The Environmental Strike?

Slowly, painfully, I’m studying Russian revolutionary history.  I know it’s important, and I wish I could tell you I was enthralled, but the truth is I’m mostly confused by all the terminology (“defencists?”), slightly jumbled chronologically, and easily distracted by Facebook and the neighborhood kitten outside my apartment.  Plus I’m sick, as evidenced by the Everest of crumpled tissues on my coffee table.  (Don’t worry; I’ll clean it before you come over.)

Clockwise from top left: general strike in Indonesia; miners’ strike in South Africa; WalMart strike in U.S.A.; strikes in Egypt; Cambodian garment workers’ strike protesting sexual harassment.

Anyway.  One of the things I’m learning in my intermittent reading bursts is the difference between economic and political strikes.  Far as I can tell, economic strikes are the more common ones, where workers stop production in order to force owners to give them higher wages, or health care, safer conditions on the job, the firing of a racist or sexist manager, etc.  Economic strikes generally happen within a specific company, since you’re trying to lessen the acuteness with which that company exploits you.

Political strikes, on the other hand, have to be bigger, because the target isn’t just one company, but broader policy or the government itself.  Strikes for the 8-hour work day, ending child labor, or trying to force a government to end a war, change regimes, or block austerity measures must necessarily grow huge and widespread to have a chance of succeeding.  Only then can “organized labor become a political actor.”

This is basically what I gather, and in Russian history they have these pretty cool charts showing the breakdown of economic and political strikes around the time of revolutions in 1905 and 1917.  Moreover, the two types are related: at least according to Lenin, political strikes need a strong foundation of tangible economic gains in order to win popular backing from the working class.

In a political strike, the working class comes forward as the advanced class of the whole people. In such cases, the proletariat plays not merely the role of one of the classes of bourgeois society, but the role of guide, vanguard, leader. The political ideas manifested in the movement involve the whole people, i.e., they concern the basic, most profound conditions of the political life of the whole country. This character of the political strike, as has been noted by all scientific investigators of the period 1905–07, brought into the movement all the classes, and particularly, of course, the widest, most numerous and most democratic sections of the population, the peasantry, and so forth.

On the other hand, the mass of the working people will never agree to conceive of a general “progress” of the country without economic demands, without an immediate and direct improvement in their condition. The masses are drawn into the movement, participate vigorously in it, value it highly and display heroism, self-sacrifice, perseverance and devotion to the great cause only if it makes for improving the economic condition of those who work. Nor can it be otherwise, for the living conditions of the workers in “ordinary” times are incredibly hard. As it strives to improve its living conditions, the working class also progresses morally, intellectually and politically, becomes more capable of achieving its great emancipatory aims.

One of the perverse truths of capitalist industrialization, though, is that in striving to survive, or even improve its living conditions, the working class also becomes the mechanism (though not the cause — that’s still capitalism) of environmental destruction.

Last week, when I posted on Facebook an article about how fracking releases radioactive substances that remain hazardous to life for 16,000 years,  my friend Nichola responded,

Oh crap. They have started fracking like crazy in NE Ohio, all around the area where my parents and family live, and everyone is going crazy with visions for new prosperity. It’s the new gold rush there, with lots of new jobs having been created. But I have been having this scary feeling about it, and here it is. Sharing.

Talk about a rock and a hard place.

The way our capitalist class society jams, capital needs to extract surplus value (profit) from workers in order to expand itself and keep growing.  That’s what “drives” the economy.  To ensure a steady supply of people from whom to extract surplus value, the owning class needs plenty of workers: the proletariat.  These workers (or non-workers, the unemployed proletariat) don’t have private homesteads to grow our kale, build our huts, weave our blankets and sustain ourselves, so we need jobs and money in order to eke out an existence.

Pretty much since this coercive system took over the world’s economies (replacing other, differently coercive systems), people who need to sell their labor-power to live have been taking on dangerous and unhealthy jobs — from crab fishing to combat, mining to manicures, un-self-determined sex work, etc.  You do what you gotta do to get by under capitalism.

But some of these environmental dangers smell to me like a whole new type of terrifying.  Like, Unit 4 of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power facility has already sunk 31.5 inches since the earthquake and tsunami, and if it collapses, could cause a fire in the atmosphere.  Bad news for Japan; bad news, evidently, for everywhere the sky reaches.

Could Japanese labor have organized itself as a biocentric actor and refused to construct nuclear power plants in the first place?  Obviously we’ve seen locals intervening against nuclear energy, and indigenous people resisting the accumulation of their land for ecocidal and literally shitty exploitation. Realistically, though, when it comes to organized labor, it seems next to impossible (please tell me I’m wrong!) to collectively reject employment in entire industries on the basis of their longer-term environmental consequences — no matter how mind-numbingly horrible those consequences may be.  As Stephanie McMillian writes on Kasama, no one wants to champion short-term sacrifices.  Socialist / communist struggle is supposed to be Helpful now and lead to Splendor later, right?

Yeah, so…about that post-revolutionary socialist productivity…

On the left, the theory of productive forces has led to a widespread productivist/mechanical view of reaching socialism: by developing and fully mechanizing production, we will reach abundance and the end of labor itself. It is increasingly obvious that this scenario is at odds with the reality around us, yet there is a general reluctance to tell the truth: that a lot of production, everything not necessary for survival, simply has to end. No one likes being the person who brings the bad news that we have to make do with less. It’s harder to organize around.

And so the idea of socialism, the common ownership of the means of production and equitable distribution of goods, also doesn’t go far enough. We need to change our relationship with the natural world. It is not there for us to use, but instead we are part of it and depend on its overall health. We need to define a different relationship with it than as a set of resources. A sustainable economy can only involve production that is subordinate to nature and that fits within its physical limits to reproduce itself — that is determined not by human desires and whims, but by our actual needs, which are dependent on a healthy planet above all.

Okay, so maybe it depends how we define post-revolutionary Splendor.  Current U.S. middle-class standards: clearly unsustainable if generalized.  But still, hopefully there will be enough for everyone, and everyone will be able to access what feels like enough.  (Questions of contentment and scarcity in Marxism is a whole nother subject I’m working on for later.)

That hope for abundance, though, seems to wane more and more each day, while a sense of urgency escalates.  It seems that the historical task of the working class may not only be organizing to overthrow capitalism, but also (and there is definitely overlap here) organizing to help stop the irrevocable fucking up of the planet, ASAP.  Coral reefs and their food supply supporting millions of poor people?  Doomed.  Lungs of the earth?  Wheezing.  Edible biodiversity?  Less than robust.  Drinkable water?  …okay now I’m depressing myself.

So fill me in.  Do you know of any examples of what I’m provisionally calling environmental strikes?  Meaning: not labor struggles over immediate safety conditions in the workplace, but more on the level of political strikes in that they attempt to impact entire environmentally destructive industries or operations, perhaps with a broad or long-term perspective in mind?

Do tell.

Jellyfish succeed where anti-nuclear organizing fails: at least four nuclear power plants in Japan, Israel, and Scotland have had to close because of millions of jellyfish clogging their filtration or cooling systems.

“The Worst Thing About Depression”

The worst thing about depression is how true your vision seems, like misery is the only correct perspective and everything you think when you’re happy is a sham. I didn’t even want to be happy anymore because I’d rather live in honest misery than fake bliss.

—Michelle Tea, Valencia

Yup. And then imagine being depressed and displaced from your longtime home on Valencia by pinkwashed gentrification.

Nonprofits, Neoliberalism

What are the implications for a social justice movement in which power and resources are being transfered based on one’s ability to develop a relationship with the right white people?


— Tiffany Lethabo King & Eware Osayande

(or wealthy / elite people of color, these days…)

Solar Oven

winter is coming.
winter is coming.
winter is coming and this august-born body
never did like the cold.
bad circulation
deadens my brown fingers
turns them the greenish-white
of hospital walls.

winter is coming
and i quietly beg my freckles to stay.
me and my freckles leave the hearthless apartment
to sit in my parked car, huddled
like a batch of hopeful chocolate chip cookies
in a fifth grader’s solar oven.

i hate winter.
i want heat all the time!
almost all the time.
i want enough heat to make me happy.

when winter comes i layer up
then shrink from the inside
like an old pea shriveled in its pod
like the illinois corn disastrously shriveling in its husk
as we speak,
as meantime the miners of south africa steel themselves
against the next ANC attack
and most of africa rustles inchoate
against the next round of land grabs
and everyone can see the thick-tongued famines approach.

one night
not long ago,
i was walking my parents’ dog
a dog i don’t particularly like
though dogs in general aren’t really my thing.
well i was walking the dog
in the quiet nighttime suburbs of Sacramento
and all of a sudden i looked at a lawn and thought:
“goodbye, grass”
and even though i know lawns are awful,
i felt tender toward this one
and a little tender toward the dog.
then i thought:
“this feels like a melancholy indie film.”

winter is coming
and my oven has been broken for weeks.
i told the benevolent slumlord, who replied with the usual
benevolent slumlord promises.
bugging him seems risky
since i want his permission to paint the walls
the same golden yellow i always paint
to warm up my heart when i’m indoors
and not enwindowed in a winter car.
so my oven stays broken
and i have no backup solar version
no cob alternative
i am too pessimistic, lazy, and single to attempt to construct either one.
i just want to laze in the day-drenched summer forever
on a planet full of native grass and coral reefs
a planet free of shit-snow on sacred mountains
a planet with its own miracle of clean water
and enough for everyone.

unfortunately for me,
for us,
winter is coming
resentment won’t stop it
so i guess we had better get creative.

White People Want Stuff, Too. (A Response To Bill O’Reilly, From A Mixed Girl)

In the above video, Bill O’Reilly laments a changing America where black and brown people “want stuff.”

Thing is, though, white people also want stuff.

Some of the stuff white people want is great stuff: stuff like good health care, meaningful education, a living wage, comfortable retirement, non-toxic food, decent shelter, disability justice, and help recovering from climate-change hurricanes.

White people wanting stuff in Greece. Unfortunately, some of them have turned fascist, blaming non-white people for preventing them from getting the stuff that they want.

Some stuff white people want is not so great: like preference in hiring, admissions, or promotion; cops, judges, juries, border patrols and parole officers who go easy on you relative to black and brown people; books, magazines, art, and media that almost always reflect people of your race — especially in hero positions; access to social respectability, even if that access is consciously rejected.  Many white people are so used to getting this stuff that they don’t even realize they want it until it starts to go away.  Even the white folks who claim to not want any stuff — the Walden Pond renunciate types, sipping dewdrops from native ferns — usually want the ability to travel anywhere they wish, relatively unquestioned, safe in the assurance that “this land is my land, this land is our land,” wherever that land may be.

Other white people who want stuff?

Rich white capitalists.

They want hella stuff!  They even want the stuff they own to produce more stuff — for them — without having to work for it!  Some call that “investing;” sounds like exploitation to me; either way, it seems to pretty clearly involve white people exhibiting stuff-wanting behavior.

Fortunately, however, some white people also want the end of white supremacy. Why?

(1) Because white supremacy is ridiculous, fucked-up, spiritually poisonous and currently *foundational* to our

  • schools
  • laws
  • police/military
  • media
  • medicine
  • art
  • jobs
  • parks
  • government
  • and many other institutions that shape all of us.

Some of these institutions might be eventually rehabilitated from the white-supremacy fungus; others need to be chucked altogether.  Meanwhile, even in our radical organizing and communities, we face continual dangers of harming each other and undermining out own work by reproducing racist behaviors learned from these institutions.  Not cute.

(2) Because racism and racial privilege keep working-class people struggling against each other. Meanwhile, the “White Establishment” (capitalist class, historically white) profits off of everyone’s work and/or stolen land.

Don’t believe me?  Take Virginia in the late 1600’s.

In assessing the colonial history of Virgina in particular, Allen focused on the second half of the seventeenth century as the period when a previously mutiracial population of bond servants was divided into a pool of white workers indentured for a limited term of several years and a pool of black workers who were converted into permanent and hereditary chattel slaves.  This division was, according to Allen, the result of uprisings like Bacon’s Rebellion, in which black and white bond servants sacked Virginia’s colonial capital of Jamestown in 1676.  Allen’s research produced significant evidence, from primary documents such as the colonial records, demonstrating that, fearing the power of such a unified group, the colonial elite intentionally granted specific privileges to white servants—especially the eventual prospect of freedom—that were denied to blacks.  The unstated quid pro quo was that white workers were expected to help police the black population, rather than unite with them in subsequent rebellions.  This often took the form of white bond servant participation in armed slave patrols and militias that repressed any spark of resistance.  Here, said Allen, was the origin of white supremacy as an ideology, and of the “public and psychological wage” identified by [W.E.B.] DuBois.  Colonial Virginia was the birthplace of the white skin privilege. (Truth and Revolution: A History of the Sojourner Truth Organization, 1969–1986; pg. 85)

So yeah, Bill, white people want stuff.  Stuff like freedom!  And more and more are seeing through the false freedom of white skin privilege, understanding that lasting security can never come for working-class people — white, black, red, yellow, brown, or blue — under capitalism.  For that, a much better bet will be a classless society.  “A world,” as my friend Jake* puts it,

where people arent greedy and we take care of each other and nobody is fucked up to each other and everybody realizes their work isn’t any more or less important than each others and we don’t work for money but for ourselves and each other.

Yeah, that’s the stuff.


Jake’s not white, but hey, you can probly still get down with what he’s saying.  If you really need a vision from a white person, I also love this simple and profound one from my anti-capitalist friend Kate, who works to bring about “the healing of the earth and all her creatures.”