I’ll get back to that story but bear with me. It’ll take me the rest of this post to do so.
I don’t know Gail Bradbrook from Eve, and likely never will. Nor am I in XR, despite their having my sympathies, my gratitude even, for their courageous efforts to ensure that “our” trashing of planet earth is not rendered out of sight and out of mind.
I’m not held back from joining their ranks by the fact that some at least – I can’t say how many – fail to join the dots and link ecocide to a system for organising wealth creation which ensures that the pursuit of private profits will – it’s baked into the logic of capital accumulation – trump all other considerations.
See in this regard my post of three years ago, Ecocide: the Mullah Nasruddin speaks!
No socialist genuinely wanting to effect change – as opposed to being a sectarian seeking only to trumpet his superior sagacity – can sneer from the side-lines because a broadly progressive movement “isn’t pure enough”. It’s our job to enter those arenas and fight shoulder to shoulder on shared specific objectives: a minimum prerequisite for being listened to when we argue for making that very necessary link between ecocide, and wealth production for profit rather than human need …
… as opposed to doing as Germany’s Greens are doing, and leading the way in backing the war on Russia in Ukraine and thereby, among a plethora of other sins, supporting the goals of the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter.
… as opposed to doing as George Monbiot does in writing well researched and closely argued environmental pieces which do make the links between ecocide and big money – but fail to go the extra mile and, for reasons set out in my 2017 post, Monbiot, Syria and Universalism, invite this indictment from his former Guardian colleague, Jonathan Cook:
Monbiot has repeatedly denied he wants a military attack on Syria. But if he weakly accepts whatever narratives are crafted by those who do – and refuses to subject them to meaningful scrutiny – he is decisively helping to promote such an attack. 1
No, I have no principled objection to joining XR or other direct activists, environmental included, whose causes I see as worthy. Yes, I do see direct action as incapable of securing change of the kind, scale and timeliness our circumstances demand. But how could that be cause for shunning its often heroic practitioners – and in so doing cutting myself off from those currents in which the wider arguments may be made?
My not joining XR or its more class conscious spin-off, Insulate Britain, is driven by pragmatism. At 70 my energies are limited. I choose to focus them on this site, dedicated to promoting the truth that capitalism in its imperialist and hyperfinancialised form is a cancer whose Hydra-head secondaries – endless wars and looming Armageddon … 6th mass extinction event and untold misery this side of it … economic chaos, tyranny of various stripe and accelerated erosion of the rule of law – are not unrelated.
(When two or more phenomena co-exist there are only four categories of explanation. One is that A causes B, another that B causes A. A third is that A and B are caused by C, the fourth that any relationship is coincidental. Since no one in their right mind thinks ecocide, endless wars and the rest cause financial imperialism (though we can’t rule out frightening feedback loops) we are left with only two explanations – and I’m no coincidence theorist …)
What’s more, it’s become increasingly clear to me that whatever slender chance humanity has of changing course lies not with direct action, social democracy or revolutionary groupings. All have both merit and flaws but, again, none can secure change of the kind, scale and timeliness needed. For reasons set out repeatedly over the past two of this site’s eight years of existence, I see whatever hope we may realistically harbour, for our grandchildren and theirs, as lying with the global south in a multipolar world led by China rising.
It’s not a popular view. Not even in XR circles. Aren’t China and its most powerful ally, Russia, utterly compromised not only as capitalist but heavy carbon users to boot, and in one case a major exporter of hydrocarbons? Glad you asked but, if you’ll forgive my saying so, the question is drenched in a hopeless – I use the h-word literally – utopianism. My answer to it is fourfold:
- The Western Left’s failure to ensure that industrial capitalism fulfilled its historic mission of delivering socialism, as opposed to imperialism and hyper financialisation, obliged China to adapt to and quietly gain strength from a neoliberal and dollarised world. I do not accept that in doing so it lost its moral and socialist compass, and note the failure of its ultraleft critics to offer a plausible account of what it should have done differently.
- More specifically, China has retained control of its capitalists. They are subordinate to the state, while their Western counterparts own it. This holds out the possibility – I put it no more strongly given our dire straits – of its delivering on capitalism’s promise, seen most clearly by Marx but, as Michael Hudson has shown, also by Ricardo, Mill and other of the classical political economists, of socialising wealth creation. Moreover, its already very different model of using markets, not warfare and crippling debt, is being ‘exported’ by such as Belt & Road to a global south destituted by half a millennium of Western rule.
- More specifically still, given the starting point of this post, China, having beaten the West at its own game, now leads the world on large scale green technologies. “Our” media have no interest in advertising this truth, but see my post on China’s carbon footprint and take heed of such antidotes – to brainwashed cynicism mistaken for scepticism – as this, from a 2019 account by the late Andre Vltchek:
Snow is falling on the wide sidewalks of the historic city of Xi’an, but people don’t seem to be troubled by the bitter cold.
One of the oldest cities in China, Xi’an is now vibrant, optimistic and stunningly beautiful. Sidewalks are paved with expensive stones and have more than enough space for pedestrians, electric bicycles, plants, trees and bus shelters.
Attempts by the Communist Party to turn China into an ‘Ecological Civilization’ are visible at every step: trees are revered and protected, 2 comfortable walking is encouraged, while heavy duty, efficient and super modern public transportation is extremely cheap and ecological: the metro, and electric buses. All scooters are also electric, and so are the tricycles that are intended to transport passengers between the metro stations.
Compared to most Asian cities, but even to those in the United States and Europe, Chinese metropolises, including Xi’an, look like sort of urban areas of the future. But they are not ‘impersonal’, nor atomized. They are built for the people, not against them …
- Besides the many intrinsic reasons for refusing to go along with the propaganda blitz on Russia, which long predates the measures she was forced by the West to take in Ukraine, her fate is now linked inextricably with China’s.
All hail the power of narratives – spun by the most sophisticated, deeply and diversely funded, all-encompassing propaganda systems ever – to trump mere facts! Not only Express readers but eco-warriors, socialists, anarchists, media studies lecturers and Guardian Believers forget all they know, or ought to know, and behave as if the propagators could possibly be interested in telling us the truth about China or Russia.
Speaking of The Express …
Gail Bradbrook, it today tells us, drives a diesel car. As do I. (In a spirit more of parsimony than green concern, I do so in a way that delivers me 65 mpg.) If only we’d part with a few tens of thousands to buy an electric, 3 would we then be able to look the world in the eye? Is this what passes for thinking at The Express?
Scrub that. The Express, with its loathing of all who speak out for environmental sanity, is too easy a target. Isn’t it the case – see again those pearls of wisdom by the Mullah Nasruddin – that capitalism would love for us all to be racked by individuated guilt – “it’s all about me and my carbon footprint ” – even as it holds out the promise of redemption by buying more stuff but greener?
* * *
- I do not loathe George Monbiot, and am sometimes taken to task by readers for going too easy on him But his way of having his cake and eating it, also at work in respect of Julian Assange, absolutely does need to be nailed. See in this regard my 2020 post on Julian, Guardian & Law of Volitionality.
- “… trees are revered and protected …” Ouch. In my local park 12 saplings were planted, at £100 a pop. All have been deliberately snapped in two, almost certainly by local kids. A friend and fellow dog walker rhetorically asks why. It’s not that I’ve no answers; just that they’re mostly labrinthyne and speculative. I’ve a short one though. Belief in the West’s superior values grows less tenable by the day.
- “If only we’d part with a few tens of thousands to buy an electric …” I’m wide of the mark here. The days are long gone when “I’m a cash buyer” brought bargaining clout. You’re lucky if that fake smile doesn’t disappear in an instant as you’re politely but firmly shown the salesroom door. Auto-traders today aren’t selling cars but finance.