Anarcho-capitalism and anarcho-industrialism

One of the most annoying terms in the political dictionary is “anarcho-capitalism”.

It’s annoying because it describes something that does not exist, cannot exist. I know there are people out there who claim to be “anarcho-capitalists” but this no more means that anarcho-capitalism exists than my claiming to be a unicorn would prove that unicorns actually do exist.

Their use of the word “anarchism” in conjunction with “capitalism” betrays a fundamental lack of understanding of what anarchism is. Anarchism is intrinsically opposed to all the “values” that lie behind capitalism, not least private property and a money-based society.

People who call themselves “anarcho-capitalists” are simply libertarian capitalists. Why don’t they just call themselves that and leave anarchism alone?

I have a similar reaction to the related issue of anarchism and industrialism. To me it is obvious that the two are irreconcilable. Anarchism is intrinsically opposed to all the “values” that lie behind industrialism, not least the exploitation of mass labour for profit and the levels of social coercion required to make such a society function.

But the moment you start to challenge industrial society in anarchist circles, you are likely to find yourself under ideological attack.

Technology is not the problem, it’s all about who controls it, you are told. So fracking would suddenly be fine if Cuadrilla was a workers’ co-operative? Chemical plants would miraculously stop polluting the planet if they were managed by collectives of anarcho-syndicalists?

Would chemical plants like this no longer be a source of pollution in an anarchist society?
Would chemical plants like this no longer be a source of pollution in an anarchist society?

It’s not just about who industry is controlled by, but about what it does, what it is!

I find it hard to believe that anyone’s idea of a future anarchist society could include factories of any kind. Who would be working in them if we didn’t live in a capitalist society where people desperately need to earn money to survive? Why would anyone work in a factory if they didn’t have to? In an anarchist society, what kind of social, economic or physical compulsion could be applied to make people work in factories if, as seems likely, they didn’t particularly want to?

Why do anarcho-industrialists think that factories came into existence in the first place? To help the workers? To make life better for all of us? Because we collectively needed the mass production of the things that factories make?

Or was it so that a small group of entrepreneurs could make profit out of them? Isn’t industrial society entirely a product of capitalism? Why would anyone who opposed capitalism support the physical infrastructure that makes it possible?

factory_workers
Don’t worry – the workplace is organised along anarcho-syndicalist lines

In the UK, it’s common for anyone who declares themselves an opponent of industrial society to be labelled a “primitivist”. It is considered a particular sin to express anti-industrial sentiments without branding yourself a “primitivist” by way of self-exclusion from the anarchist fold – this means you are committing the heresy of “conflating anarchism with primitivism”.

Let’s be clear – the actual conflation here is between anti-industrialism and primitivism. They are not identical. While all primitivists must necessarily be anti-industrial, every anti-industrialist does not necessarily have to be a primitivist.

It is no coincidence, I suspect, that anarcho-primitivism as a term originated in the USA, where the transition from “primitive” pre-colonial society to modern industrial society was relatively fast and traumatic.

In Europe and Asia, that change has taken a lot longer, and there are many kinds of historical forms of social organisation that are neither primitive nor industrial.

I can see the strength in the primitivist argument that all these intermediary stages are part of the process that led to contemporary industrial society. From this perspective, seeking permanence and stability in one of these pre-industrial stages would be something like arguing that a man falling off a cliff will be fine as long as he stops half way down.

Is this "primitivism"?
Another world is possible

But, despite that, the possible future anarchist society that I hold in my heart tends to look more like the Middle Ages than the Stone Age. We wouldn’t be lumbered with all that feudalism, misogyny and religious intolerance, of course, because this wouldn’t be the actual Middle Ages we were living in, but a free post-industrial society with a similarly low level of industrialisation.

Inspiration from the Middle Ages is not at all unknown among anarchists. Peter Kropotkin, Gustav Landauer and, more recently, Herbert Read are all good examples. William Morris, who today looks more like an anarchist than a socialist, was another idealist who despised the industrial society imposed on humanity by the capitalist system.

In France there is currently a powerful anti-industrial current in the wider anarchist movement which is not dismissed as “primitivist”.

So what about the UK today? We seem to have an anarchist movement that pays lip service to environmental issues, takes part in environmental struggles, and yet does not dare to challenge the actual existence of the industrial system.

This is probably just a reflection of our society as a whole. We in Britain have been industrialised for so many generations now that we are no longer even aware of what has happened to us.

A detail from LS Lowry's The Canal Bridge (1949)

But aren’t anarchists supposed to be different? Aren’t we supposed to cut through the crap which is spoon-fed to us by capitalist society and challenge the deepest, most ingrained assumptions by which this exploitative system maintains its control?

Can’t we stand up and say that in an anarchist society there would be no more factories, motorways or airports, just as we are happy to say there would be no armies, police or prisons?

If we can’t, then what exactly is this anarchist vision which sustains and motivates us? What a strange world it would be, in which newly-freed slaves voluntarily kept going the machinery that had exploited and tormented them, poisoned their air, their water and their soil?

Anarcho-industrialism, it seems to me, is just as much an oxymoron as the self-contradictory nonsense of so-called “anarcho-capitalism”. Neither of them makes any sense at all.

this is an emergency!

Review: Helen Moore, Ecozoa (Hampshire: Permanent Publications, 2015)

O, obscene era

this is an emergency!

(‘Deep Time, Deep Tissue’)

ecozoa

There’s no mistaking the message articulated by Helen Moore in her new collection of eco-poetry.

Already in 2012’s Hedge Fund she was warning of the existential threat to our natural world at the same time as marvelling at its delights.

But three years later, with Ecozoa, there is the impression of a still sharper edge to her vision, perhaps in response to yet more sharply-cut wounds inflicted by the murderous mutilating monster known as industrial civilization.

A landscape devastated by fracking
A landscape devastated by fracking

What has changed over that period? For a start, Moore’s English homelands have been threatened by fracking, a process which is so blatantly unacceptable that it reveals itself and the mindset behind it as an assault not just on our soil, air and water but on all good sense, on any vision of a future place worth living in.

earth is not our wider, life-sustaining body

but a cache of raw matter to be stripped, mined, fracked

(‘apples are not the only gadgets’)

There are poems here reflecting her own participation in (‘This is not a dirty protest!’) and support for the anti-fracking struggle. “And may the frackers’ drills go soft, their stocks & shares evaporate!” she prays in ‘I call on the spirit of Owen’.

Moore is scathing about those who bear responsibility for the destruction of our planetary life-support system, “the kind of chaff that congregates out of sight of the general public – like arms dealers, corporate lobbyists & government ministers”. (‘The Pocket’s Circumference).

iraq-war-shock-and-awe

In ‘Kali Exorcism’, a Ginsberg-inspired piece, she unleashes her moral scorn for those leaders of our society who dare to proclaim their moral high ground from the darkest depths of a stinking corpse-filled pit of hypocrisy.

then show us the hands of our prime minister and his henchmen

in the pockets of BAE Systems, touting for business

with morbid regimes and crackpot dictators,

and their arms fairs, where they never ask what’s fair

in selling arms, just rake in the bloodied money,

as our own banks account to cluster-bomb makers.

Come, dark goddess, tear off veils of rhetoric that conceal

war-mongering deeds in cloaks of respectability: help us

hear deeper than the pre-emptive strikes, the collateral damage

ventriloquised by our complicit media,

and demand plain language to describe victims of torture,

rape and murder in the wars they report.

mountains in wales

At the same time, she sings sublime songs of praise to all that she loves, such as in the beautifully simple poem ‘glory be to Gaia’:

glory be to Gaia,

for birdsong, mountains and clear lakes;

we honour & praise you, Gaia,

giant pulsating orb of life

from which we’ve grown –

please help us feel our interdependence

with all animal and human kin

I may be doing Moore a disservice by drawing attention to the poems that most directly express a ‘political’ message – there are plenty in the collection that concern other aspects of her life.

But for me, that is where the power in her work resides – not just in her expression of a message, but in her awareness of how important it is that this message be expressed, and in her acceptance of the responsibility that she bears to help express it.

This is perhaps something that has started to grow much more strongly within her, like an idea-child, in recent years, as she hints in ‘Sweet Pain’:

So I’ve chosen to embrace

different responsibilities – to journey through

my wounds to serve The Great Turning.

Now let revolutionary love suckle

at my breast – the desire’s been growing

As she explains in her ‘Notes’ at the end of the collection, the term “The Great Turning”, popularised by Joanna Macy and David Korten, describes “the movement from an industrial-growth society to a life-sustaining one”.

The book’s title comes from Thomas Berry’s proposal of an “Ecozoic Era”, denoting a new age where we live in harmony and “with the Earth as our community”.

William_Blake
William Blake

But an even more important presence in this book is that of William Blake (1757-1827). He also partly inspired its title, with his work The Four Zoas, and figures from his own personal poetic mythology – Tharmas, Urizen, Urthona and Luvah – here feature as headings for the sections of the collection.

Blake in many ways provides a bridge from the ancient world to the new. Historian Christopher Hill has written that he detects an inspiration for Blake’s Romantic vision in “an underground heretical tradition which influenced his thought in a communitarian and chiliastic direction”, which had been passed down by the “mystical anarchists” of the millenarian sects of the Middle Ages, especially the Brethren of the Free Spirit, via the English Revolution (for more on this see The Stifled Soul of Humankind).

Inspiring - Blake's mystic vision
Inspiring – Blake’s mystic vision

Blake’s spirit – “a kind of pantheistic idealism” to use a label deployed by anarchist writer Peter Marshall – resurfaced to dramatic effect at the end of the 19th century but has been somewhat crushed by the machineries and microchips of the 20th and early 21st centuries.

By placing herself in a direct line of ideological descent from Blake, Moore is doing more than expressing admiration for him. She is proclaiming herself as a contemporary manifestation of that same “underground heretical tradition”.

Of course, like all watery things, this stream of thought is not easy to pin down or define and in Moore it takes on a new shape, appropriate to our age and influenced by contemporary environmentalism and feminism – as well as by the very experience of living in these disastrously dislocated and disintegrating times.

However, it is clear to me that Moore is very consciously invoking, summoning up, the spirit that animated Blake, his predecessors and his successors – bringing it into existence in our midst, in England, in 2015, so that it can inspire once more.

She cites Thomas Berry as saying that that the Ecozoic Era is something that “we must will into being”, and in doing so she reveals that her chosen task is to help to do just that.

For we are too deeply buried now in layers of deepest delusion, deception and despotism for our salvation to come through straightforward means. It is becoming increasingly impossible for people to even imagine a world that is not choked by the capitalist cancer, let alone begin to create one.

Something more than narrow rationality is needed to snap us out of our sleepwalk towards the cliff edge. Something powerful and magical – something poetical! – needs to surge out of our dreams, out of our collective soul, something that can break the hypnotic spell and bring humankind to its waking senses.

Yes, “this is an emergency” – and an emergency to which Helen Moore for one is clearly prepared to respond.

Helen Moore

(Information on readings and other launch events can be found here)

The new French resistance

Something very important is happening in France at the moment.

The immediate catalyst for this historical turning-point has been the murder, by gendarmes, of a young environmental protester, Rémi Fraisse, near Albi on October 26.

The 21 year old, studying at nearby Toulouse, was supporting a campaign to stop a dam being built in a local valley. This dam, at Sivens near Le Testet, was only ever designed to help local agri-business and had been pushed through by local representatives of the ruling Socialist Party.

Unsurprisingly, the pros and cons of the scheme were suddenly exposed to the full spotlight of national publicity once the news eventually got out that Rémi was dead and that he had indeed been killed by a sound-grenade fired into his back at point blank range by the military-run police.

Some of the massive media attention has been diverted on to the usual party-political level of internal criticism and a deepening gulf between different groupings on the Left.

But it has also forced into the French public consciousness in a big way the fact that there is serious resistance being mounted against industrial capitalism. This has long been apparent with the Notre Dame des Landes ZAD (zone à défendre) against the proposed new airport for Nantes, but with Brittany in a general state of rebellion this was perhaps dismissed as an exception.

Now attention has been drawn to the fact that these kinds of battles are being fought all over the country, many of them going unreported in the corporate national media.

These protests are reminiscent of the wave of anti-roads protests in the UK in the 1990s. Traditional local opposition has successfully merged with a more radical approach, to the extent that a diversity of tactics does not prevent a unity of purpose.

Much was made by right-wing media of the fact that Rémi was killed during or after a full-on night-time attack on the dam building site by mostly masked-up comrades, in which molotovs were apparently thrown at the cops – this had followed a 7,000-strong protest march that afternoon.

But the manner in which he was killed has exposed the far greater violence deployed by the authorities in their policing – campaigners have reported weeks of constant physical intimidation by gendarmes, long before protesters finally tried to fight back.

And, of course, the violence of the police is just an echo of the violence against nature of the dam project itself, of the violence inherent in the entire ecocidal industrial system.

The astonishing thing is that people saying this, and calling for increased resistance, have actually been given a voice in the mainstream media, on the wave of public shock at Rémi’s death. 

No doubt this will only be a temporary blip and the usual propaganda will be restored as soon as possible, but in many ways that will be too late. The can of worms has been opened. The public now knows that there are thousands of people – many of them very young – across France who consider themselves at war with the industrial machine,  all its political parties, its hired uniformed thugs, its lies and assumptions.

If France is ahead of the UK in this respect it is perhaps because there is a lot more countryside here – France has about the same population as the UK, but is twice the size. People dropping out of the rat race tend to flood into cheaper remote rural areas in a way that is not possible in England, where land prices ensure the countryside is often the preserve of the rich. 

Many of those fleeing to the countryside are aiming to escape modern industrial life rather than combat it. But once they get there, they inevitably come across the latest local tentacle of the global greed-monster destroying our planet. And they stand and fight. When, as ever, the capitalist system treats them like criminals for daring to dissent, they are radicalised. And they increase their resistance, deepen their solidarity with others.

It is significant that it is the so-called Left that is in power, both locally and nationally. Because what is happening has very little to do with outdated notions of Right versus Left, in which all are agreed on the need for “economic growth”, for “progress” and for “jobs”.

The opponents of the dam are in favour of  “décroissance” (“de-growth”), of “anti-productivisme” – a philosophy which flows easily into the decentralism and anti-capitalism of specifically anarchist currents.

This is the war which is already being fought all over the world, but can only become clearer and more intense as time goes on. It’s humanity against the machine, nature against profit, the life-force against the industrial death-sentence.

The murder of one of our comrades by henchmen of the capitalist system (in France this time, but it happens everywhere) confirms again in a sickening way that this war is real and their intentions are ruthlessly lethal. 


We must take this knowledge on board, gain a clear and uncluttered overview of what is happening and communicate this understanding to others, so that we can mobilise all that is good and strong in humanity to ensure that the foul forces of darkness do not prevail. The stakes could hardly be higher.

Fracked by the system

 

Will there one day be “no spot of English ground left, on which it shall be possible to stand, without a definite and calculable chance of being blown off it, at any moment, into small pieces”?

The quotation comes from a speech made by John Ruskin to the Mechanics’ Institute in Bradford on March 1, 1859.*

Despite all the industrial devastation we have seen since – much of it, of course, outsourced to other parts of the world – this specific warning still sounds like an exaggeration.

However, a century and a half later England is facing a threat on that sort of scale. Explosions, earthquakes, poisoned air, chemical pollution and tap water that bursts into flames – these are all side-effects of fracking, the nightmarish form of gas extraction being imposed on this country.

The scale of what is likely to be unleashed doesn’t seem to have percolated through to the general public yet. It’s not just a well here and there across the countryside we’re talking about, but a saturation level of environmental exploitation.

Campaign group Frack Off reports that in Balcombe, West Sussex “at a spacing of 4 wells per square mile, full scale development could mean 32 wells within the parish and over 300 within 5 miles of the village. Cuadrilla have produced no estimates, but at a spacing of 4 wells per square mile development could mean up to 1,200 wells in Cuadrilla’s licence blocks in Sussex. Possibly more for shale gas development. A vast network of pipelines, compressor stations and processing plants would be needed to support such a development”.

And they add that another fracking firm, Celtique Energy, “have been bragging extensively about the shale oil and gas they hope to be able to extract. The volume of oil and gas they are promising to shareholders would require over 6,000 shale gas wells and 800 shale oil wells in West Sussex”.

And that’s just one corner. A staggering 64% of England is considered suitable for fracking. Imagine the scale of extraction proposed for a few small areas of West Sussex, but replicated across the country! Take a look of aerial photos of parts of the USA or Australia where the frackers have been at work (see top image). That’s what England could be reduced to in a few decades’ time.

And how about those of us who live here? Maybe our homes will have collapsed in a fracking-induced earthquake like the ones in Blackpool.

Maybe we will be suffering from early-onset dementia caused by the poisoning of our air or our drinking water.

Maybe we’ll even have been burnt to death after the water from our taps caught fire. Nothing is too outlandish to come true in the fracked-up world of shale energy.

The whole thing goes a lot further than this, of course. Think of all the tankers and works traffic constantly using these thousands of sites. Think of the new access roads that will have to be built over our countryside, all the rest of the infrastructure.

And when we’re always being encouraged to save water, how are the millions of gallons needed for fracking going to suddenly become available for the industry to poison and squander?

The threat of fracking is clearly so huge and so horrific that a massive uprising of pubic anger and opposition is needed to defeat it.

Various attempts are underway. But the trouble is that, as ever, opponents are not just up against a few energy companies pushing specific projects. They are up against the whole of the corporate system, the global capitalist system, which is promoting fracking and hell-bent on imposing it on England and anywhere else they can.

The links between the fracking industry and the government (or, if you prefer, between capitalism and the state which it uses to enforce and legitimise its monopoly of wealth) are not even very well hidden.

Lord Browne, a director of fracking firm Cuadrilla, was appointed to the Cabinet Office in June 2010 by Francis Maude, who happens to be MP for Cuadrilla’s first Sussex fracking-target, Balcombe.

Fracking is specifically supported by the G8 group of “world leaders” and was rumoured to have been on the agenda at the secretive Bilderberg meeting in the UK earlier this summer. The latest update is that Chancellor George Osborne is handing out a 50% tax break to the fracking industry, despite so-called “austerity”.

This official pro-fracking line (which does not stem in any way from the “democracy” in which we are always told we are lucky to be basking) has been reflected in a series of pro-fracking stories planted in the press, with arch-capitalist and climate change denier Lord Lawson warning solemnly of the dangers of being “held to ransom by green fanaticism”.

As Britain’s most-read newspaper (and draw your own conclusions as to what that says about this country and its residents), it was clearly important that The Sun was involved and it has been spewing forth a seemingly endless deluge of pro-fracking propaganda, full of talk of a “fracking goldmine” which offers the “hope of solving future energy problems and giving a £4billion-a-year boost to the economy”.

Combining its pro-fracking stance with its anti-EU one, The Sun also accused the European Parliament’s environment committee of trying to “strangle shale gas exploration with red tape”.

The Mail on Sunday weighed in with its own rabidly pro-fracking piece: “Dirty tricks of the fracking deniers: How Green zealots peddle cynical propaganda to stop Britain mining £3trillion of shale gas…enough to keep the lights on for 141 YEARS”

It’s unlikely that the capitalist system will stop at media mind-manipulation to force through fracking. No doubt even now, special units of political police are being set up to infiltrate, monitor, control, undermine and destroy the opposition to fracking.

If the bribes don’t work and resistance steps up to the level of direct action, the Mail’s “green zealots” will become “eco-terrorists” and new laws will have to passed to put down the revolt.

This is the reality faced by all “single-issue” campaigns, such as that against fracking – ultimately it’s the whole system you’re up against.

That’s obviously why so many people who start fighting one particular threat to our lives and happiness end up with a wider perspective that enables them to see the bigger picture.

The bigger picture here is that the capitalist-industrialist system will never voluntarily give up destroying the planet for its own gain and ruthlessly using all its considerable power to ensure nobody gets in its way.

The bigger picture is that in fighting fracking, or road-building, or new airports, or nuclear power, we are fighting the system.

And the biggest picture is that we can’t permanently win any of those battles until we have confronted the monster itself, until we have stood up together and said there is more that we value than its obscene obsession with profit, its deadly addiction to “growth” and its poisonous path of “progress”.

Only once we have driven a stake through the heart of this planetary parasite can we recover the life and the future that it has so cruelly stolen from us all.

* There’s a longer section of Ruskin’s speech in The Anarchist Revelation.

Eco-poets resisting the dominant materialist culture

A perceptive and positive piece on eco-poetry has been produced by Helen Moore, whose work I referred to recently.

In the article in the International Times, she writes: “Ecopoetry arises out of the extended self, a sense of belonging to the widest community that we can imagine and experience, that of our 4.5 billion year-old home, planet Earth, and beyond, into the mysteries of our Universe.

“The connected or ecological self is, as Australian rainforest activist John Seed writes, able to ‘think like a mountain’.

“His/her consciousness arises from a place of deep communion, a Zen Buddhist awareness of the one breath that all beings share.

“Thus the ecopoet understands more than the linguistic link between Mother Nature and human nature – a connection largely forgotten in Western culture, although thankfully since the 1960s, an extraordinary counter-cultural awakening to our radical interdependence with the natural world has been occurring in many minds around the world.

“However, ecopoets in the modern Western tradition (in contrast to many non-Western ethnopoetic traditions) have generally been shaped by the dominant secular, materialist culture – one which treats the Earth as an inanimate resource to be endlessly exploited.”

Helen Moore’s eco-poetry

I had the pleasure last week of attending the launch up in London of the debut book by young eco-poet Helen Moore.

It’s called Hedge Fund & other living margins and, as you can probably tell from the title, it combines a critique of our current industrial/money system with a celebration of the real life that it is smothering and choking to death.

The impressive title poem does this in a very direct, and effective, way by alternating sparking descriptions of glorious nature with a flatter italicised voice describing the parallel death-world of finance.

The theme is also taken up in ‘capitalism, a Sonnet’, another of the poems that Helen performed on the night:

chemical Macaque      glaxosmithkline
roche       trepanned-brain Baboon

max factor eyes burning Cat      l’oreal
Rabbit      (the devil wears perfume)

o,dear        easyjet      ryanair
melting Reindeer, Polar Bear

but a bargain for mcdonalds‑
Earth’s rainforests        slashed

As Asians sweat for adidas
nike       the evil empire’s goddess

o, bless all ecocidal patriarchs‑so smart
in suits         armani uniforms

a cocktail of intellect and greed
hellish stuff        they puppet us to need

Helen clearly has no illusions as to the scale of the threat to our living planet posed by ‘The Cancer’ that is our civilization (as expressed in a piece of that name), and there is a certain inevitable sense of sadness running through her poetry – notably in ‘The Fallen’, which pays tribute to nine native species of British wildflower that have died out in recent years.

But she refuses to give way to despair and surging up through her carefully chosen words is a powerful message of hope drawn from the energy of life itself.

This is beautifully presented in ‘Pantoum on Planting Seeds’:

How I misjudge these smallest things‑
dull and dry as peppercorns,
when in my palm I hold
a potency waiting to be sown.

Dull and dry as peppercorns
and yet in dormancy they breathe,
potency waiting to unfold,
sensing fertile sun and soil.

And yet in dormancy they breathe
and slowly awaken‑
sensing fertile sun and soil‑
to rise with levity and purpose.

Slowly I awaken
to these living beings I hold;
seeking levity and purpose
they whisper, electric with potential.

Hedge Fund & other living margins by Helen Moore is published by Shearsman Books at £8.95. For details go to http://www.shearsman.com/pages/books/catalog/2012/moore.html