The following article was submitted to First of May for publication. The author, DB, is a friend, comrade, and fellow organizer in the IWW. It is a critique of the Derrick Jensen inspired film, End:CIV.
END: CIV—Against Jensen and for a Real Ecological and Working Class Revolution
Derrick Jensen represents the current peak synthesis of primitivist and insurrectionist thought. And while both trends are declining within anarchism thanks to the global upswing of mass struggle against austerity, like in Egypt, Wisconsin, Spain, and so on, such trends are still able to get a good event together in Minneapolis, like the hundred or so people who attended the showing of END: CIV, a movie inspired by Jensen’s writing, and like it, a dead end for any relevant conversation on the present moment.
There are deep, insolvable failures in Jensen’s work with regard to revolution, collapse, and militancy, but let us begin with the strengths of Jensen’s approach so we can demolish his politics without losing what value they contain.
Strengths of Jensen’s thought
First, they correctly tie the atrocities committed to the earth to the atrocities committed to human beings and note the connection between capitalism, colonialism, and the destruction of the earth.
Second, they notice the major human crisis and transition in which we find ourselves in, a capitalist transition as US power declines, a transition from the energy staple of the whole economy—oil—and the real possibility of significant climate change.
Third, they point out the inadequacy of current responses, green capitalism, change through consumption, and so on, and the craziness of projects like ethanol, the tar sands, fracking, and so on.
Fourth, and finally, they emphasize that a militant, and indeed, revolutionary response is crucial to making necessary changes, and that nonprofit, corporate, and nonviolent approaches are not sufficient.
Jensen’s is not a revolutionary theory
That said, they have no fucking idea what revolution means, or how it could come about. Capitalism and the state are massively powerful and adaptive human systems, and they can only be destroyed through the coordinated action of the great majority of people in this society, and world.
Assuming from the get go that a majority of people are insane and therefore not worth thinking about prevents Jensen and Co from being revolutionary at all, which is why there is so much reliance on collapse as a solution in his work.
Collapse does not equal revolution
But anyone with a thought in their head can see that even if the perfect storm of capitalist transition, peak oil, and climate change comes about, the resulting devastation will not eliminate either capitalism or the state.
The police and military forces of the world will still have the guns and money, and indeed, crisis is almost always used as an excuse for greater violence and oppression than otherwise. This is well demonstrated in Naomi Klein’s *The Shock Doctrine* which shows how present day capitalism thrives precisely on collapses, by using them to justify mass theft, privatization and so on…whether that be after the Tsunami, New Orleans, Iraq, or the entire post-collapse Soviet Union. .
And while we should certainly see this crisis as an opportunity for organizing, capitalism and the state must be organized away, they will not disappear by themselves, and indeed are likely to become even more brutal.
Collapse then is a childishly utopian take on revolution—capitalism and the state will magically disappear!
Again, this utopianism is a direct consequence of assuming the insanity of the majority of people and the failure to see that most of these people are deeply oppressed by state capitalism and therefore have a strong stake in a liberated world. These people are what anarchists call the working class.
Collapse then, is no substitute for revolution because collapse without revolution just means a harsher form of domination then we have currently.
Moreover, this also reveals the deep pessimism of Jensen’s worldview. The rejection of the majority of people as worth thinking about lends strong support to the plethora of possible state capitalist genocidal projects. After all, without civilization the earth could hardly support 7 billion human beings, so who cares if…
This pessimism too, defines the ultimately empty or even reactionary show of more-militant-than-thou posturing put forward by Jensen and his followers.
Indeed, every other approach or critique is pushed aside as reactionary for failing to want to “end civilization,” something that is poorly defined and mixed in with intense and false idealization of indigenous cultures. This idealization also ignores the fact that indigenous cultures were conquered precisely because of their insufficient power to defeat the capitalist state, in short, the same problem of revolution that they try to exit themselves from with their utopian collapse-ism.
Without a potentially revolutionary base to convince of a liberatory path, the push for the necessary of violent militancy can accomplish almost nothing good and in fact could create serious reactionary potentials.
On the one hand, despite calls for significant violent ‘resistance’—blowing up dams, and so on—neither Jensen or the Jensen-ites are doing so, revealing either that they don’t actually believe these things or that they are full of shit.
On the other hand, doing these types of action without any desire to convince the public falls right into the hands of the capitalist state which thrives on using the so called violence or terrorism of the left (or otherwise) to justify an ever more repressive state apparatus. The state will often go as far as to create such enemies itself, like the “Strategy of Tension” in Italy, where the State paid fascists to set off bombs in public places and blamed those actions on leftist groups.
We say then that the militancy put forward by Jensen is empty because either it is 1) non-existent or 2) reactionary in that it actually supports, rather than attacks, state capitalism.
To be clear—we are not attacking militancy nor advocating pacifism.
However, if action is not tied to growing mass struggle or building revolution it is hard to see value in it besides pumping up the egos of isolated individuals, hardly a militant goal! The core failure of Jensen’s thought is the rejection of the majority of people as insane, therefore irrelevant, and as such, tossing aside any chance of a liberated society.
We see then, that Jensen’s thought fails miserably in its concepts of revolution, collapse, and militancy even as we embrace the ways that Jensen synthesizes other anarchist thinkers to highlight the importance of ecological issues in bringing about liberation, including understanding the pressing conditions of the present.
It is on us as anarchists who 1) believe in revolution–which cannot happen without insurrection, and 2) in a liberated society–which cannot happen without a sustainable economy and true relationship with the earth—to organize useful projects and campaigns and to continue to put forward ideas, analysis, and critiques that push aside the exhausted pessimism of sub-cultural activism for the critical, serious, and optimistic struggle of the global working class on the brink of an even deeper crisis.
And with a world to win.