XR: False Friends of a Safe Climate
15-12-2019 – Australia is on fire. During November, even before summer began, raging bushfires razed parts of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. New South Wales was the worst hit, with six people losing their lives, and over 600 homes destroyed. It is undeniable that the fires have been fueled by catastrophic conditions related to the drought conditions, which in turn are related to the rise in temperatures due to global warming. Carbon emissions from fossil fuels are the main culprit, a fact effectively denied by all Australian governments to date – which not only have failed to act, but enabled the acceleration of carbon emissions, through the approval of new coal mines. What is particularly alarming about this year’s bushfires (they now happen every year) is the occurrence of rainforests burning – something previously thought to be impossible.
Climate action, however that is defined, is a dire and urgent necessity. The question is what type of climate action should be taken, and by whom. Into this breach has stepped Extinction Rebellion (XR), with XR activists in Brisbane organising and calling for a shutdown of the Go Between Bridge on December 13, during morning peak hour. XR effectively claim that due to the recent bushfires, their hand has been forced, thus they are impelled to shut down business as usual. Yet XR’s misguided attempts to attract attention to the need for climate action may very well lead to even less climate action than current conservative governments and corporations are doing now – which is almost zero.
Working people need to be won to climate action
The most counter-productive effect of blocking major bridges in peak hour is that working people, the overwhelming majority of whom support climate action, could be turned away, and even turned against climate activism if they find themselves blockaded on the streets by people waving the XR insignia. The careless attitude of XR towards working people getting to work or going about their daily lives exposes XR’s anti-working class tactics. Anti-working class tactics flow from anti-working class politics – something XR demonstrate in spades. Their open support and backing for the police who arrest them at actions is but one expression of this. Their reporting of some fellow “rebels” to the police for pickpocketing – who were subsequently subjected to immigration checks – is another.
Many in the climate movement, such as it is, demand a cross-class climate movement, even if they don’t use such terms. That is, they imagine that everyone from all social classes (workers, small business owners, capitalist magnates) can all work together on climate because “everyone” is affected. The climate movement is different, they claim, from a workers’ struggle for improved conditions, so it is not an “us and them” scenario. This is radically false, but XR exemplify this, being a classical movement of the despairing petty-bourgeoisie. It is an elementary Marxist tenet that the petty-bourgeoisie (small business owners, start-up entrepreneurs and so on) cannot lead and independent struggle against capitalism, by virtue of their class position. Some layers of this class can be won to an anti-capitalist struggle for socialism under certain conditions and for certain periods. But essentially it is only the working class which has a material interest in the overturn of the private ownership of the means of production – the main source of the imminent climate danger.
Thus it is imperative that working people be won to climate action. Yet the XR cavaliers do not even aim at winning the majority of working people to climate action, let alone leading them to a struggle for the public ownership of the means of production. In fact, XR are priests of anti-socialism. Irrespective of their rhetoric about a “toxic system”, they see little wrong with capitalism, just that it is led by the wrong people – the politicians in parliament. Replace these politicians with those who are prepared to “do something”, and the climate problems can be addressed, or so they imagine. Attempting to solve inherently social political problems with individual solutions is a hallmark of the world outlook of the small proprietor.
The right to protest is limited under “liberal democracy”
XR’s lack of a class analysis feeds their stunning naivete of the nature of the capitalist state. The right to protest under capitalism is a result of a historical balance of class forces between labour and capital. It is not an absolute right that the establishment is bound to uphold. It can be taken away at any time the ruling class feels the balance of class forces tip in its favour. That is, when they sense that the working class will not (yet) act to prevent the ruling class increasing its power over them. Already, XR in Brisbane have played with fire by repeatedly disrupting traffic, resulting in the Palaszczuk Labor government passing “anti-protest” laws. In fact, these laws only ban lock-on and similar devices, but they could well empower police to expand their “stop and search” powers.
XR protested the introduction of these laws, seemingly oblivious that their actions themselves had provoked the ruling class into putting them in place. If XR continue to defy the bourgeois state without the majority of the working class actively (or at the very least passively) backing them, the ruling class could well decide to ban all climate protest altogether. This may lead to a banning of all protest, and a return to days similar to the Civil Rights movement in Queensland in the late 1970s, when former National Party Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen banned street marches. It is possible that a Labor or Liberal government could enact such a ban, because the majority of the working class right now does NOT endorse the appalling tactics (provocative bridge and road blockades) of XR even at the same time as they understand and support the need for climate action.
XR are entitled to put forward whatever their ideas are in amongst the climate movement – or what passes for it currently. If they wish to argue for mindless traffic blockades, they are welcome to do so. However, like every other political organisation or group, they must be subject to a critical appraisal of their tactics and their proposals by all concerned, and most especially by working people. XR must not be allowed to monkey with the right to protest under capitalism. At this stage, workers cannot afford to lose that right, as temporary as it might be under bourgeois democracy. If this occurs, next to no climate demands will be put forward, and thus no “climate action”. And XR will be to blame.
Intelligentsia for climate?
As if to underscore their commitment to the political rights of the middle classes, XR in Brisbane have organised a “Graduation March” specifically appealing to “graduates, academics and professionals”. XR bill this as a supposed action where emerging professionals will declare they will not sit idle while the climate crisis looms, but will “approach their lives with the health of the planet at the forefront of their minds”. Decked out with academic gowns and mortar boards, this spectacle march is no doubt intended to show that young graduates are “woke” with the urgent need for climate action. It is true that XR is not a political party per se, but XR defends the rights of the petty-bourgeoisie arguably better than a real one. Elementary Marxism, however, stresses that the educational institutions of any society are always controlled by the class which holds state power. Right now in the Western world at least, capital rules, and therefore their Universities will ultimately reflect the interests of its benefactors.
While it is true that some genuine dissidents emerge from the halls of Universities, as a general rule academics will ultimately justify the rule of capital, even if only because their income is dependent on a state stipend. Here, though, XR is also encouraging young people with University degrees to become small-business owners, as consultants, private practice physicians, marketers and so on. These new professionals will carry on the “business as usual” that XR crows about the need to stop – but this will presumably be enlightened small business as usual. Business as usual “for the planet”, that is. Needless to say, small business engenders big business. The professionals who engage in small capitalism spontaneously engender big capitalism, but it is the entire capitalist system which must be overturned if we are to have a chance of preventing ecological collapse. No matter how aware highly trained professionals are about the need for climate action, the very process of privately owned business seeking private profit grates against it.
The urgency of the climate crisis requires not millions of small businesses competing with each other (and with big business) to increase their market share, but public ownership of the means of production, and state ownership of industry, banking, finance, telecommunications, transport – so as to serve the needs of workers, not small proprietors per se. A single economic plan needs to be drawn up, which uses all available resources for economic goals and priorities decided upon by working people themselves. In other words, a government of workers’ councils administering a workers’ state. Social production must be brought into correspondence with social ownership. In the transition from climate destroying capitalism to socialism, some degree of small enterprise may be required – but this would need to be strictly controlled, to prevent the re-emergence of capitalism. Professionals and academics will also be required, not for careers in themselves, but to build a society without exploitation of labour and the environment.
XR remain silent on imperialist war
Small business, on its own, is always nationalist, and therefore pro-imperialist. The petty-bourgeois XR strut like bulls on parade, in an ostentatious display of their supposedly progressive credentials. Yet with one mention of imperialist war, and XR reveal themselves to be downright reactionary. At the height of the ultra-violent US/UK government backed pro-capitalist Blackshirt terror in Hong Kong, some representative of XR openly claimed to be using “Hong Kong” style tactics for the climate. We perhaps should be thankful that, so far, XR have not emulated the anti-socialist and US flag waving Hong Kong separatists to the extent of setting people on fire, beating up bystanders who disagree with them on the street, burning and destroying train stations, or using bows and arrows to fire on police. The last one might be too much even for the pro-cop XR.
From pillar to post, XR remain dead silent on the US war machine, even as it has gone into overdrive in the last ten years. It has become mainstream news that the US military emits more greenhouse gases than 140 countries. The US global military empire uses more ships, trucks, bombs, cargo planes and other materiel than any other, all literally fed by fossil fuels – with the possible exception of nuclear powered aircraft carriers. Washington has occupied Afghanistan, invaded Iraq, bombed and destroyed Libya, and waged internecine war on Ukraine and Syria over the last 17 years. This has been backed to the hilt by London, Paris and Canberra, amongst others. Imperialist war is, needless to say, devastating for the environment, and not just in terms of carbon emissions. Yet XR’s lips remain sealed. The potential world war machinations of Washington and the West against Russia, China and Iran also merit not a word from the pontiffs of XR. Here, silence really is consent.
It may seem a contradiction that some parties that call themselves socialist – such as Socialist Alternative and Socialist Alliance – remain card carrying members of XR despite XR’s avowed anti-socialism. XR allow these parties to take part in their actions because they agree on the “need” for imperialist war against China, Russia, Syria, Iran the DPRK (North Korea) and so on. The twin SAs may complain about war in general, but they loudly back US led destabilisation attempts in Hong Kong, Sudan, Algeria, Lebanon, Iraq, Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, Cambodia, Myanmar and on and on. Needless to say, the governments preparing imperialist wars and imperialist backed subversion cannot be allies in the need to take action on climate change!
Public ownership key
Life threatening climate collapse is here now – only a few inconsequential cranks now deny the need for climate action. Unfortunately, XR build dangerous illusions in the very political and economic system which is the largest driver of extreme climate. Despite their seeming appearance as radicals, XR still limit themselves to placing demands on “the government” which they imagine is “ours”. XR reject the very element which has the possibility of saving us from extinction – a socialist revolution. Without the public ownership of the major means of production – the banks, strategic industry, transport, telecommunications, road, rail and port infrastructure – linked to a planned economy based on priority decisions made by workers themselves, “climate action” is impossible. Workers need their own government, and their own state, which would seek to link internationally with all workers across the globe. With the corporate magnates expropriated, the vitally important work of reversing climate catastrophe, imperialist war and economic collapse can begin in earnest.
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