An Open Answer to Extinction Rebellion Köln

The following text was published (and commented, mainly in english) on the german version of our site.
It is an open answer to Extinction Rebellion Köln. It is continuing the discourse that started on the hambibleibt mastodon account with a thread about controversies related to XR.
To read how it started follow this link:
https://todon.nl/@hambibleibt/102600200712652034
why we choose to be on mastodon you can read here: https://twitter.com/HambiBleibt/status/1158493876518301696

AN OPEN ANSWER TO XR KÖLN:

Thanks for taking the time replying to this thread. The following is a personal perspective, written from the hambibleibt blog. as it gives those active here, the opportunity to use it as a platform to voice their ideas.

Reading your replies, I must say that I do understand your perspective, to the extend that I had shared similar ideas at one point in my life and some that I still share with you. Let’s say it like that: there’s much I disagree with what I’ve believed in ones, same as I disagree with several arguments you present. To avoid miss communication, I will try to describe what I perceive in your replies as the core message (what you desire) while leaving all details beside, simply to not be distracted by it and to see if I do understand you correctly.

1. You see the climate crisis as a threat that you want to counter effectively.
2. You present several values and strategies that you believe support you in that.

Is that correct?
Speaking about my self, I want the same.
Why have I then said I have much disagreements for your arguments?
There are some values and strategies that I disagree much with. I will try to elaborate on each, but first like to add that choosing “diversity of tactics” would allow us to each choose different strategies while still being in solidarity and supportive for each other. Diversity of tactics is an approach that understands that it needs multiple different approaches to reach ones goal, that acknowledges the reasons for the different chosen strategies, that tries to combine the different strategies in collaborative ways…

Before I name where I disagree in particular, I’ll add some bits that I actually like:
– the aim to reflect
– not wanting to support status quo
– the approach to not reduce systemic failure to individualistic failure

…so, now to the disagreement. And here I must say, I do write this while feeling anger and sadness, not to you personal, but against a world that created those oppressive narratives, that you simply reproduce.

(text behind > is quoted text from XR Köln’s replies)

> Our core value “We avoid blaming and shaming
We live in a toxic system, but no one individual is to blame.” also means that we do not blame people in the police for being in the police.

It makes sense to not reduce systematic failure to individualistic failure, but it neither seems to make sense to do the opposite, arguing “it’s just the system”. It’s not. Those that have the most negative impact on our climate have names and addresses. They can be pressured and blamed for what they do. While doing so, understand that the target audience for such an act, does not necessary need to be the person being blamed but those that listen it as it can change how they position themselves related to that person. Can you understand what I try to say? Does it makes sense to you?

> we do not blame people in the police for being in the police.

Nobody needs to be a cop. It’s a decision out of a privileged position. Everyone choosing to do so, knows that it also means choosing to support push backs that kill people, to name just one example. Those being killed, did not have that position to decide, they were forced. And they do blame cops for it.
Also: not blaming a cop for being in the police is one thing, but it’s another thing to describe the police as allies. They are not! They are always at the forefront on oppressing social movements. The police as an institution is beside the military the only institution that has the political power to force an entirely climate destructive system upon us. Without them, I promise you, we would be able to shut down every coal mine and every coal energy station in entire germany today, tomorrow all europe…and so forth.
Look at the action from Ende Gelände. Who’s stopping them? Who’s beating them? Who’s arresting them? Who’s traumatizing them? Who’re their allies?

> Plus, acts of repression from the police are only effective in creating sympathy from the general population – which is what we’re after – if we don’t provoke the police.

The police exists to protect and ensure an entirely violent system that’s causing the climate crisis. I aim, with many others, to disrupt this. What do you mean with not provoking the police? As you want civil disobedience, it can’t be not following their order. Cops believe in authoritative systems and every act of disobeying their authority might be a provocation for them. I believe that we should not take this, if the police feels provoked or not, as a measurement to choose which strategy we value as effective.
As an counter argument to yours I simply add: the hambacher forest occupation does have public support. It is said that Molotov cocktails were in use.
There are endless other examples, where combative methods were used, and they gained public support. vietnam war, the soviet invasion of Afghanistan, partisan resistance during World War II in Yugoslavia and Italy, the anarchist resistance in Ukraine during the Russian Civil War, the oka crisis, the resistance of the Zapatistas, the Black Spring in Kabylie, Bolivias’s Water and Gas War, resistance by people in Rojava, 15M Movement, Gilet Jaunes, Occupy, the mapuche struggle, black liberation movements, anti-colonialist struggle in india…just to name a few.

But neither should this be the leading criteria to define if a strategy is effective. A mass that is cheering (public support) is not the same as being capable of countering the climate crisis.

> We do, however, _not_ support the status quo at all. Our approach is to force politicians to accept our demands through the use of nonviolent mass civil disobedience.

The status quo is a society that defines access to rights based on the privileges.
The status quo is a colonialist organized society.
The status quo is a society where resources are organized and distributed under the command of those that have accumulated most of it, rather then based on needs and capabilities. Death is justified, struggling against this order often seen as criminal.
The status quo is a hierarchical order, where those on top have the most negative impact on our climate and are supported to be the ones making the most legitimate decisions. It is supported by material and ideological means.
The status quo is capitalism, where profit weights more then to protect our climate.
The status quo is the police that exists to protect the status quo.

XR (not necessary your local group) does support this. The leaders of XR do support this on purpose, as they define gaining support higher then reevaluating effectiveness. To avoid logical dissonance that would result from this, they define gaining public support and effectiveness to be the same. Which is the reason Roger Hallam, a founder and leader of XR, is able to describe police arrests as the most effective tool against the climate crisis. They argue that mass arrests will help to gain public support (depending on the circumstances this is true), and as gaining public support and effectiveness is defined as being the same, XR is able to create the narrative portraying mass arrests as among the most effective thing to counter the climate crisis.
Here an example of an counter argument. If the following holds true, XR got it wrong:
If there would be no police/military we (those that are organized to struggle for climate justice) could shut down every coal industry in Germany until tomorrow, the next day entire europe…and and beyond. We can’t because the police/military is stopping us from doing so, until we become uncontrollable…

> In the end, however, we know that the police(wo)men are as affected by our ecological crisis as everyone else, that’s why we want them as allies rather than enemies.

The climate crisis is effecting everyone, but not everyone in the same way. Some will even gain personal benefits from it. Some that believe in strict hierarchical order in society might use the times of the crisis to repress social movements. Cops often have for what ever reason, personal interest in such. Neither do those that life in europe experience the climate crisis as the same threat as let’s say indigenous such as the Kofan, Siona, Secoya, Waorani peoples…living in amazonas. It is important to acknowledge this. More on that in specific here: https://www.amazonfrontlines.org/

> The main reason why we stick to nonviolence is that historically, the majority of violent uprisings that were successful in overthrowing the previous system then later on lead to new authoritarian systems.

What I see here is a confusion on 2 levels. One that is confusing/mixing correlation, cause and reaction and then to argue based on that confusion for non-violence.
Before I try to explain why that is, I feel the need to make the following clear:
Non-violent actions are important. We need them. What we don’t need is historic revisionism, as it makes us incapable of learning from past failures and so we’re doomed to repeat them.

There have been many authoritarian uprisings, no question. And sure they lead to new authoritarian systems. But that can’t be an argument why non-violence would be superior. The nazi’s in germany had an violent and authoritarian uprising. Only physical combative resistance worked. Arguing that non-violence is superior, comes with arguing that those targeted by their fascism the most, should give up on their rights to simply exist.
That is actually also what Gandhi did: “…the Jews should have offered themselves to the butcher’s knife. They should have thrown themselves in the sea from cliffs” – Mahatma Gandhi
The holocaust was entirely violent. Not using violence, did not stop this violence. If we want to end a end a violent system we need to ask how to archive that. Claiming non-violence to be superior, shuts down this discussion before it even started.
The claim pacifism being superior is of ideological nature, not based on historical observation or analysis of current events. It is believed that responding to violence lead to more violence, some even believe that a violent respond would lead to spiral of violence in that everything implodes. And I’m even not joking here. Also this is based on a confusions that mixes countering violence as the same as supporting violence. While obviously countering violence is not the same as supporting a violent system. It needs this confusion so that it does not create logical dissonance within those that believe in it.

 

Even the study (claimed to be about effectiveness of non-violence) by Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan to what many pacifists refer to, needs to do the exact same in order to present non-violence as superior. If you’re part of XR, it’s likely that you’ve heard of that study, since the leaders of XR use it to justify their proposed strategies.
Are you aware that this study is on no scientific ground, that it is completely biased and that it’s authors are aware of it but try to miss represent this?

What’s wrong with the study?

If you have the time, please take a read to the following quote, otherwise skip it until the next point.

Social scientists Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan are the authors of a study that is among the only statistical analyses of the effectiveness of nonviolence. Like many social scientists before them, they use statistics to obscure more complex truths. They claim to have compiled a list of 323 major nonviolent campaigns or violent conflicts from 1900 to 2006, and then superficially rate these as “successful”, “partially successful”, or “failed”. They do not use revolutionary criteria for success, and in their mind the “Color Revolutions” and many other reformist, dead-end, or self-betraying movements were successful. Although they rate campaigns as objectively violent or nonviolent, they do not define violence, and they also uncritically use loaded terms like “the international community”. They credit nonviolence with victory in cases where international peacekeeping forces, i.e. armies, had to be called in to protect peaceful protesters, as in East Timor, and they define victory simply as the achievement of a movement’s goals, as though movements ever had a consensus on their goals.

They do not publish the list of campaigns and conflicts with their original study, and after extensive searching I was unable to find it. They explain that the list of major nonviolent campaigns was provided to them by “experts in nonviolent conflict”, in other words, people who are almost exclusively proponents of nonviolence. Given widespread manipulation by such “experts,” who frequently describe heterogeneous struggles as “nonviolent,” such as the independence movements in South Africa and India, the Civil Rights movement, or the uprisings of the Arab Spring, we can only assume that many of successful nonviolent campaigns on the list included armed and combative elements. The violent conflicts that they include in their study come from a completely different source: lists of armed conflicts with over 1,000 combatant deaths. In other words, wars. They are comparing apples and oranges, lining social movements up against wars, as though these different kinds of conflicts arose in the same circumstances and were merely a product of the choices of their participants.

One methodological weakness they do admit to, in a footnote, is that by focusing on “major” nonviolent campaigns, they weed out the many ineffective nonviolent campaigns that never assumed large proportions. But none of the measures they took, ostensibly to correct that bias, could possibly have any effect. Circulating “the data among leading authorities on nonviolent movements to make sure we accounted for failed movements” is useless since there is no objective distinction between major and minor campaigns, and the biggest failures never become major campaigns. Running “multiple tests both across nonviolent and violent cases and within nonviolent cases alone to ensure robustness on all results” is worthless if the study sample is stacked from the start.[21]

Their entire method is superficial to the point of being useless. They are using statistics to obscure complex realities. But even in this flawed endeavor, they have to manipulate the statistics in order to affirm their preconceived conclusions. Most of their paper centers on a detailed explanation of their hypotheses, and pseudo-logical arguments for why their hypotheses must be correct. For example, they cite psychological studies on individual decision-making, with the unspoken assumption that complex social conflicts between institutions and heterogeneous populations will follow the same patterns.[22] They provide no evidence for key arguments like “the public is more likely to support a nonviolent campaign” (p. 13) nor do they interrogate the figure of “the public”. They also make convenient use of non sequiturs, as in the following paragraph:

Second, when violent insurgents threaten the lives of regime members and security forces, they greatly reduce the possibility of loyalty shifts. Abrahms finds that terrorist groups targeting civilians lose public support compared with groups that limit their targets to the military or police.[footnote removed] Surrendering or defecting to a violent movement […] [p. 13]

All the subsequent arguments in the paragraph, which are rhetorical arguments lacking any documentation or data, refer to the topic sentence of the paragraph. All of them are intended to convince readers that so-called violent movements are less effective at provoking defection or “loyalty shifts” among state forces. The only sentence that makes any reference to evidence is the second one, quoted above. But notice how the study cited actually has nothing to do with the topic sentence, no bearing on the question of defection nor the variable violence/nonviolence (Abrahms’ study only addresses violent groups, distinguishing between those that do and do not target civilians).

Elsewhere in the study, the authors ambiguously admit that the statistics do not reveal more defections in the face of nonviolent movements, but they structure the entire article to hide that inconvenience and advance their preconceived arguments.

Such operational successes occur among violent campaigns occasionally, but nonviolent campaigns are more likely to produce loyalty shifts. Although in the quantitative study these findings are qualified by data constraints, our case studies reveal that three violent campaigns were unable to produce meaningful loyalty shifts among opponent elites, whereas such shifts did occur as a result of nonviolent action in the Philippines and East Timor. [p. 42]

To put it more plainly, these “data constraints” are a lack of data supporting their argument, or “insignificant effects” as they admit on page 20. The three case studies they call in to save the day are three examples cherry-picked to prove the point they are trying to make. We can do better: the Vietnam War, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, partisan resistance during World War II in Yugoslavia and in Italy, and the anarchist resistance in Ukraine during the Russian Civil War. Five examples of armed movements provoking major defections among the armies sent to crush them, all of them more definitive and on a higher scale than the “loyalty shifts” provoked in the Philippines and East Timor.

In one paragraph summing up her research, Chenoweth acknowledges that the impact of a “violent wing” on the success rates of a movement is “not statistically significant” and then in the next paragraph say that “the most troubling possibility is that the armed wing will reduce the movement’s chances of success.” Later, she commits the most basic error in statistics, confusing correlation with causation, to say that “an armed wing can reduce popular participation [her emphasis]” even though her own data do not support this assertion.[23]

It is significant that mention of this study made the rounds on a number of nonviolent websites. From what I saw, the nonviolence advocates who used the statistics to prove the superiority of their method never linked directly to the study. They probably never even read it.

In order to evaluate the successes and failures of the major uprisings of the last twenty-odd years since the end of the Cold War, we need a fair and sensible set of criteria. We can set aside the superficial question of “who won?”, given that nobody has won, except for those who continue to rule us.

We should also avoid the criterion of whether or not a movement leads to increased repression. I can remember countless arguments in which supporters of nonviolence have tried to paint a struggle as a failure on the grounds that it was heavily repressed. The semi-effective nonviolent movements of the past all provoked an increase in government repression whenever they could encourage widespread disobedience. The belief of modern pacifists, which was not shared by King or Gandhi, that peaceful struggle can avoid brutal consequences at the hands of police and military, has been effectively used as a selling point to flood the ranks of nonviolent movements with opportunists, weekenders, fair-weather friends, cowards, careerists, and naïve citizens who think that changing the world can be easy and hassle-free. Repression is inevitable in any struggle against authority. It is important to be able to survive this repression, but in the worst case, a struggle that is completely crushed by repression is still more effective—because it can inspire us today—than a struggle that allows itself to be recuperated for fear of repression, as happens with many nonviolent movements. Therefore, because the long-term effects of repression still remain to be seen, we will not include this as a criterion, but we will note if a particular rebellion was successfully defeated by repression or recuperation, so that readers will notice a pattern if the combative movements truly are unable to cope with repression, as their critics claim, or if nonviolent movements are frequently recuperated, as we claim.

One criterion of the utmost importance is whether a movement succeeds in seizing space in which new relations can be put in practice. New relations mean: do people share communally and enjoy direct access to their means of survival, or is the social wealth alienated; are people able to organize their own lives, activity, and surroundings, or is decision-making authority monopolized by government structures; do women, trans, and queer people enjoy means of self-defense and self-determination, or are they fully exposed to the violence of patriarchy; do people of color and indigenous people have means of self-defense and autonomy, or are they at the mercy of colonial structures like the market and the police? While the forms are different, the social relations are fundamentally the same between one capitalist state and another, whereas there is a marked difference in the social relations in a stateless commune or an independent indigenous territory. Even though autonomous space will usually be reconquered by the State, we take the experiences of self-organization away with us. The more of these experiences we win, the more powerful our struggles become, the greater our capacity for self-organization on a higher level, and the more people there are who know that obedience to the existing system is not the only option.

This suggests a second criterion: to what extent a movement spreads awareness of its ideas. And this, in turn, needs to be evaluated in terms of whether those ideas are spread as passive information, or whether they are communicated as ideas worth fighting for (or in the case of the nonviolent, taking action and making sacrifices for).

Because of the importance of recuperation in defeating social movements, one important criterion is whether a movement has elite support. If a part of the elite supports a movement, it is much more likely that the movement appears to achieve a victory, when in fact the victory is insubstantial and allows the elite to improve their own situation. This criterion can also show if the pacifists are right when they say the government wants us to be violent, or if the opposite is true, that the elite want us to be nonviolent.

Finally, did a movement achieve any concrete gains that improve people’s lives, restore their dignity, or demonstrate that struggle is worth it and that the government is not omnipotent? From this criterion, we must exclude strictly formalistic gains, like pro-democracy movements that achieve free and fair elections, because this is a redundant victory that can only matter to those who have allowed themselves to believe that democratic government is somehow analogous to freedom or a better life. When the Soviet Bloc countries transitioned from dictatorship to democracy, citizens’ freedom of action did not at all increase, whereas their quality of life suffered dramatically. In other words, the achievement of democracy is solely a question of how power organizes itself, and not one that necessarily impacts how normal people live. If, however, successful resistance to a dictatorship means that people can take to the streets without fear of being arrested and tortured, then we can clearly count this as a concrete gain. Hopefully, the critical difference is obvious.[24]

In sum, the four basic criteria are:

  1. whether a movement seized space for new social relations;
  2. whether it spread an awareness of new ideas (and secondarily if this awareness was passive or whether it inspired others to fight);
  3. whether it had elite support;
  4. whether it achieved any concrete gains in improving people’s lives.

Because all of us are still at the mercy of an oppressive system, our focus must be on the strengthening of our struggles for freedom, dignity, and well-being. The above criteria measure the health of our struggles, and whether different methods avail us of what we need to have any chance of creating a new world.

This was quoted from the book “the failure of non-violence”. I can highly advice to read it. The first 4 chapters are free to read from within theanarchistlibrary
here:
https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/peter-gelderloos-the-failure-of-nonviolence

> We continue the tradition of e.g. Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King, who lead strictly non-violent movements to success.

No, you can’t. Simply for the reason that what you try to redo that you believe your idols did, never happened.
Neither the anti-colonialist movements in india were limited to non-violence neither the black liberation movements in the US.
“the riot is the language of the unheard.” – Martin Luther King
He continued that the country had “failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met, and it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality and humanity.”
http://blackrosefed.org/why-mlk-should-be-remembered-as-a-revolutionary/

Beside that the anti-colonialist movements in India weren’t limited to non-violence, maybe it need to be said that Gandhi was actually a violent person as he gave support to all sort of oppression that lead to a new authoritarian system.
While the text is already very long, and I’m getting tired in writing, I try to end it with the following:

I wish you’ve been reading the text until here, and that you’ll be taking you’re time to reflect on it within you XR group.

I also wish that you’ll take your time to reflect on the following questions:

What is violence?
What forms of violence can I identify?
Where do I take part in supporting violence?
What can I do to counter this?
What are the benefits of “diversity of tactics” over “pacifism”?
How is pacifism supporting violent systems?

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