Tadzio Müller is a political scientist, an editor of Turbulence and a spokesperson for the ‘Climate Justice Action’ network.
During the build up to Cop 15 Tadzio played an important role for the C.J.A network, fielding questions from curious journalists, debating solutions to climate change and mobilizing for the ‘peoples assembly’- a focal point for the day of action called as ‘Reclaim Power!’ (an action that sought to radically transform the dialogue of the Copenhagen summit). On the 15th of December he was pre-emptively arrested by the Danish Police as he left the Bella centre after a joint press conference between Climate Justice Action and Climate Justice Now. He was released on the 19th. Below is an interview conducted by Notes from Below after his release.
Notes: The pre-emptive arrest of Climate Justice Action spokespersons in Copenhagen has led many to speculate that climate justice action were intentionally targeted by the police, precisely because the ‘peoples assembly’ sort to open up a political space that bought both, horizontal groups, NGO and state actors into a dialogue, in stark contrast to the heavily mediated and politically biased discourse inside the Bella centre. How much do you agree with this sentiment and what outcomes did the peoples assembly create?
To be fair to the Danish police: I doubt that they have that much political wherewithal to understand the potential (and maybe actual) significance of Reclaim Power! and the planned ‘people’s assembly’. To do that, they would have had to had a more highly developed sense of the complicated relationships between the ‘inside’ and the ‘outside’ of the official UN-process, because it was this interplay, and the desire of the more ‘postautonomous’ groups and activists that were dominant within CJA to create a space into which more inside-based groups could move and thus begin to break away from the official process, that created the significance of the assembly.
My sense is that Climate Justice Action were targeted primarily because we were the network that was most effective in using the media space created around the Copenhagen summit to call for civil disobedience, that is, actions that are illegal, but nonetheless legitimate. From the perspective of the police, hitting networks like the more old-school autonomous ‘Never Trust A Cop’ (NTAC) is easy, because they do not really spend time and energy trying to create legitimacy around their actions. We in CJA, on the other hand, not only did lots of really effective media work (this may seem like bragging, but CNN did refer to us as a ‘vast and influential network’, and to Reclaim Power! as ‘probably the most hotly anticipated action of the summit’), we also created broad political alliances around our main action, and spent a lot of time trying to explain the reasons behind our action to the Danish and global publics.
From the cops’ perspective, this is where the danger lies. Remember that just before the summit, the Danish government passed a package of laws that was referred to as ‘lømmelpakke’, or, roughly translated, ‘hoodlum package’? In that package, they dramatically increased punishments for all public-order related offenses, using the justification of the upcoming climate summit in the context of an ongoing process of militant contestation of urban space in Copenhagen (for several years, there have been fights between the police on one side, and shifting alliances of radical left political networks, youth networks, and drug gangs) to shut down any and all political space for collective rule-breaking, whether that takes a more militant form (riots), looks more like ‘civil disobedience’. Take this, add the transnationalisation (or at least Europeanisation) of ‘preventive policing’, and the near-certainty of increased social conflicts about resources in the framework of a coming ‘green capitalism’, then police forces across Europe are today both increasingly able, and under pressure, to totally enforce their monopoly of the exercise of legitimate violence.
That in turn presents us as social movements for climate justice with some problems: not only is one of the essential aspects of our political practice the self-empowerment that arises from collective rule-breaking actions (from dancing on motorways to occupying factories), in the context of the escalating climate crisis as well as the total (albeit expected) failure of governments to deal with the problem, we absolutely have to (be able to) take disobedient, illegal actions: to, say, shut down coal-fired power plants, new nuclear plants, or socialise the renewable energy sector. If the police are able to simply arrest 2000 people preventively, i.e. for things they have not done, then this is likely to create, as it did in Copenhagen, a situation where folks are afraid to go on the streets, go to actions, even to demonstrations – and to do the things we know to be necessary in the current crises. The police’s targeting of CJA occurred along this axis, around the fight for or against the possibility of civil disobedience. To think that it had to do with the brilliance of our political strategy gives too much credit – to them, and to us.
As for the outcomes from the people’s assembly: well, I’m not totally sure I’m the best person to ask this, as I was unfortunately in jail while it happened (though I got to watch it: Danish jail cells are equipped with cable TV!) – and I think that in such a situation, much of the effect happens in and through the collective affect produced in such situation. My sense – but again, others might want to chime in here – is that the politically most significant outcome of Reclaim Power! happened around the attempted breakout from the conference centre: that hundreds of people would literally turn their backs on the conference, only to then get clobbered by Danish police as they tried to join the rest of the assembly, was an enormously important development. It created new alliances between NGOs that tend to work on the inside, and activist groups and movements that tend to work on the street, much like CJA had intended with the action.
notes: It can be stated that ‘horizontalism’ dominated the alter-globalization movements of the last decade, post-Copenhagen many in the movements have spoken of the increased capacity for co-operation, respect and communication between states, ngos and grass routes movements. To what extent is this emergent ‘ diagonalism’ functional and what risks, if any, does this pose the autonomous movement for climate justice?
Interesting idea, this notion of diagonalism… Especially because, as we argue in our text ‘Life in Limbo’ (http://turbulence.org.uk/turbulence-5/life-in-limbo/), the horizontalism of ten years ago was not necessarily (that is, for everybody in the alterglobalist movement) born of a strong ethico-political commitment to never working with larger institutions – from parties to trade unions to, horror of horrors, governments – but rather from a historical context where nothing else really made sense: the ‘End of History’ in practice meant that neoliberalism has successfully colonised all major institutions, as a result of which cooperation with them seemed pointless, in fact, it seemed like collaborating with the enemy. Today, things have changed somewhat: not only does the issue of climate change pose an entirely different challenge than, say, free trade did, but the crisis of neoliberalism has gone hand-in-hand with the so-called Pink Tide in Latin America; with the strengthening of radical left parties in Europe; and the increasing disillusionment of many ‘NGOs’ with the processes of global governance that have so long captured their resources, their attention and their strategies. So in that sense, and if we see the global movements for climate justice not as totally new movements, but as the second round in the cycle of global justice struggles, then this emerging diagonalism certainly represents both a changed historical situation, and very positive learning processes within the global movements.
But, as you suggest, there are also challenges – take as an example the conference on climate change that Evo Morales has just announced will take place in Bolivia in April. Currently, the movements are debating the question whether this will be simply a top-down jamboree designed to celebrate compañero Evo’s empowerment by the indigenous movements as their new spokesperson; or whether it will be a space genuinely organised by movements from below where we discuss strategies and tactics for the upcoming global fight for climate justice – or will it be something in between? More concretely, I think that from an ‘actionist’ (i.e. street-based activist) perspective, I think we spent a lot of time and energy in the run-up to Copenhagen to create alliances with, and design actions accessible to, our friends and comrades in groups that had been working within the summit for a long time. In doing so, we went significantly outside of our own comfort zones, our activist ‘politics as usual’. I think that it is now time for our allies to make the same moves, to focus their attention away from these failed summits, and towards a more ‘movementist’ strategy. The danger, in other words, is that the new diagonalism draws our activist energies towards a process that we know to have failed, while neglecting our ‘core competencies’: not only ‘shutting stuff down’, but also ‘creating other worlds’ – the latter doesn’t really happen at UN-summits…
Notes: If the left has so far failed to exploit the crisis in capital to collective advantage does the crisis in the biosphere present the social movements with similar opportunities and if so what should we be looking towards?
Complicated question: obviously, as much as we on the left would like to think that, crises don’t necessarily play into our hands. The economic crisis has seen the obliteration of the left in Italy, and the weakening of centre-left parties (such as they are) everywhere in Europe. Let’s not even speak of the comedown some people must be having after the Obama-hype.
As for the biocrisis, I think that for anticapitalists, its greatest potential lies in the possibility of pitching a critique of capitalism that resonates far into the ideological centre of society: namely one that focuses on what some used to call capitalism’s third contradiction, that between its need for infinite growth (accumulation), and the fact that we live in a finite biosphere (see also my discussion with Frieder Otto Wolf about the Green New Deal: http://turbulence.org.uk/turbulence-5/green-new-deal/). This critique has a number of advantages over traditional radical left critiques of exploitation, alienation and immiseration: first, it is entirely impossible to try to contest it based on the empirical data – it is an extremely obvious fact that most significant processes of environmental destruction neatly track the development of global capitalist economic growth; second, from a socio-ecological perspective, there is no ‘upside’ to capitalist growth – whereas with regard to social and political emancipation, the occasionally progressive character of capitalist development is hard to entirely negate (the Marxists among us might recall that Marx and Engels were initially rather enamoured with this progressive character of capital: its ability to profane all that is holy and melt all that is solid into air); third, it is a critique that is easily absorbed and agreed upon by people who would not think of themselves as anticapitalists – in fact, even people who would not say that they are necessarily on ‘the left’ find it hard to argue against this position. Speaking the weird language of US-social movement ‘professionals’, the ‘infinite growth on a finite planet’-critique is the only genuinely anticapitalist ‘meme’ (idea, soundbite, message) that has really penetrated far into mainstream social discourse in the global North. Therein lies the opportunity.
But there are also some significant dangers in deploying this story: first, in focussing on capital’s need for accumulation, the critique of growth tends to obfuscate questions of class, exploitation, and differential impacts of the biocrisis – in other words, we are not all in the same boat, although we all live in the same biosphere. To inject this element into a critique of growth is a key task for anticapitalists. Second, and connected to the first problem: the critique of economic growth can, if not handled carefully, acquire some nasty Malthusian overtones, where – as someone once put it – rich, old white men tell people in the global South to stop having so many kids. There is good empirical evidence to argue against this point (environmental destruction is, by and large, driven by economic growth, not population growth, and the record is unequivocal about this), but it can easily slip into the story. Thirdly, it is a story that is easily told in the global North, but – especially if and when told by global Northerners – often and understandably generates a somewhat suspicious response in the global South: ‘are you (Northerners) now telling us not to grow our economies, not to develop? Sure, we agree with your critique of capitalism, but we need development, and who are you to deny us that right?’ In light of this, I think it is crucial that the critique of economic growth be coupled with the recognition in the Northern movements that the Southern movements’ call for reparations to be paid for ‘our’ ecological debt to the global South be put on the forefront of our agenda. This leads to the final problem: while the critique of growth may be easily understood hereabouts, the real question is – is there any way to implement it? Is there any way to get important actors like, say, trade unions on board with a political programme that is critical of the only way they have found in the last 30 years to deliver wage rises ‘their’ members, namely by getting a shrinking slice of a growing pie? More generally, what does a post-growth (post-capitalist) macroeconomy really look like? Who gains, who loses – and how do we do it? Conceptually, this is one of the key challenges for this cycle of global struggles.
Notes: Could Copenhagen kick start a second wave of summit hopping? What benefits,if any, would this bring the movements?
To be sure, it probably could: global summits are exciting places, not just (or even primarily) because of the political effects we can achieve there, but also because they are moment where we can break out of the national/issue-based separation and decomposition of our respective struggles, and recognise ourselves and each other as part of a diverse and dynamic global movement. But the critique of summit hopping is something we’ve already been through in the last round of global struggles, and the contemporary corollary to the argument that ‘summits are not the place where capitalist social relations are (re)produced’ is that UN-summits are not only not the places where the climate crisis is solved, they are certainly not the places (in spite of all the hot air that comes out of them) where the climate crisis is produced.
A radical climate justice politics ultimately needs to target the (fossilistic) capitalist energy sector, and here I see a need for a three-pronged strategy (if what follows is a somewhat European perspective, I apologise for that – it is so far in Europe where I have been most active, but I wait to be inspired by the movements’ climate change conference in Bolivia in April): first, we need to shut down coal-fired power plants, old ones, and the many new ones governments are planning to build. In the current situation, building coal-fired power plants is a criminal act and should be exposed as such. Second, we need to prevent the so-called ‘renaissance of nuclear power’. Not only because none of the problems originally associated with nuclear power have been or can be solved, but also because there is enormous mobilisation potential (at least in Germany, but also, I believe, beyond) around this question. Thirdly, we need to fight for a just – that means, socialised, decentralised and fair – renewable energy sector. It is here where we can get the trade unions on board: for example, the German metalworkers’ union IG Metall is trying to unionise the renewable energy sector, and we should be part of those discussions. Such an ‘energy justice strategy’ is definitely strategically ambitious, but in the current situation, we really do need ambitious strategies – nothing else will do.
So again: summits are important, and we should surely mobilise people for COP16 in Mexico (and probably the COP15.5 in Bonn). But our substantive strategic future must lie, I think, in an integrated energy sector strategy. That’s where climate change is caused, and that’s where climate justice must start.
Notes:Where next for Climate Justice Action?
That’s a tricky question: right now we are trying to decide where to hold our next meeting, and we are running into some problems with this question – should we hold our next meeting again in (Northern) Europe, which is where most of the people who were actively organising with CJA are based? Or should we make good on our claim to being a global network by trying to organise a meeting somewhere completely different (say, Latin America or Southern Africa), which would run into the problem of there not being a strong CJA-base, which really exists only in Northern Europe (Denmark, Germany, the UK, the lowlands, possibly Sweden – but also some US-Americans). The problem arises, I think, because there were always two CJAs: one was a networking space or platform, and that was indeed a really broad space, both politically and geographically. Here, people from attac France met people from Via Campesina met people from Belarussian anarchist groups met people from Nigerian NGOs met… This networking platform ceased to exist just before the summit in Copenhagen, because it was not needed anymore. Then there was CJA as an organising platform, which was dominated by people from Northern Europe and might be called an incipient climate camp International. It was this second CJA that largely organised the Reclaim Power! action, and did most of the work that was done in the name of CJA.
So now the question is: do we acknowledge this fact, and start organising in the areas where we have some strengths, or do we try to extend ourselves into new areas? I’m not quite sure, but I think that the former option is more realistic. CJA is largely a Northern network, and as such, I think it should on the one hand provide a space for folks who want to organise something around the summit in Bonn, but more importantly, be a space where the different climate camps and emerging Northern climate justice folks can develop strategies. Specifically, I think that CJA would be an excellent space to coordinate simultaneous climate camps in Europe and maybe beyond (the climate camp being a very ‘Northern’ form of action), with a common set of messages, maybe slogans (languages permitting), and a common agenda for how to move forward. Also, the kind of energy strategy I mention above could very well be discussed within CJA. Ultimately, it’s not the network’s name, though, that’s important, but the connections and affinities that we formed during the mobilisation for Copenhagen. And whatever CJA’s future, these will definitely continue.