It’s an increasingly surreal world. The UN report on climate change now gives us twelve years to sort things out. Otherwise we pass the point of no return. Instead of having at least a couple of generations, perhaps more, the task has become immediate. And it’s not just climate change.
Mike Barret of the World Wildlife Fund writes, ‘What’s absolutely clear at the moment, looking at the declines of nature that we’re currently seeing, is that the planet does need to be put on life support.’
And the response is to elect Bolsonaro, a Trump clone. The political trend internationally is to opt for thuggery, to rip up environmental protection, to retreat to persecutor-victim-rescuer syndromes and a resulting paranoia. A bruised and disenchanted working class combine with the ever present sub-fascist capitalists to push us over the cliff. Noam Chomsky writes, ‘… it’s as if we’re kind of like the proverbial lemmings just happily marching off the cliff, led by leaders who understand very well what they’re doing, but are so dedicated to enriching themselves and their friends in the near future that it simply doesn’t matter what happens to the human species. There’s nothing like this in all of human history. There have been plenty of monsters in the past, plenty of them. But you can’t find one who was dedicated, with passion, to destroying the prospects for organized human life.’
Meanwhile the media continues to beam smiling and positive people of diverse ethnicity and gender, promising us wonderful experiences. A strange utopia is portrayed, with limitless opportunity. If anything goes wrong we will be tended to by resolute police or fire people or ambos. Environmentalism becomes sentiment – smiling children bonding with penguins. The liberal opposition spirals into ever more anxious and varied postures of subjectivity. Trump supporters chanting, Lock them up, is redundant. The opposition is already locked up.
In the midst of the bread and circuses, it is tempting to similarly retreat to one’s own subjectivity, to take up meditation or Gurdjieff or tours of European cathedrals, to become immersed in family history or a local conservation project…
The one group making political judgements that ring true are the anarchists and there are some bright ones internationally who continue to argue that the nation state is the problem. They look back to those first Internationals and the struggle between the statists and those who preached direct confrontation between the working class and capital, who advocated for workers to join hands across national boundaries in the common task of revolution. In this scenario US, Afghani, New Zealand, Syrian, German, Russian, Chinese, Brazilian, Palestinian, Israeli etc. workers have the same agenda, to become a conscious articulate international force. Trade unions cease being ‘business’ unions, part of the service sector and instead become revolutionary vehicles driven by the simplest economic and social formula: from each according to their ability, to each according to their need. Include the environment in this maxim and the singular obsession with preserving an ever more watered down social democracy is seen as a waste of energy, especially youthful energy.
From this point of view, the nation state historically was a structure which freed the middle class from feudal limitations. For the working class to try and take it over, leads to distortions. In the late 19th century, the statist faction, led by Marx, took over the Internationals and the distortions have played out ever since. At the core of the libertarian socialists’ argument was and is, an ethical imperative, and an ethical imperative is necessary to save a life-sustaining planet.
The difficulty with anarchism is its requirement for sussed and sane working class people, without axes to grind or authoritarian tendencies, people who understand the discipline of freedom, yet are still capable of resolute action. It’s not about dreamers or life-stylers.
And occasionally there is a flowering: the Spanish Civil War initially, some counter cultural moments in the sixties, the Zapatistas, and now the Kurdistan Workers Party and its establishing of a democratic confederation of cantons in northern Syria. Rojava is now the mecca for progressive European youth, for it’s a society attempting to put into practice principles of social ecology. Living at the centre of the world’s toxicity, these people are remarkable.
These small flowerings have to become a garden, and then to quickly fill the landscape. And that is a very daunting task indeed.