Friday, June 1, 2012

Earth First! - Which Planet Are THEY On?


"In 1987 the Tagaeri [native inhabitants of Equador] attacked a group of oil exploration workers who were laying seismic lines which cut through the Tagaeri gardens. The oil companies enlisted the help of the Catholic Bishopin missionizing and "taming" the Tagaeri. The bishop and a nun flew into the area bearing gifts and were found a week later with 17 spears embedded in their bodies, ceremoniously killed." Earth First! November 1991.

Direct action to defend the planet against its destruction by industrial civilization is assuming more and more radical forms. The methods of the nocompromise environmental movement Earth First! have spread from America to Europe, Australia and the forests of Borneo and the Amazon.


At the politicians' Earth Summit in Rio, over 200 top scientists issued a statement attacking Green extremism, stating that toxic chemicals and radioactivity are inescapable facts of modern life. "We are worried, at the dawn of the 21st century, by the emergence of an irrational ideology which is opposed to scientific and industrial progress and impedes economic and social development." Independent, 1 June 92. We are pleased to hear they are worried, and resolve to do our bit to contribute to the emergence of the movement they oppose.

The needs of the working class include the requirement for a planet to live on. Monkeywrenching the sabotage of machinery involved in building motorways, cutting down forests, extracting peat, etc. directly attacks capitalism, whatever the views of the saboteurs. Earth First! itself has broken with some of the more conservative views of its founders and made some attempt to link up with the hidden history of workingclass sabotage from the Luddites to the Wobblies. Earth First! supported the LA riots. However, the journal is still mainly inspired by "deep ecology".

The first major problem with deep ecology is that it perpetuates the division between human beings and the rest of nature. This split was unthinkable to preColumbian Americans, who lived in harmony with their surroundings. That division lies at the root of all 19th century progressive capitalist ideologies, the most coherent of which is Marxism. Whereas Progress teaches us that we must conquer nature, deep ecology, recognizing that this has been a disaster, wants things to be the other way round. "If a war of the races should occur between the wild beast and Lord Man, I would be tempted to sympathise with the bears" writes John Muir. Some deep ecologists go so far as to argue that a certain amount of "dieoff" is inevitable, welcoming the AIDS epidemic as nature's way of curbing the destruction which inevitably results from human population growth. They support the capitalist myth that the world is over-populated, blaming the victims for their predicament. The world could easily support more than its current population if the waste of capitalism were eliminated.

Secondly, the idea that it is "our" greed that is destroying the planet accepts the humanist premise that all people share common interests. "We humans are collectively killing this planet", as one of the Arizona defendants put it recently. But this society is not a collective entity, but rather a vast labourcamp. Starvation is not caused by human beings running out of food sources, but by the production of crops for the world market. In 14th. century England, they used to say "sheep eat men". In 20th. century Brazil and Ethiopia, its coffee and sugar. Lacking a class analysis, to put it mildly, deep ecologists fail to grasp that it is a tiny minority of human beings, who at the risk of sounding oldfashioned we call CAPITALISTS, who are responsible for the destruction of nature, including millions of human beings. The planet isn't dying, it's being murdered, and the murderers have names and addresses.

One of us went to the first gathering of Earth First! in Britain. Just before this conference, an anonymous group destroyed hundreds of thousands of pounds' worth of machinery belonging to Fisons on the Yorkshire moors, to delay the company's disastrous peatextraction programme. Not surprisingly, Friends of the Earth denounced the action as harmful to their attempts to persuade Fisons to be nice to the environment.

What is more surprising is that within Earth First! itself there are people arguing that the group should condemn sabotage. At the other extreme, it tolerates people who are prepared to talk to the press in the following terms: "Bombs have been used in the United States and Europe and we're bound to see desperate acts here" (The Independent on Sunday, 19 April). This was actually said: the press was not lying for a change.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Earth First! is overwhelmingly composed of middle class pacifists. Whereas the American group had a wholesome redneck image, its British offshoot has much in common with middle class environmental and peace movements. Earth First! is the Green Party with wirecutters. The press distortion which most riled Earth First! was the claim that it is an "offshoot" of the US group. "We want our own [British] identity" they whined. I tried hard to overcome my initial revulsion towards people talking about workshops and women only spaces, allowing their children to disrupt the meeting and wearing dungarees. But the fight for the Earth is too important to allow petty prejudices to get in the way.

Their attitude to organization makes anarchists look like disciplinarians. Instead of the organizers making it clear who is in charge, reading out the rules, and setting the agenda, as happens at the meetings we organize, the gathering wasted hours deciding whether to have workshops or just one big meeting. Eventually, workshops prevailed. At the end of a "workshop", you have a "reportback", in which the "facilitator" reads out a travesty of what happened in each workshop to the assembled gathering. None of the workshops seemed to produce anything relevant to what they were ostensibly about.

They went out of their way to choose the least effective organizational methods at all stages: dissolving into workshops just as the discussion was getting somewhere; pathetic "anti sexist" types chairing meetings when what was needed was someone with the self confidence to lead the discussion; and the general promotion of incompetence. Decentralization is regarded as an established desideratum. Not just the decentralization of activity which is absolutely necessary for security reasons, but political decentralization - in other words, allowing anyone to say what they like. I noticed a deeprooted fear of confronting other people's views, for fear of being aggressive. Without this debate no movement can resolve issues. At our meetings we feel obliged to argue with anything we don't agree with. They have actually discovered a worse form of organization than majority voting: allowing everybody to have their say and refusing to decide anything until everybody is happy.

Many people feel, rightly, that one of the things that needs doing is direct action of various kinds against the earthraping capitalist militaryindustrial monster. In the current period of low class struggle many people will no doubt get involved in these things. Unless they reject the organizational practices and open attitudes of the Green Party and the peace movement they will be defeated.

Earth First! UK is hopeless. Those who want to do what needs to be done should avoid them like the plague. Organizing in small anonymous groups of people who know each other is the only way to avoid obvious dangers. We want to see a movement which rejects openness, moralism and workshops, in favour of clandestinity, professionalism, and solidarity.

I went to a much more inspiring meeting addressed by the veteran American social ecologist Murray Bookchin in May. Murray gave about 300 greens a lecture on class ecology. He explained how arguments that "we" are responsible for the destruction of the environment are dangerous, because they make us identify with corporations. Against the view "that recognises the equality and inherent worth of every form of life" (Green Revolution, Spring '92), Murray welcomed the forthcoming elimination of the Smallpox virus.


4 Earth First! militants have been jailed in Arizona for up to 6 years for damaging an environmentally harmful ski resort. In spite of their deep ecological ideas, they have to be supported. Solidarity is the minimum startingpoint for a discussion about the relationship between class struggle and ecodefence.

The following addresses are copied from the American Earth First! journal. Ilse Asplund and Marc Baker c/o 1385 Iron Springs Rd, Box 104, Prescott, AZ 86301, USA. Peg Millet, 23118008, 37900 N 45th Ave, Dept 1785, Phoenix, AZ 85027, USA. Mark Davis, 23106008, Federal Correctional Institute, RR 2 Box 9000, Safford, AZ 85546, USA.

Readers may be interested in Live Wild or Die!, which is available from POB 411233, San Francisco, CA 94141. This is similar to Earth First! and contains loads of interesting information about doing things without getting caught. A more detailed classbased critique of deep ecology, How Deep is Deep Ecology? by George Bradford, can be obtained from Fifth Estate, 4632 Second Avenue, Detroit MI 48201, USA. Also available from them is Ecodefence (Ned Ludd Books 1987), an outrageously irresponsible manual of individual sabotage, which substitutes the formation of small elite groups of rigidly disciplined self-appointed professional saboteurs, for the real working class tradition of mass meetings and collective (contd. p94).

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