R & R in this case meaning Rupert (Read) and Roger (Hallam) who have published on YouTube a conversation/debate between the themselves on the subject of Radical Flank or Moderate Flank. It is 2hrs long and consists just of the two of them talking and listening to each other. It's a tribute perhaps to the quality of the conversation that it was 90 minutes before I had to pause it to take the pee that I had been wanting when I pressed play.
So what did I make of it? Ostensibly it was billed as a debate on where next for the eco-activist space between promoting a moderate flank (Rupert) to drag into play more mass support for action, and the call for more radical action beyond Insulate Britain (IB) blocking motorways (Roger). In practice there was a very large measure of agreement between the parties anyway. Both recognising that we are facing an existential emergency, both agreeing that XR has been successful in rapidly shifting the terms of the debate (pre-pandemic panic). Both also agreeing that 50 years of climate activism pre XR had really got nowhere. Also both strongly wedded to the fetish of non-violence.
Roger wanting to go further and harder but despite mentioning "revolution" seemingly stopping short of calling for overthrow of the system that is destroying us. He seemed to assume that appropriate government action, if it could be forced, would produce the necessary results. Rupert holding back and insisting that there has to be a broad base of support visible for action to be effective in changing government direction.
Roger's argument rests on the unproven belief (as he admitted) that at a certain point a broad mass of people would simply flip sides and support radical changes. To be fair he cited examples where this has happened in the past - primarily in the shift of support for war against fascism during the first half on 1939. Rupert pointing out that this was facilitated by workplace (through unions) and community organisations forwarding the debate. They are both right of course.
It seems to me though, and they touched on but veered away quite rapidly from, the fact that there is a fundamental difference between the current situation and all previous social changes that have succeeded through activism and political pressure. That is that in all previous cases it was possible to imagine business as usual continuing much as before after the change was achieved. The implications of this were not explored.
Women getting the vote didn't fundamentally affect industrial capitalism, although it had social and political consequences. The same applies to the abolition of slavery (which did have a dramatic effect on feudal capitalism, but not on the then rising industrial capitalism - indeed it was actually a benefit to industrial capitalism as it provided a larger pool of wage-slave labour to hold down rates of pay). Colonial (quasi-)independence - Inida etc - may have allowed new nations to become politically independent, but they remain very much a pawn of global capital. Equal rights for blacks in USA (and elsewhere), women's lib, even the waging of WWII, none of these involved undermining industrial capitalism, or even the political structures. Once the change was implemented business continued as usual.
The situation we face today is one of a declining, and potentially collapsing, over-mature civilisation coupled with a number of major existential threats - climate, food, ecology, resources etc etc. There is no vision of a future possible state that maintains any of the current political, social and economic or cultural conditions unchanged. To avert any, let alone all, of these potential catastrophes that are already unfolding will change everything.
So the call for change and survival is essentially a call for a complete overthrow of all four aspects - political, social, economic, and cultural - in fact for a complete change of ideology. In itself, by definition, this represents the end of our existing civilisation.
There is actually no way that such a change can be initiated or implemented by the existing institutions - it would be contrary to their fundamental operating principles - which are to preserve stability and the status quo. By and large long-term vision (meaning more than three generations, let alone 3 electoral cycles or three quarterly reports) has been excluded from our institutions' DNA by the creeping cancer of neo-liberalism. For any component to implement changes to its operating conditions which would preserve its long term, rather than immediate, stability would require everything around it to change as well in a cascade. These components themselves are part of a larger system which itself seeks stability, so any renegade element trying to create such change with far reaching consequences will quickly be neutralised. The whole structure has become ossified in a meta-stable state from which it cannot escape except through external agency.
What we fear is that the climate and ecological systems, within which these human constructs are subsystems, will flip from their stable state of the last 20,000 years (plus) into a new state which is incompatible with those human subsystems and their components (including us) continuing to exist. This change is being triggered by our tightly linked human systems - its a suicide rap.
In order to avoid the new ecological state being uninhabitable for human kind the existing human systems which we have created and which are forcing that change must be literally overturned.
This is not something that can be achieved by action by any of the actors within the system - neither governments, nor corporations, nor religions, nor communities, nor even activist elements within the existing human structures can make the change. Rupert seeking a broad consensus for and action towards a change without any vision of what the world will look like afterwards - so the default assumption is "much like today but greener, all driving electric cars and growing our own veg", Roger seeking to pull people into more non-violent conflict with authority whilst expecting a consciousness flip to mass support for a new world order - what what order, ordered by whom, will I get the future I ordered, can I send it back if it doesn't fit? Neither of them actually has agency, unless they are making it clear to people that the call is to overthrow, by all means possible, the toxic civilisation that is on a suicide mission to oblivion.
Given the immense power wielded by the institutions with a vested interest in preserving their immediate operating environment, without having to consider the bigger picture (their own destruction), and given their already demonstrated and inherent propensity to use violence against individuals to achieve their aims, this is not something that will be achieved without resort to extreme levels of violence against them. Violence perhaps initially targeted against the material of the system, but inevitably that will mean violence against living beings that are themselves part of the material of the system.
Whereas non-violence seeks to use passive, but forceful, resistance to a violent oppressor what is being called for here is not resistance but attack. Fighting a much more powerful opponent surprise and flexibility are the keys to success. The system must be hit hard, suddenly and unexpectedly. Think Viet-Cong, think Castro's revolutionary band, think Mao's Long March.
This has to be done by actors outside the system, or prepared to move outside the system with immediate effect, to be effective. This is not so much a radical flank, or even a spearhead, as the construction of a new way of being that is prepared to wage war upon our current institutions in order to preserve, in the medium to long term, an environment within which our descendants can thrive. They have to be prepared to go far beyond the pale, beyond the cultural revolution, beyond even the Kymer Rouge working towards a year zero great reset.
It is a socio-cultural storm of immense magnitude that will be unleashed as the first genuine attempt to replace our current civilisation with something completely different. We have only faint flashes of what that might look like. And indeed it is likely that we will never foresee what our descendants seven generations hence will manage to make of the world. But the work must be begun.
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