A few months ago I wrote on whether the predictions of human extinction within the coming few centuries is the most likely course history will take, and what a worst case scenario in which humanity survives might look like (here). The short end of my prognosis is that it is possible from the chaotic decline of the worst hit regions and an initial death toll running over the course of a couple decades up to 9-10 figures, a new order could find ways to stabilize. This order would pair a brutal ‘fortress’ border policy with a strict and violent internal labour regime in the most habitable areas, and after the worst is over capital would begin a brand new colonial race to claim the resources of the abandoned sections of the world (irrespective how inhospitable they are). This is not a happy prediction, and it is not one I left with a clear way out of. I put it as such at the time “What exactly can be done, I’m unsure. If I had the answers I’d have more to offer than a grim prognosis.”
Now to be honest, I began writing this new piece well before the most recent climate strike – so it will only touch upon the protests here in NZ on the 27th September. To refresh, in the previous article I rounded off as such:
“If the climate teens manage to convince notable numbers of workers to strike at the next big action on the 27th September, perhaps it will bring forth a chance for the development of eco-industrial actions by certain sections of the working class. I doubt, though don’t discount, that the teens can pull it off. But if they do, and I certainly hope they do, then the remnants of the socialist movement will have to be prepared to take the opportunity and run. At the very least, every effort should go into encouraging the teens to take up the strike as a vital tool in not only industrial but political struggle. For all we know, they may well be our last hope to tear socialism out of the gaping jaws of barbarism.”
While the protests were historic in scale, it isn’t easy to get a particularly convincing sense of the balance of class forces within them (unlike, say, the recent XR demonstrations). However even if half the vaunted 170,000 actually showed up it seems relatively likely that a fair number of workers were present. There seems to be some level of varying in the messaging and thinking of the different strike committees around the country – although they have been remarkably disciplined in sticking to their core platform. It would seem at least some committees, probably the movement as a whole, has decided upon a cross-class alliance. This is most clear in their push for joint labour and capital strikes on an understanding of mutual destruction incurred by climate destruction, though they don’t express it as such (the pamphlets given out down here, and I presume nationally, stressed the need for strikes by workers to be agreed upon with bosses if at all possible and the need to convince bosses to shutter their operations in support of the demonstrations). Although this is obviously far from the ideal a socialist might hold, I wouldn’t be surprised if the disruption caused by the scale of the protests and informal participation by sympathetic workers did have a noticeable impact on productivity and lost labour-time. To say nothing of lost reproductive labour time caused by parents putting off household labour to participate in or support the demonstrations.
The Silver Lining of Hell on Earth
One thing the nightmarish vision I outlined does allow, which almost no predictions or popular imagery allows for, is time. Perhaps not time to really avert the worst of what is presently unfolding, but the time requisite to build a sufficiently stable political infrastructure through which a socialist vision can be enacted on a mass scale. The matter is a shade more relevant now than it was a couple years or even six months ago given sheer scale and geographical dispersal that the various national & regional upheavals at present. To name only a few we might include the significant struggles underway in Chile, Ecuador, Iraq, Haiti, Venezuela, Hong Kong, France, Sudan, Lebanon, Kashmir, Indonesia, West Papua (separately), Egypt, Lebanon, and Catalonia (to say nothing of the grueling conflicts in Syria and Yemen, among the couple dozen odd other armed conflicts around the world).
Regardless any opinion on what I outlined in the previous article, I think it can be agreed that things will get worse before they get better. That the 21st century might hold a terrible fate, but not the extinction of humanity, relieves the tremendous pressure of trying to force the fabled ‘weeks in which decades happen’ when the capacity to force such a situation is far beyond the grasp of the revolutionary left in many places. Let alone the capacity to have even a remote influence in pushing such energies in the direction of a social revolution which might perform the killing blow to the reign of capital. But that crucial factor of time means that if the great strife which has swept certain corners of the globe falters, it is not some final chance lost which dooms humanity to being a warning for whatever species stumbles upon our bones millennia from now.
The disorder seen at present demonstrates that organic factors have compelled people in a scattershot of countries across the globe to force days in which decades happen. The unfaltering optimist might identify yet another supposed world revolution breaking upon the world, I think cynicism has broken the part of me that allows hope for such an eventuality. But I do have some kind of hope, if a strange one, for that question of time gives a shot for this new generation of burgeoning class rebels to flex their muscles, learn from failures made along the road, and build the kind of infrastructure that generations of malcontents over the last few decades have seen destroyed by the twin re-composition of capital and imperium. To take an immediate extinction view that nothing truly does make it out of the 21st century alive is to place the task of immediate social revolution without a single misstep upon a working class only just regaining a sense of power. It demands they conduct said social revolution flawlessly across near every country within the next 5-10 years, with species-death as the price of failure. As grim as the vision I outline is it still leaves us with more direction, more hope, than the common apocalyptic alternatives.
A Local Kind of Hell
Fortress New Zealand is a real possibility (nigh, probability if things get bad), it will need to be organised against from the outset with great vigour. Furthermore such a policy would need its ideological justification, one which would without question be of a particularly vicious nationalist nature. Even if the new border regime is cloaked in cynical appeals to preserving Māori culture against foreign invaders or opposition to human trafficking, once such a policy is decided upon the more familiar flavours of vitriolic reaction will quickly make themselves known. As with the formal border regime enforced by the state, informal acts of violence and xenophobic vigilantism will require unbending opposition. Lastly, as conditions worsen the demands upon labour will grow in tandem. It is without question that this will necessitate the degrading of labour conditions in a great many industries, and further without doubt that this paired with the previous two will open the door to a far more rapid degradation of conditions for immigrant labour.
With all this in mind, we will need to be exceptionally weary of attempts by the local bourgeois to get a one up by exporting the blame for the actions of the class as a whole onto ‘foreign capital’ and forge cross-class opposition to illusory & nefarious foreign bourgeois plots. This I see being a serious problem, as it gives a direction by which the local bourgeois will be able to defend its interests by appealing to some sections of the local working-class in terms that will click with long bubbling undercurrents of Sinophobia (something that applies to Asians as a whole in NZ, even beyond East Asia), and to a lesser extent anti-Semitism. If a ‘red brown’ threat exists, it is near certainly in cynical opportunists with longstanding soft-spots for peddling nonsense which makes out as if ‘foreign’ capitalism is somehow worse than ‘local’ capitalism, who see the way the wind is blowing and decide to throw themselves into the maelstrom.
It should also be noted that outright white supremacy is not the only direction this could take. A form of ‘bi-national’ or even ‘tri-racial’ framework in which Anglo descended Pākehā and Māori are united in their ‘struggle’ against foreign capital and foreign labour; or in which NZ graciously accepts Polynesian climate refugees but raises the concrete walls against Asian, Latin American, and African refugees is possible. Both would allow a vector for moderate or supposedly liberal forces to turn a blind eye at abuses on the border in the name of ‘supporting’ Māori and Pacifica communities. Flickers of this already exist, both in the form of ‘Bomber’ Bradbury’s histrionic ideas about Chinese immigration on the one hand and attempts by the likes of the New Conservatives or Destiny to close the gap between Pākehā & Pacifica hardline Christian conservatives on the other. Certainly, cutting ethno-national divisions along those lines would allow for the local bourgeois to save face and even claim to be erecting ‘woke’ razor wire barricades on the border (indeed, this is quite compatible with the kind of reactionary ecology that stresses the need to protect the local environment from ‘foreign’ threats). I can easily see the local bourgeoisie being far too short-sighted to even consider the matter, however, and the utter myopia of steady-as-she-goes NZ might be our saving grace in this case.
If there is anything positive to pull out here, it’s this all gives us something of an idea of what to look out for. Knowing what contours the worst iterations of the future might take gives us an advanced position to cut through the myth-making ideological bullshit early in the process. We shouldn’t waste the opportunity, it might well give us a decent shot at shredding hysteria around the effects of immigrant labour on local labour before it has a chance to build into more than enraged comment sections. The example offered by struggles overseas can be of help here too, for the inspiration they provide is the kind of kick to morale that clearheaded arguments which favour the organisation (rather than rejection) of immigrant labour will need. I stress this point over and over because it is precisely the integration of organised migrant labour into an overall labour movement that will leave no other direction to consider but a clash of class against class rather than race or nation against race or nation.
At last it must one last time be stressed how useful it is that we might have time after all, if not to avoid the worst of it than to pull a life worth living out of the wasteland. For if we do have that time and can recognize the worst of what is going to hit us, then we can take a minute to think coherently about what can (must!) be done about it. Were we not to have time, than it can be assured our frenetic responses would strike against inexorable processes that only the most iron-willed and immeasurable in scale responses could hope to meet. If we have time than each failure can be learned from, improved upon, mastered, rather than sounding another step towards the final death knell.
And hey, if we don’t pull it off in the next decade, then hell opens up its own options. I’m sure there’s a place for labour militants to organise among the demons. They’ve been stuck down there, working tirelessly for millennia on the worst humanity has to offer, and I’m sure they must be itching to improve their working conditions by now. What are their breaks like? Surely the health & safety regs down there must suck. After all, if we’re planning on ripping Heaven upon Earth from a living Hell, I don’t see why we can’t carry that on to making Heaven in Hell!