Posts Tagged ‘green syndicalism’

Review of Herbert Marcuse’s Paris Lectures at Vincennes University (1974)

October 27, 2015
The Burning of the House of Lords and Commons, 16th October 1834 exhibited 1835 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Philadelphia Museum of Art: The John Howard McFadden Collection, 1928 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/TW1258

J. M. W. Turner, “The Burning of the House of Lords and Commons” (1834). Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Published on Heathwood Press on 27 October 2015.  Co-written with R.C. Smith

Herbert Marcuse’s Paris Lectures at Vincennes University
ed. Peter-Erwin Jansen, Charles Reitz
142 pp. – $20
ISBN: 1512319023
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2015

Discovered in 2014 by Peter-Erwin Jansen, then annotated and edited by Jansen and Charles Reitz for publication in 2015, Herbert Marcuse’s 1974 Paris Lectures at Vincennes University do not necessarily provide any radical new material in comparison to some of the well-known works which he was already writing at the time when these lectures originally took place. That is to say that there is no grand treasure of previously unseen revolutionary insight waiting to be discovered in these hitherto unpublished manuscripts. With that observation in mind, what makes these lectures significant and worth reading for the Marcuse scholar has to do with some of the finer nuances of analysis that Marcuse presents regarding American society as the most advanced stage of monopoly capitalism. His discussion on the dynamic forces of revolution and counterrevolution are also notable in this regard. When considered in the context of his more major works, these lectures provide further insight into Marcuse’s overall critical theory. For the non-Marcuse scholar on the other hand – that is, the conscious citizen looking to understand the dynamic context of contemporary neoliberal capitalism and its historic genesis – this book offers an entry point into Marcuse’s thought and his excellent, highly reliable analysis of our modern times. This potential entry into Marcuse’s social philosophy is further reinforced by supplementary commentary by Sarah Surak, Detlev Claussen, and Douglas Kellner.

Integration, the dialectic between rulers and ruled, and new social movements

Though these lectures were first presented in 1974, Marcuse’s sharp analysis of some of the key trends of American society at the time highlight much of what we continue to observe today. In some instances, it could be said that Marcuse even anticipates what we now identify as neoliberalism, not to mention the rise of the mass-surveillance state and the underlying struggle and emergence of contemporary social movements.

Consider, for example, his discussion on the integration of the population with the dominant and coercive system of capital. By “integration” Marcuse means to describe: “the acceptance of, and even the identification with, the capitalist system among the majority of the population, including the majority of the working class” (p. 22). The general thrust of Marcuse’s analysis in this regard is the manner in which the dominant forces of contemporary society (the ‘bad totality’) attempt to keep people “within the framework of the capitalist system and, perhaps, even within the frame work of the capabilities of capitalism” (p. 22). As Marcuse explains, this integration is understood to take place “on three very different levels” (p. 22). The first is the sphere of consumption in which, “In satisfying the needs beyond the mere subsistence needs for a large part […] of the population, the increasing productivity of the service industries churns out more and more comforts, luxuries, and services like organized vacations, traveling, and so on and so on. These are powerful mechanisms which bind people to the established system” (pp. 22-23). In a sense these mechanisms of control help mask over surplus repression. They deflect from the suffering and misery which, in many ways, becomes the hidden reality of capitalist society. This is especially so, Marcuse explains, “when the people cannot imagine a better alternative” (p. 23).

The second level is what Marcuse terms “the management of the mind” (p. 23), which means “the consciousness as well as the unconscious” of the subject. In a sense, what Marcuse is surveying here is a reality we now know all too well: the maintenance of the present social order through structural and systemic mechanisms, albeit sometimes subtle, of control and coercion. The rise of the mass-surveillance state, as Edward Snowden has disclosed, is a perfect example. It is worth noting that it is an example that Marcuse also references in his lectures, decades before Snowden’s leaks revealed the hidden reality of state surveillance programs. Other examples can be found in what Marcuse describes as “two less noticeable phenomena, namely, the release and the satisfaction of primary aggression” (p. 23). In other words, “The increasing violence of films and television” as well as “The increasing aggressiveness in sports and entertainment, and so on” are exemplifications of a sinister psychological paradigm, one which we first learn about in the work of Freud. This paradigm, this play of psychic forces, can be described according “to the degree to which a social system frees the aggressive instincts of man and woman and at the same time succeeds in keeping them within the established framework so that they don’t blow up the society, that this satisfaction of aggressiveness strengthens the society which produces such satisfaction” (pp. 23-24).

To further describe the reality that Marcuse is pointing toward, we could cite several other phenomena as practical examples, including the self-deceiving satisfaction of consumerism. At the heart of consumerism and, equally, the greed and egoism commonly observed in contemporary society, is the unleashing and ultimate rationalization of excessive or rapacious desire for material goods, which, in many ways, is linked to deepening repression. On the one hand, consumerism reinforces the existing system; it strengthens some of the basic drives of contemporary capitalist society. On the other hand, in unleashing greed and egoism and rapacious desire, there is a sort of strange rationale on a systemic level which moralizes greed and attempts to keep the ailing psychology of consumerism in check. Thus, in the case of the Libor scandal for example, where it was discovered that banks were falsely inflating or deflating their rates so as to profit from trades, the bankers involved were condemned on a moral level. They were labelled as ‘greedy’ and ‘immoral’ and, in some cases, it was even argued that these bankers were in no way a representation of the system they inhabit. In popular discourse and reaction, it was rare to see any question of the capitalist context, of the logic or rational of modern political economy, which fosters the sort of behaviour of the bankers in question on the basis of the very impulses the contemporary social system unleashes. Thus, in an odd way, we observe another case of the degree to which the contemporary social system fosters, supports or frees antagonistic forces of man and woman while at the same time endeavouring to keep these destructive forces and impulses within the established framework. The satisfaction of greed and rapacious desire, as opposed to generosity, solidarity and egalitarianism, strengthens the system which produces such satisfaction; but it is moralized so as to ensure the maintenance of that system.

The final, third level “on which integration takes place is systematic and overt repression” (p. 24). Marcuse cites a particularly relevant example which concerns many young people today. To quote in full:

Students know all too well, for example, that if there is anything that indicates radical activity on their record, it will be all but impossible for them to find a job, especially with the entirely negative job market.

Allied with this systematic repression we witness a reduction of civilized sensibilities. You only have to look at some of the decisions made by the Supreme Court in the last years in order to see the dangerous extent of this reduction of civil liberties and, at the same time, the systematic and methodical increase in the power of the police, the National Guard, and other so-called forces of law and order.

This may suffice in order at least to outline the integration, the popular support of the system and some of the basic mechanisms which engender this support.

Following this, Marcuse turns his attention to a fruitful discussion “on the question of who is the actual agent of this repression”, or, as he rephrases, “who is actually the dominant class, the ruling class which is in control of American society” (p. 25). Here another example of particular relevance in our attempt to understand the broader social trends of contemporary society might be found, as Marcuse discusses the dialectic between rulers and ruled, offering some key passages which could be said to describe certain aspects of the unfolding of the contemporary neoliberal context (pp. 27-29). Referring back to the analyses offered by C. Wright Mills, Marcuse reiterates that “domination over the capitalist societies today is shared and organized by three groups” (p. 27), namely corporate leaders, politicians and the military. He then describes how this ruling class, “which not only is not monolithic but permeated with antagonisms, has a common feature, namely, the preservation of the established system” (p. 28). It is along these lines where Marcuse offers a valuable insight which further highlights the importance of this text in these early years of the 21st Century. He argues, when discussing the dialectical relationship between rulers and ruled, that the “various components of indoctrination, manipulation, and management of the mind also become […] instruments for expressing the will and the interests of the indoctrinated population” (p. 28). In essence, Marcuse is explaining the relation between structure and agency, in which “the government and its institutions, the ruling class, systematically makes what is called public opinion, but once made, this public opinion, which is constantly being reasserted, has in turn its own influence on the policy makers” (p. 28). One could argue that this practice is even more prevalent now, after decades of liberalization, in which the growing appearance of freedom – to debate policy or to vote according to one’s own will – is actually countered insofar that the people participate in the rule of society – that is, in the perpetuation of the misery of dominant, coercive and hierarchical social, economic and political conditions.

The people can indeed express their will, which is no longer their will but has been made their will by the ruling class and its instrumentalities. The people as authors, the people as buyers and sellers, in turn influence the policy of the rulers. […] There is no doubt that the people who cast their vote in any election are even, in the sense of the system, free people because nobody forces them to vote. But, still, are these the same people who can become subjects of radical change? (p. 29)

There is something horrifying about the reality that Marcuse is surveying here – a trend which, perhaps now more than ever, can be observed in its fullest. It is debatable, firstly, whether one’s vote can actually influence the policy of rulers. The crisis in Greece is a clear example of why such a question is justified. Even in the so-called radical party politics in the UK and the US led by Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders respectively, there is still an element of conformism – an element of conservativism, which, in essence, attests to the deepening of the status quo. The “oppositional” economic policies outlined by Corbyn and Sanders alike are really not that radical. They are viewed as progressive precisely because the social, political and economic context has, after so many years – perhaps beginning with the fall of the movements from the 60s and 70s – moved so far to the right. The arguably general absence of radical political subjectivity within these two examples of so-called radical Left party politics today attests to what Marcuse was indicating decades earlier. In a sense, the dialectic between rulers and ruled has developed beyond Marcuse’s conception, if we consider that, in the very existence of the party itself, the status quo of a less-than-revolutionary politics is upheld. Moreover, there is a distinction which must be drawn today – a distinction between the radical subjectivity of autonomous participatory (democratic) movements and the so-called radical subjectivity of the party, particularly as the politics of the latter persists as an extension of the hierarchical and institutional world, and, generally speaking, is framed largely by the ideology of representative democracy (i.e., democratic capitalism). It is debatable whether Marcuse was feeling his way toward this distinction in his 1974 lectures, but one could interpret his argument along such lines when he writes: “that there is a feedback, there is indeed a considerable degree of activity, opinions, and attitudes by the people influencing the government, and that on the other hand at least recognize themselves in their leaders” (p. 31). He then leaves us with one remark which is particularly telling:

The people as authors, the people as buyers and sellers, in turn influence the policy of the rulers. And it is interesting to think back, and not too long back, when among the American Left the slogan was “Power to the People.” “Power to the People.” The slogan is now used to far less a degree because the question “Who are the people?” cannot for any length of time be postponed (p. 29).

In some respects, the distinction highlighted above seems to be playing out today between the emergence of new social movements – which are grassroots, participatory, generally prefigurative, and more or less horizontal – and the lingering ideology of party representation. One could argue that it is, in part, the question “Who are the people?” that contemporary movements are attempting to answer in precisely the same way that they are also responding to the crisis of democracy. In other words, the question “Who are the people?” is symptomatic of alienation, socially and politically. The correct response is not a turn further away from democratic assembly and participation, to a further deepening of the questionable satisfaction of collective reliance on a leader; it is instead a revitalizing of the idea of the commons, of the grassroots, of collective struggle and solidarity – that is, dealienation on several levels. Occupy-style movements are a perfect example of the general political horizon contemporary social movements are suggestive of in this regard. Attempting on the level of praxis to answer questions around the contemporary crisis of democracy, participatory politics and what it means to be ‘public’ in twenty-first century society, the very political concept and definition of “the people” is brought into direct focus, so much so that the existence of hierarchy is challenged on the basis of a ‘mutually recognising’ politics which insists that the ultimate goal of emancipatory change must be, from the start, a product of (dealienating) interaction.

For Marcuse, the real possibility of a revolution in the most advanced industrial countries is one “not on a basis of poverty and misery, but rather on the basis of wasted abundance” (p. 49). Even though misery and suffering and struggle still play more of a role than what Marcuse may let on, especially now in the context of neoliberal austerity and the systematic dismantling of the welfare state, he is nevertheless on to something when he writes:

The result of the ever more explosive contradiction is the gradual development of what we may call an anti-capitalist consciousness; the development of an anti-capitalist consciousness and of an anti-capitalist mental structure, unconscious, among the population in the metropoles, a consciousness still largely unorganized, spontaneous, without definite goals, but, in any case, the consciousness and instincts, drives, “compulsions,” which very definitely come into conflict with the operational values required to sustain the capitalist system. That is to say, the protest comes into conflict with the so-called performance principle, which is the reality principle governing capitalist society. And against this performance principle, we see now the gradual emergence of an opposition―and I repeat, an opposition still unorganized, still to a great extent spontaneous―an opposition against toil as such, an opposition against alienated labor as a full-time job, opposition against the fact that life for the vast majority of the population, is to cite the phrase from Marx, “life as a means to an end and not as an end in itself,” namely life as a means to make a living, as one says, as a means for daily reproducing one’s own existence without ever, or only when it is too late, getting at the joy of really enjoying life (pp. 56-57).

Perhaps it is no coincidence that, in various instances of Occupy-style events and the ‘movements of the squares’, protest and struggle are just as present in action and language as joy, solidarity, and collective caring. Returning back to the joy of life, while practicing and experimenting with variations of participatory democracy and actual egalitarian possibilities – public and co-operative libraries, public medical tents, solidarity kitchens, social clinics, mutual aid networks, sustainability initiatives, self-managed workplaces – can it be that contemporary movements represent a more developed politics than what Marcuse saw fragments of in his own time? Is it not that these occupied spaces, these commons-oriented and participatory spaces of practice, are built on the idea of alternative forms of social relations which, in the process, seem to demonstrate a more mature form of the sort of new revolutionary movements of the 60s and 70s?  That contemporary social movements are beginning to emerge in challenge against not only the economic status quo but also the social, relational, emotional, psychological, political, cultural, and so on, attests in many ways to the many-sided transformative politics that Marcuse spent years arguing toward. To conclude this thought, consider the passage below in relation to some of the social movements we are witnessing throughout the world today, who aim toward a radical egalitarian and democratic horizon and seem to suggest some sense of a critically retrieved and holistic notion of social progress:

What is required to bring out the full, entire, and qualitative difference between socialism and capitalism is not so much the continued ever more efficient development of the productive forces, but the total redirection of the productive forces altogether towards new goals and toward a new quality of life. Now, in view of this fact, there must be not only the political and economic revolution, not only new institutions and basic social relationships, but also the reversal and subversion of the entire system of values that kept at least Western civilization going, going on the ever more repressive and destructive aspects, until this very day (pp. 59-60).

Capital, radical consciousness, and world-historical revolution

As alluded earlier, one of Marcuse’s principal concerns in the 1974 Vincennes lectures is to continue with a lifetime of investigation into the conditions underpinning the reproduction of the “bad totality” that is global capitalism, as juxtaposed with the possibilities of breaking free from this “Iron Cage,” to use Weberian terminology. As in his “Assessment” of “The Movement in a New Era of Repression” (1971), he observes in these lectures that the contemporary U.S. left lacks a “mass base” among the populace precisely because of the strength of integration, while on the other hand he laments the “sad phenomenon” whereby the oppressed racial and national minorities in the U.S. have been depoliticized and suppressed (p. 4)—thus blunting the revolutionary hopes he had identified as emanating from militant people of color at the conclusion of One-Dimensional Man (1964). The critical theorist moreover notes that, on the international stage, the “arrangement” the U.S. ruling class has made with the Soviet Union contributes to the overall stabilization of world capitalism, and he presciently speculates that a similar “arrangement” would be made with the People’s Republic of China (p. 7). Defining the “objective conditions” as “the strength or weakness of the State or the ruling class [versus] the strength or weakness of the working class,” Marcuse soberly acknowledges that the prevailing tendency is toward neo-fascism rather than any kind of socialism (p. 13, 10). In this sense, Marcuse observes knowingly that the problem of consciousness—the “subjective conditions”—does not have to do with any lack of knowledge regarding the factual situation, for the implicit and expressed political philosophy of the conformist majority in late-capitalist society would seem to be driven much more by powerlessness:

Yes, there are the objective conditions which one knows well: It is repression; it is corruption; capitalism no longer works without   inflation, unemployment, etc., etc. But what can one do? Nothing at all. (p. 18)

In idealistic terms, Marcuse counterposes against such widespread resignation the radical consciousness, which in Kantian terms mobilizes the “imagination as a cognitive faculty” to show “that the impossible is not impossible” (p. 16). It is in this sense that the radical consciousness is “way ahead” of the objective conditions, for it dialectically “projects potentiality in the objective conditions” and “anticipates possibilities not yet realized” (p. 18). Though Marcuse clearly sympathizes with this latter approach, he defines both the conformist and radical consciousness alike as manifestations of false consciousness—insofar as the latter refuses to apply a Marxist analysis to the changes in the capitalist system since the nineteenth century (p. 19). Speaking to the disillusionment felt by many of those formerly in opposition when ‘the Revolution’ was not consummated at the end of the 1960s, Marcuse criticizes the disengagement into which many radicals fell: “Any absenteeism from political life, any absenteeism from links with political activity is escapist and is conformist” (p. 33). Taking an historical view, the critical theorist observes that social revolution is a process, and that it cannot be presumed to be without its regressions. This is particularly the case for the world-historical revolution that Marcuse anticipated as possible for the end of the twentieth century or the beginning of the twenty-first: being “more radical and more sweeping in scope than all preceding historical revolutions,” this “would be a revolution not only in the political and economic institutions, not only a revolution in class structure, but also a total transformation and subversion of values in all spheres and dimensions of the material and intellectual cultures” (p. 59; emphasis added). The philosopher observes that:

we cannot possibly assume that the largest and most radical revolution in history […] would come about in a straightly ascending curve and would come about in a relatively short time. (p. 34)

Though Marcuse remains faithful to the possibility of this world-historical revolutionary transformation, and agrees with Marx that it would have to centrally include the advanced-capitalist core of the world-system, he specifies in the Vincennes lectures that he expects this revolution to be the work of “75 to 150 years” (p. 34)—in an echo of the closing lines to Counterrevolution and Revolt (1972). He clarifies that, though he believes the prospects for this revolution to be long-term, it will never come if the radical opposition does not strive to incubate it now.

As in Counterrevolution and Revolt, Marcuse in these lectures also discusses the phenomenon of the vast extension of the U.S. working class. Citing statistics compiled by Stanley Aronowitz and the U.S. government, Marcuse shows that monopoly capital has largely suppressed the middle class and made 90 percent of the population into a dependent class (pp. 40-42). The theorist then cites a famous letter from Marx to Engels (1865) in which the former tells the latter that the “working class is revolutionary or it is nothing at all” (p. 61). Marcuse interprets Marx’s statement here as suggesting that the laboring class is revolutionary insofar as its “needs and aspiration […] are irreconcilable and incompatible with the capitalist system” (p. 62). Returning to the discussion on conformist consciousness, he then declares the contemporary U.S. working class not to be revolutionary as a whole, though he does endorse Marx’s general point about the conflict between capital and labor, concluding that this antagonism is “bound to explode in the long run” (p. 62). As in a number of other addresses from this time-period, the critical theorist points out the militancy of a radical minority among the U.S. working class, compelled as it is by the combination of workplace alienation and revolutionary consciousness to engage in spontaneous acts of subversion, such as absenteeism, sabotage, and wildcat strikes (p. 63-64). Marcuse sees in such acts, and in the parallel vague public awareness of the obsolescence of the capitalist mode of production, the decline of the performance principle and a growing threat to regnant obedience (pp. 64, 52).

The critical theorist concludes by suggesting that this militant minority among the workers could, like radical students and people of color in struggle, serve as the catalyst for the future disintegration of U.S. and thus global capitalism (pp. 66-67). Closing on an ecological and syndicalist note, Marcuse anticipates laborers challenging workplace hierarchy and humanity engaging in a “total redirection of production […] towards the abolition of poverty and scarcity wherever it exists in the world today,” together with a “total reconstruction of the environment and the creation of space and time for creative work” (p. 69). Anticipating the profound exacerbation of the environmental crisis which was already evident at the end of his life, Marcuse announces that the “abolition of waste, luxury, planned obsolescence, [and] unnecessary services and commodities of all kind” would imply a lower standard of living for the world’s privileged minority, but that such a ‘sacrifice’ in capitalist terms would not be an excessively high price to pay for the possible “advent” of libertarian socialism (p. 69).

Closing thoughts

It is a testament to the fundamental character of Marcuse’s thought that he was able to identify, decades earlier, some of the deepest trends underlying the evolution of late-capitalist society. That he could, with remarkable precision, analyze the earliest developments of what we now understand as neoliberalism is one of many examples of the acute, incisive and penetrating qualities of Marcuse’s social philosophy (and also that, more generally, of the early Frankfurt School). Though it is certainly true that there are dated aspects to Marcuse’s argument in these lectures, this is only understandable considering that it is a basic principle of critical theory to remain rooted in history. Looking back, there may be concepts and arguments which can be retrieved and advanced. But this does not take away from Marcuse’s overall theses, formulated by way of remarkably complex and comprehensive research on the dynamic processes and forces of modern dominant, coercive and authoritarian society – as well as the foundational basis for emancipatory praxis and the development of an actual democratic, egalitarian social conditions.

At a time of endless “critical studies” and commentary, which do not always reach down to the levels of fundamental interdisciplinary analysis representative of the very essence of critical theory, we would do well to reflect on the crisis of contemporary social theory and the need to return to the roots of the Frankfurt School. In confronting the crisis of apolitical social theory, Marcuse can help show us the way forward as almost every sentence he composed in these lectures and elsewhere reminds us of the precisely foundational nature and transformative potential of critical theory.

The manner in which the critical theorist identifies, for example, the changing dynamics of capitalist society—whereby Marcuse suggests that revolution within the most advanced industrial nations will no longer be primarily based on hunger and misery but on wasted abundance (p. 49)—in many ways anticipates what we’re witnessing in these early decades of the 21st Century. Popular movements today – such as the sustainability movement, the circular economy, or the rise of eco-socialism, to name a few – are emerging in response to this very concept. The question of whether these movements are actually revolutionary and evidence an emancipatory politics is a legitimate one. In many cases, these mainstream initiatives – consider, again, the rise in the notion of the circular economy – seem to lack a more fundamental transformative project of thought. But what these movements are responding to – their language, their direction of imagination, and their efforts at re-designing modern political economy, no doubt exemplifies one of Marcuse’s basic arguments in his 1974 Paris lectures. Efforts in the realms of voluntary simplicity, political veganism, green syndicalism, and direct action for the climate represent more radical and direct manifestations of Marcuse’s argument with regard to ecological politics.

It unfortunately seems to be the case that many commonalities can be seen between the world-political situation today as compared to the case forty years ago. In light of the endless wars, extreme and burgeoning economic disparities, and ever-worsening environmental-health indicators, it is evident that capitalism continues to hold all of humanity and nature ransom in the Iron Cage. Though Occupy and the popular uprisings in the Arab world have demonstrated the significant potential for resistance and even revolution, the pendulum has clearly swung back again toward the consolidation of the system in recent years, as seen especially in Egypt, Syria, and the U.S. Perhaps the radical consciousness is more widespread now than before these breakthroughs, but it still confronts an entrenched conformist consciousness among the general populace, at least in the U.S. and Europe, as well as a fascistic concentration of power, wealth, and military might that is coordinated by the transnational capitalist class. Recent events in Greece evidence precisely this point. Here, a counterhegemonic movement emerged as a significant wave of grassroots energy only to crash upon the counter-revolutionary shores of the European Union, its entrenched neoliberal governments, and institutional politics. Greece may have seen mass mobilization, but much of Europe left revolutionary Greek movements to struggle for themselves (aside, perhaps, from the odd ‘solidarity’ march). In this sense, Marcuse’s comments on the glaring absence of a “mass base” for revolutionary social transformation remain apposite, as is the theorist’s analysis of the ideological basis for conformism, underpinned as it is by nihilistic fatalism and a mistaken feeling of powerlessness. Marcuse’s conclusion in the 1975 assessment of the “Failure of the New Left?” remains entirely true today: “[t]he transition to socialism is not now on the agenda; the counterrevolution is dominant.”[1] Though the inertial perpetuation of these negative conditions over time might lead one to conclude that a change in tactics and strategy would be justified, the problem of capitalism and domination still remains, such that the response in parallel likely remains radical mass-struggle to construct an anti-systemic multitude to disrupt and reorganize the hegemonic social, economic, and political institutions in all their facets.

Moving forward, the challenge for emerging scholars and writers in critical theory is to understand what key concepts need retrieval, critical sharpening or abandoning. In light of this challenge, an important question might be raised: how might these previously unpublished lectures inspire a project aimed toward advancing the Frankfurt School? What new ideas do they inspire? In what ways might Marcuse’s thought assist the pressing question of emancipatory politics and contemporary critical theory as we move forward in the 21st Century?

Another key challenge, as Marcuse would have it, is to engage with popular movements and help inform and guide their diversity of struggle today. Marcuse understood, in many ways, that revolutionary societal transformation is a complex, dynamic and many-sided process. In essence, we could say that it is subject to an extended social-historical process of revolutionary transition which could very well “take a time of at least 75 to 150 years” (p. 34). How can critical theory assist new social movements in establishing the basis for emancipatory societal transformation? Marcuse teaches us that, in the years past and in the years ahead, critical theory must constantly and normatively present the challenges of theory to movements in the field of practice. It is always possible that, in an actionist rush of blood for the thrill of practice, movements become inclined to abandon theory, usually to the detriment of practice which then turns incomplete, contradictory and incoherent. To borrow from Andrew Feenberg, theory must be a ‘philosophy of praxis’ – a ‘philosophy of praxis’ that engages on the level of practical action. If Marcuse (and arguably the first generation of the Frankfurt School in general) are the torch bearers when it comes to this philosophy of praxis, it is the challenge of the new wave of thinkers in this tradition to claim this torch and further illuminate the path forward. In doing so, theory must continue to draws its concepts and its inspiration from the revolutionary activity of new social movements and, as Charles Reitz recently commented, normatively challenge them to work for the radical rather than the minimal goals of socialism. If one were to take a single stirring inspiration from these lectures, this would be it.

[1]     Herbert Marcuse, The New Left and the 1960s: Collected Papers Volume 4, ed. Douglas Kellner (London: Routledge, 2004), 189.

Climate Change and Human Alienation

April 27, 2014

Somalia300

“El Cuerno de África,” Santi Mazatl  (2011)

Originally published on Dissident Voice, 26 April 2014

“[The] self-alienation [of humanity] has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order.” – Walter Benjamin, 1936

At the end of last year, the Humanist Workers for Revolutionary Socialism (HWRS) published a provocative position paper which presents their analysis of the climate crisis: “Alienation, Climate Change, and the Future of Humanity.” Aside from discussing the very real threat which anthropogenic climate disruption poses to humanity and terrestrial nature generally considered, the HWRS in this essay develop a theory of human alienation based on the thought of Karl Marx and Erich Fromm and posit such alienation as the main obstacle for the emergence today of radical mass-movements from below that would check the increasingly fatal trends toward unprecedented levels of suffering and death and global ecocide promised by climate catastrophe. Being Leninists, however, the HWRS recommend “revolutionary” party leadership as a means of directing the alienated masses toward the enacting of anti-capitalist social transformation and the rational mitigation of climate destruction. Clearly, such a recommended solution is highly problematic—yet the HWRS paper presents enough critical points for reflection and contemplation to merit a brief discussion of it here.

To begin, I would like firstly to delineate my agreements with the HWRS writers of “Alienation, Climate Change, and the Future of Humanity.” I certainly share the view that the capital-induced climate destabilization on hand necessitates a “worldwide revolution” as an equal and opposite corrective reaction (21), and I also hold that the psychical alienation and mutilation imposed by capitalism largely explains the fact that those from below “tolerate […] the constant wars, oppression, greed, cut[t]hroat competition, suffering, and destruction of the environment and this planet that the people in power inflict on the majority around the globe” (7). On the individual and group levels, too, the “only reasonable response” to the depth of the environmental crisis “would be for everyone who is aware of the situation to forget about their personal lives [sic] and immediately start a crusade to stop capitalism’s assault on nature and the entire planet” (18). I agree with the HWRS as well in their concluding thought that all organizations which claim the revolutionary mantle must “place the struggle against climate change […] as the highest priority in [their] program and [their] daily practice,” and that they should toward this end “immediately initiate a massive campaign about the need to overthrow capitalism as our only chance to avert the extinction of the human race, and combine [this] with daily interventions against the effects of ongoing environmental destruction” (30). In addition, the group’s social-psychological analysis of the grip which conformity, adjustment, bourgeois distraction, anxiety, and anomie hold over most people in “advanced” capitalist societal settings represents an intriguing explanation for the marked lack of mass-revolutionary consciousness and praxis vis-à-vis this seemingly quite terminal of threats to human happiness and flourishing and ecological balance. I believe this account—derived from Fromm, who in turn developed his critical, humanistic psychoanalytical approach from a synthesis of Sigmund Freud and the young Marx—to hold some merit, though with some reservations.

These important contributions notwithstanding, the HWRS account suffers from a number of grave issues, in my view. For one, as already mentioned, the grouping adheres to a Leninist/Trotskyist ideology, with all the distortions this implies: a highly delusional account of the historical rise of Stalinism in post-1917 Russia (8-9), a concomitant fetishization of Lenin and Trotsky (21), and the illogical assertion which follows—that only liberation “from above” can succeed in overthrowing capitalism and thus provide humanity and nature a chance of surviving climate chaos (30). Indeed, in Nietzschean (or even Heideggerian) terms, the HWRS resolve their stated concern for the problem of the alienated masses by saying that the possibilities for a post-capitalist, non-ecocidal future can be secured only through rule over the general populace by enlightened individuals who have somehow themselves transcended alienation (30). The HWRS clarify that the overcoming of alienation “cannot take place spontaneously” but must instead be the work of “a revolutionary [sic] party that knows what it is doing [!] and what is needed for victory” (28). Epitomizing dichotomous thinking, the HWRS opportunistically consider the only two options they believes possible in terms of staving off climate catastrophe: that either the global bourgeoisie will take steps to slow down global warming—which it is not doing and will not do—or Leninist parties capable of “leading the masses” will develop and intervene to outcompete the “reformist and centrist” oppositional alternatives and succeed in overthrowing the rule of capital within a quarter-century—that is to say, before climate change supposedly has progressed beyond the point of no return (23, 27).

Besides this highly authoritarian and unsavory political strategy, the HWRS account of human alienation may itself in some ways reify rather than help to illuminate the problem, for the essay presents something of a “locked-in” analysis. This is perhaps best illustrated in the authors’ citation of recent neurological studies which reportedly show that “[t]he brain is wired in a way that makes a person defenseless against the manipulation and demagoguery that are so common in capitalism” (26). If this claim is true—which it obviously is not—then how can the HWRS hope for the emergence of the Leninist vanguard which is heroically to lead humanity beyond capitalism, alienation, and total destruction in the first place? The assertion that “[p]eople are too alienated from life and from themselves to start a worldwide uprising against climate change” (19) is similarly extreme and unscientific. One need only look at the phenomenon of “group events” in China for a counter-example. Granted, the profundity of the climate crisis is truly horrifying, as the HWRS detail in this piece, and it is not as though any significant mass social movement—other than Occupy, in a way—has arisen within the Western world to the challenge of confronting the extent of its horror head-on. Under such conditions, tendencies toward despair and pessimism are natural and to be expected—yet they certainly are not justified as a means of prescribing “party socialism” as the only option available to humanity.

Anti-capitalism, socialism, and communism retain a truly world-historical importance at this late hour, as means of undermining and—it is to be hoped—ultimately tearing down the capitalist system that is without a doubt impelling life on Earth to utter disaster. In this the HWRS make an important point. Yet is simply not true that the chance for global communist revolution will arrive only through the domination of an actionist minority over the “average, backward person” to which the HWRS reduce the human multitudes (25). The writers of “Alienation, Climate Change, and the Future of Humanity” would do well to consult the opening line of the founding principles of the First International (1864), which reads that “the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves.” Consideration of the embodied history of Leninism and its monster-child Stalinism should be enough to delegitimize the tactics of Trotsky and company for all time.1As an alternative, anarcho-syndicalism, particularly of the ecological variety, holds a great deal more promise with regard to interrupting the fatal tendency toward climate destruction, in terms of both means and ends. Yet to return to Fromm and the issue of alienation, the observed lack of revolutionary activism in terms of climate issues among workers and people in general in industrialized societies may itself well be a reflection of the popular understanding that the State neither represents nor enacts the people’s will, whether on the environment, military spending, social programs, drug policy, or any other critical issue. For their part, U.S. polls from recent years (2012 and 2013) have shown consistent majorities expressing “belief” in anthropogenic climate change and concern for its effects.

Decentralization of power, self-emancipation, and anarchism remain important radical political alternatives to the utter irresponsibility and mindlessness of the global ruling class with regard to anthropogenic climate disruption. Self-management in the workplace—guided by the principles of participatory economics (Parecon), for example—coupled with community control of the political sphere would provide a humanistic alternative to “party socialism” that could well solve for the factors impelling climate catastrophe without threatening to impose a horrid repeat of the totalitarian political oppression for which Leninism has been responsible. The devolution of power to the global demos would indeed represent a recovery of the “lost treasure” of the “revolutionary tradition,” as Hannah Arendt terms the council system.2 Moreover, it would constitute a true political manifestation of Arendt’s concept of natality, the potential birth of a new world—this, in the face of the threat of mass-involuntary suicide.

Nonetheless, as Herbert Marcuse writes at the end of his most pessimistic book, “[n]othing indicates that it will be a good end.”3 In the minor chord, the HWRS does honestly consider the possibility that the climate crisis may already have progressed beyond the point of no return, such that a successful global anti-capitalist revolution in the near term may itself come too late (29-30). Clearly, a great deal of uncertainty surrounds these questions, and we confront the unfortunate reality that humanity will only come to learn the precise truth about these matters upon the conclusion of the next decade or two. Equally clearly, however, no humane alternative exists than to struggle for anarchist, anti-systemic revolution today.

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1To examine the relationship between Leninism and Stalinism with a critical eye, please consult Maurice Brinton’s The Bolsheviks and Workers’ Control (1970) and Gregori Maximov, The Guillotine At Work (1940).

2Hannah Arendt, On Revolution (New York: Penguin, 2006 [1963]), 207-73.

3Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man (Boston: Beacon, 1964), 257.

Green Syndicalism vs. Anti-Civ: Social Revolution or Primitivist Reaction? A Polemic

November 21, 2013

IWWGreenSyn

This is a written version of the talk I presented on 11 November at the Boston Anarchist Bookfair

First published on the Industrial Workers of the World Environmental Union Caucus (IWW EUC) website

I will begin concretely by acknowledging the undoubtedly dire environmental situation of (post)modernity—to consider the most devastating facet of the crisis, let us consider catastrophic climate change. In May of this year, the global atmospheric carbon concentration was found to be 400 parts per million, or about 1.5 times that which prevailed in preindustrial human history. This is a level that has not been seen since the Pliocene geological epoch some 3 to 5 million years ago, when average global temperatures were 2 to 3°C higher than they are today, and no sea ice existed in the Arctic. Climatologists have determined that, since the onset of industrial capitalism, the Earth has warmed 0.8°C, and they estimate conservatively that the planet will experience an average warming of 4 to 6°C by the end of the twenty-first century. This is likely an underestimate, given that scientists find it difficult to integrate the observed and projected contributions of the various positive feedback loops which global warming gives rise to within their models.

If we contemplate contemporary history, we can very clearly see the profound effects catastrophic climate change has wrought on the world: consider Super Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) in the Philippines, which is said to have killed more than 10,000 people last weekend—the strongest tropical cyclone to ever make landfall, Haiyan was an an intensification and repetition of sorts of Typhoon Bopha, which struck the archipelago nation last year. Similarly, we can think of Cyclone Nargis (2008) in Burma, Cyclone Phailin in South Asia just a few weeks ago, Superstorm Sandy last year, Hurricane Katrina (2005), the Horn of Africa drought and famine of 2011, the two major droughts which have struck the Amazon in recent years (2005 and 2010), the 2010 fires in Russia, the unprecedented flooding events seen in Pakistan in 2010 and India in 2011, the record-shattering Arctic summer-sea ice extent in the years 2007 and 2012….

To examine these admittedly disconcerting realities, I will disclose my own political bias, that of an anarchism influenced greatly by Marxist political economy. I take catastrophic climate change to result from the second contradiction of capitalism, whereby the move from M to C and M’ (money → commodity → money prime [original M plus profit])—or what is the same, the ceaseless imperative for economic growth—leads the capitalist class to undermine the very material basis on which its exploitation of nature and humanity depends. Given such a disclosure, you can already see that I do not accept this outcome as the inevitable result of “civilization”—indeed, as I will explain, I find such a claim to be intellectually lazy, disingenous, and rather dangerous.

Anti-Civ Reaction

First, I will consider the “anti-civ” tendency, as represented principally in the writings of Derrick Jensen, Aric McBay, and Lierre Keith, all of whom advocate an approach known as “Deep Green Resistance” (DGR)—with the exception of McBay, who recently abandoned the group. I will not consider John Zerzan or the Green Anarchy magazine which came out of Eugene, Oregon starting in 2000. Though I claim the anti-civ line to be most authoritarian, I will not here discuss the scandalous transphobia of Jensen and Keith, which has recently come to light in the wake of the controversies which surfaced at the Law & Disorder Conference in Portland this May.

So, then, what are the basic philosophical positions of the anti-civ tendency? As Jensen explains in his Endgame volumes 1 and 2, today’s ecological crisis is taken to be the inexorable result of the establishment millennia ago of cities, as follows from the onset of domestication and the rise of agriculture. For Jensen, “civilization” is a “culture […] that both leads to and emerges from the growth of cities.” Clearly, this is not a very materialist sort of analysis. Jensen asserts that civilization is “irreedemable,” as it can never be sustainable, for, on his account, cities require the ceaseless expansion of inputs (or imports) from landbases that are not their own—with the result that the “civilized” engage in conquest and imperialism, using force to robs others for their own benefit. Jensen’s thought is also inspired by a veritable animism, as in his posing of the question of what trees and stones say, or his recommendation that those interested in sustainability ask the land how it views different social arrangements… Given these assumptions, Jensen concludes that the only truly sustainable level of technology is that of the Stone Age, or Neolithic Era, which predated the first cities of Mesopotamia: in practical terms, humanity today must elect—or be forced to “elect”—to abolish agriculture, abandon all technologies developed since the Neolithic, and undergo a massive population decline (a “corrective”) in accordance with Jensen’s conception of a “sustainable carrying capacity” of the Earth, which he claims grossly to have been overshot under conditions of civilization. In Endgame, Jensen defensively asserts that he is no Pol Pot or genocidal madman—but his positions should speak for themselves.

In his view, all environmental strains of thought other than his are hopelessly deluded, for, as he argues, they do not question the “death culture” of civilization, nor do they frame the question in a way that would prepare action aimed at overturning this death-society—that is, through the destruction of civilization. Another major premise of Jensen’s is that, the longer civilization is allowed to live on, the greater the damage will be to the world’s ecosystems and peoples.

In the abstract for this talk, I claimed Jensen’s environmental philosophy to be “undialectical, highly inegalitarian, and even reactionary in its assumptions and recommendations.” Why might this be the case? If it is not already glaringly obvious, allow me to elucidate my point.

Let’s take Jensen’s discussion of “industrial medicine” as an illustration of my argument. He makes a fair point in asserting that, on the one hand, medical doctors and the medical system in general can treat certain debilitating conditions which arise well, but they then contribute to these very maladies through the production of mass quantities of medical waste which are then incinerated. While this is a legitimate criticism, there is no sense in Jensen’s argumentation that anything meaningful could be done to vastly reduce the production of medical waste—say, through the practice of sterilization of implements rather than the mass-employment of disposable ones. Moreover, in responding to the charge that his position is “heartless” in its call for the abolition of civilization together with life-saving medicines (pharmacology), he retorts by blaming victims in an undialectical fashion: the drugs which are prescribed to treat diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and cancer, for example, are “integral to an economic system that exploits workers, degrades the environment, and increases the suffering of indigenous peoples,” he says. This sort of assertion is standard fare for Jensen—it is not capitalism or class society but civilization that is the problem. This dubious line of reasoning is seen also in his claim that modern medicine only or overwhelmingly benefits the rich—with this, he effectively naturalizes capitalist U.S. society and completely obscures reasonable alternatives to such, as in the socialized medicine of Europe.

In essence, my claim is that Jensen’s philosophy is monolectical—he dogmatically conflates capitalism with civilization, when the two are far from the same. It is for me entirely unclear that the mere fact of agriculture leads inevitably to the “radiant calamity” we see in postmodernity. Rather obviously, it is not the campesin@s of Mexico who are destroying the world. In this sense, I agree with Takis Fotopoulos of the Inclusive Democracy Project when he speculatively implies that, had the Industrial Revolution and capitalism not been imposed on the peoples of the world, they conceivably would have developed their technologies in a less destructive fashion than what we have seen in fact. I accuse Jensen of being ahistorical in the extreme, as well as highly disingenous: his entire thought is permeated by false dichotomies, as in the claim that we either have computers, pharamacology, catastrophic climate change, and genocidal imperialism or we live in egalitarian and harmonious social relations like those arguably instituted in prehistorical times. For Jensen, there is little sense that the development of civilization could have been different than what it has been. He is no revolutionary thinker inspired by the Enlightenment’s desire to overthrow oppression—instead, his philosophy serves extremely obfuscatory ends.

It should come as little surprise that Jensen has nothing to say about the revolutionary history of humanity—yes, under conditions of “civilization”—from the helots of Sparta to Spartacus, the French and Haitian Revolutions, the Spanish anarchists, the Hungarian Revolution, May 1968—or 1968 throughout much of the globe, as in Mexico, the U.S., and Japan, in additiont to France—and he in no way engages with such emancipatory social philosophies as anarchism or autonomous Marxism. For him, resistance is limited to the struggles of the Lakota, Geronimo, Tecumseh, and other militant indigenous individuals and groupings. While such forms of resistance are obviously important, they are far from comprehensive.

In sum, I view Jensen as a reactionary: his claim is that the peoples of the world must accept—or be forced to accept—their own mass-death in order to serve the mad schemes he conjures up by means of poor theorizing. For him, as the First of May Anarchist Alliance notes critically, the overwhelming majority of “civilized” peoples—including the working classes, though they make little explicit appearance in his writings—are “insane” and therefore to be written off entirely. With this assertion is seen Jensen’s effective Leninism, as I personally saw most clearly at the “Earth at Risk” conference at UC Berkeley in November 2011: according to the conversation he had with McBay on DGR strategy, the idea is that small groups of anti-civ militants will work to take down civilization themselves, given that we “can’t wait” for the people to intervene radically themselves. This is a rotten philosophy of authoritarianism.

Social Revolution through Green Syndicalism

As an alternative, let’s examine green syndicalism, which I take to be a combination of proletarian self-management—as in anarcho-syndicalism—with ecological concern, as is reflected in the philosophies of eco-socialism, social ecology, and ecological anarcho-communism. All these modes of thought aim at overcoming class society, social domination, and the domination of nature by breaking radically from the grow-or-die imperative of capitalism. These viewpoints do not take the extreme anti-technological position of Jensen and company but rather dialectically see promise in certain types of technology—for example, in labor-saving technologies, which at minimum seek to reduce the unpleasurable burden of toil and at maximum (as in communism or post-scarcity anarchism) intend to effectively abolish labor altogether by means of automation; in life-enhancing technologies, such as antibiotics and other helpful means of extending the human lifespan; as well as nature-protecting technologies, such as renewable energy sources that do not emit carbon. It should be said here, as against the fatalism inspired by undialectical primitivism, that a transition to solar and wind energy would not necessarily demand a massive expansion of the obviously problematic practice of mining, given that the rare earths needed for such a transformation are already contained within existing infrastructures, such that they can be recycled without need to resort to further extraction. Such a socio-political course is one to be adopted by a conscious, empowered humanity that has taken control of the means of production, thus shattering capitalist domination and disproving primitivist defeatism.

Having overthrown capitalism and the State, a future eco-syndicalist humanity would be able to observe various ecological practices which have been developed from within the context of capitalist modernity yet never within that context observed due to the hegemony of mindless growth economics. I am thinking here of the precautionary principle, whereby a given action (say, in production) is not to be allowed if there is reason to believe such a move would cause harm to humans and/or nature, in addition to systemic recycling, the overturning of planned obsolescence, generalized vegetarianism, economic contraction, and the re-orientation of production toward need and use rather than luxury and exchange.

Though it is to be imagined that the realization of such critical socio-economic transformations would greatly reduce the burden humanity has imposed upon the environment within the history of capitalism, it is also true that such an overhaul would not absolutely do away with the exploitation and domination of nature altogether. In this sense, Herbert Marcuse is arguably right to assert that the idea of a total reconciliation between humanity and nature “belongs to the Orphic myth, not to any conceivable historical reality.”1 Taking an analogy from Marcuse, one he develops in his revolutionary interpretation of Freud in Eros and Civilization, I should here like to distinguish between the “basic domination” and “surplus domination” of nature. On Marcuse’s account, basic repression is required for the continuation of everyday life within civilization, but surplus repression is not: the latter corresponds to a socially unnecessary level of unhappiness which accords with the interests of dominant groups, such as capitalists. (Marcuse takes his account of basic and surplus repression from the distinction Marx made between necessary and surplus labor.) By overthrowing capitalism and the surplus-repression which it demands, humanity can come to experience a far more liberated existence, claims Marcuse. In my argument, the case is similar with the domination of nature: a significant proportion of the domination humanity exercises with regards to nature under conditions of capitalism can certainly be overturned by means of the exercise of mind and the embodiment of a political praxis which accords with such—as in social revolution—but a basic level of domination will likely live on even in a global post-capitalist civilization, particularly in light of the considerable size of the total human population, the vast majority of whom must be allowed to live in more materially favorable contexts than currently prevails.

I argue that this dynamic is far preferable to the alternative advanced by Jensen and company: that is, for billions to be murdered in conformity with the genocidal fantasies of primitivism. I here accept that any defensible notion of politics will provide for the health and well-being of the world’s human population, present and future; I certainly agree with Theodor Adorno when he claims the “notion of redemption” to be inextricably linked to the “happiness of unborn generations.”2 To demand a mass die-off of humanity as a precondition of sustainability should self-evidently be ethically unacceptable to all. Beyond this, however, in practical terms it is far from evident that mass-death is necessary at all, given the reasonable alternatives in terms of socio-ecological practice open to a conscious humanity that has transcended the horrid capitalist system. Once again, to naturalize “civilized” humanity as being inevitably capitalist is an untenable position.

Strategically, green syndicalism seeks to integrate class struggle into environmentalism: to overthrow the capitalist class and do away with productivism, both materially—as in production—as well as ideologically—in culture and social relations. Granted, this struggle would likely entail the abandonment of many capitalist technologies and, as Richard Smith has argued cogently in his “Six Theses” on “Capitalism and the Destruction of Life on Earth,” entire sectors of the capitalist economy—as examples, he mentions “not just fossil-fuel producers, but all the industries that consume them and produce GHG emissions – autos, trucking, aircraft, airlines, shipping and cruise lines, construction, chemicals, plastics, synthetic fabrics, cosmetics, synthetic fiber and fabrics, synthetic fertilizer and agribusiness CAFO operations, and many more.” Arguably, the overwhelming majority of consumption engaged in by the overdeveloped societies should also be jettisoned—besides having terrible effects on nature and workers, such consumer goods truly contribute little to human happiness, after all. It should be obvious that, though perspectives on industry and development such as these remain highly critical, they have exceedingly little to do with the primitivist rejection of all technologies other than those which were on hand in the Neolithic.

Concretely, we can point to several tactics with which to move toward a green syndicalist future for humanity: workplace militancy, social antagonism, agitation, indignation, direct action, occupation (or decolonization), blockades of capital, general strikes, and particularly ecological general strikes. I see a militant transitional period as including two critical moments: one which would work to interrupt the drive of the death-economy that is capitalism, and another which would seek to construct a participatory and inclusive counter-power as an alternative to regnant barbarism.

Differently from orthodox Marxism—and, indeed, Jensen himself, who claims delusionally that he is entirely convinced that his dream of abolishing civilization will come to pass—I subscribe to no blind sense of optimism here. I believe we must think again of Super Typhoon Haiyan, and what horrors such as this portend for the future, whether it continues to be capitalist or rather somehow becomes democratic, syndicalist, and ecological. As Murray Bookchin argued famously, anarchism provides humanity with the ethical option of choosing to intervene and overcome capitalism and domination. This end is far from assured, yet little alternative exists other than radical struggle.

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1Herbert Marcuse, Counterrevolution and Revolt (Boston: Beacon Press, 1972), 68.

2Theodor W. Adorno, “Progress,” in Benjamin: Philosophy, Aesthetics, History, ed. Gary Smith (1962; repr., Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989), 85 .

IWW EUC, “Capital Blight: Old Wine in New Bottles; Why Obama’s ‘Bold’ Announcement on Climate Change Gives the Fossil Fuel Industry Just About Everything it Wants”

July 1, 2013

IWWEUC

This is a link to a solid review and critique of Obama’s 25 June speech on climate change at Georgetown University, hailed as a “breakthrough” in much of the main.  It is reposted from the Industrial Workers’ of the World Environmental Union Caucus, written by the anonymous x344543 (25 June).  An excerpt, which is the close:

“Today the opposition is a polyglot of anarchist, socialist, and liberal-left tendencies, and the alliances between them–if they exist at all, is quite fragile. Obama’s speech seems to be designed to do at least the following:

  • (1) Coopt dissent from more conservative elements on what passes for “the left” and the environmental movement;
  • (2) Create the illusion of opposition to fossil fuel dominated capitalist interests (which will be pilloried from the extreme right as being job killing, pie-in-the-sky, anti-business, anti-free-market communism, when in fact it’s nothing of the sort) so that Obama can claim he is taking a progressive stand;
  • (3) Providing cover for the capitalists by splintering the opposition, which –until today, at least–has grown, albeit haphazardly.

And it’s already working. My fellow workers have recently raised awareness [here and here] about the less-than-savory nature of the big environmental NGOs, and–as they would have no doubt predicted–many of them have jumped for joy at Obama’s speech and neglected to mention all of the seriously big problems in it.

This will no doubt cause tension and fractures within what was a potentially powerful and growing opposition to the fossil fuel industry, and with it–quite possibly–capitalism itself. Our job is to make sure that doesn’t happen, because if it does, we move yet one step closer to our collective doom, and we’re frighteningly close now.”