Guest essay by Eric Worrall
Anyone who thinks Extinction Rebellion is just about climate change should check out a banner they presented at a recent march.
The last government which flew the hammer and sickle banner presided over millions of premature deaths from preventable causes, and an infamous series of environmental and ecological catastrophes including the infamous Chernobyl reactor meltdown, which was largely caused by the Soviet government’s decision to conceal major reactor design flaws instead of addressing them.
Even hard left socialist groups like the Socialist Alliance admit the Soviet Union was an ecological disaster, with multiple radiological accidents, massive oil spills and large scale toxic heavy metal pollution.
I lived for close to two years in the Soviet Union, and for a further seven in post-Soviet Russia. Reporting on the local environmental movement was part of my brief as a GLW correspondent, and also a personal enthusiasm. I got to know the Moscow environmental scene well, and interviewed activists from numerous republics and provinces. I also travelled, and saw some of it for myself. The Moscow sociologist who has made Russian environmentalism his specialty remains a close friend, and I’ve translated several of his books.
On this basis, let me agree with Adam that the damage done to the environment by the Soviet regime and its successor doesn’t remotely bear comparison with that in the West. It was, and remains, catastrophically worse. Particular countries elsewhere, especially in the developing world, have suffered one or another ecological disaster, sometimes of mind-bending dimensions. The USSR managed something in just about every sector of heavy industry to match the worst of them.
The Niger delta? The development of the oil industry of Western Siberia was carried out from the 1970s with great haste, using pipes and welding equipment that were often defective. By the 1990s the wells and pipelines were leaking like sieves, a Niger delta every few hundred kilometres. The Bhopal disaster in India? It’s only through enormous good luck that in Dzerzhinsk, the city east of Moscow that remains a key centre of the chemical industry, thousands of residents haven’t been killed by a similar leak of toxic gas. An activist from the place once argued to me that in any case, the levels of dioxins and other lethal chemicals to which the population was exposed ensured a cumulative “Bhopal” every few years. What were the local morbidity rates? Either the information was purposely never collected, or effectively suppressed.
Heavy metals pollution? In the ore-smelting centre of Nizhny Tagil in the Urals, another environmentalist surmised to me only half-jokingly, the sandpits in the child care centres could have passed assays as a minerals resource. The Siberian coal industry? This I did see for myself. I remember the black snow outside the municipal offices in the mining city of Anzhero-Sudzhensk. Who knows what the local incidence of birth defects was?
…Read more: https://socialist-alliance.org/alliance-voices/ecological-disaster-was-ussr-0
So it is not clear why the protestors believe that Soviet style socialism would somehow improve global environmental stewardship. At the very least the onus is on the protestors to explain why their hammer and sickle socialism would somehow be different from the previous attempt at hammer and sickle socialism.
If this is a big misunderstanding, and Extinction Rebellion are not actually advocating Soviet style socialism, or if the protest group is into extinction but not actually officially affiliated with XR, using the word “Extinction” and a hammer and sickle on their main protest banner is a very confusing attempt to communicate their ideals and goals.