What is more important, the struggle to save the environment or the struggle of the working class against the capitalist class? A Marxist might argue that the damage done to the environment is the result of an economic system that produces commodities not for the satisfaction of human needs but for the maximization of profit. Therefore, if you do not go to the root of the problem – capitalism – the best you can do is cut one head off the hydra, but rest assured other heads will crop up. For the environmentalist unfamiliar with Marx, or sceptical of the Marxist analysis, they may counter that since we are facing possibly terminal climate change, all other concerns must be set to one side and the principle struggle is that of ensuring we have an environment which can support human life – all other struggles are a distraction at this point in history. I have had the opportunity many times to debate this question with friends who will take one of these positions. At times this can become a highly contentious debate and in the extreme the parties engaged in this debate may come to regard the other as an obstacle to progress. My intent here is not to take a position on this debate. Rather, I would like to point out something which I believe renders this debate something of a distraction itself.
In my view the appropriateness of undertaking a given struggle will be determined by specific conditions unique to the place and the people engaged in that struggle. As contexts vary, and individual or collective capacities vary, the question of “what is to be done?” will be answered in a multitude of ways. I take the view that this multiplicity should be regarded as an immense and dynamic self-directed division of labour. I believe it is a mistake to regard those with differing priorities as misguided, deluded or potentially a threat to one’s own priorities. Women’s issues are important, as are issues of poverty, the environment, education, class exploitation, war, human rights, animal rights and so on. Perhaps, if it were possible to lay bare how these issues interconnect and demonstrate conclusively how tending to one issue would in turn effortlessly extinguish all the other issues, relieving us of the need to study and struggle to advance these other causes, then it might be possible to make the argument that one cause alone is worthy of our attention. I am sceptical of the possibility of successfully establishing the validity of such a thesis. However, even if it were true, it’s a matter of logic that a disease must be treated on both the level of the symptom and the root cause. I see no reason for approaching the question of social change any differently. I believe that the only rational course of action we have is for individuals to assess their own situations, take stock of their capacities, and determine what their priorities should be.
To be concrete, if we take Sussex NB as an example, in that context an “Occupy Sussex” movement would make little sense. First of all, finding enough bodies to fill the steps at city hall would be problematic. Secondly, Sussex does not represent a major commercial or financial center. I feel it is safe to conclude the fight against global capitalism will most likely not be centered in Sussex. For obvious reasons, no one went to Sussex to protest the execution of Troy Davis. Sussex had no role to play in that movement – regardless of whatever sympathies may have existed there. However, if we turn to the issue of shale gas and Sussex, that’s an entirely different matter. There are several reasons why Sussex may very well become the place where a decisive confrontation between the gas companies and the people of New Brunswick goes down. For someone living in Sussex it’s a matter of common sense that one would prioritize the struggle against shale gas.
As we consider the regions to our province, different areas face different challenges. These communities will develop unique responses, appropriate to their context. Our task, as individuals who believe another world is possible, is to support the myriad of ways in which progressive action unfolds.
Each day we have the opportunity to engage in analysis and reflection. Each day also presents us with opportunities to act. The art is to flow from theoretical knowledge to action and from action back to analysis and reflection. As a struggle unfolds one must have the presence of mind to recognize where they are, where their opponent is and have the fluidity to adapt. Often it is the fighter who is most dynamic and creative, not the most powerful, who emerges victorious.