A ravenous, yet decrepit cyborg – part machine, part zombie – lurches onward as it is programmed to do. Its hunger is so insatiable that it eats its own flesh; it eats its offspring; and it eats the future. The catabolic effects are inescapable and its death rattle reverberates for miles. An entire city lives inside this beast. Yet in this late hour, inhabitants put their heads down and carry-on as usual, for they are all dependent upon this monster for their very own food, water, and shelter. No one dares utter a stray word, until the day one brave soul holds up a mirror that reveals who they have become.
A decade ago, I attended a series of contentious activist meetings with Rio Tinto, the mega-mining corporation that owns the massive Kennecott copper pit in the Salt Lake Valley. Rio Tinto planned to expand the mine, and activists were pushing back. The meetings foundered and collapsed upon the lack of viable possibilities for avoiding local impacts and for making operations more sustainable. Activists’ proposals were considered impractical and unprofitable. Ultimately, Kennecott got its expansion and activists got nothing.
Jean Arnold, Civilization, 2012, oil on canvas, 42 x 42 inches. An early Egyptian pyramid is seen with the gaping hole of the Kennecott copper pit. As civilization builds up monuments to itself, it must tear down into Earth for her treasures.
As a visual artist, I took my angst to the studio and captured eviscerated earth in a series of paintings and drawings, depicting large-scale mining operations that are rarely seen or considered by the public. What better way to reveal our civilization’s insatiable hunger for resources?
I realized that the mining industry cannot be greened, intrinsically by its very nature. Mining casts a long shadow: habitat loss, land theft, worker exploitation, local health impacts, and groundwater contamination, to name just a few issues. Without mining and other forms of extraction, Industrial Civilization could not exist. Yet we rarely ponder our Wonder-World’s material basis and its extraction costs.
Turns out I’m not the only one working in this vein – far from it.
This year a broad panoply of photographers, painters, poets, and printmakers are raising a ruckus in a four-continent constellation of almost sixty exhibits, installations, performances, and events under the rubric “EXTRACTION: Art on the Edge of the Abyss.” When EXTRACTION originator Peter Koch announced the project, it took off like wildfire. Creators are shining lights on all forms of the omnivorous extractive industry, “from mining and drilling to the reckless plundering and exploitation of fresh water, fertile soil, timber, marine life, and innumerable other resources across the globe.” The project’s broad definition begs the questions: In our civilization, what isn’t based on extraction? What isn’t affected by extraction?
The Algonquin word “wetiko” reveals extraction as a symptom of the culture-wide soul-sickness driven by domination, greed, and consumptive excess. It blinds humans from seeing ourselves as part of an interdependent whole, in communion with all of life. It is through this toxic mindset that the world is divided up and consumed for profit.
Extraction is an uncomfortable topic: it confronts us with our system’s voracious appetite for taking Earth’s riches without reciprocity – the very epitome of wetiko. Sure, we can point at capitalism, corporations and elite interests, but as participants in this wetiko culture we are all infected by this mind virus.
Far beyond a “problem” – extraction and its consequences pose a predicament without escape. Humanity is hitting planetary limits: declining resources, excess CO2 in the atmosphere, and plastic choking our oceans. Many of the proposed “solutions,” are just new iterations of the same paradigm, bringing more extraction. For example, see our blog “We are Strip-Mining Life While We Drink ‘Bright Green Lies’” as to why “green” tech will never save us. Humanity has dug itself deep into a hole from which few of us may emerge.
Since stories create meaning, the “wetikonomy” seeks to maintain itself through a tight control over its own narratives. In our situation, the system rewards those that uphold its delusions: endless growth, techno-magic, fulfillment through consumption, and superiority over nature. We are told there is no alternative and things are getting better all the time.
Stephen Braun, The Hoarder, 2009, raku ceramics, 24 x 30 x 8 inches. Clinging to the same mentality at the root cause of the crises.
The pressure to act according to these grand-yet-contradictory narratives is pervasive, which means compliance is near-universal. Witness the charades played by world leaders and diplomats at decades of climate conferences, giving lip service to fossil fuel phase-out while maintaining the techno-growth-extraction paradigm – essentially mocking the stated climate goals by clinging to the same mentality at the root cause of the crisis. Does anyone think this year’s climate conference, COP26 in Glasgow will play out differently?
Why are people so willing to surrender their agency? Society is captivated by a grand bargain described by social critic Lewis Mumford in his 1964 essay “Authoritarian and Democratic Technics”:
The bargain … takes the form of a magnificent bribe … each member of the community may claim every material advantage … food, housing, swift transportation, instantaneous communication, medical care, entertainment, education. But on one condition: that one must not merely ask for nothing that the system does not provide, but likewise agree to take everything offered … Once one opts for the system no further choice remains.
In other words, the bribe offers everyone a share in the largess, that is, the cornucopia of material goods unleashed by this industrial economy — as long as one does not question the costs to others, to ecosystems, or to the future.
The wetiko-spirit hates to be seen and named, as this begins to dissolve its parasitic power over its host. Dissent against the existing paradigm is ignored, penalized, or co-opted – that is, absorbed into the hegemony. Until it’s not. The time comes when costs become unbearable, limits are reached, and opposition finally boils over.
Thus, the last thing the power structure wants is a cultural spotlight on extraction, which exposes the core of our malady. And certainly not through art, which has a visceral, soul-level power – a power that scientific reports, statistics, and warnings do not have. Art can play a prophetic role: bearing witness to unsettling matters and grabbing attention before we can turn away. It can portray possibilities previously unconsidered, vitally needed at this time.
Jos Sances, Or, the Whale, 2108-2109, scratchboard, 14 x 51 feet This very large scratchboard drawing was inspired by Moby Dick and the history of whaling in America. The whale’s skin is embedded with a history of capitalism in America—images of human and environmental exploitation and destruction since 1850.
EXTRACTION co-founder Edwin Dobb (now deceased) posed the question of our time: Can we break the spell? A growing chorus on the periphery – Greta Thunberg, poets, painters, performance artists, Extinction Rebellion – is revealing the sociopathic end-game holding us in its grip and unraveling slowly in real time. Learning to see wetiko within ourselves and our culture can begin to break its spell. Can we come to see our own hubris?Contraction is coming whether we like it or not – how can we deal with this if we are spellbound? We have no individual or collective roadmap for the coming post-extraction Reality.
The EXTRACTION project’s exhibits and events are winding down, although organizers hope for continuation in some form. Only a few more venues are scheduled to open, yet its effects will continue rippling outwards. The project has legitimized the extraction art movement and showcased some of today’s most potent work. It has broadened my own definition of extraction-inspired art, which helps me see new possibilities. The project will live on in the evolving work of extraction artists and in others forging authentic responses to our global predicaments. Art is all-too-often wed to money and societal embrace, compromising its own power and obscuring rather than illuminating Reality. Artmaking on the margins is not easy, so supporting this work is necessary.
Chris Boyer, Atlantic Salmon Pens, Welshpool, New Brunswick, Canada (44.885980°, -66.959243°), 2018.
Art that challenges the wetiko-extraction paradigm will become even more relevant, as extraction’s impacts widen. Extraction art is not going away, until extraction itself goes away. While industrial-scale extraction has “only” been with us for four hundred years, art has been with us for thousands of generations, since our early ancestors rendered images inside caves.
EXTRACTION megazine (648 pages): download for free or purchase a printed copy for $25 + $7 shipping.
Partly a group catalog of extraction-related artwork, each artist or creator’s individual contribution documents their own personal investigations into the extraction question. The project is by no means limited to the visual arts—in these pages you will also find poetry, critical writings, philosophical treatises, manifestos, musical scores, conversations, historical or found photographs, and much more.
Editor’s note: The preferred method to stop a coal port for hours or days would be anonymously, so as to “live to fight another day”. But this action does highlight the fact that this port exports 158 million tonnes of coal a year. This action shows just how vulnerable the system is. It can be stopped when two people have the courage to throw their bodies on the cogs.
We must fight empire “by any means necessary.”” —Frantz Fanon
A two-person protest halted operations at the world’s largest coal port early Wednesday morning, as two women scaled the Port of Newcastle in New South Wales, Australia to protest their government’s refusal to take far-reaching climate action.
Hannah Doole and Zianna Faud—both members of the campaign group Blockade Australia—filmed themselves suspended on ropes attached to the port, where they forced the transport of coal to stop for several hours.
“I’m here with my friend Zianna, and we’re stopping this coal terminal from loading all coal into ships and stopping all coal trains,” said Doole.
Zianna says, “This is me choosing to not give away my political agency to a symbolic demonstration every four years. Just like climate and ecological collapse, political turning points are human-induced. They depend on us.” Watch the livestream here: https://t.co/fBJXEU8uxEpic.twitter.com/Oou8sKjtxk
The Port of Newcastle exported 158 million tonnes of coal in 2020, and its production is not expected to slow down in the coming years despite clear warnings from climate scientists that the continued extraction of coal and fossil fuels will make it impossible to limit global heating to 1.5°C above preindustrial temperatures.
“Another system is possible and we know that because one existed on this continent for tens of thousands of years,” said Doole. “It is now our duty to defend the biosphere that gives us life and to every person that Australia has forgotten and ignored.”
“In a system that only cares about money, non-violent blockading tactics that cause material disruption are the most effective and accessible means of wielding real power.”
On the heels of COP26, where world leaders agreed to a deal pledging to phase down “unabated” coal power, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Monday that the country will continue producing coal for “decades to come.”
Despite the state of emergency New South Wales officials were forced to declare less than two years ago as wildfires scorched millions of acres of land, destroyed more than a thousand homes, and killed nearly 500 million animals and more than a dozen people, Morrison claimed his continued commitment to coal extraction was akin to “standing up for our national interests.”
Morrison pledged last month to make Australia carbon-neutral by 2050, but his statement was denounced as a “political scam, relying on unproven carbon capture technology without phasing out fossil fuel extraction.
Organizers said Doole and Faud’s protest took place on Blockade Australia’s tenth straight day of direct actions targeting the Port of Newcastle as the grouo denounces the government’s plan to continue exporting the second-largest amount of coal in the world per year.
Earlier this week a woman prevented coal trains from entering the Port of Newcastle by locking herself to a railroad track, and on Tuesday two other advocates held a demonstration on machinery used to load coal at the port.
“In a system that only cares about money, non-violent blockading tactics that cause material disruption are the most effective and accessible means of wielding real power,” said Blockade Australia on Wednesday.
The two demonstrators were arrested after scaling the port for several hours. Faud appeared in court on Wednesday following the protest, where she pleaded guilty to charges of “hindering the working of mining equipment,” according to The Washington Post. She was ordered to pay a $1,090 fine, sentenced to community service, and ordered not to associate with Doole for two years. Doole is expected to appear in court on Thursday.
Blockade Australia is preparing to hold a large demonstration next June in Sydney, where the group plans to “participate in mass, disruptive action” in Australia’s political and economic center.
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. 🌎
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.
“I do not fight fascists because I will win. I fight fascists because they are fascists.” ― Chris Hedges, Wages of Rebellion: The Moral Imperative of Revolt
Australian-Canadian mining firm OceanaGold was recently granted a renewal of its permit to mine gold and copper in the northern Philippines.
The mine has faced years of opposition from area residents, mostly Indigenous people, who say it has scarred their land and threatens the water systems they depend on.
In 2019, when the company’s previous mining permit expired, protesters mounted barricades to block activity at the mine.
This year, restrictions put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19 have hampered their ability to organize.
NUEVA VIZCAYA, Philippines – Community leader Eduardo Ananayo says he wept when heard the Philippine government had renewed its mining agreement with Australian-Canadian company OceanaGold Corporation this past July.
“We felt betrayed by the government who we thought was there to protect us. Why did they side with the foreigners instead of us Indigenous people?” asks the Tuwali elder, who leads the Didipio Earth Savers Multi-Purpose Association (DESAMA), one of several organizations protesting the gold and copper mining operation.
OceanaGold holds a “financial or technical assistance agreement” (FTAA) issued by the Philippine government, which allows a wholly foreign-owned mining company to operate in the country. Its previous permit expired in 2019. The successful renewal, which came despite persistent opposition from both residents and the local government, allows the mining firm to continue operations until 2044.
“That will not dampen our resistance,” Ananayo says. “We will not let all our years of struggle go to waste.” Around 4,000 indigenous people living in the villages of Didipio and Alimit, in Kasibu town, Nueva Vizcaya province, have mounted strong opposition to the mine: first against Arimco Mining Corporation, which obtained the initial mining rights in 1994, and then against OceanaGold, which acquired the FTAA in 2006.
OceanaGold’s mine claim spans 27,000 hectares (66,700 acres), straddling the provinces of Nueva Vizcaya and Quirino, some 270 kilometers (170 miles) northeast of the Philippine capital, Manila. The concession is believed to hold 1.41 million ounces of gold and 169,400 tons of copper, enough to keep the mine running for another two decades.
Opponents of the project say it threatens the local water system, which is critical to the community’s survival, to their agricultural livelihoods, and to the surrounding ecosystems.
Immense volumes of water are used to process mineral ores, leading to both water pollution and depletion. In addition, both open-pit and underground mining (which OceanaGold shifted to as of 2015) can disrupt the natural underground water systems that feed springs and creeks.
Protesters also decry what they say is the company’s disregard for the land rights of the Indigenous people, and the wide open-pit and abandoned untillable farmlands that they consider a permanent scarring of their natural landscape.
A history of resistance
Since the 1990s, Indigenous peoples in Didipio have resisted attempts to mine their lands.
The area was originally settled by the Indigenous Bugkalot, but was later occupied through peaceful agreements by the Tuwali and Ayangan of Ifugao province and the Kalanguya and Ibaloy of Benguet in the 1950s. This means that although they belong to recognized Indigenous communities, the residents are not regarded as ancestral domain holders. This precludes them from asserting the need for a free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) process under the Philippine Indigenous Peoples Rights Act.
With a semitemperate weather, Didipio was an ideal place for rice and vegetable agriculture because of the abundance of water coming from numerous springs and creeks from the forest, Ananayo says.
The Dinauyan and Surong rivers, which cut across the village, were not only abundant with fish but also nuggets of gold, which locals traditionally pan, Ananayo recalls. “After tending our farms, we would go pan for gold which we sell to buy other necessities.”
But in the early 2000s, OceanaGold pushed through with its operation, despite resistance from the community and the municipal and provincial government. To begin excavating its open-pit mine, OceanaGold demolished at least 187 houses in June 2008. According to a 2011 report by the Philippine Commission on Human Rights (CHR), a constitutionally mandated body, this demolition was violent and was carried out without the legally required permits or relocation and compensation agreements. The evictions, the commission said, also amounted to a violation of the Indigenous community’s right to “manifest their culture and identity.”
“Some people were still cooking breakfast while others were still sleeping when Oceana [OceanaGold] bulldozed their houses,” recalls Myrna Duyan, also a resident of Didipio. Company security officers even shot a man for trying to save his neighbor’s house, she says.
Following its investigation, the CHR recommended the government “consider the probable withdrawal” of OceanaGold’s FTAA due to gross violations of human rights related to the 2008 demolition. But no official action was taken.
Instead, by 2013 OceanaGold had completely demolished Dinkidi Hill, inverting it into a vast open-pit mine. Since then, Duyan says, the water systems across Didipio started to recede significantly.
As of October 2021, Duyan says that at least a dozen water pumps and springs have dried up in the community immediately surrounding the mine, forcing residents to travel at least a mile (1.6 kilometers) to fetch water for household use.
Other residents have given up tracts of farmland, as there is not enough irrigation to sustain crops. Duyan says her own father was forced to abandon their farm in Upper Bakbakan, a district in Didipio, when water became totally scarce in 2017.
The area where the water is drying up is part of the headwaters of the Addalam River, a major tributary of the Cagayan River, the longest in the Philippines. The Addalam irrigates rice paddies in downstream Isabela and Cagayan provinces, known as the rice-producing heartland of the northern Philippines.
The proximity of the mine to the community is also worrisome, since the center of the open pit is just 1 km (0.6 mi) from the edge of the community. When OceanaGold conducts rock blasting underground, the earth trembles as if an earthquake happened, Ananayo says.
Cracks can be seen in the walls and floors of many houses, as well as the community school, which the villagers attribute to the blasting.
“With their continuing operations, this will surely worsen. Nearby communities should also expect losing their waters,” Ananayo says.
Gold panners have also been stopped from panning in their traditional spots, Duyan says. Even those far downstream of the mine have had to stop after experiencing skin irritation from the river water, a phenomenon they attribute to the chemicals seeping from OceanaGold’s tailings dam.
At one time, Ananayo says, the company hired a “military man” who destroyed the residents’ sluice boxes along the river and threatened to hurt those who planned to resume panning.
“They accuse us of stealing from them by panning, but this is our land! How can we steal something we own?” Ananayo says.
OceanaGold did not grant Mongabay’s request for an interview, and instead directed Mongabay via email to visit its website “for more information.”
Following the expiration of OceanaGold’s FTAA in June 2019, residents of Didipio set up “people’s barricades” along the gravel roads leading to both of the mine site’s entrances, halting the entry of OceanaGold’s fuel tankers and service vehicles.
Ananayo says they resorted to such means after numerous petitions and letters asking government agencies and national officials to intervene resulted in nothing. (The regional office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, which is responsible for regulating mining, did not respond to Mongabay’s request for comments.)
The opposition became even more emboldened with Nueva Vizcaya Governor Carlos Padilla’s vocal support: “[OceanaGold] no longer have the right to operate,” Padilla told local media in July 2019. “If they have no right to the land, then they have no right to continue enriching themselves from the land.”
Ananayo says the barricades have been the site of altercations between villagers and workers trying to bring in fuel and other materials for the mine’s operations. Violence escalated on April 6, 2020, when three oil tankers escorted by at least 100 policemen forced their way into the mine site from the northeast road.
Residents immediately gathered to form a human barricade along the road. Some sat down, others lay down on the gravel road, and others still tried to go under the tanker trucks. But the police, armed with riot shields and sticks, beat the protesters and shoved them to the side of the road. Witnesses said other policemen stood guard with their heavy rifles.
Duyan was struck on her foot, resulting in the loss of her toenails, while Ananayo was hit in the face. Rolando Pulido, at the time the chair of DESAMA, was stripped down to his underwear, beaten, and detained overnight at the police station.
Trauma from the event has led other residents to “lie low” for fear of an even greater impunity, Duyan says. But she says she remains undeterred. “Of course, we fear for our lives, but we will not let it conquer us. God is watching over us.”
With the rise in the number of coronavirus cases in the Philippines this year, protesters abandoned their barricade posts in compliance with local health protocols and regulations. They even avoided holding physical meetings to avoid the risk of local transmission, Duyan says.
It was during this period, when lockdowns and economic distress hampered the community’s ability to organize, that OceanaGold’s contract was renewed. “We are already suffering a lot from the effects of COVID and they included yet another burden on top,” Duyan says.
Duyan says OceanaGold has taken advantage of the restrictions imposed by the government to curb the pandemic. With no hindrance, its vehicles can now freely go in and out of the mine site, Duyan says. Hundreds of people from outside Didipio also frequently enter the community to apply for jobs after the company posted announcements for job openings. “Now we also have health security issues, since each of those people could be carriers of COVID,” Duyan says.
COVID-19 restrictions have also halted consultations and visits from NGOs and advocacy groups who are helping the community in their struggle against the mine. Ananayo says the community relies heavily on organizations like the Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center and Alyansa Tigil Mina (Alliance to Stop Mining) to provide pro bono assistance in legal actions and in understanding court and administrative processes.
“We’ve lost hope on government agencies because we have not seen them advocate our cause,” Ananayo says.
Information relayed to DESAMA by sympathetic OceanaGold employees indicates that the company will resume operations in December. This October, Duyan says, seven passenger vans loaded with blasting materials were seen entering the well-guarded mine compound.
Call for help
With general elections coming up in May 2022, Duyan says the stance of politicians on large-scale mining will decide whom they will campaign and vote for.
“We will use this election to vote officials who truly champion our cause and will help us stop Oceana’s operations,” she says.
Following the inaction of the government in response to the illegal demolition of houses in 2008 and the violent dispersal of protesters in April 2020, Ananayo says protesting residents feel that even state forces and government agencies have become instruments to further oppress them. OceanaGold, Ananyo adds, has become well-versed in burnishing its image outside Didipio, with many local news outlets portraying the company as a responsible miner.
Ananayo says the community needs any help they can muster, even from outside the country. “I hope people will notice our voices here in Didipio,” he says. “We settled here peacefully long before mining prospectors came. We will fight for our lands.”
Banner image: Eduardo Ananayo, leader of Didipio Earth Savers Multi-Purpose Association (DESAMA). Image courtesy of Karlston Lapniten.
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.
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.
This post looks at if it’s possible to have a coherent strategy for the emancipatory transformation of a complex social system, 5 anti-capitalist strategies and revolutionary strategy.
What does ‘emancipatory transformation of a complex social system’ mean? We currently live in a capitalist society or capitalist social system that is not equal, just, democratic or sustainable. Emancipatory means the struggle for political, economic or social rights or equality for disenfranchised groups or sections of society. So this post is focused on thinking about how we think about the route to ending the dominance of capitalism so we live in an alternative society that is equal, just, democratic and sustainable.
Revolutionary and anti-capitalist strategy is a huge topic that will take several posts to explore. This first post aims to start in the broadest way by considering if it’s possible to have a revolutionary and anti-capitalist strategy and reference a useful framework to help understand the different anti-capitalist strategic approaches.
Is it possible to have a coherent strategy for the emancipatory transformation of a complex social system?
In other words, is it possible to create a desirable social transformation (revolution) through deliberate, intentional action? Eric Olin Wright, sociologist and educator who specialised in egalitarian future alternatives to capitalism, explains that there are desirable objectives of social transformation that are not possible, either because they are not viable (won’t work) or because there is no way to get there. Wright describes how Frederick Hayek, the arch-conservative and key advocate of neoliberalism, believed that a social transformation strategy was a fantasy. This is due to the negative unintentional consequences of such a large social engineering project that would overwhelm the intended consequences. Concern for unintentional consequences is valid, and I agree with Wright when he says:
“It remains the case that capitalism is immensely destructive, obstructing the prospects for broad human flourishing. What we need is an understanding of anticapitalist strategies that avoids both the false optimism of wishful thinking and the disabling pessimism that emancipatory social transformation is beyond strategic reach.” 
Eric Olin Wright in “How to Be an Anti-capitalist in the 21st Century” describes five ‘strategic logics’: smashing capitalism, dismantling capitalism, taming capitalism, resisting capitalism, escaping capitalism. This framework is a useful starting point for thinking about anti-capitalist and revolutionary strategy. But it is simplistic and I explain where my thinking differs in the last section of this post.
This is the classic revolutionary strategy of seizing state power by force. I call this the vanguard Marxism.
Wright describes its rationale: The system is unreformable and all attempts to make life bearable will fail. Small reforms improve people’s lives when popular movements are strong but these gains are vulnerable to attack and reversible. It is an illusion that capitalism can become a benign social system so ordinary people can live meaningful happy lives. Capitalism needs to be destroyed and an alternative built. The progress of an emancipatory alternative society may be gradual but it requires a decisive rupture with the existing systems of power to get there.
Critiquing this theory, Wright asks how it’s possible for anti-capitalist forces to build enough power to destroy capitalism and replace it with an alternative. He explains that the power of the ruling classes blocks both reformist gains and revolutionary ruptures. He describes how those in the ‘smashing capitalism tradition’ argue that capitalism is a highly contradictory system that is prone to disruptions and crises, and sometimes these crises make capitalism vulnerable to a serious challenge. There is a further argument that these crises increase over time so in the long term capitalism is unsustainable and ‘destroys its own conditions of existence.’ The role of the revolutionary party is therefore to be ready for this situation and lead a mass movement to seize state power. The revolutionary party then works to ‘rapidly refashion the state itself to make it a suitable weapon of ruptual transformation,’ and also to repress the ruling class opposition and destroy their power structures to allow the new revolutionary state to build an alternative economic system.
Wright describes how this strategy was applied several times in the 20th century with some success, but never created a ‘democratic, egalitarian, emancipatory alternative to capitalism.’ This strategy gave people the hope and motivation to make great sacrifices in the pursuit of achieving such as a society, and material conditions were improved for a lot of people. Examples include Russia, China and Cuba. But, “it is one thing to burn down old institutions and social structures; it is quite another to build emancipatory new institutions from the ashes.”
He describes some of the reasons given for the failures of these revolutions: (1) history-specific unfavourable circumstances; (2) revolutions happened in economically backward societies surrounded by enemies; (3) strategic leadership errors; (4) leaders motivated by power and status rather than the well-being of the masses; (5) failure of these revolutions as being inherent to any attempt to radically rupture a social system – too many moving parts, too much complexity and too many unintended consequences.
This is a key point for me: “attempts at system-rupture will inevitably tend to unravel into such chaos that revolutionary elites, regardless of their motives, will be compelled to resort to pervasive violence and repression to sustain social order. Such violence, in turn, destroys the possibility for a genuinely democratic, participatory process of building a new society.” 
Wright is clear that he does not believe that ‘system-level ruptures’ work as a strategy for social emancipation.
Wright describes this as a transition to democratic socialism through state-directed reforms that gradually introduce socialism from above. He sees this strategy as having ‘revolutionary aspirations,’ because it seeks to replace capitalism with a different economic system: socialism. He explains that in this tradition there is no simple point of rupture when one system replaces the other. Instead, “there would be a gradual dismantling of capitalism and the building up of the alternative through the sustained action of the state.” 
Wright describes how this approach sees a period when capitalist and socialist relations will coexist, such as both private and state-run banks; private and state enterprises in transportation, utilities, health care and some heavy industry; capitalist labour markets and state employment; state-directed planning for investment decisions and private profit-driven investment.
Wright describes the necessary preconditions for this strategy to be possible. “First, a stable electoral democracy, and second, a broad, mass-based socialist party capable of winning elections and staying in power for a sufficiently long time that these new state-run economic structures could be robustly institutionalized. Of course, there would be opposition and resistance, but the belief was that these state-organized socialist economic institutions would demonstrate their value and thus be able to sustain popular support.” 
This strategy had significant support in the 20th century and following World War II, when several governments looked to be implementing this “mixed economy” approach. An example is Sweden. It did not succeed and Wright put this down to the ‘dynamism of capitalism,’ and to the right-wing ideological offensive against socialist ideas in many countries, which, from the 1970s “pushed the expansion of nationalization in mixed economies off the agenda.” He describes the “military overthrow of the democratically elected socialist government in Chile in 1973, along with other setbacks to efforts at democratic socialism, further eroding any belief that democratic elections could offer a reformist path to dismantling capitalism.” By the end of the twentieth century, neoliberalism and privatisation dominated the mainstream political agenda instead of nationalisation, even by large political parties thought to be on the left, such as New Labour in the UK.
This tradition sees capitalism as a “source of systemic harms in society,” but does not look to replace it. It wants to reduce and remove those harms. This was the main strategic approach of social-democratic reformist parties since World War II.
Wright describes that although this tradition identities the harms of capitalism, its response is to work on “building counteracting institutions capable of significantly neutralizing these harms.” This tradition does understand that to achieve this, there will need to be political struggles to reduce the power and control of the capitalist class, and that the capitalists will claim that these redistributions will undermine capitalism’s dynamism and incentives. These arguments are self-serving justifications for the privilege and power of the capitalists.
Wright describes two types of reforms: (1) those that stabilise capitalism (such as banking regulation to reduce system-disrupting, speculative risk-taking), and (2) anti-capitalist reforms that introduce egalitarian, democratic and solidaristic values and principles into how capitalism operates. He explains that these anti-capitalist reforms will also likely stabilise capitalism, and that is what makes them partially possible, but also result in the system working in a “less purely capitalist way.”
Wright describes three types of state policies which change the way capitalism operates to reduce the harms and increases egalitarian, democratic and solidaristic values and principles. Mostly these policies benefit capitalists but some benefit ordinary people:
Reduce individual vulnerability to risks through publicly run and funded social insurance or a welfare state.
The provision of public goods – such as basic and higher education, vocational skills training, public transportation, cultural and recreational facilities, research and development – paid for by re-distributional taxation.
Use the State to develop a regulatory framework to reduce the most serious negative externalities caused by capitalist investors and companies, including regulation of pollution, product and workplace hazards, predatory market behaviour, and property and stock market volatility.
Wright states that during the “golden age of capitalism” in the 30 years after World War II, these policies were used to tame capitalism. Since the 1980s these gains have been rolled back under neoliberalism, leading to reduction of social insurance benefits, reduction in taxes and therefore social goods, deregulation of capitalist production and markets, and privatisation of many state services.
He describes the forces that have resulted in a reduction of the state’s ability to limit capitalism’s harms: “The globalization of capitalism has made it much easier for capitalist firms to move investment to places in the world with less regulation and cheaper labor. The threat of such movement of capital, along with a variety of technological and demographic changes, has fragmented and weakened the labor movement, making it less capable of resistance and political mobilizations. Combined with globalization, the financialization of capital has led to massive increases in wealth and income inequality, which in turn has increased the political leverage of opponents of the social democratic state. Instead of being tamed, capitalism has been unleashed.” 
Wright raises the question of whether the three decades of the golden age were perhaps a historical anomaly; “a brief period in which favourable structural conditions and robust popular power opened up the possibility for the relative egalitarian, social democratic model.” Before this period capitalism was rapacious, and it has become rapacious again under neoliberalism. He suggests that capitalism is not tamable. I certainly don’t think it is.
Wright concludes the section on taming capitalism with a thoughtful paragraph on how the limits of a state’s ability to raise taxes, regulate capitalism and redistribute wealth are based on people’s belief that globalisation imposes powerful constraints. But, he argues, it’s the willingness of voters to be taxed more that is the main factor, not if the capitalists move their capital to avoid taxation. The willingness of the electorate to be taxed depends on the general level of collective solidarity. He maintains that the “limits of possibility are always in part created by beliefs in those limits.” He explains that neoliberalism is an ideology backed by powerful political and economic forces and it is possible to break through the limits set by neoliberalism if there is collective will to do so. He argues that social democratic politics have become less effective and need rethinking, and that the political obstacles to their success are significant, but that it is still possible for the harm of capitalism to be reduced by state action.
Wright explains that ‘resisting capitalism’ could be a broad term for anti-capitalist struggles. Here, he is using it in a narrower sense to identify struggles to end capitalism from outside the state and parliamentary politics, and also that do not want to gain state power. This strategy is different from the previous three that were all aiming to gain and use state power.
This tradition aims to reduce the harms of capitalism by influencing the behaviour of capitalists and political elites through protest and campaigning: “We may not be able to transform capitalism, but we can defend ourselves from its harms by causing trouble, protesting and raising the cost to elites of their actions.” (p50) He lists some examples: “environmentalists protesting toxic dumps and environmentally destructive developments; consumer movements that organize boycotts of predatory corporations; activist lawyers who defend the rights of immigrants, the poor, and sexual minorities. It is also the basic strategic logic of unions that organize strikes for better pay and working conditions.” 
Wright sees resisting capitalism as the most common response to the harms caused by the capitalist system. It is based on civil society and the solidarities that exist in workplaces and the community. Different identities play a part in this approach including class, ethnicity, religion, race, gender, sexuality. Its most organised forms are social movements and trade unions. Even when unions are weak, workers can resist exploitation by withholding their maximum effort and diligence.
Wright explains that this may not have been developed into a systematic anti-capitalist ideology, but it does have a ‘coherent logic’, which is: Capitalism is too powerful to end. It is unrealistic that collective mass movements will form to dismantle or tame capitalism. The ruling class are too strong to remove and they always co-opt opposition and defend their privileges. Also, social systems are too large and complex to control. The best we can do is insulate ourselves from the worst harms. We may not be able to change the world but can escape the circuits of domination and build a micro-alternative to live better lives.
Wright lists some examples of groups attempting to escape capitalism: migration of poor farmers to the western frontier in the 19th century; utopian self-sufficiency communities in the 19th century; worker cooperatives that are managed collectively based on principles of democracy, solidarity, equality, working to avoid alienation and exploitation of capitalist firms; the hippies of the 1960s; religious communities such as the Amish. He also cites the family unit as a “non-competitive social space of reciprocity and caring in which one can find refuge from the heartless, competitive world of capitalism.”
Wright explains that escaping capitalism involves avoiding political engagement. For some, this is the ‘individualistic lifestyle strategy’, which can be contradictory if this lifestyle is funded by wealth that was gained from capitalist activities.
Intentional communities are a good example of a desire to escape capitalism, as well as being a model for more collective, egalitarian and democratic ways of living. In addition, worker cooperatives are an attempt to escape the oppressive nature of capitalist workplaces, and are a model of how an alternative economy to capitalism could operate so as to challenge the current capitalist economic system.
When I use the word ‘revolution’, I mean it in a broad way for the ending of capitalism and the creation of an alternative society – radical transformational system change. In the summary above of Wright’s description of the different anti-capitalist strategies, he labels ‘smashing capitalism’ and ‘dismantling capitalism’ as revolutionary. And I would agree.
The anti-capitalist strategy that Wright advocates is a combination of dismantling capitalism, taming capitalism, resisting capitalism and escaping capitalism. He calls it ‘eroding capitalism’ and I’ll describe this in more detail in a future post (reference). I agree with him on this and that we need both revolutionary and reformist approaches.
My understanding of Wright’s perspective is that he believed that we could end capitalism without a rupture. I don’t agree with this. I think we will need to fight for reforms to rebuild the power of the left but at some point, there will need to be a rupture, so that we would go from a mixed economy with socialist and capitalist institutions to one with only socialist/anarchist/communist ones and the end of private property. But at this dark point in history that we currently live, this is hard to imagine.
I don’t support the ‘smashing capitalism’ (vanguard Marxist) strategy for a few reasons. The main one is because although it has shown itself in history to be effective at ending capitalism, there are no examples of it creating egalitarian and democratic societies. In each case, it has involved a militant minority taking power and dominating the majority, and this can only result in repression. I have asked different people that advocate different versions of this strategy (Leninists, Trotskyists, Maoists, Stalinists), how to use this strategy and not end up with things turning repressive and sometimes totalitarian, but I have not got a clear answer. If you do have an answer, I’d love to hear from you.
There is a lot that needs to be unpacked for the ‘dismantling capitalism’ strategy. Wright states it would be a transition to democratic socialism through state-directed reforms that gradually introduce socialism from above and that it would require a broad, mass-based socialist party. Democratic socialism is a broad term which ranges in meaning between political parties led from the top like the Corbyn leadership, and those parties formed from grassroots movements such as Podemos in Spain. I’m not saying that Podemos is the exact model to follow but we can learn from this experiment and municipalist citizen platforms such as Barcelona en Comú. We have seen from the 20th century that big changes happen when the grassroots of labour unions become militant and make radical demands of union leaders and political parties. Social movements campaigning on specific issues have also made gains and reforms have been implemented.
Two revolutionary strategies do not easily fit into Wright’s framework. The first is the council communism tradition of left communism. This Marxist strategy is based on the worker councils or soviets that formed in Russia during the 1917 Russian Revolution. It has elements of smashing capitalism, especially regarding the belief that there would need to be a clear rupture to end capitalism, but that this will be done from the bottom or grassroots, where different workplaces and community institutions are self-organised and working together in a federated governance structure. This worker control approach is anti-state and anti-parliamentary politics meaning that this tradition has elements of Wright’s ‘resisting capitalism’ strategy. Although this tradition does not seek state power, it does see ordinary people creating a federated system of self-government that would replace the state, so has elements of smashing capitalism and resisting capitalism.
The second revolutionary strategy that does not fit into Wright’s framework is anarcho-syndicalism, which has similarities to council communism. It aims to end capitalism, wage slavery and private property. A new society would be built without hierarchy, based on direct-democracy, workers’ self-management and an alternative co-operative economic system. This alternative society would replace the state with a federated structure of self-run workplaces and community institutions.
In future posts, I want to analyze how the left organises itself into social and political movements, by ideology and how groups operate in practice. Then look at the strategies these traditions follow. I also plan to summarise the different radical and revolutionary strategies that thinkers and writers on the left have proposed. After this I will start to explore the situation we find ourselves in and relate this to “Good Strategy Bad Strategy” by Richard Rumelt (read a summary here) and his three-part framework for developing a good strategy. There is:
diagnosis, what is going on here;
guiding policy – outlines an overall approach for overcoming the obstacles highlighted by the diagnosis;
coherent action – this needs to be consistent and coordinated, and also requires making painful choices about what can be achieved with limited resources.