoked more enthusiastic discussion and action-and more controversy-than any issue of the paper in many a long year. Even before it went to press, word got around the Union regarding its content, and bulk orders started poring in from branches, delegates, and individual members to such an extent that we had to print 10,000 copies-not bad for a paper which, six months earlier, had a monthly press-run of only 3,000.

Fellow Worker Bruce, "Utah" Phillips, one of the greatest living Wobbly bards, recently called Earth First! "the IWW of the environmental movement." Since everyone knows that (the) IWW historically, signifies the most radical , most active, most creative, most daring, most effective, as well as sassiest, gutsyist, funniest, toughest and all-around best-in-its-class, this is a good description of Earth First!'s position in the environmental spectrum. Emphasizing that the roots of today's global ecological crisis lie in the inherently ecocidal patriarchal-industrial-capitalist system (and recognizing that USSR-style "state socialism" is just more of the same crap under another name), EF!ers have also perceived that you can't change this system by playing according to its repressive rules, and that militant direct action, Wobbly-style, is the most effective instrument of radical social transformation.

In the May Industrial Worker Wobblies and Earth First!ers-including several who are Wobblies and Earth First!ers-explored some of their many philosophical and practical points in common. Our specific aim was to promote a greater understanding of Earth First! among IWW members and sympathizers, and to introduce Earth First!ers to the IWW heritage and program. Our broader hope was to effect a greater degree of common action and mutual aid between the two movements in their struggle to subvert the dominant paradigm" and to protect the Earth from its profit-hungry corporate destroyers.

Once the May issue hit the stands our wildest hopes regarding its impact were quickly exceeded. It became clear at once that young rebel workers are far more interested in radical environmentalism than even we had realized. Moreover, from all over the continent reports have been coming in showing that Wobblies and Earth First!ers are eager not only to learn from each other but also to take action together effect our common goals. And last but not least, more new memberships, new subscriptions, new bulk orders, renewals of lapsed subs and contributions to the Industrial Worker sustaining fund have come into IWW headquarters since May than in any comparable period in anyone's memory.

Yes, fellow workers, the IWW is growing today as it has not grown in years, and there is no getting around the fact that one of the reasons it is growing is because of our fortuitous encounter-now increasingly taking on the character of an active, ongoing combat alliance-with the international Earth First! movement.

Workers and Wilderness

By Franklin Rosemont - Industrial Worker, May 1988

There is no other guiding light than that which is to be found in nature.

--Lautremont

Bourgeois ideology inherited from its Judeo-Christian forerunners a deep hatred of wilderness and, by extension, hatred and fear of all wild beings and things. Everyone knows that capitalism entered the world dripping with blood and gore, and that its few hundred years of domination have been the bloodiest and goriest in all human history. Its champions, however have always liked to present themselves as an eminently civilizing force, bringing Law'n'Order and Industry not only to societies variously described as savage, primitive, backward and underdeveloped, but also to remote regions previously held to be uninhabitable by humankind.

For those who are addicted to it, civilization is regarded as a universally good thing, a blessed condition of peace, prosperity and social harmony (it is generally conceded, however, that the reality falls somewhat short of this ideal). Above all, capitalist civilization has viewed itself as the deadly enemy of wilderness, which is portrayed as an essentially evil condition of absolute violence: the total war of all against each and each against all. As it happens, the exact opposite is closer to the truth, but civilization is founded on lies and more lies, and especially Big Lies.

The drama of bloody repression disguised as progress is the history of the New World. The puritans, whose devotion to Capital equaled if not exceeded their devotion to Christ (for most of them there was probably very little difference between the two, saw their "errand in the wilderness" as a mandate to civilize a continent that was, in their eyes, uninhabited--or at best, inhabited only by unimportant, dispensable heathen, if not by outright minions of Satan. massacre and genocide were the methods by which these typically Christian capitalists introduced the amenities of civilized life to the original human inhabitants of North and South America.

The non-human inhabitants fared no better over the years. The last passenger pigeon, whose immense flocks numbering billions once darkened the skies for days at a time, died in a zoo in 1914. The bison herds had been decimated long before that. No more does the piercing cry of the ivory-billed woodpecker ring through the boundless forests, for the forests have been so cut to pieces that ivory-bills can no longer live in them. A hundred and fifty years ago the great midwestern prairies were majestic oceans of wild grasses and flowers stretching as far as the eye could see. Where are they now? Gone, one and all: annihilated by the juggernaut of Progress and Profits.

It was a hell of a price to pay for indoor plumbing, plastic slipcovers and a medicine cabinet full of Valium.

Earth First!ers, Meet the IWW: Notes on Wobbly Environmentalism

By x322339 (Franklin Rosemont) - Industrial Worker, May 1988

Organized in Chicago in 1905, the Industrial Workers of the World has been fighting the boss class and the megamachine—the industrial wreckers of the world—for [nearly a century] now and has chalked up quite a record for militant, hard-hitting, straight-from-the-shoulder direct-action style, rank-and-file democratic labor unionism. Ask any seasoned old fighter from any half-decent union he or she’ll tell you that the Wobblies set a standard that has rarely been approached and never beaten.

We don’t like to brag, so we’ll just refer you to a couple of good histories: Fred Thompson’s The IWW: It’s First Seventy Years and Joyce Kornbluh’s beautifully illustrated IWW anthology, Rebel Voices (both available from the IWW). In these books (and dozens of others you can find in … bookstores and libraries), you can read all about the epoch-making organizing drives, strikes and free-speech fights that the IWW has waged over the years, and that have made One Big Union an inspiration for every indigenous radical current that has come along to challenge the existing order. Civil rights, antiwar, anti-nuclear and student activists, the New Left, anarchists, feminists, and now animal-liberationists and radical environmentalists have all acknowledged the influence of the good ol’ rebel band of labor.

Here we’d like to note a few of the things that make the IWW different from other “labor organizations,” especially in regard to environmental and ecological issues.

First, in our view, the “official” so-called labor movement, the AFL-CIO, is not really a labor movement at all, but rather a corrupt statist, CIA-dominated bureaucracy whose specific function is to control labor. Some of these unions are undoubtedly better than others, and a few of them are able now and then to act honestly better than others, and a few of them are able now and then to act honestly and decently. But all of them are afflicted with outdated hierarchical structures and above all an idiotic ideology submissive to the capitalist system of wage slavery.

Consider, for example, a ridiculous bumper-sticker slogan promoted by several AFL-CIO unions: “Pollution: Love it or leave it.” This hideous inanity was supposed to save steel mills and oil-refineries in industrial hell holes like Gary, Indiana. In other words, the AFL-CIO mobilizes workers to defend pollution in order to save jobs that will create more pollution. Would a real labor movement, one responsive to the real interests of working women and men, do a thing like that?

Don’t think that this typical AFL-CIO slogan was some sort of accident. On the contrary, the AFL-CIO’s self-confessed love of pollution is consistent with its whole policy. After all, if you support capitalism—and you have to support the things that automatically go with it: militarism, war, racism, sex-ism, and pollution, in ever-increasing doses.

Instead of the imbecile slogan, “Pollution: Love it or leave it,” the IWW inscribes on its banner the ecological watchword, “Let’s make this planet a good place to live.” And we argue that the best way to accomplish this goal is to organize One Big Union of all workers to abolish the wage-system. The bosses are able to cause such vast environmental devastation because they have organized industry their way for their profit. The IWW says to the workers of all industries: Dump the bosses your backs, dump the ecocidal profit-and-wage system, and organize your jobs for yourselves, for your own good and for the good of the Earth!

Fellow Workers, Meet Earth First!: An Open Letter to Wobblies Everywhere

By x322339 (Franklin Rosemont) - Industrial Worker, May 1988

Every once in a while a new radical movement arises and illustrates the social firmament so suddenly and so dazzlingly that many people are caught off guard and wonder: “What’s going on here? Who are these new radicals, and what do they want?”

To those who don’t know how to read the signs of the times, such new movements seem to appear unexpectedly and out of nowhere. In every case, however, most of the founders of the new movement prove to have been activists from older, less radical groups who eventually concluded that their former methods weren’t working.

This new movement proceeds to develop new direct-action strategies and tactics—or gives a new twist to old ones—and starts delivering real blows to the power and prestige of the ruling exploiters and their governmental stooges. This in turn inevitably arouses the hostility of the guardians of the status quo—cops, courts, preachers, politicians, and the prostituted press—who raise a hue and cry for the punishment and suppression of the trouble making upstarts.

Such wrathful clamor has a tendency to backfire, however. It focuses attention on the movement under attack, and attracts daring newcomers to its banner. Thus the new movement’s bitterest enemies unwittingly help to build it. “Listen to the fool’s reproach,” William Blake urged us long ago, “it is a kingly title.” Or as the vaudevillians used to say, “Every knock is a boost!”

And so the new movement, with wild songs and high humor, captures the imagination of masses of young rebels, spreads like wildfire, turns up everywhere, gets blamed for everything interesting that happens, and all the while writes page after page in the annals of freedom and justice for all.

Centralization in Industry

By Paul Dupres - The Voice of the People, October 30, 1913; republished on libcom.org by Scott Nappalos, March 30, 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.

From the series The Question of Decentralization [part 6 out of 7]

This article was published by the newspaper of the Southern District of the IWW's IU 120 the industrial union of timber workers. It was part of a series on decentralization in the early 1910s that featured back and forth around questions of the vision of the union, structure, and capitalism of its day.

The centralists, when beaten at all other points, make what they consider conclusive argument in the following: The IWW is building up the structure of the new society, and as modern industry is highly centralized the IWW must be highly centralized also.

This argument is sound save for two details, 1st, the IWW is not building up the structure of the new society (as this is generally understood), 2nd, modern industry is not centralized (as centralists understand and use this term). Let us consider the first of the shocking propositions in this altogether shocking rejoinder.

Summed up, the current theory is that the labor unions will in the new society, take charge of and oversee production. As our noted theoretician WE Trautmann says; they will "legislate the industries". How unnecessary will be the interference of the labor unions is readily apparent when one considers the existing producing, or shop organization of modern industry. The shop organizations are the totality of workers of all kinds in the various industries. They have been called into being solely for the purpose of carrying on production. They are the social producing organism. They are the embodiment of the best thought and experience that humanity has been able to apply to production. These shop organizations are not capitalistic in nature, but economic. They will not perish with the fall of capitalism. On the contrary, the revolution will give a strong stimulus to their still higher development. They will not need the assistance, as producing organizations, from any government, be it political or labor union in character.

Compared to the shop organizations the labor unions would be ridiculous as producing organizations. The labor unions are only fighting organizations; they know nothing about carrying on production. Their chief function is to overthrow capitalism. If they have any function to perform in the new society it will doubtless be to serve as employment agencies. It is worthy of note that even under capitalism the labor unions so strongly sees the need for a distributive shop organization for the workers that they are universally trying to serve as employment agencies. This is equally true of both the reddest and yellowest unions. Though unions may have nothing else in common, not even the strike, they will all be found functioning as employment agencies as best they can.

Eleven blind leaders or "practical socialism" and "revolutionary tactics" from an I.W.W. point of view (B. H. Williams)

By B. H. Williams - transcript of a speech given January 23, 1910 in New Castle, Pennsylvania; republished on libcom.org by S Nappalos, March 27, 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 a pamphlet from the IWW's official publishing bureau in 1910 about elections, the state, cooperatives, and the IWW. It begins as a polemic against 11 socialist thinkers of the time in the US, and makes arguments against coops as a strategy, labor legislation, and the idea that the state can be used to create a socialist society in favor of revolution by industrial unions.

"INTELLECTUALS" AND WORKERS IN THE PARIS COMMUNE.

(From Lissagaray's "History of the Commune of 1871.")

Five deputies only signed the address for the election [for the Communal Council]. The rest of Louis Blanc's group had kept aloof from Paris for several days. These weaklings, having all their life sung the glories of the Revolution, when it rose up before them ran away appalled, like the Arab fisher at the apparition of the genie.

With these mandarins of the tribune of history and of journalism, mute and lifeless, contrast strangely the sons of the multitude — obscure, but rich in will, faith and eloquence. They could indeed "come down the steps of the Hotel-de-Ville head erect," these obscure men who had safely anchored the revolution of the 18th March. Named only to organize the National Guard; thrown at the head of a revolution without precedent and without guides, they had been able to resist the impatient, quell the riot, re-establish the public services, victual Paris, baffle intrigues, take advantage of all the blunders of Versailles and of the mayors, and, harassed on all sides, every moment in danger of civil war, known how to negotiate, to act at the right time and in the right place. They had embodied the tendency of the movement, limited their program to communal revindications, and conducted the entire population to the ballot box. They had inaugurated a precise, vigorous, and fraternal language unknown to all bourgeois powers. And yet they were obscure men, all with an imperfect education, some of them fanatics.

But the people thought with them. Where illustrious bourgeoise bad only accumulated folly upon defeat, these new comers found victory, because they listened to Paris.

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