The Camp for Climate Action, a network of direct-action environmentalists, whose main activity has been to organise a series of annual protest camps between 2006-2010, has dissolved itself. I was involved with the network for most of that time.
The 2007 Climate Camp at the site of the proposed third runway at Heathrow airport was the first political activity I got seriously involved in. I already thought of myself as a socialist and had read a couple of things. Growing up and going to school and college where I did had given me an embryonic understanding of class, and racism. But it was all half-baked.
The political baggage I had inherited from my parents, both one-time members of the Revolutionary Communist Group, meant that I thought the most useful thing for me to do was finish my A-levels, then head to Latin America and put myself at the disposal of either the Cuban or the Venezuelan regime. I’m quite lucky I didn’t ever get very far.
It was through a friend from college that I found out about the camp. He had been part of the Forest School Camps, where a lot of the friendship groups that made up the core “cadre” of the Camp had originated.
The camp was not like anything I’d ever seen. 2,000 people in a squatted field in West London living, cooking, washing together. It seemed to be the closest thing to “communism” going on in that part of the world. I thought it was great. The process of endless meetings, run according to “consensus decision making” struck me as being massively wasteful and self-indulgent. The only thing I could counterpose it to in my head was a group of bearded guys in berets giving orders (in Spanish).
I had never planned on getting particularly involved, but I had nothing better to be doing and so stayed around. I was part of something which felt big, fresh, inspiring and youthful. It was showing how the world could be different, and pulling off some very impressive confrontations with the police.
Through being part of one of these confrontations and some bad luck, I was arrested and falsely charged with assaulting two police officers. This put the trip to Latin America on hold. But I stayed involved, largely getting into a lot of the practical skills stuff.
The 2008 camp was at the Kingsnorth coal fired-power station, where I threw myself into chopping wood and resisting the cops. It was here that I first really met members of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty. They were organising the Workers’ Climate Action contingents that were leafleting the plant each morning, holding a meeting on women and the miners’ strike. They got Clara Osagiede, leader of the London Underground cleaners’ strike, to speak, got Arthur Scargill to come and debate on coal. They took the piss out of me for my Hugo Chavez t-shirt and a boycott Israel sticker, but they also wanted to know what I thought about the world.
They proposed a form of anti-capitalism which made sense to me, looking to the working-class, to solidarity, to challenge and overthrow the system and its horrors.
It increasingly became clear that most people involved in Climate Camp saw capitalism as something to pour a bucket of paint over. They conceived of the camp, and other “protest movements”, as a ready-made utopia that would penetrate and spread over the old rotten order like a virus, and create a world in its image.
Moreover, when “off site” faced with the real world and the questions it poses, the politics drawn upon were basically a variant of NGO left-liberalism. The underlying premise of a lot of the “direct action” is that “getting in the media” is the be all and end all — the bourgeois press is the only conceivable conduit of “revolutionary” politics.
I became increasingly aware of how this conception of “activists” as the agency for change in the world was a block to those people effectively making solidarity. Relatively few “campers” made it down to the Vestas wind turbine factory workers’ occupation, while thousands descended on Blackheath in South London to camp “against the city”, largely ignoring the working-class communities in the area.
I think the role of the Climate Camp was, following on from the “conference hopping” protest movements of earlier in the decade, a way for middle-class anti-capitalists to generate confrontation with the state. It’s a symptom of the low level of real class-struggle. Therefore it was always characterised by a short attention span and a disregard for patient organisational or educational work.
Consensus is a form of organising shaped by these politics. It militates against scientifically thrashing out ideas, or any real notion of commitment to common struggle or accountability — no one is obliged to do anything they don’t want to do.
There is much more to be said about the matter. I do hope however that the dissolution of the Camp will be part of a wider process of thrashing these questions out in the struggle to develop a coherent fight against the cuts.