‘Deep Green Resistance’ — how not to build a movement


Deep Green Resistance: Strategy to Save the Planet
Aric McBay, Lierre Keith & Derrick Jensen
Seven Stories Press, 2011

In its March-April issue, Canadian Dimension magazine featured a very positive review of Deep Green Resistance. The reviewer said it “made me a better strategist,” and endorsed author Derrick Jenson’s assertion that “this book is about winning.”

In my view, the strategy and tactics advocated in this book are a path to certain defeat, so I submitted the following brief response, which CD editor Cy Gonick kindly published in the May-June issue.

There is much to admire in Deep Green Resistance. The authors sincerely love the natural world. They write passionately about environmental destruction and the refusal of the powers that be to change course.

Their criticism of the ineffectiveness of mainstream environmental organisations is powerful and convincing, as is their argument that radical greens must aim to “deprive the rich of their ability to steal from the poor and the powerful of their ability to destroy the planet”.

But the book is mostly about strategy and tactics, and that is where it fails.

In his previous book, Endgame, Derrick Jensen wrote: “I don’t think most people care, and I don’t think most people will ever care … The mass of civilized people will never be on our side.”

That elitist, greener-than-thou attitude permeates Deep Green Resistance.

The authors write: “The vast majority of the population will do nothing unless they are led, cajoled, or forced … there will be no mass movement, not in time to save this planet, our home.”

And: “Humans aren’t going to do anything in time … [so] those of us who care about the future of the planet have to dismantle the industrial energy infrastructure as rapidly as possible.”

That elitist analysis leads to elitist strategy. Having written off most of humanity to as irredeemably apathetic or hostile to change, the enlightened ones propose to force change on the world through “Decisive Ecological Warfare” conducted by small groups.

“Well-organized underground militants would make coordinated attacks on energy infrastructure around the world … actions against pipelines, power lines, tankers, and refineries, perhaps using electromagnetic pulses …”

If even partially successful, the social and economic chaos caused by such a campaign would be felt most severely by the poor and oppressed.

The authors face that prospect with appalling equanimity: “We’ll all have to deal with the social consequences as best we can. Besides, rapid collapse is ultimately good for humans ― even if there is a die-off ― because at least some people survive.”

Of course, Decisive Ecological Warfare is pure fantasy, a video-game vision of a heroic band saving the earth from evil-doers, enabling a handful of survivors to carry on as hunter-gatherers in a new Eden.

Missing from DGR’s scenarios is the outcome that history says is most likely ― long before the underground groups achieve any significant size or ability to act, they are infiltrated by police spies and provocateurs and disrupted by arrests. Key activists are imprisoned for years; many more are isolated and demoralised.

Our rulers couldn’t ask for a more favourable result.

“We are,” the authors admit, “up against a system of vast power, global in scale, with no sympathetic population upon which to draw for either combatants or support”.

But instead of working to build an effective counter-power by educating and organising the oppressed, they have somehow convinced themselves that the “system of vast power” is actually so vulnerable that it can be brought down by sabotage.

The socialist reply to such illusions was expressed a century ago by the great United States socialist leader Eugene V. Debs.

“It is not because these tactics involve the use of force that I am opposed to them, but because they do not … The force that implies power [of organised working people] is utterly lacking, and it can never be developed by such tactics.”

And, as Hungarian Istvan Meszaros wrote more recently: “The uncomfortable truth of the matter is that if there is no future for a radical mass movement in our time, there can be no future for humanity itself.”

[Ian Angus edits Climate and Capitalism and is co-author, with Green Left Weeklyeditor Simon Butler, of Too Many People? Population, Immigration and the Environmental Crisis.]


This book has been doing the rounds of eco-activists in Australia. I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but from reviews (positive and negative) it doesn't sound like anything new. Impatient people trying to posit their own lack of patience as though it were a strategy. And complete, patronising alienation from the very poor people they claim to be on the side of. Yawn.
But you haven't read it...
I disagree with this negative review of Deep Green Resistance, not only in the conclusion, but in the lacking of actual information to back up your opinion in this review. First of all, you say that the "strategy and tactics advocated in this book are a path to certain defeat". I read the book and I found a detailed discussion of strategies and tactics that have worked in the past, this book is a perfect introduction into the history of successful resistance. In this article of yours, you don't mention any tactic or strategy that might be a better option. What do you suggest instead? It seems that you lean towards a mass movement, but after learning about historical struggles I have to agree with the authors that a mass movement isn't likely nor do we have time to waste waiting for one (that doesn't mean it isn't preferable, even the authors admit that a mass movement would be preferred). You call this an "elitist" strategy and yet this book is supportive of oppressed people, I don't understand why you use the word "elitist". This is the opposite of what Derrick Jensen says about needing it all. I understood the Deep Green Resistance to apply to anyone who cares about the planet. When I think of elite I think of those with the most privilege and the most to lose when industrial civilization crashes, and it is going to crash one way or another eventually. If we wait for it to crash on its own, will we have a livable planet left? A big flaw in your argument is this," If even partially successful, the social and economic chaos caused by such a campaign would be felt most severely by the poor and oppressed." I have to disagree here. If industrial civilization stopped taking "resources" from many of the poorest in the world ,especially those who still remember traditional ways of living, they would immediately be able to go back to their land (if it isn't too far damaged) and grow or collect their own food. In my opinion it is the privileged ones like most of us living in the U.S., who will suffer the most when civilization crashes. Does that justify the continuing oppression to people in other lands? In most places of the world, the poor will benefit the most from taking this system down, since the system keeps them in poverty. It is those with the most who in the end will lose the most. I am not denying that people will suffer when this destructive way of life comes to an end, but I also know that this way of life can't continue indefinitely. Suffering for humanity is in the future whether we follow the advice in Deep Green Resistance or continue on with industrial civilization and all its benefits for those with privilege. All of us will suffer, and those with the most degraded/overpopulated land will suffer the most, not the poor. I agree with the authors, the sooner industrial civilization is stopped, the less the suffering will be. Every day we wait more land is destroyed, more rivers and are polluted and more living beings are gone forever. "Decisive Ecological Warfare is pure fantasy"? It has been done before, and as for it being a fantasy, I'm sure those in power would be happy if we believed it to be a fantasy. How is fighting back a "favorable result" for those in power? History says we can win, even if the chances are low. If we do nothing we have already lost by default. And finally...how does this article help? Why not write articles about how to build that mass movement you mentioned? Why not spend time "working to build an effective counter-power by educating and organising the oppressed"? We need it all, these are great ideas, please implement them. It doesn't help when people who should be allies are wasting energy in horizontal hostility. Why not spend your energy working together, even if you disagree with the method? It seems to me that you agree about the goal, stopping industrial civilization from destroying the planet. Does it matter that different groups have different methods? Why not work towards the goal instead of criticizing the methods others are using? At least can you suggest another path? I see no one else suggesting a better way to save the planet. I'm wondering if you are instead happy to be living a life of privilege and truly don't want to stop this culture that is destroying our world. I am also privileged as I sit here typing on my computer, but I am ready any moment to toss out all these gadgets when the power is turned off forever, even though I know it will be a struggle for those of us with privilege. We should be preparing for those days instead of trying to prevent it. I certainly won't be criticizing anyone who is trying to take down the system. I will support them (or at least stay silent), even if I disagree with their methods. One thing I won't support however, is horizontal hostility, and that is what this article is. Deep Green Resistance is an excellent book, for getting a basic political education and for learning the basics of resistance. There is much to learn from this book.
DGR analysis is actually inline with Marxist analysis. A revolutionary mass movement comes about when the objective social conditions are right. We're going to hit climate tipping points in the next 5 years. No Marxist is suggesting that there's going to be global revolution in the next 5 years? Then DGR is right. A mass movement won't come in time. Therefore, as much as a DRG is a very, very long shot. It's actually more likely than a mass movement coming out of nothing. But that would put a bunch of activist types out of a job, so, nobody wants to hear it.
"Decisive Ecological Warfare" is a puerile fantasy. Where has this kind of tactic worked before? There is a world, mass movement against neoliberalism, against ecocide. It's not homogeneous, and its very weak in some countries - especially wealthy imperialist nations. That doesn't excuse these people writing off the struggles of the world's poor. And posturing about eco-warfare is only likely to get you locked up. Remember the Weather Underground, SLA, RAF, Red Brigades? It's been tried and it was a stupid waste of activists, at best.
""Decisive Ecological Warfare is pure fantasy"? It has been done before, and as for it being a fantasy, I'm sure those in power would be happy if we believed it to be a fantasy" Done before? Where? -- actually, I think the ruling class would all be very happy if activists went off and did "decisive ecological warfare" so they could use us as provocateurs and gaol us just like the Weathermen and RAF and so forth. " I am also privileged as I sit here typing on my computer, but I am ready any moment to toss out all these gadgets..." Please, don't wait for us. Do it now. Then we won't have to listen to this drivel anymore.
DGR is basically a Leninist model of intellectual elites that organize along cadre lines. It is a personality cult built around its intellectual heads who provide all strategy and philosophy to the cadre members. Because it is so centered on the leading personalities loyalty is especially promoted in DGR, that is, as loyalty to the central leadership and DGR in general. The military organization advanced by DGR is an authoritarian hierarchy that reflects their organization as a whole and is itself based on elite 'special forces' carrying out high level sabotage attacks. DGR cadre members can't even answer how decisions are made in the group, and least not publicly. And despite a policy of not collaborating or talking to law enforcement, Jensen himself called the FBI after he received death threats presumably from right-wing extremists pissed at his call for CEOs to be assassinated. He's an opportunist and a whiner. Unfortunately DGR will be cycling through quite a few young, naive student types (their main recruits, probly due to the intellectual elitism of DGR).
Deep Green Resistance Another review of the book in light of a few years observing the bizarre antics of this group: Deep Green Zombies Want Your Brains "If you watch zombie movies, you'd probably know that common scene where a character (often a main character) mistakes a zombie for a friend/family/rescuer and stands calmly next to them – until, too late, the undead is chewing on their brains and the hapless victim becomes undead too. "That's the thing about zombies. Superficially at least, they resemble humans in most respects. "Like zombies resemble humans, the politics of the group “Deep Green Resistance” resemble those of a radical green/left group in many ways. But I get the distinct impression that to find yourself alongside them in the green/left movement would be akin to standing next to a zombie. " Continues at http://bccwords.blogspot.com.au/2015/06/deep-green-zombies-want-your-brains.html
Deep Green Resistance- DGR- has a problem with transphobia and cultural genocide, therefore, for many Indigenous environmental activists, including myself; their claim to support Indigenous environmental resistance, Indigenous culture and decolonization as a guiding principle of engagement with the Indigenous environment movement is invalid and ethically flawed. I was inspired by much of the material DGR promotes regarding environmental activism, especially Indigenous resistance, decolonization and organizing, but I started to notice the promotion of transphobic material on their websites and social media platforms. Why it matters that Deep Green Resistance promotes itself as allies to the Indigenous people whilst openly promoting transphobia and oppressive rad-feminist ideologies surrounding intersex, transgender and gender-fluid people, is that in many of the worlds Indigenous cultures, including the multi-cultural Aboriginal, Torres Strait Island and Pacific Island nations, transgender, intersex and gender-fluid people hold key cultural and societal roles. I have visited many Pacific Island nations and many nations on this continent, I have been informed by our Old People about the vital role transgender people play in many traditional and contemporary Indigenous cultures and societies, I have witnessed and partaken in cultural ceremonies conducted by transgender Islander Peoples. The co-opting of the global Indigenous environmental resistance by DGR reeks of hypocrisy, the worst kind of hypocrisy for an organization that claims to uphold the following principle: Solidarity: Non-indigenous members of DGR remember that we are living on stolen land in the midst of an ongoing genocide. The task of the non-indigenous is to build solidarity with indigenous people in defending the land, preserving traditional cultures, and protecting sacred ceremonies from exploitation. http://deepgreenresistance.org/en/who-we-are/guiding-principles-of-deep-green-resistance In 2013 the Earth First! Journal Collective issued a statement about DGR oppressing transgender people- Deep Green Transphobia: http://earthfirstjournal.org/newswire/2013/05/15/deep-green-transphobia/ I reject the Deep Green Resistance movement, by promoting transphobia Deep Green Resistance openly engages in cultural genocide nd is unworthy to call itself an ally of the worlds Indigenous Peoples.