What’s Wrong with Extinction Rebellion?
04-08-2019 – Extinction Rebellion (XR) formed as an organisation in late 2018, and has since expanded into some 400 chapters around the globe. In April, XR burst onto the scene by blockading parts of London, with some participants in costumes, and topped off by a pink yacht. Calling for urgent action to address the increasingly dire climate warnings, XR has drawn in many who are rightly fed up with the blatant inaction of politicians, and are willing to take action which disrupts “business as usual”. XR is correct about one thing: if immediate and drastic steps are not taken to eliminate carbon emissions and withdraw carbon already in the atmosphere within the next ten years, humanity itself will die a horrible death. However, XR display the wrong tactics, with the wrong strategy, which flows from wrong politics. So wayward is XR (the organisation – as distinct from XR members and supporters), we urge workers to stand clear and seek better methods of struggle, despite the critical importance of politically inspired climate action.
Although one of XR’s slogans is “beyond politics”, they are very political – but not in a good way as far as working people are concerned. One of the core positions of XR is being against socialism – or at least their misunderstanding of it. Some XR organising sessions have warned participants against carrying placards saying “Down with Capitalism”, lest the action be interpreted as being organised by socialists!! Explicit anti-socialism was on show with the now infamous XR training video, where a talk given by XR founder John Hallam identifies 20% of those who take part in political demonstrations as “obstructionists”, who have to be bypassed to get to those who are supposedly not as political. Hallam is referring to socialists who allegedly bring everyone down by denouncing capitalism. He states the solutions need to be a balance, “not socialism or anything”.
From the off we can see what the XR leadership mean by “no politics”. They really mean “no socialism”. The most advanced workers would be aware that there is no other systemic alternative to capitalism other than socialism. It cannot be any other way in a society divided by the two major classes which are involved in production – capital and labour. In rejecting labour, the XR leadership consciously choose capital – no matter how radical they make themselves out to be. In choosing capital, they are choosing the very force responsible for impending human extinction, despite themselves.
It’s a contradiction, for some of those drawn into XR actions could easily view socialism quite favourably. But just a glance at the bios of two of the XR founders is revealing. Gail Bradbrook is one, who has reportedly spent the last 18 years in the pay of both NGOs, charities and some of the world’s largest corporations including Shell, BT, Microsoft, Panasonic, BAE Systems and Goldman Sachs. Many of these roles has been as “advisor” – to the very governments she now implores people to lobby through XR “non-violent” action. Farhana Yamin has been an environmental lawyer and “advisor” on climate change “development policy” to the United Nations and the governments of other countries for 20 years. Ms Bradbrook and Ms Yamin, if nothing else, are clearly connected to the very capitalist governments and corporations which are responsible for the burning of the planet in the first place. We can scarcely believe that their new XR creation will therefore be anything other than another lobby group trying to get the ear of big capital and big parliaments. Far from rebellion, the XR leadership are after a seat at the table.
The 3.5% colour revolution
XR’s anti-socialism can only lead to open advocacy of capitalist imperialism, and their “theory” does likewise. The elite XR leadership state their agreement with the “3.5%” thesis – that only 3.5% of the population has to be mobilised in non-violent action to achieve fundamental change, even “revolution”. Which “revolutions” allegedly occurred this way? The 1986 “People Power” actions in the Philippines, which deposed President Marcos (but left the ruling class entirely intact), the “Rose Revolution” in 2003 in Georgia, the “Singing Revolution” in Estonia in the late 80s, and the “Velvet Revolution” in Czechoslovakia in 1989. The last three were not “revolutions” in any progressive sense, but full-throated counter-revolutions against the distorted socialism which came through the victory of the Soviet Union over Nazified fascism in World War II. In the former Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc, despite political power being monopolised by conservative bureaucratic castes, workers held state power which ensured basic economic security – jobs, healthcare, education – for all. For its part, Wall Street never wavered in its determination to bring down these admittedly imperfect workers’ states, yet decades later, the bishops of XR hail the restoration of free-market capitalism in Georgia, Estonia and Czechoslovakia as a “revolution” !!
The XR VIPs share the aim of US backed “colour revolutions”, which were not only used to bring down the Soviet bloc, but are now used to destabilise Russia itself and all of the countries it once had influence over. This includes the relentless funding of imperialist fronts posing as NGOs in a vast network of countries throughout Eurasia. These deadly moves by Washington threaten to unleash a series of wars, or even a nuclear war, against Russia. XR has no objections though, not least because the leadership see themselves as a type of NGO. Tellingly, XR also says not one word against imperialist war in general – a major driver of climate collapse.
By attempting to ignore the working class, the elite XR leadership attempt to embrace all classes – and thus fall into the same nationalist fictions that imperialist governments constantly try to reinforce. That is, capitalist governments are “ours” and “we” are all a part of it. In fact, they insinuate that “we” are all responsible [!] for the climate crisis and therefore it is everyone’s [!] responsibility to do something about it. Such classless nonsense would be laughed out of even the most reformist Trade Union. Even if workers themselves are not yet class conscious in a Marxist sense, they know and feel instinctively that they are up against a force which is counterposed to their interests, and that collective action must be used in order to defend all those who labour for a living. Even if they do not yet see a way around it, workers see and feel, from their own experience, that highly paid managers, corporate executives and self-serving politicians are an obstacle to basic justice – and that includes urgent action on the climate crisis.
XR and the cops
By far the most dangerous approach of XR is its embrace of the police of the capitalist state as allies. In the UK, the blocking of intersections in London with a yacht and a truck for a week can only have been done through extensive consultation with the police, which were likely carried out by the unaccountable leaders of XR, rather than those who attended the action. What is more, one of the core strategies of XR is actually to get people arrested, and there is evidence of the XR leadership actively assisting the cops to do just this. It hardly needs emphasising that the police are the core security force of the capitalist state, which uses extreme violence against the working class and the poor in order to secure the wealth of private capital. Any organisation which advocates working directly with, or assisting, the cops, is plainly a deadly enemy of all working people. Directing workers to assist the cops in any task – not to speak of your own arrest! – is not only the most serious form of class treachery. It physically endangers workers, Aboriginal people, migrants, women, and all others who attempt exercise their political rights – which ultimately are very limited as long as capitalism remains economically stagnant.
The elite XR leadership’s willing embrace of the murderous core repressive forces of the capitalist state are a reflection of its political program. They are an example of the enraged petty-bourgeoisie, who cannot understand why big capital does not see its own extinction by continuing fossil fuel “business as usual”. The petty-bourgeoisie encompasses a whole range of political forces which stand between capital and labour by virtue of their class position. Their rejection of the working class and its aim – socialism – leads them into desperately tying themselves to big capital, but in the form of begging for reforms. Capital has no intention of granting them, which then drives the petty-bourgeois XR leadership further into a frenzy. It thus organises “radical” actions such as blockading traffic, and removing their clothes in parliamentary galleries, in a desperate attempt to shock the ruling class into change.
The ruling class, of course, cannot be changed. It must be overthrown, and by the only class which does not have a material interest in the maintenance of the profit system – the proletariat. As long as XR rejects the proletariat and its struggle for its own government and its own state power, it will be reduced to placing plaintive demands on the very forces responsible for the imminent climate collapse. And any political movement which simply asks its overlords for mercy cannot be described as “radical” in any way. This also explains why XR’s demands display a staggering combination of utopian liberalism and reformist populism. For example, XR demand that the government and the media “tell the truth” [!!] about climate change, while calling on the government of the capitalist profiteers to convene a “citizen’s assembly”  !! The petty-bourgeois democrats, materially and/or politically beholden to their class interests (small scale capital), are incapable of a political course independent of the stock markets, the banks and the giant Western corporations, and therefore remain in thrall to the entire political state of the big bourgeoisie.
Bandwagon jumping left parties adapt
Some Australian left parties have simply adapted to the anti-socialist XR movement, by “temporarily” folding up their socialism and placing it in their back pocket. Never one to pass by a chance to jump on a bandwagon, the Socialist Alliance claim that some members of XR agree with an anti-capitalist approach, even if the XR platform does not. Socialist Alternative avoid mentioning the XR platform, but claim that the major positive of XR is their focus on militant direct action, and urge these actions to grow. Both these parties play out the fantasy that ANY movement can be “pushed to the left” if only socialists take part in it. They make the mistake that any movement can be a vehicle for progressive change. Even if XR has a pro-capitalist leadership, all that is supposedly needed is for the left to “relate” to left wing elements within them. Never tiring of tailing after the “left” wing of the ruling class, such tactics in fact tie workers to “their own” capitalist governments, for an indefinite period. Meanwhile, such waylaid left parties forever claim that they are only “working with” allegedly progressive bourgeois layers. Clearly, they are instead working for them, and by extension, for the bourgeoisie itself.
The XR leadership proffer the radically false theory that everyone, from a minimum wage earning seamstress right up to billionaire corporate magnates, are all affected by climate collapse so “everyone” has an interest in doing something about it. In reality, all strata of the capitalist class, right down to the small time business owner, would rather see the earth incinerated than be stripped of their “right” to exploit the labour power of the workers who produce their profits. Allowing for historical variations, this is just as true for the modern day capitalists as it was for the slave owners who pre-dated them, and the biblical kings before them. While the pre-capitalist ruling classes did not face civilisation ending threats, they also would have preferred to see the world burn rather than lose their social power over the toiling masses.
The only way for slaves and serfs to change their conditions of life was to band together to overthrow the slave-owners and medieval monarchs. This eventually occurred, but now the task falls to the modern day working class to liberate humanity from the tyrannical rule of capital. The issue of impending ecological collapse does not invalidate this historical task, but only makes it more urgent. The capitalists and their state, and their governments, cannot be made to “see reason”, no matter how much traffic or business as usual disruption is organised – though different forms of mass action will certainly be needed. What is required is the organisation of the most class-conscious into a Marxist vanguard party, which can lead the working class in a struggle for the seizure of the major means of production. Workers’ control of production, and society itself, will greatly increase the chances of humanity avoiding extinction through the rational application of science and technology. The crusade for a workers’ state and a workers’ government is, in the final analysis, the only real rebellion.
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