Friday, 19 July 2019

UK Right Wing Think-Tank Aims to Discredit the Extinction Rebellion

Policy Exchange, the right wing British think-tank published a report this week entitled ‘Extremist Rebellion – A Review of Ideology and Tactics. Written by Richard Walton, a former Head of the Metropolitan Police Counter Terrorism Command, and Tom Wilson, a Senior Research Fellow in the Security and Extremism Unit at Policy Exchange, the report looks into the Extinction Rebellion campaign, which began in the UK, but has now spread around the world.

The think-tank describes itself on its website as ‘the UK’s leading think tank. As an educational charity our mission is to develop and promote new policy ideas which deliver better public services, a stronger society and a more dynamic economy.’

According to the ‘Who Funds You’ website which promotes funding transparency among think-tanks and political campaigns, Policy Exchange had an annual income of £3,553,565, in the year ending on 30 September 2017, but does not reveal the source of its funding.

A brief look at their website tells you that Policy Exchange is on the right politically, with stories such as ‘Monarchy helps unify the country post-Brexit, new poll finds’ a typical example. So it should come as no great surprise that the organisation is very much a defender of the establishment status quo. 

The popularity of Extinction Rebellion’s campaign, particularly of the protests that took place in London and other UK cities in April this year, is clearly a worry for the writers, and it seems to me that this report is an attempt to discredit the campaign and reduce its public support.  

The report complains about the costs of policing the April event, especially in London, and of the loss of revenue incurred by retail outlets in and around the protests. Whilst the report acknowledges genuine public concern at the prospect of catastrophic climate change, it seeks to undermine support for the rebellion by claiming that the organisers are politically ‘extreme’. Take this example from the foreword to the report written by Richard Walton:

…the leaders of Extinction Rebellion seek a more subversive agenda, one that is rooted in the political extremism of anarchism, eco-socialism and radical anti-capitalist environmentalism. The ‘civil resistance model’ they espouse is intended to achieve mass protest accompanied by law-breaking —leading eventually to the breakdown of democracy and the state. Obscured from public view, these objectives mark Extinction Rebellion’s campaign out as an extremist one that seeks to break down the established civil order and liberal democracy in the UK.

The report traces Extinction Rebellion’s roots in the London based Rising Up group, which devised and initiated the campaign. RisingUp’s website, which does say that some of the information contained there may now be out of date. states that we need:

A revolution, meaning a rapid change in wealth distribution and power structures, preventing the rich elite from perpetuating a self-serving ideology. Our democracy, our media, our academia, our think tanks and businesses (organisations whose purpose should be to meet our needs) must serve all people and a healthy ecology.’

The authors of the report say that Rising Up, and so by extension Extinction Rebellion, has an eco-socialist or green anarchist ideology, and to be fair it certainly does look that way, and aims to draw attention to this, so as to put the public and indeed some of its participants off the actions of the campaign. They point out that the underlying thinking of Extinction Rebellion, is that only by changing our system of bourgeois democracy, can the climate crisis be solved.

Regular readers of this blog will be aware that this is the exact the same position taken by this blog and the wider ecosocialist community. The necessity of accumulation and exponential growth for the capitalist system to survive, and the corrupt nature of the corporations first democracy, makes it unsuitable, in fact impossible, for our current political economy to resolve the climate crisis that it has set going in the first place.

The report emphasises the use of emotional appeal in its recruitment of activists, talk of children dying in the future, and attempts to paint Extinction Rebellion as some kind of cult, but this is an emotional subject. All life on earth is in danger of ending on our current trajectory. How could this not be an emotional subject?

Although the report is clear that Extinction Rebellion only advocates non-violent protests, and indeed acknowledges that the organisers see violent protest as counter-productive. It does hold out the possibility though of ‘breakaway fringe elements’ of activists turning to violence, but presents no evidence that this is likely to be the case.

The writers recommend that stiffer penalties be handed out to those who break the law, non-violently, but again concedes that leading lights within this leaderless campaign, welcome the chance to have a platform for stating their case in court trials, and even the publicity generated by activists being sent to jail. They note that hunger strikes are talked about in some of the presentations that aim to recruit activists.

In the report’s conclusion it states:

This paper proposes that the Extinction Rebellion campaign – one that politicians and the public associate with environmentalism – is deeply rooted in a much wider extreme political agenda. Those running this campaign, which enjoys significant public sympathy, appear sincere about urgently wanting to prevent ecological crisis but argue that capitalism is irredeemably entangled with the ecological crisis which they have set themselves against. It is therefore, unlikely that these leaders would settle for any accommodation that proposed to address environmental damage while keeping the present economic and political system in place.

They are definitely worried that this campaign might catch on, and this report is probably only the first attempt to discourage it getting any larger. But the climate crisis is not going away, and will get even worse, and the authors of this report have offered no solution to the problem, except clamping down on the protests. I think they will fail.

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