Con Dem plans to privatise England’s 258,000 hectare forest estate, run by the Forestry Commission, have been defeated for the time being. There have been big and rowdy demonstrations, Mark Harper the Tory MP for the Forest of Dean was egged by constituents, a flurry of newspaper articles opposed the sell off and back bench Tory and Lib Dem MPs have become restive, indeed the Daily Telegraph has suggested that 50 percent of Tory MPs opposed forest privatisation. A petition which gained over 500,000 signatures shows that cyber activism, while derided, can achieve results.
The coalition governments’ attempt and ultimate failure to privitise forests in Britain is an excellent, illustration of what the Hungarian radical Karl Polanyi described as the ‘double movement’. Polanyi in his epic book ‘The Great Transformation’ published in 1944, a strident attack on liberal economics, noted,
‘To allow the market mechanism to be sole director of the fate of human beings and their natural environment … would result in the demolition of society (Polanyi 1957:73).’
The double movement was a process whereby attempts to marketise society, the first movement, would result in widespread resistance, the counter movement.
Forests seem to strike at the soul of millions of people in Britain, the idea of selling them off to corporations for profit instead of using them for children to play and wildlife to inhabit sickens voters. Thatcher too tried to sell off forest commission land, and was also defeated. While arguably the major environmental NGOs have been slow to act in defence of the forests, grassroots campaigns have sprung up like mushrooms, inspiring people who are not usually politically engaged to anger and action. Assaults on libraries and the NHS are also likely to provide iconic targets for anti-cuts campaigners and prove costly to the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.
The government may have executed an apparent u turn to this public pressure, but the supposed halt to sales is more likely to be a tactical move than a real change. Again this is in line with Cameron and Clegg’s adoration of Mrs Thatcher, who despite her image as an ‘iron lady’ was prepared to take a step back from policies in the short term to buy time for their success in the long term.
The influential free market think-tank the Adam Smith Institute has claimed that even before the perhaps temporary climb down, the privatisation policy did not go far enough. They quote their supposed mentor, the 18th century economist who noted in his magnum opus, The Wealth of Nations,
‘In every great monarchy of Europe the sale of the crown lands would produce a very large sum of money, which, if applied to the payment of the public debts, would deliver from mortgage a much greater revenue than any which those lands have ever afforded to the crown…When the crown lands had become private property, they would, in the course of a few years, become well-improved and well-cultivated…the revenue which the crown derives from the duties of customs and excise, would necessarily increase with the revenue and consumption of the people.’
They also argue much of the Foresty Commission land ‘comprises endless acres of identikit conifers. Dark, dense and unwelcoming, these plantations serve none of the interests that the campaigners champion.’ The reality is that most local communities lack the resources to buy forests, so privatisation would mean them going to the highest bidder.
There were fears that the forests could be bought by biofuel companies, who would reduce trees to chippings which would be burnt for electricity. The government claims that planning law makes this impossible but at the same time as trying to sell off the forests the government is also hoping to weaken planning law. The point from the Adam Smith Institute about fast growing conifer trees is also spurious, companies will seek to maximise profit; planting broad leaf forests and opening them up to the public will not generate short term profit, planting uniform monocultures of trees will.
A forestry commission programme to turn the conifer plantations into more diverse and ecologically rich woodland has just been closed down. Thousands of forestry commission jobs are also still to be cut.
The moves to privatise the forests in the UK are part of a wider neo-liberal consensus. Indeed the last Labour government launched a programme of forest sales. Assaults on the forests by private corporations are global; South Africa, the USA and Australia have all seen battles, at least partially successful, against forest privatisation. If protest is sustained, militant and imaginative it is possible to win. In the Peruvian Amazon, the indigenous coalition Aidesep, have used direct action to prevent the government selling the forests to corporations who would open them up for oil and gas exploitation.
In turn indigenous people and forest campaigners fear that climate change is being used to enclose forests and exclude local people via the REDDS system. Reducing Emissions from Deforestation in Developing Countries essentially acts as a means of privatisation, taking woodland away from local people and putting it in corporate hands. Last year Ethical Consumer magazine noted that, ‘Owen Espley from Friends of the Earth feared that REDDS will lead to a massive land-grab from the world’s 60 million indigenous rainforest people who depend upon the rainforests for their livelihoods.’
The campaign to protect the forests must continue. If we drop our guard, there is little doubt that the government will have another go. Dave Bangs who co-ordinates Keep Our Forests Public wrote recently in the Morning Star, ‘State ownership’s major advantage is that it subtracts a resource, at least partially, from the irrationality and greed of the market.’ The answer for our public forests is the same as the answer for our economy – we need more democratic public ownership and economy-wide planning, enough to break the dominance of the market and not some porridge of private businesses and “social enterprises” struggling for their market share.’
REDD Monitor http://www.redd-monitor.org/
38 degrees forest campaign http://blog.38degrees.org.uk/tag/save-our-forests/
Keep Our Forests Public article on Sussex Socialist Resistance blog ttp://sussexsocialistresistance.blogspot.com/2011/02/keep-our-forests-public_14.html
Andrew Dolan on how the left must match the anti-establishment rhetoric of the right, but with a different politics
In the first of a series of interviews with migrants' rights and racial justice activists from the US, Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Peter Pedemonti, co-founder and director of the New Sanctuary Movement in Philadelphia
Yasmin Gunaratnam reflects on John Berger’s gut solidarity with the stranger
Charlie Clarke and Heather Mendick discuss how to work through the tensions within Momentum
In 1972 David Widgery wrote about the bitter intensity of love in capitalism
Emma Snaith speaks with directors Emer Mary Morris and Nina Scott about the power of theatre to encourage community resistance to estate demolitions.
Photos from The World Transformed festival in Liverpool, by David Walters
A short story by Kirsten Irving
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK
As man-made global warming gets closer to the tipping point, Andrew Simms finds reasons to be positive about averting catastrophic climate change
Greenwald speaks Trump, War on Terror, and citizen activism
Glenn Greenwald was interviewed by Amandla Thomas-Johnson over the phone from Brazil. Here is what he had to say on the War on Terror, Trump, and the 'special relationship'
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill
Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility
Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports
From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices
How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed
In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design
Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform
Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out
Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant
Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’
Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue
A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank
News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions
Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release
Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts
‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette
The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.
How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op
Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU
Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity
Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson
Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release
University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.
Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.
Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History
Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.
A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas