Saturday, April 3, 2021

Old Mole

Revolutionary spirit, burrowing throughout history, pops its head up like an old mole. This metaphor, borrowed from the play Hamlet, was used by Marx in the Eighteenth Brumaire. I remain convinced that the contradiction of CO2 pollution will provide the occasion for the old mole to re-emmerge in the not-too-distant future. On the one hnd we have re-invigorated progressives hyping massive infrastructure spending as economic stimulus creating millions of good paying jobs. They would have us believe that the problem of economic growth can be solved by economic growth. Of course they don't use the words "carbon budget" as they promote this re-build because a budget suggests limits and capitalists ( the private investors the progressives hope to enlist) don't like talk of limits. Instead of a "chicken in every pot", these New Dealers are hoping to put an electric car (or two) in every garage. The conservative position was expressed by Rep. Rodney Davis of Illinois in an interview with PBS. Having backed away from climate denial, he now warns against "climate hysteria" and "doom and gloom" rhetoric. He says a sensible mixture of nuclear power and carbon capture and sequestration technology will solve our problems without a tyrannical nanny state eliminating all our American entrepreneurial spirit. He claimed America is leading the world in emission reductions and we will always need "baseload" fossil fuel energy. Not that Rep.Rod listens to Chomsky, but it is statements like this from Noam that he pooh poohs: "It's this generation that will decide whether human society continues in any organized form or whether we reach tipping points that are irreversible and we spin off into total catastrophe." I would argue the capitalist "democracy" that brought us Rep. Rod and Jeff Bezos is already total catastrophe but when the hurricanes start slamming the Gulf and the fires erupt out west, the mole will pop his head up in the form of insurance and real estate.

Monday, March 29, 2021


The next meeting of the Conference Of Parties (COP) will be in Glasgow in the middle of Nov. and the climate movement, such as it is, is trying to come up with a strategy that can mobilize people in a way to affect the gathering. And affect the future of the planet. The tension results from the fact that everyone admits the process to date has been a failure, contrasted with a vague hope something positive can arise from this EVENT ( a particular moment in history). I was hitchiking through Scotland many decades ago and caught a ride into Glasgow with a truck driver who warned me that the part of the city he would be dropping me off in (it was late at night) was one of the most dangerous places on the planet. I had no idea Glasgow had that reputation but it was confirmed by others I met in my travels later. My memories are vague but nothing bad happened and I made my way to Inverness the next day where I was adopted by some firemen on holiday who kept me drunk for three days straight. Part of me wonders- if COP is a dangerous illusion ( like US elections and legislating), wouldn't it be more provacative to simply ignore it? Treat it like a non-event unworthy of our attention. Maybe just have a big funeral and bury the shit show once and for all. Because if you invest hope in it you are just Charlie Brown at the moment Lucy pulls the football away. But with much greater consequences.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Sacrifice Zones

One of the contentious debates on the ecological left concerns replacing fossil fuel-based energy with renewable sources such as wind, solar and geothermal (maybe small hydro). On one level, this debate centers on the word "replace". Are ecosocialists advocating the construction of enough renewables to provide the same amount of energy now being produced on the planet? Producing even more to accomodate expanded social and economic benefits to more and more people? Or should we be thinking in terms of reductions and limits to production? This controversy moved front and center after the Gibbs/ Moore film in which renewable energy was dismissed outright due to the impacts of developing these sources. ( lithium mining, cement and steel production, etc..) Where techno-optimists believe there are unlimited terwatts raining down, just waiting to be utilized, those with a philosophical "small is beautiful" or "buen viver" outlook think the climate justice movement can sell simplicity in an age of neurosis. Then there are the Deep Green folks who just want to jettison modernity all together. A great example is the mining of lithium to build the storage capacity that's nneded for electric vehicles ( and other new technologies). Much of this mineral exists in an area of South America and there are environmental concerns as well as imperialistic when it comes to production, processing and shipping. Some lithium exists in Nevada but there is an endangered plant (buckwheat)that could be harmed by the mining. Or a rare trout species. Everything has a cost. Something and/or someone gets sacrificed in the end. Even if you could return to a pre-civilization eco-utopian primitivism, there would be consequences, damage, fatalities. The tendency is to see these questions as either / or, but it might be there is some rational balance, a certain amount of sacrifice we are willing to accept (and mitigate) for a certain anout of social "good". This is actually the task of seeking justice, why it is envisioned as scales. The keys are having a true politics to establish the Good, and a real way to enforce the mitigation.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Response to Allen Thorning Review of How To Blow Up A Pipeline

I understand Allen Thorning’s reaction to the provocative argument Malm presents. But in my opinion Allen fails to acknowledge both the nuance and contingent nature of that argument, and mischaracterizes it in several respects. Considering the time crunch the climate justice movement faces, we should welcome interventions, controversial as they may be, that force us to consider the nature of militancy, violence and the roles of direct action and civil disobedience. And if the time-frame for achieving our aims can be shortened, so much the better. Continual re-evaluation of strategy and tactics is the only method for keeping current with changing circumstances. To remain stuck in one “theory of change” and avoid reflection is to spell our own doom as a movement. Malm is correct that we are losing and it is time to escalate; the question is how? Malm goes out of his way to qualify and contextualize the tactical options he promotes, beginning with these two rules: 1.) “non-violent mass mobilization should (where possible) be the first resort, militant action the last; and 2.) no movement should voluntarily suspend the former, only give it appendages.” This “radical flank” approach makes sense to me. What he is primarily asking is that we avoid “the temptation to fetishize one kind of tactic”, be it property destruction, other forms of violence or pacifism. We should question strictures that assign “the sole admissible tactic” in the struggle. Personally, I would not make a moral claim one way or the other concerning property damage or use of force, but I agree with Malm that “there must be grounds for believing mellower tactics have led nowhere” before escalation is considered. And through his critique of “Deep Green Resistance”, it should be clear Malm is not an unthinking promoter of eco-terrorism. He has studied the history and found plenty of evidence to support the “radical flank” approach, “the need for complementing (strategic non-violence) with other kinds of strategies that are more militant.” As for the “fee and dividend” proposal put forth by Citizens Climate Lobby and promoted by Allen, the fact that such a tepid program has gone nowhere for a decade speaks to the dysfunctional politics of the U.S. But from an ecosocialist position, I believe the proposal legitimizes the tyranny of market forces and risks creating even more complacency in the energy consuming public. Where I take exception is when Malm claims civil disobedience has been given sufficient time to prove itself viable, necessitating the consideration of property destruction. I would argue the range of CD actions has been severely limited to the “Blockadia” tactics promoted by Naomi Klein or the one-off mass arrests organized by Extinction Rebellion and that old/new forms, such as those used successfully by the Civil Rights movement (and others) have been ignored. For instance, during the Birmingham campaign, Martin Luther King and SNCC organized mass arrests which filled the jails, using young students, workers and faith communities. This is how the large-scale, non-violent direct action was described by historian Howard Zinn: “Thursday, May 2nd, is “D-Day” as students “ditch” class to march for justice. In disciplined groups of 50, children singing freedom songs march out of 16th Street Baptist church two-by-two. When each group is arrested, another takes its place. There are not enough cops to contain them, and police reinforcements are hurriedly summoned. By the end of the day almost 1,000 kids have been jailed. The next day, Friday May 3rd, a thousand more students cut class to assemble at 16th Street church. With the jails already filled to capacity, and the number of marchers growing, Eugene “Bull” Connor, the Commissioner of Public Safety in charge of the police and fire departments, tries to suppress the movement with violence.” Between April 3rd and May 7 roughly three thousand are arrested and booked, filling not only the jails but an “improvised fairground prison…and open-air stockade” as well. This all takes place in conjunction with a well-organized boycott of downtown businesses and public transport. Televised scenes of savage reaction by the racist police are broadcast throughout a horrified nation which is then forced to confront the injustice. Compare that to today’s protests, demonstrations and direct actions. These have become repetitive, boring, scripted affairs and have generally failed to build the energized, militant force required to confront our planet’s, converging, cascading crises. Therefore, movement strategists will need to re-think all these sclerotic, contemporary forms; the one-off mass mobilization/ rally with its predictable signs, speeches, chants and outcome, the isolated, dispersed acts of non-violent civil disobedience, the embrace of “diversity of tactics” to include street fighting with police or right-wing groups and certainly the random, undirected property destruction which the mass media and their advertisers so love. It is my hope that organizers will look to these historical accounts of highly trained, thoroughly disciplined but otherwise ordinary workers, students and citizens peacefully yet militantly facing down the most brutal, violent regimes of state oppression. Consider the consequences African Americans in Birmingham 1962 faced. The risks they were willing to take. And what they achieved.

Friday, February 12, 2021

Tactical Considerations

It is a common trope that minority/ people of color can't be expected to risk arrest. Eric Mann disagrees: "We have to go back to what we understood—direct action organizing including the right of self-defense is what is needed. We in the civil rights, Black, Latinx, Indigenous, human rights, women’s environmental, and climate justice movement have to put our bodies on the line and directly confront the white fascists through the most strategic and carefully constructed tactical plans. And yes, we need very tight tactical leadership to prevent provocateurs and self-appointed anti-fascists (many of whose groups are heavily infiltrated) from having any tactical role in our actions. And yes, it can be done. I have seen with CORE, SNCC, SCLC, and today with some excellent leadership from Black Lives Matter L.A. that a demonstration can and must have disciplined leadership and marshals to enforce the laws of engagement. We can get to the complex “how and when” question of tactics at a later point. But here is my conclusion." He also agrees with me that the organizing needs to be tight, disciplined, and well trained. Mann is a veteran of many civil rights struggles that achieved results using a "radical flank" approach, not to be confused with today's "diversity of tactics". This diversity is just rhetorical cover for fetishizing individual freedom over collective interest. While I have been critical of BLM for not employing disciplined cadres, I need to look into BLM LA and see what they have developed.

Saturday, February 6, 2021

De-Growth for the Few

Debates between socialists and ecosocialists tend to center around the idea of de-growth; to the old left it sounds like austerity and a difficult sell to working folks. Ecosocialists tend to argue it isn't austere, it's frugal, it's responsible, it's recognizing planetary boundaries and limits. And they are both right. But De-growth needn't be either /or. Why couldn't we demand austerity for the few and increased bounty for the many? In an Age of Inequality rivaling the Gilded Age, it shouldn't be too difficult to sell a little leveling. In capitalist terms, this means a low or negative rate of GDP,(reduced through-puts), it means productivity without a lot of profit. It's good old re-distribution in the name of saving the biosphere and hey, if it does a little social engineering, guess what, every policy is social engineering. At the moment, climate activists are trying to sell a program of "millions of new jobs" and "all our energy produced by renewables". People are wary of change, assuming they will, as usual, get the short end. But most people have no idea of HOW MUCH the really rich have, how much of the pool of resources they hog, how much they have to share. Despite all the propaganda to the contrary, economics is a zero sum game. All the stuff you don't have, they have. If you had your share of the social product, you wouldn't have to work so much, we wouldn't need "millions of jobs". Besides, most jobs are bullshit and robots can do much of the rest. You can relax, just like the rich do now. When I say "the rich" I mean of course a broad continuim. Rich is relative, just like poor. But with all of today's computing power it shouldn't be too tough to come up with a median (I've seen one estimate of $17,600, which I lived on for years). One that is sustainable. And so far all I have described is a transition out of hyper-consumerist US capitalism, although much would apply to other modern industrialized economies. The questions of consumption and development- how much is sustainable? How will production and allocation goals be decided? etc. these are all down the road. The task at the moment is stopping the train from plunging off the cliff. Early 20th century Marxism naturally relied on ever-increasing productivity as a way to a better life for the masses. We now know that Marx understood that earth systems had a "metabolism" that required attention but in the Cold War race it was all about maximizing extraction to provide for material needs (and wants). Now we understand the ecological limits and must adapt our narratives.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

You're Welcome part 3

I try to be humble but credit where credit is do, right? Donald Trump, the candidate I supported in 2016 on the grounds that he would usher in radical change, has in fact torn conservatism asunder. Is it the revolution? No, not yet. But the malignant force that is movement conservatism is seriously wounded, perhaps fatally, by the crazt grifter and has been demonstrated, you simply have to have the nerve to give these people enough rope. It is a key strategy of judo that resistance can take the form of bending, of being willing to flow with the chaos and turn the enemie's energy to your advantage. And so this ideological project is slowly, eventually engulfed and annihilated by its own contradictions. You don't want to be the party of fiscal restraint in a pandemic/climate crisis. Suffering people don't want to hear that there is no money, they don't want to hear about moral hazard and tightening belts, not after watching trillion upon trillion printed to save the banks. Trump could bluff and con and distract- but only for so long. And now his syncophants and acolytes are running on fumes. QAnon is not a plan, not policy or a platform. This is not to say the Democrats are now in the catbird seat. It's not a question of if, but when, this shitshow takes everybody down. I'm still waiting for my 2019 tax refund. They have vaccinated .08 of the population and they are running out of coffins. The sporting goods stores are limiting ammunition sales because production can't keep up with demand. Our job then is to highten these contradictions. Sell Marjorie Taylor Greene sex dolls, complete with AR15s. Invite Trump to MC the Academy Awards. Get creative.