An article from Do or Die Issue 7. In the paper edition, this article appears on page(s) 158-162.
"If pens and paper are the only weapons we have, then we must stab their eyes out with our pens and ram the paper down their throats."
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Re: Earth First! But What Next? (DoD No. 6 - page 18)
As I spend a lot of my time "tending my permaculture plot" these days, I guess that puts me into the category of "burnt out activist", though I hope I've never claimed that "the bits" I "did" in the 70's, 80's and earlier 90's "didn't work". It's just that for many reasons at this particular time in my life, a career in eco-warrioring and D-locking is not an option. It is however possible to remain engaged and committed without being a full time 'front liner'.
My understanding of the definition of permaculture, that is, "creating a permanently sustainable human culture", implicitly means active involvement in the wider community to find bio-regionally appropriate, empowering, and (in the widest sense) spiritually healing solutions to the eco-catastrophe that confronts us. Apart from my own garden and allotments, the plots that I 'tend' include creating from scratch a sensory garden for adults with learning disabilities, involvement with a local primary school's garden project and tree planting with the local Woodcraft Folk, plus I've drawn up a permaculture design for a community orchard of traditionally local fruits that the local council are at least prepared to look at.
The point I'm trying to make is that the Permaculture Movement shouldn't be seen as some sort of retirement club for ex-hunt sabs and past-it digger-divers, rather it is an integral component of the struggle for our planet, complementary to the Direct Action movement and the myriad other strands that give us strength in our diversity. After all, what is the point of "fighting the power" - merely creating a permanent culture of opposition - if we don't at the same time offer practical working alternatives, in the here and now and not only after some ever distant "revolution"?
Dear Do or Die,
Have just read the article on the Luddites in DoD No. 6 and it was spoilt for me at least by the footnote 'De-school your kids'. I'm a history teacher and seem to have spent the past few years hearing teachers/the National Curriculum slagged off by activists who are undoubtedly radical, but also unjustifiedly critical, and in many cases misinformed (like the guy who told me the English Civil War was a proletarian revolution!) Have any of these people ever looked at the curriculum documents, or is it part of a general rant against teachers? (Because the Tories made us feel bad enough, thanks, without everyone else turning the knife). I'm currently teaching the history of 19th century popular movements, especially industrial unrest, (including the Merthyr Rising and murder of Dic Penderyn), having just finished teaching a module on the rise of Nazi Germany - with reference to the persecution of witches and gypsies through the centuries. How many parents would want their kids to be "de-schooled" from these histories?
Don't generalise, don't think that because we are paid a wage we are capitalist consumers/establishment puppets. We can't all be there on the frontline, yes some of us in the movement have a responsibility to be there, some of us have a responsibility to teach tomorrow's activists. As the writer of the article says, we can inform future actions by studying past successes and failures. The best way to do this may not be by "de-schooling our kids", but by teaching them the skills to tell capitalist propaganda and social history apart in the first place. A job worth doing, I think.
Another voice from Earth First!
Dear Do or Die,
I was sent a free copy of your latest issue, cheers. I must say though I'm too much of a town lover to go along with the neo-primitivist anti-urban tone of voice that some of the articles seem to be taking. Personally I like towns and cities despite their problems. Human cities existed for thousands of years before serious industrial capitalism and pollution began. Human urban settlements are as natural as a colony of birds. Isn't neo-primitivism just the same old suburban conservative, anti-proletarian, anti-cosmopolitan anti-urban fear dressed up in radical clothing?
Yours for the urban free commune - P.P..
I'd like to make a few comments on items in Do or Die 6. The cover was powerfully evocative. My own heart rejoiced when I saw those machines burning, it made me realise how much heartbreak I'd buried since the previous March. But the comments about the Newbury reunion in the middle of p.27 are quite mistaken. No way does entering the compound imply tacit support for sabotage - many who did were very upset by the violence they saw. I wouldn't use the word "violence" for careful monkeywrenching. These were emotional and careless acts of revenge. Some people tried to rock a vehicle down a slope while other protesters stood below. Smashing of Portakabin windows served no rational purpose. Balaclavas are part of the culture of violence - if you want to mask up it could be done imaginatively, as some did. According to Schnews some people went as far as unmasking someone's balaclava - and Schnews demanded "this must stop" - spikies [EH?!] whining about fluffies being spiky! That unmasking doesn't sound like tacit support for sabotage. The people on the buses FoE hired were mostly not FoE members, and not everyone on them was cheering. I don't condemn either the violence or those who distanced themselves from it. But a lot of those present who were new to direct action may have been discouraged from getting more involved. I think we need to recognise our own violent feelings and realise that the people we're trying to reach may be very frightened by them - because they're frightened of their own. Power is an awesome thing and is abused by mindlessness.
Far from what the writer on p.19 said, that the fluffy-spiky debate is meaningless and should be dropped, it's a crucial live issue and is hardly being debated at all. I suspect the instinct in our movement to avoid debate and get on with action is based on folk memory of the way alternative politics in the '70s splintered itself in theoretical warfare. But I think we could learn from the Gandhian idea that everyone, fluffy, spiky, police, security or bystander, has a part of the truth.
The writer on p.19 also calls Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth "reformist" because they've never put the "destabilisation of capitalism" on their agenda - I wasn't aware that EF! had done that either. Isn't the statement of principles in the newsletter, "non-hierarchical organisation, and the use of direct action to confront, stop and reverse the forces that are responsible for the destruction of the earth and its inhabitants", adequate? Greenpeace and FoE may differ from EF! as to the style of organisation and action, but they would agree about stopping and reversing those same forces. While the specifics of those forces can be investigated (a la Corporate Watch), what is behind them is speculation and can only be known when the tactics are found and used that do stop and reverse them. I don't see that Marxist theory has had much success at doing this, so while I'm quite happy for EF!ers to indulge in it, I think it should be remembered that the spirit and character of EF! doesn't require concepts like "capitalism" or the goal of destabilising it. We already have a clearer goal which allows for the free play of each person's instinct and judgement in finding the right actions and right allies.
On a separate note, I was disappointed to see that Oxford Reclaim the Streets action on Fri. 30 June 1995 was left out of the list of actions on page 8. (We could even claim the street cafe action in Broad Street on Sat 11 June 1994 as a forerunner).
One of your Oxford Aunts.
Dear Earth First!
I have been involved in political struggles for around ten years now and in the recent few years I have learnt much from the "new wave" of ecological direct action. It is partly due to the inspiration that I have got from you all that I went to the Northern Earth First! Gathering in Manchester during October last year. After attending I was greatly disappointed with what I experienced there. I had thought that the Gathering would be a chance for people to get together; discuss the good and bad things, the failures and successes of the previous months and analyse what they were resisting and how to do it more effectively. In actual fact it seemed to be a group of people who seemed more preoccupied with doing their utmost to avoid all of these discussions - especially ones involving any deeper analysis and discussion of what they were fighting against and how to do it better.
The most disturbing thing that was lacking from the whole affair was the complete failure to place the ecological struggle into a wider framework of resistance to the whole system. It is not that the ecological destruction that Earth First! focuses on should be ignored, far from it as it is probably the most pressing problem facing us today, but it must be realised that it exists within a particular context. The fact that each and every incident of ecological devastation can be shown to be intricately linked to a wider web of domination that reaches through every layer of society, as well as the natural world, is ignored by almost all of the literature and discussion emanating from your movement.
As well as this there was much talk at the Gathering of getting more people involved, and with myself not being from the same sub-cultural ghetto as most of you seem to be, maybe I can offer a suggestion here. I remember seeing some of the news footage of the direct action at Newbury in early 1996, and at the A30 camps in Devon earlier this year, and being astounded at the political naivete of the people who spoke to the reporters and cameras on the ground - as well as the published demands. Whatever your criticisms of the media when you have a live interview it is stupid not to use it to your best advantage. Waffling on about snails that nobody (rightly or wrongly) really cares about will not cultivate support from anyone bar the most obsessed ecologists - hardly a large percentage of the people in this country.
In addition to this most of the discussion around the construction of the A30 road in Devon seemed to be centred around the fact that it was a DBFO ["Design Build Finance Operate" - privately financed] road. Surely this is beside the point and the real issue is one of the ecological damage that the construction will do - however the road is financed? By focusing on the DBFO side of the scheme, not only will most people who are not 'protesters' probably not relate to that particular aspect, but you unwittingly then legitimise road construction by other financial means; as it reduces the issue into one where it is perceived that you only have a problem with DBFO financed road construction - not all road construction.
The answer to the question of how to get more people involved is definitely not easy, and I have no answers, but a good start would be to make explicit the connections between ecological destruction and the root cause of it all - the capitalist system that we currently all live under. Do this and the movement will hopefully grow and become increasingly effective. Fail to make the links and you will follow the path that many at the Northern Gathering seem to be taking already; that of a militant liberal lobbying group that's steered by a small number of 'specialist protesters' through an endless maze of compromises and meaningless reforms, with the end result of doing nothing worthwhile bar creating something for the 'elite organisers' to put on their CV.
Wishing you luck and solidarity - D.
Last year I had the pleasure of reading the latest Do or Die - an assertive title to a magazine if ever there was one. It was refreshing to read many pieces which concentrated on the nuts and bolts of actions. It's clear that Earth First! is fundamentally about action - getting on with saving the world rather than trying to work out how to save it, or worse, trying to convince other people that only you know how it is to be saved.
I myself spent nearly ten years involved in various forms of direct action before progressing/regressing onto more "adult" activities. I have recently taken my head out of this more mundane world to look again at the world of radical campaigning. Much of it looks so familiar in the sense of having the same weaknesses as the radical peace movement in the early eighties, and no doubt with the various other "hippy" and "post-hippy" movements. These weaknesses have been identified before and many more activists I am sure will be becoming increasing aware of them.
Let's go through them again. The movement is full of transient activists - mainly young and on their way to an accommodation within the system (i.e. they may for many years hence proclaim radical opinions but this of course is long way from living them - either through direct action and/or structural lifestyle decisions). The movement is individualistic in the classic Thatcherite formulation of the word - "there is no society only individuals". Apart from personal (and often passing) friendships, the average activist has no roots - not in a community, not in a trade, not in a structured organisation. He/she does actions/jobs; he/she is free from commitment/being coerced. The movement then is itself transient - no more sustainable than the system it wishes to challenge - an outcome of the dysfunctional society which has also created its enemies. This mirror image gives an indication of the profound weaknesses and unsustainability which characterises the new movement.
So... transient, unsustainable, unstructured, uncommitted, unconnected. These are the realities behind the bravado which the movement proclaims. It's radical politics for beginners - loud, passionate, unthinking and ultimately shallow.
And to make these points will in themselves have no effect. I mean some readers will see them as outrageous (in denial), others - more sophisticated - will see them as crude (which of course they are) and wish to deny their essence by pretending to take some of them on board. Others in themselves know them to be true - that the contradictions are creeping into their consciousness - a moment of crisis is approaching.
But still this will change nothing. I could write about these weaknesses in great detail - but the arguments would just get more detailed, look more intellectually impressive, more presentable, palatable - and so would the denials - more detailed, more "clever". Yes it would be all very clever - talkers and scribblers love to be clever. But it won't change anything. This is because the problem cannot be dealt with within the cultural mindset of the radical young thatcherite/anarchist. This mindset is characterised by two immovable characteristics. Voluntarism - "If I don't want to, I won't" - at any moment I reserve the option to do what I want. Nice idea - and oh so radical and oh so ineffective. Secondly, hierarchy denial - "never show initiative - never take a lead - least of all ask for any structured commitment/organisation" - we all know where that leads.
Let's look at another mindset: "reactionary" social theory: Nothing ever happens without leaders, nothing ever happens without power, the basis of social power is organisation - ongoing structured mutual commitment. Everything else passes and fades. Sure it may get its 15 minutes of fame on entertainment TV. But entertainment is not power. Power is a movement's ability to effect change - to battle against other powers to control resources... and this takes a generation or three.
Let's look at the long-term - a good ecological principle wouldn't you say? After all these young thatcherites have gone to the ground what will be left? Nothing apart from a dusty copy of Do or Die in some university research department. But of course the next generation of crazy radical young thatcherites will be out there playing the same old tune - passionate and ineffective as ever - deja vu.
So what are we saying - activism is like drugs - part of the culture of the quick fix. But all else is reaction - Stalinism - right? Wrong.
Once there was a time when anarchism meant something real - not punk, TV culture, young plaything rebellion. It meant life or death - not just the title of a magazine. If you didn't turn up to the meeting you got fined - no messing - this was anarchism in action. Fined, because these guys were serious - because they had to be serious; a wrong collective move meant an early death for a child in a young struggling family; a loss of income for them would make living on £5 a week in this society the height of luxury. These nineteenth century workingmen struggled, organised, were sustainable, were committed (for years not months). and - surprise, surprise - they changed the world. And yet they were democratic, egalitarian and anarchist - how could this be?
In our brave new thatcherite world all this has gone - we are all rich now (when did you last go hungry), and yet we have lost our roots and tradition - no mentors, no respected old people to look up to, no fathers (all off to work we are told).
So how are we to rebuild on these cultural ruins - now one or two have seen that Thatcherism - that modern curse of shallow, rootless, uncommitted and selfish individualism - is living well in the psyches of today's new activists?
Simple. The contract. The deal. Thatcherite words? Not at all. If you want to be in our gang these are the rules. Yes, goodbye "don't tell me what to do", welcome to the institution, welcome to organisation, welcome to explicit roles, explicit egalitarianism/democracy - goodbye informal hierarchy/tyranny.
But who will create this new organisation: the first step on a thousand mile journey back to the days of being fined for turning up late. It will be created by those who are reaching crisis point - where the passion of genuine social love finally burns through the thin inadequate fabric woven by Thatcher's young followers. This initiation will have nothing to do with democracy. A change of mindset requires a revolution - an assertion, a declaration, not a group/team effort. Real change is an act of courage, defiance. So who will be the Jesus of a new radical environment organisation (not movement)? Will a new Lenin arise and declare for structured organisation - a gang with rules, contracts... and fines for those who turn up late?... answers on a postcard - I don't think. (This is not television).
What do you expect from an article on tribal peoples written by a Catholic parson? ("The Philippines - A Country for Sale" - DoD No.6) Hope you don't expect the truth. What interest would anarchists have in such an article, as the one that has been published on the Igorot peoples, in Do or Die. I don't know.
Luzon as well as the rest of the Philippine archipelago is traditional tribal land of the wandering Negrito hunter-gatherers. It has been gradually occupied by invaders since some 3000 years, similarly as the Americas have been occupied by Europeans since some 500 years or Poland had been occupied by the Germans more recently.
Proto-Malays and Chinese from Fukien reached Luzon some 200 generations ago. As they were hostile against the aborigine people - the Negritos - the invaders flew into the mountainous interior, which is now called the Cordillera mountains. They became the Igorots, that means the mountain peoples. They destroyed the mountain forests for rice terracing, as it had been done in their former homelands. And they killed the Negritos, wherever they could find them.
Today the Igorots and the related Ifugao comprise of a dozen peoples out of more than 50 on the whole Philippine archipelago. Due to intensive rice farming the Igorots denuded the Cordilleras almost completely. They also cleared the Cordilleras from the Negritos. They even grab the land to the remaining few Negrito peoples in northern Luzon which had been opened since some 20 years by commercial loggers. And they continue with the almost completed genocide of the Negritos.
The Igorots are well organised which is much a result of missionaries and development organisations. They became able to market their culture in the international tourist business. This has put them into the position that they are worldwide seen as defenders of tribal cultures and as conservationists. The Cordilleras are rich in minerals and quite a number of Igorots are involved in and financially benefit from the exploitation. But they demand full control and this led to the movement for autonomy in the '80's.
Igorot leaders speak about genocide on their peoples. There is no reason for that, but on the contrary, the Igorot continue with the genocide on the Negritos. Catholic parsons support them in this.
Hartmut Heller, Friends of Peoples Close to Nature,
Maxgrund 22, D-21481 Lauenburg, Germany.
Tel.: (+49) 4152-871851 Fax : (+49) 4152-871875
Dear Do or Die,
I am writing this in reply to the mysterious 'Judith Iscariot' (see 'Do or Die editors dig their own graves' letter on p. 148 in DoD No. 6). Apparently 'the leadership' - nominated by 'Judith' as those involved with publications and most active in EF! - are "drifting into the realms of Monty Python - The Life of Brian...". She continues; "The current obsession with revolution is not radical, but boring". No - the current 'obsession' with revolution is, not only radical, but in this world where the only change worth fighting for is total change, absolutely essential.
She then goes on by saying that if she wanted to dismiss; "the efforts of others outside the narrow margin of what is deemed acceptable I would have joined the Revolutionary Communist Party years ago." Well I suggest that she may actually be better off with a spell in the RCP. At least they have a wider (albeit flawed) political analysis of society - something that 'Judith' seems to be lacking entirely.
'Judith' concludes with the suggestion that "[w]e have to embrace other environmental groups, otherwise we will always be isolated, marginal and pathetic." Well if she is saying that being active in EF! should involve favouring lingering hugs with Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, WWF (and other such piecemeal reformist 'green' bureaucracies) over making links between, and working with, revolutionaries across the world then she should purchase a nice field with her 30 pieces of silver and...
Love and kisses - Jesus Christ.