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A (sort of a) manifesto for the #justcollapse left

source: flamman.se (Öffnet in neuem Fenster)

Dear friends,

a few weeks ago, comrades from the Swedish magazine Flamman did an interview with me that ended on a somewhat low note: “People would rather burn the planet than feel like shit and act (Öffnet in neuem Fenster).” So we agreed that I’d pick up the thread where we left off, and write about the next step, the one I was able to take last year after visiting my old friend Pär Plüschke and his community/collapse-activism-project under the heading “prepping together (Öffnet in neuem Fenster)”: from acceptance of collapse to empowerment in a new politics of “don't just collapse, #justcollapse”. Ok, we're still working on a decent moniker in English, but the ideas, I think, are pretty sound. The text below was originally published in Swedish here:

https://www.flamman.se/ett-manifest-for-kollapsvanstern/ (Öffnet in neuem Fenster)

But before I get to what a radical left/climate justice politics might look within collapse, it's probably important to deal with something else first, this new line of conflict, this new cleavage that has opened up right within the climate movement and -bubbles: the conflict between those who accept the absolute certainty of climate collapse, vs. those who continue to deny this fact, no matter how much data pours in contradicting their claim. In fact: the more climate collapse becomes obvious, the more our former comrades will deny it: the dynamic is exactly the same as with all other denial.

So here we go: once more unto the breach, dear friends. And then onwards into a future of clever progressive strategising within the reality we'll have, not the one we'd like to have if things just weren't so damn shit.

Today is the day after tomorrow

It's May 2024, and news from our collapsing climate are coming in hard and fast:

The vast majority of climate scientists are certain that we won't be able to stick to the 1.5 degrees global warming limit agreed upon in 2015 in Paris. In addition, many of them (i.e. those who know best what climatic future awaits us) are foregoing having kids, because, you know: collapse.

More than 300 people were killed in flash floods in Afghanistan (Öffnet in neuem Fenster), as authorities declared a state of emergency.

Torrential rainstorms (Öffnet in neuem Fenster) in Brazil’s Rio Grande do Sul have caused the worst flooding the country has seen in 80 years, including many deaths and the displacement of thousands of families.

Ocean surface temperatures have been at record levels every single day since 4 May 2023, and global average temperatures (Öffnet in neuem Fenster) for the past 12 months were the highest on record at 1.61C above the pre-industrial level.

And that's just from the first two weeks of May.

Maybe somewhere else in the multiverse, but here...?

At the same time, the much vaunted “energy-” or “green transition” is nowhere to be seen. Sure, we're seeing an increase in renewable capacity being installed, but we're also seeing enormous investments in fossil fuels and fossil fuel infrastructure:

March 2024 saw the biggest ever increase in CO2-levels in the world's atmosphere (Öffnet in neuem Fenster), not least because of ever-increasing fossil fuel consumption.

2023 saw the first increase in global coal burning capacity (Öffnet in neuem Fenster) since 2019.

And the world’s big banks (Öffnet in neuem Fenster)have handed nearly seven trillion (7000 billion) US Dollars in funding to the fossil fuel industry since the Paris agreement was signed.

In short: climate collapse is either already happening, in which case all statements to the effect that “we might be able to stabilise...” are inoperative, because in a collapsing climate, there are no more linear effects, and all manners of tipping points will necessarily be crossed. Or climate collapse is absolutely imminent, in which case the CO2 and methane currently in the atmosphere (methane takes about 12 years to heat the climate, CO2 50) will necessarily tip us over the edge, while the methane and CO2 we are currently emitting will make sure we keep tumbling ever faster down that edge.

Reality bites

None of this is speculative: there is no way, an absolutely zero chance (Zero. Not a zero-point-zero-point-zero-point-something chance, but zero) of “avoiding” climate collapse.

“Boohoo”, some of you might now respond, “here we go again with the apocalypticism. This sort of honesty gets people down, leads them into depression and political disempowerment!” There are many comrades on the left and in the climate movement who resent my “doomism”, who argue that, no, the climate movement has not failed, and even if we are out of moves, we'll continue to pretend to move.

Look, I get it: I get that it's not easy to bid adieu to what is ultimately our own “business as usual”, which, much like the “business as usual” of those fossil capitalists we like to criticise, is adjusted to and functions in a pre-collapse world. I get that accepting that “everything we've done, our type of 'activism' is kind of over” is really, really fucking hard. Not only at a practical level, although changing the way you do things is bloody hard work; I'm talking emotionally. That's the level at which it is hardest to say goodbye to ones own past.

So I get that the interview with Flamman from a few months ago, which seemed to end in a morass of drugs, sex and depression, may have confirmed your view that it's better to continue smoking that hopium pipe than slugging through the difficult process of accepting the inevitability of collapse across the board.


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Without eyes wide shut

But maybe I can talk about some of the new political and social challenges that will definitely come our way very soon, if we haven't already faced them, even if we disagree on where exactly we stand vis-a-vis this “collapse”-thingie.

I remember reading, sometime last autumn, about floods in northern France (Öffnet in neuem Fenster) that were putting some 200,000 people at risk, threatening to overwhelm emergency and rescue services, and thinking to myself: damn, being prepared for such a situation, having movement-based disaster relief networks in place that would allow emergency services to focus on real emergencies, and empowering people even before these services arrive, even in the disaster, that seems like something leftists should be doing in a catastrophe. And if that's true, and if it is also true that wherever we are on the collapse-scale, then preparing together for the desasters that will surely come must be, if maybe not the only item, then a central item on the menu of left-wing practices. Even if you don't accept the certainty of collapse, even a small chance of an actual collapse makes preparing for it rational, necessary, and (we're leftists, after all) the right thing to do.

So in order to start this collective preparation for a future of progressively more social breakdown (even if i’m wrong about the big collapse, the realities all around us show us every day – from Ukraine to Gaza, from the Sahel to Afghanistan, but also from Haninge to Hässelby – that it is already becoming harder and harder to meet collective human needs), we need to start systematising some points about what has been called a “just collapse”-politics, in the sense that a leftist politics within collapse must retain its commitment to our core value justice, but needs to locate that struggle in the actual, realistically understood social geography of collapse rather than the world of near-constant material expansion that has been the reality of most folks in the global North for the past 70 years.

Emotional labour, or: fear is the mind killer

As with all understanding, our understanding of the strategic situation we are entering starts with the emotional labour necessary to be able to accept factual truths as acceptable: in this case, the emotional labour of acknowledging our fear (Öffnet in neuem Fenster) that “society”, “the world”, “civilisation”, "humanity" is collapsing; as well as the fear of the things we would have to do to make these collapses less terrible and to prepare for them; and the guilt and shame we feel for not doing these things. Only then, once we have acknowledged our fears, does it become possible to deal with the realities of the collapse, or rather, the collapses that we are currently experiencing and that are coming our way.

Then we can enter the grieving process. Extremely simplified: we as a society and as individuals have to fight our way through the “stages of grief (Öffnet in neuem Fenster)” until we reach acceptance. Because beyond accepting the very real horrors and dangers that *definitely* lie ahead of us, there are also hopeful stories. Beyond acceptance lies real hope, not just bad hopium. But the positive stories we all long for come after the grief (not “instead of”).

Take the climate (justice) movement and its “blameless failure”: The European wing of the movement emerged around 2008 and set itself the goal of helping to prevent climate collapse, which has now arrived. That doesn't mean that our struggles were pointless, or that we should stop fighting now. But it does mean that the movement also has to go through this grieving process in order to be born anew, to start the next movement cycle: the movement will rise again, rise, like a phoenix, because that's exactly how movements move (Öffnet in neuem Fenster): in cycles, through defeats, through productive failure, but always with love, solidarity and hope.

Understanding collapse?, or: you know nothing, Jon Snow

Ok, sure, that maybe sounds a bit pie-in-the-sky, whereas at the moment we're either on the ground, being pummelled, or off stage, licking our wounds, rather than being able to go on the offensive with new strategies. That's why I traveled to Sweden last year, a country that on my reading is currently experiencing a partial "security collapse (Öffnet in neuem Fenster)" – it is, after all, not “normal” for Sweden to experience... what, an average of one bombdåd varje vecka? - where comrades of mine have founded a group called "Prepping Together (Öffnet in neuem Fenster)" and are moving away from struggles and practices motivated by primarily by political conviction, and more towards a needs-based politics. So in this sense, I traveled into the future to find out what leftist politics within collapse might look like.

But before going any further, we first need to work out an important conceptual point: what actually is collapse, what does the collapsing, and how does this present itself from the perspective not of the collapsing system, but of the subjects with whom we organise, together with whom we want to change the world?

"Collapse" in the systems theory-sense refers to a situation where, within any given system, the functional relationships between its components collapse, which means that the system loses the ability to reproduce itself as before. Less abstractly, collapse means that things (not objects, more stuff like "water supply", "hospitals") that previously functioned no longer work, or only rarely and incompletely. That what you previously thought was normal (getting to work, buying food, withdrawing money, not getting shot) suddenly becomes extraordinary and difficult.

Collapse is not when everyone is dead; collapse is when you can no longer take things for granted. When you can no longer travel to work, either because you no longer have a job or because mobility no longer works. Collapse is when you can no longer go shopping, either because you have no more money or because there is nothing left on the supermarket shelves. Collapse is when vigilante groups are formed to enforce laws and community rules because the state is no longer able or willing to have them enforced by the executive across its entire territory.

And because we as concrete, physical subjects (bodies) live at the intersection of countless systems (food, water, etc., but this can really be broken down to the smallest detail - your neighbourhood can function as a system, your street and your circle of friends), "collapse" does not present itself to most people as a big, cataclysmic event, but as the sometimes sudden, sometimes rather gradual disappearance of normalities, and quite specifically the no-longer-easily-available availability of necessary goods and services. For example, security, medical care, water or food.

But tomorrow is the day after 2012

The simple conclusion to be drawn from the above is that we must learn to organise this effectively, in solidarity and openly, just as the comrades of Preppa Tillsammans are beginning to do. At the heart of an agenda of "just collapse politics" is the realisation that "prepping" is not about supplies, but about relationships. Prepping is nothing more than "preparing for crises and disasters" and is not Nazi stuff per se - but it could become and remain so if we don't get our act together soon.

And how do we get things moving? With a new cycle of struggles, with new movement practices which take seriously the fact that global socio-ecological catastrophes (not only climate, but also biodiversity et al) go hand in hand with a massive increase in the threat of fascism, and so far it has mainly been the right that has instrumentalised fears about the future and collapse, and turned them into the political movens for their project.

This means that we must not verdräng these fears ourselves and in political communication, but must recognise them. We must move towards acceptance and, through acceptance, forward to realistic hope, a hope for community, solidarity and humanity in a darkening world, instead of a false hope based on bullshit and Verdrängung, which will become increasingly disempowering the more the collapse becomes a reality.

What I'm saying is: those who believe that recognising the reality of climate collapse is defeatist are building their strategies on self-deception; only those who know what is coming can prepare themselves, can prepare us, so that we don't leave the collapse to the Nazis. And anyone who leaves the collapse, i.e. the future, to the Nazis, has already given up.

Comradely greetings,


Kategorie English

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