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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.