How to Blow Up a Pipeline

By Andreas Malm
Published by Verso, 2021, RRP £10.99, £9.99 at Bookbuster

Review by Tim Barton

Subtitled Learning to Fight in a World on Fire, this book is in the great radical tradition of the Luddites (there is a pub in Ruddington that celebrates them still, The Frame Breakers) of Georges Sorel’s 1906 part-
work Reflections on Violence, of Edward Abbey (whose The Monkey Wrench Gang resonates throughout Malm’s book), and Dave Foreman & Bill Haywood’s Ecodefense: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching.

Malm’s book answers a question asked by David Wallace-Wells (author of The Uninhabit-able Earth), ‘if a liveable world requires all-over transform-ation, where and when and how do we start?’ by unequivocally ditching an inert pacifism and acknowledging as a first point of departure the unassailable historical fact that ‘the strategic acceptance of property destruction and violence has been the only route for revolutionary change’. His preface is entitled ‘No More Excuses for Passivity’.

THE NECESSITY – AND POWER – OF DIRECT ACTION

His targets are related to anthropogenic global climate change, and the fossil fuel industry. This too has a tradition, from Mr Abbey, through the Native American protests of 2016 onwards against a pipe-line planned to be built through the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota, and earlier pipeline protests in Canada, and a decade previously in Rossport, Ireland. In Nigeria, too, protests against Shell led to bloody repression and, inevitably, violence on both sides with repercussions for civil society there today. Monkeywrenching has also been a primary tactic of anti-logging activists. Organisations such as Earth First! ALF, anti-roads protesters, and anti-GM activists have all realised the necessity – and power – of direct action.

Violence against property is deemed beyond the pale by many activist groups today. Despite the media highlighting unsanctioned marginal actions, Extinction Rebellion (XR) abhor direct action unless it is non-violent, as do the Quakers (in general – though see Tim Gee’s Counterpower: Making Change Happen for a Quaker argument to define acceptable actions more broadly). Non-violent direct action (NVDA) has its adherents, and as an activist principle it is not passive whilst being pacifist – and, too, has its successes.

SABOTAGING THE DEATH MACHINE

But, as history is written by the winners, even if they make concessions, most successful civil rights actions have been accompanied by relatively unsung, marginalised and mis-represented groups of more hands-on activists (and indeed those heralded as a sine qua non of successful peaceful reform are often, in truth, less inclined to a non-confrontational stance than they are often painted). A topical example, given the profile of Black Lives Matter (BLM) today, is the black-power axis of Martin Luther King, Shabazz (Malcolm X), and the Black Panthers – MLK was less unambiguously pacifist than he is painted, the Panthers more involved in peaceful community-building initiatives than they are painted – and both were required to achieve change.

So, as we face a global ecocidal corporate capitalist state, hell-bent on massive resource-use to allow ‘business-as-usual’ a shade longer and damn the consequences, Malm’s celebratory missive for sabotaging the death-machine could not be timelier.


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