Oil Be Damned: Part Two
White Skin, Black Fuel: on the
dangers of fossil fascism
By Andreas Malm and the Zetkin Collective
Published by Verso, 2021
Review by Tim Barton
This is an odd book in many ways, but very interesting. It tracks the rise of far-right parties around the Euro-American capitalist states, and, alongside the inherent racism of these parties, their vociferous war on ‘renewables’ (especially wind power). The thesis is that these parties have a direct link to fossil fuel companies, and to manufacturers and agriculturists who are dependent upon fossil fuels. It is enlightening about, for example, industrial scale lignite, dirty coal, and peat-burning industries in Hungary, Germany, and Finland, as well as the Faragist’s and Johnsonian’s war against wind power and for fracking in the UK. Such a linkage makes perfect sense in terms of hijacking workers from more socialistic parties, by ‘protecting’ them from industrial wind-down and cheap immigrant labour, in a combined fight against ‘global’ environmentalist accords. ‘Migrants are like wind turbines’, says Marine le Pen, ‘everyone agrees to have them but no wants them in their backyard’.
That the social and welfare policies of such right-wing ideologies are clearly not in workers’ longer term interests should be obvious, but it seems it is not. In Hungary, for example, Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party happily introduced a ‘slave law’, whereby companies could double overtime to 400 hours per year and not remunerate workers for up to three years, but without seeming to dent his popularity. On the other hand, a real issue with convincing the public of the necessity and urgency of a significant ‘power-down’ is summed up by far right Freedom Party of Austria provincial
leader Manfred Haimbuchner – “Through high taxes, high environmental standards and absurd climate protection legislation, we endanger our industrial base, which is also the foundation for jobs and prosperity.”
Fossil fuel companies for years utilised their wealth to run parliamentary lobbies, buy off unprincipled MPs, and spin media narratives – not least on social media. This book gives some examples of high-level resistance to change, describing climate mitigation as an ‘existential threat’ to what the authors call “primitive fossil capitalism”. Indeed, the paw prints of Karl Marx are all over their analysis. The Dutch denialist think tank, CLINTEL, declared “There Is No Climate Emergency,” and no one should be surprised at a number of Shell figures signing up to it. However, as public interest in climate change, from the mid-90s to the (toothless) Paris Accords, and the more recent rise of XR, “fossil capital” became more important, industry concluded they “caught more heat than they repelled by preaching overt denial.” By 1997-9, several large denialist companies, such as BP, DuPont, Shell and Ford, changed their public message. Their continued denialism went covert, now channelling monies into underground alt-right groups and funding, to the tune of billions of dollars, troll-farms on the burgeoning internet. The authors suggest that ‘the far right now objectively worked as the defensive shield of fossil capital’.
Maddeningly, these far right political groups have gained traction throughout Europe. The Danes have gone so far as to push windfarms offshore, closing down onshore capacity, and the Hungarians introduced such wide-ranging restrictions on planning that windfarms are, in effect, banned – just as small-scale local turbines on British homes are in effect banned.
In consequence the world roasts. And unequally, whilst a new set of class divisions retard progress in the wealthy North, the ‘Global South’ bears the brunt of the chaos. The linkage of immigration to the far-right and climate denialism is a tea party compared to the, frankly, fascistic policies promoted in relation to non-Euro-Americans. This divides, though not neatly, on racial lines, and is the subject of the second half of the book. The degree to which this is may be a correlative effect, rather than always intentional, makes little difference to its victims.
• Read the other reviews in this series here
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