Academic journal article Social Justice

Challenging Toxic Hegemony: Repression and Resistance in Rossport and the Niger Delta

Academic journal article Social Justice

Challenging Toxic Hegemony: Repression and Resistance in Rossport and the Niger Delta

Article excerpt

Introduction: How Can David Defeat Goliath? (1)

DISCUSSING THE NEED TO CONTROL THE PETROLEUM INDUSTRY AND POSSIBLE mechanisms fordoing so, without a serious consideration of power relations between corporations, states, and popular movements, is academic in the pejorative sense. It often represents an expression of despair about the ecological future and the possibility for genuine social control of fossil fuels. True, at first sight the industry--whose major corporations have larger economies than both states considered here--might seem beyond any human control. Yet if Goliath usually defeats David, on occasion David wins; and one role of research may be to indicate the conditions under which a better outcome is possible. As Raymond Williams observes, "To be truly radical is to make hope possible rather than despair convincing" (1989, 118).

Consider three examples. From the early 1970s a Norwegian oil policy that had hitherto largely colluded with the industry set itself the ambitious goal of bringing oil production under control for the social good. So successful was this strategy that the Norwegian oil fund is now one of the world's largest investors and Norway has become an international byword for the social control of petroleum (even if more recently this policy has been increasingly undermined).

Secondly, in the 1970s and 1980s, large-scale direct action social movements against nuclear power across the global North were not only successful in a number of states (including Ireland) but also raised the costs of building plants, such that the industry was set back for 30 years, and its recent comeback attempts have been less than overwhelming.

Thirdly, in recent years what were once critical science discourses allied to social movements--notably sustainable development and climate change--have become mainstream aspects of the global political agenda, to which major industrial states pay at least lip service and which may serve as points of leverage for more critical economic and ecological policies.

My point is not to celebrate any of these ambiguous outcomes as simple victories. What I want to observe is, firstly, that these results were achieved in the teeth of bitter opposition by major corporations and powerful states; it is by no means impossible to defeat Goliath, even if movements "fight and lose the battle, and the thing that they fought for comes about in spite of their defeat, and when it comes turns out not to be what they meant, and other [people] have to fight for what they meant under another name" (Morris 1886).

Second, these examples represent three very different strategies; Norway is a left social democracy, with movements firmly institutionalized within a reforming state; resistance to nuclear power was one of the first flowerings of left-libertarian (grassroots, bottom-up) politics after 1968; and the changing of official discourse is an outcome of NGO politics in these neoliberal end times. Whatever other distinctions we might make between these strategies, then, the potential for effective outcomes against toxic hegemony is not the property of one movement approach alone. Given the "ecology of knowledges" underlying global movements for change (De Sousa Santos 2006), and the likelihood that movements in different places and contexts will adopt different strategies, it is no bad thing that all may have some possibility of winning.

Understanding and Defeating Toxic Capitalism

Understanding and tackling "toxic capitalism," as in this issue's title, entails attention to the power relationships which underpin it--what for these purposes I will call "toxic hegemony." By this I mean the institutionalization of "alliances for growth" between ecologically destructive industries, multinationals, and states, backed up by supportive media and professional expertise and by much wider coalitions of popular forces, whether organized as consumers, as right-wing opinion politics, as growth-centric trade unions, or as popular demands for development. …

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