Extinction Rebellion’s latest International Rebellion against climate inaction has drawn to a close after two intense weeks starting 7 October.
Protests and actions took place across Europe, India and Sri Lanka, New Zealand and Australia, Gambia and South Africa, Hong Kong, the West Bank in Palestine, and many more places.
In the UK protests focussed on London, targetting government buildings and departments, and various sites around Westminster. They faced increasing police repression, with over 1640 arrests – likely over half the world-wide total — and an authoritarian attempt to ban the protests.
Claimants including Caroline Lucas MP, Clive Lewis MP, George Monbiot, Jenny Jones, and Ellie Chowns MP brought action on behalf of XR, challenging this order via judicial review in the High Court.
XR were attacked by Boris Johnson. He has directly not engaged with their arguments or demands. Instead he has dismissed them on more cultural grounds as “uncooperative crusties… littering the road”. That said, he is attempting to prove his climate credentials – undoubtedly partly in response – by chairing a new cabinet committee on climate change.
Positive measures are unlikely to come out of that without further pressure.
Responding to state repression and to the UK’s aspirant autocrat, “XR Grandparents” gathered en masse in front of Buckingham Palace, defying the ban, and chanting “I would rather be a crusty than extinct”.
Taking an opposite – but no less valid – approach 2000 “professionals in XR” descended on Trafalgar Square “to show that XR cannot be discredited as a movement of jobless ‘hippies’”.
Many turned up in their uniforms — doctors, nurses, chefs, scientists, or simply business suits — and held signs with their job title.
Perhaps because of trying to go too far in debunking Johnson’s dismissals, and because of a lack of a class analysis, in one of their “Humans of XR” features of their general briefing XR featured “Hamish, 33, Management Consultant”.
In the class war – so intimately tied up with climate change and the fight against it – a management consultant, whatever their private views, is inescapably an adviser or scribe in the camp of the enemy, the capitalist class..
A small number of Extinction Rebellion activists climbed onto the roof of a tube train, in the morning commuter rush-hour. They were pulled off by angry passengers, and had to be defended by staff.
These activists have faced much criticism for doing this action. XR centrally have been at pains to stress that this group was acting autonomously – as is the nature of much of XR – and against the wishes of many other XR activists.
In many ways this action seems to be a logical progression of XR’s general approach. That is, heroic acts to cause general disruption and raise the urgency of action on climate change. However, it was clearly going to garner a more negative response from working-class people. Plus, it is even further from the necessary approaches which seek to build a mass environmental movement.
This inadequacy, rather than disruption per se, is the angle upon which valid criticisms of the tube action, and XR in general, should be made.
It is not yet clear what the next steps for XR are to be. They seem to have gone quiet about their previously announced ongoing actions, across the country, every weekend.
XR’s bold climate action, however limited and flawed, are better than none. They could and must provide a step towards the mass, combative, class-struggle climate activism we need.