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“Virus or No Virus, We Can’t Lose Our Voice”: Cheri Honkala on Frontline Communities

Black Agenda Report

March 18, 2020

By Ann Garrison

 

“Coronavirus is just an extension of the war that we’ve been forced to fight under capitalism.”

 

“We’re assisting people who suddenly have no income and are stuck in their homes for the foreseeable future.”

Cheri Honkala has been organizing in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, one of the US’s most devastated, post-industrial communities, for over 30 years. As of the 2010 census, Kensington was 38.9% Hispanic of any race, 37.4% non-Hispanic white, 14.8% non-Hispanic Black, 6.2% Asian, and 2.7% all other. And it’s beginning to be threatened by gentrification.

Cheri is one of the founders of the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign (PPEHRC), and her work has been so impressive that Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein asked her to be her running mate  in 2008.

I asked her how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting Kensington.

Ann Garrison: Cheri, are you seeing cases of coronavirus there in your neighborhood yet? Does anyone have access to testing?

Cheri Honkala: No, we have no idea if we’ve come into contact with anyone who has the virus yet. There’s no testing, but we’ve most likely been exposed. Most of the poor people in Kensington go to St. Christopher’s Hospital, and a doctor working in the ICU there has tested positive. That will affect Kensington because he saw Kensington patients before testing positive, and because there is, for now, one less doctor working in Kensington.

Public clinics are postponing appointments at the last minute and rescheduling for July due to the virus, but these are services that people need now. We already have bad health. Our health has never much mattered, but there are good, caring doctors and nurses in the system.

“We already have bad health.”

Someone from the public health center said they’re moving to online appointments, but poor people don’t have computers to be talking to their doctors and getting checkups through the phone. We know that people in other parts of the world like Canada and Australia now have access to testing and an equitable response to the virus because they have universal healthcare. But we don’t have that. We seem to be moving further towards the privatization and corporate takeover of all public services and health access. And under the guise of protecting our health, it seems like they’re going to be scooping people up soon, with or without their permission, and putting them who knows where.

AG: Has Philadelphia’s Public Health Department  reached out to you in any way? Have you tried to reach out to them?

CH: No. Philadelphia is one of the poorest large cities in the country. PPEHRC and the Poor People’s Army  have been absolutely overwhelmed both in Philadelphia—where our headquarters is—and throughout the country. We’re assisting people who suddenly have no income and are stuck in their homes for the foreseeable future, if they can hold onto their homes.

We’re helping a woman who’s being released from the hospital to homelessness, a victim of domestic violence needing to get into safe housing, and people needing psychiatric care but not able to get into the hospital. And those are just a few examples of who we’re trying to help. Coronavirus is just an extension of the war that we’ve been forced to fight under capitalism. It’s not just the virus, but that’s made it worse.

The media is fear-mongering, and misinformation is spreading. Corporations, politicians, and poverty pimps are rushing to profit from this moment. Not only have they not reached out to us, but they’re hiding from us because they are either working remotely from home, or they’re operating from the politics of scarcity.

AG: As I write this it’s 49 degrees in Kensington and 49 degrees here in Berkeley, where there are roughly 1,000 homeless people on the street, in a city of roughly 125,000. But it’s still morning out here and it’s well past noon there. It’s not the dead of winter, but it’s not a good day to be homeless in either place, or to live in a house or apartment that doesn’t have heat. It’s not a good day to recover from coronavirus or any kind of cold or flu, especially if you don’t have running water to wash your hands. Do you have any estimate of how many people are facing one or both hardships there in Kensington, a city area of roughly 25,000?

CH: There are about 2000 homeless people on the streets in Philly on any given night. Because of advocacy efforts before the coronavirus, no one’s utilities can be shut off. But that doesn’t mean that utilities that were already shut off can be turned back on.

AG: At the 2016 Green Party Convention in Houston, you shared films about Kensington and said that you thought frontline communities should emulate the Black Panther Party. Could you talk about that here?

CH: For decades, the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign has been teaching people how to reclaim abandoned houses across the country and reclaim land. And to grow food to feed ourselves. We need to move in our organizing work from a reformist model to a revolutionary model. Corporations and the rich are never going to care about us, never going to take care of us, so it’s time we get organized and reclaim our basic economic human rights to food and housing. And whether or not we have health care shouldn’t even be up for negotiations.

AG: Is the PPEHRC supported solely by donations and volunteers?

CH: We are trying to be the US version of the Zapatistas . We are separate from the nonprofit charity model, and are funded by individuals and small foundations. No banks and no corporations.

AG: Are you a 501(c)3?

CH: We have a 501(c)3 fiscal sponsor that accepts tax deductible donations for us.

AG: During the March 15 presidential debate, both candidates said repeatedly that victims of coronavirus must be “made whole” by financial support if they and their families lose work or housing after coming down with coronavirus. And I kept thinking about all the people who have already lost both, those living on the streets or in other desperate circumstances, who haven’t been “made whole.” Suddenly the welfare of all members of society is of concern because even those most marginalized can spread the disease to the upper echelons by going to work, not getting tested, or not seeing a doctor. The New Yorker published a report headlined, “How Much Is the Coronavirus Infecting World Leaders and Disrupting Governments? 

I’m sure you have something further to say about this.

CH: This coronavirus is infecting the upper classes, so they’ll look for ways to protect themselves, but it’s not about protecting us. As a formerly homeless mother I’ve always known that we and our children have never mattered. And I’m very clear that they try to create an us and them scenario–a deserving and undeserving poor. We know the reality is that most people are only a paycheck away from a disaster like the coronavirus. Those of us in frontline communities more than ever need to demand and take back our right to food, clothing, housing, and medical care, because we can’t sit on the sidelines waiting for someone to save us. That’s not gonna happen. We need to link arms and remember that all we have is each other, and we’d better get organized to take housing, to take land, to take back a future for ourselves and our children.

We know they’re going to use this as an opportunity to do more homeless encampment sweeps, enact curfews with the pretense of caring about our health, fast-tracking homeless mothers and their kids into foster care and adoption.

It’s really important right now that we check in on our brothers and sisters who are in prisons, nursing homes, and packed into one-room shelters. We have to advocate for them because authorities are not going to take care of them without pressure.

AG: Tell me what else you’d like to say about coronavirus in poor and homeless communities.

CH: It all comes back to the slogan we’re raising that we need to put #LivesOverLuxury, while they put the elite luxury class over any of us. They’re killing us. That’s why we’re taking this message to both the DNC and RNC, virus or no virus, because we can’t lose our voice, and we fundamentally need a different society to respond to ongoing crises like this that will only escalate.

The coronavirus has exacerbated class divisions. Our kids who were attending schools that weren’t good to begin with and are now supposed to attend them online, but many lack access to home computers. People are staying home and not making any money from jobs that are on pause, and they’re waiting for essential health services.

It’s also important that there’s a whole section of people who don’t speak English as their first language, and they’re already being targeted by ICE and state agents. But we’re going to continue to practice the politics of love where we aim for a different kind of society where we take care of each other. At a time when big nonprofits aren’t here, we are continuing to operate with boots on the ground out of necessity. Not that we’re being careless or not taking the virus seriously, but the reality of people’s economic situation is real and that’s what we’re going to be hearing over the days to come. Maybe the utility shutoffs, evictions, and foreclosures are on pause right now, but those bills aren’t going away, and people are losing money every day this goes on.

“The coronavirus has exacerbated class divisions.”

We encourage people to join the Poor People’s Army. We need to make sure we keep our eyes wide open, and keep the propaganda on TV from separating us, isolating us, and disempowering us. Join us at livesoverluxury.com  and plan on coming to the Democratic Convention in July.

On July 13th, at 4 p.m., we will be in Milwaukee to demand our share of the 67 cents of every single dollar that goes to feed the war machine and deny poor and working class people their right to health care, food, housing, and dignity.

We have nothing to lose because we are already on the frontlines, already sentenced to death by gun violence, economic violence, cuts in food stamps and public housing, and, for many outside this country, sanctions. Our government, both Democrats and Republicans, chooses war and corporate profits over ending poverty and homelessness. We see the abundance in our country, and the #PoorPeoplesArmy is organizing to take it back by practicing the politics of love. Coronavirus or not, we are moving forward in an army led by the poor. Capitalism has buried our loved ones for years. It’s time we bury it.

AG: What if the convention’s canceled, as seems likely right now?

CH: Eventually there will be a convention and an election. People can follow us on Facebook  or our website  for any sudden changes.

AG: OK. I want to close by sharing links to videos about your work in Kensington and beyond that you showed at the Green Party Convention in 2016. Readers can watch them here: The Philadelphia Story  and Homeless Hero .

Thank you, Cheri, for sharing everything you’ve said here, and for everything you do.

CH: Thank you too.

 

[Ann Garrison is an independent journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 2014, she received the Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza Democracy and Peace Prize for her reporting on conflict in the African Great Lakes region. She can be reached at ann@anngarrison.com.]

Listen: Highways of Hegemony: Reading Act VI of Cory Morningstar’s Series on Green Capitalism

Listen: Highways of Hegemony: Reading Act VI of Cory Morningstar’s Series on Green Capitalism

Ghion Journal

November 4, 2019

By Stephen Boni

 

 

Over the course of six lengthy pieces of investigative journalism, Canadian activist and writer Cory Morningstar forces us into a recognition of how deep social engineering efforts can go, how patient they are—and how effective they can be.

After recording a reading of this final piece of Morningstar’s Volume One, her penetrating gaze into the nonprofit industrial complex (and the huge amounts of capital that sit behind it), I went back and listened to it several times, in part just to see what jumped out.

While listening for the second time, a small snippet grabbed me. At one juncture in the piece, which takes a look at how a variety of interlocking pieces of a manufactured climate movement were assembled over 10 years ago, she mentions briefly how the upper level managers of major NGOs essentially share the same values and priorities of the wealthy government bureaucrats and financiers they work with to advance their organizations.

Essentially, they are all fellow travelers on a “highway of hegemony”, a choice phrase Morningstar drops in the piece.

After taking this aspect of her article in and ruminating on it for a minute, my mind drifted to two things:

  1. Matt Taibbi’s recently published book “Hate, Inc.”, in which he explores the change in the class background of many journalists from a blue-collar orientation to a haute-bourgeoisie orientation—which, as a matter of course, impacts the way the corporate news media covers (or omits) the concerns of everyday citizens and aligns with the concerns of the well-to-do.

And

  1. The frequently embedded video of Noam Chomsky deconstructing the authority subservience of a BBC reporter to his face.

It makes absolute sense to me that this is where my mind went, because woven throughout Morningstar’s series is that, while so much of the patient drive to rescue the current faltering economic system through the financialization of nature is determined by the ideology of finance capital, this imperative is deeply connected to an expression of class.

Whether it’s Al Gore or Ingmar Rentzhog (head of advocacy NGO ‘We Don’t Have Time’) or Jennifer Morgan (head of environmental NGO Greenpeace) or Jean-Claude Junker (head of the European Commission), their respective nationalities, areas of expertise, and even genuine concern for the future of people and planet are not so divergent as to overcome their shared class interest—an interest that leads them to apply a set of market and money-based solutions to a problem that eclipses by many magnitudes, the pursuit of wealth.

Before I go on too long, here’s the reading:

The other place my mind went while re-listening to Morningstar’s piece, is how deeply implicated a colonial mentality is in all of this. Because, all these market-base solutions, whether they be green energy or land use or “natural capital investment vehicles”, will hinge on the expropriation of resources—particularly those that sit in developing nations where the majority of citizens are poor and not white—by elites in powerful, semi post-industrial nations.

All we have to do to understand this fusion of class and ethnicity (race is a construct, but ethnicity at least is real) is to look at what’s been happening in Bolivia over the past few weeks. Coup leaders are generally ethnically different from the indigenous citizenry empowered by socialist leader Evo Morales. They are largely light-skinned descendants of previous western colonialists, just as opposition leaders in Venezuela happen to be. And they’re not only “ethnically” angry about indigenous emancipation, but about how the natural resources of Bolivia under Morales have been used for social uplift rather than profit (their profit of course).

If the coup holds, we will in all likelihood see the expropriation of Bolivia’s massive expanses of lithium for the West’s various “Green New Deals” and the seizing of Bolivia’s natural gas to feed the West’s unending hunger for energy to fuel markets to fuel energy to fuel markets to fuel mansions to fuel private jets to fuel power.

Class, markets, profit, material wealth, ethnic supremacy, colonialism. It really is all one thing and that is why, as Morningstar underlines, the omission of imperialism, militarism and capitalism from the concerns of these environmental NGOs and their partners, is so telling.

In the words of rapper Ice-T: “Ain’t a damn thing changed”.

That is, unless we start supporting a completely different kind of environmentalism.

As always, thanks for reading and listening.

No Class

No Class

Dissident Voice

October 4, 2019

By John Steppling

 

 

 

 

In class society, everyone lives as a member of a particular class, and every kind of thinking, without exception, is stamped with the brand of a class.

 

— Mao, On Practice, 1937

 

That belief in Christ is to some a matter of life and death has been a stumbling block for readers who would prefer to think it a matter of no great consequence.

 

— Flannery O’Connor, Wise Blood, March 6, 2007

 

I think that most of the confusion in this respect has been the product of a failure to develop a class analysis of these changes. From a class perspective, it is clear that what we are seeing is the growth of various movements in the fascist genre (whether prefascism, protofascism, classical fascism, postfascism, neofascism, neoliberal fascism, ur-fascism, peripheral fascism, white supremacism, or national populism—you can take your pick). Fascist-type movements share certain definite class-based characteristics or tendencies. Although it is common in liberal discourse to approach such movements at the level of appearance, in terms of their ideological characteristics, such an idealist methodology only throws a veil over the underlying reality.

 

— John Bellamy Foster, Interview, Monthly Review, September 2019

 

The purveyors of free-market global capitalism believe that they have a right to plunder the remaining natural resources of this planet as they choose. Anyone who challenges their agenda is to be subjected to whatever misrepresentation and calumny that serves the free market corporate agenda.

 

— Michael Parenti, Interview with Jason Miller, 2016

 

When environmentalism unfolds within a system of heightened inequality and inadequate democratization, it does so unequally and autocratically. The result is not a “saved” climate, but rather enhanced revenue streams for corporations.

 

— Maximillian Forte, Climate Propaganda for Corporate Profit: Bell Canada

 

John Bellamy Foster noted that it was a lack of class analysis that has stifled left discourse over the last twenty years. And I have noted that when one does engage in class analysis the first response, very often, is to be called a conspiracy theorist. Now, this is largely because any class dissection will tend to unearth connections that have been hidden, consciously, by Capital — that those hidden forces and histories are experienced by the liberal left and faux left as somehow impossible. Class analysis means that the non-marxist liberal left is going to be faced with the malevolence of the ruling class, and in the U.S. certainly, the ruling class tends to be adored, secretly or otherwise, by the bourgeoisie.

When the U.S.S.R. dissolved the West intensified its propaganda onslaught immediately. And a good part of this propaganda was focused on the denial of class. On the right, the FOX News right, “class warfare” became a term of derision and also humour. And among liberal and educated bourgeoisie the avoidance of class was the result of a focus on, and validations of, rights for marginalized groups — even if that meant inventing new groups on occasion. Class was conspicuously missing in most identity rights discourse.

And the climate discourse, which was suddenly visible in mainstream media early 2000s, there was almost never a mention of class. Hence the new appropriation of that discourse by open racist eugenicists like “Sir” David Attenborough, and billionaire investors and publishers. Even by royalty. By 2015 or so there was what Denis Rancourt called the institutionalisation of a climate ethos. I have even seen of late self-identified leftists suggesting the “Greta” phenomenon was the working class finding its voice. (No, I’m not making that up). I have also seen many leftists — many of whom I have known for years — simply hysterical around the subject of this teenager. Her greatest appeal is to middle aged white men. I have no real explanation for that. But then these same men quote, often, everyone from Guy McPherson (who I think needs a padded cell, frankly) to Bill McKibben — an apologist for militarism and wealth… here ….

Gosh kids, let’s rely on big Wall Street money.  That’s a gall darn good idea. What an unctuous fuck he is.

The Attenborough and Greta (and Jane Goodall) video was absent content, really. Terms like *tipping points* were used several times but not identified. And they were not identified because they don’t have to be. This is the near religious end of the climate spectrum. I hear people angrily denounce someone as a “denier”. This is the tone reserved for all apostates. For heretics.

Now before continuing I find it very interesting that those predicting the most dire effects of climate change, those who say we’re dead in twenty years or thirty — they are still publishing books, still marketing those books. It’s still a business. I guess I might expect climate Sadhus to appear — naked mendicants, covered in dirt and dried mud, hair matted, living off alms. Or like preachers standing on the street corner, a sort of eco Asa Hawks, Bible in hand (or climate bible in hand) offering spiritual solace to the multitude. But instead we get TED talks and more rather expensive books.

I want to make clear, the planet is getting warmer. It’s already happening. To say otherwise is irrational. That does not mean there are not many questions left answered, and increasingly undiscussed. Nor that alarmism isn’t in full swing (fear and sex pretty much form the basis of all advertising). There is very little serious adult debate about what must be accounted the most serious subject, or one of two most serious subjects, in contemporary life. The other would be the global rise of fascism. And neither of these topics is given a serious public discussion. The entertainment apparatus is, at this point, ill-equipped to handle anything serious.

I do not consider the side show carnival of Greta and the Prince of Monaco, Arnold and Barack, and eugenicist scum like David Attenborough (as an Brit friend of mine referred to him, “that old racist tosspot”) as serious. The Green New Deal is western Capital laying claim to a new market. And Attenborough and Goodall both are members of the anti immigration (Malthusian) group Population Matters. This has been exhaustively catalogued by Cory Morningstar, but then she is now being smeared as a “conspiracy theorist”. And this is, again, because class figures rather prominently in her writings.

This reminds me of my Wall Street days, I mean all the new markets, the high yield markets, different convertible markets — this is how they all start.

 

— Mark Tercek, CEO, The Nature Conservancy, 2015.

Now, the bourgeoisie is perfectly happy to let the ruling class lead and be the decision makers. It is startling, really, how indigenous activists from the global south are so conspicuously missing in all this. So invisible in media. And to complain of this means one is met with just a myriad of apologetics about Greta and this carnival. And the paternalism that demands nobody ‘beat up’ on the teenager. There was never such outrage at criticism of Rachel Corrie. And amid all the young girl propaganda props (Nayirah al-?aba?, Bana Alabed, Park Yeon-mi, et al) the only constant is that PR firms are doing a lot of business. But the new investment in Green technology (sic) will really only result in — as it always does — a further growth in unemployed labor and an uptick in low end minimum wage service work. This is straight out of Capital, the general law of capitalist accumulation.

But if a surplus labouring popUlation is a necessary product of accumulation or of the development of wealth on a capitalist basis, this surplus-population becomes, conversely, the lever of capitalistic accumulation, nay, a condition of existence of the capitalist mode of production. It forms a disposable industrial reserve army, that belongs to capital quite as absolutely as if the latter had bred it at its own cost.

 

— Karl Marx, Capital. Volume I: The Process of Production of Capital, September 14, 1867

And it is not even that, really. The ruling class set in motion an environmental program sometime around the year 2000. But the Rockefeller group, remember, founded the Club of Rome in 1968. The aim was to plan for resource depletion and limits to growth. It had a decided eugenicist bent. They issued a report in 1991, and formed a think tank in 2001. Among the members are Al Gore, Maurice Strong, The Dalai Lama, and Robert Muller of all people. And dozens more including Henry Kissinger, Bill Gates, George Soros, and Bill Clinton. You get the idea.

The point is that the current explosion of climate awareness is brought to you, at least partly, by the captains of western capital. And it is very white and very worried about birth rates in dark skinned countries. So the question becomes, in the midst of a real crises of pollution, and a warming planet, what and who is one to believe and where is one to turn? My first response is NOT to the people who helped create the problem in the first place.

In fact, class itself is something of a verboten word. In the mainstream media, in political life, and in academia, the use of the term “class” has long been frowned upon. You make your listeners uneasy (“Is the speaker a Marxist?”). If you talk about class exploitation and class inequity, you will likely not get far in your journalism career or in political life or in academia (especially in fields like political science and economics).

So instead of working class, we hear of “working families” or “blue collar” and “white collar employees”. Instead of lower class we hear of “inner city poor” and “low-income elderly.” Instead of the capitalist owning class, we hear of the “more affluent” or the “upper quintile’.

 

— Michael Parenti, “Class Warfare Indeed”, Common Dreams, 2011

There is a new religious tenor to climate discussions. And it reflects (among other things) a reductive world view. Global issues and forces and global relations on both a macro and micro level are being simplified. The template resembles a cartoon more than anything else. ‘Our demise is immanent’ is something I have read or heard at least a dozen times. People are enjoying the coming apocalypse. If they really believed that the end is nigh, they would be behaving very differently. But for many on the left the decades of marginalization has left them emotionally raw and psychologically battered. It’s so seductive to just give in to the coming apocalypse. And additionally there is a clear pleasure to be found in taking on the role of excommunicating climate Angel — come to smite the deniers with the sword of eco-piety.

Still, there are genuine and committed ecologists and activists working on preserving nature and protecting the wild. Many are from indigenous peoples in South America, Central America, Asia and Africa. They are all but invisible in mainstream media. And increasingly they are being murdered. (See Berta Caceres). One hundred and sixty four activists were murdered last year, with thirty in the Philippines alone. Twenty-six in Colombia. None of this is front page news. Why? Why is a blond teenager now nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize (usually reserved for war criminals) meeting with Obama and the Pope while the defenders of Nature in poor countries remain nameless and anonymous? The answer is because white people care about white people. And because Western capital sees those poor countries as places to exploit, burden with debt, and de-populate. The ruling elite, including those backing the Extinction Rebellion and Green New Deal, are on the side of those who murdered Caceres. Look at big mining in the global south, enormously polluting, destructive of land and community and people. A just very cursory glance at who runs this mega mining concerns is illuminating. Who sits on the board of Newmont Goldcorp, for example. While based in Colorado, its primary mining operations are in Ghana, Suriname, and Peru. Well, one is Gregory H. Boyce, who also sits on the board of directors for Monsanto and Marathon Oil. Or Rene Meldori, former executive director for DeBeers. Or take the infamous Barrick Gold, on whose advisory board sits Newt Gingrich, former secretary of defense William Cohen, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg former German defense minister, and Brian Mulroney, former Prime Minister of Canada. But it’s better than that…here is a bit of background from Jeff St. Clair… and here is more.

Or what about Rio Tinto, where Jean-Sébastien Jacques holds an advisory position, after leaving Tata Steel (TISCO) in India. Just surf the web and read the bios. There is a deep connection with big oil, with coal, and with nearly every other massively polluting industrial enterprise around the world. Teck is another huge mining company. It is based in Canada. I suggest reading the first article on this page….

The concern over water scarcity does not breed environmental strategies for reduction, only new ways to extract and plunder during the coming scarcity. For that is the logic of all capitalism.  There is an enormous land grab going on in Africa, for example.

When the fog that fascism creates in all countries clears away, behind it one sees an all-too-familiar figure. This character is, of course, neither marvellous nor mysterious, he brings no new religion and certainly no golden age. He comes neither from the ranks of the youth nor from the mass of the petty bourgeoisie, even if he is an expert at deceiving both these groups. He is the counter-revolutionary capitalist, the born enemy of all class-conscious workers. Fascism is nothing but a modern form of the bourgeois capitalist counter-revolution wearing a popular mask.

 

— Arthur Rosenberg, Fascism as Mass Movement, 1934

And here

Those billionaire donors are not subsidizing Amazonian tribes fighting for their own survival and the survival of the rain forest. They are not subsidizing activists in the Philippines or in Africa. And they are never once mentioning the U.S. military and its role in despoiling the planet. (just look at AFRICOM, which saw an exponential growth in bases and troops under Obama). But here — two links for general perusal — and here.

(Hat tip to Jacob Levich for some of this).

The land grab is going to be enforced is the message here. These donors are investing. And alongside their investment runs the spectre of global fascism. Read these links and then consider if a state of emergency is not in the works. Of course, the bourgeoisie, the white bourgeoisie, are begging for such an emergency. The climate fear and its cultish response amid the liberal and leftish is resulting in a willingness, even a desire for, their own servitude. This is where someone is going to say, oh, conspiracy theory. But is it? Read those links. Consider the unthinking reflexive adoration of Greta and the kids. And then consider the history of capitalism, of neo-liberalism. Consider just the history over the last thirty years. Greta is not anti-capitalist. She has carefully never said capitalism is a system destroying the planet.

There is a critical pollution of land and water globally. Not just plastics, but Depleted Uranium and all the waste of military and digital technology. And from pesticides and various other industrial and agricultural chemicals. How many participants in any of the climate meetings were without brand new smart phones? I don’t believe in our extinction. I do believe life is going to change, and to mitigate the suffering that comes from that change one must reject the advice of billionaires and celebrities. Change must stop being spearheaded by WHITE privilege and the western white ruling class.

Pollution is the most urgent crises I believe. Pollution from mining of ores, and rare earth minerals (leaving pollutants such as chromium, asbestos, arsenic, and cadmium) is on a scale hard to even imagine. Or the recycling of lead-based batteries, an under the radar but massive industry that pollutes with lead oxide and sulphuric acid. Tanneries have always been an infernal and accursed industry, and pollute with chromium and soda ash, as well as large amounts of solid waste, all of which is usually contaminated with chromium. Lead smelting, which is centered in the poorest countries and which releases iron, limestone, pyrite and zinc. This is not even to touch on pesticides, or the dye industry. And then we come to the military. In particular the U.S. military. The levels of pollution are nearly Biblical in dimension and scale.

Producing more hazardous waste than the five largest U.S. chemical companies combined, the U.S. Department of Defense has left its toxic legacy throughout the world in the form of depleted uranium, oil, jet fuel, pesticides, defoliants like Agent Orange and lead, among others. In 2014, the former head of the Pentagon’s environmental program told Newsweek that her office has to contend with 39,000 contaminated areas spread across 19 million acres just in the U.S. alone. U.S. military bases, both domestic and foreign, consistently rank among some of the most polluted places in the world, as perchlorate and other components of jet and rocket fuel contaminate sources of drinking water, aquifers and soil. Hundreds of military bases can be found on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) list of Superfund sites, which qualify for clean-up grants from the government. Almost 900 of the nearly 1,200 Superfund sites in the U.S. are abandoned military facilities or sites that otherwise support military needs, not counting the military bases themselves.

 

— Whitney Webb, Eco Watch, May 2017

Contemporary capitalism is coercive at every level. The privilege of white westerners is stunningly absent from all critiques I see relating to climate change. David Attenborough has a far larger carbon footprint (to the power of ten) than a Somali sheep herder. And yet that herder is being subtly cast as a threat to global survival. The new focus on global warming (and the de-emphasizing of pollution) is the real threat to survival. For the new green capitalists the intention is to further plunder. The new corporate Green raiders want to privatize nature.

Across the world, ‘green grabbing’ – the appropriation of land and resources for environmental ends – is an emerging process of deep and growing significance. The vigorous debate on ‘land grabbing’ already highlights instances where ‘green’ credentials are called upon to justify appropriations of land for food or fuel – as where large tracts of land are acquired not just for ‘more efficient farming’ or ‘food security’, but also to ‘alleviate pressure on forests’. In other cases, however, environmental green agendas are the core drivers and goals of grabs – whether linked to biodiversity conservation, biocarbon sequestration, biofuels, ecosystem services, ecotourism or ‘offsets’ related to any and all of these. In some cases these involve the wholesale alienation of land, and in others the restructuring of rules and authority in the access, use and management of resources that may have profoundly alienating effects. Green grabbing builds on well-known histories of colonial and neo-colonial resource alienation in the name of the environment – whether for parks, forest reserves or to halt assumed destructive local practices.

 

— James Fairhead, Melissa Leach & Ian Scoones, “Green Grabbing: a new appropriation of nature?”, The Journal of Peasant Studies, 2012

 

When is a contract ‘voluntary’? The answer is, probably never.

 

— Jairus Banaji, Theory as History, March 22, 2010

There will never be environmentally friendly Capitalism. That is like creating de-hydrated water. The ruling class exists, it’s not a conspiracy theory. They operate as a class, too. They share the same values, the same sensibility and in Europe and North America they are white. They act in accordance with their interests, which are very largely identical. The failure to understand this is the single greatest problem and defect in left discourse today.

In terms of relevance to the indigenous nations often referred to as the Fourth World, the rollouts from the COP21 gathering of UN member states, Wall Street-funded NGOs, and the global financial elite resemble colonial initiatives undertaken as a result of similar 19th Century gatherings to carve up the world for capitalism. Then, as now, indigenous territories and resources were targeted for expropriation through coercion, with Africa being a prime target.

 

— Jay Taber, Heart of Darkness, SI2, 2017

 

The Global Witness report said much of the persecution of land and environmental defenders is being driven by demand for the land and raw materials needed for products that consumers utilise every day, from food to mobile phones and jewelry. Also recording a high number of environment and land-related fatalities were Colombia with 24 deaths, India with 23, and Brazil at 20. Meanwhile, in Guatemala, a boom in private and foreign investment has seen large swaths of land handed out to plantation, mining and hydropower companies, ushering in a wave of forced and violent evictions, particularly in indigenous areas, the report said. This has stirred fears of a return to the large-scale violence the country suffered 30 years ago. The report said Guatemala saw the sharpest increase in the percentage of murders with a five-fold rise. At least 16 people defending their land and the environment were killed there in 2018.

 

— Al Jazeera, 2019

In the Philippines nine farmers were murdered, likely ordered by the landowners of the sugar cane plantations. Not much has changed since colonialism. Global Witness notes that mining is the industry which has caused or ordered the most killings of indigenous activists. In Africa, in particular, mining corporations hire expensive private security firms (American, Israeli, or British) to keep the local population outside of not just the mine, but the area *around* the outside of the mine. Acacia Mining (a subsidiary of Barrick Gold) is notorious for beatings and rape, and for contamination from the massive mine at North Mara, Tanzania.

Here is a report from The Guardian‘s Jonathan Watts from this year…

The nearest general hospital in Tarime was treating five to eight cases of gunshot wounds from the mine every week from around 2010 to 2014, according to Dr Mark Nega, a former district medical officer. “I saw so many people shot and killed. Some had gunshot wounds in the back. I think they were trying to run away but they were shot from behind.” Such killings were initially played down or denied. Journalists who tried to investigate found themselves harassed by police, or believed their stories had been spiked following pressure from state authorities.

 

After pressure from activists and lawyers, Acacia acknowledged 32 “trespasser-related” fatalities between 2014 and 2017. Of these, six died in confrontations with police at the mine.

 

International watchdog groups say at least 22 were killings by guards and police during the same period. Tanzanian opposition politicians have claimed 300 people have been killed since 1999.

 

For such a high number of violations to have occurred outside a conflict zone in a business context is shocking and exceptional,” said Anneke van Woudenberg, the executive director of Raid, a UK corporate watchdog.

Class analysis is not conspiracy theory. Full stop. Class exists and is part of the hierarchical system of global capitalism. The so labeled *Climate Change* crisis — as it exists on the level of Green New Deal or Extinction Rebellion — has very little to do with protecting Nature. Global warming is a fact that humanity will have to adjust to and learn to live with. So much of the rhetoric and identifications that exist in the Greta narrative are driven by a subterranean belief in technology to fix any problem. Global warming can’t be fixed. And there are enormous difficulties for the entire global population, really. Nature and planetary life move slowly, normally. It is western narcissism that demands things happen NOW. The planet is warming and the consequences will require big change. Critical change that must take place, especially regards pesticides and contaminated land. And changes in packaging, which means in many respect changes in how we eat. The incursion of technology into nearly every waking moment of the daily life of the Westerner has conditioned a populace, one that doesn’t read, to see the acceleration of everything as natural. But it’s not. Nature doesn’t care about us. But humanity will have to care about Nature. And capitalism is not compatible with the direction those changes and care must take. Risking the direction for needed change by allowing capital investments to chart the course is a very dangerous idea.

War is always partly a war on Nature. But as I have said before, equality is the real green. The United States has erased the voice of the working class and the poor. But it is exactly those voices that have to be heard. The techno/scientific clergy are of a class, too. The bourgeois academic and researcher are stamped by their class just as much as everyone else. I think that should be remembered.

Class analysis!

 

 

[John Steppling is an original founding member of the Padua Hills Playwrights Festival, a two-time NEA recipient, Rockefeller Fellow in theatre, and PEN-West winner for playwrighting. He’s had plays produced in LA, NYC, SF, Louisville, and at universities across the US, as well in Warsaw, Lodz, Paris, London and Krakow. He has taught screenwriting and curated the cinematheque for five years at the Polish National Film School in Lodz, Poland. Plays include The Shaper, Dream Coast, Standard of the Breed, The Thrill, Wheel of Fortune, Dogmouth, and Phantom Luck, which won the 2010 LA Award for best play. Film credits include 52 Pick-up (directed by John Frankenheimer, 1985) and Animal Factory (directed by Steve Buscemi, 1999). A collection of his plays was published in 1999 by Sun & Moon Press as Sea of Cortez and Other Plays. He lives with wife Gunnhild Skrodal Steppling; they divide their time between Norway and the high desert of southern California. He is artistic director of the theatre collective Gunfighter Nation. Read other articles by John.]

SMALL IS STILL BEAUTIFUL

Resurgence

Issue 299
November/December 2016
Brave New Worlds

By Paul Kingsnorth

Paul Kingsnorth argues that ‘progressive’ green thinkers have been seduced by the EU and bypassed by a modern-day Peasants’ Revolt.

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Illustrations by Edd Baldry www.eddbaldry.co.uk

In his introduction to the 1979 edition of his novel Pig Earth – the first in a trilogy chronicling the decline of peasant life in Europe in the 20th century – John Berger makes a distinction between what he calls a “culture of progress” and a “culture of survival”. The culture of progress, he says, “was born with the bourgeoisie as an ascendant class, and has been taken over by all modern theories of revolution”. In the contemporary West, virtually every political ideologue – capitalists, communists, liberals, modern conservatives – is in this sense a progressive. They believe in constant improvement, constant change: their differences amount, says Berger, to “a fight about the content of progress”.

The culture of survival, by contrast, is the culture of the peasantry, of Indigenous people; of pre-modernity. It is the culture of the great majority of human history, and of many people still, and it is exemplified for Berger by the French peasantry among whom he still lives. A culture of survival does not have an end goal: it just is. Its purpose is to live from day to day and year to year. It is a repeating pattern. The end goal of the culture of progress, meanwhile, is at its grandest the abolition of death itself. For this goal, the destruction of traditional ways of being and seeing, and much of the world’s wild beauty, is a sacrifice worth making.

Back in 1979, the peasantry of France, and across Europe, was haemorrhaging from the land. This was no accident: it was a planned extinction, and Berger was quite clear who the agents were – the European Economic Community, as it then was. “The economic planners of the EEC”, he wrote, “envisage the systematic elimination of the peasant by the end of the century. For short-term political reasons, they do not use the word elimination but the word modernisation. Modernisation entails the disappearance of the small peasants (the majority) and the transformation of the remaining minority into totally different social and economic beings.”

Forty years on, the process of elimination (sorry, “modernisation”) in Western Europe is complete, and the EEC – now the EU – is turning its attention to Eastern Europe. The destruction of the peasantry, and the naturally diverse landscapes they inhabited and created, is now being rolled out in Romania, Poland, Hungary and other EU nations. The epic destruction created by Europe’s Common Agricultural Policy – the wiping out of hedgerows, forests and wildlife, landscape features, small and family farms, and the promotion of industrial farming and agricultural free trade – has arguably done more damage to the rural landscapes of Europe in fifty years than any other single instrument in the previous five hundred.

Back in the 1970s, when Berger was writing, most radical thinkers, including most greens, were clear about the damage being wrought by the undemocratic, bureaucratic and centralised European Economic Community. E.F. Schumacher, Leopold Kohr, Edward Goldsmith, Tony Benn and many others could be heard making a clear case against the culture of progress it represented. Unelected, created by stealth, operating in the interests of big business, the EEC had a clear aim: to diminish, if not abolish, the democratic sovereignty of European nations, and to “pool” that sovereignty in the interests of creating a giant, borderless free-trade zone. Though it was dressed up with talk of peace, equality and brotherhood, it was, as its name implied, primarily an economic edifice. Its culture of progress was a culture of homogenisation, centralisation, control and profit.

Fast forward four decades, and what is now the European Union has been highly successful in achieving this aim. From a six-nation free-trade zone, it has morphed into a 28-nation superstate with its own currency, its own government and its own laws, which apply equally to all member states regardless of their specific cultures and traditions. It has removed “barriers to trade” within its border, including local ways of living, national laws and, most controversially, the right of nation-states to control inflows of people from elsewhere. Accountability, distinctiveness and localism have been crushed beneath its weight.

“Whenever something is wrong,” wrote Leopold Kohr in his classic book The Breakdown of Nations, “something is too big.” Virtually everything in the EU is too big these days, and it shows. The impossibility of maintaining one financial model for 28 nations has required the EU to cast the people of its poorer periphery nations, from Ireland to Greece to Spain to Portugal, into debt peonage or mass unemployment in order to keep its superstate dream alive: something it has done with extreme ruthlessness. The economic crisis this has caused, combined with the cultural and social impact of its open borders policy, has led to the rise of far-right parties in many EU nations: the very thing defenders of the union say it exists to counter. Economically, culturally and politically, the giant is staggering: giants always do. Small, after all, is beautiful, right?

So you would think that when a major nation like Britain chose to leave the EU and forge its own path, there would be some celebration amongst greens. It’s true, of course, that the EU has been the progenitor of a number of beneficial environmental regulations (imposed upon nation-states, rather than created and passed into law by their own parliaments, of course). But do they make up for the damage it has done to agriculture, to cultural distinctiveness, to the wildlife and the soil, to democracy? It’s an impossible calculation to make, but whatever side you come down on there should, at the very least, surely be a good degree of healthy scepticism amongst greens about the nature and future of the European Union.

And yet, most greens – most people who consider themselves in any way radical, in fact – seem to be crying into their muesli about Brexit. Or, worse, instead of simply complaining, many who voted Remain have been launching vicious attacks on those who chose to leave the union. Idiots! Racists! Selfish old fools! If only they had known what they were talking about, if only they had been properly educated, if only they hadn’t believed the nasty right-wing newspapers, they would have seen that their future lay with a sclerotic, unaccountable bureaucracy and its friends in big business.

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It’s been astonishing to watch. With a few notable exceptions – Green Party peer Jenny Jones, for example – green and supposedly “alternative” politicians, thinkers and public figures have thrown in their lot with the EU’s domineering culture of progress: and not just tentatively, but with huge enthusiasm. The decision to leave has been treated by some of them not as an opportunity, a throwing off of shackles or even simply a change that must be accommodated, but as a national disaster.

What is going on here? The EU violates just about every green principle going. It is the opposite of local; it is destructive to the natural world; it wipes out cultural distinctiveness; it is anti-democratic; it puts the interests of banks and corporations before the interests of its working people. Why – when – how – did the green movement abandon its commitment to localism and democracy, and jump into bed with a beast like this?

One answer, I would suggest, is that the European Union has become a symbol rather than a reality. I would guess that very few people who voted to either leave the EU or remain in it know much at all about how it actually works. Rather, they voted for or against what it symbolised to them. To those in favour, the EU is a symbol of continental cooperation, cosmopolitanism, free movement of people (and money, of course), and other such wholesome things. To oppose the EU, by contrast, represents nationalism, racism, small-mindedness and a lack of a university degree: all things against which most self-described “progressives” instinctively react. In other words, this is not a rational debate about the benefits or otherwise of a political union. It is a whose-side-are-you-on? battle: and increasingly, it is split along class lines.

Class has always been the fault line running down the middle of the green movement, and with the Brexit vote it has been exposed. Those who voted to leave wanted to regain democratic control of their nation. They wanted a voice, because many of them felt perpetually ignored. The working classes and the lower middle classes – not the cultural or political elites – pulled off a kind of modern-day Peasants’ Revolt, against the advice of every section of the establishment. The greens could have been on their side, making the case for relocalising power, reclaiming national democracy, and creating environmental and social regulations that apply specifically to this island and its bioregions. That’s what localism looks like, after all.

But the case was never made. Why? Perhaps because few greens come from the social classes that have been affected negatively by the EU and its part in the globalisation project. The greens have always been a movement primarily of educated, middle-class intellectuals. Unlike either the socialist left or the conservative right, they have never had a popular movement behind them, and at times like this it shows. Have many green voters had their wages undercut by mass migration? Have many eco-intellectuals felt unheard and unloved as the global liberal project rolls onward? Or have they been in the vanguard? At a moment when all is up for grabs – when an optimistic, genuinely radical case could be made for relocalising Britain – the greens, and the left generally, look like marooned members of an elite, clinging to each other for support, and wondering what just happened. They suddenly look very… well, conservative.

This, I would also suggest, is related to another problem that the green movement suffers from. A distinctive green politics has been subsumed over the last few decades into the broader politics of the “progressive”, globalist left. Once, the greens challenged that culture of progress on both left and right, and ploughed their own, ecocentric furrow, seeking to reconnect people with Nature, the planet and their local communities, trying to forge a new political narrative and language. But all this has long gone. Today, green politics is a subset of the fringe left: promoting top-down solutions and regulations; campaigning against “austerity” in a way that suggests that growth is a solution rather than a problem; pushing for open borders regardless of the social impact on the poorest third of society, and regardless of the population growth and consequent environmental destruction it causes. Once a radical political movement, the greens now look like social democrats with solar panels.

The final answer to the puzzle comes from the change in the green relationship to the state. Once, greens were suspicious of the size and power of both states and corporations. Today, though, much of the “green left”, true to the tradition of British state socialism, seems to see the state as a defender of the people against the market. If this is how you see things, then a superstate is a superdefender. This explains how we have got to the position where much of the green left appears to view the European Union as a benevolent sugar daddy, defending Britain against both corporations and its own elected government.

What can be done about this? As Britain prepares to leave the EU, it seems an urgent question. An exciting, radical case for a rejuvenated British democracy, free from EU bureaucracy, is there for the taking. If we are no longer subject to the dictates of the Common Agriculture Policy or the Common Fisheries Policy, for example, surely it is possible to at least propose a much more sustainable ways of managing the land and seas. The greens should be right in at the heart of this debate. But they are not. And until they start to understand why people voted to reject the EU, their message is likely to go unheard.

Something genuinely radical has just happened in Britain. A potential crack has opened in the culture of progress, and it has been opened not by intellectuals, ideologues or political philosophers, but by 17.4 million ordinary people. “Progressives” like to claim to speak on behalf of the “grass roots”: now they have seen what the grass roots looks like. If ever there were a moment that was ripe for the seizing, this is it. It could go in any direction now. What will the greens do?

 

[Paul Kingsnorth is a writer, former deputy editor of the Ecologist, and a co-founder of The Dark Mountain Project. His new novel, Beast, was published in July this year. He lives in Ireland. www.dark-mountain.net]

Further Reading:

June 27, 2016: So This is Brexit and What Have We Done

July 3, 2016:The Grief of the Elites [Excerpt: “The middle class left, which dominates Britain’s cultural conversation and assumes its right to guide it, is full of rage. This excellent piece dissects it, suggesting that ‘the disconnect between the majority of the voting public and the liberal left is vast, full of snobbery and is only growing.’ It seems that way from here. Who are these stupid, ageing, white, working-class idiots who have just destroyed our children’s’ glorious future, they demand? It’s a rhetorical question. They don’t seem interested in speaking to anyone who voted to leave. It is much easier to caricature them as racist bigots who need to get with the progressive future.”]

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