A Radical Turn?
After reading the first sentence of Deep Green Resistance, I opened a new .doc with the intention of creating a point-by-point analysis and deconstruction of its central arguments. When I got to the third sentence, I realized that my analysis would have to become a sentence-by-sentence, line-by-line destruction of the line of thought carried forward by DGR.
In this article, I would like to object particularly to the bedrock of ideological construction in DGR, primarily elaborated upon by Lierre Keith. Although Keith has been attacked for her distaste for vegetarians, trans folks, and anarchists, I would like to engage on a more theoretical level, which will try to contemplate her intellectual method. Steeped in a strange duality of romanticization and rationalism, Keith assesses different movements and mobilizations on the principle basis of efficacy. Efficacy, itself, is not measured in terms of a resistance organization’s eventual domination over the preceding system, but in terms of taking the decisive steps that dismantle that system.
The problems latent within Keith’s analysis are borne through a binary analysis that emerges from the very beginning of the book (see below). In this chart, we find a profound categorical confusion that places Liberal and Radical tendencies at opposite ends of a political spectrum, and advances a bifurcated list of oppositional qualities which mark one or the other.
Liberalism, we are told, includes Idealism and idealist thought, while Radicalism connotes Materialism. One muses immediately: What is Liberalism as opposed to Radicalism? (We will get to the problematic Euro-centrism of this duality soon.)
The modern reader will immediately refer Liberalism to its foundational point of capitalist economics (Jeremy Bentham, Adam Smith, John Locke, James Mill etc.) as the philosophy that advocates the market-based approach to society and law, rather than a more stringent socially regulatory legal code. After all, it was Adam Smith who wrote Theory of Moral Sentiments, which provided a social sphere totally removed from economic regulation, where morals are to be carried out and enforced through basic manners and norms. For Bentham, society was to become self-regulating (ie, the Panopticon), so that the market could flow as freely as possible without political restraints. Here, Liberalism actually connotes a kind of radical economism—for instance, the English Marxist, EP Thompson, identified “the old Benthamite radicalism” in the letters of Romantic revolutionary William Morris, indicating a confluence between Utopian Socialism, Liberalism, and Radicalism. But let’s look at how Liberalism is juxtaposed with Radicalism for now.
Radicalism must be radically defined if it is to have true meaning: a return to the root of a problematic. One can certainly meet a radical capitalist who professes materialist claims as the only philosophical solutions to “underdevelopment.” Ayn Rand was such a figure for many, returning to the basic ideology of capitalism (Chris Matthew Sciabarra’s biography of Rand is subtitled, The Russian Radical). At the same time, one can have a radical materialist, who reduces everything to material conditions and becomes the ultimate vulgarizer of theoretical praxis (Stalin, for instance). Here, does it make sense to draw a line, and insist, “Stalin was not a radical!” or “Rand was not a real radical!”? If we attempt this gesture, we ignore the subjective slides of ideological systems—radicalism is not indication or measure of truth; it is simply a motion of return to the beginnings, the ontological. For this reason, Sartre, the communist thinker, can base his phenomenology on the thought of Heidegger, the Nazi—Heidegger’s Nazism does not negate his radicalism; in fact, as we shall see later, the one may have redoubled the other.
The thing that Keith and many on the right wing actually neglect is that Liberalism can be a radical doctrine (as we saw with EP Thompson)—the essence of radicalism returns to the subjectivity of ideology (which Keith confuses with Idealism, but we will get to that soon). Liberalism was, in fact, for many a profoundly emancipatory doctrine of the 18th and 19th Centuries. It is, after all, Noam Chomsky who has professed “fairly traditional anarchist [views], with origins in the Enlightenment and classical liberalism” (see Powers and Prospects, 1996 at chomsky.info). Liberalism, in this case, is split however between aspirations, history, and class consciousness. We find, for instance, the grand tradition of the French Revolution and the Jacobins (Robespierre, Danton, Marat) championed by contemporary radicals, while in England the Liberals were a feared ideological set who sought greater regulation of society and humanity in general (homo economicus) in order to exploit the inchoate proletariat and environment. Just as we should recall Wallerstein’s insistence that the Revolutionary Jacobins did not strive to liberate the colonies, but to compete better with the English in world hegemony (see “The French Revolution and Capitalism—An Explanitory Schema”), we should also remember that the legacy of the Liberal revolt against the land-based enslavement of the European peasantry under the lash of the nobility went on to inspire future anti-Imperialist thinkers.
To her credit, Keith touches the truth, insisting that “(a)ny political idea that can bring down theocracy, monarchy, and religious fundamentalism is worth considering, but any ideology that impedes a radical transformation of other equally violent systems of power needs to be rigorously examined and ultimately rejected.” Yet, she misses the mark, first by insisting that Liberalism has done away with “religious fundamentalism.” Might we consider, for instance, that US liberals like Jimmy Carter funneled money and training to the Mujahedeen, or that liberalism itself is perhaps the strongest of what Simon Critchley calls the “political theologies” in which we live and work every day?
Keith also fails to distinguish between a working class or peasant-driven Liberalism (eg, Babeuf or Saint-Simone) and the Liberalism of the ruthless industrial bourgeoisie. The industrial economy could easily delink from Liberalism, as was shown during the era of Colbert in France under Louis XIV or during the Keynesian era of the US, but Liberalism could also break it down, as shown during the neo-liberal era of the US. In a similar vein, the Left can delink from the economics of Liberalism while retaining the ideological perspective, which is precisely what happened through the Left’s abrogation of the Hegelian dialectic and the phenomenon of Idealism.
Idealism and/or Liberalism
Returning to the subject of radicalism with a new dialectic of Liberalism as an intermediary form between Idealism and Materialism, we find that Idealism takes on its own meaning, independant from Liberalism. As is commonly known, Hegel, perhaps the most Idealist of all philosophers, inspired through his method a generation of extreme radicals, such as Max Stirner, Mikhail Bakunin, and of course Marx. Here, the radical turn moves from Liberalism to Idealism; from the philosophy that all men are equal and free to the dangerous insistence that each individual has the power to create their own world for themselves and others.
This is not the static reality that Keith states thusly: “Liberalism is idealist, This is the belief that reality is a mental activity.” At no point does Adam Smith in his Theory of Moral Sentiments come close to Keith’s definition of Liberalism; in fact, Smith’s good friend, David Hume, argued that while we cannot absolutely affirm that reality exists as such. That is why we can and should study the world in an empirical fashion. Hume’s empiricism would present a stark contrast to the Idealism of Bishop Berkeley, who was by no means a Liberal.
For continental philosopher Alain Badiou, Idealism “calls upon the subject not as a problem but as the solution to the aporias of the One.” From this perspective, Idealism is not a system of principles, as Liberalism appears to be, but a conceptualization of the subject. John Maynard Keynes was a preeminent, though unorthodox, Liberal of the 20th Century—was he at all known for his overarching philosophy of the unity of truth via the subject? If there is a point at which the Liberal and Idealist schools converge, it is not in thinking that reality is a mental activity, but that existence is relative, or rather, relationship-oriented.
Sartre would later attempt to synthesize the philosophical schools of Idealism and Empiricism by appropriating the radical Christian thinker, Kierkegaard, insisting that the leap of “good faith” connects our existence “for-itself” to our existence “for-others” thereby linking our own self-consciousness (always a form of false consciousness immured in the world of capitalism) to that of relative consciousness. Sartre’s radical Idealism would open space for a Materialist analysis that did not abandon Phenomenology.
In this space, Emanuel Levinas would posit that “woman is the category of the future, the ecstasy of the future. It is that human possibility which consists in saying that the life of another human being is more important than my own, that the death of the other is more important than my own death, that the Other comes before me, that the other counts before I do… This is the k’dusha (in Hebrew). And in the feminine there is the possibility of conceiving of a world without me, a world which has a meaning without me” (Levinas, “Que dirait Eurydice?” 214, 219-220). It is this world of the feminine, a world of possibility, giving, and otherness, that ecofeminism operates, not at all in a solely Liberal or Idealist sense, but perhaps in both of them, and even then with a possibility of neither.
This turn from Liberal to Idealist to Materialist was already achieved, Sartre found, by Marx. We can look, for instance, at Marx’s relentless critiques of Proudhon, in which Proudhon and the French Socialists’ allusions to the absolute categories of Liberty and Equality are challenged as Liberal and Idealistic. Yet Marx retains much of the Liberal tradition in methodology; as Harvey explains, “Marx accepts much of what Smith says but then searches for the gaps or contradictions which, when rectified, radically transform the argument” (see A Companion to Marx’s Capitali, Verso 2010, pg 5). The radical turn here towards a Materialist analysis has already been sublimated within the potentialities of Liberalism (particularly through the analytic of Empiricism and the emancipatory dialectic of Idealism). What differentiates Marx from Proudhon here is the ability to continue thinking through Idealism, to use Idealism beyond Idealism as it were, rather than adhere uncritically to singular ideas or principles.
In the final analysis, attempts to build matrices that cleverly define Liberal from Radical will dissolve into an ultimately categorical ratiocination inured to the Enlightenment mentality that it seeks to subdue. What we must do instead is move beyond the strict and harsh borders between ideas that Keith has erected, and acknowledge a more permeable borderspace, an intercursive realm that allows diverse communities to truly thrive.
The Function of Fascism
Let us turn from Hegel and his influence on the formative generation of radical communism and anarchism to Schiller, perhaps the greatest Idealist of all time. Schiller’s aesthetics rivaled those of Hegel’s, and his plays inspired revolution in even the most intransigent reactionaries. In his letters after the French Revolution, Schiller bemoaned the failure of liberation and proposed that every individual realize their true ideal in the body of the State, and set both their bodily drives and logical minds “free” toward autonomy and spontaneity into the realm of aesthetic play. This was an idea that would become co-opted by Nazi Germany, and many still argue today that its fetishization of statehood exemplify German proto-fascism. How is it that Schiller can at one point seek ultimate totalitarian domination of Statist Idealism while at other points his message becomes so libertarian that his writing is even quoted by Max Stirner, the powerful Hegelian anarchist, on subjects of the environment, the ego, and individual?
Here we are met with the difficult problem of Romanticism. Romantics were often aligned against Liberals throughout the 19th Century, yet they did not necessarily attack the bourgeoisie. Romantics were extremely Idealistic, and Schiller was among their top influences, as well as Goethe and Hegel. Keith hints to this complexity through her mention of Gustav Landauer, whom she dubs a “romantic socialist” (122). But for this category to exist, we must recognize the interworkings of Idealism and Materialism as distinct from Liberalism. Even then, we are faced with Keith’s amazing statements, such as “[Romantics’] interest in peasants had nothing to do with the actual conditions of peasants nor with the solidarity and loyalty that the rural poor could have used; it had everything to do with their own privileged desires” (156). To some extent, Keith’s sentiments are true to the history noted by EP Thompson in his excellent biography of the Romantic revolutionary, William Morris. We see in Morris’s romanticism a Utopian ideal far removed from everyday life:
“The finest aspirations of the romantic revolt, which aroused [Morris’s] own desires for ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity’ in his youth, now seemed possible of fulfillment:
‘Not in Utopia, subterranean fields,
Or some secreted island, Heaven knows where!
But in the very world, which is the world
Of all of us…’”
Those are the words and sentiments of a Romantic revolutionary, along with Morris’s famous book, News from Nowhere, about which Kropotkin declared, “it is an exquisite prose idyll, and is pure Anarchism in conception, but I can hardly conceive of society developing in just that way. There is a poetry of industrial mechanism, of machinery, that Morris never realized” (See “An Intellectual Giant” by Leonard Abbot in Mother Earth, ed: Alexander Berkman, vol. 7, no. 10). Yet one can trace also the speeches of Romantics like Lord Byron to the House of Lords, finding exactly the kind of consideration for the inchoate working class that Keith claims is lacking in Romantics. With regards to the frame breaking rampages of the Luddites, Byron would declare to the Lords of England, “it cannot be denied that [acts of sabotage] have arisen from circumstances of the most unparalleled distress: the perseverance of these miserable men in their proceedings, tends to prove that nothing but absolute want could have driven a large, and once honest and industrious, body of the people, into the commission of excesses so hazardous to themselves, their families, and the community. They were not ashamed to beg, but there was none to relieve them: their own means of subsistence were cut off, all other employment preoccupied; and their excesses, however to be deplored and condemned, can hardly be subject to surprise. As the sword is the worst argument than can be used, so should it be the last. In this instance it has been the first; but providentially as yet only in the scabbard.” It is hard to get more radical in one’s analysis of Luddism than this—beyond breaking a frame or two himself, Byron stood strong against the industrialist persecution that hung over the British countryside.
Are we not confronted with the problem that the separation between Idealism and Romanticism, like that of Liberalism and Idealism, is simply a radical dialectical turn? Beyond that, we might suggest, the crucial revolution of Marx, Comte, Dilthey, et. al., represents the second radical turn from Idealism toward Materialism, Positivism, Functionalism, etc. It was this final turn of the screw that culminated at the beginning of the last century in the battle between Communism as a far Left tendency and Fascism, which emerged at the time (in Italy and Germany) as a self-proclaimed Centrist movement.
By this time, Liberalism was a kind of neutral platform. It had become known for condoning the existence of the state, but its most favored champion was not a capitalist like Bentham, but the well-respected academic, Max Weber, whose own anticapitalist writings had garnered tremendous popularity. It was the blandness of Weber’s Liberal Democrat party and the disingenuousness of the Social Democrat party in Germany that lent itself to the grand appeal of Rosa Luxemburg’s own variety of revolutionary Marxism. Figures aligned with the parliamentary Social Democrats therefore assassinated the leaders of the Luxemburg’s party, including Rosa, herself, throwing the political spectrum into a frenzy that the brutality of the Nazis would pull into its control.
The Nazi party was by no means Liberal by today’s standards; however its theoretical apparatus, led by Martin Heidegger, was perhaps most influenced by the progenitor of Max Weber, Wilhelm Dilthey—the Isaac who begat the 20th Century’s terrible Jacob and Essau. This connection functions as a primary reason for the domination Nazi politics and economics by a kind of polluted Functionalism: bureaucratized state economic control over industry coinciding with a disgustingly reactionary cultural myth of the German folk, free from the tight grips of financial control. In other words, the freedom of the German mythic way of life was predicated, of course, upon the most rigidly controlled and tightly managed bureaucratic machine. As Keith herself admits, “we need to take seriously the history of how ideas which we think of as innately progressive, like ecology and animal rights, became intertwined with a fascist movement” (124). But in this context, Keith completely dismantles her own argument by presenting in total ideological confusion a movement that hinges on an ideological authoritarianism.
Along this rather long arc, we find that we do not have to go far from Schiller’s understandings of the aesthetic space of the state and philosophical avenues of Ecology being opened up 100 years later, during the very beginnings of the catastrophic conflicts between radical ideologies. Taken from the root word oikos, or household, Ecology was derived in the late 19th Century as a field of study that determined the human interaction with the environment. Using as its fundamental basis the division between Innenwelt (innerworld) and Umwelt (perceptual environment), the field of Ecology, particularly developed by Jakob von Uexkull’s Theoretical Biology (1926), inaugurated a kind of study of nature over and above objective reality. Each species could be said to have its own Umwelt, its own life-world of instinctive attractions and inhibitions, fields of possible understandings. It is, unfortunately, true that perhaps the most practical Materialists in the world today are not radical ecologists, but graduates of the tradition of Ayn Rand, and researching how to disinhibit consumers from purchasing useless commodities that they know will confine them to an ecology of (sub)urban isolation.
Here is, once again, the usurpation of Idealism over Liberalism (the positing of the possibility of multifarious individual worlds colliding at once) within a milieu utterly removed from metaphysics and therefore beyond Idealism, itself (ie, Materialism). It is thus self-evident how Idealism can rise to meet the highest radical challenges of the mind, and then smash them into a kind of vain Materialism that becomes a crude instrument of Liberal, totalitarian power. How many Ecologists are there who remain in the land of Liberalism, convinced by the rhetoric of Liberty that there is nothing more to do than to perfect the system? (See for instance Christian Parenti’s critique of 350.org)
The Liberal who is a Naturalist Voluntarist
Under Liberalism, according to Keith, we are to find Naturalism and Voluntarism, whereas under Radicalism, those ‘isms’ are substituted with Constructivism and Social Determinism. As all critical theorists from Darwin up to the present roll in their graves, we will try to unravel this awful intellectual tangle.
Naturalism, Keith insists, believes that “body exists independently of society/mind” and posits “gender/race as physical body.” Right away, these characteristics are falsely attributed. For Marx, “communism, as fully developed naturalism, equals humanism, and as fully developed humanism equals naturalism; it is the genuine resolution of the conflict between man and nature, and between man and man, the true resolution of the conflict between existence and being, between objectification and self-affirmation, between freedom and necessity, between individual and species. It is the solution of the riddle of history and knows itself to be the solution” (See Economic and Political Manuscripts of 1844, “Private Property and Communism,” Marxists.org) This notion of Naturalism is hardly a Liberal phenomenon. It is completely against the notion that the body exists independently of society/mind. Marx declares that in a communist society, “Society is therefore the perfected unity in essence of man with nature, the true resurrection of nature, the realized naturalism of man and the realized humanism of nature” (Ibid). This idea of common life with nature, the realization of humanity in and through nature could be taken many ways—one of which would be the idea of Man refashioning Nature into his idealized image—but this is not the way that Marx discusses the commune. The commune is instead a working with and through nature; an internal as well as an external work.
Over and against Marx, we have Bakunin, whose Hegelian influence drew him toward the notion of voluntarism. Bakunin did not argue against building a commune through general understanding and appreciation of nature, but to do so Bakunin believed that small groups of revolutionaries in every country would have to work within the nation-state to dismantle it through various sets of contradictory revolutionary assemblages. Here, Marx decried the notion of voluntarism professed by Bakunin, since he felt that workers lived within the collective forms of production that provide the consciousness of the path out of capitalism. By existing outside of the proletariat as an antagonist, Bakunin’s volunteer activists would implode the proletariat and create the exact conditions of anomy that capitalists sought after so much.
The terrible problem with Keith’s analysis here is that DGR is precisely a voluntarist organization with naturalist pretenses. Again, it is useless to call DGR a “Liberal” organization, but what we can find is far worse: that the movement is a self-defeating intellectual quagmire.
Decisions About Colonialism, or Colonial Decisions?
How, then, do we look at DGR’s analysis of “decisive” action and “successful” movements? It appears that Keith believes only certain actions can be decisive, and most of those appear to be perfectly executed plots of militant groups or above-ground actions effected by individuals, groups, or organizations. The matrix of possibilities—property damage, assassination, etc.—returns to the question of effect and plausible outcomes further fleshed out by Aric McBay.
The Irish Republican Army (IRA) assassinated intelligence officers, which apparently, according to McBay, led in part to their ultimate success (410). We are, of course, not to forget that the orchestrator of these “deep”, “decisive” actions, Michael Collins, was assassinated in 1922 by the same organization for which he played hitman. But nowhere is it mentioned that the IRA, which in 1917 declared its adherence with founding theorist James Connelly to communist redistribution of the means of production, in 1940 was collaborating with the Nazis to invade the North of England. Not to mention the ultimate failure of the IRA to put into place the vision of Connelly, or to unify the island under one independent republic.
Let’s look at a similar case that neither Keith nor McBay mention in any depth: the Soviet Revolution. Victor Serge and Leon Trotsky, two radicals who extolled the anarchy that took effect in peasant communes during the first years of the Soviet Revolution. Trotsky, himself, applauded the Petrograd Soviet, organized almost entirely by anarchists like Voline, and for his part, Serge was an anarchist. The Russian Revolution that had roots in 1905 was strictly aligned with the peace movement, and had many anarchist organizers; the Bolshevik Party took power through a co-optation of the principles of peace along with a simultaneous commendeering of the Russian Army. Soon, both Serge and Trotksy compromised their apparent earlier radical principles by ultimately accepting and even insisting that radicals who complained about the Soviet system had to be purged through State Terror. It did not take long for both of them to be discharged from the USSR; in Serge’s case, his expulsion, brought on by rejection of Stalin’s political relationship with China, involved “failing” to “understand” the exacting and rigorous “principles” of “dialectical materialism”. Materialism, indeed!
As we are expected to receive an IRA reimagined through rose-colored glasses, Keith presents the Black Panthers in an almost unflaggingly negative light (75-78, 82). Pursuing the common presentation of sexual deviancy within the Black Panthers, Keith completely fails to offer anything more than a caricature of the people involved in these organizations. There is no mention of Assata Shakur or Angela Davis or Kathleen Cleaver. Why, might we ask, are organizations created by People of Color reduced to the most base condemnations while the IRA is offered as a model of resistance, along with the US Sons of Liberty and Stamp Act rebels (87-92)? Even the paragraph devoted to John Brown in Keith’s passage is resolved in the notion that Brown, himself, was likely a schizophrenic, and the raid on Harpers Ferry led to new laws prohibiting “the education of both enslaved and free blacks and instituting other reductions of civil rights” (102). Forget the common historical notion that the Raid on Harpers Ferry was the first shot in the Civil War—this one led merely to trouble. This is a claim that Aric McBay roundly denies in his section, declaring, “[Brown’s] project ultimately failed. But on the other hand, you could say that it set up much greater things” (276).
Keith and company are quite pragmatic when it comes to white resistance movements. In fact, she seems to reduce most resistance movements against colonialism to “mysticism” for “spirit warriors,” wherein “Despite all the suffering of genoicide and depression over centuries, no spirit warriors have ever appeared to save the day. That’s N-E-V-E-R” (101-102). Forget Tecumseh, forget spirituality altogether; Deep Green Resistance must have a totally de-mystified, reasonable reality—a blatantly positivist claptrap that totally contradicts a statement she makes after a few pages (“the black churches have been called the cradle of the civil rights movement; Liberation Theology has been central to prodemocracy struggles in Latin America; and Christian missionaries helped end slavery and the caste system in Karala, India,” pg. 107). What, then, can we say, other than “spirituality only works if it’s Christian, or created by Keith, herself?” All indigenous forms of spiritual resistance are “mystical,” but what about Keith’s own divinations of a “Great Mystery, the Goddess, a Higher Power” that “can lead us out of our personla pain, loss, and exhaustion, and lend us the courage and strength to fight for justice”? (108).
Perhaps we can glean the most from DGR work through an engagement with the movements that they do not mention—mostly movements from the Third World. Out of 11 movements analyzed by McBay under a spectrum of success or failure, only three are non-European (469-470). No mention is made, for better or worse, of the early Chinese Communist Party or the Algerian National Liberation Front. What about the Nicaraguan Sandinistas, the Salvandorian FMLN? Unfortunately, most practical examples come from a tragically Euro-centric perspective. The Irish Republican Army, the French Resistance, Holocaust resisters, even British poll tax protestors, and so on. While each movement is hermetically different, they are supposedly united by their likeness to DGR, which remains pinioned by the failure of method.
As she shifts from totally different movement to totally different movement, Keith leaves us with small anecdotal connections without any real critical comparison. Keith has replaced combinatoric systems analysis with a kind of retreat into the most vulgar pragmatism, a kind of one-size-fits-all rescaling of the environmental movement by convoluting the strategies and tactics that organically grew out of totally different times and places. At this point, such false identities remain unhelpful, precisely because they are total fictions, figments of a historian’s imagination, better relegated to the cocktail party than the strategy meeting.
There is No Other
As an organizing tool, the main problem with the DGR schema is that there is no critical intervention in the human subject. The theme bounces from point to point without settling anywhere to hone a truly radical analysis of the human condition in its contemporary settings. We are meant to pick up DGR and at once thrust ourselves into the radical environmental agenda without actually going through an inner transformation. If resistance is the nature of the re, the enforcement against, and the sistare, the redoubling of stare, to stand, the root word of state, then resistance must be the doubling of the subject, its re-enforcement, and in a sense, the construction of a state of being.
The resistance begins with a state of things, a subjective correlate to what is seen as the objective world. There is then a split within the subject, not where the subject confronts the object in a new way, but where the object literally transforms into something new, unrecognizable. The subject then re-enstates itself by arriving at terms with the world that has changed. Finally, the subject moves beyond that world by creating new values, new relationships, modalities of life, and so forth.
In psychoanalysis resistance comprises any break, disruption, interruption of the free-flow of consciousness. Here it is helpful, instead of relying on the English logic, to use a German word that Freud deploys to describe this process: Wilderstand, which translates roughly as wild state. Resistance as deliverance from the “wild state” is the basis of ego-formation, which is reflexively necessary to present an understanding of the outside world (Umwelt). The problem with DGR is that it relies so heavily on the ego-formation of the triad of leaders—particularly Jensen and Keith—that it fails to open discursive patterns and practices that will actually emancipate or even decolonize. What needs to happen with DGR is an open discussion over real, necessary strategies and tactics that can come from the present conditions at hand. The distortions of the authors promotes a double-resistance: first, against the status quo of dominionism (industrial civilization) and second, against its own readers, as it develops a reactionary assault against open discourse and community through ill-conceived hierarchical model that fails in every historical instance.
Oppression and DGR
The most blatant problem of subject formation, which creates a cult of personality, stems from the subjective resistance deployed in the castigation of other radical tendencies or groups. Keith is particularly guilty for her attack on anarchists and vegan activists in the text, although through her outside work in the RadFem community, she has also proven to be transphobic. Here we find a populist “Othering” of groups within the movement who appear to be compromising the integrity of the core of resistance, which is to find its focus on wilderness.
Vegans, anarchists, and “lesbian sepratists” are categorized as Liberals by Keith insofar as they choose to direct their lifestyles toward alternative cultures, rather than what she calls “oppositional cultures.” For Keith, the key distinction appears to be “Adult values of discernment, responsibility [sic],” where “[l]egitimate authority is accepted and cultivated,” and the “[g]oals are adult concerns: guide the community, socialize the young, enforce norms, participate in larger project of righting the world” (see figure on next page). Opposition is “Idealism tempered by experience.” Here, naturally, we are to ignore the history of “adult” genocide, hatred, and war; the prison industry complex, the military, the unrelenting attack on the liberty and openness of the youth of today by the institutions developed to distort and force the youth’s mental and physical environment into the iron cage of reason.
One wonders what “Idealism tempered with experience” might be if it annihilates “youth concerns,” wherein the “legitimate authority” is decided upon by and for the “adult” leaders. Are we not faced with the immediate image of youthful Romantics who have “grown up” and are now forcing the new wave of youthful Romantics to abandon the same ideals once held by their elders? Is this not the cyclical problem of the “generation gap” repeating itself? And what of the notion that “anarchist rewilders” or “vegans” will serve a liberal elite if they do not ascribe to the “Oppositional Culture” defined and circumscribed by self-legitimized elders who seek to “enforce norms” resolved against the very youth whom they wish to absorb?
For her part, Keith defies her own argument while discussing Vermont separatism, as she quotes Frank Bryan, a radical democrat, stating, “Hierarchy requires authority, which promotes symmetry, which causes rigidity. The result is awkward, reactionary and (most important) insensitive—and thus inhumane.” Derrick Jensen defines civilization, itself, as hierarchy: “Civilization is a specific, hierarchical organization based on ‘power over.’” Therefor, according to McBay, “Resistance to civilization is inherently decentralized” (460). How, then does DGR become such a hierarchic organization based on the ideologies of three (more like two now, since McBay has left) leaders?
Indeed, “awkward, reactionary, and insensitive” might be the best way to describe Keith’s writing. As for inhumane, one has only to glance at Keith’s views that vegans are “ideological fanatics” to see precisely where her ethics lie. To essentialize, attack, and completely exclude a group of people on the basis of their diet—this is no easy task. Here, she is not simply defending a group of oppressors, she is attacking and systematically excusing the oppression of another group. While Keith insists, “[t]he heroization of the individual, in whatever admixture of suffering and alienation, forms the basis of the Romantic hostility to the political sphere,” (130) it appears that this hostility is fostered based on the failure of the so-called “Oppositional Culture” to adequately understand or recognize forms of social power outside of their own designs.
According to Aric McBay’s analysis of organization, DGR suggests an above-ground hierarchal structure with an underground, horizontal structure of compartmentalized cells. The implication is that more militant people might solidify into an organization with a strong chain of command, while less subordinate people may gravitate towards looser or more dynamic hierarchies. We might be able to choose who we work with for the time being (as long as we’re under the umbrella of DGR), but then in the end there is a clear hierarchal chain that overdetermines this apparently open structure. It may be wise to recall the common knowledge that anyone who claims to set you free automatically assumes the ultimate control over the conditions of your own self-liberation, and then check out Rachel Ivey on Youtube claiming that, “DGR’s official policy which is not up for debate.”
Keith goes on to add that DGR will include a faction called DEW, or Decisive Ecological Warfare, who will launch risky actions that might be shunned by others in the environmental movement and popular media. She insists, “the IRA had Sinn Fein. The abolition movement had the Underground Railroad, Nat Turner, and John Brown, and bloody Kansas… A radical movement grows from a culture of resistance, like a seed from soil.” But there is an important slippage here: Sinn Fein is neither a radical movement nor a culture of resistance; it is a political wing of an armed movement. At one point, Keith awkwardly proclaims, “We need the permaculture wing to be the Sinn Fein” (220), a truly strange comparison between a political party and a group of people who utilize a modish technique of agriculture. No comparison can aptly be drawn, in fact, between Sinn Feinn and John Brown, either. Perhaps Keith might have said “the Civil Rights movement had the NAACP,” but she doesn’t.
Keith goes on to say, “The civil rights movement had the redefinition of blackness in the Harlem Renaissance and the stability, and community spirit of the Pullman porters, and then four college students willing to sit down at a lunch counter and face the angry mob” (477). The “redefinition of blackness in the Harlem Renaissance” is already a controversial topic (see the writings of James Baldwin or Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, for instance), but it does not relate to Sinn Feinn. Nor does the Pullman strike or the Woolworths sit-in compare to the IRA, or visa-versa, in any genuine strategic sense. So what is the meaning of this strange assemblage of totally inappropriate comparisons? This confusion is paradigmatic of the convenient self-contradictions that pervade DGR, and suggest that there is something behind the curtain of the appearance of “horizontal resistance networks.”
The problem with the model determined by McBay and Keith can be identified within the French Resistance, itself. The Resistance was quite diffuse both ideologically and structurally, until the very end, when Charles de Gaulle uprooted the entire grass roots structure and placed himself at the head of the new militarized nationalist government. De Gaulle would go on to become a symbol of corrupt, ultra-right-wing governance, which would reappear after the worker-student uprising of May 1968 to defuse the autonomous, decentralized movement. Here, the idealism of young militants was brutally subjugated to the “older generation” of the Gaullist right—a stirring example of how the ageism at work within Keith’s ideology plays out in the political terrain of resistance.
One has to contemplate why Deep Green Resistance opens with a quote from the White Rose Society—an “alternative culture” of young doves who were executed for disseminating anti-fascist propaganda in Hitler’s Germany—if it really insists on the forced subjugation of the youth to the demands of “adults.” A few pages after insisting that the youth submit to their adult guides, Keith admits that “[t]he number one perpetrator of childhood sexual abuse is called ‘dad’” (147). At one point, she declares that “We can reject authoritarianism, conformity, social hierarchy, anti-intellectualism, and religious fundamentalism” (153) as though she had not just laid out a blatantly authoritarian, conformist, hierarchical structure of oppression that seems dangerously similar to a religious cult, wherein leaders, whose authority is not only to be accepted but enjoyed and appreciated, enforce strict norms with an emphasis on socializing the youth.
It is in keeping with Keith’s epistemology that she brings up Antonio Gramsci’s concept of hegemony, declaring that “in order for oppression to function smoothly, ideology must be transferred from the oppressors to the oppressed” (151). But how has Keith acknowledged this function of reality while insisting that “Oppositional Culture” relies on “adults” to “enforce norms”? Is this not the deliberate bending of hegemony towards the building of an oppressive hierarchic structure? It appears that Keith places “defying conventions” on the “Alternative Culture” (Liberal) side of the matrix, because she does not want the youth to challenge “adult” norms, such as eating meat or generally acting oppressively.
It helps to know also from outside documents that Keith’s denunciations extend also to trans folks, whom she believes undermine the authenticity of her own essentialized femininity. This would not be relevant if it did not present a problem of “heroization of the individual” in its concrete form. Here, we strike upon the classic mode of subject forming resistance in the deepest psychological sense: deep-seeded patriarchal attacks on non-binary gender roles. It might be rewarding to look towards Derrick Jensen’s friend, Jane Caputi, who brilliantly marks the female lesbian relationship as a wilderness of gender, an undisclosed, undefinable gender that exists outside of the male gaze (see Truths Among Us, ed: Derrick Jensen, pg 183-187). If this indetermenate gender exists, how should it be that male-bodied people would not be able to renounce the regard for “the male gender” and retreat into the same indeterminate wilderness?
So how then, does Keith discuss as radical the concept that a “person is socially constructed,” while decrying as Liberal the notion that the “person is distinct from [the] social group”? Is she not presenting herself, her persona or avatar, as the ultimate “basic social unit”—a person who presides over other social groups and distinguished her own society as opposed to all other persons? If she admitted she was socially constructed, would she not be more open to an “active and critical embrace of group.”
Who is Lierre Keith? The question can only be answered from within her own interpolation, which posits itself as an eco-feminist in opposition to the free play of gender and sexuality not only available but present throughout the world, even (or particularly) in indigenous cultures that she idealizes and essentializes almost as much as herself. Civilization is bad and indigenous peoples are good, according to Jensen and Keith’s shallow primitivism, but as Proust shows in Memory of Dead Times, war itself can be seen both as the most primitive and civilized of all human actions; the two are matters of oppositional engagement that pursues a specific determination. When we think of national liberation movements that have worked—the Vietnamese army supported by Ho and Giap, for instance—there was no real glorification of the “uncivilized;” rather, there was a sincere understanding, both among anti-war activists in the North Atlantic and Vietnamese freedom fighters, that there had to be another way beyond these inane categories. This way is that of liberation.
After all, we are taught by feminist psychoanalysis like Bracha Ettinger that the productive side of subjective resistance is formation based on transference tied to the phallus, while the Femanine difference, which Bracha Ettinger calls “matrixial,” is “a subjective dimension that is not derived from the exchange of signifiers and does not refer to the phallic field and to the rift of castration. It is a swerve intertwined in borderlinking, the plaiting and interweaving of borderlines, and in the opening of borderspaces created by the interwoven plait (See Ettinger, Matrixial Borderspace, University of Minnesota 2006, pp. 183, 5). The gender essentialism of Keith’s RadFem persona exudes a patriarchal and phallic aura. It is an attempt to define the feminine within the terms of the masculine, which represents, in the words of Griselda Pollack, “the agony of feminist thought caught on its own impossibility” (Ibid, 23, 4).
Cease and Resist?
What is resistance? What is insurgency? How are the two different? We don’t find the answer in this text; we find a de-velopment of the subject that functions as a fig leaf for the ego formation of its leaders.
“The subject desists,” writes Lacoue-Labarthe, “This is why it is fictionable at its very origin and only accedes to selfhood, if it ever does, through being supplemented by a model or models which precede it” (see “The Echo of the Subject” in Typography: memesis, Philosophy, Politics, ed: Chris Fynsk, Stanford University Press 1998). DGR is fundamentally not only the most Idealistic (self-constructed) project possible, but a reactionary one at that. “The problem is probably that desistance resists,” explains Lacoue-Labarthe, but it resists in a dialectical fashion in a struggle against itself to produce an alternate model.
Rather than mobilizing within or really acknowledging pre-existing structures of resistance, DGR coins a new struggle and co-opts all the underlying components. Earth First!, the Earth Liberation Front, small, radical biodiversity groups, even hapless permaculture (which as we saw is to become the new Sinn Fein!). Why exist outside of the leadership of the three enlightened dictators? Instead, however, of adding momentum, DGR alienates the subject, contains it, sets new, abrupt and parameters according to a convenient metric plot that corresponds only internally to DGR’s ideological position, and not externally to those movements that it co-opts.
The activists who operate under the DGR banner are not subject to the will or direction of its leaders. There is no purpose in following them under the conditions of such intellectual ineptitude and ossification. A new generation of DGR writers must arise from the backwardness of its current leaders. Rise up, DGR, from the ashes and move towards the fires of global revolution!