Volume 4 - Issue 2 - Resistance is Fertile: The Independent Image

By John Jordan

wall-street.jpgWall Street

“We are looking into an unprecedented abyss of economic and social turmoil that confounds our previous perceptions of historical risk. Our vertigo is intensified by our ignorance of the depth of the crisis or any sense of how far we might ultimately fall.” – Mike Davis

The week the financial crisis erupted, a lone protester appeared on Wall Street holding a cardboard sign reading “jump you fuckers… jump.” Perhaps it was a message for us all. We have reached another bifurcation point in history. While all eyes are on the credit crunch, less is being talked about the “eco-crunch” whose real-world losses – of habitats, water systems, species, soils – can't be bailed out. Even less is being written about the energy and food price crunch. Anyone proposing a strategy that fails to take account of these combined crunches is about to fall to earth with a bump.

Some, however, are talking about a Green New Deal. How different will it be from FDR's New Deal, which was engineered to save capitalism from itself? The rage and humiliation of the poor, hit by financial collapse, was channelled into supporting new versions of the state such as welfare and institutionalised unions. The radical structural changes demanded by the rising social movements were averted. Capitalism took on a new shape, went to war and survived.

The very system that engenders our ecological suicide, values economic expansion over life, the economy over ecology and shopping over a sustainable future will soon claim it is going to save not only life on earth but itself at the same time. Timid NGOs – from Greenpeace to the New Economics Foundation – are jumping on the bandwagon, and will soon be followed by desperate corporations and governments greenwashing themselves in the hope that they will rebuild confidence and rake in profits from a new market. But it's a wagon that, despite a repaint, is still heading for the precipice.

Not only will the deal continue to be based on the fantasy logic of a growth economy with no tethers to the real limits of the biosphere, but it will include a “carbon army” of “green collar workers” – no doubt forced off welfare (which will be cut away as we pay off the bail-outs) into poorly paid and alienating green jobs. Meanwhile, fossil fuel corporations will be hit with a windfall tax that will be used to “deal with the effects of climate change.” It all sounds suspiciously like the old capitalism to me.

What we need is a new logic, not a new deal. Eighteenth century abolitionists didn't advocate a tax on slavery: they wanted it stopped. We shouldn't tax fossil fuels, but stop them being pumped out of the ground. Similarly, we don't need new jobs but new definitions of work. We need a new way of thinking about what has value, how we feed ourselves, how we live together, how we build culture, democracy and politics and how we connect to the natural world. None of us will ever see such an opportunity again.

Across the world, there are a multitude of alternative ways of living, working and producing that are taking place in spite of capitalism. We rarely hear about them, because they fundamentally challenge a world view that regards the market as solution and saviour. From the Climate Campers in the UK to the autonomous Zapatista communities of Chiapas Mexico, from the transition towns movement to the Argentine self-managed factories, from the global eco-village network to decades of “utopian” community building across Europe, there are people offering alternatives to capitalism and tangible examples of deep democracy and radical ecology.

Millions of people value cooperation over competition and mutual aid over markets; these are the quiet revolutionaries whom anarchist Colin Ward beautifully called “the seeds beneath the snow.” The progressive future belongs to them, because they are already living it. We urgently need to make their alternatives visible; we need to learn from them, and emulate their courage, because they have shown us something very simple: when we jump, we fly.


John Jordan is an artist and activist in the direct action movements, Co-editor of We Are Everywhere: the Irresistible Rise of Global Anticapitalism (Verso, 2003), he is presently working on a book / film project, Paths Through Utopias (www.utopias.eu). This piece was first published on Saturday 29th November 2008 as part of the Guardian’s ‘Comment is Free’ website.