Politics Matters

Wednesday 4th March 2020

There are a couple of important slogans, nay mantras, that are permeating out from Extinction Rebellion into the entire environment movement. The first, “No More Business As Usual!” and the second, “Beyond Politics”. The ideological base that unites both, I am told, is the impressive and impassioned demand to develop a new system of human society based upon a circular system of thinking corresponding to the natural ecosystems, humans becoming fully integrated back into Nature.

Whilst it takes a great deal of reflection to begin to materially conceive of what such a social and economic system would feel and look like, I very much concur. As someone who uses the Marxist methodology of historical materialism to try to understand the world of humans, this aligns with my own world view. More or less.

We should be collaborative, meeting all human needs without oppression or exploitation. The current global human society is based upon social class, privilege and the lottery of birth that endows some with greater entitlements to life than others. A socialist society, by contrast, is one based upon need not private profit, “from each according to their abilities, to each according to their need”.

Karl Marx, no Guru or Saint, obsessively studied the emergence of Capitalist class society in comparison to previous Feudal through to “Primitive Communist” societies and identified one crucial notion. Capitalism, as differentiated from all previous human societies, ruptured, tore apart, the interaction between humanity and the rest of Nature.

To précis to the point of near-destruction, capitalist techniques of production, ripping people from rural subsistence and into town and city squalor, separating people from contact with raw materials and from any ownership of the final product of their toil, created a “Metabolic Rift” between humanity and Nature. The Earth’s metabolism of which we had for so long been a part, has been torn apart.

We experience the result of the metabolic rift as Alienation, feeling alien from nature’s systems, feeling divorced from and in competition with other human beings, and feeling estranged from ourselves. The domination of property relationships render us in conflict with all, unable to feel secure as a unique identity other than through material symbols of wealth and power, ownership and control, domination and status. Our validity is determined not by simply being but by socially ascribed status.

It is interesting that some in the environment movement react against these feelings simply by saying they don’t care how they’re seen – Prime Minister Johnson may refer to them as “long-haired crusties” (coming from him I wear such a label as a badge of honour) – they will be as they wish, live as they please, and care not a jot as to what others think.

Such a condition is likely to increase alienation and isolation, being, somewhat ironically, a permutation of precisely the individualism they are trying to challenge and end. Individuality and individualism are at opposite ends of the identity continuum, and the self-determination offered by individuality can only be achieved through a system based upon cooperation, mutual trust and universal provision for all.

I come back to the main theme here. The “Beyond Politics” mantra has been skewed, perhaps purposefully by some, to mean no-one in the Movement should use political constructs or “be political’. The “No More Business As Usual” mantra then amplifies the deconstruction of politics by damning all previously existing World Views as being redundant in the face of the sixth mass extinction and climate catastrophe.

And in doing so, it rejects discussion or consideration of social class. Old formulations of how society is constructed should be disregarded. This is a recipe for failure, abject failure, a loss of focus, and a Great Lie to be permitted as to the root cause of the climate emergency. It is not ideas that have created Ecocide and threaten societal collapse, but actions.

Capitalism is an exploitative form of human society that has not been around long, is not the only way humans can live together, and needs to be replaced. Capitalism relies upon social control through stratification for subjugation – Class – and exploitation of all in the human and natural world for the accumulation of wealth and power in the hands of a tiny minority.

Not all hitherto existing societies have lived like this, offering us a sense that things can be different and better. We should not reject such historical interpretations as redundant. And then, the political formulations that stem from a class interpretation of society cannot be disregarded either.

There are those who wish to prosper, or who have already prospered, under Capitalism. They do not want the system replaced even if they do want the harsher edges reformed to ensure survival of their children. And there are those, like me, who look wider at global humanity and its history and conclude that Capitalism has to be ended and replaced if we and our children’s children are to survive.

Again, crudely put, these are the polls of the political continuum within the environment movement today – the Left and Right wings. Without intending the pun, recent polls have shown both at home and abroad that roughly 20% of citizens care less about climate change (for various ideological reasons or none), 60% are concerned but feel too busy or powerless to do much about it, and consistently, 20% are fully engaged with the impending catastrophe and wish to act to stop it. This, too, reflects the ancient ideological and political spectrum.

So we cannot be “beyond politics” as interpreted by the autonomistic “Beyond Left and Right” ideologues. Ironically, being “beyond politics” is a deeply ideological and political stance. In the here and now, Class society exists and is in control, and Left-wing and Right-wing ideologies exist as a material consequence, and are in constant conflict for influence and power. Consequently, the Movement cannot “accept everyone and every part of everyone”, as directed.

The Far Right (the deep blues) continue to utilise the Climate Emergency as an excuse for white supremacy (“keep out the Global South”), eugenics (climate Change will require the speedy evolution of a new super-human “master race”), Malthusianism (“there are far too many human beings and therefore we should allow billions to die from climate war, drowning, famine and plague with all its religious resonance”) and these ideologues exert their power and control through racism and ultra-nationalism. This is all very apparent and happening right now as a portent of far worse to come.

Meanwhile the “reformist” middle (the rainbow greens, yellows and purples) want “someone to do something” but not so “extreme” as to overthrow the existing entitlements they enjoy. They worry they may have something to loose through total system change despite risking losing everything through climate catastrophe.

The active Left (the Reds) argue for System Change not Climate Change, and are by nature, anti-capitalist. We have a proud history of challenging the exploitation of Nature as well as People. And we know that a classless society based on peace and social justice will offer a much better quality of life for even the wealthier of the Rainbow middle.

We have a clear analysis of how the climate catastrophe came about through the system of Capitalism, not innate human greed or carelessness, and therefore that it can be stopped, in time, and replaced with a social and economic system quite able to correspond with natural ecosystems as well as meet the needs of all humanity (yes, all 12 billion of us – the predicted zenith of population growth).

My own experience is that, currently, the Rainbow People are allowing the Blues to hold sway whilst constantly challenging the Reds to “stop being overtly political”. I refuse, not simply because I demand respect for my chosen identity, but because that way leads to a totalitarian state that will ensure the destruction of all.

And the immediate problem formed of the misinterpretation of “Beyond Politics” is the focus upon denying the Left our voice or even the display our ideas (books, papers, stalls, placards, banners, slogans), whilst the Right, never openly admitting their political alignment and associations, are pandered to and allowed domination in the name of unity. History proves, over and over again, that the Blues, given their space, will devour not only the Reds but the Rainbow and all.

And so I insist upon displaying my political allegiance, my associations, in order firstly to avoid being later accused of hoodwinking or manipulating by subterfuge, and secondly to demand that others do the same. Only in that way we can all be assured that we know the intentions of one another and can build the level of trust and unity essential to preventing global societal collapse.

Tony Staunton


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