The Total Liberation Club reflects on Do or Die Magazine, Earth First! and the rich tradition of eco-anarchism.
In the last piece we wrote for Freedom we defended some aspects of Extinction Rebellion (XR) — or rather we defended In Defence of Extinction Rebellion — but subsequent club meetings saw heated ‘discussions’ around letting XR off too lightly. Thankfully the team talk didn’t focus on the usual criticisms cited in the Bill Stickers’ piece. Instead they revolved around XR’s initial failure to connect historically and geographically with the wider ecological resistance. There’s a tendency in XR to present themselves as the last best hope for humanity, when the reality is that there has always been an ongoing and constantly developing global ecological resistance movement, which carries on regardless of the fleeting political fashions prevalent in Western nations at any given time.
If XR had done their homework they’d have found a rich, diverse and inspirational heritage to draw from. Not only that, they’d have found that Earth First! had already done much of their homework for them. The excellent Do or Die magazine is still an important resource for anyone committed to ecological resistance. Running from 1993 to 2003 — which was, as Bill Stickers pointed out, “a time a strong eco-anarchist counter-cultural movement in the U.K was capable of mobilising thousands, not dozens” — the magazine evolved a philosophical, strategic and cultural position which I feel is unmatched by most other modern movements (it also grew in girth, the last issue was nearly 400 pages, talk about ‘dead trees’). This culminated in the two part Down with Empire! Up with Spring!, which remains insightful and informative for anarchists and eco-activists alike.
The original author is better at describing the essays than I am:
“In Part One we looked at some of radical ecology’s recent history; now it’s time to stop looking back and start looking forward. I called Part One ‘Recent Pre-History’ because the past is prologue. An understanding of our own movement’s evolution so far is essential when discussing in which direction(s) we want to evolve.
For if we are going to help catalyse a movement that can “confront, stop and eventually reverse the forces responsible for the destruction of the earth and its inhabitants,” we are going to need good strategy.
We live in important times. This moment does not allow us much margin of error.
‘Part Two: The Four Tasks’ was pre-published for the EF! Winter Moot in 2002 […] I got quite a lot of wise responses. Many of those thoughts from good warriors and friends have been incorporated in the re-written text printed here. In large part this project, despite its meglomaniacal undertones, was always a collective effort – a bringing together of many of the strands that bind us together as movements. The many helpful suggestions, criticisms and funny chats that resulted have made it all the more so.
As a strategy document it is ‘of its time’ more that most writings, maybe. Some recommendations in this ‘Part Two’ have been taken up, others ignored. While some increased activity in some areas may seem – in hindsight – a result of this text, it would mostly be more true to see the four tasks as mirroring existing trends, not necessarily inspiring them.”
EF! was far from perfect, but at least EF! knew that and took steps to remedy faults within its own (dis)organisation and in the wider eco-anarchist movement. The first step, of course, is to identify and examine the problem, but this involves a commitment to a process which is in all-too-short supply these days — debate.
Looking at it from the outside, the anarchist movement in the UK, as it currently exists, appears to suffer from extreme levels of puritanical, self-ghettoising, sectarian and, frankly, authoritarian bullshit which hampers solidarity within our milieu and makes us look very unappealing from without. Anarchy is the beautiful idea that you have the right to a self-created, self-determined life. It is all about tolerance (although we should never tolerate intolerance in any form) and diversity. As long as you live in a way which does not oppress or exploit another living being, then you should be allowed to decide for yourself what you “are going to do with your one precious life”. You may be fiercely individual in your stance, or you may seek to find (perhaps even found…) a community of like-minded people. The TLC would rather build alternatives in the messy, disappointing, brutal, loving, raging, ever-real, communities where we find ourselves; right here, right now. But whatever your perspective, to be truly an anarchist you must embrace diversity within and without the movement.
The UK anarchist scene was, of course, stupidly sectarian twenty years ago as well. Primitivists versus workerists, Bob Black versus everyone who wasn’t Bob Black, etc., etc. But there were moments of convergence — largely thanks to the Tories uniting everybody who wasn’t a middle-class, middle-England Tory with the 1994 Criminal Justice Bill, and to Reclaim The Streets uniting every radical with a damn good sound system — where crusties, dockers, class warriors, travellers, section 28ers, ALFers, fems, grebos, Zaps, hunt sabs, witches, chaos sages and undercover cops all came together and, in brief moments of clarity, spoke about the nature of oppression (apart from the undercover cops, who were just dicks).
When those sorts of discussions take place we find that we have common enemies, but that those enemies themselves are not always ‘in common’. Just as the nature of our oppression is intersectional, so too are the relationships of the oppressor. As Professor David Naguib Pellow’s research shows:
“My work has always centred on the intersection of social inequalities and ecological politics, and my aim here is to deepen our comprehension of inequality by grappling with the often contentious and violent dynamics among and between humans and the more-than-human world. I hope such explorations will help in forming an understanding of socioecological inequality: the way in which humans, non-humans, and ecosystems intersect to produce hierarchies — privileges and disadvantages cwithin and across species and space that ultimately place each other at great risk […] The concept of socioecological inequality also extends other key traditions in environmental studies in that it does not claim a primary source or origin of our ecological crises, such as capitalism, industrial civilisation, racism, patriarchy, androcentrism, or Western culture. There are varied, multiple, and intersecting forms of inequality and hierarchy driving our socioecological crises.
The social movement activists to whom I spoke for this book work, for the most part, to challenge socioecological inequalities through a commitment to Total Liberation.”
‘Total Liberation: the power and promise of Animal Rights and the Radical Earth Movement’ David Naguib Pellow, University of Minnesota Press, 2014
Some might argue that all of these intersecting forms of inequality and hierarchy are simply parts of the singular, dominant form of control. Certainly, born of colonialism and capitalism, the global neoliberal economic system is an irredeemably racist, classist, mysoginist, ableist and speciesist death cult. But smashing neoliberalism alone will not end such forms of oppressions that have existed — and which still exist… — in cultures which are arguably outside of the neoliberal shitstorm. In other words, we have a world to build as well as a world to save.
Our disunity stems from the delusion that one aspect of our socioecological oppression (class, race, gender, etc.) is somehow more important than another. But what is anarchy, if not a stand against all hierarchy and oppression? Indeed, an anarchist society is the only logical end-game for anyone who understands intersectional oppression and wishes to wipe it off of the face of the earth.
But humanity’s time on earth may itself be drastically limited by our own actions (it certainly is for way too many non-human species). Which is what makes it even more frustrating that the ideas which were emerging in the 2nd Down with Empire! Up with Spring! essay were left to gather dust for so long. We may have lost valuable time, but working in communities we know that there is a hunger for a new way of life, and anarchists should be involved with giving people exactly that. The brief at the beginning of the 2nd essay is a great place to start:
We need to catalyse living, loving, fighting counter-cultures that can sustain rebellion across generations. In both collective struggle and our everyday lives we must try to live our ecological and libertarian principles. Our counter-cultures must be glimmers of ecological anarchy – fertiliser for the growth of collective imagination. Fulfilling this task is what will enable the others to be fulfilled over the long haul. The counter-cultures must be bases from which to carry out ‘thumb in the dam’ actions and give support to rebellions beyond the core. In times of crisis they should act decisively against authoritarian groups. The counter-culture’s eventual aim should be total social transcendence – (r)evolution.
Just as counter-cultures must open up space for (r)evolution to grow we must also open up time. The life support systems of the earth are under unprecedented attack. Biological meltdown is accelerating. (R)evolution takes decades to mature. Unless force is used on the margins of the global society to protect the most important biological areas we may simply not have enough time. The last tribal examples of anarchy, from whom we can learn a lot, could be wiped out within decades if not militantly defended. ‘Thumb in the Dam’ struggles aim to protect ecological diversity understanding that this civilisation WILL be terminated, by either the unlikely possibility of global (r)evolution or the certainty of industrial collapse.
We must have the ability to defend ourselves, survive, and exploit crises in society including capitalist attempts to destroy us. The divided and industrial nature of today’s society has already determined the instability of tomorrow.
The counter-culture must act in real solidarity with our struggling sisters and brothers on other islands. Aid them in whatever we can and bring the ‘majority world’ battlefronts to the boardrooms, bedrooms and barracks of the bourgeoisie.”
Some of the words and ideas haven’t stood the test of time, but at its core it is still a blueprint for anarchist action in the anthropocene era. The instability of the system mentioned in the text has grown ten-fold since 1993 and there are new opportunities occurring daily. Anarchy is nothing if it is not lived. Let your lives be a beacon to guide people to a better, braver, brighter world. Carpe diem kids!
Forget the infighting, it’s time to embrace a little TLC.