Cut Russian gas!

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By ANSELM JAPPE*

A flag capable of combining pacifist, ecological and social struggles

The first analyzes of the war in Ukraine elaborated in the field of the critique of value inscribe it in the context of the generalized collapse of the world commodity society. They are, of course, right. However, they run the risk of becoming excessively general and, above all, are not capable of indicating any practical action to be immediately claimed. We are talking about the need for a transnational emancipatory movement that repudiates all belligerents and their ideologies.

It's hard not to agree with that – but it's also hard for such a movement to emerge fast enough to have any effect on current events. From this point of view, the best thing would be to help (but how?) the true Russian heroes, those who protest in the streets by the thousands, despite the risks that this entails, and who even break into television studios.

It would sometimes be useful to remember words like “Machnovščina” or “Holodomor” – which we don't hear in the sources. mainstream of information since the beginning of the war, although they may help to understand that Ukrainians are not necessarily all fascists in their spirit, as certain defenders of Russia claim, and, above all, to understand why they are somewhat suspicious of their Russian “cousins”.

Certain contributions feel the need to condemn the pro-Putin attitudes that others profess in defense of “anti-imperialism”. The refusal of such an attitude seems obvious, and we are shocked by the fact that, apparently, these ideological delusions still exist in a form that is not completely residual.

Impose restrictions on airspace, offer weapons to Ukrainians, intervene directly on the battlefield? We often want to wish for such attitudes, just to keep Ukraine from ending up like Chechnya or Syria. However, demanding or supporting such measures would also mean, for social criticism, admitting that the insanities of a State can only be contained by another State and that only war responds to war. Which can sometimes be true; since 1938, a principled, unconditional pacifism is no longer tenable. But let us seek, in spite of everything, a tertium datur between capitulation and war.

Defending the immediate, complete and definitive interruption of the purchase of Russian gas and oil, as well as of all other substances and, in general, the termination of all commercial relations, all exports and imports with Russia, could be an alternative. Destroy the western pipelines (the North Stream) to demonstrate that we will never go back. Such a sanction – possibly the only one not considered by Vladimir Putin – could actually force him to withdraw.

True, this could cost Western economies, “companies”, “consumers”, “jobs”, “purchasing power” dearly. Westerners prefer, then, to put weapons in the hands of others and send them to their death – “armiamoci and leave”, as they say in Italian (“let's arm ourselves and leave”) – so you don't have to wear a thicker blouse indoors or get around by tram instead of by car.

It is, however, precisely for this reason that critical spirits should concentrate their proposals around “cut the gas”. In addition to possibly representing the only effective “weapon” to contain weapons, this renunciation would considerably accelerate the “degrowth” and deindustrialization that we so badly need. The economic and political powers would like to allow themselves to take a few decades to organize their “energy transition” from oil to “renewable” energies (among which is nuclear!), thus giving continuity to capitalism.

An immediate cut of Russian oil, even with no alternative in sight, could send all of industrial capitalism into a serious crisis and spur the adoption of forms of “voluntary simplicity”. Among the Russian products considered “indispensable”, there are also chemical fertilizers (“In 2021, Russia was the main exporter of nitrogen fertilizers and the second largest supplier of fertilizers based on potassium and phosphorus”, “Brazil is the largest importer of Russian nitrogen fertilizers”, Le Monde on March 15, 2022). Here's how to kill two birds with one stone.

It is evident that a choice like this, in order not to affect only those who are already poor, should be accompanied by drastic measures of redistribution: heavy taxes on large companies, large fortunes, high salaries and pensions. That still wouldn't constitute a way out of mercantile society, but it would be a fine step forward.

Just look at the anger that the proposed interruption of gas supply provokes in politicians from the left (Mélenchon), from the center and from the right (Marine Le Pen, who says that sanctions should not affect the purchasing power of the French! Even the right no longer wants to go to war if it is too costly…). It is enough to see that companies, such as Total, refuse it, that the German finance minister rejects, as always, any speed limit on highways, to understand that it is worth trying this path. Not as a “necessary sacrifice”, but as an opportunity to finally do what we should have done a long time ago: detoxify ourselves from this “energy drug”.

He would combine pacifist, ecological and social struggles. It won't be easy to take it forward – but it could lead to some consensus. At best, such “energy sobriety” measures would, even after the end of the war, kick-start a vicious circle towards the exit of industrial capitalism.

*Anselm Jappe is a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Sassari, Italy. Author, among other books, of The autophagic society: capitalism, excess and self-destruction. São Paulo (Elephant).

Translation: Daniel Pavan

 

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