Picked up a little booklet from 56a Crampton Street, Infoshop, behind the Walworth Road. Notes on action and activism in 2007. Passing it on here.
Our eyes are drawn to things that are highly visible.
That’s where the light is. But we also need to assess victories in the less tangible though just as real realm of possibilities. Our experiences create their own luminosity and consequently their own areas of darkness.
Prague Gothenburg Genoa Evian Cancun Gleneagles
Each opened up a space and set in motion processes of contamination (often behind people’s backs) that were key to the politicisaion of a generation of militants. On the one hand, people launched practical challenges to the legitimacy of global command (the rejection of dialogue, the blocking of roads into the summit); on the other, commonalities and mutations were produced in the camps and convergence centres, during debates and actions.
After Seattle, in 1999, it became clear that the affect produced in mass street actions would not translate automatically into everyday practices of transformation.
And Gleneagles 2005 showed the extent to which the desires of a movement could be captured and turned against itself, with 300,000 marching FOR the G8.
Heiligendamm was less a repetition that sought to mimic, more a new experiment in the production of politics;overcoming rather than reaffirming existing identities. In the run up to the summit, the groups involved in the organisation underwent something of a reconfiguration. They took some significant steps towards becoming a more genuine ‘movement of movements’. A common ‘choreography of resistance’ was built. While more radical elements attempted to set the terms of the coalition (a rejection of the G8’s legitimacy alongside a toleration of diverse forms of action), there was a willingness to compromise and come to common agreements as to which forms of action were appropriate where and when. In this way Heiligengamm moved beyond the principle of ‘diversity of tactics’ that had become commonplace, and returned to the earlier process of cross-pollination. Instead of different political currents engaging in different forms of action – in a spirit of solidarity but without jeopardising their own identities – the work developed in Germany was in the direction of a ‘becoming other, together’. This meant collectively devising and carrying out forms of action new to all, actions and alliances that took people beyond their comfort zones towards the practical constitution of new commons, and therefore new common potentials.
Towards the end of the 1980s, it was relatively easy to point to the in-built illegitimacy of the G8’s activities. The the G8 reinvented itself. It stopped being just a place for the major capitalist powers to hammer out differences and became a media-circus that presents itself as the only forum that can deal with global concerns. At Gleneagles, a big NGO operation sponsored by the UK government saw 300,000 people turn out, not to demonstrate against the G8, but to welcome and ‘lobby’ it in favour of debt relief and aid for Africa. At Heiligendamm, the G8 had once again moved on, now seeking to draw legitimacy by seeming to respond to widespread concern about climate change. And this is where we (got) lost. The actions carried out in Germany failed to convey a political challenge to the G8’s relegitimation on the issue of climate change, which had become a new key terrain of struggle.
If the whole emphasis of environmental activism over the last few years has been on raising awareness about the threat of climate change, then 2007 must be seen as the year when ‘we won’. Yet it is precisely this victory that could prove to be a defeat. Global concern about climate change must be given a new form if it is to actually affect the state of things (that is, radically reduce carbon dioxide emisisons in a short time-frame). In part this means constructing a new story, one that can stop the issue being turned into a huge profit-making opportunity for capital. Without this, it’s easy to see climate change being used to unleash a new regime of austerity on the governed, and to excuse measures like increased ‘security’ and border controls as geopolitical tensions rise.
It’s common to think of climate change as a technical-environmental problem that calls for a technical-environmental solution to reduce carbon emissions via technological innovation, government legislation and the public ‘doing their bit’.
The difficulty with this is twofold. First, almost everything we do is bound-up with fossil fuel use. Second, the cuts required (60-90% before 2050) are so large they require sweeping changes, and cannot be solved simply by the world’s environmental ministries getting together.
An alternative way to understand climate is in terms of metabolism. The Earth’s metabolism, its ability to process carbon, runs at a slower speed than the metabolism of contemporary capitalism.
For capital, limits are peculiar. Capital has an internal dynamic of expansion which must be satisfied, so limits must be ignored, subverted, side-stepped, or otherwise overcome. And the secret of capital’s longevity lies precisely in its ability to use limits and the crises they engender as a launch-pad for a new round of accumulation and expansion. the high level of organisation of the industrial working-class in the first hal fo the 30th century appeared as a limit to the expansion of capitalism, threatening not only to half accumulation but to destory the system once and for all. The welfare state was a direct result of these struggles, but it was also a way of neutralising this threat.
There’s no doubt that climate change is a limit which presents as many opportunities as dangers to capital. Many are jumping at the chance to take this new limit, this potential crises, and turn it into a new motor for accumulation eg buying and selling rights to emit carbon, carbon credits, carbon offsets, green consumerism, green cars. A capitalist solution to climate change will still look like capitalism. So almost all the current crop of solutions will also work to reinforce existing hierarchies.