Update from Peehee Mu’huh / Thacker Pass

Update from Peehee Mu’huh / Thacker Pass

This story first appeared in Protect Thacker Pass.

By Max Wilbert

It’s been 10 months since I first arrived at Thacker Pass and began work to protect the land from a proposed open-pit lithium mine in earnest. Today I share this video reporting from the land and sharing reflections on where the movement to protect this place is at right now and where we are going. When we do fight, winning is not guaranteed. It takes a lot of people and a lot of hard work to even begin to have an impact.

But if we don’t fight, we will never win. We guarantee failure. Choosing to fight is important. So is fighting intelligently. Many battles are won or lost before there is any actual conflict. The preparation, planning, training, organization, logistics, and other behind-the-scenes work is where the magic happens.

I hope this video speaks to you and you find some inspiration. 🌎

Full transcript:

Hello, everyone. For those who don’t know, I’m here at a place that’s known today as Thacker Pass. The original Paiute name for this place is Peehee Mu’huh. The history of this land has really come to light since we’ve been here.

It was January 15, that my friend Will Falk and I set up camp on this land. It was just two of us; we didn’t know if anyone would pay attention or if anything would come of it. And we still don’t know; we still don’t know if we’re going to win, we still don’t know if we’re going to protect this land, because a company called lithium Nevada plans to turn this entire landscape into an open pit lithium mine. They want to blow it up and turn it into a mine to extract the lithium and turn it into batteries.

There’s a huge booming demand for batteries–for everything from electric cars to grid energy storage to electric power tools and smartphones. Partly, this is a consequence of industry and forces that are beyond our control: powerful individuals and corporations like Tesla, Elon Musk, this company with him Nevada, and many others. And partly it’s a result of our consumer culture. Of course, these are inseparable. There’s a book called Manufacturing Consent that talks about the media, about advertising, and analyzes these systems and how they create demand.

So this entire place is under threat, and it has been under threat for a long time now. We’ve been fighting since January. We’ve been fighting in the realm of public opinion, talking to the media, making videos, writing articles, discussing the issues, educating people about the harms of this type of mining.

Mining is one of the most destructive industrial activities that humans have ever undertaken, and in fact, it goes back further than the Industrial Revolution. There are mines from the Roman Empire that are over 2000 years old, which are still toxic and poisoning the land around them. The air pollution that was released by Roman mines across Europe can still be measured in the ice in Greenland.

There’s no way around the base fact of mining: that you’re blowing up the land, destroying it, breaking into pieces, scooping it up, and taking it to turn it into products. To turn it into money ultimately.

This mine, according to the mine’s supporters, is a green mine, because this lithium will be used to build electric cars, and to build batteries to support so called green energy technologies like solar and wind. Now, I used to support these things. I used to think they were a great idea. I don’t anymore. It’s not because my values have changed. I still value the planet, I’m still very concerned about global warming, and the ecological crisis that we find ourselves in. And in fact, that’s the reason why I oppose mines like this.

Because those stories that tell us that mining a place like this will save the world are lies. They’re lies and they have been told to us in order to facilitate businesses taking land like this and destroying it and turning it into profit. This is a story that we have seen again and again, throughout the generations. The substance that’s being pulled out of the ground might be different, but for the creatures who live here, for the water, the air, the soil, the surrounding communities of humans, whether or not to oppose a mine like this is really a question of courage. Because the truth is, this is not a green mine. The Earth does not want this mine. The land, the water, the non-human species who live here–they don’t want this mine. Humans want it. And humans who are from a consumeristic, first world, wealthy nation want it, so that they can benefit from the consumer goods that would be produced.

A lot of people want to live in a fantasy and tell themselves that we can solve global warming and reverse the ecological crisis by producing millions of electric cars, and switching en masse from coal power to solar and wind and so on.

This is a lie.

And it’s the best kind of lie. Because it’s very convincing. It’s very convincing. It tells people that they can have their cake and eat it too, that they can still live this modern high energy lifestyle, that life can continue more or less as we have known it. And yet, we can fix everything, we can save the world. It’s not true, but it’s very convincing. It’s very comforting to many people.

So sometimes I feel like I’m out here just bursting people’s bubbles. A lot of people don’t want that bubble burst–they want to hang on to it. They want to hang on to it at all costs, and they will delude themselves, they will lie to themselves repeatedly. And they will lie to others to continue to have that fantasy. Because the truth is not so easy to face.

The truth is that over the last 200 years, and far longer, this culture has laid waste to the ecology of this planet. The natural world is crumbling, under the assaults of industrial culture, civilization, colonization, capitalism. Whatever terms you want to define the problem with, the issues are the same. The world is being destroyed for future generations, and nonhumans are living through an ecological nightmare right now. And it’s a nightmare of our own making. It’s a nightmare that this culture has created and perpetuates every day.

So we have to face this, like adults, like elders with wisdom, with the ability to not shy away from difficult situations. And that takes courage. It takes courage because you’re going up against not just the capitalists and the businesses, you’re going up against–in many cases–your own friends and family. You’re going up against the mainstream environmental movement. You’re going up against the Democratic Party and the progressives, and much of the socialist movement. You’re going up against a large portion of the culture. And of course you’re going up against the fossil fuel oligarchs and the old industrial elite as well.

You know, I’ve felt pretty lonely out here. It’s felt pretty lonely at times throughout this fight, when we’ve had trouble getting people to join us on the ground, when we’ve had trouble getting support. At other times that support has come and has been very strong, and people have joined us here. I hope more people will continue to join us not just here but start their own fights.

We’ve seen the fight against the lithium mine down in Hualapai territory in what’s now called Arizona ramping up after Ivan Bender came up here and visited this place and talk to us and we had some great conversations about how we’re doing it here and how we’re fighting. That’s what I want to see. That’s That means a lot to me to see that.

So it’s a beautiful night here, the sun setting, and I’m thinking about all the people who’ve worked on this campaign; the hundreds and thousands of hours that have been poured into trying to protect this land. Because if this mine goes in this place is ruined for generations. I don’t know how long but hundreds of years, at least, if it’ll ever come back, if it’ll ever be like it is now.

The Bureau of Land Management is the federal government agency that manages this land here. They’ve been lying throughout the process. They’ve been acting unethically. They’ve been harassing people, they’ve been misrepresenting the situation; misrepresenting the facts, and we think they’re violating multiple federal laws. Those laws aren’t that strong. The laws to protect this planet are not as strong as I wish they were. But they’re violating even those weak laws.

So we’re going to keep fighting. We’re going to keep fighting to protect this place. We’re going to keep fighting for this land. We’re going to keep fighting for what’s right. Because if you don’t, then what is your soul worth? Where’s your self respect?

You know, those are questions, we each have to ask ourselves. I can’t answer it for you. I don’t know what your life is; your situation. It’s so easy to defeat ourselves in our minds.

And the first step to any resistance; to any organizing; to any opposition like this–is to believe that we can do something about it. And the truth is we can. It’s the simple truth we can. We can change things. But if we don’t try then we’ll lose every time.

Highlights of new Infrastructure Bill just passed in the US

Highlights of new Infrastructure Bill just passed in the US

By Max Wilbert

– Section 11318: Exempts oil and gas pipelines on most federal lands from environmental analysis.

– Sections 40301-40333 (“Fuels and Technology Infrastructure Investments”): These sections propose nearly $15 billion in taxpayer subsidies for dirty energy, including oil, coal, gas, and woody biomass via investments in largely theoretical and unproven carbon capture and storage technologies, including an additional $3 billion to begin construction of a massive network of new CO2 pipelines (Sec. 41004), while also dishonestly defining “clean hydrogen” to include hydrogen derived from climate-polluting carbon-fuel sources such as biomass and fossil fuels (Sec. 40311). The approach outlined here is riddled with uncertainty and harmful impacts while perpetuating our reliance on fossil fuels, which is why it has been denounced as a false climate solution by the scientific community. An additional $6 billion in subsidies is proposed for nuclear energy ( Sec. 41002).

– Section 40801: Authorizes USFS to upgrade and “store” National Forest System roads for future commercial timber production, rather than decommission them.

– Section 40803 (“Wildfire Risk Reduction”): Mandates the logging of 10 million acres of federal forestlands over the next 6 years, and an additional 20 million acres of federal forestlands following the initial 10 million acres of logging. The way these provisions are worded could and likely would be interpreted by courts as intending a complete elimination of all federal environmental laws (including NEPA, ESA, NFMA, and others) to facilitate this logging mandate. Section 40803 also dedicates over $1.6 billion in new taxpayer subsidies for logging, including post-fire clearcutting, on federal lands.

– Section 40804 (“Ecosystem Restoration”) : Authorizes $400 million in subsidies for wood processing facilities, such as sawmills, biomass power plants and wood pellet manufacturing; $400 million for increased logging on public and private forests; $50 million for a program to rent equipment to the timber industry to allow them to log otherwise inaccessible areas, and grants to build sawmill infrastructure and other wood-processing facilities.

– Section 40806: Eliminates environmental analysis under NEPA for an unlimited number of logging projects on federal lands, up to 1,000 feet wide and 3,000 acres in size each, under the guise of “fuelbreaks”.

– Section 40807: Weakens current environmental laws to create a broad exemption which eliminates the public’s right to file administrative objections against planned logging projects on federal lands.

– Sections 70301-70303: Promotes post-fire clearcutting and carbon removal, under the scientifically discredited notion that forests do not regenerate after fires, and promotes conversion of native forests to industrial tree plantations.

– Section 80402: Proposes a system of sweeping tax credits (financial implications unspecified, but potentially in the billions of dollars) for dirty energy, including coal, oil, gas, garbage incineration, and woody biomass under the false-solution catch-all of carbon capture and storage.


Collapse Total: New Tactics and Strategies for the Climate Justice Movement

Collapse Total: New Tactics and Strategies for the Climate Justice Movement

Editor’s note: From the 15th to the 22th of November, in different countries, the Glasgow Agreement is articulating mobilizations, protests and blocks against one of the biggest oil & gas companies in the world: Total.

This story first appeared in Common Dreams.

By João Camargo

The social alliance to take on global capitalism must be global, radical, popular, tactically, and strategically focused, while at the same time flexible and imaginative.

Is climate collapse close to being averted? How close are we to winning? Is the climate justice movement organized to win? Are current strategies and tactics enough? What else do we need to try and how fast? The Glasgow Agreement, People’s Climate Commitment, is a global platform of grassroots and social movements for climate justice. It is planning on going after French multinational Total simultaneously all around the world this November, in an action called Collapse Total, and organising climate justice caravans in all continents next Spring.

As fossil fuel investment and projects jump from country to country, as their destruction-ridden profit keeps on building on the collapse of the climate, tactics and strategies on the global scale must be tried.

The climate justice movement is pursuing the task of taking on the entire global fossil industry, that is, global capitalism. Yet, as it remains mostly a group of dispersed, uncoordinated, and loosely connected movements, how can this task become achievable? Fossil capitalism has its fingers everywhere, in each government, every press agency, every media outlet and network, in anything that money can buy. It articulates its strategies, coordinates its wars and dictates the policies that have been dooming us to climate collapse. They have known about climate change since the 1960’s. They have coordinated for decades to spread misinformation to mislead Humanity and cut the essential action to prevent climate chaos.

The climate justice movement needs a lot of imagination to break the mold of its own business as usual, like most social movements that have gotten used to normality, procedure, method and repetition. To overcome these challenges, the movement needs to permanently test new tactics and strategies.

Collapse Total is focusing on one of the many and influential tentacles of fossil fuel capitalism. From the 15th to the 22th of November, in different countries, the Glasgow Agreement is articulating mobilizations, protests and blocks against one of the biggest oil & gas companies in the world: Total. This French multinational is neck deep into promoting the climate collapse, with mass investments in new fossil fuel projects, oil and gas fields, pipelines, offshore drilling, fracking destruction, tar sands and the destruction of lives and the livelihoods of millions of indigenous communities, peasants and every landscape they set their eyes on. They have spent billions to make trillions. They have hired armies of lobbyists, mercenaries, and political campaigners to keep oil and gas flowing, in whichever situation. They have known about their impact on the climate since at least 1971, yet have always promoted denialism. They are the glowing example of the fossil fuel multinational, dooming us while hiring public relations’ experts. It has recently changed its name to Total Energies, changed its logo and announced a net zero target for 2050. Yet, Total it is planning to drill around fifty exploratory oil and gas wells this year alone (in Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Namibia, South Africa, Kenya, Lebanon, Oman, USA, Bulgaria, Bolivia, two in Angola, two in Papua New-Guinea, two in Norway, two in Malaysia, two in Mexico, three in Cyprus, three in the UK, four in Brazil, four in Myanmar, six in Guyana and eight in Suriname).

Total is one of the biggest historical contributors to the climate crisis, with higher emissions than most countries in the world. With the pushback from climate protests in the last years, they have greenwashed themselves to try and look like something else, while pushing for EACOP, a new massive pipeline in Uganda and Tanzania, increasing the production oil and gas in war-devastated Iraq, prompting a military dictatorship in Myanmar or receiving full state protection in Northern Mozambique, while local communities are devastated by climate change and gas-related terrorism. They maintain their support for fracking in Vaca Muerta, Argentina, for tar sands in Canada and oil and gas all around. They never stopped. They never will. Unless they are forced to stop.

As fossil fuel investment and projects jump from country to country, as their destruction-ridden profit keeps on building on the collapse of the climate, tactics and strategies on the global scale must be tried.

Has a similar tactic to this been tried before? Shell Must Fall is probably the referential for going after a single company, with a strong focus on Royal Dutch Shell’s AGM in the Netherlands and its shareholders, with a focus on disrupting it to prevent the company from proceeding with its regular business by disrupting its administrative order. Collapse Total proposes to act in a broader sense, by going after Total’s infrastructures, headquarters, offices, banks and gas stations, with different tactics that fit local conditions.

This is, of course, only a small step, as there are dozens of other companies willing and able to take over Total’s place that need to be dismantled, and after this action, a thorough evaluation of its impact must be made. Will it be something to replicate, to adjust or to be written off the movement’s parafernalia of tools? Does it contribute to building up the movement and to weaken fossil capitalism? Only experience will provide the answer.

On the other hand, in the Spring of 2022, a great climate justice caravan will travel in different continents, crossing territories in the frontlines of the climate crisis and the climate justice struggles to directly connect to communities. Much like great historical political caravans—the Salt March, the Selma to Montgomery march, the World March of Women—this caravan will walk for hundreds of kilometers and talk to thousands of people, to bring the climate crisis and its connections to the capitalist system of destruction and oppression to the fore. It will signal top-emitting infrastructures in its path, pointing out the culprits for the current situation. It will look to broaden alliances, campaigns, connecting struggles and peoples to achieve an ever broader scope of action and a vision for the future.

The social alliance to take on global capitalism must be global, radical, popular, tactically and strategically focused, while at the same time flexible and imaginative. It must try, try and try until it finds the tools to win. It is quite an enormous task, to take on global capitalism, and it will need to be taken one step at a time, but there’s a deadline. We need to win before we are out of time.

Banner image by niOS at flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Solving for the wrong variable

Solving for the wrong variable

This is an excerpt from the book Bright Green Lies, P. 20 ff

By Derrick Jensen, Lierre Keith and Max Wilbert

What this adds up to should be clear enough, yet many people who should know better choose not to see it. This is business-as- usual: the expansive, colonizing, progressive human narrative, shorn only of the carbon. It is the latest phase of our careless, self-absorbed, ambition-addled destruction of the wild, the unpolluted, and the nonhuman. It is the mass destruction of the world’s remaining wild places in order to feed the human economy. And without any sense of irony, people are calling this “environmentalism.1 —PAUL KINGSNORTH

Once upon a time, environmentalism was about saving wild beings and wild places from destruction. “The beauty of the living world I was trying to save has always been uppermost in my mind,” Rachel Carson wrote to a friend as she finished the manuscript that would become Silent Spring. “That, and anger at the senseless, brutish things that were being done.”2 She wrote with unapologetic reverence of “the oak and maple and birch” in autumn, the foxes in the morning mist, the cool streams and the shady ponds, and, of course, the birds: “In the mornings, which had once throbbed with the dawn chorus of robins, catbirds, doves, jays, and wrens, and scores of other bird voices, there was now no sound; only silence lay over the fields and woods and marshes.”3 Her editor noted that Silent Spring required a “sense of almost religious dedication” as well as “extraordinary courage.”4 Carson knew the chemical industry would come after her, and come it did, in attacks as “bitter and unscrupulous as anything of the sort since the publication of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species a century before.”5 Seriously ill with the cancer that would kill her, Carson fought back in defense of the living world, testifying with calm fortitude before President John F. Kennedy’s Science Advisory Committee and the U.S. Senate. She did these things because she had to. “There would be no peace for me,” she wrote to a friend, “if I kept silent.”6

Carson’s work inspired the grassroots environmental movement; the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); and the passage of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act. Silent Spring was more than a critique of pesticides—it was a clarion call against “the basic irresponsibility of an industrialized, technological society toward the natural world.”7 Today’s environmental movement stands upon the shoulders of giants, but something has gone terribly wrong with it. Carson didn’t save the birds from DDT so that her legatees could blithely offer them up to wind turbines. We are writing this book because we want our environmental movement back.

Mainstream environmentalists now overwhelmingly prioritize saving industrial civilization over saving life on the planet. The how and the why of this institutional capture is the subject for another book, but the capture is near total. For example, Lester Brown, founder of the Worldwatch Institute and Earth Policy Institute—someone who has been labeled as “one of the world’s most influential thinkers” and “the guru of the environmental movement”8—routinely makes comments like, “We talk about saving the planet.… But the planet’s going to be around for a while. The question is, can we save civilization? That’s what’s at stake now, and I don’t think we’ve yet realized it.” Brown wrote this in an article entitled “The Race to Save Civilization.”9

The world is being killed because of civilization, yet what Brown says is at stake, and what he’s racing to save, is precisely the social structure causing the harm: civilization. Not saving salmon. Not monarch butterflies. Not oceans. Not the planet. Saving civilization. Brown is not alone. Peter Kareiva, chief scientist for The Nature Conservancy, more or less constantly pushes the line that “Instead of pursuing the protection of biodiversity for biodiversity’s sake, a new conservation should seek to enhance those natural systems that benefit the widest number of [human] people…. Conservation will measure its achievement in large part by its relevance to [human] people.”10 Bill McKibben, who works tirelessly and selflessly to raise awareness about global warming, and who has been called “probably America’s most important environmentalist,” constantly stresses his work is about saving civilization, with articles like “Civilization’s Last Chance,”11 or with quotes like, “We’re losing the fight, badly and quickly—losing it because, most of all, we remain in denial about the peril that human civilization is in.”12

We’ll bet you that polar bears, walruses, and glaciers would have preferred that sentence ended a different way.

In 2014 the Environmental Laureates’ Declaration on Climate Change was signed by “160 leading environmentalists from 44 countries” who were “calling on the world’s foundations and philanthropies to take a stand against global warming.” Why did they take this stand? Because global warming “threatens to cause the very fabric of civilization to crash.” The declaration con- cludes: “We, 160 winners of the world’s environmental prizes, call on foundations and philanthropists everywhere to deploy their endowments urgently in the effort to save civilization.”13

Coral reefs, emperor penguins, and Joshua trees probably wish that sentence would have ended differently. The entire declaration, signed by “160 winners of the world’s environmental prizes,” never once mentions harm to the natural world. In fact, it never mentions the natural world at all.

Are leatherback turtles, American pikas, and flying foxes “abstract ecological issues,” or are they our kin, each imbued with their own “wild and precious life”?14 Wes Stephenson, yet another climate activist, has this to say: “I’m not an environmentalist. Most of the people in the climate movement that I know are not environmentalists. They are young people who didn’t necessarily come up through the environmental movement, so they don’t think of themselves as environmentalists. They think of themselves as climate activists and as human rights activists. The terms ‘environment’ and ‘environmentalism’ carry baggage historically and culturally. It has been more about protecting the natural world, protecting other species, and conservation of wild places than it has been about the welfare of human beings. I come at from the opposite direction. It’s first and foremost about human beings.”15

Note that Stephenson calls “protecting the natural world, protecting other species, and conservation of wild places” baggage. Naomi Klein states explicitly in the film This Changes Everything: “I’ve been to more climate rallies than I can count, but the polar bears? They still don’t do it for me. I wish them well, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that stopping climate change isn’t really about them, it’s about us.”

And finally, Kumi Naidoo, former head of Greenpeace International, says: “The struggle has never been about saving the planet. The planet does not need saving.”16 When Naidoo said that, in December 2015, it was 50 degrees Fahrenheit at the North Pole, much warmer than normal, far above freezing in the middle of winter.


1 Paul Kingsnorth, “Confessions of a recovering environmentalist,” Orion Magazine, December 23, 2011.

2 Rachel Carson, Silent Spring (Greenwich, CT: Fawcett Publishing, 1962), 9.

3 Ibid, 10.

4 Ibid, 8.

5 Ibid, 8.

6 Ibid, 8.

7 Ibid, 8.

8 “Biography of Lester Brown,” Earth Policy Institute.

9 Lester Brown, “The Race to Save Civilization,” Tikkun, September/October 2010, 25(5): 58.

10 Peter Kareiva, Michelle Marvier, and Robert Lalasz, “Conservation in the Anthropocene: Beyond Solitude and Fragility,” Breakthrough Journal, Winter 2012.

11 Bill McKibben, “Civilization’s Last Chance,” Los Angeles Times, May 11, 2008.

12 Bill McKibben, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” Rolling Stone, August 2, 2012.

13 “Environmental Laureates’ Declaration on Climate Change,” European Environment Foundation, September 15, 2014. It shouldn’t surprise us that the person behind this declaration is a solar energy entrepreneur. It probably also shouldn’t surprise us that he’s begging for money.

14 “Wild and precious life” is from Mary Oliver’s poem “The Summer Day.” House of Light (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1992).

15 Gabrielle Gurley, “From journalist to climate crusader: Wen Stephenson moves to the front lines of climate movement,” Commonwealth: Politics, Ideas & Civic Life in Massachusetts, November 10, 2015.

16 Emma Howard and John Vidal, “Kumi Naidoo: The Struggle Has Never Been About Saving the Planet,” The Guardian, December 30, 2015.

Historical and social change

Historical and social change

This article is from the blog buildingarevolutionarymovement.

This post looks at what is social change, causes of social change, what is historical change, and theories of social and historical change. This final section of the post includes something on Marxist theories of history.

I looked at theories of change at the social movement and institutional level in previous posts: part 1part 2part 3.

What is social change?

Social change is the changes to the social structure and social relationships of society. There is also cultural change. Social changes include changes in age distribution, birth rates, changes in the relationship between workers and employers when there is more union activity. Cultural changes include the invention and popularisation of new technology, new words added to a language, changing concepts of morality, new forms of music and art. They overlap and all important changes include both social and cultural changes. In sociology, ‘sociocultural change’ is used to describe changes of both forms. [1]

The main characteristics of social change include:

  • social change is universal to all societies
  • social change happen across a whole community or society, not small groups of individuals
  • the speed of social change is not uniform within a society
  • the speed of social change is different in each age or period, it is faster than in the past
  • social change is an essential law of nature
  • definite prediction of social change is not possible
  • social change shows a chain-reaction sequence – on change leads to the next
  • social change results from the interaction of several factors
  • social changes generally result in modification or replacement [2]

Causes of social change

There are several causes of social change:

  • Natural factors such as storms, earthquakes, floods, drought and disease
  • geographical factors such as availability or national resources and levels of urbanisation
  • demographic factors such as birth and death rate
  • socio-economic factors such as levels of industrialisation, market capitalism and bureaucratisation
  • cultural factors as describes in the section above
  • science and technology factors
  • conflict and competition factors such as war and popular movements for change
  • political and legal power factors such as redistribution of wealth or corporate power
  • ideas and ideology factors such as religious beliefs, political and economic ideology
  • diffusion factors which is the rate that populations adopt new goods and services
  • acculturation which is the modification of the culture of a group due to contact with a different culture [3]

What is historical change?

This is gradual and fast (rupture) transformation change in society. The transition from feudalism to capitalism was a historical, transformation change. So is a transition from capitalism to an alternative – socialism, communism.

Theories of social and historical change

There are four broad theories of social change: evolutionary, cyclical, functionalist, and conflict. And several other theories of historical change.

Evolutionary theories

These are based on the assumption that societies gradually change from simple or basic to more complex. There are three forms.

Linear or unilinear evolution describes the change to be progress to something better, more positive and beneficial to reach higher levels of civilisation. This theory was developed by the early theorists of human society in the 19th century. They believed that each society would pass through a “fixed and limited number of stages in a given sequence.”

Universal evolution is similar to the previous theory but does not view each society going through the same fixed stages of development.

Multilinear evolution has been developed by modern anthropologists. They see the process of social change as flexible, open-ended and not a universal law. They still see societies developing from small-scale to large-scale and complex. These theorists state that change takes place in many different ways and does not follow the same direction in every society. They do not believe that ‘change’ means ‘progress.’ [4]

Cyclical theory

This is also known as process theory and natural cycles. This describes how civilisations go through a process of birth, growth, maturity, decline and death in the same ways as living beings. Then the process is repeated with a new civilisation. [5]

Functionalist theories

These theories focus on social order and stability so some argue this limits their ability to explain social change. These theories ask what function different aspects of society play in maintaining social order. Examples include religion, education, economic institutions and the family. Some see society as at equilibrium and change results in a new equilibrium forming. Changes can come from other societies outside the society or from inside. [6]

Conflict theories

These can be seen as a response to the functionalist theories, that were seen to not have a place for change so could not explain social change. Conflict theorists argue that institutions and practices were maintained by powerful groups. Conflict theorists do not believe that societies evolve to a better place but that conflict is necessary for change and groups must struggle to ensure progress. Conflict theories are influenced by Karl Marx. [7]

Great man theory of history

This is a 19th-century idea that states that history is driven by great men or heroes, who are “highly influential and unique individuals who, due to their natural attributes, such as superior intellect, heroic courage, extraordinary leadership abilities or divine inspiration, have a decisive historical effect.”[8] Recently this concept has been ‘de-gendered’, replacing ‘Great Man’ with ‘Big Beasts’ [9]

Marxist theories of history

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote about and inspired several Marxist theories of historical and social change. See a previous post on Marx’s Marxism.

The materialist conception of history (or Historical materialism), Marx argued that the material conditions of a society’s mode of production (productive force and relations of production) that determine a society’s organisation and development and not ideas or consciousness. ‘Material conditions’ mean the ability for humans to collectively reproduce the necessities of life. [10]

Dialectical materialism can be understood as Marx’s framework for history:

“History develops dialectically, that is to say, by a succession of opposing theses and antitheses followed by their synthesis, which contains part of each original thesis. For Marx, this dialectical process would necessarily be a material one; developments in the substructure of economic life, such as those in production, the division of labor, and technology, all have enormous impact on the superstructure of the political, legal, social, cultural, psychological, and religious dimensions of human society.” [11]

Marx and Engels’ “stages of economic development, or modes of production, build on one another in succession, each brought about by a development in technology and social arrangement” They argued that societies pass through various stages with their own social-economic system – slavery, feudalism, capitalism, communism. Each stage develops because of conflict with the previous one. [12]

Economic determinism states the economic relationships such as being a business owner or worker, are the foundation on which political and societal arrangements in society are based. Societies are therefore divided into conflicting economic classes (class struggle) whose political power is determined by the makeup for the economic system. There is some controversy over Marx and Engel’s exact position on this concept. [13]

There is a Marxist gravediggers thesis (also known as gravediggers argument/dialectic or Marxist teleological theory of history). This is based on the quote from the Communist Manifesto “What the Bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own grave diggers.” That the internal contradictions of capitalism will result in its inevitable destruction. As capitalism continues the class antagonism between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat will increase and push more and more people into the proletariat. [14] There is some controversy about this theory among Marxists and this post does a good job arguing that the end of capitalism is not inevitable.

Technological theories

Technology refers to the use of knowledge to make tools and utilise natural resources. Changes in technology result in changes in social relations. For Marx, “the stage of technological development determines the mode of production and the relationships and the institutions that constitute the economic system. This set of relationships is in turn the chief determinant of the whole social order.” [15]

Multiple causation theory of history

This states that historical change is complex and likely due to multiple causes related to political, economic, social, cultural and environmental events, as well as the significant individuals. [16] Max Weber supported this perspective “historical events are a matter of the coming together of independent causal chains which have previously developed without connection or direct import for one another” [17]

World-systems theory

This is a large scale approach to world history and social change, with the focus of social analysis on the world-system over the nation-state. The ‘world-system’ refers to the inter-regional and international division of labour, which divides the world into ‘core countries’, ‘semi-periphery countries’ and ‘periphery countries’. Core countries focus on ‘higher skilled capital-intensive production’, with the rest of the world focusing on ‘low-skilled, labour-intensive production’ and extraction of raw materials. Immanuel Wallerstein’s World-systems theory describes the shift from feudalism to capitalism; and then during the modern era, the centre of the core has moved from the Netherlands in the 17th century, Britain in the 19th century and the US after World War I. [18]


  1. https://www.masscommunicationtalk.com/different-theories-of-social-change.html
  2. https://www.sociologydiscussion.com/sociology/theories-of-social-change-meaning-nature-and-processes/2364
  3. http://people.uncw.edu/pricej/teaching/socialchange/causes%20of%20social%20change.htmhttps://ourfuture.org/20080514/why-change-happens-ten-theorieshttps://www.shareyouressays.com/knowledge/7-main-factors-which-affect-the-social-change-in-every-society/112456)
  4. https://www.masscommunicationtalk.com/different-theories-of-social-change.htmlhttps://www.sociologydiscussion.com/sociology/theories-of-social-change-meaning-nature-and-processes/2364https://www.yourarticlelibrary.com/sociology/top-5-theories-of-social-change-explained/35124https://guide2socialwork.com/theories-of-social-change/https://www.academia.edu/25227760/Theories_of_Social_Changehttps://www.shareyouressays.com/knowledge/6-most-important-theories-of-social-change-2/112462https://article1000.com/theories-social-change/
  5. https://www.masscommunicationtalk.com/different-theories-of-social-change.htmlhttps://www.sociologydiscussion.com/sociology/theories-of-social-change-meaning-nature-and-processes/2364https://science.jrank.org/pages/8918/Cycles-Twentieth-Century.htmlhttps://www.yourarticlelibrary.com/sociology/top-5-theories-of-social-change-explained/35124https://guide2socialwork.com/theories-of-social-change/https://www.shareyouressays.com/knowledge/6-most-important-theories-of-social-change-2/112462https://article1000.com/theories-social-change/
  6. https://www.masscommunicationtalk.com/different-theories-of-social-change.htmlhttps://www.yourarticlelibrary.com/sociology/top-5-theories-of-social-change-explained/35124https://guide2socialwork.com/theories-of-social-change/https://www.shareyouressays.com/knowledge/6-most-important-theories-of-social-change-2/112462https://article1000.com/theories-social-change/
  7. https://www.masscommunicationtalk.com/different-theories-of-social-change.htmlhttps://www.yourarticlelibrary.com/sociology/top-5-theories-of-social-change-explained/35124https://guide2socialwork.com/theories-of-social-change/https://article1000.com/theories-social-change/
  8. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_man_theory
  9. https://www.historytoday.com/archive/head-head/there-still-value-%E2%80%98great-man%E2%80%99-historyhttps://www.andrewbernstein.net/2020/01/the-great-man-theory-of-history/https://www.visiontemenos.com/blog/the-great-man-theory-of-1840-leadership-historyhttps://www.communicationtheory.org/great-man-theory/
  10. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical_materialism
  11. Dialectical Materialism and Economic Determinism: Freedom of the Will and the Interpretation of Behavior, Estelio Iglesias http://www.fau.edu/athenenoctua/pdfs/Estelio%20Iglesias.pdf
  12. Dialectical Materialism and Economic Determinism: Freedom of the Will and the Interpretation of Behavior
  13. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economic_determinism
  14. https://www.enotes.com/homework-help/explain-quote-what-bourgeoisie-therefore-produces-99615
  15. https://www.yourarticlelibrary.com/sociology/top-5-theories-of-social-change-explained/35124https://www.yourarticlelibrary.com/sociology/top-5-theories-of-social-change-explained/35124https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Fielding_Ogburn
  16. https://aeon.co/ideas/we-must-recognise-that-single-events-have-multiple-causes
  17. Perspectives in Sociology, E.C. Cuff, 2006, page 46
  18. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World-systems_theory#The_interpretation_of_world_history
Capitalism’s cycles and waves

Capitalism’s cycles and waves

This article is from the blog buildingarevolutionarymovement.

This post will look at the long-term cycles of the geographical centre of the capitalist economy (during capitalisms existence over the last 600 years), capitalism’s economic waves and cycles and the 10-year capitalist business cycle.

There are several theories of historical cycles that relate to societies or civilisations, these are beyond the scope of this post

Understanding capitalism’s cycles and waves are important to understanding capitalism better to be able to beat it. Also, there looks to be a relationship between capitalism’s cycles and waves, and cycles of worker and social movement expansion, and also related to the gains and concessions these movements get from capitalists.

Long-term cycles of the geographic centre of the capitalist economy

This builds on the phases of capitalism described in a previous post: Mercantile Capitalism, 14th-18th centuries; Classical/Industrial Capitalism, 19th century; Keynesianism or New Deal Capitalism, 20th century; and Finance Capitalism/Neoliberalism, late 20th century.

These ideas were likely first developed by Fernand Braudel, who described the movement of centres of capitalism, initially cities then nation-states. Braudel described them starting in Venice from 1250-1510, then Antwerp from 1500-1569, Genoa from 1557-1627, Amsterdam from 1627-1733, and London/England 1733-1896.

Immanuel Wallerstein describes as part of his ‘world-system theory’ that there have been three countries that have dominated the world system: the Netherlands in the 17th century, Britain in the 19th century and the US after World War I.

Giovanni Arrighi identifies four ‘systemic cycles of accumulation’ in his book The Long Twentieth Century. He describes a ‘structuralist model’ of capitalist world-system development over the last 600 years of four ‘long centuries’, with a different economic centre. Arrighi’s systemic cycles of accumulation were centred around: the Italian city-states in the 16th century, the Netherlands in the 17th century, Britain in the 19th century and the United States after 1945. [1] It looks like the centre is moving Eastwards in the twenty-first century. [2]

George Modelski identified long cycles that connect war cycles, economic dominance, and the political aspects of world leadership, in his 1987 book Long Cycles in World Politics. He argues that war and other destabilising events are a normal part of long cycles. Modelski describes several long cycles since 1500, each lasting from 87 to 122 years: starting with Portugal in the 16th century, the Netherlands in the 17th century, Britain in the 18th and 19th century and the US since 1945.

Capitalism’s economic waves and cycles

Several waves and cycles have been identified in the capitalist economy that relate to periods of economic growth and decline.

Kondratiev waves (also known as Kondratieff waves or K-waves) are 40 to 60-year cycles of capitalism’s economic growth and decline. This is a controversial theory and most academic economists do not recognise it. But then most academic economists think that capitalism is a good idea!

Kondratiev/Kondratieff identified the first wave starting with the factory system in Britain in the 1780s, ending about 1849. The second wave starts in 1849, connected to the global development of the telegraph, steamships and railways. The second waves’ downward phase starts about 1873 and ends in the 1890s. In the 1920s, he believed a third wave was taking place, that had already reached its peak and started its downswing between 1914 and 1920. He predicted a small recovery before a depression a few years later. This was an accurate prediction. [3]

Paul Mason in Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future describes the phases of the K-waves:

“The first, up, phase typically begins with a frenetic decade of expansion, accompanied by wars and revolutions, in which new technologies that were invented in the previous downturn are suddenly standardized and rolled out. Next, a slowdown begins, caused by the reduction of capital investment, the rise of savings and the hoarding of capital by banks and industry; it is made worse by the destructive impact of wars and the growth of non-productive military expenditure.

“However, this slowdown is still part of the up phase: recessions remain short and shallow, while growth periods are frequent and strong.

Finally, a down phase starts, in which commodity prices and interest rates on capital both fall. There is more capital accumulated than can be invested in productive industries, so it tends to get stored inside the finance sector, depressing interest rates because the ample supply of credit depresses the price of borrowing. Recessions get worse and become more frequent. Wages and prices collapse, and finally a depression sets in.

In all this, there is no claim as to the exact timing of events, and no claim that the waves are regular.” [4]

Mason describes his theory of a fourth wave starting in 1945 and peaking in 1973 when oil-exporting Arab countries introduced an oil embargo on the USA and reduced oil output. The global oil price quadrupled, resulting in several nations going into recession. Mason argues that the fourth wave did not end but was extended and is still ongoing. The downswing of the previous three cycles ended by capitalists innovating their way out of the crisis using technology. This was not the case in the current fourth cycle because the defeat of organised labour (trade unions) by neoliberal governments in the 1980s, has resulted in little or no wage growth and atomization of the working class. [5]

In On New Terrain: How Capital is Reshaping the Battleground of Class War Kim Moody used data from three sources (Mandel, Kelly, Shaikh) to identify his theory of a third (1893-1945), fourth (1945-1982) and fifth (1982-present) long waves. The third upswing from 1893-1914, then downswings from 1914-1940. The fourth upswing from 1945-1975, downswings from 1975-1982. The fifth upswing from 1982-2007, downswings from 2007-?. [6]

Joseph Schumpeter identified several smaller cycles have been combined to form a ‘composite waveform’ that sit under the K-waves.

The Kuznets swing is a 15-25 year cycle related to infrastructure investment, construction, land and property values.

The Juglar cycle is a 7-11 year cycle related to the fluctuations in the investment in fixed capital. Fixed capital are real, physical things used in the production of goods, such as buildings or machinery.

The Kitchin cycle is a 3-5 year cycle caused by the delay it takes the management of businesses to decide to increase or decrease the production of goods based on information from the marketplaces where they sell their goods.

Business cycle

This is the roughly 10-year boom and slump cycle of the global capitalist economy. It is also known as the (economic cycle, boom-slump cycle, industrial cycle). Mainstream economics view shocks to the economy as random and therefore not cycles. There are several theories of what causes business cycles and economic crises that I will look at in a future post. Theories about the business cycle have been developed by Karl MarxClément JuglarKnut WicksellJoseph SchumpeterMichał KaleckiJohn Maynard KeynesSchumpeter identified four stages of the business cycle: expansion crisis, recession, recovery.

So what are the dates of the business cycle? I’ll go through the information on business cycles in the US and UK since 1945 and there is no clear agreement on the number. Something to come back to.

Howard J. Sherman in The Business Cycle Growth and Crisis under Capitalism argues that the best dates are those provided by the US National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). He explains that they’re not ideal but the best available and they go back a long way. Since 1945, the US has had recession in the years 1949, 1954, 1958, 1961, 1970, 1975, 1980, 1982, 1991, 2001, 2009. That is ten business cycles, eleven if you include the one that started in the last ten years. The Economic Cycle Research Institute (ECRI) uses these dates as well.

Sam Williams at the blog Critique of Crisis Theory is critical of the NBER dates and argues that there have only been five business cycles since 1945. He measures them based on the point they peaked rather than a recession: 1948-1957, 1957-1968, 1982-1990, 1990-2000, 2000-2007. He describes the period from 1968-1982 as one long crisis. A sixth business cycle could be added from 2007-2020.

D fisher identified 9 cycles from 1945-1991.

For the UK, I found three different sets of information of when the business cycles have been. Each indicates a different number of business cycles since 1945.

The National Institute of Economic and Social Research list UK business cycles since 1945 as peak 1951, trough 1952; peak 1955, trough 1958; peak 1961, trough 1963; peak 1964, trough 1967; peak 1968, trough 1971, peak 1973, trough 1975; peak 1979, trough 1982; peak 1984, trough 1984; peak 1988, trough 1992. So that’s nine business cycles from 1945-1992.

The Economic Cycle Research Institute (ECRI) identifies UK business cycles since 1945 to be: trough 1952; peak 1974, trough 1975; peak 1979, trough 1981; peak 1990, trough 1992; peak 2008, trough 2010. The ECRI chart does not list anything for the current crisis but I think it it’s safe to assume that 2020 was the peak. That is five business cycles from 1945-2020.

Wikipedia lists recession in the UK since 1945 taking place in: 1956, 1961, 1973, 1975, 1980-1, 1990-1, 2008-9 and 2020-? That is seven business cycles from 1945-2020.


  1. Giovanni Arrighi: Systemic Cycles of Accumulation, Hegemonic Transitions, and the Rise of China, William I. Robinson, 2011, page 6/7, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/254325075_Giovanni_Arrighi_Systemic_Cycles_of_Accumulation_Hegemonic_Transitions_and_the_Rise_of_China/link/54f4dbd80cf2ba6150642647/download
  2. Giovanni Arrighi: Systemic Cycles of Accumulation, Hegemonic Transitions, and the Rise of China, page 10
  3. Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future, Paul Mason, 2015, page 35/6
  4. Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future, page 36
  5. Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future, CH4
  6. On New Terrain: How Capital is Reshaping the Battleground of Class War, Kim Moody, 2018, page 72