The Camp for Climate Action at Heathrow brought activists, local communities and others opposed to the building of a new runway at the airport, together in an inspiring, united way. The political support of local MP John McDonnell was also important, especially in dealing with the state. This enclave of democracy and self-organisation surrounded by surveillance cameras and massive searchlights, police horses and vans was a shining example of self-sacrifice and utopianism. The camp was well prepared and organised and did not allow itself to be derailed by innumerable provocations from police and media. An extremely high level of understanding about the crisis was self-evident, with many scientists and students of ecology present.
A united front of a different kind confronted the camp – a combination of the New Labour government, the global corporate owners of the airport and the forces of the state. These forces remain unmoved by the protest. The government is not much concerned about the communities who are under the flight path of the proposed new runway. Expansion of the airport is deemed an economic necessity – and that’s what counts for this government. Ferrovial, the construction giant that owns the privatised British Airports Authority, worked closely with thousands of police (and police spies) to blockade the climate camp and protect their property.
Which brings us to the nub of the fight against climate chaos – how can we tackle the source of global warming if we are denied access to the means to do so? There is no doubt that the science, technology and organisational skills exist that, if deployed in a positive way, could open the way to a sustainable future. But at present these resources remain in the hands of the global corporations like Ferrovial and are deployed primarily in the interests of profit. Endorsing this set-up are governments like New Labour, who insist that carbon emission reduction policies do not interfere with the market economy and, as a consequence, make no impact. Finally, the institutions of the state like the police, using a wide range of powers including anti-terror laws, will use force to protect private property and their political masters.
Direct action serves to highlight some of these problems but because it is restricted to a series of short-term protests leaves unanswered the strategic challenge. This revolves around the pressing need to transform the economy from one run along capitalist lines to a system that is founded on a co-operative, not-for-profit basis offering maximum protection to eco-systems. It is a mistake to think you can achieve these aims without addressing the issue of the state and state power. Capitalism rules through the state and especially since globalisation, the state is pretty much immune to pressure and protest.
To compost capitalism, to recycle corporate wealth, resources, technology, science and skills, we have to compost the state as well. The movement against climate chaos, and other groups fighting for a sustainable, non-capitalist future, have to direct their energies towards transforming the state. In place of the fraud of the parliamentary system, we should campaign for forms of direct democracy at local, regional and national level. We should extend the principles of democracy beyond the vote to include self-management and control of workplaces and public bodies. This would mean democratic ownership and control of all the principal economic, financial and technology resources by communities, producers and consumers. Do this and we really will have composted capitalism.
Paul Feldman, communications editor