In recent months Extinction Rebellion (XR) have come under close scrutiny from all angles. It should be said, first and foremost, that XR’s efforts constitute one of the most significant efforts to change our world for the better in recent history. Seeing people stand up for the future of humanity is a beautiful and encouraging thing, particularly against the backdrop of Tory austerity and the resurgence of the international far right.
The scrutiny levelled at XR culminated recently when one of it’s members/supporters was dragged off a train he was stood on top of by a group of enraged passengers and lightly beaten. This in turn has birthed a fresh debate, both about the incident itself, and about XR as a whole; it’s goals, it’s tactics and it’s future. And whilst it is gratifying and encouraging to see people caring so passionately, it has to be said that the future of XR seems fairly short-lived. The reason for this is not any recent flair up, but is actually XR itself.
Extinction Rebellion’s core aim is the realignment of society’s priorities, away from profit at any cost, and towards environmental sustainability. This is fundamentally a correct and necessary goal. The problem is that XR’s tactics and their modes of organisation are completely incapable of achieving this.
Their tactic is to appeal to the (completely non-existent) better nature of the ruling class, in the hope that a mixture of guilt and disruption will cause them to swivel away from the drive to ever higher profits, and towards the communal good. This is a fantasy. The people and companies that control our society and our planet are more than aware of the environmental, economic and social disaster that their never-ending need for profit is creating. They’ve always known and for them, it is a price worth paying. Our lives, our communities and our future as a species are nothing to them. In this way XR have unfortunately fallen at the first hurdle. What they want to happen is simply not based in reality. Not because it is physically impossible, but because those who currently have the power to implement this change never, ever will.
XR’s organisational methods are the second major problem. They have, by design, no grounding in the working class movement. As pointed out above, only the rich currently have the power to save the planet. However the other body capable of this is the organised working class. As a section of society, we have the power to transform and reinvent what it means to be on this planet. But unlike the rich, we cannot do it using money or influence. Only by taking control of society can the working class achieve what needs to be achieved to ensure the survival of the environment. XR’s anarchistic, “autonomous” method of organisation makes it very difficult to suppress, which is great. But it also renders it extremely hard to organise on a long term basis. It is also very open to being taken over by strange or sectarian grouplets, who’s mere presence will alienate many potential supporters.
The real problem is this; the people who dragged that XR activist off the train are far more representative of the people who can change society than XR. If the lives of working class people have to get harder and more miserable to save the planet, then there has to be an identifiable reason, and a measurable gain by doing so. XR’s long-term strategy of appealing to the rich and the state can not deliver these gains, and so cannot justify it’s own methods. Environmental salvation is the salvation of all working people. And to paraphrase several working class heroes at once: the liberation of the working class is the act of the working class. This change cannot be done for us. Either we do it, or we surrender our future to those who won’t.