Firstly a little bit of history. The Earth Liberation Front was founded in 1992 in an amicable separation from Earth First! by those radical activists who wished to go beyond passive resistance to environmental degradation by endorsing a strategy that included property destruction and sabotage, often referred to as ‘ecotage’ by radical environmentalists. Whilst their origins were organically derived from Earth First! the ELF’s tactics, strategy, organisational principles and the form of their name were derived from the Animal Liberation Front.
The ELF were founded in Britain which saw some small scale actions in the early 1990’s, but then
quickly crossed the Atlantic where the movement began to really make an impact with some high
profile actions and a repair bill for environmentally destructive corporations which ran into the tens
of millions of dollars.
The FBI’s definition of the ELF and ALF together as the US’ number one domestic terrorist threat (a
perverse notion given that neither the ELF or ALF had caused any injury let alone death, unlike the
numerous murders committed by white supremacist and anti-abortion groups) led to suppression
and, for now, a lull in activity. The movement has since however become more internationalised
with significant activity in such diverse places as Indonesia, Mexico, Sweden and Russia among
others. In addition to those actions explicitly claimed by ELF cells there are numerous other activities
undertaken by groups working under a wide range of names but with more or less similar goals.
Among these is the ironically named ‘Friends of the Earth’ in Argentina who, whilst subverting the
name of the internationally known liberal NGO, have destroyed literally hundreds of (usually high
status) cars, often by burning down car showrooms….
Increasingly ELF cells are extending their remit by wishing to define the type of struggle they believe needs to be waged for environmental justice in the wider context of anti-capitalism. Perhaps the earliest example of this was an attempted arson on a Nike store in Minnesota, USA in 2001 at the time of the initial upsurge of the anti-capitalist movement: http://www.skeptictank.org/ecowar/gen00989.htm
However it should be noted that as a result of their autonomous form of organisation, whereby
anyone who carries out an action can be part of the ELF simply by designating themselves as such
(providing they stick to a loose set of guidelines) the movement contains a diverse range of activists
from leftists to ‘beyond left and right’ anti-civilisation types.
Despite this amorphousness, many ELF cells seek to define themselves as part of a wider anti-capitalist
struggle and recently this has been manifested in joint activity uniting the ELF ‘label’ with that of the
Informal Anarchist Federation (who use the English IAF or Italian/Spanish FAI accronym). There was a recent example in Russia where the ELF/FAI burnt down a sawmill at a hunting resort in Bryansk.
During the August riots in England in 2011 a number of actions occurred in the Bristol area claimed
by the ELF, IAF and like-minded groups, see for example the anarchist group ‘Act for Freedom Now’ claimed that on Monday 8th August 2011, during civil unrest in St Paul’s area, Bristol an Eon vehicle was spotted and torched on William Street following allegations of disregard for ecosystems made against Eon.
The above mentioned Argentinian Friends of the Earth also self- describe themselves as one of several active cells of the FAI in that country.
Whilst the ELF and related groups increasingly define their actions as part of a much wider struggle,
coming from the other end of the spectrum, anti-capitalist forces are increasingly wanting to incorporate environmentalism in their struggle and engaging in ecotage-type actions with a modus
operandi, choice of target and message mirroring that of the radical environmentalists. Leading the
way in this respect are Maoist groups in India and the Philippines whose multiple ecotages occur in
the context of the revolutionary struggles they are fighting.
In India the CPI(Maoist)’s main constituency of support is the adhivasis, indigenous forest dwellers
who have lived sustainably off the resources of India’s forests, rivers and mountains. The enemy of
the adhivasis and that of the CPI(Maoist) are the national and multi-national corporations seeking to
exploit those same natural resources in the cause of profit. Inevitably then, much of the struggle has
centred around the environment with Maoists and their adhivasi allies defending the forests whilst
the government backed corporations seek to destroy them. Here is one of many examples of the
CPI(Maoist)’s offensive against corporate mining…
Just as Maoists have formed a natural alliance with indigenous people in India so First World
environmentalists in North America forge a common struggle with the indigenous of that continent,
most notably against the development of the tar sands industry.
In the Philippines too, environmental issues are a priority for the New Peoples’ Army and their
motivation (support for local peasants) and their modus operandi (sabotage) is also not dissimilar to
the ELF, as illustrated by this 2008 attack on a biofuels plantation..
(Note that Earth First!, which still acts as a media outlet for ELF communiques is often prepared to
post reports of Maoist activity which connect to environmental struggles.)
More recently, following the mass protests against the felling of trees in Gezi Park, Istanbul and the
subsequent police repression of protests, there has been a spate of other environmental protests
relating to a number of unwanted development projects across Turkey. The armed wings of the two
main Maoist groups, TIKKO of the TKP/ML and the HKO of the MKP have both engaged in ecotage
actions (both reports in Turkish with English digital translation);
What appears to be happening is that two formally disparate traditions, whilst remaining distant
ideologically and organisationally are converging in terms of their choice of tactics and targets.
Maoism in the Third World and the ELF (and similar groups) in the First (and Third World).
Despite the sharp ideological differences could it be that these different tendencies could be uniting with each other, objectively speaking, by mobilising people on the basis of political and envirnonmental consciousness? It is often said that the struggle in the First and Third Worlds is divided by the barriers of privilege which any calls for class-based unity across that same divide would struggle to overcome. Might it be that this type of struggle could unite radicals in the First World and Third World?
But more than this, we must look at the tendency of serious radical environmentalists, in the name of
‘green living’, to reject the consumer obsessed First World lifestyle and be among the minority of
people prepared to give up their First World privileges in support of a more equitable as well as
environmentally sustainable world. To apply Mao’s famous question; ‘Who are our enemies, who
are our friends’, as unlikely as it may first seem the ELF and their allies may certainly be considered
friends. Red Struggle does not have a line of supporting and promoting any particular tactic used by groups like the ELF. However, the political line of rejection of western consumerism and all its attendant evils, common to the ELF and many other radical environmentalists, is one that must strike a resonance with all those who uphold Third World struggle.
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