Tangled up in green

In 2018 the Tricontinental Institute for Social Research published an interview with the South African activist Z’bu Zikode. It begins with a quotation from Frantz Fanon’s ‘The Wretched of the Earth”, now equally a lifeline for the precariat of the West scrabbling for currency and survival. “Salvation lies in their own cohesion, in the true understanding of their interests, and in knowing who their enemies are.”

Cannon Street
The Thames from Cannon Street Station in the City of London.

Zikode is one of the founders of Abahlali baseMjondolo (‘residents of the shacks’ in Zulu) which is described “as the largest and best organised popular movement -by a considerable distance – to have emerged after apartheid”.

Our movement was born in a shack settlement in Durban in 2005. The people from the Kennedy Road settlement in Clare Estate had been promised a piece of land for public housing. This land was sold to a private businessman for private profit. The people took to the streets. We blockaded a major road in February 2005. When the elected representative responded by describing us as criminals and calling the police to attack us, we realized with shock that we were on our own. After this shock, a series of serious discussions were held in settlements across Clare Estate that resulted in the formation of the movement eight months later in October 2005. When Abahlali was formed – this is a point that I always want to emphasize – there weren’t any clever individuals that sat around the table and thought of building this movement. We built our movement out of anger, hunger, and frustration. It was built out of need.

White liberalism and Gandhian sufferance were subsumed in the Durban Moment of the early 70’s when black consciousness broke the yoke of inflicted inferiority. But it is patent that Abahlali have learned from the bitter experience of the post-apartheid class struggle.

Our existence and our autonomy are always taken by elites as illegitimate, as a conspiracy, as something to be destroyed. They see us as criminals. We find it to be beneath the law that we can be beaten, evicted, and killed, with impunity. We find that we are supposed to remain in dark corners, to remain silenced, but we have to work hard to build our voice and image again. We see ourselves as dignified. We want to participate in decision making like all other people. We have a commitment to our own dignity. We have no choice but to live like human beings.
Abahlali baseMjondolo. Fighting to be heard in a struggle for life with dignity.

The ANC retains the popular vote. But like the traditional social democratic parties in the west it has been bludgeoned into submission by the neoliberal onslaught that ended capitalism’s brief and anomalous post-war ‘golden age’. Jack Rasmus spreads the blame for decadence and degeneration more evenly.

That decline is partly due to decades of mis-leadership by the social democratic parties’ leadership who have aligned themselves with the Neoliberal policies of the business parties in their countries. By partnering with business interests, in the hope of obtaining some minor concessions, they have painted themselves with the consequences of those Neoliberal pro-business, pro-investor policies. Those policies for their social democratic constituencies have meant: declining job opportunities, stagnant wages, privatization and loss of social insurance and benefits, loss of retirement and pension guarantees, and destruction of their unions that once protected those war time and post-1945 gains of the early 20th century.  Of course, social democracy party leaders personally gained by securing a junior role at the political table with business and their capitalist parties. The Tony Blairs and Bill Clintons are today multi-millionaires serving on corporate boards and as business consultants being nicely rewarded for their past services. But they traded that role and personal gain for the living standards of their working class members.

The implosion of the British Labour Party at the recent general election illustrates the rot. Many Labour MPs saw the mildly socialist policies of their leader Jeremy Corbyn as a threat to comfortable collusion. British hypocrisy blazed as they set about ousting their leader. A compliant media ensured that the class-struggle at the heart of Brexit disappeared.

The plot against Corbyn was primed by an unrelenting smear campaign built on fabricated claims of anti-Semitism. The crusade – directed from the Israeli embassy in London and abetted by Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis –  scuppered any hope of socialist renewal.

Marie van der Zyl, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews protesting anti-Semitism.














Despite the Brexit rebuff the establishment is still the cheer-leader for US aggression across the globe and a buttress of Zionism. Donald Trump’s recent edict converting Jews from a religious to an ethnic minority is designed to curb the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and plug criticism of Israel’s creeping annexation of Palestine. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson swiftly followed suit announcing legislation that will criminalise BDS. Likewise, British governments of both stripes provided succour to apartheid until it became inconvenient.

Brian O’Boyle cuts to the  chase:

The Labour Party has grown used to sacrificing the interests of its voters and this has made it difficult for any leader to win them back. That said, in his four years in office, Corbyn did a lot to try and achieve this. He more than doubled the party’s membership from 202,000 to 480,000, engaged wider sections of the public through monster rallies and created the idea that there is an alternative to the neoliberalism that has destroyed the lives of so many people. That he was also smashed in this most recent election, tells us a lot about the limits of reforming capitalism through structures that are set up to defend it. The British Labour Party accepts capitalism every bit as much as the Tories do, and this, in the end, was the biggest problem facing Corbyn. To successfully challenge the barbarity of capitalism today it is necessary to build a worker’s party that is every bit as coherent for our class, as the Tories are for theirs.

With Brexit done it’s business as usual at Westminster – facilitating corporate pillage and plunder, feathering nests and chucking free-trade sand in the eyes of the beholden. There are no serious recriminations as the Labour Party cheerfully proceeds to elect a new leader. Meanwhile Britain’s smart left has moved on to the woke issue of saving itself from extinction through a Green New Deal. Some context is in order.

Early in October 2018 the V&A Museum in London hosted a lecture by Sudanese Ambassador Lumumba Di-Aping.  Adrian Lahoud, Dean of the School of Architecture at the Royal College of Art set the scene.

Let’s start in 2009 during the Copenhagen climate conference. Lumumba is the Sudanese ambassador to the United Nations and chair of the G77 plus China group of 132 developing nations. For the first time in the history of that group the chair has forged an agreement between them that they will negotiate as a single block. The crowds waiting outside of the Vela Centre in Copenhagen are seized by a concern. Will an accord be signed in the wake of Kyoto, and what will be the agreed global average temperature increase. Will it be 1.5 degrees, 2 degrees, etc.? Unbeknownst to everyone else the G20, a group of the most powerful economies on the planet, had been meeting in secret with a proposal that they had agreed upon to commit the planet and its people to an average 2 degree temperature increase. Then somebody leaked the text to Lumumba Di-Aping. And so with President Obama flying back to Washington content in the notion that the secret G20 agreement had been sealed and would soon be adopted by all the other Earth’s nations, Lumumba called a press conference … and delivered an extraordinary speech, shattering the callous façade of agreement that northern countries were preparing for their poorer neighbours. I have no doubt it will be remembered as one of the greatest, and most significant, political interventions in our lifetimes.

Di-Aping reminded his audience that in 2009 African negotiators had demanded temperature increases be limited to less than 1 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels. They were guided by the 1990 findings of the Advisory Group on Greenhouse Gases, and the reality of global warming they faced. He described the response from the industrialised west.

Ascriptions of radicalism, derision and vilification were the answers we received… particularly after they managed to convert Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to abandon the African position which was approved at the 12th African Union summit and in the Algiers declaration of an African common platform to Copenhagen. In that spirit, originally Zenawi on the 3rd of September 2009 announced that, “We will never accept any global deal that does not limit global warming to the minimum unavoidable level, no matter what levels of compensation assistance are promised to us. If needs be, we are prepared to walk out of any negotiations that threaten to be another rape of the continent.” Those are the words of the Prime Minister of Ethiopia. Fanon said, ‘The colonized man will manifest his aggressiveness against his own people.’” And, of course, the EU managed to persuade Meles Zenawi to abandon the agreed African Union position. On the 15th of December 2009. Zenawi issued a joint press release with President of France Nicolas Sarkozy…  (They) declared that the African Union’s position on Copenhagen was a 2 degrees Celsius temperature target, 10 billion dollars in fast-track financing, 100 billion euros in long-term financing. We were shocked. We condemned the position as a betrayal of Africa. Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, “The two-degree target condemns Africa to incineration and no modern development.”

For Di-Aping the Paris Agreement is no improvement.

The Paris Agreement, which entered into force in 2016, had been hailed as a major diplomatic success. It is indeed a tour de force, a rhetorical one that requires careful, critical and sign-centric reading. The Agreement reads as follows, “This Agreement aims to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty.” And the question is, “how?”. And I read again, “first by holding the increase in the global average temperatures to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial levels.” The strategic intent of the Paris response would have been truly noble, if not for the sad fact that it was killed off by the fraternity of the ”shoulds”. There’s nothing legally binding in Paris Agreement. It’s all “shoulds”. Second, the reality and magnitude of existential crisis that we face as Africans is straightforward: keeping temperature increase in Africa to below 1.5 degrees Celsius requires a global response of less than 1 degrees Celsius. Keeping the temperature below 2 degrees Celsius requires a global goal of less than 1.3 degrees Celsius, and we are holding as a great achievement a non-committal position of maybe 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Days after Di-Aping’s speech, and ten year’s after he first blew the whistle on the climate conspiracy, the IPCC released a special report on the urgency of considering a lower limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius. The graphic below traces the historical path to the new target.

Special Report 1.5 was kicked into the long grass two months later at COP 24 in Poland. Chandra Bhushan, deputy director of the Centre for Science and Environment in New Delhi concluded:

The Katowice CoP will be remembered as an anti-science CoP for its failure to take into account the findings of the IPCC’s Special Report on 1.5oC. It will also be remembered for coming out with a Rulebook that dilutes an already weak Paris Agreement, thereby undermining the global effort to combat climate change…Developed countries now have the freedom to decide the amount and the kind of financial resources they want to give to the developing countries and do this without any strong mechanism of accountability. The idea of ‘new and additional’ financial support from developed to the developing countries to mitigate and adapt to climate change is now a mirage…Countries are now on their own to mitigate, to adapt, and to pay the cost of climate impacts. The UNFCCC is now a platform to collect and synthesise information, and provide a forum to discuss and debate. It doesn’t have the tools to drive global collective action to combat climate change. In such a situation, one needs to seriously question the raison d’être of the UNFCCC.

What is plain is that the UN FCCC has shielded the planet’s primary polluters for three decades, indifferent to the consequences in developing countries where the brutality of the global market has replaced colonial exploitation. Here’s economist Clive Splash on climate change imperialism.

Doublespeak and wording that is strategically ambiguous is the high point of international diplomacy in the Paris Agreement. This is what made the Agreement possible and why it is so meaningless. Do not look for the words oil, natural gas, coal or fracking because they do not merit even one single mention. Nor indeed is there anything about addressing the sources of human GHG emissions, or the structures that promote them. Consider something as fundamental as energy use. The one sentence that mentions energy appears in the preamble and merely acknowledges the need to promote ‘sustainable energy in developing countries, in particular in Africa’. ..As far as the current production and consumption systems are concerned, little needs to change. There are no elites consuming the vast majority of the world’s resources, no multinational corporations or fossil fuel industry needing to be controlled, no capital accumulating competitive systems promoting trade and fighting over resources and emitting vast amounts of GHGs through military expenditure and wars, and no governments expanding fossil fuel use and dependency. The unreality of this document is only matched by the unreality of the praise given to it by the media and others.

While organisations like Abahlali face an increasingly hostile environment – with worse to come – the rump of a disgraced British left has been buoyed by the prospect of a  Green New Deal. South African born British economist Anne Pettifor explains how the project began.

In September 2007, as credit was “crunched” and the financial crisis began to unfold, a group of economists and environmentalists, including the future Green party MP Caroline Lucas, met regularly in my small London flat. Supping on comfort food and wine, we argued furiously while drafting a plan we hoped would transform the economy and protect the ecosystem. We called it the Green New Deal. Little did we know that the ideas we seeded then would be adopted by a shooting star of the Democratic party, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, as part of her bid for a New York congressional seat in 2018.

That was also the year in which Greta Thunberg began her ‘school strike for the climate’, Extinction Rebellion was formed and a global scam foisted upon the unwitting. That’s a matter to which we return shortly. For now there is the crucifixion of Julian Assange to attend.


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