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END: CIV—Against Jensen and for a Real Ecological and Working Class Revolution

category north america / mexico | environment | review author Monday September 12, 2011 11:40author by db Report this post to the editors

Review of the Derrick Jensen-influenced film END:CIV

Derrick Jensen represents the current peak synthesis of primitivist and insurrectionist thought. And while both trends are declining within anarchism thanks to the global upswing of mass struggle against austerity, like in Egypt, Wisconsin, Spain, and so on, such trends are still able to get a good event together in Minneapolis, like the hundred or so people who attended the showing of END: CIV, a movie inspired by Jensen’s writing, and like it, a dead end for any relevant conversation on the present moment.

There are deep, insolvable failures in Jensen’s work with regard to revolution, collapse, and militancy, but let us begin with the strengths of Jensen’s approach so we can demolish his politics without losing what value they contain.

Strengths of Jensen’s thought

First, they correctly tie the atrocities committed to the earth to the atrocities committed to human beings and note the connection between capitalism, colonialism, and the destruction of the earth.

Second, they notice the major human crisis and transition in which we find ourselves in, a capitalist transition as US power declines, a transition from the energy staple of the whole economy—oil—and the real possibility of significant climate change.

Third, they point out the inadequacy of current responses, green capitalism, change through consumption, and so on, and the craziness of projects like ethanol, the tar sands, fracking, and so on.

Fourth, and finally, they emphasize that a militant, and indeed, revolutionary response is crucial to making necessary changes, and that nonprofit, corporate, and nonviolent approaches are not sufficient.

Jensen’s is not a revolutionary theory

That said, they have no fucking idea what revolution means, or how it could come about. Capitalism and the state are massively powerful and adaptive human systems, and they can only be destroyed through the coordinated action of the great majority of people in this society, and world.

Assuming from the get go that a majority of people are insane and therefore not worth thinking about prevents Jensen and Co from being revolutionary at all, which is why there is so much reliance on collapse as a solution in his work.

Collapse does not equal revolution

But anyone with a thought in their head can see that even if the perfect storm of capitalist transition, peak oil, and climate change comes about, the resulting devastation will not eliminate either capitalism or the state.

The police and military forces of the world will still have the guns and money, and indeed, crisis is almost always used as an excuse for greater violence and oppression than otherwise. This is well demonstrated in Naomi Klein’s *The Shock Doctrine* which shows how present day capitalism thrives precisely on collapses, by using them to justify mass theft, privatization and so on…whether that be after the Tsunami, New Orleans, Iraq, or the entire post-collapse Soviet Union. .

And while we should certainly see this crisis as an opportunity for organizing, capitalism and the state must be organized away, they will not disappear by themselves, and indeed are likely to become even more brutal.

Collapse then is a childishly utopian take on revolution—capitalism and the state will magically disappear!

Again, this utopianism is a direct consequence of assuming the insanity of the majority of people and the failure to see that most of these people are deeply oppressed by state capitalism and therefore have a strong stake in a liberated world. These people are what anarchists call the working class.

Collapse then, is no substitute for revolution because collapse without revolution just means a harsher form of domination then we have currently.

Moreover, this also reveals the deep pessimism of Jensen’s worldview. The rejection of the majority of people as worth thinking about lends strong support to the plethora of possible state capitalist genocidal projects. After all, without civilization the earth could hardly support 7 billion human beings, so who cares if…

Empty Militancy

This pessimism too, defines the ultimately empty or even reactionary show of more-militant-than-thou posturing put forward by Jensen and his followers.

Indeed, every other approach or critique is pushed aside as reactionary for failing to want to “end civilization,” something that is poorly defined and mixed in with intense and false idealization of indigenous cultures. This idealization also ignores the fact that indigenous cultures were conquered precisely because of their insufficient power to defeat the capitalist state, in short, the same problem of revolution that they try to exit themselves from with their utopian collapse-ism.

Without a potentially revolutionary base to convince of a liberatory path, the push for the necessary of violent militancy can accomplish almost nothing good and in fact could create serious reactionary potentials.

On the one hand, despite calls for significant violent ‘resistance’—blowing up dams, and so on—neither Jensen or the Jensen-ites are doing so, revealing either that they don’t actually believe these things or that they are full of shit.

On the other hand, doing these types of action without any desire to convince the public falls right into the hands of the capitalist state which thrives on using the so called violence or terrorism of the left (or otherwise) to justify an ever more repressive state apparatus. The state will often go as far as to create such enemies itself, like the “Strategy of Tension” in Italy, where the State paid fascists to set off bombs in public places and blamed those actions on leftist groups.

We say then that the militancy put forward by Jensen is empty because either it is 1) non-existent or 2) reactionary in that it actually supports, rather than attacks, state capitalism.

To be clear—we are not attacking militancy nor advocating pacifism.

However, if action is not tied to growing mass struggle or building revolution it is hard to see value in it besides pumping up the egos of isolated individuals, hardly a militant goal! The core failure of Jensen’s thought is the rejection of the majority of people as insane, therefore irrelevant, and as such, tossing aside any chance of a liberated society.


We see then, that Jensen’s thought fails miserably in its concepts of revolution, collapse, and militancy even as we embrace the ways that Jensen synthesizes other anarchist thinkers to highlight the importance of ecological issues in bringing about liberation, including understanding the pressing conditions of the present.

It is on us as anarchists who 1) believe in revolution–which cannot happen without insurrection, and 2) in a liberated society–which cannot happen without a sustainable economy and true relationship with the earth—to organize useful projects and campaigns and to continue to put forward ideas, analysis, and critiques that push aside the exhausted pessimism of sub-cultural activism for the critical, serious, and optimistic struggle of the global working class on the brink of an even deeper crisis.

And with a world to win. From the website of First of May Anarchist Alliance For Dignity, Justice and Freedom – Against Capitalism and the State! For Anarchy!

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author by Nihilo Zeropublication date Tue Sep 13, 2011 08:43author address author phone Report this post to the editors

That first line did certainly start out on a ridiculous note: "Derrick Jensen represents the current peak synthesis of primitivist and insurrectionist thought." Uh... no. DJ has always simply represented to most publicly palatable and safe form of both. He's a big name in primitivist and anarchist circles, but he's never represented the pinnacle of thought regarding either. Don't get me wrong, I've generally been in favor of his writings, but let's not make those writings to be something they are not. And yes, the second line is also a bit ridiculous. Beyond insurrections spreading around the globe, it's likely that primitivist ideology will continue to get more nods as incidents like Fukushima continue to occur amidst the broader ecological collapse brought about by techno-industrial civilization. And now... I suppose I'll have to read the rest of this article. Joy.

"Capitalism and the state are massively powerful and adaptive human systems, and they can only be destroyed through the coordinated action of the great majority of people in this society, and world."

No, that isn't true. Like them or not, probably depending on what they actually represent, vanguards often start revolutions by activities which inspire and encourage the masses. A revolution need not get under way with everyone on board and acting in solidarity. If they were already a revolution would arguably be far less necessary in many cases. Eventually, for a sustained revolution, the majority will have to get on board -- but a revolution can be undertaken and fought without them.

"Assuming from the get go that a majority of people are insane and therefore not worth thinking about prevents Jensen and Co from being revolutionary at all, which is why there is so much reliance on collapse as a solution in his work."

Jensen doesn't need to "rely" on collapse as a solution... it's an occurrence well under way that's not really a "solution" so much as a logical and noticeable outcome. And regardless of whether or not you are primitivist, preeminent thinkers in many fields have explicitly stated as much -- collapse is well underway. Mass extinction has already begun and the life supporting systems of the planet have been thoroughly compromised. If you get your head out of the sand and do a wee bit of research you'll see statements confirming this reality coming from all relevant fields.

"But anyone with a thought in their head can see that even if the perfect storm of capitalist transition, peak oil, and climate change comes about, the resulting devastation will not eliminate either capitalism or the state."

Ridiculous. The "perfect storm" which you evoke is bringing about mass extinction -- and likely the extinction of humankind. And without humankind... the state and capitalism will not exist. I'm not saying that's a favorable way to eliminate these things, but it follows the logic of your own statement that they could certainly be eliminated in this way.

"Collapse then is a childishly utopian take on revolution—capitalism and the state will magically disappear!"

Nobody who is at all serious claims that utter collapse would be easy or utopian in the initial stages. Nor is anyone banking on anything magical in these regards. Collapse, if we survive it, will breed widespread discontent with that which led us there. And that is what will likely bring about new forms of social organization -- if we survive the collapse engendered by techno-industrial civilization.

"Collapse then, is no substitute for revolution because collapse without revolution just means a harsher form of domination then we have currently."

A red herring. The idea isn't that collapse is the same as revolution -- the idea is that collapse will inevitably lead to a radically new way of life. That shouldn't be too hard to follow. And it's not about wanting or idealizing anything... the collapse is well underway and the socio-political consequences are unlikely to be mild or working to uphold the ways which led to the collapse.

Beyond all that... OP's favorable talk of insurrection is far more vague than anything from even Jensen (who isn't particularly insurrectionary). Judging by statements the OP made, they act like any resistance to the state (short of universal solidarity amongst the masses) will only make it stronger. And that's what OP is accusing Jensen of in this text. Are we to wait until everyone is on board before any of us start to revolt?

What DB (and many others) doesn't seem to realize is that this society -- techno-industrial society -- has already been driven over the cliff. And when the crash occurs it is going to effect us all whether or not we want it to. Setting up ways to give it drag and keep it in the air with the temporary psuedo-sustainable solutions (within in it's general context of environmental degradation) won't prevent the collapse. What we need to do is figure out how we are going to crawl out of the wreckage and maintain a free sustainable society afterwards -- if that's possible.

Maybe that's not pretty or ideal, but we don't always get what we want and we should expect things based purely on our hopes.

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author by Stephanie McMillanpublication date Mon Sep 19, 2011 22:55author address author phone Report this post to the editors

The message of the film, and Jensen's work, is explicitly NOT to wait for collapse to magically bring about sustainability, but that waiting will lead to mass extinctions and possibly an end to life on the planet. The film is calling for us to organize to resist the atrocities of this system. Further, the new book "Deep Green Resistance" by Jensen, Lierre Keith and Aric McBay promotes and describes how to build a resistance movement. If they were not trying to build broad public support for this idea, they would not be writing books and making films. Frank Lopez, who made End:Civ, would not be traveling around everywhere trying to show it, relying on donations and giving the film away free. So the OP's original argument fails right there.

Also, debate over strategy is a great thing. But adding a tone of insult and arrogance is alienating and doesn't win people over. Argue the points; don't sneer.

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author by Toddpublication date Mon Sep 19, 2011 23:17author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I think the author of the first comment basically puts forward a messianic conception of social change where we have faith that collapse is inevitable & faith in the violent acts of small minorities to make change. I don't really see anything positive or progressive in those positions. Collapse is not inevitable. It's possible, but there's other possibilities. It's also not to be welcomed, collapse would be an unfathomable holocaust & people promoting it are either anti-social elements or are not really serious in their politics.

Rather than trying to do small violent acts to bring about world collapse, we need to try and confront the system and put forward an alternative method of change. That's the problem with the primitivist & jensen stuff. The faith in collapse & fears raised around such a messianic concept take rationality out of the equation. What if the collapse takes 200 years? Rather than having faith in the inevitability of collapse, there's long historical evidence of the ability of power to coerce life under horrible conditions. The appeal of these theories is they claim we've entered a new epoch that changes the rules. There's so many assumptions there, if we just question any of them the whole argument crumbles. Is the strategy to just keep taking irresponsible acts of small scale destruction and keep sending young people to prison? Is anti-social violence a better way to confront the system than trying to build positive collective power with our fellow humanity?

It's hard to take this stuff seriously honestly. I don't see anything different from say the Khmer Rouge, who wanted to get back to primitive society of Cambodia & who believed that a minority needed to take acts to destroy civilization. Especially given the willingness to question morality in their acts of bringing about the collapse of civilization, we need to wonder what kind of politics this actually is.

author by Deep Green Resistancepublication date Mon Nov 21, 2011 14:53author address author phone Report this post to the editors

A movement is growing based on the book, co-authored by Derrick Jensen, called Deep Green Resistance: Strategy to Save the Planet. Deep Green Resistance has a plan of action for anyone determined to fight for this planet-and win. If you’ve ever been inspired by Derrick’s work, then here’s where the solutions are. The time for action is now. Now this war has two sides…

98% of the old growth forests are gone. 99% of of the prairies are gone. 80% of the rivers on this planet do not support life anymore. We are out of species, we are out soil, and we are out of time. And what we are being told by most of the environmental movement is that the way to stop all of this is through personal consumer choices. It’s time for a real strategy that truly addresses the scope of our predicament.

Where is your threshold for resistance? To take only one variable out of hundreds: Ninety percent of the large fish in the oceans are already gone. Is it 91 percent? 92? 93? 94? Would you wait till they had killed off 95 percent? 96? 97? 98? 99? How about 100 percent? Would you fight back then?

Good people have stayed silent for too long. We’re tired of ineffective, symbolic acts – piecemeal, reactive, and sad. Now our despair and anger can be matched by an even deeper joy, beyond compare, the joy of beginning to fight back, effectively. We are pleased to announce the formation of DGR Action Groups worldwide. Take the first step and join the resistance.

Learn more about the strategy, find groups that have formed near you, or find out how to start your own group at:

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