Against Nuclear War, Make Social War
......Or, if your head is polluted take it off (1982)
(Followed by a personal commentary on what happened at Kingsnorth power station in Kent, 2008)
Above: Original wall poster in Portuguese, English and French
Recent years have seen an upsurge of rioting and subversion which, apart from certain exceptional situations like the collapse of fascist ideologies in Spain and Portugal, has not been seen since the 1960s. From West Berlin to California, from Toxteth to Gdansk, the modern conditions of capitalism are contested, as well as their most obvious consequences: wage labour, hierarchy, the commodity system, bad housing, sexual misery and the blatant nonsense of a democratic culture where everything can be discussed except that which is most important. People look for sense to a society which condemns them to a miserable unemployment or to produce forty or more hours weekly under a hierarchical dictatorship of wage labour in which they have no say over what is produced or how it is produced.
Ideologies of growth are rampant, while growth itself declines and crises management becomes one of the main disciplines in the universities. Pertinent questions are asked, like what is the point of living in such a wage labour society which spends in two weeks on armaments as much as it would take to feed and water the entire global population for one year? Or which uses the profit and taxes extracted in order to allocate the equivalent of 20-30 tons of TNT on the head of every living person on this planet? They ask how a society can be free when it transforms love, play and creativity into porn, leisure and wage labour. Posing such questions gives the beginnings to a social critique – with all its subversive consequences – and to a proletariat which takes on the historical consciousness necessary to overcome these conditions.
The conflict exists: but not everyone is in agreement about its origins or its solutions. False liberation has become a specialisation used to prevent unified struggle. Capitalist ideology, always aware, has divided up the conflict into a whole series of 'problem areas' and 'issues'; local and partialised struggle – discussed openly in the media, with the main intention of stopping any unification of these struggles – are presented by the official journalists in carefully measured doses, thus opening up a debate which misses the essential point: the capitalist mode of production.
So many partialised struggles start out to reform the wage system and the commodity system, only to end up as pressure groups on the state maintaining it intact. Either that, or old forms, historically dead, are resuscitated spectacularly and discussed as alternatives. The recent pacifist demonstrations led by church bodies or by trade unions are supported by 'revolutionaries' who appear to have forgotten not only the bloody and obscurantist history of the churches, but also the reactionary nature of the trade unions. They may think that they are criticising the neutron bomb ('the estate agents bomb') but they are at the same time giving their support to other aspects of capitalist warfare – political parties, trade unions, etc. Today, state planners agree that they must leave some space in their budget calculations for the trade unions (from the TUC in England to the CNT in Spain) just as they also know that political parties (revolutionary or otherwise) are an essential part of the modern spectacle. From the red Bennites in England to the green Bahros in Germany, not forgetting the blue churches and the 'new' yellow social democrats everywhere (Mitterand & Co), contestation is manipulated away from the real questions. The Peace and Ecology Movements are the umbilical cord which, today, more than anything, unite these interests, and appear to have the common aim of counteracting the potential destructiveness and ghastly realities of modern-day pollution. In reality, however, these aims are quite diverse.
To destroy modern pollution it will be necessary to destroy the capitalism which produces it, and those who need most to destroy capitalism, in order to begin living, know it most. Others, however, merely wish to circumvent the worst aspects of pollution and in the process create little islands of middle-class bliss, using ecology as a specialised method of creating non-polluted havens for themselves and their professional colleagues, while the proletarian areas of the cities get worse. A new breed of reactionary ecologists have grown up, whose job it is to clean up and design non-infested areas for those who can pay for it, away from the dangers of chemical or nuclear fallout, gassified industrial areas or the isolation / decomposition of certain inner-city zones. It is capitalist ecology, which is interested in political reform and which religiously claims to be 'independent', above blocks or parties, when in fact it is really a fusion of right and left-wing managerial interests forming a united front around ecology to maintain class peace. The debate they generate is not about the abolition of capitalism, but rather about an energy crisis when really they are talking about a crisis in capital resources. It is a debate amongst the new managerial classes, maintained through mini-scandals in the glossy mags, about the dangers of polluted bourgeois areas, while often they are merely redirecting the fumes of juggernauts and mercantile highways away from bourgeois areas and through proletarian zones. The debate attracts a wide variety of cranks, from revivalist bishops to frustrated politicians, from those idiotic pseudo-poets nostalgic for pre-capitalist technology to the usual variety of political racketeers out for a few recruits. Eco-power has become another partialised power which merely wants to reform state power.
Its ideological varieties are as diverse as the interests they claim within the spectacle of modern capitalism. In general, they see society as being outside of nature, and nature outside society, and therefore never see the totality of the decomposition of modern society, as being the social and political equilibrium of its parts, with constantly changing reciprocal effects on each of its parts. The eco-professionals of today, for all their efforts to create their eco-havens outside of the central problem of production and the relations of production, will one day see their lovely eco-houses and eco-space transformed by a revolutionary proletariat (which, silly fools, they don't believe can happen, so confident are they in their eco-space) which will create from it a socially lived space that will not be called ecological but which will certainly be inseparable from the revolutionary totality reconstructing the world of human relationships.
From some apparently static viewpoint, they present a holy triad of reactionary images: the old pre-capitalist religious beliefs, the ransacked critiques of 20th century art projects, as well as the worst ambiguities of the traditional socialist movements. Their religious pre-capitalist doomsday ideology is infamous, and is nothing new for revolutionaries. What is new is they were able to resurrect certain avant-garde art projects from the 1920s (Tatlin's Ornithopter, Klebnikov's soup lakes, Malevich's slow flying squares) and give them a new lease of life within the modern eco-spectacle, thus saving those who were interested in such experiments from confronting total revolution, their only equivalent in modern day life. They merely use them to point to an artistic leisure future in a manner which is as barren as the propagandists of the Ford Motor weekend saloon car, and to become the stealthy manipulators of some functional utopianism and utilitarianism, which is the wind and solar 'utopias' of tomorrow's capitalism. Like Le Corbusier's warning in the semi-rural, folksy splendour of Towards a New Architecture: Architecture or Revolution? (And he chose architecture), our modern ecologists pose a similar dilemma: Ecology or Revolution?
And they use the worst ambiguities of traditional socialist movements to give themselves a progressive character. Against the threat of mass automation and to preserve 'artistic individualism' they look to an automated future with the same horror that avant-garde urbanists like Robert Owen did in the nineteenth century. They believe that they are building parts of the post-revolutionary society now, while such parts fit neatly into the counter-revolution posing as revolution and the 'New Lanarks' of yesteryear are firm examples of those interested in stopping revolution under the guise of socialism. Here the 'socialist' tradition of a Ruskin, a Zola or some modern day Tolstoy finds a new off-spring: to avoid class warfare it is better to return to the villages and to country life where the eco-professional and the academic theorist replace the privileged position of the country doctor and priest. Old ambiguities which the proletariat didn't dare criticise are repeated under a modern guise. Only the new proletariat has learned to tell its friends from its enemies and such ambiguities as leftist professors and leftist science no longer have their 19th century magic.
In the modern spectacle, ecological leaders (such as the ex-hippy founders of the National Centre for Alternative technology in North Wales, or the new Alchemy institute in Boston) are praised as 'revolutionaries' by both multinationals and the state. Here the 'alternative technology' buffoonery of pre-capitalist bliss (they call it 'post-industrial') is such as to blend the elemental vocabulary of a Ruskin or a Turner with this socialist realist tradition through the radiating influence of the contemporary crisis in capitalism, and its inevitable expression in unemployment, increase in energy prices, monetarist politics and increasing belligerent factions of the dominant class.
The ecologists go on about the dangers of a coal, oil and nuclear-based society without ever seeing the other side of the question. For having recuperated the subversive slogan on the walls of Europe in 1968,"Imagination is Power" into a partialised energy reform movement, they will one day be asked to pay the price. No mention is made in eco literature about how striking coal miners seriously upset capital in the USA in 1977, just as there is no reference to striking coal miners in Britain who, a few years earlier, had caused the downfall of the Conservative government, or how striking oil workers (no matter how confused their intentions) were the most important factor in forcing the Shah of Iran to capitulate in 1977. If ecology thinks it is waving its big fist at business, the latter is certainly not returning the gesture, because ecological ideas are not really seen by them as a threat but rather as a defence or a diversion. It is no coincidence that the ecological autonomous housing projects in Britain, which consisted in utilising alternative heating devices, were partially a response to the strike by power workers in the early 1970s, with many of the models developed in that hive of workers' self-activity, Cambridge University, and promoted by Thames Television. Nor is it any surprise that the Portuguese Popular monarchist Party (PPM) – part of the ruling coalition – has considered changing its name to the Ecological Party, and that its leader has become Minister for the Quality of Life, accompanied by a wage freeze which put workers' quality of life back to the fascist days of 1972.
The ecos call for a different kind of product as an answer to the fall in consumerism. They build their own eco houses (even Reagan has one) while they praise frugality as an excuse for getting people to consume less – something which is about as stupid as asking workers to accept lower wages in order to abolish the wagers system. Eco dinners, eco houses, eco art is merely the consumer aesthetes' response to a devalued commodity.
Hiding behind a middle class co-op mentality with illusions about Gandhi's village socialism, these eco entrepreneurs are no different from their illustrious superiors: Massey Ferguson, ICI, Shellstar have all shown an interest in alternative food, and Philips has put alternative technology high on its list of priorities. And there has even been one private market attempt at creating a solar satellite to harness solar power and sell it to proletarian earthlings.
Clearly, there is a certain economism which sees development as being more important than the everyday relations of production, and points to the highly capital intensive nature of nuclear and micro-technological industries. A letter to the London Times (May 30th, 1980) estimated that the cost of creating one job in the micro-electronics industry was $140,000. In general, criticisms about capital intensiveness are supported by praise for artisan production and the setting up of small cooperative workshops which habitually lead to longer hours for less pay. They can point to the 'small is beautiful' ideology as being efficient in mopping up unemployment.
The eco pacifists, as long as they remain on the terrain of ecology and pacifism, as long as they do not attempt to destroy the hierarchical dictatorship of wage labour and the commodity system, are merely perpetuating class domination and destroying the possibilities for revolution. Even those who are as much against the Warsaw Pact nuclear weaponry as NATO nuclear weaponry forgot the conventional weaponry of the standing army and the police. The anti-nuclear movement is only for internal consumption in times of peace. As recent events in Poland have shown, the standing army and police were enough to crush the autonomous workers' movement.
Third-worldist as it professes itself to be, the eco pacifist movement fits neatly into an imperialist strategy. Praising technological decentralisation in those countries and trying to avoid all the painful steps taken by developed capitalism over 200 years, they ensure that these countries will remain poor. An India which uses bio-gas or nuclear power is still a capitalist India. The World Bank is at present the largest financier of so-called appropriate technology in the developing countries, giving out loans to buy obsolete technology from the West, thus assuring that these countries become the dumping grounds for this technology. The ecologists make their job easier.
The eco ideologies cannot separate industry from capitalism, nor see technology as being the material conditions of production. They fall back into romanticism. But this romanticism is not so much the swan song of a dying feudalism, as Marx held, but rather a vital stage in the development of industrial capital. Romantic ideals can hold the symbiotic contradictions together over a first phase, while the betrayal of these ideals in a second phase is an important step within the rules of the expansionist game. The eco pacifist movement enters the game by providing a critique which helps keep reason prisoner of capitalist social relations and helps them survive. For all its romanticism, it is not so inconceivable to imagine that all the eco pacifist outrage of recent years will merely provide the stimulus for a search for some form of nuclear safety devices or for some form of Salt 111 agreement, and nothing else. If ecologists remain within the field of ecology, this is what will happen. However, in the meantime, a proletarian revolution may have interfered with their miserable utopia. Long live the day!
The only real de-pollution of the world, therefore, is the abolition of the capitalist mode of production and its guarantor, the state. The only 'safe' energy is revolutionary energy. All the rest is merely a false response to the crisis in modern capitalism. The draining off of resources is just nonsense: new equilibriums are always to be made, just as a new proletariat will ensure that it is made in a certain way as soon as it assumes the historical consciousness of its role. Then the reformist and reactionary pollution of their Ecological Vision will be swept aside, along with all other pollution. The power of the Workers' Assemblies is the only guarantee of a renewable society. Without Workers' Assemblies there will be capitalist domination, world war and annihilation. Social revolution will never be stopped by lack of fuel. The day will come when capitalism will burn.
An auto critique of the above: 2008, Kingsnorth power
station, the miners, George Monbiot and Arthur Scargill
The somewhat anti-ecology text re-printed above was a composite effort by Phil Meyler and us together with a little help from friends. It is held together by a certain ambiguous tension both eco and anti eco often depending on who was writing a particular paragraph. It therefore doesn't really hang together and in the final analysis it can hardly be said to be a successful collaboration. The backdrop was the disintegration of Combate, the ultra-leftist Portuguese outfit and the publication of Joao Bernarado's O Inimigo Occulto (The Hidden Enemy) an attack on the spuriously promoted 'ecological' austerity measures the Portuguese state in particular was trying to ram through at the time; an austerity primarily aimed at wage cutting programmes and a kind of sophisticated and hip overlay encouraging the mass non-payment of workers' salaries often deferred for months if not years that was taking place through the length and breadth of Portuguese society in the late 1970s / early 1980s. Naturally the rich were exempted from such austerity. The text, produced in the form of a poster, didn't really go down too well beyond the Portuguese context. Bruce Elwell, the former American situ guy regarded the text as wrong-headed and in retrospect that was reasonably accurate for by then the devalued commodity especially in industrialised – and contaminated - food production was well underway especially in America as globalisation was beginning to kick in. The tone of the text though somewhat apocalyptic is also too high-handed and dismissive which grates on a sensibility that today requires more nuancing precisely because the matters in hand have in the meantime become so urgent.
Since that time in the early 1980s we noted a certain tendency among the ultra lefts or left communists to dismiss the eco critique as of little revolutionary importance and more a counter revolutionary strategy of the state diverting the consciousness of oppressed wage workers from getting to grips with the real nitty-gritty of exploitation. We all remember the Channel 4, March 2007, presentation The Great Global Warming Swindle which created such a furore because it was a pseudo scientific front for the machinations of major oil companies. In retrospect we cannot help but feel though the liberally minded presenters of Channel 4 can be easily brain-washed they also have an ear cocked to the debates that rage in ultra leftist circles – debates never however to be mentioned in the media - and some presenters would have been aware of that minority dismissive anti-eco tendency in the midst of the ultra left. (After all similar liberally-minded TV crews regularly ransack a lot of our stuff making a mockery of content in the process).
Nonetheless, Against Nuclear War Make Social War cannot be completely ignored even if not sufficiently explanatory and some of its basic points, though put too crudely, are still all too sadly prominent. Even after thirty years or so there's still sufficient reason to say the same. It can safely be said that any real understanding of the theories of Karl Marx – the critique of political economy and the state – among the greens is still minimal if virtually non-existent and they'd still have no idea what you were going on about if you said something like there was a 'state capitalist Marx' that tended to be in conflict with 'a communist Marx'. Like the early 1980s too, the greens have little interest in workers' struggles generally whether its strikes, riots, occupations, or housing struggles and evictions like the on-going mass sub-prime repossessions. Ecological devastation that affects workers – well yes – but day to day struggle against management gets big thumbs down if it isn't green tinged. And they couldn't give a damn about workers' communities in their death throws, or even what remains of their inherent liveliness inseparable often from a richer experience of spontaneous life. Such notions are meaningless to an often one dimensional puritanical greenery. It's a grave absence.
Today, the greens, especially the young in their ranks, tend to regard themselves as anti capitalist but it's a vague anti capitalism one that is oriented towards the state and / or the changing policy of the state (1).
In that sense too, the greens today are eerily familiar to their predecessors in the late 1970s / early 1980s. The days of autonomous green critique, of experiments like Murray Bookchin's Institute of Social Ecology in the revolutionary upsurge of the late 1960s, had been crushed and / or recuperated to be replaced by something bigger but a lot more wishy washy. It was however merely an interlude as what was waiting in the wings was something truly horrific as green critique climbed into bed with the burgeoning and rampant free market ideology ably assisted by the likes of 'the ant man' EO Wilson. Bio-diversity became the buzz word only it was small organism biology with increasing market value requiring patents and copy write laws with much of it sold on as various lotions and potions in new ritzy shopping malls. It was a process promoted in the 1992 Rio summit which in turn encouraged the creation of a plethora of conservation bodies working hand in hand with brutal developers who, in turn, quickly acquired green newspeak. It meant in practise that the environment was to be maimed and pummelled like never before inevitably coinciding with a drop in green direct action as many semi-official green bodies concentrated more on watching their bank balances grow to unprecedented levels. Here in the UK as a direct consequence of Rio we have had the creation of council sponsored and paid for bio-diversity bodies which, for anybody who's had any dealings with them; know they are completely useless not daring to say anything that may be construed as leading. Since mid 2007, the eruption of the biggest financial crises since the 1930s has now thankfully put such organisations and perspectives into deep trouble hence the return of a still mild anti capitalism, which hopefully anticipates something more strongly anti capitalist.
Again rather like the early 1980s the green answer now lies in a kind of deflection of anti statist critique, extolling instead primitive communities, combined heat and power units running the energy needs of small towns, etc. like in some 'small is beautiful' a perspective last aired thirty years ago. As for the participants themselves they are frugal in real life – and that's fine – and anti turbo consumerism – fine too – but they also have no real take on money as a medium of exchange and how its withering away, like that of the state, might happen. You cannot help but feel we could do with a few more tentatively worked on suggestions along these lines even if hypothetical. Though we want the wages system superseded, is money really like to disappear overnight in the midst of a sudden spontaneous and maybe unprecedented upheaval in this great financial crash? Isn't it going to be part of a process involving at least weeks and months inseparable first and foremost on the growth of community, assembly-led, self-reorganisation of a devastated production and a devastated everyday life marked today by an almost total human absence needing to be rebuilt on a new sustainable level responsive to the best of a distant past? At all costs beyond the welcome spontaneity of looted shopping malls, trashed supermarkets and raided food warehouses, etc. seeing, unlike even thirty years ago, community and communitarian impulses have been so pulverised by a rampant free market, we must try and avoid brutal chaos or anything that smacks of a dog eats dog mentality. Thirty years ago we were leery about the greens and sadly we still are although it can no longer be doubted we are passionately for a rejuvenated nature; somewhat like Manley Hopkins insights perhaps. - "Oh for the weeds and the wilderness yet"- combined with a complete transformation (coming together?) of town and country emphasising a rich bio-diversity abolishing the suburbanisation of nearly all land concomitant with a global ultra commodification of nearly all agriculture especially as increasingly experienced in the UK since the end of the Second World War.
At the Kingsnorth power station on the Medway in Kent. Arthur Scargill and Dave Douglass turned up at the summer 2008 eco protest camp opposing the opening of a new coal fired power station on the site to be constructed by E-ON which has resolutely refused to deploy any carbon capture technology no matter how relatively ineffective that technology presently is. Evasively, E-ON has said the new power station is "CCS ready" whatever that means. For the occasion a copy of The Miner perhaps based on the now forgotten Rank 'n' File Miner – a magazine prominent after the 1984-5 strike – had been produced and handed out to the ecos. It wasn't by any means stupid comment putting forward the need for clean coal, for as is well known, the majority of the greens want no coal at all. The Miner pointed out some of the things said here especially- given the present situation - that the greens don't give much of a sod about wrecked working class communities left behind in the horrendous wave of de-industrialisation - hall-mark of the Thatcher epoch - and which has carried on ever since. Today 74% of the British economy is a service economy connected to a parasitic financial pyramid now in a state of near collapse.
What could be said – and rather surprisingly – was that one or two young greens looked on Arthur Scargill – as pugnacious and funny as ever – in complete awe. We asked one what he thought of Arthur and quick came the riposte, "He's a great rebel" yet presumably this eco wanted coal kept underground forever. That was interesting because whether you like it or not it was the manual workers in mines, steel mills, engineering, shipbuilding or car assembly lines that were the source of consistent rebellion in Britain which was also the major factor why they were vanquished lock, stock and barrel as industrial fixed capital was exported overseas. As an unintended (was it so unintended?) side effect it has also meant that all technical skills and the like often going back centuries were lost virtually overnight. If some of these industrial bases had remained, essential new green skills would have been that much easier to acquire - or adapted from the old ones – and the collective process would most likely have been that much more creative involving the input of thousands of individuals adding their own technical ten penneth. Or, at least with some hefty push from below, the workers could have ensured it would be so.
First and foremost among such industrial bases were the colliery complexes. The miners especially had to be vanquished so no trace could be left and this latest edition of The Miner eloquently said the miners' communities carried something like a new world in their hearts, though now these communities were "wracked with poverty, benefit dependency, drug addiction" concomitant with "a loss of vision" (our italics). This vision has now been conveniently forgotten along with so many other things beside. Not least it must be remembered that the experimental laboratories related to clean coal technology were decades ago situated in Grimethorpe, South Yorkshire before sold off by Thatcher and co – was it the Belgian state or the Duchy of Luxembourg?? – never to be heard of since!
While Arthur was entertaining the greens in his inimical, stand up comic way, one of us intervened saying, among other things; "The miners in general were remarkably knowledgeable, very sensitive to nature and often great agriculturalists." To which Arthur replied: "You're right there pal". If the miners had won in the 1980s we can intelligently surmise that Britain would be a considerably greener place than it is now and clean coal technology incomparably more advanced. For the moment all we have is a rather paltry and belated fumbling. Dave Douglass (remember, the anarchist inclined union branch rep) mentioned at the Kingsnorth protest that coal from Hatfield colliery was now siphoned through a new combined heat and power unit based on a "fluid bed system which burns minute amounts of powered coal fired into a hot bed of lime rocks in a contained furnace, which keeps a constant heat with minimal utility of coal and consequential amounts of CO2 emissions." Dave hoped it would bring about free public transport in the area. It's a pious hope although there was always a strand of radical Keynesians who insisted free transport for everybody was compatible with state controlled capitalism. Backing this up, The Miner said: "Hatfield Main colliery (Doncaster) has embarked on a plan to build a clean coal power station based on the pit with an adjacent energy park supplied with power from the station rather than being wasted up chimneys. It uses every ounce of energy and in so doing reduces the energy demand and CO2 output. It produces a by-product of hydrogen, which is planned to fuel clean public transport and will be supplied free to the local authorities to run trams and buses, replacing petrol driven public transport and providing potential for free public transport and therefore massive reduction in private car usage." As far as the old coal triumvirate went; of National Coal Board, government and National Union Mineworkers the latter together with other real rank 'n' file miner initiatives would probably years ago have been well to the fore in forcing through such measures on a recalcitrant business and state machine. It could have meant the UK becoming on this score an example to the rest of the world.
Going green now means so much more than a glib phrase on many peoples' lips for it basically implies a drastic transformation of our everyday lives. However, the recent edition of The Miner never raised this thorny question falling back on that vague and traditional panacea demanding "a higher standard of living." Though fair enough when considering the miserable conditions billions of the world's real poor live under this phrase rapidly becomes an old saw if not more exactly described implying in 'the west' a life style of ever-expanding consumption fed by ever-expanding shopping malls predicated on ever-expanding energy resources and that's a great No No! Let's have no more mimicry of the life style of the rich for we must get rid of them once and for all not out of envy but because they stand in the way of our visions for a different planet. And the first step we would suggest is to overthrow the need for the Society of Entertainment within ourselves including the more enlightened info-tainment element. Finally isn't it the media-induced largactil that really destroys us? The only living standard we really want is basic food, health, shelter, warmth, security and getting out of your box every now and then. Beyond that there is a world to rediscover through all our collective self-activity and coincidentally, a perspective capitalism could never accept: "Marx said "transform the world, Rimbaud said "change life" for us these two mottoes are one and the same" and the old surrealist adage which, in our youth struck us as so much good sense, is as true as it ever was.
Even before the 1984-5 miners' strike ecological concerns were getting a higher profile within the coal industry. The hi-tech Selby complex was sunk with increased environmental sensitivity factored in, as a maze of tunnels were scooped out, with only one spoil outlet for the four separate pit shafts of Ricall, Stillingfleeet, Wistow and the biggest at Gascoigne Wood in east North Yorkshire. The spoil was then carted off to be dumped elsewhere. Obviously the whole set up was very mindful of the green belt planning laws and apart from the obvious industrial site alongside the rail network at Gascoigne Wood it was often fairly difficult to make out the other mine shafts which to the untrained eye appeared as nothing more than sizable grain silos. Of course it can be said what's wrong with spoil as it quickly becomes home to an amazing bio-diverse mix, though for the official eye in the mid 1970s we have to say it was an eye respectful of greenery. Certainly, whatever reservations we might have, it was a path that any future developments elsewhere could have taken off from. (As we know even Selby was closed in 2002 basically on the usual trumped-up technical problems related to 'exhausted' coal seams).
Instead ecologically the opposite happened. Miners were declared an extinct species, pits were closed and coal increasingly extracted in the shape of large open cast sites based on a brutalised Columbian model. Sometimes these sites are skilfully and mendaciously hidden no more so than the great open cast at Gale Common adjacent to Kellingley colliery on the Aire / Calder navigation surrounded on every side by a mock downland grassed and tree-laden escarpment of converted spoil masking the stepped down monster cavern in its bowels. A spin on the landscape means makeover has become everything. Increasingly too even at the few working mines left the spoil is immediately doctored and reformed into rolling, nature dead, anodyne grassland as for instance is happening to Maltby colliery's topography near Doncaster.
Enough may be enough. Former mining communities are now getting ever crosser at this cheapo, toxic way of coal extraction and some are beginning to oppose this huge environmental disaster in the making and harmful to all who live close by. This protest has recently gained a larger profile for Ashington's inhabitants in the north east who are furious that open cast is to be dumped on them. It's not as though it's going to soak up unemployment among ex miners as only 60 jobs will be created as huge excavators and dumper trucks do most of the work. There's no doubt at all that the coal companies hope to dig out 33 opencasts here but can they get away with it in the moment when finance capital has hit the buffers and people are again beginning to question the system?
After the Kingsnorth protest, a spat erupted in the pages of the Guardian between Arthur Scargill and George Monbiot with Arthur attacking George's predilection - though not necessarily outright support - for nuclear power (though in a fit of pique on August 5th he did say "I no longer care whether the answer is nuclear or not"). Inevitably George countered-attacked condemning Arthur's insistence on coal, though without going into too many ins and outs, what must be emphasised is how his position on coal and nuclear energy has changed in the last few years. It wasn't so long ago that George wrote a rather interesting though technical article on how CCS capture on a large scale might be achieved through channelling carbon emissions - directing them into the huge and empty aquifers under the North Sea recently - after emptied of their original gas and oil – could turn out to be truly beneficial. Monbiot even rather crazily (?) suggested it may be possible to instigate a controlled burn in these aquifers at once creating heat as well as getting rid of dangerous greenhouses gases. Well why not? Even the astronomer royal, Martin Rees concurs that we must at least give CCS capture a try? Let's all welcome suggestions no matter how farfetched because we need them. For sure we have to be careful about clean coal futures though it is certainly better than the preferred green option; a nuclear future, (though in fairness, you cannot help but feel there is something desperate about the nuclear preference). Clean coal though is still, apart from small scale experiment, an untested technology and it is going to have to go through real trial and error processes on a big public scale before any possible eureka moments maybe in the pipeline. Many worrying questions come to mind. Would carbon capture in undersea aquifers work and would sea life in the immediate environs be damaged? Finally do we need all this energy? You know what the drift can be like once we confront a pressing reality....
One further point: In the long run we would like to see all energy resources renewably based, but in immediate terms we have to recognise that the world will use coal no matter what and it is in all our interests to find viable clean coal solutions as quickly as possible. Even the "Camp for climate change handbook" admitted that. In that sense it's therefore not quite true to say the greens want no coal at all as the more practically thoughtful among them see CCS as a 'transition technology' especially for China and India even included with an aside that calls for "power stations controlled by workers"! You get the feeling – all to the good – this handbook has tried to represent all opinion in their ranks because nothing is fixed and things are maybe beginning to move dialectically. At times you begin to wonder if the gaps between people like us and the greens isn't paper thin. For us the real trouble with successful CCS is something else entirely and something much darker. Seeing coal is solidified oil, CCS will mean there will again be a limitless supply of oil which also implies the mass of the world's relative poor will again be able to put off the day they will have to change lifestyles embracing once more a further expansion of The Society of Entertainment.
Moreover, it also wasn't so long ago that Monbiot was dead set against nuclear power rightly stressing there was no such thing as "atoms for peace" because it was impossible to separate atoms from their warlike uses and, as practised in Europe and America, sends out a wrong message to the rest of the world? On other counts, Monbiot's article was quite a sensitive revaluation recognising safety improvements had come about since the disasters at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island though this has not cancelled out the fact that nuclear was – and still is - the most secretive and opaque of all energy resources. Today all this has seems to have been abandoned and George is somewhat willing to accept the propaganda emanating from the nuclear companies as gospel truth because it is possible to enact legislation requiring they fes- up when asked to do so. As though the law isn't bent at will by all the political rackets and global energy companies guarding the state!
One aspect of nuclear power that Monbiot – except maybe in passing – has never gone into is nuclear fusion and a growing number of people today see in fusion a possible panacea for our energy ills. The trouble is there's been no real progress in this branch of nuclear science in over 50 years and any solution short of a miracle seems to be decades away. As an experiment fusion has worked though only momentarily requiring more energy to conduct the experiment to fuse hydrogen molecules than was then created and little also is known about the effects of neutron bombardment which is needed. It has, for instance, been known to crack concrete! Furthermore there will still be the problem of nuclear waste that fusion produces, a waste admittedly, that may only be toxic for 12 years or so unlike the millennia that waste from fission creates.
Also, you can't get away from the simple fact that messing with atoms always creates problems. Enrico Fermi's original nuclear reactor built around 1942-3 in the squash court of the University of Chicago prepared the way immediately for a commercial nuclear reactor built just over ten years later at Calder Hall, Cumbria (a.k.a. Sellafield). Never forget too that Calder Hall was accompanied by a fanfare of cheap energy, an energy that was even going to be too cheap to meter! And the outcome: No cheap energy but one of our earliest youthful memories was having to stay indoors, drink no milk, etc .as a toxic cloud from nearby Calder Hall passed over our council house in Co Durham. To this day we still worry that ailments such as heart and respiratory problems might possibly be related to this first civil nuclear disaster?
Right from the onset, Fermi's reactor put the final nail in the coffin regarding nuclear secrecy and a lesson Monbiot has clearly forgotten. Aware just how dangerous nuclear power was Fermi immediately veiled his devastating discoveries by deploying surreal terminology cum Winnie the Pooh language to throw people off the scent and from such absurdist beginnings the great subterfuge surrounding nuclear arguments was immediately established. (The Geiger counter and other instruments were called Pooh, piglet and Hefflelump, etc). As regards the UK, a name like Calder Hall was probably chosen because redolent of a Georgian country mansion inhabited by lords and ladies though shouldn't this realistically be considered more on the lines of Shakespeare's remark that "The prince of darkness comes as a gentleman"?
It could perhaps be said that Monbiot is greeted with awe everywhere he travels as hordes of well-intentioned young men and women hang on to his every word. Flattered, in return Monbiot seems to be playing to this attractive gallery no more so than at Kingsnorth. As if to reinforce the attack on Scargill – and more to the point by default the long destroyed miners – the Greenpeace ship The Rainbow Warrior in the last week of October 2008 put up a large banner outside the Medway power station which said: "Put Coal on the Dole" mockingly parodying the badges countless striking miners had pinned on their jackets saying "Coal not Dole". The press need go on about edgy comedians insulting aging celebrities but this is more in the line of the public schools' comedy / entertainment TV slot Little Britain with its sheer contempt for those socially beneath them. Talk about insult to injury; why not honour the miners for once or, at least, noting that whatever their contradictions, these weren't by any means impossible contradictions?
In this respect too an editorial in the Independent on August 8th 2008 was truly horrific condemning miners together with Arthur Scargill. It's a tone that has become increasingly common in these islands where class struggle has been supposedly abolished: To the victor have gone the spoils along with a lot of venomous poison directed against former manual workers. We aren't alone in having discussed this contemptuous dismissal with ex factory hands/mop hands/oily rags, all concurring with lips aquiver. You get the distinct impression they are desperate for some comeuppance against what has become a permanent slur.......As The Miner said – as if speaking for all the others - "are we again the enemy within" – that pointed slogan of Thatcher's directed against all 'commie bastards' in the 1980s?
Let's end this polemic on another note by quoting a perceptive letter in the Guardian around the same time from a guy called Kevin Riley and by coincidence (?) from Selby: "The nuclear argument simply wants more of the same – more economic growth, more junk-producing retail capitalism, more motor ways, more landfill sites, more social and spiritual alienation from urban poverty and meaningless work, and more personal depression. We are poised at a major crossroads in the history of our civilisation."
Just across the Thames estuary from Kingsnorth lays "England's rain forest", the former Occidental ground on Canvey Island and a site of industrial dereliction teeming with a bio-diversity, especially among insects which is the equivalent of the Amazon rain forest. It is to be redeveloped and Greenpeace has accepted this redevelopment as a fait accompli. Raising the question among Greenpeace activists in Southend quickly got a blank. And that's a real bummer!
The self-same organisation have unsurprisingly also remained mute about the vast deep navigation port that is to be built by Dubai World at Shell Haven near enough to Tilbury but also close enough to Canvey Island which will be able to berth the new goliath container ships bringing in all the trivial consumer junk cheaply manufactured for miserably low wages in the far east to feed all the new shopping malls now thankfully biting the dust here in the west. Rather like what has happened on the northern colliery spoil heaps, the amazing mud flats of the Thames reaches are to receive the same killer treatment, as newly 'sensitised' building firms such as Laing O'Rourke equipped with the same green spin deliver similar devastation which will not only destroy beaches all down the south Essex and north Kent coast but take out the rich cockle beds and other marine life. Now the intention is to dredge the Thames reaches (c/o Dredging International) by sucking and blowing silt and mud onto surviving shorelines followed by a managerial designer initiative (c/o Carillion) which overnight will recreate 26 'new' millennia old mudflats! The audacity and arrogance of such a makeover is beyond belief yet seeing it is 'safe' Dubai money – money not tainted with the smoke and mirrors of western fictive capital - it really will go ahead. Yet Greenpeace says nothing and will Rainbow Warrior ram any new-fangled Thames dredgers engaged in such dirty work?
As for those who simplistically identify the worker with his / her productive role or assigned task as many greens tend to do, perhaps take note of the following: A friend who works as a forklift truck driver for Ford's in South Essex is opposing the development – along with others – specifically fighting for the extremely rare short snouted sea horse that was only discovered in 2006 in this part of the river. (Perhaps the sea horse will be destroyed in order to be saved?). In general the guy is fascinating to talk to enumerating among other things, the many alternative technical innovations like a water-driven vehicle Ford has persistently turned down. Quickly getting inspired in no time he also says he intends putting together his notes on why he hates the Ford motor company so much drawing on a lot of personal reminiscences/analyses and, last but not least, recounting some of his stroppy responses to managerial diktats. Now there's the Internet as publisher and he's no slouch at creating webs. A short aside to all of this: remember again a worker is also other than their allotted role in a now largely parasitic work process especially in the UK. We wish the guy the best of luck.
In any case roles can also woof and warp in fascinating ways. We may possibly be in for a period of collective technical green innovation comparable with the first moments of the industrial revolution in the late 18th / early 19th century only this time assisted by economic collapse in that corporate sponsorship and scarcity of credit may ineluctably begin to wrest initiative from managerial prerogatives bringing into focus some collective technical initiative which, even in the early decades of the 20th century Jack Common was still tellingly able to portray. Anybody who has ever been involved in such collective innovation will know how fulfilling such a process is. It becomes a form of self-organised control inseparable from the perspective of total social control; of the power of the powerless looking for some worthwhile future even at this impossibly late hour. May it spread everywhere...for such work inventiveness surely beats the endurance test daily meted out and imperiously demanded by the Society of Entertainment?
Dave Wise: Autumn 2008
Footnote (1). Despite belligerent appearances to the contrary is the NUM bureaucracy that far removed from the greens in this respect as both tend to see themselves as pressure groups on the state? In no way in their arguments is there any marked tendency raising the essential question of the withering (wuthering for Yorkshire?) away of the state.
For othe webs on the miners see below on the Revolt against Plenty web