Thursday, 31 January 2019
Liesing Austria - activists protest in front of Rheinmetall
Global Days of Action in defence of the Democratic Federation of Northeast Syria against the Erdogan regime in Turkey
Press release on the global action days on 27 and 28 January from the Internationalist Commune of Rojava from Qamislo / North Syria.
In more than 55 cities, in more than 20 countries, thousands of people have taken to the streets in recent days. The Global Action Days on 27 & 28 January, in defense of the revolution in Rojava against the Erdogan regime in Turkey, have once again shown that the Solidarity movement has become a global movement.
The list of cities is long. It ranges from Sydney in Australia, Moscow, Helsinki, Stockholm, London, Berlin and Munich, to Los Angeles and New York. In all these cities there have been demonstrations, rallies, film continuations and information events in the past few days. The Internationalist Commune of Rojava had called for global days of action for the 27th and 28th of January to defend the revolution in Rojava, northeastern Syria. Many organizations and individuals joined the call and action has been taken in more than 20 countries. Also different personalities participated in the actions. For example th Journalist and feminist Gloria Steinem spoke at the rally in New York City, emphasizing her solidarity with Rojava.
London, UK - Activists protest in front of BAE
The focus of the days was the support of western states and companies of the fascist Erdogan regime in Turkey. Turkey has been waging war against the Kurdish movement in Turkey for decades, but also against the Democratic Federation in Rojava / northeastern Syria. Only a year ago, with the military support of Western states such as England, Italy and Germany, Turkey had occupied the canton of Afrin of the Democratic Self-Government of Northeastern Syria.
"Because the war of the Turkish state on Democratic Autonomy in Rojava in Syria would not be possible without the military support, we are currently protesting against these companies which export arms to Turkey," says Sara Andre of the Internationalist Commune of Rojava, which call for this Global Days of Actions. Because of the massive support with heavy weapons, and technology from many European companies, during the days of action it came in various countries to protests against weapons industry.
In Munich, actions took place at Krauss-Maffei Wegmann GmbH & Co. KG and Daimler AG. In Sweden, activists protested at several SAAB locations and protest took place in front of BAE in London. In Austria, activists spontaneously held a demonstration on the grounds of Rheinmetall and also in Flensburg Germany, protest happened in front of the site of Rheinmetall. In Unterlüß, one of the largest sites of Rheinmetall in Germany, activists had blocked the access roads to the company during the night. The activists wrote: "On several access roads we have built roadblocks with the help of construction site closures. This blocked the access to Unterlüß to delay the construction of weapons", an activist said.
New York - Journalist and feminist Gloria Steinem
"It is precisely these companies that benefit from the Turkish war in Syria, but also in Iraq," adds Ulrike Martin of Make Rojava Green Again, who also took part in the action days. "Among others, it was the tanks from Germany, trucks from Sweden and helicopters from Italy, which make the wars of Turkey possible."
The Internationalist Commune of Rojava evaluates the action days as a great success. These days have made clear, that the solidarity movement with the Rojava revolution has become a global movement for democracy and peace in the Middle East, especially Syria. "But let us not forget that the initiator of this social uprising in Rojava, Abdullah Öcalan, has been imprisoned in Turkey since 1999," says Sara Andre. Currently, indefinite hunger strikes by over 200 political prisoners in Turkey for lifting the solitary confinement of Öcalan. The HDP politician and activist Leyla Güven is in her hunger strike since the 7th of November last year. "Defending the revolution in Rojava also means breaking the isolation of Öcalan," Sara Andre continues.
Even though the days of action are over now, the protests against the fascist regime of the AKP and MHP under Erdogan will continue. Activists from Sweden, England and Germany have widely announced the continuation of their campaigns against arms exports.
For further pictures and information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
List of cities with demonstrations of support
Gasteiz (Euskal Herria / Basque Country)
Irun (Euskal Herria / Basque Country)
Heraklio (Crete / Greece)
San Jose (Costa Rica)
Fort Wayne (USA)
Salt Lake (USA)
Santa Cruz (USA)
Elm City (USA)
New York City (USA)
San Francisco (USA)
Internationalist Commune of Rojava
Los Angeles (USA)
Frankfurt a. Main (Germany)
Sants / Barcelona (Catalonia)
Saint Petersburg (Russia)
Monday, 28 January 2019
Written by Allan Todd
In Milton Keynes, on Friday 25 January, I was one of 24 Greenpeace activists found guilty of ‘aggravated trespass’. All those (myself included) without any previous criminal convictions, were given 12-month conditional discharges, with damages and court costs of £105 each. Those who had got previous convictions were, in addition, fined £200 each.
Our case arose from a Greenpeace ‘air pollution’ action back in August 2018, which peacefully locked-down VoltsWagon's (VW) UK HQ in Milton Keynes for most of one day - according to VW, this prevented 960 employees from getting into work, costing the company £166,000.
After the verdicts, I was minded of what the Ancient Greek playwright, Euripides, wrote:
‘Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad.’
Many companies - such as Volvo - have already committed to phasing out the production of diesel vehicles. However, the VW ‘stable’ - which is responsible for 1 in 5 of all new diesel vehicles being put on UK roads today - had refused, for over a year, all Greenpeace requests to discuss this issue.
But, on the very day of that Greenpeace action, VW finally agreed to discuss the issue; and, 3 months later, have announced they will phase out all diesel production by 2040.
The crime of air pollution
As is widely known, air pollution is bad for all those with lung complaints, and for the elderly - but it is particularly harmful to the brain and lung development of young children. It is claimed that, in London alone, over 9000 deaths a year are linked to air pollution.
In fact, just 2 weeks before our trial, a judge had given permission for a second inquest into the death of 9-year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah in 2013, following a severe asthma attack. She had not been born with asthma - but lived near London’s S. Circular Road, which is a notorious air-pollution hotspot.
Professor Stephen Holgate, who examined the case, believes that - without the illegally-high levels of air pollution the government still fails to stop - Ella would not have died. He said there was a ‘striking association’ between when Ella was admitted to hospital, and spikes in the most dangerous air pollutants recorded by government monitoring stations near her home.
In 2017, London’s air was so dirty, it breached the ANNUAL limit for pollution just 5 days into the year - one site near Ella’s home broke the HOURLY limits for nitrogen dioxide concentrations 24 times over that same 5-day period.
Yet we - not the polluters, or the UK government which continues to fail to protect its citizens - are the ones judged to be the ‘criminals’ in all this!
Like the other 84 Extinction Rebellion campaigners who were arrested during the ‘Five Bridges’ action back in November, I’m still waiting to see if I will be prosecuted for my ‘wilful obstruction of a highway’ (Lambeth Bridge, in my case).
However, despite the conditional discharge, I will continue to engage in non-violent direct action - with Greenpeace, and with Extinction Rebellion (we’ve just set up an ‘Extinction Rebellion Cumbria’ group) - regardless of the law and the legal system. In particular, the Climate Crisis is now so serious that failure to take peaceful actions would be the real crime.
Because, sometimes it is necessary to break laws in order to achieve better laws and policies. This has been shown countless times in history: the women who struggled for the vote in the UK; Gandhi in India; and Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks in the US Civil Rights Campaign.
We also need to remember that Hitler became Chancellor legally, under the German Constitution then in force - and the Nuremburg Laws which increasingly discriminated against Jewish people were, technically, legal. So those who broke those racist laws and, instead, gave help and shelter to those being persecuted, were judged to be ‘criminals’.
But history, rightly, has judged the members of the legal professions who enforced the Nazis’ totally immoral legal system - because ‘it was the law’ - as, morally, hardly less guilty than those who crammed Jewish people into the trains, operated those trains, and chased them out of the trains and straight into the gas chambers on arrival at the death camps.
So… in the words of Anonymous UK: ‘Expect me!’
Allan Todd is a member of Allerdale & Copeland Green Party, a climate activist and a Green Left supporter
Sunday, 27 January 2019
Written by Vishwas Satgar and first published at Alternative Information and Development Centre
The end of the human race is a very real prospect in the context of climate change and ultimately a heating world. Global warming at increases of 3, 4 or 5 degree Celsius means planet earth will no longer be habitable for human and most non-human life. There is scientific evidence that this has happened to other planets like Venus but was caused through natural processes. Our end is not inevitable and neither can it be prevented by false solutions. As a scientific process, climate change is the result of the sun’s rays (energy flows) being trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere by greenhouse gases (such as carbon and methane). This is creating a heating planet. This article engages with this challenge from a climate justice perspective.
The making of climate eco-cide
There is a history to why Earth is heating. For the past 150 years, capitalist societies have been at the forefront of extracting, burning and emitting carbon through coal, oil and gas. Over the past fifty years there has been a “golden spike” and what climate scientists call the “hockey curve feature of carbon emissions”. This means that there has been a consistent and intensive increase in carbon emissions. The scientific consensus is simple: human beings are a geological force shaping the planetary conditions that sustain life. We are causing climate change. This is now known as the age of the Anthropocene.
While we can accept at a general level such a scientific conclusion, it is misleading in terms of the actual political economy of carbon emissions and carbon capitalism. For the past 150 years of emissions the industrialised countries of the global north carry a climate debt as the main contributors to carbon emissions. In addition, about seven oil companies (Shell, BP, Exon, Saudi Aramco etc.) have also profited from extracting and supplying fossil fuels. Various countries are also part of extracting and burning oil, gas and coal. These carbon corporations and states constitute carbon capital which is a key contributor to climate change.
The US has the largest per capita carbon footprint on the earth. Today, through fracking and support from Obama and Trump, the US is the leading fossil fuel producer in the world. The US imperial state is preventing the world from addressing the climate crisis in any meaningful way. This has been happening for more than two decades, under every US President, and this has meant the UN-led process to secure a climate deal has never been successful. The Paris Climate Agreement (2015) is a failed solution, with a weak pledge and review mechanism, married to green capitalist solutions that have not worked and will not work.
The capitalist Anthropocene reveals that rich industrialised countries, carbon capital (including in the global south like South Africa), the US imperial state and the lack of a climate justice agenda within the UN multi-lateral system are the vanguard destroying the conditions that sustain life of human and non-human nature. Climate eco-cide, the destruction of all of us through climate change, is being led by these forces.
South Africa’s carbon capitalism
South Africa is one of the most unequal countries in the world according to any measure. Ironically, this is a conclusion of the World Bank in its recent 2018 report. The Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit (SALDRU) have made these observations since 2014. Their research has shown that the top 10% gets two thirds of South Africa’s income. Half of all South Africans are chronically poor, living in households with a per capita income of R1,149 or less per month.
With South Africa’s drought, our first major climate shock, these inequalities have been made worse through high food prices, for instance. In addition, new climate inequalities have been created through the privatisation of water. The working class, unemployed and poor have borne the brunt of the drought. Alongside racialised and gendered super exploitation, high unemployment and increasing poverty, South Africa is a carbon intensive economy, based largely on coal. It is the 14th highest emitter of carbon emissions in the world, and despite energy inequality has a per capita carbon footprint higher than China, India or Brazil.
Carbon capitalism was the bedrock of apartheid and has been part of ANC hegemony, and then dominance, in the post apartheid period. With the climate crisis, South Africa is a carbon criminal state, contributing to the greenhouse effect and the extinction of the human species and other life forms. It is an ‘eco-cidal’ capitalism, destroying the conditions that sustain life.
Limits of historical socialist alternatives: a Marxist ecology critique
South Africa has had a diverse socialist imagination which has included Sovietised socialism (even Trotsky’s minimum program), revolutionary nationalism and social democracy. The ANC Alliance is shaped by all three versions of 20th century socialism. These socialisms have not come to the fore in South Africa in the post-apartheid period. But they lurk in the national liberation imagination. They have been theorised in a manner that grounds them in particular assumptions about nature and historical experience of these socialisms.
From a Marxist Ecology perspective these socialisms have the following problems:
1. A blindness to the fact that Marx was an original systems thinker, who connected human social relations with nature. Marx understood that the labour process mediated the relationship with nature. Further, the human-nature relationship underpinned a “metabolic relationship” with nature as a whole. This means that the more capitalism undermined natural cycles and eco-systems, the more the antagonism with nature deepened.
2. An absence of thinking about value creation as grounded in both nature and labour. While labour was “priced in”, all these socialisms externalised the costs of nature in the production process. So pollution, climate change, species extinction, eco-system destruction, for example, are not taken into account in how production is organised. Nature must be conquered.
3. These socialisms are all productivist. They copied capitalism’s obsession with growth. This meant that accumulation and wealth creation were based on the assumption of endless resources. There were no ecological constraints.
4. All these socialisms are obsessed with technology as progress. But technology is not neutral. It is embedded in class relations. For corporations, science and research are about profit making. So unleashing the “forces of production” will not necessarily meet the needs of society and, worse, will have destructive consequences for nature. Genetic engineering of seeds is a good example of this.
Beyond Fatalism – the struggle for a democratic eco-socialist South Africa
South Africa’s historical socialist alternatives are limited and inappropriate for the struggle to address ecological crises and, particularly, the dangerous contradiction of climate crisis. Moreover, the dominant carbon capitalism is the real challenge. Many believe that carbon capitalism is too big a problem to solve and hence either accept the end of the human race or a catastrophic future. We are at the “end of times”. This is a fatalism that legitimises that madness and irrationality of carbon capitalism. It undermines any kind of mass working class-led response and is also blind to the science. Such resignation is deeply reactionary.
We have a rapidly heating world, with 12 years left to prevent catastrophic climate change and an overshoot of 1.5°C. According to the UN’s IPCC Global warming of 1.5°C report, massive reductions need to be implemented, much before 2030. At least 40% of reductions must happen at 2010 levels before 2030. By 2050, net zero emissions must be reached. In this context we have to be clear about the dynamics, logic and character of contemporary carbon capitalism.
Carbon capitalism produces class, racialised and gendered inequality. But it also produces climate inequality and “eco-cidal” destruction of human and non-human life forms. Carbon capitalism is anti-life. In this context, democratic eco-socialism is central to the demand: “System Change, Not Climate Change”. It recognises that “democracy” (rights, freedoms, procedures and institutional forms) is about a people’s history of struggle against capitalism and oppression; “ecology”, or the human relationship with nature, is essential for our survival and “socialism” is necessary to achieve the end of exploitation, racism and gender oppression and ensure the rational organisation of society to meet human needs.
Democratic eco-socialism – challenges and tasks for deep just transitions
There are no stages in this struggle to secure human and non-human life. We need to break with the anti-life and climate eco-cide logic of carbon capitalism now. The first challenge in this regard is to overcome old modes of politics and thinking. This means “reformist pragmatism” or “revolutionary maximalism” is not what the historical moment demands.
We are in an uncharted moment in human history which requires a response that brings to the fore what is necessary to sustain life as part of the deep just transition (an idea articulated by trade unions). We need a transformative politics that constitutes power from below, transforms the state into a climate emergency state, builds new systems to sustain life and advances just transitions in every living space so workers and the poor don’t bear the brunt of climate change. The second challenge is to recognise there are two fronts of the climate justice struggle: (i) decarbonisation across society: from extraction, production, consumption, finance, living spaces and the state; and (ii) the pro-active emergency responses to climate shocks: when communities are devastated by fires, flooding, droughts, heat waves and sea level rise.
These challenges affirm the organic and immediate tasks facing democratic eco-socialists today. Democratic eco-socialists have three crucial tasks as part of the deep just transition.
• First, building a transformative climate justice movement – a red-green alliance that can lead society. This means environmentalists have to become socialists and socialists have to become environmentalists to ensure fundamental transformation of capitalism. A new post-carbon bloc of counter-hegemonic red-green alliances led by the working class has to crystalise. This is already happening.
• Second, a programmatic approach to democratic systemic reform including decarbonisation; democratic planning; food, seed and water sovereignty; socially owned renewable energy; climate jobs; zero waste; mass clean energy public transport; solidarity economies; a substantive basic income grant that has to be scaled up now as part of deep just transitions. The Climate Justice Charter process underway is crucial in this regard.
• Third, democratic eco-socialists have to advance a vision and conception of the climate emergency state that is deeply democratic and which builds the relevant capacities to decarbonise and have functional and responsive emergency services and constructs through democratic planning of new systems to sustain life.
Vishwas Satgar has been an activist for over three decades. He is an Associate Professor of International Relations at WITS, board Chairperson of the Cooperative and Policy Alternative Centre, an activist in the South African Food Sovereignty Campaign and editor of the Democratic Marxism book series. The recent volume he edited on the climate crisis is freely downloadable here: http://oapen.org/search?identifier=1000474
Saturday, 26 January 2019
It is the last refuge of capitalist (and traditional socialist) supporters, as the scientific evidence of man-made, carbon induced, climate change mounts. It certainly has the advantage over such ideas as carbon capture and storage, which gets plenty of attention, but does not currently exist anywhere on a large scale. Nuclear power, of course does exist and has for many years now. Is it the silver bullet answer to climate change, whilst keeping the capitalist system of endless accumulation going?
The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that, in 2013, total world primary energy supply was about 18 Terawatts (TWh). One TWh is equivalent to 5 billion barrels of oil per year or 1 billion tons of coal per year, it also used to be the globe’s entire energy consumption in 1890. Of this amount of energy, nuclear supplied less than 10%, with most being provided by coal, natural gas and oil. Advocates of nuclear power emphasise the relative reliability of it over wind, solar and wave power.
Renewable energy accounts for less than a quarter of this energy, but is on the increase. Is it possible for a combination of renewable and nuclear power to provide for all of our energy needs, thus reducing carbon emissions, and put a check on climate change?
In 2011, Derek Abbott, Professor of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the University of Adelaide in Australia, working on a figure of 15 TWh concluded that nuclear could not feasibly provide all of this power, but it also highlights the difficulty providing even half of this energy from nuclear.
Abbott estimates that to supply 15 TW with nuclear only, we would need about 15,000 nuclear reactors. His findings, some of which are based on the results of previous studies, are summarised below.
Land and location: One nuclear reactor plant requires about 20.5 km2 (7.9 mi2) of land to accommodate the nuclear power station itself, its exclusion zone, its enrichment plant, ore processing, and supporting infrastructure. Secondly, nuclear reactors need to be located near a massive body of coolant water, but away from dense population zones and natural disaster zones. Simply finding 15,000 locations on Earth that fulfill these requirements is extremely challenging.
Lifetime: Every nuclear power station needs to be decommissioned after 40-60 years of operation due to neutron embrittlement - cracks that develop on the metal surfaces due to radiation. If nuclear stations need to be replaced every 50 years on average, then with 15,000 nuclear power stations, one station would need to be built and another decommissioned somewhere in the world every day. Currently, it takes 6-12 years to build a nuclear station, and up to 20 years to decommission one, making this rate of replacement unrealistic.
Nuclear waste: Although nuclear technology has been around for 60 years, there is still no universally agreed mode of disposal. It’s uncertain whether burying the spent fuel and the spent reactor vessels (which are also highly radioactive) may cause radioactive leakage into groundwater or the environment via geological movement.
Accident rate: To date, there have been 11 nuclear accidents at the level of a full or partial core-melt. These accidents are not the minor accidents that can be avoided with improved safety technology; they are rare events that are not even possible to model in a system as complex as a nuclear station, and arise from unforeseen pathways and unpredictable circumstances (such as the Fukushima accident). Considering that these 11 accidents occurred during a cumulated total of 14,000 reactor-years of nuclear operations, scaling up to 15,000 reactors would mean we would have a major accident somewhere in the world every month.
Proliferation: The more nuclear power stations, the greater the likelihood that materials and expertise for making nuclear weapons may proliferate. Although reactors have proliferation resistance measures, maintaining accountability for 15,000 reactor sites worldwide would be nearly impossible.
Uranium abundance: At the current rate of uranium consumption with conventional reactors, the world supply of viable uranium, which is the most common nuclear fuel, will last for 80 years. Scaling consumption up to 15 TW, the viable uranium supply will last for less than 5 years. (Viable uranium is the uranium that exists in a high enough ore concentration so that extracting the ore is economically justified.)
Uranium extraction from seawater: Uranium is most often mined from the Earth’s crust, but it can also be extracted from seawater, which contains large quantities of uranium (3.3 ppb, or 4.6 trillion kg). Theoretically, that amount would last for 5,700 years using conventional reactors to supply 15 TW of power. (In fast breeder reactors, which extend the use of uranium by a factor of 60, the uranium could last for 300,000 years. However, Abbott argues that these reactors’ complexity and cost makes them uncompetitive.) Moreover, as uranium is extracted, the uranium concentration of seawater decreases, so that greater and greater quantities of water are needed to be processed in order to extract the same amount of uranium. Abbott calculates that the volume of seawater that would need to be processed would become economically impractical in much less than 30 years.
Exotic metals: The nuclear containment vessel is made of a variety of exotic rare metals that control and contain the nuclear reaction: hafnium as a neutron absorber, beryllium as a neutron reflector, zirconium for cladding, and niobium to alloy steel and make it last 40-60 years against neutron embrittlement. Extracting these metals raises issues involving cost, sustainability, and environmental impact. In addition, these metals have many competing industrial uses; for example, hafnium is used in microchips and beryllium by the semiconductor industry. If a nuclear reactor is built every day, the global supply of these exotic metals needed to build nuclear containment vessels would quickly run down and create a mineral resource crisis. This is a new argument that Abbott puts on the table, which places resource limits on all future-generation nuclear reactors, whether they are fueled by thorium or uranium.
As Abbott notes, many of these same problems would plague fusion reactors in addition to fission reactors, even though commercial fusion is still likely a long way off.
The 15TWh figure that Abbott uses, is less than 18TWh figure that the IEA uses for 2013, so Abbott’s estimate is either from a different source or else is from 2011 or before, and the energy consumed had risen by 3TWh 2013. It is likely that the amount of energy consumed did rise, as it constantly does, see the diagram below.
If I think back maybe 10 years or so, I now have many gadgets; smart phone, iPad and laptop, which I didn’t have then, all of which require power. Likewise, HD televisions, which most people have switched to, take about five times as much as the old televisions. The capitalist system just keeps creating demand for energy, and this will continue to be case. The system would die otherwise.
So, certainly if we do not replace capitalism, nuclear power is not going to keep pace with demand for energy, and it is unlikely that even in combination with renewable energy, future energy demand will be met. As Abbott’s finding show, it is just not feasible.
Wednesday, 23 January 2019
A contribution to an exchange on Why Ecosocialism: For a Red-Green Future
Written by John Bellamy Foster and first published at Great Transition Initiative
When reading Michael Löwy’s “Why Ecosocialism,” I found myself in almost complete agreement (although, I would admit, I was disturbed by Löwy’s misreading of the urgency of the climate emergency). It is true I would have said some things differently, and there are many things that I think might have been included and that are vital which are left out of his short piece. Nevertheless, I would be happy generally to have Löwy’s statement stand as an extension of my own 2015 piece for GTI, “Marxism and Ecology: Towards a Great Transition.”
The reason is that for me he presents the revolutionary perspective that is needed today. While it is certainly possible to go beyond what he has to say (there is not enough on materialism, embodiment, racism, gender, social reproduction, imperialism, Indigenous peoples, depeasantization, expropriation, nonhuman species, and many other core issues in his short statement), such attempts to "go beyond” or deepen his analysis would clearly be welcomed by Löwy himself and would easily fit into and ground his vision. Perhaps I have also been affected by the fact that I have just been reading his stunning Fire Alarm: Reading Walter Benjamin’s “On History.”
Critics of Löwy’s perspective fall into two groups: those who, for various reasons, often described as pragmatic, would prefer a Lesser Transition, and those that seek to chart a revolutionary Great Transition—in some respects more revolutionary than Löwy himself managed to present, though consistent with his vision of ecosocialism. First and foremost, among those who, seek a Lesser Transition I would include Herman Daly, whose work has enormously impressed me over the years and from whom I have learned a great deal and have enormous admiration.
Daly insists, in a powerful critique of business as usual, on the need for a steady-state economy, which means an economy with no net capital formation. But he believes this can be done within a capitalist free-market institutional context. This strikes me as what Paul Sweezy once called “utopian reformism.” For Daly, socialism is off the table because of what transpired in the Soviet Union. The idea of a more rock-bottom socialism that stands for substantive equality and ecological sustainability seems to him to be a kind of impossibility theorem, much less a system that combines democratic planning with some reliance on markets.
From my standpoint, though, such views are stuck in the old Cold War divide. We have to create a movement toward socialism, a twenty-first century socialism as an ongoing struggle, which seeks to go beyond the pursuit of profit and capital accumulation and the reliance on commodity markets, if we are to have any hope of coming out of the tunnel. We can’t afford a Lesser Transition that begins and ends with the quantitative notion of “no growth,” as if this in itself is enough, and that does not address substantive equality, while pretending to address ecological sustainability—as if the two were not inseparable. The goal has to be sustainable human development, which must necessarily make room for the poorest countries to develop.
Likewise, I find myself at odds with the approach of those among Löwy’s critics who promote an eco-localism, having sworn off politics at higher levels due to a sense of fatalism. It should be remembered that ecosocialism is a world movement, and we cannot judge the world by the yardstick of Washington politics.
Such eco-localists believe that we have to work within the established political order and thus mainly on a regional or local level, where we can exert control, while the Trumps, Bolsonaros, and Exxon Mobils are taking over the world. This comes with an emphasis on adaptation at the expense of mitigation as if it is time to accept our fate. The local/regional struggle is critical (everyone remembers the slogan “think globally and act locally”), but we are living in an age of planetary emergency and a Great Transition has to address the logic of capitalism itself.
What is needed in such a transitionary movement at present is something both more and less than simply overthrowing capitalism. We need, through our struggles to move against the logic of capital and at all levels and in all spheres of society—to abandon a “creative destruction” that puts profits before people and the planet. And that battle at its highest level is what ecosocialism is about.
John Bellamy Foster is the editor of Monthly Review and a Professor of Sociology at the University of Oregon. His research focuses on economic, political, and ecological problems of capitalism and imperialism. His recent books include The Ecological Rift (with Brett Clark and Richard York), What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know about Capitalism (with Fred Magdoff), and Marx and the Earth (with Paul Burkett).
Sunday, 20 January 2019
Written by Jeff Shantz and first published at The Anarchist Library
Most approaches to Red and Green (labour and environmentalist) alliances have taken Marxian perspectives, to the exclusion of anarchism and libertarian socialism. Recent developments, however, have given voice to a “syndical ecology” or what some within the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) call “green syndicalism”.
Green syndicalism highlights certain points of similarity between anarcho-syndicalism (revolutionary unionism) and radical ecology. These include, but are by no means limited to, decentralisation, regionalism, direct action, autonomy, pluralism and federation. The article discusses the theoretical and practical implications of syndicalism made green.
Green syndicalism highlights certain points of similarity between anarcho-syndicalism (revolutionary unionism) and radical ecology. These include, but are by no means limited to, decentralisation, regionalism, direct action, autonomy, pluralism and federation. The article discusses the theoretical and practical implications of syndicalism made green.
Recently, interesting convergences of radical union movements with ecology have been reported in Europe and North America. These developments have given voice to a radical ‘syndical ecology’, or what some within the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) call “green syndicalism” [Kauffman and Ditz,. 1992]. The emergent greening of syndicalist discourses is perhaps most significant in the theoretical questions raised regarding anarcho-syndicalism and ecology, indeed questions about the possibilities for a radical convergence of social movements.
While most attempts to form labour and environmentalist alliances have pursued Marxian approaches, Adkin [1992a: 148] suggests that more compelling solutions might be expected from anarchists and libertarian socialists. Still others [Pepper, 1993; Heider, 1994; Purchase, 1994: 1997a; Shantz and Adam, 1999] suggest that greens should pay more attention to anarcho-syndicalist ideas.
In the early 1990s Roussopoulos  noted the emergence of a green syndicalist discourse in France within the Confédération Nationale du Travail (CNT). Expressions of a green syndicalism were also observed in Spain [Marshall, 1993]. There the Confederación General de Trabajadores (CGT) adopted social ecology as part of its struggle for ‘a future in which neither the person nor the planet is exploited’ [Marshall, 1993: 468].
Between 31 March and 1 April 2001, the CGT sponsored an international meeting of more than one dozen syndicalist and libertarian organisations including the CNT and the Swedish Workers Centralorganization (SAC). Among the various outcomes of the meeting were the formation of a Libertarian International Solidarity (LIS) network, commitments of financial and political support to develop a recycling cooperative and the adoption of a libertarian manifesto, ‘What Type of Anarchism for the 21st Century’, in which ecology takes a very crucial place [Hargis, 2001].
Among the more interesting of recent attempts to articulate solidarity across the ecology and workers’ movements were those involving Earth First! activist Judi Bari and her efforts to build alliances with workers in order to save old-growth forest in Northern California. Bari sought to learn from the organising and practices of the IWW to see if a radical ecology movement might be built along anarcho-syndicalist lines. In so doing she tried to bring a radical working-class perspective to the agitational practices of Earth First! as a way to overcome the conflicts between environmentalists and timber workers which kept them from fighting the corporate logging firms which were killing both forests and jobs.
The organisation which she helped form, IWW/Earth First Local 1, eventually built a measure of solidarity between radical environmentalists and loggers which resulted in the protection of the Headwaters old-growth forest which had been slated for clearcutting [Shantz, 1999].
In 1991 the Wobblies (IWW), following a union-wide vote, changed the preamble to the IWW constitution for the first time since 1908. The preamble now reads as follows:
These seven words present a significant shift in strategy regarding industrial unionism and considerations of what is to be meant by work. At the same time, their embeddedness within the constitution’s original class struggle narrative draws a mythic connection with the history of the IWW and the practices of revolutionary syndicalism.
The greening of the IWW was more explicitly expressed through a statement issued by the General Assembly at the time of the preamble change. It is worth quoting at length.
In addition to the exploitation of labor, industrial society creates wealth by exploiting the earth and non-human species. Just as the capitalists value the working class only for their labor, so they value the earth and non-human species only for their economic usefulness to humans. This has created such an imbalance that the life support systems of the earth are on the verge of collapse. The working class bears the brunt of this degradation by being forced to produce, consume and live in the toxic environment created by this abuse. Human society must recognize that all beings have a right to exist for their own sake, and that humans must learn to live in balance with the rest of nature.
Upon first reading it might appear curious to seek an ecological or antiindustrialist theoretic within anarcho-syndicalism. Syndicalism is supposedly just another version of narrow economism, still constrained by workerist assumptions. Certainly, that is the criticism consistently raised by social ecology guru Murray Bookchin [1980, 1987, 1993, 1997].
Bookchin’s work has served as a major focal point for much discussion, at least in libertarian Left and anarchist environmental circles. Even, Marxist ecologists, in journals such as Capitalism, Nature, Socialism, have given much time to discussions of Bookchin’s writings.
His recent  re-discovery of social anarchism aside, social ecologist Bookchin has displayed a longstanding hostility to the possibilities for positive working class contributions to social movement struggles.
Bookchin’s critique rightly engages a direct confrontation with productivist visions of ecological or socialist struggles which, still captivated by illusions of progress, accept industrialism and capitalist technique while rejecting the capitalist uses to which they are applied [Rudig, 1985; Blackie, 1990; Pepper, 1993]. These productivist discourses do not extend qualitatively different forms, but merely argue for proletarian control of existing forms.
Bookchin’s critique of the workplace, by asserting the inseparability of industry from its development and articulation through technology, offers a tentative beginning for a post-Marxist discussion of productive relations and the obstacles or possibilities they might pose for ecology.
Severe limits to Bookchin’s social theorising are encountered, however, within the conclusions he draws in his attempt to derive a theory of workers’ (non)activism from his critique of production relations. Bookchin [1987: 187] makes a grand, and perilous, leap from a critical anti-productivism to an argument, couched within a larger broadside against workers, that struggles engaged around the factory give ‘social and psychological priority to the worker precisely where he or she is most co-joined to capitalism and most debased as a human being – at the job site’.
In his view, workers become radical despite the fact that they work rather than through their work experiences.1 He concludes that the efforts of socialists or anarcho-syndicalists who might organise and agitate within the realm of the workplace are typically only strengthening those very same aspects of workers’ identities which must be overcome in the radical transformation of social relations. And, moreover, this is correct in so far as workplace discourses are limited to purely corporatist demands of a quantitative nature [Gramsci, 1971; Telò, 1982]. However, within Bookchin’s schema the Marxist error is repeated, only this time in reverse.
For Bookchin, workers’ relations to capital, rather than being objectively antagonistic as in the Marxist rendering, are depicted as being necessarily conciliatory. In each case workers’ positions are drawn as one-sided, derived from a supposedly external and objective realm, in abstraction from the diversity of their often contradictory expressions and outside of any transformative articulation. Bookchin, as with the Marxists, substitutes an abstraction ‘the proletariat’ for the complex web of subject positions – including that of ecologist, feminist and worker – constitutive of specific subjectivities.
Bookchin is correct in asserting that categories ‘worker’ and ‘jobs’ as presently constituted are incompatible with ecological survival. Likewise, industrial production has already been rendered ecologically obsolete. But how can the authoritarian ‘realm of economic necessity’ [Bookchin, 1980] ever be overcome except through direct political action at the very site of unfreedom?
There is no disagreement with Bookchin as regards the importance of overcoming the factory system; a difference emerges over the position of workers’ self-directed activism in any democratic articulation toward such an overcoming. It cannot be expected, except where an authoritarian articulation is constituted, that industrialism will be replaced by non-hierarchical, ecological relations without workers’ confronting the factory system in which they are enmeshed.
It is difficult to follow the logic of Bookchin’s leap from a critique of industrialism as ‘social relations’ to his explicit rejection of any and all working-class organisation. Bookchin insists upon a grass-roots politics, including any of the new social movements, but he is unclear how a movement might be grassroots and communitarian while at the same time excluding an articulation with people in their subject-positions as workers.
What he actually recommends sounds more like the radical elitism so often attributed to ecology [Adkin, 1992a; 1992b]. Bookchin’s rigid dualism of community/workplace further interferes with his critique of syndicalism. The idea, which Bookchin attributes to syndicalism, that social life could be organised from the factory floor is but a simplistic caricature. ‘This caveat is, of course, pertinent to all institutions comprising civil society. It would be impossible to nurture and sustain democratic impulses if schools, families, churches, and the like, promoted an antithetical ethos’ [Guarasci and Peck, 1987: 71]. While he rightly criticises those, such as Earth First! co-founder Dave Foreman, who permit a wilderness/culture duality he falls into a similar trap himself in his vulgar separation of workplace and community.2
Finally, Bookchin’s biases are especially curious in light of his own ecological conclusion regarding the resolution of ecological problems: ‘[t]he bases for conflicting interests in society must themselves be confronted and resolved in a revolutionary manner. The earth can no longer be owned; it must be shared’ [1987: 172]. This provides a crucial beginning for a radical convergence of ecological social relations articulated beyond a ‘jobs versus environment’ construction. In turn it must be recognised, even if Bookchin himself fails to do so, that questions of ownership and control of the earth are nothing if not questions of class.
For his part, R.J. Holton  explicitly rejects the characterisation of syndicalism as economistic. He suggests that such perspectives result from the gross misreading of historic syndicalist struggles. In the works of Melvyn Dubofsky , Jeremy Brecher , David Montgomery , and Kenneth Tucker  one finds substantial evidence against the positions taken by radical ecologists such as Bookchin, Dave Foreman  and Paul Watson . Guarasci and Peck  stress the significance of this class struggle historiography as a corrective to theorising which objectifies labour. Tucker  argues that much of the theoretical distance separating new movements from workers might be attributed to a refusal to explore syndicalist strategies.
Historic anarcho-syndicalist campaigns have provided significant evidence that class struggles entail more than battles over corporatist concerns carried out at the level of the factory [Kornblugh, 1964; Brecher, 1972; Thompson and Murfin, 1976; DeCaux, 1978; Tucker, 1991]. In an earlier article, Hobsbawm  identifies syndicalist movements as displaying attitudes of hostility towards the bureaucratic control of work, concerns over local specificity and techniques of spontaneous militancy and direct action. Similar expressions of radicalism have also characterised the practices of ecology.
Class struggles have, in different instances and over varied terrain, been articulated to engage the broader manifestations of domination and control constituted alongside of the enclosure and ruthlessly private ownership of vast ecosystems and the potentialities for freedom contained therein [Adkin, 1992a: 140–41].
From a theoretical standpoint Tucker’s  work is instructive. His work provides a detailed discussion of possible affinity between French revolutionary syndicalism and contemporary radical democracy. Tucker suggests that within French syndicalism one can discern such ‘new’ themes as: consensus formation; participation of equals; dialogue; decentralisation; and autonomy.
French syndicalist theories of capitalist power place emphasis upon an alternative revolutionary worldview emerging out of working-class experiences and offering a challenge to bourgeois morality [Holton. 1980]. Fernand Pelloutier, an important syndicalist theorist whose works influenced Sorel, argues that ideas rather than economic processes are the motive force in bringing about revolutionary transformation. Pelloutier vigorously attempted to come to terms with ‘the problem of ideological and cultural domination as a basis for capitalist power’ [Holton. 1980: 19].
Reconstituting social relations, in Pelloutier’s view, becomes possible when workers begin developing revolutionary identities, through self-preparation and self-education, as the means for combatting capitalist culture [Spitzer, 1963]. Thus, syndicalists have characteristically looked to labour unrest as an agency of social regeneration whereby workers desecrate the ideological surround of class domination, for example, deference to authority, acceptance of capitalist superiority and dependence upon elites. According to Jennings [1991: 82], syndicalism ‘conceived the transmission of power not in terms of the replacement of one intellectual elite by another but as a process of displacement spreading power out into the workers’ own organizations’.
This displacement of power would originate in industry, as an egalitarian problematic, when workers came to question the status of their bosses. ‘This was not intended as a form of left “economism” but rather as a means of developing the confidence and aggression of a working class threatened with the spectre of a “sober, efficient and docile” work discipline’ [Holton, 1980: 14]. Towards that end syndicalist movements have emphasised ‘life’ and ‘action’ against the severity of capitalist labour processes and corresponding cultural manifestations.
It might be argued that, far from being economistic, syndicalist movements are best understood as counter-cultural in character, more similar to contemporary new social movements than to movements of the traditional left. Syndicalist themes such as autonomy, anti-hierarchy, and diffusion of power have echoes in sentiments of the new movements. This similarity is reflected not only in the syndicalist emphasis upon novel tactics such as direct action, consumer boycotts, or slowdowns.
It also finds expression in the extreme contempt shown by syndicalists for the dominant radical traditions of its day, exemplified by Marxism and state socialism, and in syndicalist efforts to divorce activists from those traditions [Jennings, 1991]. Judi Bari [1994: 2001] emphasised the similarities in the styles and tactics of labour and ecology against common depictions within radical ecology, as exemplified in the positions held by Bookchin. Towards developing this mutual understanding green syndicalists have tried to engender an appreciation of radical labour histories, especially where workers have exerted themselves through inspiring acts which seem to have surprisingly much in common with present-day eco-activism.
Attempts have been made within green syndicalism to articulate labour as part of the ecological ‘we’ through inclusion of radical labour within an ecological genealogy. Within green syndicalist discourses, this assumption of connectedness between historic radical movements, especially those of labour, anarchism and ecology has much significance. In this the place of the IWW is especially suggestive.
The IWW, as opposed to bureaucratic unions, sought the organisation of workers from the bottom up. As Montgomery  notes, IWW strategies rejected large strike funds, negotiations, written contracts and the supposed autonomy of trades. Actions took the form of ‘guerilla tactics’ including sabotage, slowdown, planned inefficiency and passive resistance.
Furthermore, and of special significance for contemporary activists, the Wobblies placed great emphasis upon the nurturing of unity-in-diversity among workers. As Green  notes, the IWW frequently organised in industrial towns marked by deep divisions, especially racial divisions, among the proletariat.
Interestingly, Montgomery  notes that concerns over ‘success’ or ‘failure’ of strikes were not of the utmost importance to strikers. Strikes spoke more to ‘the audacity of the strikers’ pretensions and to their willingness to act in defiance of warnings from experienced union leaders that chance of victory were slim’ [Montgomery, 1974: 512]. This approach to protest could well refer to recent ecological actions. Such rebellious expressions reflect the mythic aspects of resistance, beyond mere pragmatic considerations or strict pursuance of ‘interests’.
As the ones most often situated at the nexus of ecological damage [Bullard, 1990; Kaufmann and Ditz, 1992] workers in industrial workplaces may be expected to have some insights into immediate and future threats to local and surrounding ecosystems. Such awareness derived from the location of workers at the point of production/destruction may allow workers to provide important, although not central, contributions to ecological resistance.
However, this possibly strategic placement does not mean that any such contributions are inevitable. Those people who suffer most from ecological predations, both at workplaces and in home communities, are also those with the least control over production as presently constituted through ownership entitlements and as sanctioned by the capitalist state [Ecologist, 1993; Faber and O’Connor, 1993; Peet and Watts, 1996].
These relations of power become significant mechanisms in the oppression of not only workers but of non-human nature as well. Without being attentive to this web of power one cannot adequately answer Eckersley’s  pertinent questions concerning why those who are affected most directly and materially by assaults upon local ecosystems are often least active in resistance, both in defending nature and in defending themselves. Thus the questions of workplace democracy and workers’ control have become crucial to green syndicalist theoretics.
‘The IWW stands for worker self-management, direct action and rank and file control’ [Miller, 1993: 56]. For green syndicalism workers’ control becomes an attempt by workers to formulate their own responses to the question ‘what of work?’ Within the IWW, decisions over tactics are left to groups of workers or even individual workers themselves. Worker selfdetermination ‘on the job’ becomes a mechanism by which to contest the power/knowledge nexus of the workplace.
Labour insurgency typically articulates shifting relations within transformations of production and the emergence of new hegemonic practices. Times of economic reorganisation offer wide-ranging opportunities for creating novel or unprecedented forms of confrontation on the parts of workers. The offensives of capital can provide a stimulus to varied articulations of renewed militancy. Such might be the case within the present context of capital strike, de-unionisation, and joblessness characterising cybernetised globalism.
Of course the emphasis must always remain on possibility as there is always room for more than one response to emerge. Green syndicalists recognise that ecological crises have only become possible within social relations whose articulation has engendered a weakening of people’s capacities to fight a co-ordinated defence of the planet’s ecological communities.
Bari [1994: 2001] argued that the restriction of participation in decision-making processes within ordered hierarchies, prerequisite to accumulation, has been a crucial impediment to ecological organising. And it seems to me that people’s complicity should be measured more by the amount of control they have over the conditions of their lives than by how dirty they get at work. One compromise made by a whitecollar Sierra Club professional can destroy more trees than a logger can cut in a lifetime [Bari, 1994: 105].
The persistent lack of workers’ control allows coercion of workers into the performance of tasks which they might otherwise disdain, or which have consequences of which they are left unaware. Additionally the absence of self-determination results in workers competing with one another over jobs or even the possibility of jobs. Workers are left more susceptible to threats of capital strike or environmental blackmail [Bullard, 1990]. This susceptibility is perhaps the greatest deterrent to labour/ecology alliances. Without job security and workplace power workers cannot provide an effective counterbalance to the power of capital.
Radical ecology, outside of green syndicalism, has failed to appreciate these negative consequences of diminished workers’ control for participation in more explicitly political realms. Only through a development of political confidence can such activism be engaged. Furthermore, the degree of workplace democracy can depend largely upon the influence of supposedly exterior concerns such as impacts upon nature. In recognising the relationship between workplace articulation and political participation green syndicalism poses a challenge to received notions within ecology.
Participation as conceived by green syndicalism cannot come from management. ‘Such awareness has to question unflinching deference to experts, as part of a more general attack on centralized power and managerial prerogatives’ [Guarasci and Peck, 1987: 70]. Direct participation is understood as contributing to worker self-determination, constituted by workers against the veiled offerings of management which form part of ecocapitalism.
Eco-capitalist visions leave the megamachine and its power hierarchies intact and thus offers no alternative. Production remains undemocratic and profitability is the final word on whether or not resources should be used. Thus, eco-capitalism introduces to us the wonders of biodegradable take-out containers and starch-based golf teas [Purchase, 1994].
Green syndicalism emerges, then, as an experiment in more creative conceptions of workplace participation. For Purchase [1994, 1997a, 1997b], productive control organised around face-to-face, voluntary interaction and encouraging self-determination might be employed towards the freeing up of vast quantities of labour from useless, though profitable production, to be used in the playful development of life-affirming activities.
Thus a common theme of working-class radicalism becomes an important element of an ecological theoretic. Leftists have long argued that eventually human needs must become the primary consideration of production, replacing profitability and accumulation. Such critiques of production must now go even further, raising questions about the ‘needs’ of ecosystems and non-humans.
The decreased demand for labour, within cybernetised capital relations, means that corporations are less compelled to deal with mainstream trade unions as under the Keynesian arrangement.3 If unions are to have any influence it can only come through active efforts to disrupt the labour process. These disruptive efforts may include increased militancy within workplace relations. Evidence for a rebellion among workers has been reflected typically in such activities as sabotage, slowdowns and absences.
IWW activists explicitly agitate for ‘deliberate inefficiency’ as a means to encourage the desecration of work relations. For green syndicalists the desired tactics against corporate-sponsored destruction of the environment include such direct, non-bureaucratic forms of action as shop-floor sabotage, boycotts, green bans and the formation of extra-union solidarity outside of the workplace, within workers’ home communities. Of course, strikes, the power to halt production, is unmatched in its capacity to confront corporate greed.
Environmentalists can stop production for a few hours or a few days. There is no more effective counter-force to capital accumulation and the pursuit of profit than the power of workers to stop work to achieve their demands. Ecological protection, as with work conditions, benefits or wages, must be fought for. Where workers are involved this means they must be struck for. This, however, requires that workers develop a position of strength. This, in turn, means organising workers so that they no longer face the prospects of ‘jobs versus environment’ blackmail. In order for this to occur, non-unionised workers must be mobilised. (Otherwise they are mobilised by capital – as scabs.) Recognising this the IWW gives a great deal of attention to organising the traditionally unorganised.
A green syndicalist conception of workers’ organisation rejects the hierarchical, centralised, bureaucratic structures of mainstream unionism. Economistic union organisations and bureaucrats who have worked to convince workers that environmentalists are responsible for job loss point up the need for syndicalist unions organised around ecologically sensitive practices.
This is not to say that green syndicalists refuse to act in solidarity with workers in mainstream unions. Indeed, Local 1 worked in support of workers in Pulp and Paper Workers, Local 49 and Judi Bari points out that many actions would have been impossible without inside information provided by workers in that local. Green syndicalists do work with rank and file members of mainstream unions and many are themselves ‘two-carders’, simultaneously members of mainstream and syndicalist unions.
Neither is it true to say that strong environmental policies cannot come from mainstream unions. Mainstream unions can and do at times take up specific policies and practices of syndicalism but the lack overall vision and participatory structures means that such policies and practices are not part of overall strategy and are often vulnerable to leadership control or the limitations of bargaining with employers.
The green syndicalist responses might be understood, most interestingly, as characterising a broader revolt against work. ‘The one goal that unites all IWW members is to abolish the wage system’ [Meyers, 1995: 73]. Ecological crises make clear that the capitalist construction of ‘jobs’ and ‘workers’ are incompatible with the preservation of nature. It is, perhaps, then, not entirely paradoxical that green syndicalism should hint at an overcoming of workerness as one possible outcome.
Radical ecology activists have increasingly come to understand jobs, under the guise of work, as perhaps the most basic moment of unfreedom, one which must be overcome in any quest towards liberty. Too often, previously, the common response has been one of turning away from workers and from questions relating to the organisation of working relations. Green syndicalism hints that radical theory can no longer ignore these questions which are posed by the presence of jobs. Indeed it might be said that a return to the problematic of jobs becomes the starting point for a reformulation of radicalism, at least along green lines.
Green syndicalism conceives of the transformation of work as an ecological imperative. What is proposed is a radical alteration of work, both in structure and meaning. Solutions to the problems of work cannot be found merely in the control of existing forms. Rather, current practices of production along with the hierarchy of labour must be overcome.
Production, within a green syndicalist vision [Purchase, 1994, 1997a, 1997b], may include the provision of ecologically sensitive foods, transportation or energy. Work, newly organised along decentralised, local, democratic lines might allow for the introduction of materials and practices with diminished impact upon the bioregion in which each is employed.
Green syndicalist discourses are raised against the undermining influences of work in contemporary conditions of globalism. Far from being irrational responses to serious social transformations, workplace democratisation and workers’ self-determination become ever more reasonable responses to the uncertainty and contingency of emerging conditions of (un)employment.
Green syndicalists emphasise workers’ empowerment and selfemancipation – against pessimistic or cynical responses such as mass retraining which simply reinforce dependence upon elites. They offer but one initiative towards the overcoming of work and a movement towards community-based economics and productive decision-making.
The mass production techniques of industrialism cannot be reconciled with ecological sustenance, regardless of whether bosses or sturdy proletarians control them. To be anti-capitalist does not have to imply being pro-ecology. In this regard the utopians have surely been more insightful. Ending capitalist relations of production, however, remains necessary for a radical transformation of the social since these relations encompass many positions of subordination. However, this is only one aspect of radical politics.
Thus, green syndicalists reject the workerist premises of ‘old-style’ leftists who argue that issues such as ecology are external to questions of production and only serve to distract from the essential task of organising workers, at the point of production, towards emancipation. Within green syndicalist discourses ecological concerns cannot, with any reason, be divorced from questions of production or economics. Rather than being represented as strictly separate discursive universes, nature, production, economics or workplace become understood as endlessly contested topographical features in an always shifting terrain.
The workplace is but one of the sites for extension of social resistance. Given the prominent position of the workplace under capitalism, as a realm of capitalist discipline and hegemony, activists must come to appreciate the significance of locating struggles within everyday workplace relations. Within a green syndicalist perspective workplaces are understood as sites of solidarity, innovation, cultural diversity, and personal interactions expressed in informal networks and through multiple antagonisms.
In turn, those social realms which are typically counterpoised to the factory within radical ecology discourses – Bookchin’s ‘community’ – should be recognised as influenced by matters of accumulation, profit and class. The character of either realm is not unaffected by workplace antagonisms.
This ‘steel cage’ appears inescapable only because it remains isolated, practically and conceptually, from a host of important social, cultural, and political-economic dynamics operating inside and out of workplaces proper. Critical to any discussion, work organizations must be seen as series of settings and situations providing choices that are constrained, but not immutably, by the broader fabric of the society into which they are woven [Guarasci and Peck, 1987: 72].
In addition, the re-integration of production with consumption, organised in an egalitarian and democratic fashion – such that members of a community contribute what they can to social production – may allow for a break with consumerism. People might consume only that which they’ve had a hand in producing; people might use free time for creative activities rather than tedious, unnecessary production of luxuries; and individual consumption might be regulated by the capacities of individual production, (for example, personal creativity), not from the hysterics of mass advertising.
Syndicalism might be freed thusly from requirements of growth or mass consumption characterising industrialism as ‘social relations’ [Purchase, 1994, 1997a, 1997b; Bari, 2001]. Green syndicalism, as opposed to Marxism or even revolutionary syndicalism, opposes large-scale, centralised, mass-production. Green syndicalism does not hold to a socialist optimism of the liberatory potential of industrialism. Ecological calls for a complete, immediate break with industrialism, however, contradict radical eco-philosophical emphases upon interconnectedness, mutualism and continuity.
Simple calls for a return to nature reveal the lingering fundamentalisms afflicting much ecological discourse. The idea of an immediate return to small, village-centred living as espoused by some deep ecologists and anarchists is not only utopian, it ignores questions concerning the impacts which the toxic remains of industry would continue to inflict upon their surroundings. The spectre of industrialism will still – and must inevitably – haunt efforts at transformation, especially in decisions concerning the mess that industry has left behind [Purchase, 1994]. How can we disconnect society from nature given the mass interpenetrations of social encroachments upon nature, for example, global warming, or depletion of the ozone layer? Where do you put toxic wastes? What of the abandoned factories? How will decommissioning occur? One cannot just walk away from all of that.
Without romanticising the role played by workers, green syndicalists are aware that workers may offer certain insights into these problems. In responding to this dilemma, green syndicalists [Kaufmann and Ditz, 1992; Purchase, 1994, 1997a, 1997b; Bari, 2001] have tried to ask the crucial question of where those who are currently producers might belong in the multiple tasks of transformation – both cultural as well as ecological.
They have argued that radical ecology can no longer leave out producers, they will either be allies or enemies. Green syndicalism, almost alone among radical ecology, suggest that peoples’ identities as producers, rather than representing fixed entities, may actually be articulated against industrialism. The processes of engaging this articulation, wherein workers understand an interest in changing rather than upholding current conditions, present the perplexing task which has as yet foiled ecology.
Dismantling industrial capital, the radical approach to industrialism, would still require the participation of industrial workers provided it is not to be carried out as part of an authoritarian articulation. Any radical articulation, assuming it be democratic, implies the participation of industrial workers in decision-making processes. Of course, the democratic character of any articulation cannot be assumed; the possibility for reaction, to the exclusion of workers [Foreman, 1991; Watson, 1994], is ever-present.
One sees this within ecological fundamentalism or in strengthened corporatist alliances pitting labour/capital against environmentalists, each calling for centralised and bureacratic enforcement of regulations. In the absence of a grass-roots articulation with workers any manner of authoritarian, elite articulation, even ones which include radical ecology [Foreman, 1991; Watson, 1994], might be envisioned.
For their part theorists of green syndicalism envision the association of workers towards the dismantling of the factory system, its work, hierarchies, regimentation [Kaufmann and Ditz, 1992; Purchase, 1994, 1997a, 1997b]. This may involve a literal destruction as factories may be dismantled; or perhaps converted towards ‘soft’ forms of localised production. Likewise, productive activity can be conceived in terms of restoration, including research into a region’s natural history.
Reconstruction might be understood in terms of food and energy provision or recovery monitoring. These are acts in which all members might be active, indeed will need to be active in some regard. These shifting priorities – towards non-industrial relations generally – express the novelty of green syndicalism as both green and as syndicalist.
For green syndicalism it is important that ecology engage with workers in raising the possibilities for resisting, challenging and even abandoning the capitalist megamachine. However, certain industrial workshops and processes may be necessary [Purchase, 1994]. (How would bikes, or windmills be produced, for example?) The failure to develop democratic workers’ associations would then seem to render even the most wellconsidered ecology scenarios untenable. Not engaging such possibilities restricts radicalism to mere utopia building [Purchase, 1994].
Green syndicalists argue for the construction of ‘place’ around the contours of geographical regions, in opposition to the boundaries of nationstates which show only contempt for ecological boundaries as marked by topography, climate, species distribution or drainage. Affinity with bioregionalist themes is recognised in green syndicalist appeals for a replacement of nation-states with decentralised federations of bioregional communities [Purchase, 1994, 1997a]. For green syndicalism such communities might constitute social relations in an articulation with local ecological requirements to the exclusion the bureaucratic, hierarchical interference of distant corporatist bodies.
Local community becomes the context of social/ecological identification. Eco-defence, then, should begin at local levels: in the homes, workplaces, and neighbourhoods. Green syndicalist discourses urge that people identify with the ecosystems of their locality and region and work to defend those areas through industrial and agricultural practices which are developed and adapted to specific ecological characteristics.
One aspect of a green syndicalist theoretic, thus, involves ecology activists helping workers to educate themselves about regional, community-based ways of living [Bari, 1994; Purchase, 1994, 1997b]. A green syndicalist perspective encourages people to broaden and unite the individual actions, such as saving a park or cleaning up a river, in which they are already involved towards regional efforts of self-determination protecting local ecosystems [Purchase, 1994].
The point here, however, has not been (nor is it for theorists of green syndicalism generally) to draw plans for the green syndicalist future. Specific questions about the status of cities, organisation of labour, means of production, or methods of distribution cannot here be answered. They will be addressed by those involved as the outcome of active practice. Most likely there will be many varieties of experimental living — some are already here, e.g. autonomous zones, squats, co-ops and revolutionary unions. These are perhaps the renewed politics of organising.
Human relations with nature pose crucial and difficult questions for radicalism. Those relations, under capitalism, have taken the form of ‘jobs’ where nature and labour both become commodified. Indeed nature as ‘resources’ and work as ‘jobs’ provide the twin commodity forms which have always been necessary for the expansion of the market [Polanyi, 1944].
Thus capitalist regimes of accumulation, growth and commodification remain crucial concerns for ecological politics. Questions concerning the organising of life are still radical questions, though what might constitute acceptable answers has changed. One might ask: ‘What does work – intervention in nature – mean for ecology?’ Taking ecology seriously means that the realms of work, leisure (work’s accomplice), sustenance, need etc. – what might be called production – must be confronted.
Jeff Shantz is the author of Green Syndicalism - An Alternative Red-Green Vision. He is professor in the Criminology Department at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Surrey, British Columbia. His books include Radical Ecology and Social Myth: The Difficult Constitution of Counter-Hegemonic Politics and Living Anarchy: Theory and Practice in Anarchist Movements.