Submitted by a comrade from Anti-Racist Action-Los Angeles/People Against Racist Terror (ARA-LA/PART)
Timed to occur just before the UN opened a Global Climate Summit, the Peoples’ Climate March in New York drew about 400,000 people into the streets, and was paralleled with dozens of similar rallies around the world. Here in Los Angeles, the group Converging Storms called a “Building Blocks Against Climate Change” mobilization in which dozens of community groups took street corners or intersections along a miles-long stretch of Wilshire Blvd. west from Echo Park. A great diversity of groups, many committed to environmental justice and indigenous rights, participated locally, in NYC and around the world. The climate rallies were the largest simultaneous global protests since the demonstrations against the invasion of Iraq by George W. Bush.
Roughly simultaneously, the US launched attacks from the air on Iraq and Syria, targeting the so-called Islamic State and other supposed terrorist groups (while simultaneously arming still other Syrian rebels). The coincidence, and the absence of a militant, demonstrative peace movement, were a pointed reminder that the intransigence of the Empire in the face of public opinion, coupled with the willful blindness and illusion of progressive elements in the US population (that cast Barack Obama as a ‘peace’ candidate and muted opposition to war and surveillance after his election), had blunted and dissipated many other mass mobilizations. The world-wide demand to ‘bring the troops home’ after World War II, the ban-the-bomb, anti-nuclear movement at the height of the Cold War, the movements for civil rights, women’s rights, and gay rights of the ’60s and ’70s, the earlier round of the environmental movement, all settled for at best partial ‘victories’ that were eroded and reversed by a reactionary backlash.
Despite the occasional bit of good news, like the reversal in ozone depletion recently recorded, the environment is in far worse shape than it was. Despite the passage of various civil rights laws and efforts at affirmative action, institutionalized and internalized racism grips the police, the schools, the lending policies of banks, the surveillance policies of retail outlets, the entertainment formulas of films, TV and the music industry, and the hiring policies of businesses. Despite decades of prisoner rights and even prison abolition organizing, the US still has the highest incarceration rates in the world, and the number of people locked up in prisons and jails started climbing again last year after a brief down-tick. Despite protest after protest at police killings, the epidemic of police terror against Black and Brown people has reached stunning proportions, and the militarization of police continues unabated.
These losses are not recounted to discourage or dismay those who are protesting climate change in NY or LA, Sydney or Nepal, nor those taking the streets against police murders in Ferguson or Los Angeles. But it is to ask ourselves, what will it take to win?
Something more than the failed strategies and theories and half-measures of the past. We must break the mental and physical bonds that prevent us from undertaking the all-or-nothing struggle it’s going to take. We must undo our identification with and participation in the system that is destroying the planet. The price of those failures in continued environmental devastation, in the mass murders of imperialist war, in the lives stolen by prisons and police, are on our hands. The vacuum left by the absence of a fighting left have allowed the forces of the state and the right to ride roughshod over the people and the planet. Eighty some odd years ago, anarchists, socialists and communists were fighting fascism in Spain, and volunteers from around the world made their way to Spain under the slogan, “No Pasaran!” Today instead, we find foreign fighters traveling to Iraq and Syria to join the reactionary ranks of ISIS.
A wing of the climate change movement has raised the instructive slogan, “System Change, Not Climate Change.” This speaks to the fact that there is a system in operation now, a system that connects the fossil-fuel economy, the US military aggression in Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Afghanistan, the police murders in the ghettoes and barrios, the mass incarceration of millions, the routine surveillance of all electronic communication, and the growing inequality of income and wealth. It’s a system that explains how health care reform became a hand-out to the insurance companies, how education reform became a profit center for corporations, how immigration reform became a blueprint for militarization of the border and record deportations, how economic reform became a play-book for union-busting, de-industrialization, and the creation of a super-exploited ‘global supply chain.’
That death-dealing system is capitalism/colonialism. Any reform we win within that system just becomes a mechanism for rationalizing and heightening the regime of exploitation on which it depends. Asking this system to regulate itself makes as much sense as asking the police to police themselves.
Some say this is carping in the face of an overwhelming threat to all of humanity and to the planetary eco-system posed by even a slight further increase in ‘green-house gas’ emissions and resultant temperature increases. But all the planning this system is engaged in, economically and militarily, is to “win” control over the transformed biosphere. They are making plans for naval operations and resource extraction after the north polar ice cap is gone. They are crafting scenarios for resource wars over water and grain, as well as fossil fuels. They are designing and testing mechanisms for population control and surveillance, for example on the Palestinians, that would put Big Brother to shame.
What we need to understand is the fundamental contradiction that still drives this system, and drives it crazy. It is wedded to eternal growth. It requires the participation of billions, as both consumers and producers, upon whom it is therefore dependent. Yet its growth and profit rest on the exploitation of those billions, and its power depends on their oppression and subjugation. That means the system is riven with contradictions within and without. Every economic stratagem it devises only increases the crushing weight of debt, the expense of absorbing vast amounts of human productivity and creativity into machines and technology, and, as we see with global warming, its attempts to externalize costs to sustain profits are destroying the very seedbed of human existence.
Unfortunately, the oppressed and exploited are still not as clear as the rulers are about the irreconcilable nature of those contradictions. We cannot win the battle over climate change, over police killings, over Big Brother surveillance, over privatization of public education and destruction of public employee union, until we realize we have an implacable enemy, not just bad ideas, bad policies, bad individuals, but a class of exploiters and colonizers that run that system to their own advantage. To save the planet, to save the children, to save the cultures and peoples slated for genocide, we must dispossess that class of its stolen wealth and power, we must expropriate the expropriators.
What do we need to understand, and to act on, in order to win?
First of all, that like it or not, we are in a war for our survival. Daniel Ellsberg had the insight, during the Indochina wars, that the US was not on the wrong side, it was the wrong side. Imperialism does not just wage war, or need war, it is war. The private profit system operates as a constant state of war against the peoples and lands it colonizes; it is at war with the very laws of nature and the ecological systems of mutual benefit and replenishment that sustain life as we know it. We must prepare ourselves to fight, or we have lost and are lost.
Second, it is us or them. The exploiters need the exploited; the oppressors need the oppressed; the bosses need the workers; the wardens and guard need the prisoners. But humanity and the natural world we are part of do not need exploiters or oppressors, prisons or police. The climate crisis among many others makes clear that our survival depends on their social, economic and political elimination, not as individuals, but as a class.
Third, we must be in conscious, self-critical solidarity, to overcome victimhood, privilege, oppression and exploitation. Our unity is our strength, because the tried and true strategy of the oppressors and exploiters, the colonizers and imperialists, is divide and conquer. We must overcome the divisions created by capitalism, racism, sexism, or nationalism, while respecting the self-determination and rights of all peoples. We must devise forms of organization and alliances based on such principles that can also operate with flexibility and intensity, whatever form of struggle is required of us.
In that way, we recognize the inter-connected of the struggles against climate change, against police murders, against mass incarceration and isolation-torture in the prisons, against deportation, against imperial war and the militarization of everyday life, against police spying and the surveillance/national-security state, against genetic engineering and terminator seeds, against foreclosures and evictions, against misogyny. So wherever we choose to stand our ground and fight our battles, we do so in conscious strategic unity with all the exploited and oppressed, and against all the exploiters and oppressors and the totality of their system, which must be uprooted once and for all in the name of humanity and survival of the biosphere.
This essay originally appeared in Turning the Tide. A free sample of TTT is available on request from firstname.lastname@example.org or you can subscribe by sending a check for $20 for one year to:
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