Letters: XR and the police; Vibes won't save us; The bureaucrats had choices; Other Afghanistan films

Submitted by AWL on 7 September, 2021 - 5:37
XR activist being arrested

XR, the police and working-class politics

The climate demonstrations organised by Extinction Rebellion and participated in by Workers Liberty saw multiple instances of authoritarian and violent policing not previously witnessed at mainstream environmental protests. The opening days of the two week long protest introduced the police’s van-mounted loud hailer belting out “Section 14” dispersal orders in central London, and by the Tuesday of the second week videos were circulating of police officers mounting an open-top-bus and swinging batons at protesters inside. This, in the context of the Police Bill, should be concerning to socialists and environmentalists, regardless of your views on XR.

XR’s surprise at state violence against protesters is a reflection of their apolitical stance, which has no little or no understanding of the role the police play in protecting capital, and they still receive lighter treatment than many groups who do not explicitly seek out police provocation or arrest. However, it is already being reported that the experience is prompting reflection. Shamefully, the absence of the organised labour movement from the campaign against the Police Bill (not to mention climate protests) continues to frustrate attempts to orientate the energy of radicalised people on the streets to working class politics. Socialists must to continue to agitate in movements like XR around clearly left wing demands. Only this can popularise methods by which working-class self organisation can effectively break capital’s cycle of environmental and social destruction.

Abel Harvie-Clark, Streatham

Vibes won’t save us

Extinction Rebellion are well meaning but at their core is a contradiction that makes them impotent.

They are trying to fight a political fight without politics. The consequence of that deficiency is that they spend their time making appeals to political actors asking them to “stop the harm” or be better in some abstract way as though those actors were neutral and able to be drained of the bad and refilled with the good if we get enough people to ask.

At their demonstration outside St Paul’s Cathedral speakers spoke about “vibes” and sang ukulele songs more than they did about any practicable work to fight climate change.

In a fortnight of actions revolving around the financial sector, XR essentially asked big banks very nicely to divest from fossil fuels.

Meanwhile, the attempts of Workers’ Liberty activists to inject some politics into the proceedings by calling for the banks to be expropriated and used democratically to fund green initiatives was sidelined by organisers.

The ultimate tragedy is that in conversations with activists, especially younger ones, many were willing and enthusiastic about discussing the prospect and wider left-wing politics.

Some parts of the left suggest that they are an oil lobby funded operation to disrupt climate action. The truth is that XR are filling a space that the left could and should have filled. In that sense, the failings of XR are our own and an examination of how we got here, with widespread intervention in their work with internationalist socialist politics would likely get us far further than pithy online takes making fun of them dancing in the streets.

Without that, XR will continue down the route of Greenpeace or Sea Shepherd - with big, flashy actions for media attention and worthless lobbying - and a generation of genuinely well meaning and motivated activists will be lost.

Wilson Gibbons, Croydon

The Stalinist bureaucrats had choices

This may be a matter of semantics but I’m not sure how “planned economies” can be said to be “organically” tied to anything, despite Alan Gilbert (Solidarity 604 ). It is questionable therefore that Stalinist states could only be growth-focused unless you define them as such. In Russia it was the conscious decision making of the bureaucracy that dictated such an orientation. Yes, they wanted to emulate the West and opted for increased production capacity, but their totalitarian control meant they theoretically still had choices, didn’t they?

Alan doesn’t argue that all capitalist economies have lower growth than Stalinist planned ones so the possibility of the opposite is admitted. I suppose you could make the case that having set the targets then growth in these “communist” countries could take on a life of its own, become organic. This happens in China now through the desire of regional bosses, who weren’t and are not subject to democratic control, to obtain promotions by GDP-boosting construction of often superfluous infrastructure.

Tony Southwell, Nottingham

Other Afghanistan films

John Cunningham (Solidarity 604) writes that, to his knowledge, Bondarchuk’s 9th Company is the only film about the USSR intervention in Afghanistan. In fact, there are many films on the subject. The Russians have made a few besides 9th Company. Peshawar Waltz is about the revolt of Soviet POWs at Badaber, andAfghan Breakdown depicts the appalling civilian casualties as the Russians scramble to withdraw. Surely the most famous filmic treatment of the war, though, is Rambo III. I won’t give away the plot - would be a shame to include spoilers.

Phil Grimm, Lewisham

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