Much of the modern environmental movement’s confusion stems from an organisation calling itself the International Centre on Non-violent Conflict (ICNC). International in name only, the centre is based in Washington DC and gives no clue as to its funding. That such an outfit should exist in the front garden of American power reeks of the CIA lazily dishing out a little bit of ‘Do what I say, not what I do’.
Some years ago, the ICNC invited a PhD student, one Erica Chenoweth, on an eight-day course. Who paid is unclear, but in her acknowledgements, Ms Chenoweth gave thanks to the cohort of scholars at the Belfer Centre at Harvard’s Kennedy school of Government, which “helped the project take off”.
During this course, Ms Chenoweth became convinced that, though violent revolutions such as Russia’s and China’s had worked in the past, violent conflicts were on the decrease and forms of civil resistance were on the rise. She then collaborated with Maria Stephan to write several books. One released in 2011 was called Why Civil Resistance Works – the Strategic Logic of Non-Violent Conflict.
This book has provided the theoretical basis for Extinction Rebellion’s (XR) non-violence policy, which, given five years of XR’s mass direct action having failed to achieve anything meaningful, is worthy of a closer examination.
When is violence ‘normal’?
The book’s central claim is that civil resistance works “more than twice” as effectively as its “violent counterpart”. A very human trait is to unquestioningly accept that which corroborates your own opinion. And this book’s message plays nicely into the values of those – mostly liberal, well-educated – environmentalists who are turned off by the idea of having to teeter over the edge from physical individualist self-sacrifice to organised, resolute, violent if necessary, game-changing action.
Violent resistance is characterised by the book as “a form of political contention … that operates outside of normal political channels. While conventional militaries use violence to advance political goals, in this book we are concerned with the use of unconventional violent strategies used by non-state actors. These strategies are exhibited in three main categories of unconventional warfare: revolutions, plots (or coups d’etat) and insurgencies.” (p12)
According to this analysis, violence used by the state military is fine, normal, acceptable, but the moment ordinary people take up arms, their violence is ‘unconventional’. When the global character of ‘normal political channels’ is taken into account, it becomes clear that this book is not much more than a veiled apology for US imperialism.
Characterising the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor as a “communist threat to the region” is further evidence of this.
Revolution and reform
Looking more closely at the method employed by Chenoweth and Stephan, one fatal error becomes glaringly clear. They have ‘analysed’ 323 uprisings between 1900 and 2006, determining each uprising’s success according to whether or not it achieved the goals it set out to.
The authors have not taken into account the magnitude of what each uprising was trying to achieve. To them, a revolution is the same as democratic reform. A short walk to the shop is the same as a 100 mile ultramarathon. In this piece of work, overthrowing capitalist economic rule and changing a few laws for palliative care of the people appear to be on a par with one another. What shoddy academia!
#3For example, in the late 1970s the Communist Party of the Philippines and its New People’s Army (NPA) lead a people’s armed struggle (unconventional). State-sponsored military attacks on the NPA dispersed them and the Philippine government launched a concerted counterinsurgency effort (conventionally violent), which successfully prevented the NPA from taking power. Despite the fact that the communist party and its people’s army remain in existence and have clearly not given up their struggle, this was deemed a failure for violent uprisings.
However, after Ferdinand Marcos declared himself president in 1986 despite the counterclaims of election monitors, Cory Aquino led the Filipino people in strikes, boycotts and other non-violent protests. The military defected and she set up a parallel government. The USA flew helicopters in to evacuate Marcos to Hawaii. Chenoweth and Stephan claim this replacement of leadership, a democratic reform, was a win for non-violent civil resistance.
To lay out plainly the difference between democratic reform and a revolution.
Democratic reform changes only the terms and conditions of exploitation under capitalism. Capitalism is the form our economy takes, accompanied by a state machinery that enforces the class rule of the capitalists; it is our mode of production.
As a system, it has no use for nature above what can be looted and sold. Only through the extraction of resources, their processing and sale, may profits and the power of money be realised for a small number of extremely wealthy people and their financially coerced, servile mandarins.
Reforms, won by the hard struggle of workers over many years, are always liable to be taken back – as we see today with the slow privatisation of our NHS.
The inherent right to rule of the bourgeoisie, as codified in its class-based laws and legal system, is never fundamentally challenged by the middle-class worthies of XR or by those in its more ‘extreme’ offshoots like Just Stop Oil. It is in recognition of this fact that the ‘radicalism’ of such movements is no barrier to their receiving sizeable grants from wealthy donors.
Revolution, on the other hand, is the mechanism whereby the masses of people break free from the chains of this system of exploitation. They take back control from the systemic, greedy devouring of everything in exchange for money, and replace this obsolete economic order with socialist planning, whose triumph is rooted in the socialisation of all the means of production.
Reconnection with the natural environment can only be achieved through the shared ownership of the land and its resources, and by using them in a planned way for the benefit of all. Coercion is replaced with caring and sharing. Workers organise to ensure that society develops for the betterment of the people. We call this socialism, and socialism must be fought for and defended to be attained and retained.
Revolution and reform are not the same thing, and cannot be measured as equals.
The shame is that movements like Just Stop Oil and XR attract people who genuinely do care about the environment, drawing them down a sterile reformist track which can only end in disillusion and sullen scepticism towards the very idea of social progress. Yet many of them are instinctive communists, simply lacking the necessary scientific-socialist theory. They simply don’t know it yet.
In response to XR’s call to “follow the science”, now is the time to follow not just environmental science, but Marxist science.
Now is the time to recognise that if we are to live in a world where we care for the environment in a holistic way, then we must break free of the capitalist system. That is: we must study the revolutionary science of Leninism.
To change the terms and conditions of our exploitation through non-violent civil disobedience is not enough! Especially not at the rate of urgency with which the IPCC report implores us to act.
Let us finally address the global shape of the desperate need for capitalism’s replacement, of which environmental degradation is just one symptom. Every country that has successfully waged an armed revolutionary struggle and begun to overthrow its capitalist exploiters has had to endure persistent and determined attempts at counter-revolution, funded and equipped by foreign imperialists, led by the USA.
The USSR, China, Korea, Cuba, the Philippines … In fact, the leading cause of environmental catastrophe and the leading consumer of oil is war, of which the USA is, by a long stretch, the world’s leading instigator.
In essence, Chenowith and Stephan’s book, the bible of so many well-meaning people who really do want to fix the world’s problems, is one of many misleading psychological operations, funded by imperialism, to coerce, misinform and lead people into activity which is no more than an energy sink – a distraction, a societal cul-de-sac.
Media psyops misdirects and confuses the workers
Meanwhile, the capitalists use their media to attribute to socialism all the characteristics and behaviours that they themselves embody and exude: it kills millions of people; it doesn’t work; it’s authoritarian …
Bob Marley was right when he sang “Your worst enemy could be your best friend, and your best friend your worst enemy.” Malcolm X put it another way: “If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”
Once our eyes are open to it, the barefaced duplicity of the imperialists is breathtaking. For the US ruling class to preach sanctimoniously about ‘non-violence’ and coerce its own people into infantile, ineffective forms of protest (which are duly ignored) whilst launching ceaseless violent conflicts that wreak untold havoc and devastation around the world, is the height of hypocrisy.
The only times in human history when workers have been able to really transform their conditions for the better have been through socialism.
Through establishing a centrally-planned economy, advised by a myriad of peoples’ committees and assemblies and overseen by the best technology science has to offer. With workers reorganised to become the ruling class. With merit and service taking the place of self-centred careerism. With the real needs of the masses in place of the endless quest for profit.
And the hard truth is that the only way socialism has ever been achieved is via Marxist-Leninist science giving direction to a socialist revolution – revolutions that were won by workers taking up arms and battling the violent attempts of the counter-revolution to cling onto, and later to reclaim, power.
If you want to follow the science, there it is: objective, observable, testable, re-testable.
So a struggle is necessary, and workers must prepare themselves for it if they are to achieve their liberation. Friedrich Engels wrote in 1847 that if there were indeed a peaceful route to socialism, then we communists would be the first the advocate it. But history has shown clearly that those who are in power are ferociously unwilling to relinquish it.
In fact, our exploiters have consistently shown that they will sacrifice any number of workers in a hail of bullets to cling on to their privilege. To shy away from our opponents’ unhesitating willingness to use the most extreme violence, to refuse to stand up to that violence, means in practice to disarm the working class and leave it defenceless against the onslaught of a most vicious enemy.
To cling to the myth of ‘non-violent resistance’ is thus to perpetuate a situation that environmentalist protestors so often warn us against: that the burdens we are placing on the shoulders of our children are becoming ever greater with every day of our inaction.
We are indeed running out of time. We must stop wasting it on playing at changing the world and instead direct our energies at learning how to help bring to consciousness the only force capable of really making that change – the organised working class.
There is only one type of justifiable, progressive violence in this world, and that is violence directed at ending the present economic system for ever (or in defence of those who are targeted by its rulers). For the struggle for socialism to be effective, we must be prepared with the theory of how to conduct the fight so as to not allow genuine protest to fall into self-gratification or misguided failure.
As VI Lenin famously wrote: “Honesty in politics is the result of strength; hypocrisy is the result of weakness.”(Polemical notes, Mysl, 4 March 1911)
Our enemies are weak with hypocrisy: now is the time to organise!
You’ve got to be Red to be Green.