XR are liberals.

Over the last few years we’ve all cheered on Extinction Rebellion, and they really do deserve to take a bow for some of the stuff they’ve done in the last couple years especially. They’ve pissed off all the right people, and the way they’ve activated young people to get active and get organised when it comes to the climate crisis has been unparalleled; because of what they’ve done in terms of helping to politically educate and activate a generation, we now have young people militant and organised when it comes to tackling this crisis, and very clearheaded when it comes to the inadequacy of leaving this to the political class.

However, some of XR’s statements and actions betray something: they were great in terms of organising and activating a generation, but when it comes to strategy, or going any further than what they’ve achieved up to this point in terms of nudging those in power further along, they’re cluelessly out of their depth, and in many ways underestimating the radicalism and the anger of Gen Z on this issue, with their tepid statements and pleas for peace and calm. I need to be clear here: I’m not advocating some sort of armed climate militia, nor am I the sort of person you’d find doing dangerous forms of militant direct action, and all we talk about here is theoretical and a strategy debate, I’m not encouraging you to do it; however, the belief that total non-violence alone, no exceptions, can solve this, is a bit deluded in my view.

Again, I have no grudge with Extinction Rebellion, and factionalism among groups with similar causes is utterly self defeating and childish; I’ve witnessed it at demos and on the streets, where one group goes around bad mouthing another instead of rallying to the cause they’re all there to support. Everyone I’ve met who’s a part of XR has been a comrade, been on the left, been anti-capitalist, and had very radical politics. My quarrel is with the upper echelons putting out these statements, not the thousands of comrades and incredible activists within that broad umbrella organisation: I would happily stand under the same banner as a united front with comrades from XR, any day, any time.

Let’s unpack a few of the gems we’ve seen from XR’s leadership over the last couple years. The recent tweet, tweeted in the last 24 hours, reads “Revolutions don’t have to be violent — in fact they are more likely to be successful if they are nonviolent”. Just about anyone on the left would take issue with this. You can’t juxtapose something as provocative as revolution, claim to be calling for such a thing, and then essentially say that by sitting on the floor meekly those in power will grant you what you want. That sort of action gets you a government trying to save face, some extra greenwashing, but it’ll never in a million years see those in power confront the interests stopping them taking meaningful action, nor will it compel them to give over any of their power. Just not how it works, and the naivety it shows is breathtakingly dangerous in the current moment.

We’re looking at a government hell bent on criminalising peaceful protest and violently cracking down on public dissent; this is a dark moment, and when it comes down to it the left needs to be prepared to resist and defend their communities when the coercive arms of the state attempt to criminalise and brutalise them, surely this is a no brainer for anyone clearheaded about the tactics this government is prepared to deploy against anyone even remotely on the progressive end of the political spectrum. This smacks of tactical naivety so stunning it feels totally bad faith; almost exactly what you’d expect from state infiltrators. The data they have to claim this is also going off revolutions with “less than 10 000 deaths” which to me doesn’t sound particularly non violent, so the argument they’re making disproves itself.

It shouldn't need saying, but when gains were won for the working class there was always struggle involved, and there will always have to be action and struggle. There were militant elements of the civil rights movement, and without them the peaceful elements wouldn’t have been nearly as effective. Trade unionists and workers fought tooth and nail for their rights. It is frankly an insult to those who came before to assume a tepid, liberal conception of protest alone can achieve change; it has always been varying degrees of peaceful and more militant action. This is a war not just with the British establishment, but the global capitalist class, there has to be resistance if we want a habitable planet.

Alongside this, we see the belief that this issue can somehow be a-politicised; in this century, anyone even remotely serious about the climate crisis would advocate the overthrow of capitalist; the system built on infinite growth and economic expansion at the expense of people and planet is what got us into this mess, and XR’s radical liberalism won’t be leading us out anytime soon.

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Toby Lipatti-Mesme

Toby Lipatti-Mesme

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Insightful and innovative UK journalism and commentary, from Toby Lipatti-Mesme.