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Building eco-socialism: A review of Max Ajl’s A People’s Green New Deal

By David Camfield - Tempest, July 22, 2021

There’s nothing more important today than the politics of climate change. How societies respond to global heating will increasingly shape all political life.

A People’s Green New Deal by Max Ajl, an associated researcher with the Tunisian Observatory for Food Sovereignty and the Environment and a postdoctoral fellow with the Rural Sociology Group at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, gives us some insightful analysis of different political approaches to global heating (a term I prefer since it packs more punch than global warming) and many good ideas about how society should be changed to respond to capitalism’s ecological crisis. However, the book is much less helpful for thinking about the political strategy we need to make these changes.

Although some hard right-wing politicians are still intoxicated by the climate change denial nonsense that organizations funded by fossil capital have been spewing for years, smarter ruling-class strategists are planning for what Ajl calls “Green Social Control.” This “aims to preserve the essence of capitalism while shifting to a greener model in order to sidestep the worse consequences of the climate crisis.”

The European Commission’s announced measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the European Union are an example of this approach. It’s what Joe Biden had in mind when he appointed John Kerry as a Special Presidential Envoy for Climate. It’s also the vision of the Climate Finance Leadership Initiative, a group of finance capitalists headed by former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg. It’s a vision that Ajl skewers.

Ramona Strategies: Executive Summary of Recommendations (for addressing Sierra Club internal organizational dynamics)

By Elizabeth Brown Riordan, Katherine Kimpel, and Kathryn Pogin - Ramona Strategies, August 2021

This Executive Summary was prepared by Ramona Strategies to relay the substance of the Recommendations to the broader set of stakeholders that make up the Sierra Club community. Ramona Strategies exercised control over the scope and substance of this Executive Summary at all times.

About the Restorative Accountability Process:

In the summer of 2020, public allegations surfaced that a celebrated former employee and thencurrent Volunteer Leader had raped a Sierra Club employee when he was her boss; others came forward to share similar experiences of inappropriate and degrading experiences with that same man. Those reports prompted not only a targeted investigation of his tenure at the organization, but also this broader Restorative Accountability Process. This Restorative Accountability Process was commissioned to help the organization rise to the challenges that confront it in this definitional moment.

The opportunity to participate in the Restorative Accountability Process was extended by the Club through a series of emails from Leadership directed at both staff and volunteers. No one who expressed an interest in participating was turned away. Most interviews were conducted between September 2020 and January 2021, although a few interviews happened outside of that time frame. Individuals were under no obligation to contribute to the process; however, between unsolicited participants and those organizational representatives to whom we reached out to directly, members of the Office of General Counsel, the Human Resources Department, the Chapter Services Department (also known as “Office of Chapter Support”), the Volunteer Accountability Working Group (also known as the “Volunteer Accountability Process Reform Team”), and some individuals in union leadership spoke with us to explain more about the details of the processes used for complaints, investigations, and resolutions and to explain recordkeeping systems and materials related to prior issues.

Participants in the interviews were not guided to any particular perspectives, conclusions, themes, or narratives; in general, we encouraged participants to share what they thought was important to be known and then we listened. We did not ask participants to comment on information or perspectives shared by others, and we did not engage in cross-examination. However, we did probe for details, and we did listen for corroborating factors across interviews. To the extent that the Process identified individual matters that require investigation and/or further intervention, those individual matters were relayed to the teams that handle Employee and Volunteer Relations (‘EVR”)' in a manner that protects the anonymity of the participants and the confidentiality of the Process but also ensures the organization is attending to those situations.

Read the text (PDF).

Try Filling Jails Before Blowing Pipelines

By Dave Jones - System Change not Climate Change, June 16, 2021

While the year 2020 saw numerous activist mobilizations, it was the police murder of George Floyd that instantly filled streets around the world with outraged protest. People marched, torched police stations, tore down statues, and confronted police in actions noticeable both for their dedicated persistence and the diversity of participants. There is no question this uprising was effective in certain ways; a much-needed spotlight has been focused on racialized, militarized policing, on the lack of accountability within police unions, and on the basic injustice of the carceral state in general.

And yet. Given the level of outrage, it must be acknowledged that little change has occurred at the policy, much less the institutional level. Commissions are formed, local reforms proposed, and a predictable backlash invigorated, replicating a long-established pattern of protest followed by bureaucratic inertia. Time and again we witness the absorption of movement energy into the grinding processes of the regulatory labyrinth.

As with gun control following school shootings, with climate action following extreme weather events, with antiwar protests in anticipation of invasions, with international trade deals, with Occupy or pipeline blockades, the pattern is clear. I am not saying that protest is dead. My argument is that these particular forms of reactive protest are no longer effective.

What I would like the Climate Movement to consider is a tactic that moves beyond protest as it is now conceived and practiced. This nonviolent, direct action tactic is best described as “fill the jails.”

While the mass civil disobedience of both anti-KXL in Washington DC in 2011 and Extinction Rebellion more recently were steps in the right direction, the historical examples of mass arrest I am promoting have a qualitative difference.

I first learned of “fill the jails” when researching the free-speech fights conducted at the beginning of the 20th century by the Industrial Workers of the World. From San Diego, California to Missoula, Montana, Wobblies defied local ordinances that banned impromptu public speaking. They gained the right to openly organize by calling in masses of fellow workers to be arrested and fill jails until the burden on local authorities became overwhelming. Another historical example is Gandhi’s India campaign, where he vowed to “fill the prisons” in order to make governing impossible for the British.

Perhaps the best-known example of this tactic being applied successfully is the Civil Rights Movement, especially the campaign centered in Birmingham, Alabama (the “most segregated city in America”), in 1963. This is how the large-scale, non-violent direct action was described by historian Howard Zinn:

“Thursday, May 2nd, is ‘D-Day’ as students ‘ditch’ class to march for justice. In disciplined groups of 50, children singing freedom songs march out of 16th Street Baptist church two-by-two. When each group is arrested, another takes its place. There are not enough cops to contain them, and police reinforcements are hurriedly summoned. By the end of the day almost 1,000 kids have been jailed. The next day, Friday May 3rd, a thousand more students cut class to assemble at 16th Street church. With the jails already filled to capacity, and the number of marchers growing, Eugene ‘Bull’ Connor, the Commissioner of Public Safety in charge of the police and fire departments, tries to suppress the movement with violence.”

Between April 3 and May 7 roughly three thousand were arrested and booked, filling not only the jails but an “improvised fairground prison … and open-air stockade” as well. This all took place in conjunction with a well-organized boycott of downtown businesses and public transport. Televised scenes of savage reaction by the racist police were broadcast throughout the stunned world and a horrified nation — which was then forced to confront the injustice.

Breaking Things at Work: An Interview with Gavin Mueller

Gavin Mueller interviewed by Harry Holmes - Viewpoint Magazine, May 27, 2021

[Bright Green] Culture editor Harry Holmes interviews Gavin Mueller, author of the newly released Breaking Things at Work from Verso Books. Gavin Mueller is a lecturer in New Media and Digital Culture at the University of Amsterdam and a member of the editorial collective of Viewpoint Magazine.

So first, for those who won’t have read it yet, can you tell us a bit about the book?

The book is essentially thinking about technology from the perspective of labour struggle. The left was in this accelerationist moment for a few years where there was an idea that technologies, particularly those tied to automation in the workplace, were leading to a ‘post-work’ or ‘post-capitalist’ future based on their own course of development. I was troubled by this discourse, which set me off on the research that led to this book.

From my perspective, and what I argue in the book, is that actually quite a lot of these technologies are not leading to a ‘post-work’ future. They are certainly not leading to a ‘post-capitalist’ future. Instead, they are actually weapons that make it difficult for workers to struggle, to establish autonomy at work, and to move the economy in a more egalitarian direction.

I wrote this book to show there is a different way of thinking about technology, one that I argue is more closely aligned to the political self-activity of workers. It also suggests that for those who care about more egalitarian futures we must start politicising technology and having a critical approach to it, rather than assuming it’s developing in a progressive way on its own.

In actually existing struggles both in our contemporary moment and in history, a critical perspective on technology has been there all along. This is why I start the story with the Luddites, who are famous, in quite a pejorative way, for opposing technology. I think there is quite a lot we can understand once we learn their history a little better and relate it to our present condition.

How much is this Luddite approach a strategic one about being able to be in solidarity with workers currently at the sharp end of technology’s impact, for example in an Amazon warehouse, or do you see it as part of a wider approach to technology in general? Is it an opposition to technology per se or a more qualified position based on current workplace struggles?

My political and intellectual influences are these ‘from below’ histories and thinking about struggle from that perspective, as well as being very alive to when there are tensions within the workers’ movement between rank-and-file struggles and the leadership, whether trade union, political party, or intellectual. It’s important to know this history because we have to learn from it.

So I think that’s where I always start, but politics is a sophisticated thing, I don’t think that all politics is oriented on the shop floor. We have to mediate to different levels, but I want to keep that kernel of struggle in our perspective.

We are seeing a lot of encouraging and exciting things. I don’t consider myself that old, but things that have never happened in my life before are happening – like lots of people identifying as socialist. We see these impressive electoral challenges, but they don’t quite ever get over the finish line. One reason for this is the base is still quite depoliticised and fragmented.

My idea of how you solve that problem is really to recognise the ways in which people are already engaged in struggle, particularly people in these incredibly exploited positions. There’s always resistance. But that resistance doesn’t always get amplified, it doesn’t always get connected or articulated with other forms of resistance. To me, that’s something that has been missing from these left-wing political challenges.

Maybe launching out a lot of policy proposals can be very exciting and interesting, but it doesn’t seem to quite do what we’ve hoped it would do. One reason for this is it still has this top-down perspective of ‘we are going to help you out.’ A lot of people don’t relate to that, they don’t believe in it, or they don’t hear those messages because I don’t think we’ve done the work of really building a base that will then get attached to policies and start actually informing policies. So that’s one reason I really orient the politics of the book in these struggles, because it is important to do at this moment.

My belief is we need to meet people where they are, which for most people is in the everyday struggles they have at work and in their wider life. Technology is a huge part of that, and often something many people already have already a critical approach to. They don’t like the way it is, they want things to be changed. They don’t want to hear a science fiction story about the robots allowing them to stay at home all day. I don’t think that will resonate. So that is a big motivation for the book. It’s an intellectual perspective I have, but I do think there is political value in it as well.

Once again on sabotage and climate change

By Lars Henriksson - Climate and Capitalism, May 22, 2021

What should we do when airy political promises amount to little more than excuses for business as usual, and when the friendly climate protests have not prevented the world from heading towards a burning inferno? Submissively accept doom or take the climate struggle to a new level?

That Andreas Malm does not preach resignation will come as no surprise to those who know the author — activist and socialist since childhood and today well-known in the radical section of international academia. For those unfamiliar with him, the book’s title should dispel all doubt.

To stoically wait for doom is not an option for most of us, even if some claim to have drawn that conclusion. The book’s final section is a reckoning with intellectuals such as Roy Scranton and Jonathan Franzen who flirt with that standpoint.

For the rest of us, who either try to do something, or wish we knew how to do something, the question is: what do we do now? It is this question to which Malm devotes most of his book.

The attention given to the book ahead of publication has mostly concerned the question of sabotage as a method in the climate struggle. Despite the book’s provocative title, this is far from an anarchist cookbook but a thought-through — albeit impatient — contribution to the debate about strategy and tactics in the climate movement.

Malm raises a question posed by the British author John Lanchester: Why has the climate movement not resorted to violence? Given what is at stake is humanity’s survival, it is strange that nobody has started blowing up petrol stations or at least started scratching the paint on city jeeps, Lanchester states, in what Malm refers to as Lanchester’s paradox.

In the latter case, the effort is very small and would make these gas guzzling monster cars almost impossible to own in a city like London. Malm himself has a past as an SUV-saboteur of the milder kind, when the group The Indians of the Concrete Jungle in the early 2000s let the air out of gas guzzling luxury cars’ tyres in upper class neighborhoods. He takes this paradox — that the climate movement, despite knowing what is at stake, continues to be peaceful and well behaved — as the starting point for his argument.

The National Black Climate Summit

Strike Together: Strengthening the Climate Movement and Trade Unions

By Nicolas Rother - Rupture, May 5, 2021

Leipzig, central bus yard, 15 October, 3:30 am - Normally, the first wave of public buses spreads out all over the city to bring day-time workers to their workplaces and the late shift home. But not today. This autumnal and drizzly Thursday morning is a special one. It’s strike day!

Germany’s second-largest trade union, ver.di, called all drivers of Leipzig’s public transport company, LVB, out for a warning strike. It’s the second within a few weeks. And it’s the second time that the picket line looks very different from what most drivers and their bosses expected. You can see bicycles and cargo-bikes standing by the usually empty bike racks. Roughly 20 other Fridays for Future (FFF) activists and I crawled out of bed in the middle of the night to support the strikers for the second time.

The first time we did this, three weeks before, we felt a bit like aliens. Most drivers were reserved and sceptical when we arrived and unfurled our banner. When we explained that we were there to support them, some openly refused to listen to ‘truants’ and ‘intellectuals’. But we stayed, listened, asked questions and discussed until sunrise.

This time we came again to show that we really care. We brought tea, cake, music and even a burn barrel to break the ice. Still, we had to deal with people who were socialised with Stalinist anti-intellectual propaganda in the German Democratic Republic (GDR, or East Germany) and who had a wide repertoire of hackneyed sayings and jokes about people who go to university. But they were doing this while drinking our coffee and standing around our burn barrel which made us feel that we were more than just supporters, we were actually part of this picket line. Our initiative was necessary because the union was extremely worried about getting bad press for supposedly organising a super-spreader event and wanted everybody to strike from home.

Green is the new brown: ecology in the metapolitics of the far right

By Lise Benoist - Undisciplined Environments, May 4, 2021

In France, the far right’s acknowledgment of environmental threats serves a racist and nationalist agenda. This narrative is fed and spread by the far right metapolitical sphere, which revives a conservative and Malthusian conception of ecology along the nature-territory-identity trinity. This essay recounts one of their colloquiums on the topic, titled “Nature as a base”.

“The economy devours the society, the economy does not meet humans’ needs any longer, and humans now have to work to satisfy the needs of a growth that has gone mad. […] The means of life are destroying life itself, and the obsession for an infinite growth on a finite planet has become the first threat to humanity.”

This certainly sounds like a quote taken from the work of a degrowth scholar. Yet, these words were pronounced by Hervé Juvin, the head candidate of Rassemblement National (the main French far-right party), when invited to a public radio channel to present the ecological ambitions of the party in the weeks previous to the to the 2019 EU Elections. After being elected as an MP, he later defended “localism” as the only worthy solution to the climate crisis. As he put it, beyond the economic sovereignty concern, localism appears to be first and foremost about countering “the fall of the diversity of human societies” in front of “the uniformisation” caused by “naïve globalisation”.

Juvin’s words on public radio are representative of several dynamics at work. The first is the normalisation of the presence of the far right and its characteristic themes in the public debate. This contributes to the progressive conquest of the political and media spheres by the categories and obsessions of the far right. The second, which feeds the first, is the metapolitical enterprise initiated by the French far right in the late 1960s around the GRECE (Research and Study Group for the European Civilization), later referred to as the Nouvelle Droite (New Right) movement. This enterprise has been embodied by the thinker Alain de Benoist and his publications. The choice of metapolitics is the one of a cultural fight, outside of parliamentary politics. The underlying belief is that ideological transformation is a precondition to political change, a transformation that takes the shape of a battle of ideas waged today by and through numerous media outlets, organisations and key personalities.

In the wake of the counter-hegemonic thought of Antonio Gramsci, these metapolitical actors claim to be “Gramscians of the Right”, fiercely combatting a cultural hegemony perceived as neo-Marxist, in which a mishmash of feminist, anti-racist, LGBTQIA+, and anti-capitalist struggles go hand in hand with the defence of a “globalist ecology” and its climate justice demands. The third visible evolution is that the issue of ecology has be seemingly moved to the forefront of the preoccupations of parts of the French far right. On the parliamentarian side this is marked by the 2019 EU elections and the Rassemblement National ambitions to create an “ecological civilization in Europe”, whilst in the extra-parliamentarian sphere it reawakens a dormant theme.

In this context, in 2020 the Institut Iliade devoted its annual colloquium in central Paris to the topic, under the title “Nature as a base – for an ecology the right way up”, [La nature comme socle – pour une écologie à l’endroit] . This Institute “for the long European memory” is a sort of heir to the GRECE, a think tank that gathers numerous personalities of the Nouvelle Droite and works, by means of trainings, publications and conferences, for the “awakening of the European consciousness”, calling for “the defence of our civilization” in front of “the great replacement”. This trendy conspiracy expression refers to the alleged phenomenon of ethnic and cultural substitution, a “replacement” of the white European population by not only non-white people but, most dangerously, Muslims. This obsessive assumption is picked up and used today by the quasi-totality of the French far right, from the Rassemblement National to the Identitarians and the royalists of the Action Française. But it also spreads through public opinion. A survey proves that this belief, which can seem ludicrous at first glance, has managed to convince almost one in four French people. The influence of the metapolitical soft power of the far right should not be underestimated.

We have no answers; we have questions. Urgent ones

By John Holloway - ROAR, May 1, 2021

We live in a failed system. It is becoming clearer every day that the present organization of society is a disaster, that capitalism is unable to secure an acceptable way of living. The COVID-19 pandemic is not a natural phenomenon but the result of the social destruction of biodiversity and other pandemics are likely to follow. The global warming that is a threat to both human and many forms of non-human life is the result of the capitalist destruction of established equilibria. The acceptance of money as the dominant measure of social value forces a large part of the world’s population to live in miserable and precarious conditions.

The destruction caused by capitalism is accelerating. Growing inequality, a rise in racist violence, the spread of fascism, increasing tensions between states and the accumulation of power by police and military. Moreover, the survival of capitalism is built on an ever-expanding debt that is doomed to collapse at some point.

The situation is urgent, we humans are now faced with the real possibility of our own extinction.

How do we get out of here? The traditional answer of those who are conscious of the scale of social problems: through the state. Political thinkers and politicians from Hegel to Keynes and Roosevelt and now Biden have seen the state as a counterweight to the destruction wreaked by the economic system. States will solve the problem of global warming; states will end the destruction of biodiversity; states will alleviate the enormous hardship and poverty resulting from the present crisis. Just vote for the right leaders and everything will be all right. And if you are very worried about what is happening, just vote for more radical leaders — Sanders or Corbyn or Die Linke or Podemos or Evo Morales or Maduro or López Obrador — and things will be fine.

The problem with this argument is that experience tells us that it does not work. Left-wing leaders have never fulfilled their promises, have never brought about the changes that they said they would. In Latin America, the left-wing politicians who came to power in the so-called Pink Wave at the start of this century, have been closely associated with extractivism and other forms of destructive development. The Tren Maya which is Mexican president López Obrador’s favorite project in Mexico at the moment is just the latest example of this. Left-wing parties and politicians may be able to bring about minor changes, but they have done nothing at all to break the destructive dynamic of capital.

Can sabotage stop climate change?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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