The Limitations of the Earth Liberation Front
Environmentalism is the defining issue of our times. The ecological crisis is touching all of our lives. The environmental movement is engaged in a life-or-death struggle with the forces of industry; at stake is the planet that gives us life.
The Limitations of the Earth Liberation Front
- Committee for the Strategic Advancement of Earth Liberation (CSAEL)
Environmentalism is the defining issue of our times. The ecological crisis is touching all of our lives. The environmental movement is engaged in a life-or-death struggle with the forces of industry; at stake is the planet that gives us life. A clandestine component of the struggle has emerged, operating under the name Earth Liberation Front (ELF). What follows below is an analysis of the effects and limitations of the ELF. We had no forgone conclusions when we began this work; this analysis emerged organically from a jumbled mixture of observations. The ELF is difficult to analyze because of its fluid and amorphous nature. The cells of the ELF do have two major things in common though: the operational guidelines, and the organizational model. The guidelines are as follows:
1) To inflict maximum economic damage on those profiting from the destruction and exploitation of the environment.
2) To reveal, and to educate the public about the atrocities committed against the earth and all the species that populate it.
3) To take all necessary precautions against harming any animal- human and non-human.
The organizational model of the ELF is one of two to four person cells, operating independently of each other, and in secret, generally composed of people who have known each other for several years and have built up a certain level of trust. The model is not always followed, often to the detriment of the cell. The benefit of this model is the high level of security it provides. Recently, however, the authorities have discovered that a cell can be cracked by recruiting current or former members to act as snitches. Small, isolated cells also have a number of limitations in terms of what they can accomplish given limited personnel and resources. It also means that the underground has no built in capacity for expansion. As with any type of political action many people have difficulty conceptualizing themselves as active participants rather than passive spectators. ELF militants may also suffer from a steeper learning curve in picking up needed skills than someone who had formal training might have had. Acting in an independent cell also means you may have no support network if arrested. Moreover the need for secrecy limits the amount of internal democracy a group may have.
Sycophantic environmentalists regularly dismiss the ELF as "ineffective" in the capitalist press. An odd invective indeed given that if we have different goals we are going to have different ideas of what "effective" means. Nevertheless the question remains, is the ELF effective? Let us begin by asking if the ELF is effective by its own standards laid, as laid out in the guidelines, and if it is effective from our revolutionary/anarchist perspective. Each guideline shall be examined in turn. The first guideline is "to inflict maximum economic damage to those who profit from the destruction and exploitation of the environment." This is the essence of ELF strategy, to force their targets to perform a cost benefit analysis, in which the target arrives at the decision that they should stop what they are doing because it is more expensive to continue than it would be profitable.
This line of thought developed among popular movements who discovered that the only way to get our societies dominant institutions (government/corporations) to give ground was to drive up the social costs (through mass defiance of laws and norms) to the point that the ruling class is unable to function unless they make concessions. This means that ELF actions are not challenging the legitimacy of these institutions. As Dave Foreman put it in Eco-Defense; "Monkeywrenching is not revolutionary." While the philosophies of known members of the ELF (those who have been imprisoned) and the ideas expressed in the communiqués suggest that the people who carry out ELF actions identify as revolutionaries, the group's strategy is decidedly a defensive one, not one of overturning the existing social order. Furthermore while driving down profit may be a good way to pressure corporations, government is less responsive to such tactics as they have a stable source of funds acquired through taxation, though government is potentially influential by the people through elections, whereas corporations are essentially totalitarian. Moreover, ELF actions often only slow down developments that have insurance because the group fails to stage multiple attacks.
The second guideline is "to reveal and educate the people about atrocities committed against the Earth and all the species who populate it." There has been a tremendous amount of publicity raised by the ELF, the Vail action made the ELF a household name, however the capitalist press often don't report ELF actions, give minimal coverage, or put out misinformation about the groups goal's or actions. Furthermore, in the past the press has simply imposed a media blackout on groups that become too consistent, as in Germany with the Red Army Faction (RAF). This occurs with any action attempting to undermine the ruling class and is no reason not to use these tactics. Imagine telling someone who lived under a dictatorship that they should not fight back because the State propaganda will be unfavorable. The nature of clandestine action also limits a group's ability to educate the public, as discovered by the Weather Underground.
The third guideline is "to take all necessary precautions against harming any animal- human or nonhuman." This one was probably developed because of the never ending violence vs. nonviolence debate. Many anarchists defy common sense by arguing that if an action does not kill or injure anyone, it is nonviolent. While the question of violence or nonviolence is an absurd one, we can use both. We do feel it is important not to make any concessions to pacifism. To synopsize our feelings on this issue: violence has no innately negative features, life is valuable but not sacred, determining if violence is justifiable/effective depends on the individual context. Although it is important that we take steps to insure that innocent, unarmed, civilians are not harmed, the fact is that some innocent people WILL be harmed in any protracted struggle and people need to look into themselves and ask if this is something that they can live with before engaging in guerrilla action. Another problem with this guideline is that it means that snitches and informants are not subject to physical retribution that has historically been the price of treason. If we want to put a damper on the anarchist movement's snitch problem (we can only limit this, snitches will be a problem so long as the state exists) then justice must be meted out both to serve as deterrence to future snitches, as well as to maintain the morale of the movement rectifying the devastating impact that an informant can have on trust within our communities. Of course as with many militant groups the real danger presented by the ELF is not the amount of physical damage it is able to do but it's potential to persuade the people to stir up unrest within the populace.
The ELF's greatest strength is that it cannot be physically destroyed, in past years the US government has had a certain amount of success in finding and imprisoning ELF soldiers. But ultimately it doesn't matter if they catch all members of the ELF because the group is not so much an organization as it is the living embodiment of an idea (the use of sabotage in defense of the Earth) and ideas cannot be jailed or killed. The authorities are well aware of this and do all they can to discredit the group or distort its aims, for example if you search for 'earth liberation front' online you will come up with at least two phony websites. Awareness of the need to spread the ideology of the ELF, if the group is to survive, is present among environmental activists as well. Perhaps the most recent example of this shift in consciousness is the reemergence of the ELF press office (www.elfpressoffice.org) and Resistance magazine. But we as environmentalists need more than to simply support and spread the current prevailing ideas, we need to strategize and critique. We need to be constantly moving and shifting using a thousand different tactics at once. We need to recognize that the ELF has some limitations that may prove fatal. But if the group fades into memory it is because we as a movement decided to go beyond what that group was capable of. In deciding what direction our movement takes two points are of paramount importance 1st) the capitalist system demands constant growth, our world has limited resources and room for expansion. This means that our current economic system is unsustainable 2nd) worsening material conditions produced by this system means that resistance will be continued until we are victorious or extinct. Action in the face of this reality becomes a moral imperative. In this possibly terminal phase of human existence we are locked in a battle not for some abstract principle but for the very survival of our species and of all life on Earth. We humans who are alive at this point in history alone have the power to alter the trajectory of history, and it is our duty to do whatever it takes to preserve our shared and living earth. If you are reading this, you are the resistance...
Please remember when discussing this issue:
WHAT NOT TO SAY
* your own or someone else's involvement with an underground group
* someone else's desire to get involved with such a group
* asking others if they are a member of an underground group
* your own or someone else's participation in any action that was illegal
* someone else's advocacy for such actions
* your plans or someone else's plans for a future action
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