A river of oil, a friend calls it. A river of blood, too.
A checkerboard of clearcuts scars the face of the mountains to the east. Silt turns the river brown as it runs beneath the road. Agricultural land comes in waves, green or brown fields flashing past. I wonder how many see them for what they are: biotic cleansing.
But no, most people see a natural system.
Mt. Vernon passes in a blur. The town is home to a massive drug problem, a conservative electorate, and a large population of poor migrant farmworkers. Not so different from many of the other small towns on the route.
Then, suddenly, Seattle appears—a glittering inflammation on the land, arteries connecting the city to resources around the world, pipelines and trucks and barges and tankers bringing fuel and food and consumer goods.
The police department is—once again—under federal investigation for racial profiling. The poor (mostly brown) people of the city are withering under a devastating flurry of foreclosures, layoffs, and gentrification.
This city is home to a flourishing biotechnology industry, massive weapons manufacturers, an imperialistic coffee corporation, and an online bookstore that is destroying local businesses in an ever-accelerating downwards spiral.
Some of the richest people on the planet live here. Meanwhile, as I walk into the local grocery store, I pass a homeless indigenous man who went to war in Vietnam, was ordered to kill other poor brown people, and lost everything to the nightmares that now come every night. He says hello and smiles, just like always, and I walk on with a heavy heart, feeling I am not doing enough.
This culture is sick in brain and body. We all recognize this at some level. The reality of this civilization is red in tooth and claw—or perhaps more accurately, red in bulldozer and stock option.
The archaic notion of morality is long gone in today’s digital world. In fact, it’s not gone, it’s something much worse: ironic. Post modernism has spread insidiously to every nook and cranny of the culture, and in that twisted and depressed world view, oppression is inevitable and resistance is futile. The inevitable conclusion: “why don’t we just party?”
And people wonder why this ideology has risen to the fore! Hmm… let’s think. Maybe because it beautifully serves those in power?
Profit is the highest god of the land. Patriarchy, white supremacy, human supremacy, capitalism: these are a few of the overlapping systems of power in place across this planet that are impoverishing people, killing people, killing the land, and squeezing profits out of the last spindly forests, the last desiccated soils.
A few—a bare handful really—choose to fight back.
For me, the journey to revolution—to fighting back—began early. I read The Communist Manifesto in the 6th grade – those first lines were imprinted in my brain: “the history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggles.” To my young mind, the teachers were the bourgeoisie – content in their comfortable salaried jobs, while we students slaved away under a system of forced industrial schooling. It was a joke, albeit a serious one, among my friends and I, but soon enough I would be able to apply the model to more brutal systems of power – white supremacy, patriarchy, capitalism, and civilization.
We all owe Marx a debt – he was the first to articulate the model of class struggle, and since then political classes have been and remain the basis of radical organizing. Don’t get me wrong: Marx had many failings, extreme racism not the least among them. I am not a communist. That has shown itself to be the path to another industrial nightmare.
I organize now with a movement called Deep Green Resistance, or DGR. Our movement is made up of an international network of activists and community organizers with a radical political vision. The DGR analysis is different from anything that I had heard previously.
We go deeper than I used to think possible – 10,000 years deep, to the end of that shadowed time called pre-history and the fragmentary beginnings of history. The end of the Paleolithic era; the beginnings of the Neolithic.
At this time, several communities around the world began to cultivate annual monocrops in a process known as agriculture.
Maybe you are thinking that agriculture has little to do with social and environmental issues. I would have thought the same, years ago. But now I know better.
10,000 years of evidence paints a bleak picture of agriculture. When they begin to cultivate fields, the archeological record shows that human skeletons shrink in stature and health. The pollen records, trapped in lakes and bogs, show that forests began to fall en masse around 8,000 years ago, as agriculture spread. Wetlands and grasslands show the same decline; they have never recovered.
Agriculture requires land clearance. Annual plants require bare soil, and that bare soil was created by unnatural disasters. Understand: agriculture is when you take a piece of land—a forest, wetland, or grassland—you clear every living thing off it, and you plant it for human use.
That energy is no longer being shared. Instead of sustaining biodiversity, you are now sustaining an artificially high human population.
When we say agriculture is theft, we are not joking.
Anthropologists and archeologists also explain to us that agriculture marked the beginning of dense population centers – cities – that became the first nation-states as these early cities devastated the lands and soils around them and began imperialist conquests further and further afield.
Make no mistake: civilization is not just characterized by aggressive resource wars, it is defined by them.
The history of civilization is the history of conquest. The first standing armies were created by the first civilizations; their progress around the world is written indelibly on the land, a patchwork of gullies and deserts, the ghosts of forests, and desertified soils.
Clearing forests, plowing fields, and harvesting grain is not easy work; thus, these early agricultural societies were characterized by slavery. Indeed, until the mid-1800’s (when fossil fuels burst onto the scene) fully 3/4ths of all the people on the planet lived in some form of slavery or indentured servitude: this is the future of agricultural societies, once the fossil fuels run out.
From the beginning, this social structure we call civilization has been defined by hierarchy, slavery, imperialism, and relentless destruction of the land. This cannot last. It is not sustainable nor is it just.
For these reasons, DGR advocates for the dismantling of industrialism and abandonment of civilization as a way of life.
The genesis of the DGR movement was a strategy based in this knowledge: that the culture of civilization is killing the planet, and that time is short. The system must be seriously challenged before it is too late. Part of the work we do in DGR involves preparing for the eventual collapse of civilization. The rest hinges on, to quote Andrea Dworkin, ‘organized political resistance.’
We recognize that mainstream politics is largely a distraction. The votes are tallied, the lobbyists scurry about their work, and Earth is consumed by global capitalism.
In the face of a global system such as this, we feel that many of our options for resistance have been foreclosed. But regardless of the ideological and political strength of industrial civilization, its physical infrastructure is fragile. This system (or global capitalism) rests on a brittle foundation of fossil fuel pipelines, refineries, mining sites, international trade, communications cables, and other similar infrastructure.
This centralization makes the system strong, but also vulnerable.
Let us not mince words: we call for militant, organized underground action to bring down the global industrial economy. Simply put, we need to stop this death economy before it completely destroys the planet. The pipelines need to be disabled, the power stations need to be dismantled, the mining sites need to be put out of commission. Global capitalism needs to be brought to a screeching halt.
The ticking of stocks is the death knell of planet Earth, and our response is that revolutionary refrain: by any means necessary.
As a group that operates within the boundaries of state repression, we do not engage in underground action ourselves. We limit our work to non-violent civil disobedience – an elegant political tactic that has been used for many decades with great success. If we had the numbers and the commitment, this system could be brought down through non-violence alone. But the numbers simply aren’t there. If anyone can make them appear, I will be forever grateful. But for now, I see no other option—we must fight back.
I ask myself all the time if these tactics are justified – after all, we are talking about the collapse of a global industrial system that supports billions of people. The end of this system won’t be pretty. Won’t the culture make a voluntary transformation towards justice and balance? Will people wake up? Isn’t it great hubris to claim to have some sort of answer?
But then I remember: like a good abuser, civilization systematically works to destroy alternative ways of thinking and being. Indigenous communities, which are living examples of ways to live in balance, have been the number one enemy of civilization. Against them, it is especially ruthless. We must always remember that members of settler culture (such as myself) are living on stolen land. Any plan for the future must take into account the needs and wishes of the original inhabitants.
With the same cold logic used by abusers of women and children, the system has made many of us dependent upon it for our survival. Our food, medicine, shelter, water, transportation, even our entertainment all comes from the system that is killing us and killing Earth.
When I walk down the street, I see people who are locked into a system that is killing the planet. Many of them—Democrat and Republican alike—have bought into this system. Will they demand change? Will they sacrifice for it?
Against all odds, and only for a few, the answer may be yes. But for the majority, the answer is a resounding no. Many are adopting a defensive posture, hunching around the elegancies and comforts of modern civilization and blocking out the cries of a bleeding world. Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.
But we hear the cries of people slaving away for a system that is killing them. We see more forests falling for shopping malls and strip mines. We choose to speak, and to not turn aside.
Max Wilbert was born and raised in Seattle and lives in Salt Lake City. He works with the activist group Deep Green Resistance. He can be contacted at max_DGR@riseup.net.