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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
It is an account both of the fracking industry and of the movement that has sprung up, almost overnight it seems, to resist the threat.
Endorsed with a foreword by actors James Bolam and Sue Jameson, it is written, I think, in just the right way to be able to make new converts to the frack free rebellion. There are plenty of hard detailed facts to convince sceptics, but not at the expense of an overview of the broader context.
The book contains some particularly useful rebuttals of the myths rolled out by the industry, via an obliging corporate media, to justify its ecocidal activities. For instance, we are often told that there is in fact nothing new about fracking and it has been around for decades.
Dale responds: “Artificially stimulating wells is an old technology, but high-pressure high-volume slack water hydraulic fracturing has only been in use for around ten years. The Department of Energy and Climate Change, and the former Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, confirm that only one well has been ‘fracked’ in the UK – Preese Hall near Blackpool in 2011”.
He also easily deflates the industry’s insistence that “the amount of water used in fracking is considerably less than used in agriculture and even by golf courses annually” by pointing out: “The water used in agriculture and golf courses is able to return to the natural water cycle and so is not wasted or removed. Fracking, however, pollutes the water used to such an extent that it cannot be cleaned or returned to the water cycle”.
Continuing to explore the key subject of water, he adds: “In the USA four states have proven that their water sources have been polluted by fracking. The geology of the UK is much older and more heavily faulted than in the USA, meaning that there are many times more opportunities and likelihood of migrating contaminants and seismic events”.
And he asks, crucially: “If drinking water is safe, why are drilling companies in the USA going to the huge expense of shipping and supplying bottled water free of charge to residences near fracking sites?”
The enormous impact of fracking on the countryside is something deliberately obscured by the industry, which likes to present a picture of one or two inconspicuous nodding donkeys in a largely unchanged landscape.
However, as Dale points out: “Aside from all the other environmental issues, if the UK is to see the same kind of ‘fracking boom’ as in the USA then large tracts of the countryside would have to be given over to well pads and pipelines – approximately one pad every kilometre, each with up to 10 or 12 lateral wells”.
Observers of the fracking industry will have noticed a pattern of denial in the way it tries to push its projects through with the minimum of local opposition. It is prepared to swear until it is blue in the face that is not going to frack, and then suddenly, at the last minute, announce that, actually, it is going to do so after all. Is this what is going to happen, for instance, at Broadford Bridge in West Sussex?
Dale charts this oft-repeated scenario as it unfolded a couple of years ago in Lancashire: “On 11th January 2013, less than two months after ruling out hydraulic fracturing, Cuadrilla submitted a Scoping Opinion to Lancashire County Council to accompany an application for ‘the testing and hydraulic fracturing of exploratory lateral borehole’ at the Annas Road site. Confusingly, the aforementioned application, validated just five days later, expressly ruled out any fracturing at the site, instead wishing to take a core sample of the shale rock along a lateral borehole”.
The UK authorities have also often tried to reassure the public that fracking will be perfectly safe here, because of all the lovely regulations we have in place.
But the book reveals that behind the scenes the government has in fact been trying to prevent regulations from getting in the way of the fracking industry’s profits!
Dale writes: “Leaked documents from the European Commission in January 2014 identified Prime Minister David Cameron and the UK Government as the chief opposition to new environmental legislation on fracking operations, stating in a letter to the EC President: ‘It is essential the EU minimise the regulatory burdens and costs on industry… by not creating uncertainty or introducing new legislation. The industry in the UK had told us that new EU legislation would delay imminent investment”.
Dale reveals that the only “regulation” the UK has in mind is one conducted by the industry itself! “UK pro-shale advocates cite that there are ‘Gold Standard Regulations’ that make the process of fracking safe for the UK. However, it has been found through Freedom of Information requests that neither the Environment Agency nor the Health and Safety Executive conduct independent inspections of any oil or gas well sites, but instead rely on self-regulation by the well operators”.
The author points out early in the book that “the Coalition Government are overtly pro-shale” and as the details of his research confirm time and time that this is indeed the case, so it leads us on to a broader, and more disconcerting, appreciation of the close collaboration between state and business.
On every level, the state exposes itself as a tool in the hands of the fracking industry. Even the road repairs and widening around drill sites are in effect a subsidy for private industry from the public purse.
The UK state has also actively prevented the public from hearing the truth about the disastrous impact of fracking if it is allowed to go ahead, even notoriously censoring one of its own reports on the issue! Dale recalls that in August 2014, government department DEFRA released a report “on the potential impacts of shale gas exploration on rural communities. The report was only 13 pages in length but contained 63 redactions, obscuring almost all of its content. Eight sections had been deleted from the executive summary, four sections on economic impacts, four sections on social impacts, 17 sections on local service impacts and three sections specifically looking at the impact on house prices near drilling sites”.
The state’s reaction to public opposition to fracking – in particular the right to drill under people’s homes without their permission – has also exposed as a complete sham the phoney “consultation” with which it likes to dress up its edicts.
The book tells us: “On the 26th September, the Department for Energy and Climate Change announced the results of the consultation on underground access – some 40,647 responses were made with an astonishing 99% rate of objection to the plans to allow drilling without landowner permission. However, in a press release DECC stated that: ‘We acknowledge the large number of responses against the proposal and the fact that the proposal has provided an opportunity for the public to voice their concerns and raise issues. However the role of the consultation was to see arguments and evidence to consider in developing the proposed policy. Whilst a wide range of arguments were raised and points covered, we did not identify any issues that persuaded us to change the basic form of the proposals”.
As if this wasn’t bad enough, a couple of weeks later a last-minute amendment to what was to become the Infrastructure Act allowed fracking firms to put any substance at all into the ground and leave it there for ever!
A whiff of suspicion has surrounded the fracking industry’s links to government ever since it emerged that Balcombe’s MP Francis Maude had appointed Lord Browne, then chairman of fracking firm Cuadrilla, as lead non-executive in the Cabinet Office, advising on energy policy.
A few eyebrows were also raised when it was revealed that the new chairman of the Environment Agency, Sir Philip Dilley, was from 2009 to 2014 chairman of consultancy company Arup Group, the agent for Cuadrilla’s new drilling application for Balcombe in January 2014.
Vested interests have also popped up in less expected quarters, Dale explains, detailing the case of David Montagu-Smith, chairman of fracking firm Rathlin Energy: “Mr Montagu-Smith is also the Chairman of the West Northamptonshire District Committee of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) and it has been revealed in the minutes of a meeting of Desborough Town Council held on the 20th February 2014 (at which he gave a presentation on fracking) that he worked on the development of CPRE’s National Fracking Policy Guidance.
The opening line of these guidance notes (published in November 2013) states: ‘Based on the information we have at present, the CPRE does not oppose the exploration of shale gas in principle, provided it meets certain conditions’.”
Of course, the role of the police in loyally defending the interests of big business against those of the communities they supposedly serve has been a major part of the fracking story. Dale quotes a lawyer who represented some of the Balcombe campaigners as saying of the police: “What they did criminalised protest. They used the Section 14 orders and bail conditions, which were imposed on everyone, and which stopped them from going within miles of the site, to stop them from protesting. It was like an injunction by the back door. If you turn up – new to protest – and then see people being arrested and handcuffed, it is quite shocking and frightening and puts you off being there”.
The police’s interference has at times been so blatant that, reveals Dale, even a Deputy District Judge at Manchester Magistrates Court was moved to say that they had exceeded their powers on several occasions by intervening of behalf of frackers Igas and to accuse the Greater Manchester Police of “acting as civil enforcement officers for the company”.
This is not an issue that is confined to fracking of course – and the permanent role of the state as the enforcer of private interests is something that it is vitally important for us all to understand (as I point out in my new book, Forms of Freedom).
Dale finds room in his book for a mention of TTIP, the transatlantic trade treaty which takes the power of corporate interests to a whole new level of visibility – it is almost as if the ruling elite are bored with even pretending that their version of “democracy” has any meaning and are moving on to a new phase of blatantly totalitarian capitalism – “plutofascism”.
He writes: “Of major concern to the anti-fracking movement (and many other non-governmental organisations) is that the TTIP includes a clause that in effect would allow American companies and/or their investors to sue European governments and have policies overturned if they are deemed to have a reducing effect on profitability… The fear regarding fracking is that American companies would be entitled to legally challenge and overturn any European bans on the technology, such as are in place in France, Germany and Spain, or even remove and amend industry regulations and laws if they are seen as hindering the profitability for investors”.
The extent to which the neoliberal agenda involves a complete privatisation of every aspect of our lives, a complete ownership of our communities by the business elite, is nicely illustrated by the way the state has even sold out the education system to the fracking industry.
Dale explains: “Blackpool and The Fylde College is to become a new ‘National College for Onshore Oil and Gas’, with offshoots in Chester, Portsmouth, Redcar and Strathclyde. Responding to this, Blackpool campaigner, Tina Rothery, said: ‘As a mother and local resident, I am fuming. Our bloody children now! Bad enough they buy councillors, lie to and pay off landowners, mislead residents and railroad campaigners, but this is obscene”.
Dale’s book concludes with a very useful resource – a catalogue of fracking-related incidents in North America between January 2013 and December 2014, including everything from toxic fluids polluting streams and rivers, to explosions, fires and deaths caused by fracking tankers.
One interesting entry for April 2014 records: “A Jury in Dallas, Texas, awards a family nearly $3 million in compensation from Aruba Petroleum Inc after the company’s fracking operations were found to have been responsible for causing years of illness, deaths of pets and livestock and making the property uninhabitable for months at a time”.
A year later, the UK media were feverishly speculating that Sussex and Surrey could become “Britain’s Dallas” because of the scale of claimed oil finds around Horse Hill. Dale’s excellent book should help people to grasp what exactly that would mean!
* There are regular updates on the fracking struggle and the wider degrowth movement in The Acorn, the new info bulletin from Winter Oak Press.
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.
Assumptions are the highest walls of the prison in which the human spirit is currently confined.
The most pernicious assumption of all is that industrial capitalism is the only possible form that human society can take: the path of history could only have ever taken us to this point and the path of the future can only ever take us further still in the same direction.
To suggest that things could have been any different is regarded as absurd. The very fact that our society is how it is today is taken as irrevocable proof that it could never have turned out any other way. This is nonsense, of course – a ridiculous, circular, self-justifying argument.
Just because I missed my bus this morning, does not mean that I could only ever have missed my bus. It does not mean that if I had set my alarm clock properly I couldn’t have caught it. It doesn’t stop me from saying that I wish I had managed to catch the bus or from deciding to take precautions to ensure that I don’t miss it again tomorrow.
Bound up with this assumption of the “inevitability” of industrial civilization comes the assumption of its “inevitable” continuation. This is even more obviously ill-founded. The future can be whatever we, collectively, want it to be.
So where do these assumptions come from? Although propaganda is all-pervasive in contemporary society, assumptions function on a deeper, almost invisible level. They are built into the structure of our thinking as much as into the specific contents.
As such, they are not necessarily propagated in a consciously deliberate manner. It is quite likely that most of those who maintain them in the public mind are unaware of what they are doing, are themselves held in the same mental trap.
These delusions – for this is what they are – are an aspect of the system itself. Without them it would not exist. They are part of the process by which it has come into being and remained in being. The delusions, the assumptions, create the system as much as the other way round.
They are very hard to counter, containing as they do a sort of in-built defence mechanism against any challenge to their validity.
The same assumption that says that history is just something that inevitably happened – in a retrospectively pre-determined way! – also prevents us from seeing that this is an assumption. It presents itself as an undeniable truth. You can’t challenge an undeniable truth. You don’t even consider whether or not it is an “undeniable truth” – you just accept its message as undeniably true, without even seeing that there is a message there, without registering that there is any subjectivity at all in what it is proposing. I suppose that’s what an assumption is: it’s something that never even gets thought about, it just sits there as the basis of something’s thinking. It is the canvas on which people’s opinions are painted.
So how do you reach down far enough to be able to challenge an assumption? How can you even show people that there is an assumption there, when their closed mindset is working on the assumption that there is no assumption – just historical reality that is absolutely undeniable?
You can hammer away at the outer shell of all these layers of delusion for as long as you like, without making a dent. You can shout at people until you’re blue in the face but if what you’re saying makes no sense to them, because it does not relate to what they have come to believe is reality, they will just assume you are mad.
We dissidents need to find creative ways of worming past people’s defences, bypassing the mental barriers erected against anything that challenges the framework on which they have built their understanding of the world.
Subverting, undermining and then demolishing these prison-walls of assumption is perhaps the most crucial and urgent task that lies before us if we are to pull our species back from the brink of self-destruction.
Resistance is growing to a threat facing one of the most important expanses of forest in western Europe.
German energy firm E.ON has signed a 20-year contract with the French authorities to ravage the stunning countryside of the Cévennes in order to provide biomass for its newly-converted power station at Gardanne, near Marseille.
It has got its greedy eyes on between 800,000 and a million tonnes of wood a year to keep the turbines of private profit turning.
The fact that much of the targeted area in the south of France is in a national park is of little interest either to E.ON or to its governmental collaborators, who are subsiding the firm’s ecocidal profiteering to the tune of 1.4 billion euros.
Of course, the whole thing is being wrapped up in green tinsel and presented as some kind of “sustainable management” project, particularly of the extensive local chestnut forests.
But any comforting images of hardy lumberjacks patiently thinning out the trees on the verdant mountain slopes are very far from the mark.
Instead, E.ON’s collaborators will be launching a full-scale industrial attack on the forests, using massive machinery to clear-cut vast swathes of trees from what is currently a landscape of remarkable beauty.
The “innovative” means it has it mind to penetrate the often-inaccessible areas include giant forestry “spiders” and mobile bridges to get across inconveniently-placed mountain rivers.
The usual excuse of “creating employment” falls a little flat when it only takes a few people to operate these machines. Predictably, though, the workerist “left” in the form of the CGT union has decided to support the whole madness on the basis of protecting a few dozen jobs back at the power station – as ever, actual opposition to the industrial capitalist system is out of the question.
With most levels of authority, including the Cévennes National Park, having bought into the project, it has been left to locals and environmentalist campaigners to take up the struggle.
The radical Cévennes newsletter Bogues reported that a resounding and unanimous “no” to E.ON’s disastrous plans has emerged from “all the different meetings attended by residents, elected representatives and forestry professionals which have been held on this subject in our valleys”.
E.ON itself has noted the “initial negative perception of our project” – arrogantly assuming with the use of the word “initial” that people will eventually swallow its greenwash propaganda.
While the third biggest energy supply firm in the world is trying to pass itself off as a supporter of “sustainable energy”, its past tells a different story. In 2008 the group was the second worst CO2 polluter in Europe. In 2009 it was also famously on the receiving end of the second biggest fine in the entire history of the EU (533 million euros) for illegally trying to stitch up the distribution of Russian gas in France and Germany with GDF.
E.ON is putting it about that it will be mainly using green waste and bits of wood that can’t be used elsewhere. But in truth, the trees it cuts down will account for 80% of the biomass that it consumes. (This process is itself wasteful – its 33% efficiency means two out of three trees will essentially be burnt to heat up the atmosphere rather than produce electricity).
To start with, half of the timber will come from abroad, where other forests will be rased to keep the money-making fires of Gardanne alight. The other half will come from the local regions of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, Rhône-Alpes and Languedoc-Roussillon.
By 2025, all of the wood is planned to be cut down from the forests of southern France, with E.ON particularly targeting areas of the Cévennes in the southern part of Lozère, to the north of Alès, and around Le Vigan, Quissac and Anduze.
There are countless environmental dangers involved in the scheme, of course – such as soil erosion in the newly clear-cut areas and chemical pollution of earth and water. With no replanting plans announced, spaces left by felled chestnut trees will naturally be refilled by maritime pines, the local pioneer species, leading to acidified soil and greater risks from forest fires.
Roads will have to be built and widened to take all the heavy traffic. And campaigners warn that in the wake of the industrial clearances will come monoculture plantations, genetically modified trees and increasing domination of forestry resources by big business, leaving little room for local initiatives.
There is more to a forest than a potential source of fuel. It is part of nature, part of the eco-system which keeps us alive and part of the culture of the area. If the profusion of chestnuts, “poor man’s bread”, in the forests of the Cévennes symbolises the enduring potential to survive outside the industrial civilisation, the intrusion here of capitalism’s war-machinery is symbolic of the scale of the threat facing our autonomy and our planet.
Pascal Menon, a local woodcutter opposing the scheme, told Nature et Progrès magazine that there was a deeper cause for the threat than simply financial gain. “There’s something more serious there, a notion of anti-nature which comes from the fact that we’ve cut ourselves off from our own so-called ‘wild’ feelings. We need to find a different basis for our relationship with the forest.”
Every battle like this, anywhere in the world, forms part of one big war – that of humanity, nature and life against capitalism, greed and death.
The people of the Cévennes have a long and proud history of standing up against injustice imposed from outside, whether in the form of the Camisard guerrillas who defied the French state and the Catholic Church 300 years ago, or the Maquisards who maintained armed resistance to fascism throughout the Vichy regime and German occupation.
We can be sure that they will put up a spirited fight on the ground against E.ON and its co-conspirators. With a little help from the outside, such as through a broader international campaign against the German energy firm, they might even hold them off, leaving open the possibility of an eventual victory in the bigger war for our collective future.
A lot of emotion has been released by the horrific threat of fracking which is facing much of England.
I have seen this not just on the front line of the battle at Balcombe, and in meetings like the one in my home town this week when a new anti-fracking group was formed, but even in casual conversations on the subject over a cup of coffee or a pint of beer.
People just can’t believe that the countryside they love could be reduced to industrialised wastelands, that their water supplies could be contaminated, their air and soil polluted, their peace shattered, even the darkness of the rural night destroyed by the flares of thousands of gas and oil wells across the fields, woodlands and Downs.
There is also emotion around the role of the authorities in all this. How is it that these fracking companies are not only being allowed to do this, but even encouraged to do so by way of tax breaks? How is it that the police, supposedly protectors of the public, have been sent in to protect the polluters from that public? How is it that these individuals in uniform are willing to surrender that individuality, turn their back on all sense of right and wrong, in order to impose by sheer force the rule of greed?
Of course, none of this is new. All over the world people are living in devastated environments, forced off their land by the power of corporations and the corrupt puppet governments they use to get their way.
Even here in Sussex, fracking is not the only threat. Massive house-building programmes threaten to urbanise huge parts of the county, new roads are planned to service the requirements of business, a second runway is planned for Gatwick Airport – again at the demand of the same money interests.
On top of the many physical effects of all this destruction (rebranded as “development”!) being lined up for us, there are serious and long-lasting psychological effects.
Being surrounded by countryside is, quite simply, good for our state of mind and essential for our own inner development and insight, for our sense of who we are and how we are connected to the universe.
Frithjof Schuon says as much when, in Gnosis: Divine Wisdom, he argues that higher forms of contemplation depend on an outer environment of beauty.
He adds: “It is not without reason that the beauty in question should be the beauty of virgin nature rather than of temples: for nature reflects something spontaneous and unlimited, something also timeless which fully corresponds to the altogether primordial freedom of the pure Intellect.”
We can see that inspiration in the mystic heights reached by Victorian writer Richard Jefferies*, who ended his days here in Sussex.
Take this passage from The Story of My Heart, for instance, in which he describes a walk on the Downs: “Having drunk deeply of the heaven above and felt the most glorious beauty of the day, and remembering the old, old sea, which (as it seemed to me) was but yonder at the edge, I now became lost, and absorbed into the being or existence of the universe.
“I felt down deep into the earth under, and high above into the sky, and farther still to the sun and stars. Still farther beyond the stars into the hollow of space, and losing thus my separateness of being came to seem like a part of the whole.”
Cut off still further from nature, and the spiritual union to the cosmos which it offers, what sort of people will we become?
The “economic bonanza” future of concrete and chemicals being forced upon us by the capitalist mafia will reduce future generations to a condition of unmitigated misery.
With no beauty to contemplate, no joys of nature to feed their souls, they will be left as bitter and as toxic as the air they will have to breathe.
From there on, it can only ever be a spiralling descent into increasing dissatisfaction, alienation and disconnection from the primal pleasure of being alive in this world we inherited.
I have no doubt that much of the emotion currently being triggered by the fracking nightmare is, in truth, an expression of a much deeper realisation – the realisation that we cannot go on this way.
We have to do away with the taboo of all taboos and say that we can no longer allow ourselves to be led into the abyss by this endless pursuit of Progress.
Gradually, more and more people are coming to understand that “economic growth” is neither necessary nor desirable for anyone but the crooks who profit from it.
What do we value in life? Clean air, fresh water, good food, sunshine, health, friendship, the beauty of nature.
What are we told we should value? Money, profit, greed, war, destruction, exploitation, cowed obedience to authority.
So how do we find ourselves in a situation where a minority of selfish sociopaths have the power to impose their twisted death-cult vision of the future on the rest of us?
On what does that power ultimately rest? Is it real or illusory? How much of it is in our own minds?
We need to deepen our unity with nature and take on its timeless spontaneity and primordial freedom, so that we might shake off the tyranny of this sick industrial civilization and find our way back to health and life.
* A Celebration of Richard Jefferies is being held by the Worthing Downlanders on Saturday August 10. Meet at entrance to Broadwater Cemetery, South Farm Road, Worthing, 2pm. Free for members, £5 to join on day.
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’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”.
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.
Having just spent a few blissful days in the heart of the countryside, I came across this short quote from the anarchist writer Herbert Read – certainly a kindred spirit.
“In spite of my intellectual pretensions, I am by birth and tradition a peasant. I remain essentially a peasant. I despise this foul industrial epoch – not only the plutocracy which it has raised to power, but also the industrial proletariat which it has drained from the land and proliferated in hovels of indifferent brick.”