The liberal “Anti-Capitalist” – Climate Camp 2009

Climate camp is over, all physical traces have gone and all that remains are the idea’s, arguments and debates that the camp created.

The camps media conscious strategy wasn’t very successful this year. With no direct action for the media to string out over a weeks reporting, the media resorted to criticising the middle class nature of the camp. This line of criticism was reproduced by several radical groups, including this report from the Cambridge anarchists . Sure, many of the activities highlighted at the camp such as compost toilets, morning yoga and the insistence on a militant vegan space may have seemed alien to many outside the fencing of Blackheath common, yet to critique the camp on these grounds is to use a weak, sociological understanding of class. It’s unlikely the camp would have been more radical if the yoga and soya milk was replaced with whippets and lager. A critique of the climate camp based upon sociological categories of class is not a progressive approach to take. Whilst a more diverse variety of activities may have broadened the appeal of the camp, it would not have improved the political content of it.

However, the issue of class is a vital one. A class analysis based upon the recognition of the stratifications within society based around people’s access to capital is vital when discussing climate change. The vocal debates surrounding the role of the state, austerity and lifestyle politics clearly demarcated between those holding liberal and more radical opinions. This split wasn’t just along a simple anticapitalist/reformist axis. Many “anti-capitalists” at the camp appear to have misinterpreted what capitalism is and were merely reproducing liberal critiques. Indeed the only political difference between liberals and many “anti-capitalists” at the camp was the willingness of the latter to take (highly mediatised, symbolic) direct action. However, D-locks and ninja masks do not a radical critique make. The main banner used on the joint demo with DSEI is an example of this. The (slightly cringe worthy) banner “More Future, Less Capitalism” misinterprets what capitalism is.

Dodgy banner, dodgy ninja's, dodgy politics?

Dodgy banner, dodgy ninja's, dodgy politics?

Capitalism is a totality, something which helps structure the entirety of social relations, it is not a qualitative concept. Indeed the claim “less capitalism” seems to resonate with the less-than-radical calls for less coal or less carbon supported by many “anti-capitalists” at the camp. These arguments fail to grapple with the structural processes of capital, instead limiting their critique to a superficial critique of the appearance of contemporary capitalism. This reminds me of Zizek’s concept of the “liberal communist”; the true utopians who believe we can have a  “just” capitalism devoid of its intrinsic exploitation and production of crisis.  Wind power turbines owned by private companies are still an enclosure of a bio-physical process common to the entire social field and a commodification of energy. If we are to ensure solutions to climate change are not harmful to the majority of the worlds population we would do well to recognise the nature of global class composition. Of course, this can not be a class analysis based upon teary-eyed memories of a mythical working class but must be rooted in an analysis of contemporary class composition (more on this in another blog post).

This “reformist radicalism” is buttressed by sub-cultural lifestyle practices which can lend themselves to a certain activist morality that often leads to self-righteousness. The whole gamut of lifestyle choices such as flying less or using rocket stoves can not be the basis of a progressive, antagonistic anti-capitalist movement. Pictures like this one here

The Activist as Moral Specialist

The Activist as Moral Specialist

remind me of Vaneigems critiques of the activist as a specialist in oppression (see, give up activism).When the needs of “the planet” become mediated through a specialised, reformist interest group, the progressive aspect of environmentalism begins to be closed down. Environmentalism in itself, is not necessarily a progressive sphere.

Apparently a lot of positive, progressive work was done on these issues on the last day of the camp. We will have to see if this can be translated, no doubt with opposition from the many liberals involved, into concrete outcomes.


Posted on September 8, 2009, in Articles and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. here we go again, a progressive movement splinters into factionalism, thus defeating itself. Nice one. The aim of climate camp should be to stop human kind destroying the planet, leave aside the socialist/capitalist debate. The system we have is capitalist, stopping climate change is more important than stopping capitalism, although it deeply pains me to say so, it really is.
    People should stop trying to bring an overthrow of capitalism into the agenda of green action because although it may infact help a great deal in the ideal world, in reality it puts the majority of people off the cuase altogether. Socialists/Communists/Hippies/Crusties are marginal sub groups. Work together and dont show how strange you actually are to the majority of people because they dont’t understand at all. Focus on the task at hand you crusty freeloaders!

  2. This is to some extent lazy theorising bollocks, but I think the ‘less capitalism’ banner and the ‘capitalism is crisis’ banner are interesting – never agreed by the Camp as their key messages, but getting the nod of approval from lots within cmap. In fact the former got taken down as the main banner at Kingsnorth because some people on the site take said it wasn’t anti-capitalist enough. But a few years ago the movement was struggling with similar questions by using slogans like ‘life despite capitalism’ and ‘capitalism is boring’. Behind these for me there is an implicit understanding that capitalism may be what we’re against but it’s not going anywhere any time soon so let’s try and work around it and make resistance to it about creating alternatives rather than just sitting around waiting for a revolutionary moment. ‘More future, Less capitalism’ is therefore more interesting than ‘capitalism is crisis’, as my response to that is well yes but what does that prove? Climate Camp should have a discussion on ‘what is this capitalism that we are against and what do we do about it?’, to tease out the different conceptions of what capitalism is and the future that we want more of that you’re right exist within the spectrum of people at the camp. But as an anti-capitalist movement we are so weak and our conception of what we are for and how to get there is so weak that I don’t think it’s any surprise that things aren’t clearer. I think it’s a positive thing that people are part of a movement that is working out answers to these bigger questions as it goes along resisting climate change rather than being a set of pre-existing factions that can’t work together, like so much of the left. The time-limited nature of climate change is quite useful for that.

  3. Hey man,

    I think you have probably looked to much into one banner. I think ‘more future, less capitalism’ was probably chosen more out of it sounding good, being imaginative and saying 2 things in 4 words (the planet is at risk; capitalism is to blame.) I think the people holding it were probably anti-capitalists, not just people who want slightly less capitalism. Im bored of ‘smash capitialism’ banners anyway.

    If we anaylise each banner to this degree we are going to end up with major fractures.

    I think if you compair this camp to previous camps it certainly has been more radical in retoric (the main banner said ‘capitalism IS crisis’ rather than ‘no new coal’ or ‘stop airport expansion’ in previous years.

    I feel cc does a job of reaching out and making anti capitalism and radical politics acceptable to many people, i know this is a sickening phrase, but we need to remember
    that the black flag, smash capitalism anarchism can scare people off, and i dont feel it represents anarchism.

    Speaking to people at the camp, not everyone was anti-capitalists, but thats not, i think, what the camp is aiming for, one of its core aims is education, I feel many left educated about anti capitalism and hopfully on the way to getting a radical analysis.

    no doubt cc has it faults, I feel they can be rectified. constructive criticism is needed but i worry about the schism between cc and those who claime to be ‘more radical’. half the time it stinks of macho-ism, we cant let infighting distact us from our oppressors.

  4. I don’t get this criticism. It’s totally abstract. You’re rehashing the fact that most activists are middle-class “lifestylists”, but say that “sociological class analysis” doesn’t go far enough. Except for stating that capitalism is everything you still don’t go any further yourself.

    What should be done differently? If you can’t answer that question, your criticism is empty and hollow. Slightly more anti-capitalist slogans won’t do. Constructive criticism?

  1. Pingback: InMyHumbleEtc » Blog Archive » On the ‘climate camp has sold out’ meme - ….with your host, Dixie Clicker

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s