Extinction Repression: How the state criminalizes climate activists

From the UK’s Green Anti-Capitalist Front

We can imagine the surprise of Extinction Rebellion (XR) members last week, reading themselves described as ‘extremists’ and ‘anarchists’. These labels come courtesy of the former head of counter-terrorism for the Metropolitan Police Richard Walton and his co-author Tom Wilson, in a report demanding that ‘the honeymoon that Extinction Rebellion has enjoyed to date needs to come to an end.’ The days of cops skateboarding along bridges and dancing with protestors may soon be over. A different treatment now awaits XR’s rebels. They may not understand why. But we understand all too clearly. 

Pictured: Riot police pepper-spraying non-violent Extinction Rebellion protestors in Paris

Walton retired from the Metropolitan Police in a disgraceful attempt to dodge corruption charges surrounding the MacPherson Inquiry.1 This inquiry had been called in response to the Met’s mishandling of the racially-motivated murder of Stephen Lawrence. While this inquiry was ongoing, a spycop for the Met going by ‘David Hagen’ was spying on the Lawrence family. Bob Lambert (the spycop involved in infiltrating Greenpeace), Richard Walton and ‘David Hagen’ met in Lambert’s garden where intelligence on the Lawrence family and the campaign groups supporting them was passed to Walton so he could prepare the police commissioner for the Met’s response. Far from Walton being just one rotten apple, the MacPherson Inquiry had been launched to investigate corruption and racism within the Metropolitan Police and concluded that the Met was ‘institutionally racist’.

This institutionalized racism pervades the Met to this very day,2 as we saw in Extinction Rebellion’s ‘Week of Rebellion’, when on the 19th April London’s cops attacked and arrested a black woman, who was unaffiliated with XR, for simply trying to walk down a street.3 Indeed we saw this racism extend to those in XR who were so keen to work with the police, as on the 22nd April XR’s police liasons in Marble Arch reported a group of Asian activists for crimes they had not commit, subjecting them to detainment and immigration checks.4 The authors of this report are no strangers to racism either: in their previous report for the Policy Exchange (which has a habit of publishing racist reports based on fabricated evidence 5), Walton and Wilson claimed that defining ‘Islamophobia’ as a form of racism would ‘cripple’ counter-terrorism policing.6 

The police call their own violence ‘law’ and ‘justice’, whilst calling the self-defensive actions of individuals ‘crime’ and ‘extremism’. This report is yet more proof that it does not matter how family-friendly your image is: whether you’re a grieving family member or a nonviolent climate protest, if you threaten the status quo the state must declare you a threat. XR can sing songs and make art and tell the cops they love them, but if there is even a chance that they will challenge the system they must be crushed. 

The authors are not subtle about this. In a report called ‘Extremism Rebellion’, the word ‘extremism’ and its variations only occur 19 times; ‘environmental’, 48 times. Variations on ‘capitalism’ appear 101 times.7 

It is obsessive. Even we anti-capitalists do not usually devote so much breath to the word. 

What is clear to anyone masochistic enough to read the 73-page report: Walton and Wilson are especially terrified by the possibility of XR presenting compelling non-capitalist visions of society – far more terrified than he is by the prospect of the ecological devastation against which we fight. He claims XR are at heart secret anti-capitalists, and tries to find evidence of such unforgivable politics. (Well, if we have been missing a trick and it is actually true that ‘at its core, Extinction Rebellion is an anti-capitalist movement’, the Green Anti-Capitalist Front are happy to hear it.)

Pictured: Police blocking off the area around the pink ‘Tell The Truth’ boat

It is no coincidence that they focus on the slogan strung across the pink boat – SYSTEM CHANGE NOT CLIMATE CHANGE – because that call for system change is at the heart of XR’s ‘extremist’ threat. And so the authors call for a far-reaching response from government: ‘Simply acting against the protestors, however, will not be enough to undermine Extinction Rebellion, which may be on the verge of becoming a wider social movement […] more also needs to be done to counter the extreme message of Extinction Rebellion who argue that catastrophe can only be averted if the free market and economic growth are abandoned.’7 

It is also no coincidence that this report is being published by the Policy Exchange, a right-wing think tank set up by a cabal of Conservative Party politicians and business executives including Nick Boles, Michael Gove, Frances Maude and Archie Norman.8 
Their current chairman is Alexander Downer, former Australian Foreign Minister turned fossil fuel lobbyist, who is currently on the boards of Lakes Oil and surveillance-tech giant Huawei.91011 Policy Exchange is also one of the few think tanks in the country that refuses to release information about their funding, however we do know that they have received money from BP and Peter Cruddas (a corrupt tory donor with investments in fossil fuels).1213 Suffice to say, Policy Exchange has a vested interest in the preservation of the fossil fuel industry, the expansion of state powers and the proliferation of surveillance capitalism.

The recommendations of this report would affect us all, and it is gruesomely easy to imagine how euphemisms like these might play out in reality: ‘Legislation relating to public protest needs to be urgently reformed in order to strengthen the ability of the police to place restrictions on planned protest and deal more effectively with mass law-breaking tactics.’ Naturally: the police want to handle protestors even more brutally – they are frustrated this is not currently legal – they call for even more brutality to be made legal, then. This is the system change they want.

Pictured: Heavily armed police walking through Extinction Rebellion’s Parliament Square blockade

What happens next will probably not surprise us. If people like Richard Walton get their way, the bare minimum will be increased restrictions on protests, harsher legislation, heavier sentencing, and all the other methods with which we are sadly familiar. This is no new story. That does not mean we should ignore it.

This report claimed that ‘Extinction Rebellion is now at a crossroads’, and we are watching to see which direction it takes. How will it respond to increased repression? Will it change the way it describes police and prisons once so many of its rebels experience their violence first-hand? Will it tone down its criticisms of capitalism in an attempt to appease the police and conservative politicians? Or will it understand that being a rebel means acknowledging the brutal reality of state repression and the systems it exists to defend, and struggling on in defiance of this?

The Green Anti-Capitalist Front stands in solidarity with all those who suffer from state violence and repression in the fight against climate change, and we do not look forward to seeing XR’s rebels being met with increased brutality. We support the challenges to capitalism which would make XR such a source of fear for some, and we know that we, too, will be met with brutality when we make them.

Footnotes

1. Police chief accused of covering up secret ploy to spy on the family of murdered Stephen Lawrence dodges disciplinary action by retiring by Stephen Wright, for the Daily Mail 
2. Metropolitan police still institutionally racist, say black and Asian officers by Hugh Muir, for the Guardian 
3. Police officer pushes woman at Extinction Rebellion protest by News Leak 
4. Selling Extinction by Prolekult 
5. Disastrous Misjudgement? by Peter Barron, for the BBC 
6. Islamophobia – Crippling Counter Terrorism by Richard Walton and Tom Wilson, for the Policy Exchange 
7. Extremism Rebellion by Richard Walton and Tom Wilson, for the Policy Exchange 
8. Thinkers behind fresh Tory policies move up in party hierarchy by David Hencke, for the Guardian 
9. Downer joins Lakes Oil as Rinehart board appointee by Peter Cai, for the Sydney Morning Herald 
10. Huawei names John Brumby, Alexander Downer board members by Michael Sainsbury, for the Australian 
11. Policy Exchange is delighted to announce that our next Chairman of Trustees will be Alexander Downer, High Commissioner of Australia by the Policy Exchange 
12. After Blair by Ravid Chandiramani, for Brand Republic 
13. Financial Statement 2008-09, p. 11.; Financial Statement 2009-10, p. 13. by the Peter Cruddas Foundation

Exploring Violence, Non-violence & Extinction Rebellion – where XR gets the research wrong

Disagreements about the role of violence in political movements is at least as old as those movements. Extinction Rebellion have tried to short cut such discussions through reference to a piece of research they suggest shows non-violent movements are twice as successful in achieving their objectives.

This episode of We Only Want the Earth examines what this paper actually claims and use this as a way to talk about non-violence and recent radical political movements. It’s a journey that will take us through the research paper itself to the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Movement, the murderous state repression of Bloody Sunday 1972, Reclaim the Streets and the summit protests of the early 2000s to argue that simplified versions of tactical debates around non-violence are worse than useless and do nothing to prepare XR activists for the years of struggle ahead.

To a movement of movements

XR co-founder Roger Hallam has noted that: ‘if we are serious about the truth we face we have to be serious about organising and rebelling effectively’. Yet, notwithstanding its recent success, the XR leadership’s ‘apocalyptic organising’ and faulty strategy are likely to lead it into a dead end.

Fortunately, a clear alternative – rooted in the practice of past successful movements and compatible with XR’s ‘self-organising system’ – already exists: building strong and sustainable movements, made up of numerous, tightly-focused, escalating direct action campaigns, to win ever-more-ambitious goals and demands.

In the XR video, ‘Why International Rebellion?’, Roger Hallam claims that there are only three options for those who want to tackle climate change: ‘more cheques to NGOs’, ‘violence’ and ‘mass participation civil disobedience’ – that is: ‘loads of people going to the capital city and… clos[ing] down that capital city until something dramatic happens’.

Hallam rejects the first two possibilities and claims that the third is ‘our best bet’ – ‘there’s not, like, a fourth option out there’

He’s wrong.

In fact, many of the most famous and successful examples of activism, such as the US civil rights movement, took just such a ‘fourth option’: building strong movements out of focused campaigns.

….

To carry out anything on the scale required to halt climate collapse will require both an acceleration of forward steps and the sort of urgency of commitment that XR and the climate strikers are already demonstrating.

But ask yourself which seems more likely. That thousands of people blocking traffic in central London over the next few years will force the government to hand over power to an unelected citizens’ assembly, which will then decide to make rapid and unprecedented economic, social and political changes across society and that these will then be implemented?

Or that hundreds of inter-connecting and reinforcing campaigns, from local to national, build the power needed to make these and other changes over the coming decade?

In the UK some local XR groups appear to be naturally gravitating towards setting up campaigns, and XR’s ‘self-organising system’ certainly allows for such developments. Indeed, according to XR’s own manuals ‘[a]ny person or group can organise autonomously around the issues that feel most pressing for them, and take action in the name and spirit of [XR] – so long as the action fits within [its] principles and values.’

However, for a movement to really begin to make meaningful progress it is important: (1) that groups actually dig in to win their demands from their targets (as opposed to scattershot one-off protests that may generate some media interest but are unlikely to achieve much in the way of concrete victories); and (2) that groups resist thinking that the ‘rebellions’ (the big mass protests) are the main event and that the local and regional stuff are ultimately just recruitment tools for these.

For, as Lakey notes, it is ‘[w]hen growing campaigns build the direct action skills and attitudes for mass struggle, and merge into movements, and push those movements to join in a movement of movements, [that] we’ll have the people power to push aside the 1% and transform our countries.’

https://peacenews.info/node/9356/where-xr-and-climate-movement-need-go-now

THE NEW SUITS OF CAPITALIST DEVELOPMENTALISM

“Those who appeal to the state certainly cannot be branded as “radicals,”[nor “rebels”] since while they are against “extinction,” they are not against capital.

This is an extract from an article which can be read in full here: http://www.wrongkindofgreen.org/2019/06/13/the-new-suits-of-capitalist-development-the-new-green-period-of-capitalism-and-its-ecological-and-citizen-avant-garde/

…the environmental movement is infiltrated by agents of the multinationals and bought with funds of various origins, resulting in a political network of influences at the service of a new kind of capitalism. The same thing happened with the NGOs. At that moment, the purge of extremisms is necessary for the transformation of the green party of decomposition into an instrument of the dominant order. The message of moderation obedient to the little belligerent slogans would not reach the manipulable masses if the anti-system “fundamentalists” were not isolated as soon as possible, or as the informal hierarchies of ecologism-spectacle say, “bridged”.

The movement against climate change has given rise to a registered “brand”, Extinction/Rebellion, which covers the environmentalist flank of left-wing citizenry, giving it arguments in favour of state mediation of the crisis. Those who appeal to the state certainly cannot be branded as “radicals,” since while they are against “extinction,” they are not against capital. Nor against any concrete responsible; one of its principles reads as follows: “we avoid accusing and pointing at people, because we live in a toxic system”. No concrete individual (no leader) can be considered guilty of anything. For a climbing mentality, not all leaders, not all capitalists, are equal, and ecological reforms can even be beneficial to the majority. They are potential allies and benefactors. Thus, the declared objectives of eco-citizenship do not go that way. They limit themselves to pressuring governments to force them to “tell the truth to the citizens”, to take “decarbonizing” measures foreseen in the “energy transition” and to decree the creation of “supervising citizen assemblies”, true political springboards for the arrivists. Their weapon: the non-violent mobilization of 3.5% of the “citizens”. No revolutions, because they imply violence and do not respect “democracy”, that is, the system of parties and ranks.

They do not want to put an end to the capitalist regime, they want to transform it, making it “circular” and “carbon neutral”. We will not overlook the fact that the majority of waste is irrecyclable and that the production of “clean” energies implies the consumption of enormous quantities of fossil fuels. The professionals of citizen ecology do not want to destroy the State either, the great tree under whose shadow their personal careers thrive and their placement strategies work. The ecological crisis is reduced by this captive ecologism to a political problem that can be solved by the heights thanks to a Roosevelt-style Green New Deal: a new pact for the global economy between the world’s ruling class, the political bureaucracy and its environmental advisors that imposes measures for the reduction of polluting emissions and the storage of atmospheric carbon dioxide that the multiple conferences on climate change have failed to impose. Something extremely suspicious, like everything that comes from the system. The “dual” citizen strategies are “symbiotic”, not ruptured. Ecosystems would be restored by harmonizing conflicting interests from within. Duality consists precisely in collaborating (acting in symbiosis) with the institutions on the one hand, and mobilizing the catastrophe-sensitive masses on the other. However, the mobilizations are nothing more than a spectacular display of purely symbolic support. They do not aspire to much, as they do not question the status quo, not saying a word about the symbiosis of governments to those who are pressured by markets, growth or globalisation.

It has been proven that since the Johannesburg summit in 2002, if not before, the capitalist world is aware that its uncontrolled functioning produces such a level of destruction that it is in danger of collapsing. It is more than evident that despite the resistance to regulation by countries whose stability and influence depend on hard extractivism or unhindered development, capitalism as a whole has entered a green developmental phase and is trying to establish controls (Agenda 21, creation of the Green Climate Fund, fifth IPCC report, Paris Agreement, the 24 different COPs). This explains the epidemic of realism and opportunism that has taken over the ecological media “in action” to the point of provoking an avalanche of demands for employment in the political-administrative field. The militants do not want to close their doors, especially when there is a good remuneration, so that all the ideals are kept in their pockets. In truth, it is not only the capitalists who would benefit from a state of alarm.

The new subsidized ecologism follows in the wake of “green” developmentism based on “renewable” industrial energies, and sustains the alarmist leaders of capitalism against the negationists. All their efforts are devoted to adjusting the industrial and consumerist way of life with the preservation of the natural environment, despite the fact that the results have not been flattering until today: greenhouse gas emissions, far from being reduced as established by international agreements, have reached record figures. With the optimism of a newly enlightened novice, they want economic growth, necessary for the survival of capitalism, and the territory, necessary for the conservation of biodiversity, at least in appearance, to be marvelous, no matter how much the global temperature continues to rise and the climate is degrading. Incomparable advantages of the symbiotic method and the reformist narrative!

Those responsible for global warming and pollution, and those responsible for precariousness and exclusion are the same, but those who fight them are often not. They are two battlefields, the one of imbalance and the one of inequality, which do not finish converging and not because a cohort of vocational bureaucrats appears under the stones, trying to carve out a future for themselves by acting as an intermediary. Aspiring leaders have their days numbered because ordinary people lose their meekness when their means of subsistence are affected and they no longer allow themselves to be domesticated with the ease of days of abundance in less aggressive climates. The weakness of world-capital lies not in the climate, not even in health, but in supplies. The day when the techno-industrial system – either from the markets, or from the State – stops satisfying the needs of a large part of the population, or in other words, when due to the climate or any other factor the supply fails, the era of insurrections will come. A failed system that hinders the mobility of its subjects and puts them in immediate danger of starvation is a corpse system. It is probable that in the heat of the protest, community structures will be recomposed, fundamental to ensure the autonomy of the revolts. If civil society succeeds in organizing itself on the margins of institutions and bureaucracies, then ecological struggles will converge with wage struggles, as reflected in the praxis of a unified social conscience. And that slogan heard in the French rebellion of the “yellow vests”: “end of the month, end of the world” will reveal all its meaning.

Miguel Amorós

How The Yellow Vest movement in France could offer some lessons for climate activists.

From here: https://www.resilience.org/stories/2019-06-11/the-climate-movement-needs-more-radicals/

While new climate emergency groups like XR have taken a vital step toward a more reality-based movement, they have not gone far enough. What we need to see in the US and abroad is a movement that adopts a more confrontational, disruptive coalition focused on overthrowing not just the neoliberal paradigm in which climate change has accelerated and positive action has been stifled, but the roots of capitalism itself. The Yellow Vest (YV) movement in France could offer some lessons for climate activists.

As it happens, the YV movement began demonstrations all over France on the same day that XR launched their Rebellion Day in London. The YV demonstrations, too, involved blocking roads. But their paths have since diverged sharply, with differences between the movements growing stark. Whereas YV is fundamentally a populist, working-class movement focused on economic justice, XR has less substantial messages about economic justice, except incidental and sometimes peripheral nods to resisting corporations. They recently got into some trouble with leftists for showing affection for the police and declaring themselves “beyond politics.” While YV is a long-overdue response to neoliberal politics represented by French President Macron and global consolidation of wealth, XR is speaking more to the decades of liberal inaction on climate. Compared with YV’s rioting, mass strikes, fistbrawls with police (protesters are literally losing their limbs to police violence), XR’s street parades seem quite tame.

Part of this is intentional; XR organizers have sought to do everything properly, like getting permission before marching and closing streets, while being open and friendly with police and bystanders. There are good reasons to be approachable and welcoming if the goal is to make climate concern more mainstream or to impact the national conversation. But to pass truly meaningful policy, and to fundamentally erode capitalism, we need to do so much more than try to bring attention to climate change. And so far this strategy has failed to provoke fear or respect in the people activists are supposed to be rebelling against. It’s easy for MPs to laugh off a happy hippie gathering; it was easy for passersby to ignore the protesters and I heard more than one say something to the effect of “they need to get a job,” and other equally dismissive suggestions. That’s a problem. It’s hard to have our issues taken seriously if our movement is not. It’s hard to get people to believe the world is ending when we’re not acting like it. One of XR’s own slogans admonishes, “Tell the truth and act like it’s real.” Perhaps “acting like it’s real” means going further than XR yet has.

There are of course replicability issues with bringing a YV-style movement to the US and UK climate movements. The Anglophone world has generally been more timid than the French in standing up to elites. Liberté, égalité, fraternité is not so deeply embedded in US and UK political cultures. But marrying the economic populism of YV with the emergency climate stance of XR need not be far-fetched. As Emily Atkin has pointed out, the Yellow Vests themselves are in favor of radical action on climate change. “In a communique issued on November 23, the Yellow Vests said France should ‘put in place a real ecological policy and not a few piecemeal fiscal measures.’” They want climate policy to be commensurate with the problem, but also just. Macron and other elites will continue trying to put the burden of decarbonization on the working-class and middle-class; like YV, climate activists must be insisting that elites pay for most of it.

While the path to building a truly revolutionary, populist climate movement may look quite different from the Yellow Vests, there can be no doubt that such confrontational action will be necessary if radical policies are to get any traction. This is particularly true battling governments largely beholden to fossil fuel interests and consolidated wealth. Street parades and congressional sit-ins will only take us so far. At some point, we will need general labor strikes, we will need tight, militant organisational discipline, and we will need more diverse support.

There were many beautiful moments on the London bridges in XR’s opening protests. Seeing one group of cheering activists join another with hugs and smiles was truly awe- and hope-inspiring. Many moving speeches were given, a haunting call to prayer sung. But while many first-time activists have joined XR, it’s still far from the revolutionary movement that we will need for revolutionary policy. 

Can Extinction Rebellion Aotearoa NZ help save the world?

Extinction Rebellion was established in the United Kingdom in October 2018 as a movement that aims to use tactics of nonviolent direct action in order to avert the effects of climate change. Since its formation it has rapidly spread to at least 35 other countries, including New Zealand, who have recently carried a few headline-grabbing protests, with the promise of more to come.

Aotearoa Workers Solidarity Movement are encouraged by the fact that the movement has managed to tap into the sense of alarm over climate change, and mobilised many people not previously involved in protest, and we do not want to undermine the important work that they are doing, but we feel that there is a conversation that needs to be had about some of their demands.


While we support the means of using direct action tactics it is their ends that needs greater examination. Extinction Rebellion is essentially a reformist movement, whose earnest activists lack a real vision of what is needed if we are serious about halting the damage to our environment. Instead, they are pinning their hopes on merely making adjustments to the present system which is destroying our world.


We argue that this isn’t enough, and the only way to effectively campaign to halt climate change is to impart a true picture of a capitalism whose insatiable hunger for profit is not only undermining the working and living conditions of hundreds of millions of working people but the basis of life itself. The future of our planet depends on building a livable environment and a movement powerful enough to displace capitalism.


Extinction Rebellion Aotearoa NZ are guilty of thinking that their demands can create an idyllic capitalism, managed by the state, that can end the destruction being caused to the Earth’s environment They see their role as just needing to make enough noise to wake up political and business leaders. Theirs is a view which sees capitalism moving towards sustainability and zero growth. It is the idea that capitalism can be reformed to become a green system. In this model of capitalist society lifestyles change and infrastructure are reformed while technical green advances are applied. It supposes that all would be well if we all bought organic food, never took a holiday anywhere which would involve flying, and put on more clothes in winter rather than turn up the heating. Green capitalism presumes it will be enough to replace fossil fuels with renewables, whilst leaving the overall system intact.


We argue that such a scenario completely ignores the way capitalism operates, and must operate, and is therefore hopelessly utopian. The present capitalist system is driven by the struggle for profit. The present system’s need for infinite growth and the finite resources of Earth stand in contradiction to each other. Successful operation of the system means growth or maximising profit, it means that nature as a resource will be exploited ruthlessly. The present destruction of the planet is rooted in the capitalist system of production and cannot be solved without a complete break with capitalism. Yet ending capitalism is something that Extinction Rebellion Aotearoa NZ does not appear to be prepared to countenance, they are only attacking the symptoms rather than the cause. They see their green capitalism as a type of capitalism worth fighting for.


We, rather, see the need to create a different form of social organisation before the present system destroys us all. The entire system of production based on wage labour and capital needs to be replaced with a system which produces for human needs. All the half measures of converting aspects of capitalism to limit the damage to the environment, while the fundamentals of capitalism remain in place, are just wishful thinking, and to pretend they could solve our problems is deception on a grand scale.


The fact is that before production can be carried out in ecologically-acceptable ways capitalism has to go. Production for profit and the uncontrollable drive to accumulate more and more capital mean that capitalism is by its very nature incapable of taking ecological considerations into account properly, and to be honest it is futile to try to make it do so.


A sustainable society that is capable of addressing climate change can only be achieved within a world where all the Earth’s resources, natural and industrial, are under the common ownership of us all, as well as being under grassroots democratic control at a local and regional level. If we are going to organise production in an ecologically sound way we can either plead with the powers that be or we can take democratic control of production ourselves, and the reality is to truly control production we have to own and control the means of production. So, a society of common ownership and democratic control is the only framework within which the aims of Extinction Rebellion can be realised. In reality, to achieve their wish of halting climate collapse, those within Extinction Rebellion should be anarchists.


One of the demands of Extinction Rebellion is a call for participatory democracy, and yet they also talk of giving governments emergency war-time powers. It’s not altogether clear what they mean by this. Does it mean, for example, seizing fossil fuel industries and shutting them down? Enforcing new low-carbon, low-travel, and low-meat shifts in consumption? Or imposing sanctions against companies or countries trafficking in fossil fuels? Will it see imprisonment for those whose protest when they feel their interests may be compromised by green government legislation?


In the past, warlike conditions and major disasters typically were seen to justify the temporary abolition of democratic liberties, but how long will they last for this fight, what will be the endpoint, or will the special war-time powers last indefinitely? Would such a suspension of democracy be easy to reverse anyway? These are big questions, and, for those of us that value the limited freedoms we have, they need to be addressed.


Giving more power to the state is also a case of putting all your eggs in one basket as there is no one simple response to fixing climate change. Climate change will bring many issues, those that we can have a go at predicting, but also many unforeseen. Increasing the powers of the state reduces its ability to be flexible and capable of learning from policy mistakes. The fight against climate change must be associated with greater local democracy. We need more democracy, strengthening local and regional capacities to respond to climate change. For those in Extinction Rebellion who think that there can be only one pathway to addressing climate change, the erosion of democracy might seem to be “convenient.” History, however, tells us that suppression of democracy undermines the capacity of societies to solve problems.


Those campaigning with Extinction Rebellion are no doubt sincere and caring people who want something different for themselves and future generations. In their own lifestyles they probably have made genuine changes which are in line with a more ecologically sustainable way of living. So have we, but we are well aware that our individual lifestyle changes are not going to change the fundamental nature of the social system which is damaging the planet. Millions of us might give up using products which destroy the environment, but what effect do we really have in comparison with the minority who own and control the multinational corporations. Just 100 companies have been responsible for 71% of global emissions since 1988. They, and all businesses, have an interest in keeping their costs down, and profits up. If their profits come before the long-term interests of people, who can blame them for sacrificing our needs? They can act no other way.

We do not have faith that capitalists, or their parliamentary representatives, can act in time to limit climate change in a meaningful way, but when we make a call for revolution, the answer we mostly get is that the lesser evil of piecemeal reforms will take less time to achieve than our grand anarchist aims. However, we think it is an ill-advised attitude to take that small improvements are more worthy of support than realisable big ones. There is unlikely ever to be a government passing meaningful green legislation. Governments may pass a few minor reforms to appease green voters, the business owners themselves may realise that some of their brands may be harmed by a lack of environmental concern, and greenwash their product, but ultimately these acts will be a sticking plaster when what is required is major surgery.

If anyone concerned with Extinction Rebellion read this and grasps the impossibility of what they are asking for, then we would say it’s time to keep the methods of direct action that you are advocating, but change the demands. If Extinction Rebellion ever wants their arguments to carry any force, then they need to campaign to abolish capitalism and create a system of grassroots democracy.

In the UK a Green Anti-Capitalist Front has been created to work alongside Extinction Rebellion but with a greater focus on the capitalist roots of climate catastrophe. We feel that such a coalition is needed here in Aotearoa / New Zealand. If anyone is interested in working with us we can be contacted via our e-mail address.

This article originally appeared on the Aotearoa Workers Solidarity Movement website https://awsm.nz/?p=2198