UK airport expansion and the climate catastrophe: interview with Declan Finney and Giulio Mattioli

UK airport expansion and the climate catastrophe: interview with Declan Finney and Giulio Mattioli
by Ian Sinclair

Morning Star
30 July 2019

The debate about airport expansion in the UK and the climate crisis has been dominated by Heathrow Airport.

In a recent article for Carbon Brief, Dr Declan Finney, a post-doctoral researcher in the Institute for Climate and Atmospheric Science at the University of Leeds, and Dr Giulio Mattioli, a research associate at the Department of Transport Planning at TU-Dortmund in Germany and guest research fellow in the Sustainability Research Institute at the University of Leeds, broadened the debate by discussing their research on airport expansion across the UK.

Ian Sinclair: What did your research discover about expansion plans for UK airports and whether these are compatible with the ‘net zero carbon emissions by 2050’ pathway set out by the Committee on Climate Change and accepted by the government?

Declan Finney and Giulio Mattioli: Some UK airports already have capacity to serve many more passengers than currently, and have indicated intentions to drive demand for this capacity. For example, Manchester served 28 million passengers in 2017, but there could be 55 million passengers flying from the airport within the next few decades. Meanwhile, environmental movements such as youthstrike4climate and Extinction Rebellion have carried out protests around the approval of several airport expansions, notably Heathrow with plans to increase passenger numbers by over 70 per cent. But also smaller airports such Leeds-Bradford which has been given approval for 70 per cent increase on current numbers. On top of all that, all other airports we looked at had ambitious plans for expansion. Many of these plans are shockingly large given the already substantial contribution aviation makes to climate change, but the aim for a nine-fold increase in passenger numbers at Doncaster-Sheffield airport from 1.3 million to 11.8 million by 2050 is particularly large.

We considered these changes in line with the limited growth of 25 per cent by 2050 (relative to today) allowed by the Committee on Climate Change. Based on our conservative estimates, full use of existing capacity and approved expansions would already push us beyond that level of growth. Heathrow alone would be a 19 per cent increase. However, when ambitions of all the airports are taken into consideration the UK aviation industry appears to be aiming for a 60 per cent growth in demand on 2017 passenger numbers. It will be extremely difficult to compensate the emissions resulting from such an increase in demand with other measures, and would rely on approaches that the Committee on Climate Change considers to “have very low levels of technology readiness, very high costs, and/or significant barriers to public acceptability.”

IS: In your Carbon Brief article you make an interesting comparison between road building in the 20th century and proposed airport expansions today.

DF and GM: There are strong parallels. In the 1950s and 1960s the conventional wisdom was that a rapid increase in car ownership and use was inevitable, and that it would result in crippling congestion unless the network was expanded and roads widened. What happened though is that those roads actually encouraged more car use (and ultimately congestion), in a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy which transport experts call “induced demand”. It could be said that something similar is happening now with airports. We are told that it is imperative to expand them, or we won’t be able to cope with increased demand. But the truth is that airport expansion will result in more and cheaper flights, which in turn will encourage people to fly more often. By contrast, if we choose not to expand airports, chances are that demand for air travel will not increase as much. The key point is that none of this is inevitable: expanding airports is not a neutral technical measure, it’s a political choice with important consequences. And it flies in the face of the Climate Emergency declaration passed by the House of Commons.

IS: Last month The Guardian published a report titled ‘Electric planes on the horizon as industry heeds climate warnings’. What do you make of claims that “some forms of sustainable aviation… may be coming into view”, as the report asserts?

DF and GM: It’s important to keep in mind that such claims come mainly from the aviation industry, and are amplified by over-enthusiastic media. Who doesn’t love an article about some fancy new ‘green’ technology? The reason why the industry keeps pushing these claims is that it buys them time. If new tech could clean up aviation, there would be no need to curb air travel demand and airport expansion, and the aviation industry could continue with business-as-usual. The truth though is that there is no technological fix to the aviation emission problem. There is no technology that could be scaled up quickly enough to offset the projected increases in demand. Small electric planes might substitute some short-haul flights in the course of the next decade, but they can hardly be scaled up to flights over longer distances – and these make for the bulk of emissions. So that will be nowhere near enough to achieve the CO2 reductions that we need. Which is why we need to talk about reducing (or at least not increasing) the number of flights.

IS: What policies do you think the UK government could introduce that would curb demand, and therefore emissions, in the aviation sector?

DF and GM: Given what we’ve discussed, a first measure would obviously be some sort of moratorium on airport expansion and possibly the scaling down of some existing airports. Besides that, there are lots of measures that are currently being discussed among academics and environmental activists. These include, for example, introducing a kerosene tax – few people know it, but aviation fuel is virtually untaxed. This is socially unfair, as domestic energy and road fuel, which are consumed by most of the population, are taxed. That’s compared to only about a quarter of the British population that flies more than once in a typical year. This is why some have proposed a ‘frequent flyer levy’, which would exempt one flight per person per year, but would apply to all subsequent flights. Other measures might include caps on short-haul and domestic flights, institutional changes in the travel policies of organizations, and improving alternative modes travel.

The use of trains instead of planes for certain journeys is one example of where government could encourage a shift in demand to lower emission travel. For instance, measures could be put in place to ensure comparable advertising of journey times. Whilst trains tend to go city centre to city centre and you can normally jump straight on, there is often substantial travel needed to reach airports as well as go through check-in and security. Researchers have compared actual travel times, and for a journey such as London-Amsterdam there is very little difference in actual travel time, but flights would be advertised as around two and half hours faster. From personal experience, another barrier to using trains is the difficulty in buying tickets. While with flights it’s straight-forward to buy a single ticket that takes you to your final destination (even if there are changeovers), with trains you often have to buy several parts of a journey to Europe separately. The government could work to break down unnecessary barriers such as this to make the most carbon efficient types of travel easier to use for the public.

Read the full article, Planned Growth of UK Airports Not Consistent with Net-zero Climate Goal, at Carbon Brief http://www.carbonbrief.org.

 

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Book review. Warmongers: How leaders and their unnecessary wars have wrecked the modern world by R. T. Howard

Book review. Warmongers: How leaders and their unnecessary wars have wrecked the modern world by R. T. Howard
by Ian Sinclair
Peace News
August-September 2019

A writer specialising in intelligence and ‘defence’, R. T. Howard’s latest book looks at “individuals who were responsible for starting, conducting or extending an unnecessary war or show of force.”

Echoing the broad tenants of ‘Just War’ theory, four examples of what constitutes an “unnecessary war” are provided: the decision to pursue military force rather than diplomacy or negotiations; the use of excessive force; “war undertaken for no obvious reason”; and futile wars.

Beginning with the American revolutionaries in 1774 and ending with King Salman of Saudi Arabia’s destruction of Yemen from 2015, he sets out a series of concise and readable indictments of warmongers.

Occasionally information of interest to anti-war activists is highlighted. For example, he quotes US air force general Curtis LeMay’s estimate that US forces killed 20 percent of the North Korean population during the Korean War, while UK Defence Minister Lord Gilbert notes “I think the terms put to [Yugoslav president Slobodan] Milosevic at Rambouillet [in 1999 before NATO’s war in Kosovo] were absolutely intolerable…  (which) was quite deliberate.”

The book is also a useful reminder that leaders throughout history have repeatedly deceived the public in their pursuit of war – UK Prime Minister Anthony Eden’s duplicitous 1956 invasion of Egypt and US President Richard Nixon’s secret mass bombing of Cambodia and Laos are both included. However, it is far from an anti-war treatise, with Howard concluding “there are occasions when war should and must be used”. Somewhat strangely, he often provides his own advice on how a leader’s aims could have been achieved without resorting to full scale war– such as suggesting US President Ronald Reagan could have engendered a coup in Panama in 1989 or that North Korean leader Kim Il-sung would have been best to “destabilise” the South Korea government in the 1950s rather than military aggression.

Very lightly referenced with largely secondary sources, his thesis is seriously weakened by a frustrating focus on the foibles of individual leaders, rather than wider political, economic and social forces, including grassroots movements. Eden’s and Napoleon’s warmongering is partly explained away by ill-health, while US Secretary of State Madelaine Albright bullishness on Kosovo is put down to “traits” originating “in her traumatic childhood.”

I would recommend anyone looking to understand international relations, especially the roles of the US and UK, ignore Howard’s book and read the sharper, evidence-based analysis of British historian Mark Curtis and US dissident Noam Chomsky.

Warmongers: How leaders and their unnecessary wars have wrecked the modern world is published by Amberley Publishing, priced £20.

Does Britain have any influence on US foreign policy?

Does Britain have any influence on US foreign policy?
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
24 July 2019

Replying to a May 2019 tweet from Momentum which criticised ex-Labour Party spin doctor Alastair Campbell for his leading role in the illegal 2003 invasion of Iraq, James Bloodworth countered “the war was led by the Americans and would’ve happened anyway” – i.e. without UK involvement.

Bloodworth, the former editor of Left Foot Forward website, likes to position himself on the left. He has certainly done important work highlighting the dark reality of low-wage Britain in his 2018 book Hired, but when it comes to foreign policy he is often a cheerleader for Western military interventions.

In 2013 Bloodworth proposed military action by the West in Pakistan and Afghanistan in support of female education (he has since deleted the tweets where he stated this, though I wrote an article about it at the time). A year later Bloodworth called for the intensification of the US-UK military campaign against ISIS in Iraq.

Back to his May 2019 tweet: that the UK doesn’t have much influence over US foreign policy is a common belief (conversely, there is a broad understanding the US dominates and defacto directs UK foreign policy). However, it’s worth taking time to seriously consider the relationship because if the UK does have some level of influence on US foreign policy then a number of important opportunities and questions arise.

In his 2003 book Regime Unchanged: Why The War On Iraq Changed Nothing, Milan Rai argues Tony Blair was “politically indispensable” to the US drive to war on Iraq. He quotes Republican Senator Chuck Hagel from 2002 (Hagel went on to serve as Defense Secretary under President Obama): “I don’t think it is in the best interests of this country… or any of our allies for us to act unilaterally.” Polls provided more evidence of the importance of UK support, with an August 2002 survey by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations and German Marshall Fund finding only 20 percent of Americans supported a unilateral invasion of Iraq. Echoing this, a January 2003 survey by Princeton Survey Research Associates found 83 percent of Americans supported going to war if the United Nations backed the action and it was carried out by a multinational coalition, but without UN approval and allies this figured dropped to a third of the American public.

“Did we need the British troops to be there?” Andrew Card, President Bush’s Chief of Staff in 2003, rhetorically asked journalist Andrew Rawnsley in this 2010 book End of the Party. ”We needed them in the context of the world, but we didn’t necessarily need them in the context of the military action.”

Bloodworth’s dismissal of British influence on the US also ignores influence which may not have stopped the US war against Iraq but did impact the timetable for the invasion and how the war was eventually fought.

For example, it is likely the US and UK’s failed attempt to get United Nations authorisation for the war, a drawn out process which was likely a response to opposition in the UK and around the globe, delayed the invasion. This influence was illustrated by a 17 February 2003 Guardian report, which noted though “ministers and officials insisted the [15 February 2003] protests… would not delay military preparations for the war… a joint US-UK resolution authorising war… has been put on hold while Washington and London rethink their tactics.”

Indeed, Turkish-US relations at the time suggests less powerful nations can have big impacts on US foreign policy – as shown in the 2012 book Public Opinion and International Intervention: Lessons From the Iraq War. The US expected to stage the northern part of the invasion from Turkey, offering $6 billion in grants and $20 billion in loans, according to the Los Angeles Times. The Turkish government had decided to cooperate with the US. However, the US and Turkish governments had failed to factor in the Turkish public, which polls showed was massively opposed to the war. With the Turkish constitution requiring parliamentary support for foreign troops to be deployed on Turkish soil, this public opinion was translated into a 1 March 2003 parliamentary vote against US troops being stationed in Turkey for the war. Blocked by Turkish democracy, the US had to change its plans at the last minute, with all its ground forces now entering Iraq from Kuwait in the south.

Beyond these constraining influences, the most compelling evidence of decisive UK influence on US foreign policy in recent years was the proposed military action on Syria in 2013.

Following claims that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons in Ghouta on 21 August 2013, the US moved to conduct punishment airstrikes on Syrian government forces.

By 25 August the US Navy had five destroyers in position in the eastern Mediterranean ready for the attack, according to a September 2013 Wall Street Journal report. In December 2013 the Guardian noted that Obama had let Cameron know that the US might take military action between 30 August and 1 September.

The UK government supported the US plans but, unexpectedly, on 29 August the House of Commons refused to support a government motion endorsing the planned attack. “The spectre of the 2003 Iraq war hung over the commons”, the Guardian reported. Prime Minister David Cameron was immediately forced to concede that “the government will act accordingly” – i.e. the UK would not take part in the airstrikes.

And here is the crucial point: this momentous vote – the first time a British government had lost a vote on military action since Lord North in 1782 apparently – had a huge impact on the Obama Administration.

The next day US warships were “expecting launch orders from the president at between 3 pm and 4 pm”, with the Pentagon conducting a practice press conference about the airstrikes, noted the Wall Street Journal.

However, “the lack of a British blessing removed another layer of legitimacy” for the Obama Administration, the New York Times noted. After speaking with advisors Obama decided to seek congressional approval for the airstrikes, telling aides “he had several reasons… including a sense of isolation after the terrible setback in the British Parliament.” With opposition building in Congress, the attack was cancelled in favour of a joint US-Russian plan to make sure the Syrian government gave up its chemical weapon stockpiles.

John Kerry, US Secretary of State at the time, confirmed this narrative at his farewell press conference in January 2017. “The president had already decided to use force”, he noted, but “the president decided that he needed to go to Congress because of what had happened in Great Britain and because he needed the approval.”

Of course, contrary to Bloodworth’s certainty, we will never know for sure whether or not the US would have invaded and occupied Iraq in 2003 without British support. Certainly if British support had been withdrawn days or weeks before the invasion date – Blair’s position was far more precarious than most people understood at the time – it seems likely the US’s momentum for war would have been too great to stop. But what if the UK had pulled out of the invasion plans in summer 2002? Or when Blair met Bush at Crawford in April 2002?

Bloodworth’s dismissal is ultimately a disempowering analysis. In contrast, the historical record shows, especially with regard to Syria in 2013, that the UK has had a significant influence on US policy. Moreover, it is also clear British public opinion and anti-war activism can, in the right circumstances, decisively impact not just UK foreign policy, but US foreign policy too.

It’s a hopeful and empowering lesson we would do well to remember the next time the drums of war start beating again.

Ian Sinclair is the author of The March That Shook Blair: An Oral History of 15 February 2003, published by Peace News Press. Follow Ian on Twitter @IanJSinclair.

 

Book review: This Civilisation Is Finished: Conversations on the end of Empire – and what lies beyond

Book review: This Civilisation Is Finished: Conversations on the end of Empire – and what lies beyond by Rupert Read and Samuel Alexander
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
22 July 2019

Embodying the honesty, alarm and radicalism of Extinction Rebellion (XR), This Civilisation Is Finished is a persuasive and passionate primer about the Climate Emergency the world faces.

It’s a very short, discursive book – made up of readable email exchanges and Skype conversations between Dr Rupert Read, a Reader in Philosophy at the University of East Anglia and key figure in XR, and Dr Samuel Alexander, co-director of the Simplicity Institute in Melbourne.

“Civilisation is going down. It will not last”, is Read’s stark analysis of humanity’s future (Alexander tends to ask the questions). “We will most likely see 3-4 degrees of global over-heat at a minimum, and that is not compatible with civilisation as we know it.” This means our “industrial-growthist civilisation” will be transformed – it’s just a matter of how, Read argues. First, “civilisation could collapse utterly and terminally”. Second, civilisation will manage to seed a successor civilisation as it collapses. Or third, our civilisation will somehow manage to transform itself. With our civilisation showing almost no sign of taking the climate crisis seriously, Read believes the first and second scenarios are most likely.

The discussions range far and wide, with references stretching from the movies Avatar and The Road to Ludwig Wittgenstein and Milton Friedman. Alexander warns of the problem of soft climate denial – “denial of the scale and urgency of the problem” – and “techno-optimism”: the belief that technology will be able to solve the major social and environmental problems of our time without changing the fundamental structure of society.

Considering the dominant economic systems of both left and right-wing governments, Read argues encouraging economic growth “is prima facie now a dangerous thing to encourage”, an insane ideology on a planet which is already breaching its climate and ecological limits.

Though pessimistic about the future of the planet, Read is nevertheless surprisingly hopeful, urging readers to get active and involved in activist and political movements to combat climate change. However, he notes the task of XR and other climate activists is harder than the US civil rights movement XR takes inspiration from – XR, after all, “is challenging our whole way of life.”

At times frightening but always thought-provoking, This Civilisation Is Finished is likely to be a life-changing book for some people. “I would ask every reader who has made it this far to get serious about this”, Read concludes. “What are you going to do to manifest what is now called for?”

This Civilisation Is Finished: Conversations on the end of Empire – and what lies beyond is published by the Simplicity Institute.

 

A Year of Rebellion: Rupert Read interview

A Year of Rebellion: Rupert Read interview
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
25 June 2019

The past year has been the busiest and most exciting of his life, Rupert Read tells me when we meet in London before his appearance at a Guardian event on Extinction Rebellion.

Last summer Read, a Reader in Philosophy at the University of East Anglia (UEA) and senior Green Party figure, refused an invitation from the BBC to debate a climate change denier. He went on to lead a short campaign which culminated in a BBC memo warning staff of “false balance” when reporting climate change. “To achieve impartiality, you do not need to include outright deniers of climate change in BBC coverage, in the same way you would not have someone denying that Manchester United won 2-0 last Saturday”, wrote Fran Unsworth, the BBC’s director of news and current affairs.

For the past few years Read, 53, has also been giving lectures, speaking with a refreshing – perhaps shocking – honesty about the climate crisis. “I think there is a very real possibility that the latter part of the lives of most people in this room is going to be grim or non-existent”, Read told first year students arriving at the UEA in 2016 to nervous laughter.

“When I started giving these talks… I was worried I would just demoralise people and turn people off”, Read tells me. “I was worried I would be attacked for being a defeatist. But actually that didn’t happen. From the beginning the overwhelming response has been positive. People found it liberating, people have found it exciting, people have really related to the honesty of it.”

After watching a similar lecture online given by Gail Bradbrook, one of the co-founders of Extinction Rebellion, Read quickly became involved in the grassroots organisation. What has become known as XR has three demands: the government must tell the truth by declaring a Climate and Ecological Emergency; the government must reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025; and a citizen’s assembly must be established to lead the government’s response to climate breakdown.

On 31 October 2018 Read acted at the co-MC for the initial “Declaration of Rebellion” event in London, when a street was blocked in Parliament Square in London. “We didn’t really know if it was going to work, we didn’t know whether people were going to do it, we didn’t know how the police would react”, he says. “It was surprisingly easy, which is one of the things that is very interesting about large-scale nonviolent direct action. When you get a lot of people together it’s quite challenging for the police to deal with and stop”.

He also played a key role in the November 2018 “bridges action”, when thousands of Extinction Rebellion supporters managed to block and hold five bridges in central London for one day. It was, Read explains, “proof of concept”, its success leading onto what he calls the “international rebellion” in April 2019. By now Read was part of Extinction Rebellion’s political strategy group and acting as one of the main spokespeople in the media.

During this action Extinction Rebellion occupied several key sites in central London – Oxford Circus, Marble Arch, Waterloo Bridge and Parliament Square – for an incredible eleven days. Over 1,100 people were eventually arrested.

“In the first few days the media were very, very hostile to us”, Read notes. “Then as we went on and we gradually grew and attracted more of people’s sympathy and support because of our persistence, because the message started to get through, that gradually changed. And then in the second week we were getting these massive transformational effects.” For example, writing in the Daily Telegraph former Tory leader William Hague argued “It is time to recognise that these young activists are indeed focused on the right issue. The solutions presented by protesters in London or by Green parties around the world may be ill thought-out, but the analysis is now hard to gainsay.”

More broadly, Read argues the April action achieved “a breakthrough in consciousness” on the climate crisis, with a YouGov survey earlier this month finding “the public is more concerned about the environment than ever before”. This upsurge in anxiety was “undoubtedly boosted by the publicity raised for the environmental cause by Extinction Rebellion”, the pollster noted.

“The ground had been, in a sense, prepared”, Read says, highlighting the importance of the School Strikes for Climate and David Attenborough’s BBC documentary ‘Climate Change – The Facts’, which aired during the rebellion.

“We achieved emotional resonance”, he continues. “A lot of our successful media coverage is, I think, based on the fact that we have allowed us to show and express our grief and our horror, and our fear, and our love in ways that were very unusual hitherto in the so-called environmental movement.”

Indeed, whilst others, such as Peace News, have been critical of what they describe as the group’s “apocalyptic organising”, Read argues the success of the April rebellion “has proved that it is false to claim apocalyptic messages and despair and climate honesty are demotivating.”

“In fact it is becoming clear they are hugely motivating, and hugely empowering, when they are done right, and when they are done honestly and when they are done in the context of taking action around them.”

Perhaps most impressively, the April protests led to Read and others, including student climate strikers, meeting Environment Secretary Michael Gove and other senior political figures including Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell.

“That was all prepared way in advance”, he explains. “There were plans for how this would happen, who would do it, what kind of things we would do when we did it, who would we try to target for such meetings.”

“We urged him to tell the truth, we urged the declaration of a Climate Emergency”, Read says about the meeting with Gove, which was filmed and is available online. Gove didn’t do this, but he did admit there was an emergency in parliament and the Tories didn’t oppose the Labour motion to declare an emergency, meaning the House of Commons became the first national parliament to officially declare a Climate Emergency on 1 May 2019.

A few days after the interview Theresa May’s government accepted the Committee on Climate Change’s recommendation the UK achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Read believes the difference between the 2050 target and Extinction Rebellion’s 2025 target is “probably the difference between a chance of a decent future and a near certainty of civilisational collapse.”

“Unfortunately the climate change committee report is essentially dead on arrival”, he says. Why? “It’s a report that is tailored to a sense of what is politically feasible and societally acceptable that no longer exists and has been transcended.”

“Between the time of them drafting their report and it actually being published – it was published immediately after the end of the [April] rebellion – that whole landscape has been transformed.”

Looking to the future, Read notes the group is planning for the next stage of the rebellion, likely to take place around 20 September 2019 – the date student climate strikers have asked adults to strike alongside them. This mobilisation “will probably mark the first step in the build-up to the autumn phase of Extinction Rebellion, which we intend to be longer and deeper than the spring phase.”

With the Metropolitan Police Commissioner recently telling London Assembly members her force would learn from the April protests, how do Extinction Rebellion intend to deal with the police? “The aim of many Extinction Rebellion actions is to create what we call action dilemmas – action dilemmas for the police, for the authorities”, Read replies. This staple of nonviolent struggle is about forcing a ‘lose-lose’ situation upon public authorities, in which they either concede the space and initiative to the protesters, or risk looking repressive if they try to deal with them too harshly.

“They are going to risk creating more sympathy for us if they end up locking people up who are clearly decent non-violent people who are doing this knowingly and accountably for a cause that more and more people recognise as just”, Read says.

Hopeful the group can attract significantly more people than it did in April, Read thinks the size and impact of the autumn mobilisation could be unprecedented: “If we could get 20,000 or 30,000 people willing to take direct action on the streets in a concerted fashion for a long period of time, who knows what we could achieve next time?”

Co-authored with Samuel Alexander, Rupert Read’s new book This Civilisation is Finished: Conversations on the End of Empire – and What Lies Beyond is published by the Simplicity Institute.

Hitler’s Compromises: Nathan Stoltzfus interview

Hitler’s Compromises: Nathan Stoltzfus interview
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
14 June 2019

The popular perception of Adolf Hitler is of an all-powerful leader, the most evil individual in modern history, using extreme barbarity to crush his opponents at home and abroad.

In 2016’s Hitler’s Compromises: Coercion and Consensus in Nazi Germany Nathan Stoltzfus, professor of Holocaust Studies at Florida State University in the United States, challenges this simplistic representation, raises important questions about our understanding of the Nazis in power, while providing a hopeful analysis about the possibility of non-violent resistance in highly repressive societies.

Ian Sinclair: What is the central thesis of your book?

Nathan Stoltzfus: Hitler’s Compromises makes an argument about the nature of the Nazi state.   I do not question Hitler’s reputation as the most evil person, only the common image of him as a madman, carpet-biter foaming at the mouth. Hitler was able to achieve such monumental evil only because he used a range of tactics. While his dictatorship murdered millions in the name of ideology, Hitler managed his “German-blooded race” with persuasion, enticement, cooptation, compromise – tactics scholars now associate with ‘soft’ dictators of the twenty-first century. Hitler aimed to shape the “German-blooded” people into Nazis – fellow perpetrators and ruthless enslavers and murderers of “racial” and war enemies, the “incurables” and outsiders. “We must be honest, decent, loyal and comradely to those of our own blood and to no one else,” Heinrich Himmler told his SS. “Whether other peoples live well or whether they die from hunger is important to me only in so far as we need them as slaves for our culture.” Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels said, “We do not subscribe to the view that one should feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty or clothe the naked… We must have a healthy people in order to prevail in the world.”

In Hitler’s cold, cost-benefit calculations, Germans could not be refashioned as Nazis by terror alone. Stemming political opposition with terror, Hitler then led by incentives – the familiar ones of material well-being and future prosperity, national prowess and domestic security. As the foundation of his 1000-year Reich that would pass on Nazism as a way of life, Hitler sought to refashion popular attitudes and social patterns. To build a total society to buttress a total state, Hitler had to annihilate some Christian norms. He aimed to change their hearts and minds rather than to merely control their outward behaviour by police force.

Hitler led a dance with his own people, pausing and even backtracking if the people stumbled or hesitated, so that they remained united about his authority over them. Hitler was willing to move laterally so that he could resume moving toward his goals while sidestepping frontal attacks.

These compromises worked in tandem with Nazi terror. Hitler did not compromise his ideology but he remained willing to compromise with his people, particularly when popular obstinacy was based in traditional habits and customs, up until late in the war when he became convinced that popular backing would not win the war.

Hitler’s compromises began with his decision to seek power the ‘legal way’. They continued in power with a recognition that he must win the people away from their non-Nazi traditions and into unquestioning obedience by awing them with his great feats, which all previous German leaders had failed to deliver. A key benefit for Hitler of his willingness to compromise was in maintaining the notion, widespread across Germany regardless of denomination, region, or class, that Hitler always made things right, as soon as he learned about injustices. Across Germany people maintained their belief that “if only Hitler knew” all would be well, blaming what they did not like on officials they thought were working against Hitler.

IS: Your analysis seems to contradict the traditional understanding of how Nazi Germany functioned?

NS: According to the earliest perspectives, the Nazi state ruled Germans of the Reich by terror; Germans were forced to cooperate against their will as the Gestapo crushed every sign of dissent from Germans. These interpretations, which still hold sway today, coincide with one-dimensional images equating monstrous evil with uncontrolled fits of rage and brutality. Scholars have come to acknowledge the role of popular support – when it buttressed Nazi terror tactics. Germans joined the party, denounced outsiders, stole Jewish property. These mainstream perspectives, however, have shied away from acknowledging the corollary popular influences on Hitler of mass popular noncompliance and public protest. Standard interpretations screen this out; they challenge entrenched common wisdom that resistance by ordinary persons was always futile (even the resistance of mighty military men failed). While support for Hitler can be written off as a response to terror, any indication that the regime was sensitive to collective, popular opposition in public raises questions about public responsibility for Hitler’s crimes. Also according to common beliefs, Jewish assimilation or integration did not aid Jewish survival. But history shows that 98 percent of the German Jews who survived without going into hiding or being sent to the camps, survived because they were married to non-Jews.

Hitler also did not rule by charisma alone but as a politician and strategist. Many wish to portray Hitler as monster rather than mortal. Demonization is comforting, suggesting that neither we do not share anything with Hitler and will not face a similar threat. Flat moral condemnations are easy and popular but do not sufficiently disclose the complexity of Hitler’s evil; he was able to do so much evil precisely because he knew how to manage and manipulate, throwing fits of rage for effect.

The grassroots perspectives on the influence of masses that grew in the decades following the war was illustrated by the bottom up approach of historians examining East German communism after 1989. It’s very possible that the established history of Nazi Germany would be different today had scholars and others approached it with the help of bottom up perspectives emerging during the 1970s and 80s. Many views on popular autocracy in our own era not only apply to Hitler’s rule but were defined by fascism – which recognized that the masses could no longer be left out by claiming to rule on their behalf.

IS: Can you give a couple of examples when the Nazi government compromised in the face of nonviolent resistance to its policies? 

NS: Hitler’s effort to centralize control over the Protestant Church foundered in 1934 – within months of the gory Night of the Long Knives purge. Two bishops (out of 28) mobilized their congregations in peaceful protests, resulting in strife among Nazi regional leaders and the house arrest of the two bishops, causing churchgoers to rise up in protests more fervently than ever. To stem this unrest and its danger of slowing his momentum, Hitler restored the arrested bishops to their dioceses, sidelining his plans. To stem Christian influence, some Nazi leaders replaced crucifixes in Catholic schools with pictures of Hitler. This sparked nonviolent Catholic revolts, leading in more than one case to restoration of the crucifixes. Mass unrest and public protest by a Catholic bishop also caused Hitler to halt and then radically alter the way he carried out “euthanasia” of the “incurables” and “useless mouths.”

The defining example of defiance by street protest and Nazi compromise is the Rosenstrasse Protest by non-Jewish women that persuaded Hitler to release rather than deport their Jewish husbands in early 1943. Many Germans compromised step by step, accepting or perpetrating Nazi crimes, but the personal lives of intermarried persons forced them into a series of increasingly demanding steps of defiance, beginning with Hitler’s first days in power and culminating in a street protest that thwarted Goebbels resolve to declare Germany free of Jews in March 1943. Again Hitler relented, releasing some 2,000 intermarried Jews from the deportations.

Cases of social dissent and mass noncompliance so visible the regime could not ignore them were common enough that by November 1943 Goebbels wrote in his diary that the people were already sure that they could use public protest to assert their will on the streets: “The people know exactly where to find the leadership’s soft spot and will always exploit it.”

Hitler’s Compromises: Coercion and Consensus in Nazi Germany is published by Yale University Press.

The Awesome Power of Non-violent Action

The Awesome Power of Non-violent Action
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
5 June 2019

Speaking on the Arab Tyrant Manual podcast recently, Jamila Raqib discussed the widespread ignorance that surrounds non-violent struggle.

“It’s not very well known. We don’t really highlight the history. We think that progress and human rights are won through violence. We think that it [violence] is the most powerful thing you can do,” she explained.

Raqib is as well-placed as anyone to speak about non-violence. Since 2002 she has worked at the Albert Einstein Institution (AEI), set up in 1983 “to advance the study and use of strategic non-violent action in conflicts throughout the world,” according to its mission statement.

Moreover, she worked closely with the legendary Dr Gene Sharp — often called “the Clausewitz of non-violent warfare” — until he passed away last year.

“There is thousands of years of rich history that I don’t think people are very aware of,” Raqib, the AEI’s executive director, says about non-violence.

“We are not aware of our own societies that have used these means, and we are not aware of how they have been used globally.”

Part of the problem is that the mainstream media rarely frames examples of strategic non-violent struggle and activism for what it is. However, successful non-violent action is happening all the time: you just need to read the news with this in mind.

For example, before April 2018 the Guardian reported that “the ruling Republican party’s stranglehold” on Armenia’s political system “appeared intact.”

Presumably confident any public response could be contained, the president of the former Soviet republic, Serzh Sargsyan, moved to install himself as prime minister after term limits had forced him to step down from the presidency.

This move proved especially controversial because “the constitution was amended to give more power to the prime minister and transform the presidency into a ceremonial role,” the Guardian explained.

A non-violent movement quickly grew in response, with thousands of people protesting for days in the capital Yerevan, blocking streets and staging sit-ins.

The leader of the opposition, Nikol Pashinyan, was imprisoned, but the demonstrations continued. With groups of soldiers joining the opposition in the streets, Pashinyan was released.

Sargsyan resigned on April 23 2018. “Nikol Pashinyan was right. I was wrong,” Sargsyan announced. “The street movement is against my tenure. I am fulfilling your demands.”

On May 8 2018 Pashinyan became prime minister. “We took down a powerful man with no help from outside, with no violence,” a pensioner in Armenia told the Guardian.

Earlier this year a similar set of events took place in Algeria. In February the autocratic president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, announced he would seek a fifth term in office after two decades in power.

Again a protest movement grew in response, with peaceful mass demonstrations occurring every Friday, centred on the capital, Algiers.

“In the face of fully armoured riot police, Algeria’s young and old have been seen distributing flowers to security forces during the marches, chanting passionately ‘Pacifism, Pacifism’,” noted Ahmed Mitiche, a graduate student in the Centre for Middle Eastern & North African studies programme at the University of Michigan in The New Arab last month.

As in Armenia, the impact of this civil resistance has been huge. On March 11 Bouteflika announced he wouldn’t seek re-election.

The protests continued, and on April 2 Bouteflika was forced to step down, with Abdelkader Bensalah, the head of the upper house of parliament, installed as interim president.

“By keeping protests peaceful, and forcing the army to support them — it was an intervention by the army chief of staff, Gen Ahmed Gaid Salah, that finally persuaded Bouteflika to go — Algeria’s reformists have already achieved more than most of their predecessors in the 2011-12 Arab spring revolts,” the Guardian’s foreign affairs commentator Simon Tisdall noted.

In Sudan, people have been taking to the streets since December 2018. “The trigger of the revolt was the increase in bread prices after the state cut subsidies at the behest of the IMF,” Gilbert Achcar, professor of development studies and international relations at Soas, recently explained in an interview with Jacobin magazine.

These grievances soon evolved into demonstrations against the 30-year rule of authoritarian president Omar al-Bashir.

In an attempt to quell the protests, Bashir declared a state of emergency in February. This gave security services “expanded powers to search buildings, restrict movement of people and public transport, arrest suspects and seize assets or property during investigations,” Reuters reported in March.

Bashir also “announced a raft of other measures, including setting up emergency courts and prosecutors across the country. Activists say more than 800 people have been tried in the courts.”

Despite the crackdown, the non-violent protests continued, with Bouteflika’s resignation in Algeria in early April seeming to energise the Sudanese opposition.

Days-long sit-ins and protest camps attended by tens of thousands of people were held outside Bashir’s official residence and military headquarters in the capital Khartoum.

News reports noted that when forces loyal to the president fired live rounds at the protest camps, soldiers protected the protesters — giving them shelter, firing shots in the air and blocking the approaches to their protest camps.

On April 11 Bashir was placed under house arrest, replaced by the defence minister Ahmed Awad Ibn Auf as transitional leader. However, “the protesters rejected Ibn Auf’s leadership because he was the head of military intelligence during the brutal campaign to suppress the Darfur insurgency in the 2000s,” The Guardian reported. On April 13 Ibn Auf was forced to resign, as was Salah Gosh, head of the unpopular National Intelligence and Security Service.

Today, the pro-democracy movements in Sudan and Algeria are in an ongoing power struggle with the military. Though the future of both nations remains uncertain, the power of non-violent struggle is clear.

Protesting violently is “foolish,” Sharp told me, when I interviewed him in 2012. Why? “If your enemy has massive capacity for violence — and modern governments today have massive capacity for violence — why deliberately choose to fight with your enemy’s best weapons?”

Though they weren’t on the same mass scale as the demonstrations in Armenia, Algeria and Sudan, the recent Extinction Rebellion protests in London have nevertheless had a huge impact on British politics.

Explicitly non-violent — Roger Hallam, a lead strategist, has repeatedly cited as influences the US civil rights movement and Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephen’s seminal book Why Civil Resistance Works — the group’s occupation of several locations in central London wrongfooted the authorities.

In particular the willingness of so many activists to seek arrest meant “the police are genuinely confused,” as Labour Party environmental adviser Alan Simpson explained in the Morning Star.

The Guardian confirmed this uncertainty, noting “anecdotal evidence from those on the ground suggests police are approaching the protests with a light touch.”

The report went on to highlight the College of Policing’s guidelines on public-order policing, which advises “commanders need to set the policing style and tone at the start of an operation and be aware of the potential impact on public perceptions.”

Along with David Attenborough’s BBC documentary Climate Change — The Facts and the ongoing school strikes, Extinction Rebellion has significantly shifted the debate about climate change in Britain.

Within days of the protests, Extinction Rebellion activists held meetings with Tory Environment Secretary Michael Gove, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and shadow chancellor John McDonnell.

“They are a massive and necessary wake-up call. Today we have the opportunity to say: ‘We hear you’,” Corbyn said about the Extinction Rebellion protests as he introduced a motion asking Parliament to declare a “climate emergency.”

Labour’s motion won a historic victory — on May 2 2019 the British Parliament became the first parliament in the world to declare a climate emergency.

In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon’s government has ditched its planned cuts to aviation tax and is reportedly considering withdrawing its support for a third runway at Heathrow.

The climate-change bug has even reached the Tory Party, with the Guardian reporting: “The 60-strong One Nation group of senior Tories” is “urging contenders for their party’s leadership to put the battle against the climate emergency at the forefront of the contest.”

“If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon,” Attenborough warned recently.

With the climate emergency creating such high stakes for humanity, it is more important than ever that people understand the immense power of strategic non-violent struggle and activism.

Follow Ian on Twitter @IanJSinclair.