More civil disobedience?! / Emmanuel Shokrian

Universal history was born in cities, and it reached maturity with the city’s decisive victory over the country. For Marx, one of the greatest merits of the bourgeoisie as a revolutionary class was the fact that it “subjected the country to the city,” whose “very air is liberating.” But if the history of the city is a history of freedom, it is also a history of tyranny — a history of state administrations controlling not only the countryside but the cities themselves.”

(Guy Debord: The Society of the Spectacle, thesis176)

According to the approach of two scientists, the earth has entered a new epoch: The Anthropocene. What we are facing is not only an environmental crisis but a geological revolution of human origin. A new era in geological history has emerged since two thousand years ago, in which the first activity, humanity has become the most decisive factor in the evolution of the planet Earth. One of the prominent features of this period is the large-scale ecological disruptions caused by human activity. (Bonneuil, Fressoz 2016) Taking advantage of a deeper look, it is obvious that in the social relations of capitalist production, human has caused fundamental changes in nature, not only externally, but also internally. And this approach challenges the theoretical conception of the intrinsic human, the inherent separation of human from nature, human from society, and human beings from the relations of production within which they are formed.

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Ecological and environmental movements, a critique of their foundations and strategy

The issue of environmental damage has been gradually and more specifically considered by philosophers, thinkers, sociologists, and, consequently, social activists since the early 20th century. But from a sociological point of view, environmental movements emerged in the form of new social movements from the 1970s. There is a wide range of critical and protesting views and practices in the field of the environment, ranging from the mainstream environmental social movements and then in social democratic systems in the form of “green” political parties to more radical groups such as Greenpeace, as well as active anarchist groups in the field of environment and ecosocialism. Each of these discourses is based on a specific philosophy and disseminates its own analyzes, strategies, and alternatives.

To critically understand how to mainstream environmental movements function, in which activists generally acknowledge the legitimacy of the system as responsible citizens and object to the growing environmental crisis, one must first critique philosophical foundations and then define this range of movements from a sociological perspective and refer to their main strategies, namely nonviolent protest methods, civil disobedience, and the like. These movements emerged mainly on the philosophical basis of liberalism, the formation of the capitalist economy and the emergence of the nation-state, and in the course of historical, economic, and political developments based on the principles of neoliberalism, globalization of capital and late capitalism and the welfare state. It should be borne in mind that the most important and main critical point of liberal traditions is the definition of human in an atomic form as an essential, rational, and calculating essence. This abstract-legal person accepts the collective authority and legitimacy of the state in a contract in exchange for the preservation of his private sphere and his rights and civil liberties. But in reality, these principles show their individual priority, equality, and universality with the inherent tension between the individual/society, freedom/equality, and the minimal state/interventionist state. (Rahmani,2015)

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[…] many people are protesting against the breeding, slaughter, and production of swine. Many of them refuse to buy and eat pork. This protest remains individual. Some of them went further and protests in the street demonstrations. But what percentage of these people are willing to occupy a pig farm or slaughterhouse in a symbolic move for hours or days? 

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The crisis arises when there are differences between this abstract human and the government. The primacy of the individual over any form of social life alongside fundamental universalism leads to theoretical abstract assimilation in which societies seen as homogeneous and differences are ignored. In fact, in practice, the claim of individualism and the protection of individual rights of the liberal-democratic systems, with its codified laws, oppose individual rights and justice and creates a crisis. Individualism, as one of the fundamental aspects of liberal environmental movements, leads to the individual prioritizing personal identification and a sense of personal life over the collective interest. This has led to the increasing fragility of new social movements. That is why the active subject of new social movements is the same individual who is constantly caught in the paradoxical situation of the private/public sphere or individual / collective interests in relation to the other and society. For example, many people are protesting against the breeding, slaughter, and production of swine. Many of them refuse to buy and eat pork. This protest remains individual. Some of them went further and protests in the street demonstrations. But what percentage of these people are willing to occupy a pig farm or slaughterhouse in a symbolic move for hours or days? In fact, here the individual and collective spheres are in conflict in two ways. First, is the person willing to give up his personal gain for a collective purpose and be arrested by the police or sentenced to pay a fine or imprisonment for participating in the protest? And on a deeper level, does he not allow other individuals and groups in society to infringe on his or her private sphere by entering the private sphere of another person or group and disrupting his or her legal business?

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Environmental movements in the form of new social movements

Regardless of this philosophical foundation, from a sociological point of view, other characteristics of new social movements are defined in line with this individualism and capitalist economic-political relations. The goals of this movement are not to change the infrastructure, but to fundamentally reform this or that part of society. The struggles are somewhat depoliticized and the domination of cultural discourses instead of changing political institutions is another characteristic of the new social movements, whose field of action is mainly civil society and whose goals are to strengthen democracy and make the situation fairer. For example, most of the strategies of these movements are limited to action in the private sphere. In other words, it is limited to personal consumption. For example, adopting a more environmentally friendly lifestyle, emphasizing special diets and consuming organic foods, separating waste, reducing the consumption of environmental pollutants such as plastic, using electric cars are among the most important suggestions. In other words, changing the culture of consumption and moving the so-called greener consumables with harmful consumables is the most important strategy of this type of struggle. The culture-centeredness of these movements and technological developments, especially in the field of mass communication and media, are leading to the increasing popularity of virtual struggles and individualistic and non-collective methods. On the other hand, this growing trend has led to a kind of populism and the increase of individual tribunes against collectivism, and the consolidation of power in real social arenas. It is these characteristics of social movements that also define and limit their modes of action.

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When social reality and the contradictions and contradictions in society challenge the universal and abstract uniformity of the tradition of liberalism, civil disobedience becomes a legitimate means of protest.

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With the transition from classical pervasive and ideological movements to the rise of state socialism, social-democratic approaches, and the quantitative and qualitative shifts of social movements and the diversity of their actors, the spheres of oppression expanded from class exploitation to racial, ethnic, gender, and cultural inequalities. Now it has become a kind of identity politics. When social reality and the contradictions and contradictions in society challenge the universal and abstract uniformity of the tradition of liberalism, civil disobedience becomes a legitimate means of protest. Henry Thoreau defined civil disobedience as resistance to civil government and unjust laws and it gradually came to be a solution to the dual philosophical crisis of the individual / liberal society crisis of liberalism. In societies where according to the doctrines of liberal democracy, the legitimacy of a political system based on representation seemed obvious, there was no room for activism through violent means. Because the government does not tolerate any illegal actions, and these methods are also costly for the opposition. Civil disobedience is now at the crossroads of peaceful protests and revolutionary methods. In other words, civil disobedience, even in the form of a political matter, as Hannah Arendt (Arendt, 1972) put it, is ultimately a choice alongside other choices and cannot be a philosophical solution to the inherent crises of the liberalist tradition. (Rahmani,2015)

As a result, it will not be able to solve a more fundamental problem such as the environmental crisis. Apart from this philosophical critique and the political economy of how the performance and the consequences of using civil disobedience, many activists in these movements also acknowledge its ineffectiveness in practice. As Sophie Trujillo, an environmental activist and member of the ‘Alternatiba’ group, puts it: “We tried to make changes in the process of daily life, we defined projects with the municipalities, we marched but nothing changed. I felt I had to do something different from the past.” (Lecœuvre, 2019). According to this group of activists, in order to undermine the existing order and change the balance of power in their favor, they must carry out more effective civil disobedience, such as occupying strategic locations for a long time or massification the movement as much as possible instead of resorting to violence.

Ecosocialism is an alternative to environmental movements

Ecosocialism is a radical proposal, that is, a deal with the roots of the environmental crisis. Ecosocialism distinguishes itself both from the various versions of twentieth-century productive socialism, both social-democratic and the Stalinist branch of communism, and from ecological currents that adapt in various ways to the capitalist system. A radical proposition that aims not only at the transformation of the relations of production, of the productive apparatus, and of the dominant consumption patterns, but at creating a new way of life, breaking with the foundations of modern Western capitalist/ industrial civilization. In an article entitled Ecosocialism and Democratic Planning,    Lowy describes the meaning and dimensions of ecosocialism. He mentioned that an ecosocialist’s society is “a new society based on ecological rationality, democratic control, social equality, and the predominance of use-value over exchange-value, collective ownership of the means of production, democratic planning, which makes it possible for society to define the goals of investment and production, and (c) a new technological structure of the productive forces. In other words, a revolutionary social and economic transformation.” From the perspective of ecosocialism, more than anything else, renewable energy sources must replace renewable and polluting energies. Many of my products, including nuclear energy, must also be stopped. All sections of society, both productive workers and consumers, must democratically participate and make decisions about production strategies, culture, education, and all aspects of society in accordance with environmental conditions. According to Lowy, in order to achieve this ecosocialism and a fundamental change in the socio-economic formulation, we must now set a transition period. Immediate and specific actions such as this transition period will include any remedial programs that alleviate the environmental crisis.

The banning of the HCFCs that are destroying the ozone layer, a general moratorium on genetically modified organisms, a drastic reduction in the emission of greenhouse gases, strict regulation of the fishing industry, as well as of the use of pesticides and chemicals in agro-industrial production, the taxation of polluting cars, much greater development of public transport, the progressive replacement of trucks by trains. (Lowy,2007).  Ecosocialists believe that it is only socialism that can break the logic of profit maximization of the capitalist system and change its fundamental value relations.  According to the evidence, the term ecosocialism was coined in 1980 by the German Green Party. Ecosocialists have published numerous books and magazines in the field of theory. One of the most important of these magazines is the well-known North American left Journal Monthly Review, and the journal Capitalism, Nature, and Socialism, under the editorship of Joel Kovel, the author of The Enemy of Nature.

It would be a mistake to conclude that ecosocialism is limited to Europe and North America; there is, in fact, lively ecosocialist activity and discussion in Latin America. But ecosocialism is not only a matter for scholars and intellectuals; in many countries, social activists and popular leaders are taking an interest in it. Indigenous communities in Latin America are presently in the forefront of the socio-ecological struggle against the destruction of forests and the poisoning of rivers and the land by oil and mining multinationals. (Lowy, 2017) Ecosocialists are fighting right in places where global capital is fundamentally destroying nature and the earth, miles away from their decision-making centers and management firms in the North.

References

  • Arendt, Hannah (1972) ‘Civil Disobedience’ From Crises of the Republic. New York: Harcourt
  • Bonneuil, Christophe and Jean-Baptiste Fressoz. 2016.The Society of the Spectacle. Translated to English by David Fernbach. Published by
  • Debord, Guy.2005. The Society of the Spectacle. Translated to English by Ken Knabb. Rebel Press.
  • Thoreau, Henry David. Civil Disobedience. (originally in 1849).
  • Lecœuvre, Claire. Les écologistes tentés par l’action directe. Translated to Persian by Roya Sharifian. Le monde diplomatique, November,2019.
  • Lowy, Michael. Ecosocialism – from William Morris to Hugo Blanco. first published atTransform Europe, 2 April 2017.
  • Lowy, Michael. Eco-Socialism and Democratic Planning. Coming to Terms with Nature. Vol 43: Socialist Register2007: Coming to Terms with Nature.
  • Rahmani Tooraj and Ali Mokhtari. Civil Disobedience One Idea for Passing “Theoretical Dead-End” of Liberalism. Pizhuhish-I Siyasat-I Nazari: Research in Political Science. Fall 2015-Winter 2016, Volume new, number 18, p. p79-100. (originally to Persian).
// Emmanuel Shokrian is an Iranian psychologist and sociologist. He is particularly researching the historical sociology and history of sexuality in the Middle East. One of his latest works is “The Historical Study of the Iranian Queer Non-Movement”. He also works as a researcher in the field of Marxist psychology at the Institute for Social sciences and Humanities Iran Academia of the Netherlands.
 
Photo: Benyamin Farnam
 
 
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Menneskenes gave / Kathleen Rani Hagen

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Extinction Rebellion skapte trafikkaos i London og flere andre globale storbyers gater våren 2019. Siden har verden over sett mange demonstrasjoner og aksjoner med sivil ulydighet fra bevegelsen. Fridays4Future har siden høsten 2018 fått hundretusenvis av barn og unge til å skulke skolen for et levelig miljø, og har under pandemien fortsatt på internett. Black Lives Matters-bevegelsen, på den andre siden, klarte til tross for en global pandemi å mobilisere tusenvis av mennesker til protester og demonstrasjoner mot rasistisk politivold etter drapet på Georg Floyd våren 2020. Samtidig har vi det siste året sett Trump-supportere protestere mot valget med våpen i lomma og vaiende flagg i hånd. Hva skiller de ulike protestene, og hva har de til felles? Hvorfor finnes de? Hva skiller dagens protestbevegelser fra gårsdagens, og hva binder dem sammen? Hva er det som driver menneskene bak massene, og hvem er de? Hva er det som får ellers lovlydige mennesker til å begå sivil ulydighet – og hva skjer etterpå? Hva er det som får mennesker til å storme ut i gatene med munnbind, til tross for et dødelig virus? 

I Norge kan nye protest- og miljøbevegelser trekke veksler på markante sivil- ulydighetstradisjoner, i og med Mardøla-aksjonene på slutten av 1970-tallet og gjennom innflytelsesrike talspersoner som Arne Næss sr. og Sigmund Kvaløy Sætreng. Også massive folkedemonstrasjoner som den stille protesten etter nazistenes drap på den unge gutten Aleksander Hermansen kan diskuteres som transformative og human-politiske markeringer. 

Klimaaksjonen spør hvordan sivilsamfunnet kan organisere sivil ulydighet i et format som tilsvarer den altomfattende miljø- og klimakrisen, og som ikke bare vil mobilisere til innsats, men også vil forløse en hittil ukjent folkelig kunnskapsdugnad. Hvilke kunnskaper må til for å opparbeide en landsomfattende bevegelse av sivil ulydighet?

Serien “Protest, frigjøring og sivil ulydighet” er på seks artikler og essays og leder frem til Poesi i Grenseland på Litteraturhuset i Fredrikstad 28. august.

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Forfatternes klimaaksjon takker Norsk Faglitterær Forfatterforening for støtten!

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.This inefficiency of civil disobedience raised other questions, especially after the publication of an important research report published in 1987 by the United Nations World Committee on Environmental Development. Can be reasonably sustainable? Is the capitalist system able to set aside profit maximization as its driving force? Some activists from mainstream environmental movements have joined other groups and approaches; approaches that have nothing to do with the so-called ‘red-green’ government coalitions of social-democrats and certain Green parties based on a social-liberal program of the capitalist management. For example, the need to radicalize environmental struggles has led many activists in the field to change the philosophical foundations of the struggle. Many of them have joined anarchist groups active in the field of environment, and some have resorted to ecosocialism as a more logical and effective alternative. It is because civil disobedience is unable to counter the capitalist roots of the environmental crisis that ecosocialism is presented as a liberating is a radical proposal, that is, a deal with the roots of the environmental crisis. Ecosocialism distinguishes itself both from the various versions of twentieth-century productive socialism, both social-democratic and the Stalinist branch of communism, and from ecological currents that adapt in various ways to the capitalist system. A radical proposition that aims not only at the transformation of the relations of production, of the productive apparatus, and of the dominant consumption patterns, but at creating a new way of life, breaking with the foundations of modern Western capitalist/ industrial civilization. In an article entitled Ecosocialism and Democratic Planning, Lowy describes the meaning and dimensions of ecosocialism. He mentioned that an ecosocialist’s society is “a new society based on ecological rationality, democratic control, social equality, and the predominance of use-value over exchange-value, collective ownership of the means of production, democratic planning, which makes it possible for society to define the goals of investment and production, and (c) a new technological structure of the productive forces. In other words, a revolutionary social and economic transformation.” From the perspective of ecosocialism, more than anything else, renewable energy sources must replace renewable and polluting energies. Many of my products, including nuclear energy, must also be stopped. All sections of society, both productive workers and consumers, must democratically participate and make decisions about production strategies, culture, education, and all aspects of society in accordance with environmental conditions. According to Lowy, in order to achieve this ecosocialism and a fundamental change in the socio-economic formulation, we must now set a transition period. Immediate and specific actions such as this transition period w any remedial programs that alleviate the environmental crisis. the banning of the HCFCs that are destroying the ozone layer, a general moratorium on genetically modified organisms, a drastic reduction in the emission of greenhouse gases, strict regulation of the fishing industry, as well as of the use of pesticides and chemicals in agro-industrial production, the taxation of polluting cars, much greater development of public transport, the progressive replacement of trucks by trains. (Lowy,2007). Ecosocialists believe that it is only socialism that can break the logic of profit maximization of the capitalist system and change its fundamental value relations. According to the evidence, the term ecosocialism was coined in 1980 by the German Green Party. Ecosocialists have published numerous books and magazines in the field of theory. One of the most important of these magazines is the well-known North-American left Journal Monthly Review, and the journal Capitalism, Nature, and Socialism, under the editorship of Joel Kovel, the author of The Enemy of Nature. It would be a mistake to conclude that ecosocialism is limited to Europe and North America; there is, in fact, lively ecosocialist activity and discussion in Latin America. But ecosocialism is not only a matter for scholars and intellectuals; in many countries, social activists and popular leaders are taking an interest in it. Indigenous communities in Latin America are presently in the forefront of the socio-ecological struggle against the destruction of forests and the poisoning of rivers and the land by oil and mining multinationals

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