Editorial - Which camp are you in?

Originally published early in 2008.

Another airport, another camp. Many of the marquees and tents were the same, and most faces were familiar too. Yet the atmosphere at the No Borders camp last September was very different form the Climate Camp that had happened a month earlier. For a start, there were no police, journalists or livestock on site! Out were the dreadlocks; black hoodies were back in fashion. New airport, new camp, new politics? The No Borders camp had set up at Gatwick airport. Not to protest the flying habits of the middle classes but to demonstrate against the building of Brook House, a new detention centre at Gatwick airport.

We spent time at both camps and so did many others. But an obscure article in the Guardian newspaper proclaimed “You are either in the Gatwick camp or in the Heathrow camp. Make your choice.” Such was the conclusion by Brendan O’Neill of the ex-Marxist ultra-liberal website spiked-online. He had just given one of his infamous rants at British environmentalists. Only (as Merrick shows on page 9) this time he got his facts wrong.

Sure enough, O’Neill praised the No Borders campers for their protest “against the British government’s penchant for building prison-like detention centres for ‘illegal’ and ‘paperless’ immigrants, including one inside the grounds of Gatwick airport”. On the other hand, he accused the Climate Campers of being “interested only in their freedom to lecture the rest of us about our planet-killing holidays” and “calling for less choice, less freedom of movement, and for tougher taxes and restrictions on people’s ability to fly”. That might have been true for some of the liberal and conservative green pressure groups that have jumped onto the Climate Camp bandwagon. Many of the camp organisers, anarchists and socialists at Heathrow, however, condemned the calls for restrictive government-action.

There was some real support and co-operation between the two camps; and that is recognised from both No Borders (see page 4) and Climate Camp (see page 9) perspectives. We were also somewhat bemused by O’Neill’s remarks: One of the marquees at the No Borders camp had “from Drax to Heathrow” visibly written on the side of it, pointing out that the marquee (together with lots of the people) had come straight from the Climate Camp. There was no need to choose, we had just moved from one camp to the next!

On second thought, however, it is more complex than that. It should have trickled through to the radical green movement too that some of its traditions and contemporary manifestations have a markedly conservative edge to them. And increasingly today, green discourses are being used to justify migration controls. Isn’t it morally unjustifiable to allow unrestricted migration and freedom of movement when air and road travel and unsustainable consumption levels are destroying the planet? As we have argued in our last issue, there is clearly a level of austerity politics at work in the green movement. And the climate campers should guard themselves against attempts to use it as a platform to argue for more government and less travel (see page 14).

The intermingling of blood and soil ideology and conservative greens is well known. The thread can be picked up at various points throughout European history. For instance with the rise of Romanticism in the late eighteenth century came the close association between a romantic idealisation of the natural world and a desire to preserve and keep sacred this world – a romantic nationalism. The fascist conceptions of nation, blood and soil have green undertones. They evoke a connection between race and homeland and between nation and nature. For the German Nazis, it was the Volk (the ‘people’) alone that could live in harmony with the natural surroundings of Europe. With National Socialism sometimes came an inherent anti-modernism and romantic vision of the ‘natural’ as opposed to the destructive forces of the international financial elite.

This romantic idealism has sometimes been transported into ‘radical’ green movements. Proponents of ‘deep ecology’ and of ‘primitivism’ have especially been flirting with anti-immigration ideologies, though more so in the US than over here. Sometimes, the complex social reasons behind systematic ecological degradation are reduced to a mere problem of scarcity and ‘overpopulation’. Apparently there are too many people in the world and in Britain. Such arguments go hand-in-hand with calls for migration controls and border regimes to protect the European and North American eco-systems from ‘unsustainable’ population levels.

To be sure, none of this thinking was evident at the Climate Camp or could characterise the environmental direct action movement in Britain. But we have come across such arguments and it is important to refute them. Partly because they are missing the fundamental point: Trying to find an ethical or sustainable way of living in this current mode of social organisation invariably leads into a dead end. Capitalism is based upon contradictions and we won’t be able to break out of them if we hide behind pure ethical-environmental or moral-humanitarian positions without challenging the entirety of the system. The connection between No Borders and Climate Camp needs to go beyond infrastructure to a genuine exchange of politics and ideas.