Archive for category: REVOLUTION
The myth of U.S. democracy is on the verge of shattering.
In the region where cotton was king and prisons have succeeded the throne, this myth’s falseness is particularly evident in the U.S. South, the epicenter of the nation’s plantation and chattel slavery economy where the majority of Black/African-descended people still exist today. This region is also the land where Jim Crow law/segregation law once ruled and whose specter determines how resources are still allocated today. It’s also the region in which workers are least unionized and often hyper-exploited, with community members disproportionately subject to state violence such as incarceration or deportation.
Given these deathly conditions, the seats of power in our region are filled by those who benefit from these systems and uphold them, oppressing Southerners both historically and presently. In response, Southern freedom fighters have been fighting to build a grassroots democracy that is directly informed by the needs of our region, beginning at the local level. In so many ways, the efforts of Southern freedom fighters are an extension of freedom fighters in the Global South who share experiences of exploitation in the workplace, state violence and increased rates of incarceration, and have led organizing fights that inform strategies in the U.S. South. Formations like the Southern Movement Assembly are uniting U.S. Southern grassroots organizations with comrades across the Global South, particularly Central and South America, to develop a people’s democracy across colonial borders.
The Highlander Research and Education Center, where I work, is a Southern movement school, building democratic participation in the U.S. South and Appalachia through grassroots organizing, leadership development, and movement building. Highlander, which was established 90 years ago, has helped fuel the Southern fight for liberation against white supremacist capitalism.
Highlander supported the integration of labor unions in the 1930s and 40s, was a meeting place for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in the 1950s and held trainings for civil rights activists during the sit-ins of the 1960s, and Highlander’s Education Director Septima Clark initiated the Citizenship Schools that expanded access to voting rights for Black people.
Although Highlander may be best known as the place where Rosa Parks trained before the Montgomery Bus Boycotts and where Martin Luther King, Jr. attended workshops that contributed to being red-baited as part of the FBI’s COINTELPRO program, we know that many of the same issues these freedom fighters battled continue to face our communities today.
My work as Highlander’s electoral justice researcher and educator seeks to build capacity for today’s Southern freedom fighters and their communities to govern themselves as we move toward building a truly democratic world beyond capitalism and white supremacy.
This work goes beyond maximizing participation in the U.S. electoral system. This work seeks to build Southern communities’ capacity to collectively define their problems, learn and understand current power structures as they exist, and develop collective solutions based on the experiences and abilities of each community member.
There is strategic value in engaging elections, but strategies for grassroots democracy must extend far beyond Election Day. While we understand that participating in this U.S. electoral system is presently inevitable, we also understand it is equally, if not more, vital to build parallel systems that are truly democratic and accountable to every community member.
Southern freedom fighters have been fighting to build a grassroots democracy that is directly informed by the needs of our region, beginning at the local level.
This work is reflected when we see People’s Movement Assemblies being utilized to build political power in cities such as Nashville, Tennessee; Jackson, Mississippi; Lexington, Kentucky; and so many more Southern cities.
People’s Movement Assemblies are grassroots, democratic gatherings inspired by the World Social Forum in 2003, where collective decision-making spaces facilitated action plans that sparked international protests, leading to the Global Day of Action that year with millions of people worldwide taking to the streets to speak out against the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq. These assemblies are used by communities to collectively assess their problems, determine their strategies, assess who has the power to materially change their conditions, and create grassroots solutions to bring their vision for a life-affirming world into reality. The Southern Movement Assembly, a regional formation that has been seeking to build grassroots democratic power across the South for 10 years with Southern freedom fighters and their communities, is inviting Southern community organizations to utilize People’s Movement Assemblies in their work throughout Summer 2022 to build collective power, community governance and action plans for organizing throughout the Global South.
In the midst of the 2022 U.S. midterm elections for gubernatorial and legislative seats, Highlander has developed the People Practicing Power workshop intervention. During this workshop series, organizers and their community members are learning methods for self-protection during Election Day from racialized, fascist terrorism; the process for developing a policy demand into a law; and creating or joining efforts to build democratic institutions rooted in solidarity economy principles.
“Solidarity economy” is an umbrella term for institutions and practices that are grounded in mutualism, cooperation, democracy, pluralism and building a world beyond racial capitalism.
Examples of this include worker-owned cooperatives, time banks, participatory budgeting and community land trusts that place decision-making power and ownership directly in the hands of workers and communities that have been historically stripped of agency under white supremacist capitalism.
The U.S. South is often seen by those outside the region as a right-wing stronghold and a recipient of charity. Our practice of rooting our work in the creation of solidarity economies acknowledges Southerners’ long history of not only surviving under white supremacist capitalism, but leading the charge to develop people-centered democracies and economies within the U.S.
We invite anyone who is interested to plug into the workshops Highlander offers around solidarity economies, join us at our annual Homecoming event September 30-October 2, 2022, where we will celebrate 90 years of Southern movement building, and follow Highlander online for updates on upcoming workshops and learning spaces where Southern freedom fighters will build strong relationships and learn with each other to build a true democracy rooted in community governance throughout the U.S. South.
The U.S. empire is crumbling due to the destruction created by capitalism. As this empire takes its last breaths, it doubles down on its centuries-old fascist violence domestically and abroad. From the ashes of this empire’s burning, people are using tools of community governance and solidarity economies to build a world beyond colonialism, white supremacy, patriarchy and capitalism. There is a new world coming, we’re building it together, and the time is here to usher it in.
Kohei Saito’s book Capital in the Anthropocene has become an unlikely hit among young people and is about to be translated into English
The climate crisis will spiral out of control unless the world applies “emergency brakes” to capitalism and devises a “new way of living”, according to a Japanese academic whose book on Marxism and the environment has become a surprise bestseller.
The message from Kohei Saito, an associate professor at Tokyo University, is simple: capitalism’s demand for unlimited profits is destroying the planet and only “degrowth” can repair the damage by slowing down social production and sharing wealth.
Jackson, Mississippi is currently suffering through an unprecedented water crisis. After decades of systematic and intentional neglect due to environmental racism, capital flight and deindustrialization, the city’s water system has collapsed. . . .
In an Atlanta forest slated for development, an activist movement has built a community — and they’re vowing to defend it by any means necessary
By Jack Crosbie, September 3, 2022
Whatever the excavator driver had in mind for his morning, it’s pretty clear it wasn’t this. It’s not yet 8 a.m. on a Saturday in late July, and he’s dodging rocks and full cans of rosemary-grapefruit seltzer being flung from 20 yards away, and screaming at the impassive DeKalb County cop next to him to intervene. “Pull your gun out!” he yells in desperation. “Pull your gun out!”
The driver is here in Atlanta’s South River Forest on behalf of Ryan Millsap, a real-estate tycoon who’s been granted permission to bulldoze a huge swath of trees and put up a soundstage for the city’s booming film industry — “Hollywood Dystopia,” as the band of masked protesters hurling projectiles have taken to calling it. Millsap’s plans cover 40 acres of parkland on the eastern bank of Intrenchment Creek, which roughly divides a 300-acre pocket of this forest that has become a battleground. On the western side of the creek, the nonprofit Atlanta Police Foundation has laid claim to 85 acres of woods, which the Atlanta City Council voted last September to flatten in order to build a $90 million police- and fire-training complex that’s come to be known as “Cop City.”
What the city didn’t expect was that the land would become home to a band of environmentalists and anarchists, loosely united under the banner Defend the Atlanta Forest, who are combating those plans at every turn. The “decentralized autonomous movement,” as they call themselves, consists of hundreds of local and out-of-state activists, several dozen of whom live full time in these woods, in a ramshackle network of tents and treehouses erected dozens of feet off the forest floor. By day, the group hosts meals procured through donated food and prepared via collective action, as well as teach-ins on resistance tactics and philosophies, skill shares, guided hikes, and other community events. By night, on the weekends, the scene often shifts to musical performances featuring local bands and DJs — a distinctly Atlanta mix of trap, hardcore, and electronica — plus a bar and substances of every sort, a chance to mosh for freedom and dance in defiance.
A new edition of Rosa Luxemburg’s writings, most of which have never appeared in English before, gives us a unique perspective on her thought. Luxemburg believed that a socialist revolution would have to be democratic or else it would be doomed to failure.
Polish Marxist philosopher Rosa Luxemburg. (Fine Art Images / Heritage Images / Getty Images)
Generations of socialist thinkers and activists have grappled with the life and thought of Rosa Luxemburg. Yet there are many surprises still in store for those interested in her legacy, as seen in the recent publication of Volume Four of the English-language Complete Works. Along with the previously published Volume Three, the new collection brings together her writings on the 1905 Russian Revolution, one of the most important social upheavals of modern times.
Luxemburg’s analysis of 1905 in her pamphlet The Mass Strike, the Political Party, and the Trade Unions is already well known (and appears in Volume Four in a new translation). However, more than four-fifths of the material in the new volume, covering the period from 1906 to 1909, is appearing in English for the first time. Most of her writings that were originally composed in Polish — about half of the volume’s 550 pages — have never appeared in any other language.
Learning to Speak Russian
Luxemburg, like most Marxists of her generation (as well as Karl Marx himself) held that a democratic republic with universal suffrage was the formation best suited for waging the class struggle to a successful conclusion. Like many of her contemporaries in the Second International, she saw no contradiction between fighting for democratic reforms within capitalism while reaching for a revolutionary transformation that would abolish capitalism — even as she relentlessly battled those who separated the two.
Rosa Luxemburg distinguished between forms of struggle employed in ‘peaceful’ as against those used in revolutionary periods.
In doing so, Luxemburg distinguished between forms of struggle employed in “peaceful” as against those used in revolutionary periods. The aim in both scenarios was to enhance the consciousness and power of the working class. However, “in peacetime, this struggle takes place within the framework of the rule of the bourgeoisie,” which required that the movement operate “within the bounds of the existing laws governing elections, assemblies, the press,” trade unions, etc.
Luxemburg referred to this as “a sort of iron cage in which the class struggle of the proletariat must take place.” Hence, mass struggles in such periods “only very seldom attain positive results.” A revolutionary phase was very different, she argued:
Times of revolution rend the cage of “legality” open like pent-up steam splitting its kettle, letting class struggle break out into the open, naked and unencumbered . . . the consciousness and political power [of the proletariat] emerge during revolution without having been warped by, tied down to, and overpowered by the “laws” of bourgeois society.
For Luxemburg, the activity and reason of the masses during the 1905 Revolution, in which millions engaged in mass strikes aimed at bringing down the tsarist regime, was a clear example of such a moment. As she wrote in early 1906: “With the Russian Revolution, the almost-sixty-year period of quiet parliamentary rule of the bourgeoisie comes to a close.” The time had come for the socialist movement in Western Europe to begin to “speak Russian” by incorporating the mass strike into its political and organizational perspectives:
Social Democratic tactics, as employed by the working class in Germany today and to which we owe our victories up until now, is oriented primarily toward parliamentary struggle, it is designed for the context of bourgeois parliamentarianism. Russian Social Democracy is the first to whom the hard but honorable lot has fallen of using the foundations of Marx’s teaching, not in a time of the correct, calm parliamentary course of state life, but in a tumultuous revolutionary period.
In the years since Luxemburg penned these words, numerous commentators have praised her efforts to push the rather staid social democratic parties in a more revolutionary direction, while others have criticized Luxemburg’s perspective on the grounds that it downplays the stark differences between the absolutist regime in Russia and Western liberal democracies. There are several points worth noting in this context.
Luxemburg held that the immediate task in the Russian Empire was the formation of a democratic republic under the control of the working class.
Firstly, Luxemburg held that the mass strike “is and will remain a powerful weapon of workers’ struggle,” but went on to stress that it was “only that, a weapon, whose use and effectiveness always depend on the environment, the given conditions, and the moment of struggle.” Secondly, she held that the Russian proletariat was “not setting itself utopian or unreachable goals, like the immediate realization of socialism: the only possible and historically necessary goal is to establish a democratic republic and an eight-hour workday.”
In Luxemburg’s view, socialism could not be on the immediate agenda in Russia for two main reasons: the working class at the time constituted only a small minority of the populace of the Russian Empire (less than 15 percent), and it was impossible for socialism to exist in a single country:
The socialist revolution can only be a result of international revolution, and the results that the proletariat in Russia will be able to achieve in the current revolution will depend, to say nothing of the level of social development in Russia, on the level and form of development that class relations and proletarian operations in other capitalist countries will have achieved by that time.
In a lengthy essay addressed to the Polish workers’ movement, she further developed this point:
In its current state, the working class is not yet ready to accomplish the great tasks that await it. The working class of all capitalist countries must first internalize the aspiration to socialism; an enormous number of people have yet to arrive at an awareness of their class interests. . . . When Social Democracy has a majority of the working people behind it in all the largest capitalist countries, the final hour of capitalism will have struck.
A Workers’ Revolution
However, this did not mean that the Russian Revolution would be confined to a liberal or bourgeois framework. Much like Vladimir Lenin’s Bolshevik current — and in direct opposition to their Menshevik rivals — Luxemburg held that the immediate task facing revolutionaries in the Russian Empire was the formation of a democratic republic under the control of the working class. Since the liberal bourgeoise was too weak and compromised to lead the revolution, “the proletariat had to become the only fighter and defender of the democratic forms of a bourgeois state.”
Luxemburg consistently upheld the need for majority support from the exploited masses in achieving any transition to socialism.
She stressed that conditions in Russia today were not like those existing in nineteenth-century France:
The Russian proletariat fights first for bourgeois freedom, for universal suffrage, the republic, the law of associations, freedom of the press, etc., but it does not fight with the illusions that filled the [French] proletariat of 1848. It fights for [such] liberties in order to instrumentalize them as a weapon against the bourgeoisie.
She further expanded on this point elsewhere:
The bourgeois revolution in Russia and Poland is not the work of the bourgeoisie, as in Germany and France in days gone by, but the working class, and a class already highly conscious of its labor interests at that — a working class that seeks political freedoms not so that the bourgeoisie may benefit, but just the opposite, so that the working class may resolve its class struggle with the bourgeoisie and thereby hasten the victory of socialism. That is why the current revolution is simultaneously a workers’ revolution. That is also why, in this revolution, the battle against absolutism goes hand in hand — must go hand in hand — with the battle against capital, with exploitation. And why economic strikes are in fact quite nearly inseparable in this revolution from political strikes.
Luxemburg consistently upheld the need for majority support from the exploited masses in achieving any transition to socialism, including those pertaining to freedom struggles in the technologically developed capitalist lands. As she later wrote in December 1918, on behalf of the group she led during the German Revolution: “The Spartacus League will never take over governmental power except in response to the clear, unambiguous will of the great majority of the proletarian mass of all of Germany, never except by the proletariat’s conscious affirmation of the views, aims, and methods of struggle of the Spartacus League.”
One Step Forward
Luxemburg’s perspective on the 1905 Russian Revolution raises a host of questions, which relate to the problems faced by revolutionary regimes in the non-Western world in the decades following her death. How can the working class maintain power in a democratic republic after the overthrow of the old regime if it represents only a minority of the populace? How can it do so if, as she claims, “Social Democracy finds only the autonomous class politics of the proletariat to be reliable” — since the hunger of the peasants for landed private property presumably puts them at odds with it? And how is it possible for such a democratic republic under the control of the proletariat to be sustained if revolutions do not occur in other countries that can come to its aid?
Luxemburg’s perspective raises a host of questions which relate to the problems faced by revolutionary regimes in the non-Western world following her death.
Luxemburg addressed these questions in a remarkable essay written in Polish in 1908, “Lessons of the Three Dumas,” which has never previously appeared in English. By 1908, the situation in Russia had radically changed since the revolution was by then defeated. She surveyed the course of its development, encouraging Marxists to “redouble their commitment to subjecting every detail of their tactics to rigorous self-criticism.” She did so by evaluating the history of the three Dumas — the parliamentary bodies established in the Russian Empire from 1906 as a concession to the revolution, with a restricted franchise that became progressively more biased in favor of the upper classes:
The Third Duma has shown — and from this flow its enormous political significance — that a parliamentary system that has not first overthrown the government, that has not achieved political power through revolution, not only cannot defeat the old power (a belief the First Duma vainly held), not only cannot hold its own against that power as an instrument of opposition (as the Second Duma tried to do), but can and must become, on the contrary, an instrument of the counterrevolution.
She proceeded to look ahead in thinking about the possible fate of a future revolution that, unlike the one in 1905, did succeed in overthrowing the old regime:
If the revolutionary proletariat in Russia were to gain political power, however temporarily, that would provide enormous encouragement to the international class struggle. That is why the working class in Poland and in Russia can and must strive to seize power with full consciousness. Because once workers have power, they can not only carry out the tasks of the current revolution directly — realizing political freedom across the Russian state — but also establish the eight-hour workday, upend agrarian relations, and in a word, materialize every aspect of their program, delivering the heaviest blows they can to bourgeois rule and in this way hastening its international overthrow.
Yet the question remained: How could the workers maintain themselves in power in a democratic republic over the long haul if they constituted a minority of the populace? Luxemburg’s answer was that they could not — and yet the effort would still be worth it:
The revolution’s bourgeois character finds expression in the inability of the proletariat to stay in power, in the inevitable removal of the proletariat from power by a counterrevolutionary operation of the bourgeoisie, the rural landowners, the petty bourgeoisie, and the greater part of the peasantry. It may be that in the end, after the proletariat is overthrown, the republic will disappear and be followed by the long rule of a highly restrained constitutional monarchy. It may very well be. But the relations of classes in Russia are now such that the path to even a moderate monarchical constitution leads through revolutionary action and the dictatorship of a republican proletariat.
Shortly before writing this, in an address to a Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party, she made the following remarks:
I find that it is a poor leader and a pitiful army that only goes into battle when victory is already in the bag. To the contrary, not only do I not mean to promise the Russian proletariat a sequence of certain victories; I think, rather, that if the working class, being faithful to its historical duty, continues to grow and execute its tactics of struggle consistent with the unfolding contradictions and the ever-broader horizons of the revolution, then it could wind up in quite complicated and difficult circumstances. . . . But I think that the Russian proletariat must have the courage and resolve to face everything prepared for it by historical developments, that it should, if it has to, even at the cost of sacrifices, play the role of the vanguard in this revolution in relation to the global army of the proletariat, the vanguard that discloses new contradictions, new tasks, and new paths for class struggle, as the French proletariat did in the nineteenth century.
She did not shy away from acknowledging the implications of this argument:
Revolution in this conception would bring the proletariat losses as well as victories. Yet by no other road can the entire international proletariat march to its final victory. We must propose the socialist revolution not as a sudden leap, finished in twenty-four hours, but as a historical period, perhaps long, of turbulent class struggle, with breaks both brief and extended.
This was a remarkable expression of revolutionary realism. Luxemburg was fully aware that even a democratic republic under the control of the working class — which is how she as well as Marx understood “the dictatorship of the proletariat” — was bound to be forced from power in the absence of an international revolution, especially in a country where the working class constituted a minority. And yet, even though the revolution would therefore have “failed” from at least one point of view, it would have produced important social transformations, providing the intellectual sediment from which a future uprooting of capitalism could arise.
Luxemburg did not think that it made sense to sacrifice democracy for the sake of staying in power.
In short, Luxemburg did not think that it made sense to sacrifice democracy for the sake of staying in power, since the political form required to achieve the transition to socialism was “thoroughgoing democracy.” If a nondemocratic regime stayed in power, the transition to socialism would become impossible, since the working class would be left without the means and training to exercise power on its own behalf. Yet on the other hand, if a proletarian democracy existed even for a brief period of time, it could help inspire a later transition to socialism.
This argument speaks to what would unfold a decade later, when tsarism was finally overthrown in the February 1917 Revolution, followed in short order by the Bolshevik seizure of power in October of the same year. Lenin and the Bolsheviks were fully aware at the time that the material conditions did not permit the immediate creation of a socialist society, even as they proclaimed the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat. This was why Lenin worked so hard to foster proletarian revolutions in Western Europe.
However, two fundamental issues separated Lenin’s approach from that of Luxemburg. Firstly, his regime did not take the form of a democratic republic, as seen in its suppression of political liberties — a development that Luxemburg sharply opposed in her 1918 critique of the Russian Revolution. Secondly, Lenin held that once the Bolsheviks seized power, they intended to keep it — permanently. This was very different from Luxemburg’s statement that “the inability of the proletariat to stay in power” would not be the worst outcome, so long as the vision of liberation projected to the world through its creation of a democratic society based on the rule of the working class inspired others to take up the fight against capitalism.
Luxemburg was fully aware that the bourgeoisie would always resort to violent suppression in the aftermath of a defeated revolution.
Luxemburg’s position is especially striking because she was fully aware that the bourgeoisie would always resort to violent suppression in the aftermath of a defeated revolution. Indeed, she lost her own life following the defeat of the January 1919 Spartacus League uprising in Berlin, which she initially opposed on the grounds that it lacked sufficient mass support. However, Luxemburg was equally aware that any effort to forge a transition to socialism through nondemocratic means was doomed to fail. In this sense, she anticipated the tragic outcome of many revolutions in the decades following her death.
Whatever one makes of Luxemburg’s reflection on these issues, one thing is clear: she developed a distinctive, though rarely discussed, conception of the transition to socialism (especially for developing societies, which is what the Russian Empire was at the time) that has received far too little attention. The publication of these writings in English will hopefully remedy that neglect.
Although many of Luxemburg’s ideas speak to issues that democratic socialists, anti-imperialists, and feminists are grappling with today, on at least one critical issue, her perspective has not stood the test of time. It is to be found in her oft-repeated insistence: “When the sale of workers’ labor to private exploiters is abolished, the source of all today’s social inequalities will disappear.”
Luxemburg’s contention that the abolition of private ownership of the means of production would provide the basis for ending “every inequality in human society” was not hers alone. Virtually every tendency and theorist of revolutionary social democracy in the Second International shared it, including Lenin, Karl Kautsky, Leon Trotsky, and many others. Yet it is hardly possible to maintain this view today.
Neither the social democratic welfare states, which sought to limit private property rights, nor the regimes in the USSR, China, and elsewhere in the developing world, which abolished them through the nationalization of property, succeeded in developing a viable alternative to the capitalist mode of production. A much deeper social transformation that targets not alone private property and “free” markets but most of all the alienated form of human relations that define capitalist modernity is clearly needed.
That is a task for our generation, which can be much aided by returning with new eyes to the humanist implications of Marx’s critique of the logic of capital. This entails a critical reevaluation of the meaning of socialism that may not have been on the agenda in Luxemburg’s time, but which the overall spirit of her work surely encourages. As she wrote in 1906:
Self-examination — that is, making oneself aware at every step of the direction, logic, and basis for the class movement itself — is that store from which the working mass draws its strength, again and again, to struggle anew, and by which it understands its own hesitation and defeats as so many proofs of its strength and inevitable future victory.
Hans Baer reviews Matthew Huber’s book Climate Change as Class War and recommends that ecosocialists, ecoanarchists and degrowth proponents alike should grapple with it, as it takes the notion of class struggle seriously.
By Clara Vondrich
As the world gasped in wonder at the first images of our infant universe from the James Webb Space Telescope last month, we were reminded that human beings are still capable of acts that elevate us all and advance our collective potential.
“[When] my grandchildren … look up at a star, point to it and say ‘there’s life!’ — that’s going to be a moment more profound than the Copernican moment that took Earth out of the center of the universe. It’s going to put an end to cosmic loneliness,” said project team member Natalie Batalha, a planet hunter and astronomer at UC Santa Cruz.
But back on Earth, anti-science rhetoric and special interests have pushed us to the edge of climate chaos. Unless we act fast, Batalha’s grandkids may actually point to the star, exclaim “there’s life!”, pack their bags, and hop in the nearest space-Uber.
The biggest threat to climate action today is not the industry-funded deniers and skeptics left over from the 1990s. It’s the elite business and political leaders who advance incremental solutions to the most radical issue of our time. They say we can’t move too quickly lest we disrupt the economic order and throw society into a tailspin. Only a gradual phaseout of fossil fuels is realistic. And anyone who says otherwise is idealistic or naive.
Yet, it must be said now and moving forward: These power brokers are advancing solutions that will assure our mutual destruction. Gradual, incremental action may have worked decades ago, but now it guarantees our passage into a hell realm of runaway climate change. Countries must phase out fossil fuels fast or pay the price. Instead, they are using Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to justify a huge new build-out of fossil plants, pipelines, and export terminals that could operate for 50 years or more.
After decades of limited progress on climate legislation, the U.S. Congress is poised to pass the first meaningful climate bill in a generation. True to the incrementalist mindset, however, the bill contains giveaways to the fossil fuel industry and even trades clean energy incentives for expedited regulatory approval for pipelines. Things are not looking good.
But what if our linear march towards doom is not baked in? What if we can leapfrog time and space? What if “reality” is anything but?
Radical Change Requires Radical Thinking
Cue quantum social change. This [r]evolutionary new academic discipline pioneered by former Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change social scientist Karen O’Brien, PhD, panpsychologist Zhiwa Woodbury, science journalist Lynn McTaggart, and others, suggests that the mind-bending principles that describe the subatomic world are also relevant to our daily lives. Just as quantum physics disrupted our view of matter and energy, smashing the Newtonian paradigm of a fixed physical reality with predictable patterns of cause and effect, quantum social change disrupts our beliefs about what’s possible, how fast, and by whom.
To be sure, some might say that resorting to concepts from quantum physics is at best pseudoscience, at worst a form of magical thinking — albeit an understandable temptation in such desperate times. But this criticism misses the point. Quantum social activism invites us to think differently about familiar dilemmas, and see what new possibilities may open as a result. To paraphrase a truism attributed to Albert Einstein: We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them. Quantum principles help us escape our mental ruts.
Entanglement. Complementarity. Non-locality. Potentiality. Indeterminacy. If harnessed by the climate movement, such concepts could open a portal to a clean energy transformation fast enough to stop us from crossing tipping points of no return. Even the merest mention of these mysterious-sounding terms is enough to send a thrill of possibility down the spine. But what do they mean and how can we apply them in three-dimensional reality?
“The biggest threat to climate action today is not the industry-funded deniers and skeptics left over from the 1990s. It’s the elite business and political leaders who advance incremental solutions to the most radical issue of our time.”
Entanglement in the quantum world means that particles are interconnected and never act alone. Even at great distances, a shift in one particle is instantaneously mirrored by the other. Einstein called these non-local effects “spooky action at a distance” because he could not explain them through classical cause and effect.
Every mass shooting reminds us how destructive and deadly social disconnection can be. Meanwhile, unhinged individualism and ego are behind the evisceration of human rights, rise of autocracy, and destruction of Indigenous cultures and the natural world. In contrast, community and connection are proven to insulate us from stress, give our lives meaning and allow us to be part of something “bigger.” The more entangled we are, the better we seem to do.
As a climate activist and former head of fossil fuel divestment non-profit Divest Invest, I have seen the power of entanglement firsthand. The movement to push investors to pull their money out of coal, oil, and gas started on a handful of American college campuses in 2012. Ten years later, 1,500 institutions with assets exceeding $40 trillion have divested, reinvesting in clean energy in many cases.
Divest-invest wasn’t a top-down movement. Once the idea was planted, campaigns popped up simultaneously all over the world. Diverse campaigners shared learnings and tactics online and at summits, far-flung groups adopted common talking points and financial arguments, and, ultimately, a distributed, self-organized collective moved a mountain.
The lesson is clear: As more and more like-minded change agents become entangled, momentum builds and the door opens to non-linear change. Systems theorist Mark Skelding explains this phenomenon by positing that we inhabit a “psychosphere” through which all sentience is entangled.
Non-locality is related to the idea of entanglement: What we do can have far-flung unseen and unexpected consequences. Technology is the great enabler of non-locality today, with the internet and countless apps allowing campaigners to organize global shows of solidarity at warp speed.
Complementarity is another quantum concept of great relevance to the climate movement. It holds that subatomic objects embody different forms, shape-shifting in a sense, depending on who is observing them, how, and when. The classic example is the famed double-slit experiment, which proved that light and matter each behave as both a particle and a wave.
“In a chaotic world, the right catalyst can create unpredictable impacts. Quantum leaps, non-linear change, true transformation — these are possible when people and movements embrace potentiality and the hope it can bring.”
On the human plane, it’s clear that we each exist as individual “particles,” or as Woodbury posits, “cells in the meta-organism that is Gaia.” But while Western thinking is still limited by a dualistic worldview (us v. them, hers v. mine), Indigenous cultures, the cycles of the natural world (moon phases, ocean tides), and fractals all attest to the wave-like dimension of reality — an uninterrupted flow of untold power. In truth, therefore, all of reality has a particle dimension and a wave dimension.
What are the implications if you, too, are both a particle and a wave? It means that we all have agency to join in and help power social movements. Just consider the wave of millions of youth globally who marched for climate justice in September 2019. They came together not because of some orchestration from on high, but because of their unified consciousness and concern around an issue with existential implications for their own generation. Where complementarity is nurtured — believed in — “I” becomes “we” and our limited capacity for change grows exponentially.
In these times, a radical evolution of our thinking about climate change and its desperate trajectory is required. Words like “radical” and “transformative” make energy incrementalists squirm but they need to wake up and smell our forests burning. It’s no secret that the world is neither on a path to rein in global temperature rise to 2 degree Celsius, much less the 1.5 degrees pledged in the Paris Climate Agreement. Indeed, the Paris targets themselves are beginning to look tragically inadequate, as new analysis catalogs the global human toll of climate-related extreme weather events at even current levels of warming. Nevertheless, complementarity reminds us that some aspects of the climate crisis are not “either, or” but rather “both, and.” For example, the invasion of Ukraine has prompted Europe and the United States to expand fossil fuel infrastructure to meet current energy needs. On the other hand, Europe also plans to radically cut gas consumption in a way that would have been unthinkable a year ago.
As applied to social change, however, quantum potentiality is the crown jewel. It is very different from classical probability, which tells us that the chance of preserving a safe future is virtually nil. As the grandfather of climate science, James Hansen, has said: The dice are loaded against us. Yet potentiality allows us to transcend probability to a boundless realm where quantum leaps are possible.
A vendor in Tunisia sets himself ablaze, and the Arab Spring rises up. A lonely young girl sits down outside the Swedish Parliament with a “Fridays for Future” placard, and the whole world responds. In a chaotic world, the right catalyst can create unpredictable impacts. Quantum leaps, non-linear change, true transformation — these are possible when people and movements embrace potentiality and the hope it can bring.
And all of this is supported by the final quantum concept at hand, indeterminacy. It is just what it sounds like: Nothing is fixed, nothing is predictable. A higher order can quite suddenly emerge from apparent chaos. A radical shift from our current trajectory is still possible. Amen.
Taking these concepts to heart can help all of us who fight for a better world. The news on almost all fronts is bleak, and resignation can seem like a reasonable option. O’Brien stresses that “beliefs matter.” If we believe that we can help speed transformative social change in time, we will act with much more energy, agency, and urgency. Staying in dulled paralysis will get us nowhere.
Quantum social change gives us a mental frame for re-activating our potential to solve the climate crisis. These concepts give each of us agency to transcend limiting beliefs, swap out isolation with community, lack with abundance, fear with love. Quantum social change is the ultimate rebuttal to energy realists and their incremental path to climate breakdown. This is not naive. It’s urgently necessary.
Perhaps getting to this crisis point was essential for us to wake up to the infinite possibilities of a quantum paradigm, to our unstoppable power as individuals and as the collective. While the James Webb Space Telescope promises to “end cosmic loneliness,” it might be wise to start with ending earthly loneliness.
Remember you are enmeshed in something larger, something vital — you are both a particle and a wave. Start rising.
Clara Vondrich is an attorney with a background in neuroscience. She was the inaugural director of the fossil fuel divestment and renewable energy investment start-up, Divest Invest, and is a current Public Voices fellow with the OpEd Project, in partnership with the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.
The post Reality Is Not What It Seems. And That Might Just Save the Climate. appeared first on DeSmog.
On climate crisis, the far right and political economy
By John de Plume
Exploring the socio-political consequences that are today being forced by the emerging conditions of the climate crisis, this article raises the alarm for anti-fascists, environmentalists and anti-capitalists. It addresses mechanisms by which a deathly authoritarian trend might assert itself across the geopolitical stage and finally devastate our environment.
Ecofascism and Geopolitics
Environmental collapse haunts the world today. What does this mean for the critique of political economy? In The Rise of Ecofascism, 2022, Sam Moore and Alex Robert deliver a comprehensive analysis of contemporary fascism and the far right response to climate crises. At stake is the capacity for fascist and far right actors to successfully weaponise a pseudo-environmentalism to further their socio-political ambitions.
Moore and Roberts address, for example, the ecofascism driving the shooters of the 2019 massacres in Christchurch and El Paso. Here, fascist ideology equates a white supremacist racial purity with a perception of the purity of the natural world. It equates climate change with demographic change within its chosen nation. It lionises notions of environmental and racial purity, perceiving each to be threatened at once by immigration and the racial, social and political other. It is an ideology that concludes, as Moore and Roberts observe, that ‘the only possible response is cleansing violence’ (p93). In March this year the ecofascist barbarism continued with another massacre in Buffalo, New York. But is this an ideology isolated only within the terroristic political fringe, or has is permeated the political stage more broadly?
The Rise of Ecofascism addresses urgent issues for antifascists and environmentalists alike. In doing so, it raises geopolitical questions that are essential to understanding the character of socio-political power today at a time in which capitalist accumulation coexists with worsening climate crises. Considering that the climate crisis is of course caused by industrial extractivism and pollution, and knowing that the climate crisis has itself fuelled fascist opportunism, then an emancipatory politics today is, necessarily, best grounded in understanding the climate crisis within the critique of capitalism as a totalising social whole.
With this in mind, I suggest that the most important aspect of The Rise of Ecofascism is in its observation of the emerging interconnections between fascism, the far right, and – most novel to the zeitgeist – the centre right. ‘It is essential to keep in sight the contiguity between the terroristic parts of the far right and the other parts’, write Moore and Roberts, for ‘[w]e have already seen how the ideas of both the Christchurch and the El Paso shooters were not out of keeping with wider far right overpopulation or anti-immigration discourse’ (p99-100). Indeed, we need look no further than Tory deportation schemes or Trumpist border regimes to see just how far such discourses and proto-fascist notions of national purity have successfully pervaded the contemporary political stage. Meanwhile, ‘[t]he radical fringe [is] blamed for the excesses of the movement and make the moderate wing’s radicalism seem comparatively mild’ (p98), just as Moore and Roberts observe.
Soon, so the saying goes, all politics will be climate politics. With the ideological ambitions, if not the terroristic methods, of the political centre and the fascist fringe already overlapping as far as they do today, an anti-fascism or an environmentalism that would focus only on the horrific violence of the fringe would indeed miss the slow moving but mass scale violence and planetary destruction enacted through the right wing capture of centrist political apparatuses. The breakdown of the distance between the far right and the centre is indeed the peculiar characteristic and the particular danger of our present moment. Seeking an overtly reactionary social vision in the name of a nationalist, patriarchial and pro-business ideology, a coherent far right populism is becoming evermore successful in the US, with ideological echoes resounding everywhere from Putin’s Russia, Erdoğan’s Turkey, Bosonaro’s Brazil and the far right power grabs that we are seeing in Europe.
It is with such dynamics in mind that, in their book, Moore and Roberts prompt several points of departure for ongoing debate. In mind of the contemporary critique of political economy as a systemic whole, and considering the material conditions now emerging as a result of the climate crisis, it is to one such particular question posed that I want to turn now. ‘[A]s two moments of a geographically differentiated regime of governance, aren’t liberalism and authoritarianism perfectly compatible..?’, ask Moore and Roberts; ‘how might the escalating scale of governance crises under neoliberalism itself produce the conditions for authoritarianism?’ (p110).
Climate Crisis, Social Crisis, Political Crisis
The neoliberal ideal of recent decades was premised on an individualism that minimised the social role of the state and, in turn, maximised the social dominance of the market. It pursued the expansion of capital accumulation and growth into new terrains of production and consumption across more and more of the planet’s surface. Today, as much as this neoliberal expansion of accumulation has reached its limits physically – there is hardly any territorial body remaining unsubsumed to its processes – it is, equally, reaching its limit environmentally; for industrial extractivism and emissions have left us with a planet in which human life is becoming ever more difficult. Let us explore the socio-political consequences that are forced by this condition.
Faced with the realities of climate heating and environmental collapse, previously neoliberalised regimes of capital accumulation can no longer rely on circumstances to remain static. From novel viruses to deadly weather events, capitalist accumulation today takes place in circumstances that are socially and materially ever more unstable. Despite the fact that it is capitalist extractivism itself that has locked human life into the death drive of climate crisis, as long as capital can extract value from fossil fuel and polluting industry it will continue to do so. The mechanism to curtail accumulation and growth simply does not exist within the logic of the system. As such, today the question of political intervention and industrial regulation polarises bourgeois politics with ever more extreme manifestations on an ever more divergent political stage.
As the cycle of environmental destruction by industry continues, so too are social crises exacerbated with ever more deadly consequences. But the social movements that respond to such crises are not always emancipatory in their content. As we have seen with, for example, the emergence of QAnon and anti-vax conspiracy, crisis conditions may very well give rise to reactionary movements, false solutions and strengthen the political power and influence of the far right. ‘There is a danger that, as before, ongoing unemployment, precariousness and destitution creates populations amenable to the appeals of the far right’, write Moore and Roberts (p114-115).
Furthermore, fighting against the left and the liberatory movements that confront capital and the crisis, the interests of capital must become bound automatically to reactionary ideological and political formations. Capital is bound automatically to the political vision that might provide both the suppression of anti-capitalist dissent and the ideological and legal confirmation of capitalist social relations and their maintenance. Today’s Tories have, in a chilling example of such an emerging draconianism, further criminalised peaceful protest and environmental activism: a legal means to protect by force those business interests otherwise interrupted by protest and unrest.
Social and environmental turmoil does not suit the neoliberal mode of accumulation and its blind faith in the free market as a social leveller. In conditions in which social and environmental turmoil is guaranteed by continued industrial activity and subsequent climate crises, the neoliberal ideological paradigm that seeks accumulation above all else through laissez-faire and socially liberal policies now becomes obsolete under its own logic. For this reason it is now that we are seeing the neoliberal paradigm fall away from the political stage. Contingent, at least in theory, on the free market as the engine of society, neoliberal ideology does not openly foreground mechanisms of overt force and violence. But these are mechanisms that are now becoming necessary to the maintenance of accumulation and capitalist social relations in times that are becoming ever more socially volatile, unstable and unpredictable. For accumulation to continue unmitigated in these new and changing conditions of social and environmental crises, the previous neoliberal ideological paradigm is, in turn, forced to evolve to fit the new and changing circumstance. In today’s crisis conditions, the logic of unabated accumulation as an end itself demands the appearance of new socio-political apparatuses to deliver the same old imperative: the reproduction of capital.
At this point, the authoritarian violence inherent to far right ideology can dovetail entirely with the ideology of free market purism and its attendant pursuit of capital accumulation at any cost. Such is the proto-fascist political economy that we are seeing emerge and assert itself on the political stage today. In the ever more socially and environmentally volatile conditions of the present moment we are already observing the growing confidence of a coherent nationalist populism and far right vigilantism. Grounded in and unquestioning of the structure of capitalist social relations and the fetishism of commodities, this far right absolutism aligns with, indeed is now demanded by, the imperative for capital accumulation and its reproduction as maintained through political force in otherwise unstable and unviable conditions.
Herein we come to the specific socio-political mechanism that I want to label authoritarian accumulation. It is the right wing authoritarian political form potentially reached through the economic imperative to continue accumulation in the otherwise deleterious conditions of the climate crisis. The imperative for capital to reproduce itself in conditions which are otherwise more and more socio-politically unviable for that reproduction require, if unmitigated, socio-political mechanisms of ever more overt domination and ideological aggression – require ever more legal and militarised apparatuses of national and geopolitical power. The appearance of new and drastically transformed political and ideological representation of the interests of capital are bound to the appearance of and determined a priori in the existence of new and drastically changed social, environmental and material conditions.
Today’s rightward political drive already demonstrates certain trends that predict its authoritarian character. It is socially reactionary, racist and patriarchal, it fetishises and militarises borders, it locks in hierarchical socio-economic relations both locally and globally. As such, it confirms the continued reproduction of capital at a time in which the conditions of life on Earth are being made all the more brutal by climate crises. ‘[I]t is precicely on this planet that the far right fight for power’, as Moore and Roberts observe, ‘the actual planet, stratified by barbed wire and watched by the border police from a drone’ (p57-58).
For Moore and Roberts, there are two emerging tendencies on the right that each express the interests of a capitalism reckoning with environmental disaster. The first is ‘Fossilised Reaction’ which derives from the historically powerful influence of the fossil fuel industry, which continues to deploy denialism and conspiracism to justify environmental destruction, that seeks a conservative social regime and the economic domination of the capitalist peripheries (p104). The second formation is ‘Batteries, Bombs and Borders’: climate change acceptance, the monetisation of new and alternative fuels to fossil fuel, achieved by a militarised regime exploiting populations both inside and outside of the capitalist cores (p105). In each case here, we can see how ecological issues are addressed by a far right that demands first and foremost that capitalist social relations are uninterrupted by crises. Geopolitical and economic domination by the hegemon is asserted through legal and military power in tandem with a conservative and reactionary social vision. In turn, the blame for and the consequences of climate disaster are always to be pushed away from capital, the nation and industry.
The far right today enable the collective cognitive dissonance that accepts capital and accumulation as externalised to the cause of and disconnected from the consequences of the crisis. Indeed, this is a necessary mystification for capital if it is to successfully operate in today’s emerging conditions. Wealth disparity is now more extreme than ever and the oil industry, for example, generates the cartoonish figure of three-billion dollars in profit per day. Meanwhile, the rest of us face inflation, recession, austerity and a cost of living crisis. Without bourgeois mystification, now delivered in right wing authoritarian wrapper, the deathly dysfunctional nature of capitalist social relations are for all to see.
Profit maximisation demands that the social, economic and ecological consequences of crises are to be borne by civil society and by the capitalist peripheries. Today’s far right have been busy building the social and political framework to best deliver this arrangement. In their obsession with borders, for example, the far right assert a newly more brutal national, legal and economic limit, produced and policed from within. Equally, in the process, an outside is created and, simultaneously, an outsider – an other who is always there to be economically exploited, blamed for societal failings, burdened by the crises.
Taking white supremacist terrorist group the Proud Boys as an example here, we can see just how far proto-fascist political methods might successfully permeate the political landscape in general. Using street violence on the one hand and penetrating previously neoliberalised political apparatuses on the other, the Proud Boys’ activities exemplify the socio-political danger inherent in the collapse of the divide between the far right and the political centre. If, as the saying goes, one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter, then it becomes clear that large sections of the political apparatus now approach freedom explicitly in terms of white supremacy and vigilante violence.
What were once far right ideals are today becoming ever more normalised. From Fox News propaganda in the US to anti-migration campaigning in Europe, the social turmoil of the present moment has been all to easily weaponised by far right bootlickers. Far from being fighters for any kind of freedom, this right wing populism has only ever created the cultural terrain within which new extremes of economic expropriation and more extremes of wealth disparity are to be built and consolidated. It is in their blind faith in the market and a shared proto-antisemetic and racist obsession with exposing, exploiting and expelling a perceived other and outsider that the plutocrat and the far right are finding each other.
‘Businesses decamp to Texas despite lurch to social right’, the Financial Times recorded recently. But what is overlooked in the FT’s framing here is that Texas – a stronghold of the ascendant far right in the US – is newly attractive to businesses precisely because of its lurch to the social right. Because the legislative and cultural lurch to the social right and its ultra-nationalist ideals are concomitantly a legislative and cultural lurch towards a pro-business political environment in which the state apparatus functions to make profit maximisation more viable and larger scale than elsewhere. In pro-Trumpist Texas, pro-business freedom equates anti-abortion, anti-vax and anti-socialist aggression. Social reaction, political autocratism, pro-business absolutistism – for the national populist and the far right vigilante both, each aspect is an indivisible part of the ideological whole. Each aspect reinforces the other in a consistent and ever more confident toxic programme.
The Trumpist ‘drain the swamp’ imaginary is exemplary of today’s hard right political vision globally. Despite its triumphal populist rhetoric, it only ever amounts in reality to the creation of policy that clears the terrain for ever more aggressive accumulation, exploitation and industrial growth. Ideologically, for example, it is intuitively opposed to regulating and restricting business operation even for the benefit of workers’ health in pandemic conditions. Just as it is intuitively opposed, of course, to social or political intervention on behalf of the climate. Whilst individual business actors may themselves sometimes be against the rightward political turn, we must nonetheless observe that – without subsequent concrete social or political intervention – the personal views of individuals are not of consequence on a historical level, not of consequence to the cyclical reproduction of capital as an end in itself.
In a recent article for the New York Times, David Broder outlines the electoral and cultural success being achieved by openly neo-fascist organisation, the Brothers of Italy. The Brothers of Italy are, Broder observes, ‘the beneficiary of a much wider breakdown of the barriers between the traditional center-right and the insurgent far right, playing out across Western Europe and America’. As Broder outlines, the rise of the far right in Italy, and the concurrent collapse of the political centre, should indeed be ringing alarm bells for all of us in Europe and beyond. These are not isolated projects.
Moreover – archetypal of the global far right turn – the Brothers of Italy’s cultural success and electoral viability is crucially contingent on its promises of delivering national economic prosperity through pro-business policy. For the far right, capital as a system is never held to account for social crises. Always, false solutions are promised, driven by blame and persecution of the national, political and racial outsider. Capital’s failings are personified and individuals are held to account, but never the system itself. Society is invited to believe what cannot be: the possibility of their own prosperity realised in the concentrated economic power of the regime. For the fascist vigilante and the far right politician both, capitalist social relations are always to be held in tact, are assumed as a synonym for freedom, are to be maintained by force. The Brothers of Italy and the far right globally offer the old neoliberal promise of individualist prosperity, only now, in today’s crisis conditions, it becomes a promise contingent on open brutality, violence and exclusion.
In the mute compulsion of economic relations, capital and its performance is bound to the political forms that best suit accumulation and its reproduction in the particular material conditions of the historical moment. The appearance today, then, of authoritarian accumulation as simultaneously a socio-political and, fundamentally, an economic force is contingent on the unique environmental and social circumstances that are emerging in the present. The politics of societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails appears, necessarily, as that which best creates and consolidates the conditions of its reproduction. No longer obscured by the failed neoliberal promise of individualist prosperity, today we now see the authoritarian kernel that lurks within the neoliberal shell.
Political reformations represent the particular circumstances of their present. Today’s political turn to the far right now makes apparent and explicit the coercive violence underlying neoliberal social relations. The autocratic vision of the far right dovetails now with that of the market: in today’s warming world, the imperative to accumulate – the essence of capital – can accept any environmental, social or political barbarism and demand it as a necessity.
Accumulate, accumulate! We know that capital has no prophet other than profit, no directional compass other than that of its own expansion and reproduction as an end in itself. If capital accumulation is a cyclical and tautological process bound to continued growth, and the social conditions of the contemporary moment are being changed drastically more quickly by climate change, then – it is just as certain – future growth is necessarily bound to the appearance of equally new, changed and potentially ever more authoritarian forms of politics. Like magnetics, this drift is forced automatically by the circumstance. Today, political authoritarians accumulate power where unmitigated capital accumulation demands more authoritarian modes of political economy.
The neoliberal false promise of the end of history is nowhere any longer believable. It is into this ideological void that the shared authoritarian vision of the plutocrat and the far right is starting to appear. We see already its ultra-reactionary socio-political ideals, its entrenching of hierarchical geopolitical power and economic influence. Without our intervention, we will be locked into industrial growth, extractivism, and the guarantee of climate breakdown. Comrades – environmentalists and anti-fascists – we ignore capitalist reconstruction at our peril.