New Books | Organising for autonomy

CounterPower, a revolutionary organisation committed to building the power of oppressed people, offers a world that resists capitalism by reimagining contemporary life.

This is a lightly edited excerpt from Organizing for Autonomy: History, Theory and Strategy for Collective Liberation (Common Notions, 2020) by CounterPower. 

The ecological rift 

We are living in a new geological era marked by the anthropogenic transformation of the planetary biosphere and geosphere. Humans have always altered and co-produced our environments; but an abstract humanity – or, humanity in general – is not responsible for the present ecological devastation. Rather, it is the imperialist world-system that has initiated and continually deepened ecological rifts, crafting a fundamentally unsustainable socioecological metabolism built upon the “man against nature” binary. As a result of the hierarchical power relations embedded within imperialism, the effects of the ecological crisis will be unevenly distributed: “For most people, it will mean increased hardship and a fight for survival, while for some there will be easy lifeboats.” While some have named this new period the Anthropocene, many others challenge the way that this term seems to suggest that all of humanity is responsible for the current ecological crisis. Marxist, feminist and antiracist scholars have since offered alternative concepts, such as racial capitalocene or plantationocene, that more explicitly acknowledge how the imperialist mode of world-making produces ecological devastation. Whichever concept is chosen, we see the utility of naming and studying this fundamental transformation in human history and geological time: “Today’s concept of the Anthropocene thus reflects, on the one hand, a growing recognition of the rapidly accelerating role of anthropogenic drivers in disrupting the biogeochemical processes and planetary boundaries of the Earth system and, on the other, a dire warning that the world, under ‘business as usual’, is being catapulted into a new ecological phase – one less conducive to maintaining biological diversity and a stable human civilisation.” 

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This “business as usual” is the continuation of a social system premised upon heteropatriarchy, capital, colonialism and the state. From its inception, imperialism has cultivated a deeply imbalanced and destructive socioecological metabolism, grounded in the objectification of nature, whereby environmental resources and multi-species life are subjected to processes of commodification, enclosure and extraction, as diverse and abundant forms of life are reduced to potential sources of value for capital. Coming at the expense of ecological diversity, this ruthless enclosure and extraction of nature results in widespread resource depletion and environmental destruction, ultimately undermining the reproduction of the world-system itself. Hence, imperialism as a project is co-produced by natural processes, “the unruly movements of bundled natures, through which civilisational projects discover spectacular contradictions”. At present, this entropic metabolism is manifest in myriad socioecological crises, including: habitat destruction, the mass extinction of numerous species, soil degradation, ocean acidification, rising sea levels, land erosion, widespread drought, water supply contamination, environmental resource depletion and the spread of disease. So long as imperialism remains the dominant world-system, it will pursue the management of these crises in ways that inevitably deepen the systemic oppression of the proletarian and popular social groups who inhabit the peripheries, accelerating tendencies towards authoritarianism, militarism and ultimately fascism. 

The ecological rift is thus a political problem – a problem of particular forms of environment-making – caused by the reproduction of the imperialist world-system. This situation has been co-produced through the development of imperialism’s specific socioecological metabolism through the web of life, premised upon boundless capital accumulation, endless growth, technocratic modernisation, and the centralisation of state and corporate power for the metropolitan core. Resource wars have already taken on great importance for the metropolitan core and its competitors, as witnessed with the proliferation of proxy wars waged throughout the Middle East and Africa. While in the global peripheries, adaptation to the Anthropocene takes on a range of forms with divergent political implications (from cooperative mutual aid and revolutionary struggle to narcotics trafficking and religious fundamentalism), in the metropolitan core, “the multilayered crisis appears as the politics of the armed lifeboat: the preparations for open-ended counterinsurgency, militarised borders, aggressive anti-immigrant policing and a mainstream proliferation of right-wing xenophobia.”

Resurgent facism

In the 20th century, fascism emerged from imperialism in decay. According to Matthew Lyons, fascism is “a revolutionary form of right-wing populism, inspired by a totalitarian vision of collective rebirth, that challenges capitalist political and cultural power while promoting economic and social hierarchy”. It is “revolutionary” in the sense of waging a social counter-revolution, seizing state power to reengineer and reorder the gender, sexual, class, racial, ethnic, national and state hierarchies inherited from imperialism, typically in favour of an alliance of “native citizens” of middle class and declassed men forged through prolonged crisis. The social base of fascism generally feels abandoned by “their” national empires, which have been compromised by pursuing an insufficiently nationalist, racist, authoritarian and militarist form of imperialism. As a prerequisite to the stabilisation of its power, fascist social engineering projects require the violent containment and suppression of all forms of Left opposition, especially any form of communism. While fascism varies widely according to its specific historical-geographical location – from the Ku Klux Klan to the National-Socialist German Workers’ Party to the Argentine Anticommunist Alliance – all forms of fascism share a variant of “blood and soil” ideology, or a “commitment to the regeneration and rejuvenation of their own national communities, understood as communities of people related to each other by ethnicity, culture, religion, language and homeland”.

Constructing an external Other to be excluded, dominated or exterminated, fascism relies upon variations of the organisational forms typically associated with the Left, united with an ideology naturalising hierarchy and violence: “Fascism doesn’t just terrorise and repress. It also inspires and mobilises large masses of people around a vision of collective rebirth in a time of crisis. Building a mass movement outside traditional channels is central to fascism’s bid to win state power. As a regime, fascism uses mass organisations and rituals to create a sense of participation and direct identification with the state. Fascism celebrates the nation, race or cultural group as an organic community to which all other loyalties must be subordinated. In place of individual liberties or social justice, fascism offers its followers a culture of action, virility, heroic sacrifice, cathartic public spectacle and being part of a vast social organism. 

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At the present moment, the intensification of imperialism’s systemic crises could create a situation where fascist movements gain mass support among certain declassed social groups. Already in 2020, during the Black Liberation Movement uprisings sparked by the public execution of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, we see antifascist organising being vilified by the forces of white nationalism, and the antifascist movement branded as a left-wing terrorist organisation. In our current conjuncture, however, these forces of white nationalism are distinctly libertarian and paradoxically antistatist, with a vision of “making America great” built upon a contradictory commitment to strong centralised and militarised policing of the world’s Others (be they people of colour and antifa at home, migrants and asylum seekers at the borders or potential economic, cultural or political rivals abroad) coupled with a desire for an interior in which they can wield power and authority without the intrusions of state authority (or unwarranted taxation). The imperialist ruling class, in continuing its experiment with complexity-governance (ie, governance through chaos), stokes these tensions in order to maintain hegemony. Such strategies encourage the proliferation of low-intensity warfare throughout society by enabling fascist forces to engage in terroristic activity against the Left, effectively “creating fear to justify repression”. One of the unintended consequences of such strategies is, of course, that the imperialist ruling class never fully commands and controls the forces it unleashes. 

Among the immediate dangers for a resurgent revolutionary Left is that fascism will parasitise its social base, defuse social antagonisms between oppressor/oppressed and deflect the class hatred of workers away from the imperialist ruling class by redirecting material and existential frustrations against an internal Other. The responsibility falls on communist and allied organisers to successfully assemble a social bloc of the oppressed that can defeat fascism both ideologically and in the streets, avoid traps set by the ruling class and its repressive state apparatuses and take the initiative to seize openings created by the crises and decay of imperialism to wage a protracted revolutionary struggle to delegitimise and dismantle fascism, build a communist alternative and win collective liberation.

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