XR Threaten Workers’ Democratic Rights
20-10-2019 – The Queensland Parliament’s determination to fast track laws designed to impede climate protests are potentially a dangerous precedent. Even though they are ostensibly aimed at preventing climate blockaders from using “dangerous devices”, they could quite easily be used for much more. These moves are a response to the provocations of Extinction Rebellion (XR), who have repeatedly organised actions including the deliberate disruption of peak hour traffic in order to supposedly raise awareness about the urgent need for climate action. While there is little or no debate amongst working people that urgent measures to address the potential climate collapse are desperately needed, the majority are overwhelmingly opposed to the tactics of XR. Workers keenly feel that obstructing working people going about their daily lives is not the right way to push a political issue – even one as important as climate distortion.
Class nature of the state
While it is true that Australian Labor Party (ALP) Premier Palaszczuk has provided no evidence that XR protestors have included dangerous devices such as butane gas in lock-on equipment, XR has clearly given the capitalist state the ammunition it needs to potentially pass laws criminalising all protest activity. The right to protest under capitalism is a right fought for and hard won, but as with any concession the ruling class allows the workers, it can be taken back at any time. Even conservative Union bureaucrats, who should be organising a working class intervention into the climate movement, are aware that the Queensland anti-protest laws could very easily be used against any political action taken by workers and their Unions. Such anti-protest laws are unlikely to be confined to Queensland, and could spread fast across Australia. XR, with their misguided zeal, could be responsible for the removal of the right to protest about anything, let alone the climate.
XR effectively claims that it is “neither left nor right” politically, and is therefore ambivalent on the question of capitalism and socialism. Anyone or any group claiming to be “non-political” while taking political action, inevitably comes down on the side of conservatism. At this stage of history – at least in the West – this means defending the capitalist for profit mode of production, with all of its attendant superstructure. XR do not deny it, and often openly dissuade any participant in XR actions from raising even anti-capitalism, let alone socialism. This is “off message”, according to them. This is an emergency, they say, and questions about politics and capitalism and socialism have to “wait” until later. But “later” never comes.
In Queensland history the state does have a past of removing democratic rights to protest. The National Party Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen did just that in the 1970s, banning the right to march. In practice, this gave the Queensland police the authority to smash up ANY protest action, not just marches. A heroic Civil Liberties campaign had to waged to restore the basic right to protest in Queensland. This was eventually won, but it took a determined struggle over a number of years which involved mass street fights with police, mass arrests, and eventually the intervention of Unions on the side of the protestors. At that time, protestors had to put their bodies on the line to regain what should be an elementary democratic right under capitalism. Today, XR, through their wildly misinformed and provocative actions, risk bringing the full weight of ruling class down against the entire working class, not just themselves. If this happens, the memory of XR being responsible for the removal of the very limited democratic rights workers have under the rule of capital, will be burned deep. This risks turning workers away not only from the issue of the climate emergency, but from the very idea of activism and protest itself.
Appeal to workers, not politicians
XR’s class basis is petty-bourgeois. Small time capital owners, by virtue of their class position, try to steer a path between the workers and that of big capital. In practice however, this is not politically possible. There are only two decisive classes involved in production – labour and capital – and therefore only two decisive classes in politics. The petty-bourgeois XR imagine, falsely, that they are not political per se. Yet this is exposed as soon as their anti-socialist, and therefore anti-working class, basis becomes known. The working class, NOT the petty-bourgeoisie, is the only revolutionary class under capitalism, because only it has NO material interest in the maintenance of the private ownership of the means of production. The petty-bourgeois XR wants to solve the climate crisis without touching on the question of socialised or privatised production. Since this is not possible, they fall down on the side of the corporate magnates, despite themselves.
This is the basic reason why XR appeal to the capitalist politicians to “take action” – even while recognising that these same politicians have done little or nothing for 40 years about climate distortion. But XR, as patriotic petty-bourgeois elements, have nowhere else to go. The working class, on the other hand, can rely on its own strength, its own organisation, and its own political leadership – even if this has not yet been created. Proper working class leadership would appeal to workers to mobilise and take action to win urgent demands against and in spite of the capitalist state (especially their politicians), NOT by grovelling to them. This is because ultimately the working class needs to establish its own government and its own state – in the process of overturning capitalist rule, and initiating the collectivised and planned socialist order.
To begin this struggle, the working class needs its bourgeois democratic rights NOW – they cannot afford to have them taken away by the misguided individualism of XR. Some workers have already turned against XR adventurism, such as those at Canning Town in the UK who physically turned against XR protestors who were attempting to stop peak-hour trains. XR can consider themselves lucky that this is not even more widespread. Workers can be won to the necessary activism for climate and social justice, but by inspiring them, not annoying them. Working people, not politicians, can provide hope.
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