XR strategy is based on bad science


If you happened to be using bad science to impose a strategy that turned out to be inefficient, and if as a result of this inefficiency billions of people died... who would be the most violent person in the room? This is the question Roger Hallam (a founder of XR) and George Monbiot (a Guardian journalist and prominent supporter of XR) would do well to ponder as the collapse of the earth's biosphere and the system fueling that collapse are claiming more lives every day.

Both of these men have been arguing in favor of non-violent civil disobedience as the only acceptable tactic to avert catastrophic climate change. This stance is usually justified by referencing a study entitled “Why Civil Resistance Works” authored by Erica Chenoweth.


Since neither Monbiot nor Hallam seem to have taken the time to critically read the study they reference, here is a short list of the many disqualifying flaws it contains:
- the study isn't consistent in its definition of violence
- the study doesn't account for the possible complementarity of violent and non-violent tactics despite acknowledging that no struggle is purely non-violent (yes, even the one you are thinking about)
- the study uses data sets cherry-picked by scholars in Non-Violent Civil Disobedience (NVCD), but didn't consult scholars critical of NVCD
- The study doesn't account for the possibility that more militant strategies fail more often simply because the goals they set for themselves are harder to attain (for example a systemic change as opposed to a mere change of regime)
- The study perpetuates without evidence the myth that so-called violent movements deter people from participating.
- The study doesn't acknowledge the subjective nature of the categories of violence and non-violence. For example it presents sabotage as violent, which means sabotaging a railway used to transfer people to a death camp counts as an act of violence...
-The study doesn't acknowledge that it simply makes no sense to categorize actions in terms of violence and non-violence: if the direct-action you plan consists of non-violently blocking the construction of a pipeline but the police try to drag you away, do you fight back or do you let the action fail? Whether or not you need to use violence to succeed depends on your oppressor, not on you.
-The study of course avoids reflecting on the fact that violence and non-violence are not scientific but moral categories - categories that states have used over and over to divide social movements by pitting “good protesters” against “bad protesters”. And because Non-violence is an exclusive ideology that requires the suppression of other tactics, pacifists often end up assisting the police in arresting the more militant elements of a movement.
- Finally and most importantly, the study doesn't even conclude that NVCD is the only thing that works, it merely says that NVCD works more often. Even if this were true, this is very different from saying that NVCD will work better in all contexts for all struggles and regardless of the aims. But even Chenoweth betrays her own work in that regard.

Please bear in mind that this list is not even complete

Now the question that naturally follows is: how is it possible for such a fragile ideology to be so widely accepted? It has to do with the fact that contemporary NVCD fits perfectly with the liberal mythology surrounding the function of the state and its police.

It is commonly observed that the environmental movement is overwhelmingly composed of white middle-class people living in rich western countries. People who are treated relatively well by the white supremacist capitalist system that dominates the planet. People who place ecology at the center of their politics because it is one of the few issues that may directly and acutely affect them one day. People who are not used to being put in physical danger by the state (through eviction, deportation, repression etc) and who are unlikely to have felt in their flesh that the state and its police don’t actually exist for their protection.
But who beat the Shell to Sea protesters to favour the interests of big oil corporations? The Police
Who assisted balaclava-wearing thugs in their illegal eviction of Dominic street occupants for the benefit of a slumlord? The Police
Who deports migrants and then turns up at multicultural events to deny the fundamentally racist function they serve? The Police
Who provided a hundred false testimonies against the Jobstown protesters? The police
Who allows politicians and capitalists to feel safe as they continue business as usual? The Police
Who was given its modern form by the head of the colonial occupation of Ireland? The police
Who was created as a crowd control tool for the benefit of a ruling class of exploiters? The police
Who (despite Hallam’s ignorant claims) is given free range to become a violent mob breaking laws, killing and maiming with impunity when the state feels threatened by a social movement? The police

Who (as has so far been the case with the French yellow vests) rarely defects even in the face of exhaustion? The police.
Whose role is it to produce obedience and fear ? What kind of mindset does this job require and reproduce?

Only from a position of privilege is it possible to see the police as just another worker in the division of labor. Only from a position of privilege is it possible to believe that an institution which maintains itself through brute force (i.e. indifference to suffering) can be convinced of abandoning its main function (defending the white supremacist patriarchal and capitalist order) by means of non-violent civil disobedience. Only from a position of privilege is it possible to see states as neutral entities capable of adopting the right policies as long as you staff them with the right-minded people and feed them the scientific facts along with pdf format transition plans. Only from a position of privilege can Hallam think of climate change as an apolitical issue that may benefit from the support of the far-right. Only from a position of privilege can Monbiot assist the French state in criminalizing the black block which headed last Saturday’s climate protest in Paris. And if any of them had taken the time to confront their own strategic beliefs to the on-going mass movements unfolding in Hong Kong and in France, they would have realized most of what they believe is wrong. But this will have to be for another article. In the meantime and with all due disrespect: Monbiot, Hallam, STFU.