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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Some Thinking About the Working-Class Left
And "The Greens"...

by Coyote

Years ago, when I was a more or less traditional left-winger, we tended to have the utilitarian, and yes I'll concede, exploitive attitude towards the natural world that was more or less typical of the period, left over, I suspect, from the pioneer "frontier necessity" view of the world of the early settlers, come over from the poverty conditions of "industrializing" Europe, at least as it came down to me, I saw and understood it.

I remember on a trip to 'couver town and visiting some old "commie" buddies it was, comrades :-) I heard for the first time about this "Green" thing. Of course, these folks all knew at the time that, in addition to ranching, I was doing contract logging and "cat" or bulldozer work for, often forestry, pushing trails through the forests in "cattle country", which involved basically pushing up a wide swath of trees and scrub for miles and miles, in order to build fencelines to control the movement of cattle on summer forestry range.

"What effect do you think that is all having on the forest environment?" I was asked by one of these guys. "Do you think it is creating any problems?"

Or to that effect.

They were being carefully testy. The whole "green" thing was unknown to me and likely new to them as well.

Not really understanding the question actually... Forest environment? Never heard of the concept before. Forests were just a resource. An environment? ...I retorted with the first natural reaction that popped into my head. (Which isn't to say that I didn't love the land, the forests, and the life that flourished there, 'cause I did. It just wasn't sorted out, or all in some kind of fine spit and polish perspective order. I was too close to it, one might say. I was living it-, not particularly thinking about the finer points of it, or how I was making my living fit into it.)

"Well, not sure what ya mean, " I said, in all genuine seriousness. " Ain't nothin' wrong with the forest environment as can't be fixed or overcome by a big enough bulldozer."

Or words to that effect.

Which makes me cringe now at the myself that was of course-, when I look back and think about it.

'Cause it's true. That's how we thought. Even us "radicals" of the age, revolutionaries committed to the overthrow and transformation of capitalism.

Which story I tell by way of demonstrating the incredibly positive role played by the larger green movement, then just arising-, not immediately, but over time, as we the great unwashed working class left, came to understand what these folks were saying to us.. We lived in the natural environment, maybe too up close and visceral, lived off it and used it, shaped it and, not thinking, even unknowingly were destroying it unchecked too often.

If familiarity breeds contempt, we had a tad bit of an excuse, 'cause we were so close and intimate with it, on many levels, we didn't even think about it. Same thing as often happens to married folks, like to us married to the land and dependent for our sustenance on mining, cutting and shipping its "resources", probably better called assets.

The Green Movement over the subsequent years, if it didn't do a whole bunch else, and it has in the intervening period come to be co-opted and integrated into the corporatist value system of capitalism a great deal and in many ways itself, as has happened to our own working class "Big Labour" trade union movement, and fails to question it or really seriously challenge it..., it has still had a profound effect on the likes of myself-, and many others who work in the bush and on the land. And which is still becoming more and more true, even though we also fear its gonna lose us our jobs and starve out our families. Still, on a number of different levels, as a consequence of the building and growth of the green movement and its objective "educating role", I and most land/resource workers really don't, even can't, as much as we actively ignore it, in part 'cause we've got no real control over it anyway, and it'll take a social revolution to change the reality, we don't look upon "the environment" in quite that same way I/many of us did anymore. Mostly, we just don't know what we can do about it. (Of which there are cop-out elements as well, of course, no doubt, blind and plain pig-headed insistant on keeping their heads in the sand. Not a phenomena known only to working folks either.)

And while we/they don't necessarily know, at this point, what to do about it, even while we know the inescapable harm it is doing, which we'll sometimes even admit, in the right company and non-threatening circumstances, there is a growing awareness that it can't go on this way forever, even much longer. And we, those of us who live directly off the land, know that it is already doing harm to the way we earn our livings, that jobs are being lost along with the depletion of the wood and other resources-, going "south" as is said. Like I've already said as well, we just don't really know a whole lot about what the fuck to do about it (Without creating a whole bunch of family raising, meat and potatoes on the table harm.) And that can sometimes get lots of different class strata of folks acting contrary to what they, even, in their heart of hearts, know.

The question as to how bad it has to get, is a legitimate one. For Pavlov's Laws of Conditioned Reflex are still out their working on the whole of society as well.

Which is about where we are at. The Green movement has changed the resource dependent working class and others, at least that much-, even we old lefties that come out of that class milieu, and we know it.

To read the rest of this article, click Read More below.


But we old, especially working class lefties, and double especially those of us with a long history of working the land, have a number of important things to teach you Greens no less, I think. Make no mistake about that either. And that is something you folks need to face up to, no less than we are having to-, as many still have to, in both camps. For if there isn't a resolution of this very quickly here, in this country of Canada, not only is there going to remain a continued state of conflict between the "middle class/intelligentsia-centric" green movement and the working class, the depletion of resources is going to continue, and effective control of these resources is going to continue to be alienated southward away from us, into the imperial hands of the US Empire. (A process, in fact, already well underway and established, rapidly reaching critical "irretrievable" mass.)

And what you, especially middle class/ intelligentsia greens need to understand and learn from us, quite frankly, is first the precise nature or character of the class/sexual and broader social mechanisms of economic capitalism in which we are all much trapped, see no way out, and are discouraged from even entering upon the search for, let alone actually attempting. The bourgeois (ruling and managerial class) notion of Democracy still, as the working class radicals of the 1930s Depression Era used to say, ends at the factory gate. (Or add any "white collar" equivalent you wish, just about.) There are always in place and play still, in the relationship between the working class and boss (his ruling class system), more subtleties and systems of ruling class manipulated checks, balances and control than are immediately apparent to the naked or obsessed legalistic eye. And there is the great weight of history and conditioned behaviours as well (those conditioned reflexes), to say nothing for fear of failure and the ever present uncertainty of the future generally.

For if history has taught the broad masses of the working class nothing else, it has taught them that it is simply often true, the better the Devil or Masters you know, than the one's you don't.

Save rarely. Save rarely. The risk is worth it anyway. And there is that aspect of working class history as well, where the class has risen against its ruling class handlers. Which often has its own "dark side" lessons as well, or "cautions" if you will-, where the "vanguard" becomes but the next "ruling class".

The point being, there are many complexities to real life, to the collective working class experience that justify its caution-, which can as well even be turned against it. As may be happening here around this very issue of the changes occurring in "the environment."

And it is that critique of the social and economic arrangement of dominant capitalism which it is necessary for more greens to come to understand-, the very dynamic underpinning and at back of it, driving the social and economic behaviours of the working class since the land closure acts, which drove the peasantry from the land into the new Industrial Revolution centres of rising capitalism... it being in need of that working class to work in its new factories and consume its products, till then tied as peasants to the land. Ever since then, capitalism and its greed and fear operating systems, in many ways unique if not exclusive to just"this system", have been the central operating force of economic and all other human behaviours-, such as are the very ones undermining those "natural world systems" to which you, greens, have helped and are helping us re-discover.

But it is here, at this point as well, that you greens need to develop, sharpen, be less timid yourselves in, critiquing the now global economic system of capitalism, its behaviours and its consequences, no less than you tend to be quick to criticize and exhibit contempt of we lower class stratas. And you need to get real, no less than we either.

You still yourselves have all the dots of a real environment, showing signs of serious developing "natural systems" crises to connect yourselves, which includes as a critical factor, real humans less than ideal in nature, possesed of a real economic and ruling class structured social system and, a fear and greed driven working economic interface with that "natural systems environment". And no small number of greens, though I am sure there are exceptions, still shrink too much from drawing the appropriate conclusions, not only about over population, for example, but about the economic system of capitalism, with it's never ending growth in production, consumption and market expansion needs and dynamic, as drives it all forward and expanding it geometrically over time, and continually undermining the incentives and opportunities to come to grips with it.

We working class radicals have been around for awhile too, if not in the hallowed halls of academe, and have learned a thing or two as well.


Larry Gambone said...

Reminds me of my days growing up on Vancouver Island

Coyote said...

And, in part, shaped by my experiences on Vancouver Island. Knew lots of the old comrades who, before the right wing purges that changed the entire trade union movement eventually, into the co-opted beast it is today, pretty much built and led the IWA of the day; loggers and millworkers. (And, whilst largely good goys all, pretty much fit my description of "working class radicals" of the day.

They were fairly hamfisted in their politics and thinking, but I still think back on many of them fondly. Stalinists all, but as a demonstration that real life is way more complicated than the handles we put on folks sometimes.

Although, gotta say, it's almost certainly a good thing they didn't actually come to power.

Though I woulda like to hear more from your perspective Larry, it was an astute observation, and some amusing to me.