The arrogance of George Monbiot

Overweening self-regard appears to be one quality essential to becoming a Guardian columnist and George Monbiot, who has written for many years for The Guardian newspaper on environmental and climate change issues, is no exception.  ‘For most of my adult life’ he writes in an article on 25 April, ‘I have railed against “corporate capitalism”, “consumer capitalism” and “crony capitalism”. It took me along time to see that the problem is not the adjective but the noun.’ Does this mean that his Damascene conversion has put him on the side of socialism? By no means; part of the reason he says it has taken him so many decades to arrive at his conclusions (he started writing for The Guardian in the 1990s) ‘was that I could see no alternative: unlike some anti-capitalists I have never been an enthusiast for state communism’ adding sniffily ‘I was also inhibited by its religious status.’

 ‘State communism’ is an oxymoron: communism is by definition the period when in Marx’s words, the state has withered away – it no longer exists as an instrument of class oppression. Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of Marxism would know this. Clearly Monbiot doesn’t, or doesn’t want to. Describing support for ‘state communism’ as a religion is a sentiment that would not be out of place in the Daily Mail or The Telegraph. It reveals the extent to which The Guardian’s standards have fallen. Monbiot’s intellectual idleness casually rejects the Soviet experience of the past and the Cuban experience of the present. Of course the Soviet Union was interested in ‘generating economic growth’: it had inherited an appalling situation of economic destruction at the end of the civil war in 1920-21; it had already been invaded by the western imperialist powers which were to use their economic power for the next 70 years to undermine Soviet development. The Soviet Union’s struggle to develop the productivity of labour in order to defend itself against imperialist aggression both economic and military undoubtedly led to some awful eco-destruction. But unlike capitalism, this was not intrinsic to the system, as Cuba has amply demonstrated since.

While Monbiot has pondered over the precise character of capitalism, his attempts to persuade us that he was at any rate a radical have repeatedly fallen flat:

  • In 2007, he wrote in The Guardian that ‘I believe Iran is trying to acquire the bomb’ at time when 16 US intelligence agencies said it wasn’t. 
  • Four years later, in October 2011, he thought of the NATO onslaught on Libya that ‘I feel the right thing has been happening for all the wrong reasons’. After more than seven years of economic and social disaster for the Libyan people, he has not told us whether he still feels the ‘right thing’ was done.
  • Journalist Jonathan Cook noted that Less than 48 hours after a chemical attack on Idlib in Syria, ‘Monbiot was tweeting that the evidence appeared to show Assad was responsible, while suggesting that anyone who doubted the Syrian regime’s role was likely driven by nefarious motives. A day later, he was “99%” sure Assad’s government was responsible. Trump’s illegal attack on Syria, he said, was only “symbolic” – a symbolic war crime, presumably – and would allow Assad to “carry on as before”. Did he mean Trump needed to launch more than a symbolic attack?’ Cook described later how Monbiot vilified Noam Chomsky and John Pilger as ‘genocide deniers and belittlers’ because they refused to accept the imperialist narrative on Syria.

Even nearly 20 years ago in May 2000 he was trashing the anti-capitalist Reclaim the Streets (RTS) movement, supporting a police attack on its activists on May Day, and describing it as made up of ‘incoherent vigilantes’ who were a ‘threat to the environmental and social justice movements’ and claiming that ‘non-violent direct action not a direct attempt to change the world through physical action, but a graphic and symbolic means of drawing attention to neglected issues, capturing hearts and minds through political theatre’ (see FRFI155, June/July 2000). Such a sentiment would now not be out of place in the cosy middle class world of Extinction Rebellion’s leadership.

Monbiot asks ‘So what would a better system looks like?’ and says ‘I don’t have a complete answer, and I don’t believe any one person does.’ Maybe not, but collectively, nine million Cubans do.  Their meetings and discussions created a Constitution which requires the state to ‘promote the conservation of the environment and the fight against climate change, which threatens the survival of the human species’. That such thinking also resulted in the re-insertion of the goal of ‘advancing toward a communist society’ demonstrates a level of political consciousness that the climate change movement must emulate if it is to make real progress. The Cubans are creating an alternative, but Monbiot’s arrogant and blinkered views prevent him from noticing it.


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