Symposium on Joel Wainwright and Geoff Mann's 'Climate Leviathan'

***Comments now closed; Joel and Geoff’s reply is available here. Thanks to all who contributed.***

A ‘symposium’, of course, is a party – ‘a convivial meeting for drinking, conversation, and intellectual entertainment’, as the OED puts it. And geographers, it seems, aren’t good at parties. Peter Gould (1985: 4) opened his The Geographer at Work with a description of a cocktail party where he was asked the dreaded question ‘And what do you do?’ – dreaded because it elicits ‘[t]hat awful feeling of desperate foolishness when you, a professional geographer, find yourself incapable of explaining simply and shortly to others what you really do’. What’s worse, arguably, is that if we struggle to articulate what geography is all about, then our fellow partygoers are only too happy to help us out. Trevor Barnes (2002: 9) remembers being at a party, ‘…sitting on the floor with other guests in a loose circle, taking turns saying what we did…When I said I was a graduate student in economic geography, one of them burst into uncontrollable laughter. “So what do you do, find new places?” he guffawed’. It’s a hopeless situation. Even ex-Antipode editor and gregarious Mancunian Noel Castree admits that when ‘…a stranger asks you what you do for a living…what most of us usually do…[is] mumble the sentence “I’m a geographer” and then try to move the conversation on before said stranger tells you how he or she loved studying rocks and rivers at high school.’

This, to be sure, is an important issue – how do we communicate the meaning and value of geography to different “publics”? And how should we respond to the (mis)representations already at large? – but one for another day. What we want to do here is stage a different sort of gathering – the first, we hope, of many – where, freed from derision and embarrassment, geographers qua geographers can flourish. (You’ll have to bring your own drinks, though.)

Antipode has long been a place where radical ideas not only assemble but also meet with critical responses. The commentaries on David Harvey’s (1972) now-classic “Revolutionary and counter-revolutionary theory in geography and the problem of ghetto formation”, for example, were commissioned because of a feeling that ‘…there is a lack of controversy in most of the geography journals. A journal like Antipode is well suited to commentary and argumentation and we welcome comments on the papers we publish’ (Peet 1972: iv). With we hope we can facilitate a lot more commentary and argumentation through which lacunae can be identified, threads drawn out and spun on, and searching questions asked.

We begin with Joel Wainwright and Geoff Mann’s paper ‘Climate Leviathan’. Forthcoming in Antipode 45(1), and available online now, it’s a singularly ambitious work; it’s original, innovative, tremendously provocative, and it pushes the boundaries of radical scholarship. As such we think it demands, and is deserving of, some open and critical debate, and we’d like to stage a conversation where others can respond to Joel and Geoff and they in turn can reply to the critique levelled. Ultimately we want to become a forum where real dialogue happens as a matter of course, where colleagues/comrades feel comfortable discussing each others’ work. So, we’ve made ‘Climate Leviathan’ freely available (it’s open access – no subscription required) until the end of the year and commissioned four responses to it (by Joshua Barkan, Patrick Bigger, Mazen Labban, and Larry Lohmann); we now invite shorter comments from readers (you can participate at the bottom of the page [note that there will be a slight delay before your comments appear while spam-detection does its thing]), and after a month Joel and Geoff will reply.

We owe a debt of thanks to Joel and Geoff and their interlocutors – Josh, Patrick, Mazen, and Larry. We’d also like to thank Rhiannon Rees and Dexter Santos at Wiley-Blackwell for helping make this symposium happen.

*         *         *

Joel Wainwright and Geoff Mann (2012) Climate Leviathan. Antipode doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8330.2012.01018.x

Abstract: While there is much justifiable attention to the ecological implications of global climate change, the political implications are just as important for human wellbeing and social justice.  We posit a basic framework by which to understand the range of political possibilities, in light of the response of global elites to climate warming and the challenges it poses to hegemonic institutional and conceptual modes of governance and accumulation.  The framework also suggests some possible means through which these responses might be thwarted, and political stakes in that construction of a new hegemony – which, to avoid suggesting we know or can yet determine the form it will take, we call ‘climate X’.

Keywords: climate change, Leviathan, political economy, sovereignty, Hegel, Marx, Schmitt

Critical responses

Joshua Barkan, Liberalism, Sovereignty, and Politics

Patrick Bigger, Red Terror on the Atmosphere

Mazen Labban, Beyond Behemoth

Larry Lohmann, Commentary on ‘Climate Leviathan’


Castree N (2000) What kind of critical geography for what kind of politics? Environment and Planning A 32(12):2091-2095

Barnes T J (2002) Critical notes on economic geography from an ageing radical, or, Radical notes on economic geography from a critical age. ACME 1:8-14

Gould P (1985) The Geographer at Work. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul

Harvey D (1972) Revolutionary and counter-revolutionary theory in geography and the problem of ghetto formation. Antipode 4(2):1-13

Peet R (1972) Editorial policy. Antipode 4(2):iv


  1. stephanie wakefield

    Thanks Joel and Geoff for a great article and opening up the discussion. In terms of a response, I’d like to point out two possible problems and pose some questions. First the problems.
    “Climate Leviathan” begins with the prediction that with climate change, ‘sovereign security’ is expanding to unprecedented global scales. Wainwright and Mann base this claim on the planetary scale of action required to regulate carbon, which they suggest thus necessitates ‘sovereign security’s’ scalar transformation. This opening presupposition, in which security and sovereignty appear synonymously and in which carbon regulation is posed as the central governmental problematic, is reflective of two problems that trouble the rest of the article.
    1. In imagining possible climate political futures, Wainwright and Mann focus primarily on techniques for the mitigation of climate change, in particular and nearly exclusively by way of carbon sequestration, production and regulation. Yet in the era of climate change, much more is to be governed than carbon emissions and there are other ways of governing than through their regulation. If we look, for example, to the ongoing response of many American cities to climate change, we find a different approach operating alongside mitigation —resilience. In contrast to mitigation, resilience begins from the assumption that climate change is not only inevitable but moreover already underway. Climate resilience thus operates within a field of potential and increasingly frequent crises —including heat waves, torrential rainfall, hurricanes, flooding, as well as critical infrastructure failure—which it treats as givens and through which it attempts to maintain course (see e.g. PlaNYC Deeply influenced by systems theory and ecology, climate resilience celebrates the city as a holistic ecosystem and rallies human and non-humans alike to the task of its management. Against past approaches that eliminated nature and disorder from the city, resilience qua management is sought through technologies and practices that work with disorder rather than against it. Its object is not the regulation of this or that emission, but the urban terrain itself.
    2. This brief characterization of climate resilience leads to the second problem I see with this paper. Although Wainwright and Mann’s aim is to articulate the possible political-economic futures that climate change may produce, their emphasis on regimes of carbon regulation leads to a limited portrayal of these possible futures, in which governance is cast predominantly in terms of sovereign power. However, what we see today is most likely not the planetarization of sovereign rule, but rather as Agamben notes in the passage cited by the authors, “the unprecedented generalization of the paradigm of security as the normal technique of government” (2005 14). Identified by Foucault (2009) alongside discipline and sovereignty as one of three paradigms of government, security arises in opposition to the latter two and is distinguished both by its conception of crisis as well as its management. Whereas the sovereign enforces or punishes, discipline prevents or molds, and both do so in order to eliminate or ward off this or that crisis, security instead embraces crises in order to modulate their appearance. Rather than governing this or that individual element, apparatuses of security entail the creation and organization of what Foucault called a milieu, “the space in which a series of uncertain elements unfold” (2009 55).
    It is along these lines —rather than that of sovereignty— that climate resilience unfolds. As such it represents a rather different paradigm of government than that of Climate Leviathan, Mao, Behemoth, or X. With resilience, government is more eco-cybernetic than global sovereign, and more suggestive of bureaucratic oikonomia –“a pure activity of government that aims at nothing other than its own replication” (Agamben 2009 22)— than Guantanamo Bay or the Patriot Act. Similarly to what Jean-Pierre Dupuy has said of cybernetic systems, climate resilience represents an attempt to achieve total control of humans and non-humans alike while acknowledging itself as totally out-of-control. Maybe we should call it Climate Fantasia.
    Some questions
    If climate resilience is paradigmatic of oikonomia, this suggests that it is also a machine without a leader, as Agamben illustrates in the empty throne (2011). Yet Wainwright and Mann make several mentions of “elites” and sovereigns –do these represent the center of governance? If not, how is governance understood?
    Any paradigm is made up of local apparatuses of government, new climate-based instances of which appear daily. In addition to speculating on the future, how do we understand forms of eco administration already in operation?
    Though distinct, Agamben suggests that the exception and security work together. What is the relationship between the state of emergency conjured by climate change, on the one hand, and these different techniques of security?
    -Stephanie Wakefield
    Dept of Earth and Environmental Science
    CUNY Graduate Center

  2. Ben Wisner

    Thoughts about “Climate Leviathan” ANTIPODE FOUNDATION SYMPOSIUM
    21 July 2012, Hanover, New Hampshire
    Ben Wisner [email protected]
    A Critical Geographer Needs a Metaphor like a Fish Needs a Bicycle:
    Why Wainwright and Mann Spin Their Wheels
    I take heart that Antipode Foundation has invited readers to discuss Wainwright and Mann’s (WM’s) attempt to imagine possible paths toward a future global politics in a changing climate. I also congratulate WM for making the effort.
    They have imagined, to be sure. Have they ‘theorised’ these paths? I don’t think so. They have used an assortment of metaphors and bits of political theory to stimulate their imagination. If this symposium really were a party, then we have seen WM grazing on a bowl of 17th century snacks, munching a bit from the 19th century and early 20th in order to keep the intoxication produced by 21st century Italian theory (Agamben, 2005) within bounds.
    No matter. They have imagined. And that’s good. So should all of us.
    However, what they have come up with is a taxonomy, the result of imagining the combinations in a two by two matrix: capitalism or non-capitalism on one side, global environmental management with clout (‘sovereignty’ or none) on the other. This is heuristically useful. But in order to call this act of imagination ‘theory’, WM would have to go beyond taxonomy and tell us about process. What processes are likely get the current 198 governments (states) in the world and the 7 billion people on Earth from the present situation – little and ineffective governance at the international level and a good deal of bad governance at the national – to something resembling one of these four outcomes in their matrix? What drivers – other than climate change? What period of time are WM assuming?
    One problem is that WM only appear concerned with green house gas emissions and with what the IPCC calls ‘mitigation’ or reduction of these. WM haven’t yet caught up with critical climate science, which by now is deep into a serious discussion of ‘adaptation’ – how people such as farmers and herders in Tanzania are already spontaneously changing their livelihoods in ways that reduce the impacts of climate change (Wangui et al., 2012). The question of ‘climate justice’ has been discussed by geographers and others working ‘from the bottom up’ as a goad and counterpoint to Big Science’s ‘top down’ models for two decades or more (Agarwal and Narain, 1991; Adger et al., 2006; Pelling 2011; and many others cited in Fisher, 2012). Given their interests, concerns and the goal of their paper, it is odd that WM do not cite any of this literature!
    Only one-third of the references WM cite have anything to do with climate change, and a number of them are journalistic sources. They cite the IPCC once. They neglect to consider the IPCC’s massive study of climate change and extreme climate events, nicknamed the SREX study (IPCC, 2012). A number of geographers who have worked for years on natural hazards and disaster risk reduction contributed to this study.
    As a result of their serious reading of Hobbes, Schmitt, Benjamin and Agamben, WM seem to have neglected more pedestrian but empirically rich and vital reading. That would account for their neglect of ‘adaptation’ as a major path, one where considerable international finance has already been applied. ‘Muddling through’ is not as dramatic as Sci Fi scenarios – one great Climate Leviathan disciplining and punishing those who emit carbon beyond specified amounts or a new Mao who would be an even harsher and more ruthless Great Steersman of a micromanaged low carbon economy (Lindblom, 1959; Kay, 2009). Muddling through is what governments and people have done forever, and this is likely to be what one will see over the next 100 years. Consider governments that oversaw empires – various Chinese dynasties, the Persians, Incas, Alexander the Great, Romans and the British, to name a few. What forms of regulation did they use? Did they not bumble along from crisis to crisis including what Post has called The Great Last Subsistence Crisis in the Western World, referring to the way European governments responded to the poor harvests caused by Tambora volcano’s eruption in 1815 (Post, 1977)?
    I am imagining, too. And I thank WM for the encouragement. But isn’t ‘muddling through’ as plausible, given the contemporary situation as a starting point, as either Climate Leviathan or Climate Mao?
    What of Climate Behemoth? WM identify two ‘mass-based responses to Leviathan: reactionary populism and revolutionary anti-state democracy’. They correctly cite climate change denial as a step in the former direction. Climate X is the shape WM’s futurology gives to revolutionary anti-state democracy. However, given that reactionaries and extreme social conservatives (often based in religious ideology) have been part of humanity for all of recorded history but seldom become hegemonic over large territories, and certainly have not in the 20th and 21st centuries, are the Tea Party and its ilk likely to persist in blocking state response to climate change? There is Sci Fi available here, too, if one can stomach the purple prose offered up by Ron Hubbard and by the authors of the born-agains’ best seller, the Left Alone series. Better reading are the dystopias of Margaret Atwood (Handmaid’s Tale; Year of the Flood) and Octavia Butler (Parable of the Sower).
    One enters the realm of unpublishable Sci Fi when considering Climate X. There actually have been quite readable fictional accounts of the other three in WM’s taxonomy. Climate X is simply too far fetched. In my heart of hearts I would love to see a kind of ‘Occupy’ the Earth movement take power. But then what? What form and exercise of ‘power’ would that be? Radical decentralism opens space for local self-empowerment (as in Chiapas, Mexico, under Zapatista ‘rule’). But it does not project power at regional or global scale. The truth is, one cannot give people power. They themselves, in each community, must take it. The only way I can imagine (operative word) the benignly anarchic and Earth-friendly Climate X regime (or non-regime) is under conditions of post-catastrophic destruction of cities and industrial infrastructure and huge die off of human beings. If ‘muddling through’ puts off that terrible future, then I am willing to forgo the utopian pleasures my great-great grandchild might enjoy under the Climate X regime.
    To conclude, I repeat my gratitude for the invitation at least to ponder and imagine future climate politics, perhaps even to theorise them. However stimulating WM’s effort, it falls short. Why? Firstly, they are so wrapped up in their metaphors, or our ancestors’ metaphors, that they are driven into a cul-de-sac and end up with a mere taxonomy when what is needed is serious, detailed, evidence-based discussion of process. A tour of icons such as the Leviathan, the Behemoth and the Big Bad Wolf would have been more fun if conducted by Monty Python.
    Secondly, WM don’t seem to care much about the detail of climate change, and they ignore the issue of adaptation. Have they bothered to read the climate justice literature or, for that matter, the history of international environmental treaties? Contrary to what WM assert, Kyoto and its series of conferences of parties (COPs) are by no means the first attempt to regulate the global environment (WM, p. 6).** In 1872, the Swiss government proposed an international commission on the protection of migratory birds, and whaling has been regulated internationally since 1946.
    In brief, I agree with Larry Lohmann, author of one of four invited ‘critical responses’ to WM in this symposium (Lohmann, 2012). He writes that “many climate activists are likely to be left wanting them to push the analysis further.” I’d go further and say WM need to start over and ground their analysis in a thorough understanding of the present before attempting to imagine the future. Lohman also writes, “For all its novelty, the approach of ‘Climate Leviathan’ still gives the appearance of straining to break out of the shackles of various constricting intellectual conventions.” I couldn’t agree more!
    **”The UN-COP negotiations … represent the first institutional manifestation of this dream of planetary regulation.”
    References Cited
    Adger, N. et al., eds (2006) Fairness in Adaptation to Climate Change, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
    Agamben, G. (2005) State of Exception, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
    Agarwal,. A and Narain, S. (1991) Global Warming in an Unequal World, New Delhi: Centre for Science and the Environment.
    Fisher, S. (2012) The Emerging Geographies of Climate Justice, Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy Working Paper No. 94/ Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment Working Paper No. 83, London: London School of Economics and Political Science .
    IPCC (Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change) (2012) Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (SREX), Geneva: IPCC .
    Kay, J. (2009) History vindicates the science of muddling through, Financial Times 14 April .
    Lindblom, C. (1959) The science of muddling through, Public Administration 19: 79-88.
    Lohmann, L. (2012) Commentary on ‘Climate Leviathan’ Antipode Foundation .
    Pelling, M. (2011) Adaptation to climate change: from resilience to transformation, London: Routledge.
    Post, J. (1977) The Last Great Subsistence Crisis in the Western World, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
    Wangui, E et al. (2012) Integrated development, risk management and community-based
    climate change adaptation in a mountain-plains system in Northern Tanzania, Journal of Alpine Research 100: 1 .

    1. David Schwartzman

      Just a brief comment on adaptation. Adaptation is imperative but it should not make mitigation an afterthought on our planetary agenda. Mitigation must include rapid and radical cuts in carbon emissions and sequestration of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into the soil and crust. Mitigation approaches can be coupled with adaptation, e.g., agroecologies, storing carbon in the soil while replacing fossil-fuel dependent industrial agriculture and GMO.

  3. kestrel7

    I commend Joel Wainwright and Geoff Mann for examining the potential governance structures that might emerge in the coming decades as the world copes with global warming. I see “Cliamte Leviathan” as a necessarily speculative article written to generate discussion. It seems sure to do that. Indeed, it already has.
    The article is meant to be a theoretical intervention, but perhaps it’s too theoretical. For instance, who exactly makes up Climate X? Are they just groups in the Global South threatened by climate change? Surely that’s too straightforward. Not only are marginalized groups in the Global North likely to press for efforts to deal with climate change, they are already doing so. Also, privileged and relatively not-privileged groups have been involved in the burgeoning climate movement in North America for the past few years. The fight against the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry oil derived from tar sands in Alberta to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast, has served as a flashpoint for climate activists throughout Canada and the United States. The anti-Keystone climate activists include well-educated, relatively affluent whites—a traditional constituency for the North American environmental movement—but also Canadian and American indigenous groups and American Midwest farmers and ranchers. Many of these activists also strongly identify with Occupy Wall Street movement. In short, this seems the sort of grassroots, leftist movement that would contribute to ‘Climate X.’
    Also, the article would have benefitted from a stronger empirical grounding in the Climate Mao section. Wainwright and Mann briefly reference some of Mao’s writing on peasants as revolutionaries. But they say nothing about the environmental calamites in Mao’s revolutionary China, most of which were brought on by Mao’s disastrous policies. Mao not only mobilized peasants during the Chinese revolution, he killed millions of them during the state-caused famines of the Great Leap Forward, 1958-1962. These are well documented in the scholarly literature (Shapiro 2001; Brown 2009, 179-93; Dikötter 2011). I realize that Wainwright and Mann are not endorsing the Climate Mao alternative—or at least that’s how I understood the article—but I think it’s problematic to raise the specter of Mao, and reference his writings, and not discuss his actual policies and their terrible consequences.
    This is better than I can say for one of the respondents to “Climate Leviathan,” Patrick Bigger, who advocates “red terror” and argues “Climate Mao, with some modifications, is the most promising climate future and one that we should strive for.” To casually endorse red terror is highly offensive. That phrase is synonymous with the mass arrests, tortures, and executions by the Cheka (the Bolsheviks’ secret police) during the Russian Civil War. It’s one thing to fear that these sorts of atrocities might occur if unchecked global warming fosters social unrest; it’s quite another to actually endorse it, or in Bigger’s words, “unleash red terror.” This is all the more troubling to read in Antipode—a journal long devoted to social justice. Obviously, Wainwright and Mann are not responsible for what respondents write about their article. But I can hope they can clarify their own position on Climate Mao and respond to Bigger’s comments.
    Bob Wilson
    [email protected]
    Department of Geography
    Syracuse University
    Brown, Archie. The Rise and Fall of Communism New York: Ecco, 2009.
    Dikötter, Frank. Mao’s Great Famine: The History of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-1962. New York: Walker & Company, 2011.
    Shapiro, Judith. Mao’s War against Nature: Politics and the Environment in Revolutionary China. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

  4. Ben Wisner

    `I imagine what Stephanie means by ‘resilience’ is what the IPCC calls ‘adaptation’. If so, then her comment and mine (above 20th and 22nd July, respectively) certainly deserve a reply by the authors. Among other things they have offered readers interested in climate change and policy only half a loaf (another metaphor). Cheers, BEN

  5. Antipode Editorial Office Post author

    Thanks for the comments thus far. And just to clarify: Joel and Geoff will reply to all towards the end of August. Ed.

  6. David Schwartzman

    Climate Leviathan provokes badly needed thinking on anti-capitalist strategies confronting the greatest threat to human civilization and biodiversity as we know it. Visioning alternative scenarios are very helpful to this project. But I find this analysis would be enhanced by a more serious consideration of cutting edge climate science, thermodynamics as well as research on energy requirements for a state of the science quality of life as we plunge nearer to the tipping points to catastrophic climate change (C3).
    Marxist political economy is necessary but not sufficient in crafting a political movement with any chance of preventing C3, while there may be still time to do so, with this window of opportunity rapidly closing. Here we need two bits of Climate Lenin (“reloading Lenin”): act while there is still time to do so or condemn our children and grandchildren to Climate Hell, and use every division in the ruling elites of states and institutions driving capital reproduction, rather than simply critiquing capitalism and invoking socialism without a viable strategy to create the global mass base capable of this task. In this regard, dismissing the Global Green New Deal (GGND) as capitalist Leviathan, is very unhelpful for two reasons. First, a program for C3 prevention must begin in our world now dominated by capital reproduction with the core being the Military Industrial (Fossil Fuel, Nuclear, State Terror) Complex. To postpone this challenge until the rule of capital is terminated is to maximize the chance of Climate Hell coming to fruition. Recognizing the importance of the GGND is not the same as claiming that the GGND will culminate in the greening of global capitalism, rather it is critical opportunity to end the rule of capital while having a fighting chance to prevent C3. Second, just as the New Deal was propelled by intense class struggle, so will be the GGND, and this transnational, multi-dimensional class struggle will itself be the necessary requirement for ecosocialist transition. Further, energy delivery to humanity must increase in the coming decades to:
    1) create the necessary condition for a state of the science quality of life, robustly measured by life expectancy, for all of humanity, with most in the global South now suffering from energy poverty.
    2) to bring the now unsafe atmospheric carbon dioxide level below 350 ppm, a requirement for C3 prevention along with rapid and radical reduction in carbon emissions.
    The details of this claim are spelled out in my papers listed at the end.
    Thus, I heartedly endorse Patrick Bigger’s argument, “A chorus of climate socialism would most effectively appropriate and transform the global means of production for rapid transition to a negative carbon economy in the name of climate justice.” And further, his support for a diversity of strategies among nation-states and movements is very welcome. For example, only intense class struggle will drive the rapid phase-out of coal in China, creating the potential for a bottom up Mao Climate, opening up an ecosocialist instead of state capitalist path.
    References (pdfs available on request)
    Schwartzman, D, in press, Four scenarios for 2050,. , Capitalism Nature Socialism.
    …The military-industrial-fossil fuel-nuclear-state terror complex (critique of Bill McKibben just published “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math” at Rolling Stone).
    … (2012) A critique of degrowth and its politics, Capitalism Nature Socialism 23 (1): 119-125. …(2011) Green New Deal: An Ecosocialist Perspective, Capitalism Nature Socialism 22 (3): 49-56.
    …(2009) Ecosocialism or Ecocatastrophe? Capitalism Nature Socialism 20, No.1, 6-33 (March).
    Schwartzman, P. and D. Schwartzman. (2011) A Solar Transition is Possible. Institute for Policy Research & Development Report, March,, (has this report and much more).
    David Schwartzman [email protected]
    Professor Emeritus, Howard University, research focus on biogeochemistry, energy and climate policy.

    1. Ben Wisner

      I couldn’t agree more with David. As I remarked in my own critique, the Leviathan authors don’t concern themselves with the nuts and bolts (volts) of climate change. Concerning the Global South, provision of more energy, but leap frogging nuclear and fossil fuels, is an important part of the plans and funding for climate change adaptation. The Leviathan authors completely neglect adaptation.
      I also enjoyed David’s invocation of Lenin’s shrewd political tactics. There are, indeed, fissures and tensions among fractions of capital that need to be exploited in order to avoid what David calls ‘Climate Hell’.
      Building a mass movement will only be possible if the strategy is to focus on the intersection of people’s happiness and well being, which in Global North means jobs and in the Global South means non-farm employment (e.g. building windmills in small towns for sale in the rural hinterland) and rural livelihoods. But to do this, ideology cannot lead but the sort of canny pragmatism practiced by Lenin, or perhaps even a better example would Allende in Chile.

  7. Aaron Kappeler

    Thoughts on the Antipode Symposium: Climate Leviathan
    “I’m Looking for a Great Leap Forward.”
    While Wainwright and Mann’s contribution may lack empirical information about the experience of agrarian reform under Mao, what is truly ‘troubling’ about this symposium is not this omission, nor the introduction of the concept of Climate Mao, nor even support of the idea of ‘Red Terror,’ but Dr. Wilson’s repetition of stale anticommunist platitudes and pious use of words like ‘social justice’ as a cloak for McCarthyism. In Dr. Wilson’s remarks on the symposium I detect a certain distaste for debate outside of convenient political parameters and intellectual work which questions received political wisdom. As well, Dr. Wilson’s comments seem to question the discretion of the editors and even insinuate that Patrick Bigger’s response fell short of being publishable. This sort of outrage is typical of liberals who, on the one hand profess ideological pluralism while on the other display blatant disrespect for open debate outside of their comfort zones––“playing it safe” is the watchword of the day. In this post, I want to briefly address some of the factual omissions and errors in his comments, which likely contribute to this attitude. In Dr. Wilson’s comments, we see a number of assertions, which while sharing in conventional wisdom have been deeply troubled and in my estimation, refuted by recent scholarship. Dr. Wilson’s remarks on the socialist periods in Russia and China show, at best, a cursory understanding of the eras and their dynamics and this is made all the more disturbing by his dual role as geographer and historian. Any serious student of Russian history knows that “The Red Terror” was preceded by “The White Terror” in which supporters of the Czarist and Provisional governments attacked trade-union leaders, Jews and other ethnic minorities. Likewise, anti-Semitic and proto-fascist groups like “The Black Hundreds” freely roamed the countryside killing real or suspected supporters of the Sovnarkom government––committing the exact kinds of violence which seem to trouble Dr. Wilson. It is also worth noting many of these same “White Terrorists” later actively collaborated with the Nazi invasion and participated in the Holocaust. The Bolsheviks were forced to respond to this vigilante violence with their own “terror” to maintain order and stability and while one may disapprove of their methods, moralizing about the events in the abstract in the absence of any contextualizing discussion is unpardonable. In such a polarized context, it would have been difficult for any party not to employ violence or coercion, especially in a Civil War, which had as its stakes control of the entire nation. It is also important to note that “The Red Terror” occurred in response to attacks by five major foreign powers (Britain, France, Germany, Japan and the United States) and a number of smaller nations, all of which sent armies into Russian territory intent on overturning the government. Not coincidentally, this was a violation of national, political and territorial sovereignty, which I humbly submit, is likely the intention of Bigger’s allusion. In my reading, Bigger’s analysis of ‘red terror’ is anything but “casual.” He contributes to a dialog on the role of sovereignty and violence in the regulatory power of the state and the ability of national states to shape global political economy and climate change. Any attempt to curb or dismiss debate on this topic or relevant historical experiences because of abstract fear of violence or “communism” is shameful. Even conservatives like Weber recognized that “political violence” or “terror” are at the heart of statecraft and there is a fruitful theoretical discussion to be had on the operation of the state in periods of “exception” or a discussion of the relationship between violence, terror and statecraft. This is the purpose of the Wainwright and Mann’s article and engagement with the writings of Benjamin and Schmitt in this symposium––at least as I understand it. I find this terror allusion is especially appropriate––not to mention clever––in a period when global institutions like the United Nations are used for predatory interventions against nations whose political economies are less amenable to Climate Leviathan (e.g. Libya, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, etc.) and which resist the supremacy of supranational institutions.
    As for China, “establishment scholars” have greatly exaggerated the famines of The Great Leap Forward and generated the received wisdom that the Mao era was an “unmitigated disaster.” Much of the analysis of The Great Leap Forward ignores reliable sources of data such as census reports and anecdotal accounts, which contradict predetermined conclusions and fail to create a high body count. Joseph Ball (2006) has written a strong refutation of these methodologically suspect studies, but it is worth mentioning a few points on this period.
    The first phases of the agrarian reform in China were incredibly successful and were carried out with minimal resistance from the rural populace and with the near complete support of the peasantry. Peasants were eager to obtain land and virtually all regions of China showed significant increases in production and standards of living. China enjoyed the highest life expectancy in the developing world at that time and the reform polices laid the groundwork for subsequent national development and industrialization. One wonders, how such a “murderous” and “inept” regime was able to double the average life expectancy and contribute to significant demographic growth in a country once known as “the sick man of Asia.” The disasters of The Great Leap Forward cannot be ignored, but they were also produced by a complex combination of factors, including withdrawal of Soviet technical aid and assistance, bureaucratic opacity and ironically, weather and climactic conditions––all of which disappear in Wilson’s accusations. China was also subject to continual droughts and floods which affected food production and the central leadership was frequently presented with overly optimistic and at times, fabricated reports on yields from local officials. As a result the central government requisitioned too much grain from the rural population and exacerbated an already dangerous situation. To put it bluntly, however, famines in China neither started with Mao’s rise to power nor ended with his death. China has long been a country susceptible to ecological disaster (e.g. in 1947, before the communists took power, a massive flood killed nearly 1 million and left more than 2 million homeless) and this is the context in which any government would have operated. But perhaps Dr. Wilson’s true grievance with the concept of Climate Mao is the historical tie to the policy of encouraging Chinese farmers to attack birds, which were damaging crops. While the practice can hardly be defended on ecological grounds, it was in keeping with a political philosophy, which sought to mobilize peasants to solve their own problems, rather than a praxis that imposed bureaucratic answers from the top-down. This attitude hardly jibes with characterizations of Maoist China as a monolithic regime, which merely “imposed itself” on the peasantry. That is not to say this bureaucratic tendency was not present, but this is one of the very dangers in Climate Mao that Bigger points out––the possibility of a mass popular movement of the oppressed turning into a technocratic state bent on imposing severe reductions in standards of living in the name of necessity––which he glosses as “Climate Stalin.” Bigger highlights the inherent danger in negotiations between expert knowledge, political exigencies and popular demands, but nevertheless advocates the use of sovereign power to overcome political exigencies which run counter to the requirements of a new climate economy. He suggests any attempt to construct an alternative climate economy will be met with hostility from internal and external enemies and argues that any state capable of confronting the climate crisis will have to be based on sovereign power––and by definition, to a certain extent, coercion. This assertion is completely legitimate. He nowhere endorses “indiscriminate arrest” or “torture” and such readerly associations are unfair; Wilson should recant them.
    In spite of my disappointment with the tone of some of the comments in this section, it is to be expected. Of ideological and political struggle, Mao wrote:
    “If the enemy attacks us, that is good. If the enemy opposes us vigorously, paints us in the blackest colors, and will allow us no good points, that is even better; it shows that not only have we drawn a clear dividing line between ourselves and the enemy, our work has also proved brilliantly successful.”
    Dare I say that the authors of this article and its responses have proven brilliantly successful?
    Aaron Kappeler
    Department of Anthropology
    University of Toronto