Can we see beyond our political divides towards a path to system change? That was the question posed to Roger and Zac Goldsmith MP by comedian Heydon Prowse at the Planet Local Summit. It was a dialogue that, despite political differences, shared many goals. Both wanted to challenge concentrated power and embrace the British tradition of open debate. They varied, however, on the roadmaps forward.
The following is a transcript summary of Roger’s speech.
I want to thank Zac for sharing a platform with me. No one in the Labour party would even dream of doing that.
I’d like to start by quoting from a recent peer-reviewed paper:
"If warming reaches or exceeds 2° centigrade this century mainly richer humans will be responsible for the killing (Note: not “the death”), the killing of roughly 1 billion mainly poorer humans”
The first thing we need to understand about the elites, with no disrespect to Zac, is they are mainly psychotic. I think that's the correct medical word for people who are fully aware that we are going into an era of mass death and pretend that we're still in the 1950s.
I'm a revolutionary. I foresee that the present political regime in other words, the British establishment, will not exist in the near term. For the record, I want to say that I don't actually think revolutions are a great idea. In a perfect world we could all get together as nice sensible people in Bristol and sort everything out. But we know that we don't live in that world. The elites will not change their trajectory from taking us to mass death and they will collapse under the weight of that contradiction. Or in other words, under the contradictions of capitalism.
The next ten years will be exciting in a certain Nietzschen sense because there's been a lot of emotional repression in the green movement and it has increased exponentially over the past decade. People have been desperately holding on to a reformist pathway to change. Now, increasingly they are realising that it’s simply not going to happen. There's going to be a big rupture (That's an analytical point, it's not an ideological point).
The default position is a move towards extreme right-wing populist as happened in the 1930s, however what I'd like to say is that’s not deterministic. Historically, it is possible for movements to resist that default descent into fascism when major crises happen. What’s coming down the road presents us with a massive opportunity to create a pro-social world but we're going to have to work at it a lot.
So what is system change? By definition it's about looking at the whole system and how systems change and transform themselves. I'd like to address that because I think both Zac and Heydon have made various assumptions about how revolutionary change happens which are not sociologically robust. I want to make two corrections.
The first correction is that historically revolutions are arguably initiated by conservatives. That’s because the system itself has become revolutionary in the sense that it has become destructive to the core connectivities of society. It's destroying society through its own power. For instance, in the 19th century when there were Revolutions in France in 1830 and 1848 a lot of the people wanted to go back “to a traditional small scale agrarian society”. They were having a revolution against the power of capital. This is one of the reasons I have no problem in sharing a platform with Zac because there's elements of conservatism which are radically opposed to the power of capital. Their revolution is against the revolutionary violence of international capital. So, there’s complexity and ambiguity in the word Revolution.
In the Revolution
of our lives
No nonsense. Change your mind anytime.
The second point is that a revolution does not tear down the state. The revolution reconstructs the state from a regime that is destroying the state. If we return to my opening quote, you shouldn't have much of a problem imagining how states are going to destroy themselves in the context of 1,000 million people dying. Afterall, that's the equivalent of 20 World Wars in the next two generations. So what we need to focus on is a project that is going to bring together traditional conservatism with traditional progressivism against the real enemy which is international Capital.
International capital is obviously a simplification but what I would suggest is the creation of a new political force. One that does not want to stand in elections to recreate the party system but wants to remove the party system and replace it with citizens assemblies. That's the international agenda amongst people that are thinking clearly.
If we don't get organised we're going to have fascism. Fascism is massively violent and in the modern context it will lead to human extinction. It hasn't got any universal rationality so it's easy to joke, as you do Heydon, that popular democracy is messy. Yes, It’s filled with ordinary people and their different quirks. But as Democrats that's all we've got. We've only got the people. What we have to do is bring people together with our best social processes and enable them to feel their power.
We've had 40 years of the neoliberal lie that people can't organise themselves. That they're not interested and that we should leave it to the NGOs and the political parties to sort out this mess. We know that's led to the point where only 8% of the people in this country believe in the present constitutional Arrangements. This country is as mad as hell if you haven't noticed. On the surface we're being polite and English about it but underneath we're all mad as hell. We've just totally been fucked over year after year. Just in the last fortnight we've suffered the astronomical humiliation of a prime minister committing himself to genocide, to increasing carbon emissions, on our watch. So yes it is going to be really difficult. It's going to be hellishly difficult. We all have to grow up a bit and realise that if only three people turn up to your first Bristol people's assembly, you just stride right ahead because you haven't got any other choice. When we started Extinction Rebellion, there were two of us doing mobilisation. My friend Robin had the west side of Britain and I had the East Side. That's how it started. For the first meeting I rang my mate up about giving a talk in Nottingham. He said “Great, it's a cool place and we want to rebel. I'll get all my friends.” The event turned out to be him and one friend.
Don't think there was anything glamorous about starting Extinction Rebellion. Everyone thought it was a twatty idea for at least three months and then 6 months later it had 200,000 people involved. That's how history works. Everyone thinks you're a dick and then suddenly you're a hero.
We're on the edge of hell and we all need to get a grip. We all need to work together to create assemblies around this country to revitalise Democracy. Those assemblies need to aggregate into bigger assemblies and they need to show their power through local direct action and manifestos.
By standing as Independents in elections we can constructively prepare for the revolutionary episode that's coming down the line. At some point the system is going to destroy itself for the reasons Zac pointed out - vested interests are destroying our state and society. We need to be prepared for it. When the moment comes, we must stop the forces of fascism from destroying everything we believe in.
To be a bit patriotic, this conversation between me and a Tory MP is a Glorious thing about British culture. Look, I haven't thrown water over him or got my walking stick out for any blows. We can have a reasonable discussion about our future. Our country has got a very problematic history but at the same time we need to look on the bright side. There’s a lot of common sense and that’s what we need. A common sense Revolution where we say “we're not putting up with all this bollocks”.
You’ve got my email address so contact me if you want to get involved in assemblies. We're all going to work together to build something new. I'm working with a bunch of people, even relatively rich people. Obviously I'll be asking Zac for the odd million or two after this meeting because he's a patriotic guy and wants to see the country survive.
The point is we need to build another mass movement like XR which is well organised with a Central Committee. Sorry for those of you who don't know like Central Committees but that's the way you get things on the go. That's why Just Stop Oil has a 90% name recognition. It's properly organised. We're going to go out and become a voice in the public sphere of this country because it's desperately needed. The Labour Party is fucked isn't it. Let's be honest with ourselves that it's gone into the depths of Mordor and that hurts. We need a new story in this country of common mobilisation and organisation from the bottom up. The green movement is really good at making wish lists but we need to concentrate on the aggregation of political power. That's the chicken that lays the golden egg. That's what you saw with Extinction Rebellion. That's what you're seeing at the moment with Just Stop Oil. The reason why you know about us is because we're powerful.
We're powerful because we disrupt. Nothing's going to happen without disruption. The other side of the strategy is popular mobilisation in local communities. It's the Synergy between the two that provides the possibility of collective redemption.
Want to get involved in the Assemblies Project? Email me at email@example.com