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Review: White Skin, Black Fuel – On the Dangers of Fossil Fascism  

This article is over 2 years, 3 months old
Josh Largent reviews a new book exploring how the far right are trying to intervene in the climate debate.

Andreas Malm’s work has helped to develop our understanding of capitalism and climate change, and he has made interesting contributions to debates in the climate movement. White Skin, Black Fuel—which Malm has co-authored alongside the Zetkin collective—continues this trend. The authors do a great job in outlining the onset of fascist discourse and far right trends on the topic of climate and ecology.

The book maps how some sections of the far right are trying to use the question of climate change to increase their audience. The authors locate these attempts in the history of fascist ideology, from the promotion of technology and energy in the classical fascist rhetoric to current trends of “green nationalism.” In the process they point to the contradictions anti-fascists can exploit to oppose the far right on this question.

Malm and the Zetkin collective illustrate how on the one hand, climate denial is a hallmark of many far right projects. Denial has been employed by sections of the ruling class over the last 50 years to protect their own profits. For fascists, primarily a movement based on the middle classes, there are different motivations. Far right figures like Donald Trump have portrayed climate change as a hoax initiated by the “globalists” to infringe on Western prosperity and way of life. This links to the narrative that Western values are under attack from “cultural Marxism” and the left.

However there are contradictions within the far right approach. Current trends of ”green nationalism” in Europe vary from total climate denial to blaming the Global South for fossil fuel emissions. In the cases where some sections of the far right do acknowledge climate change, they claim it is driven by population growth in alien lands and from alien people. This relies on racist tropes of people in the Global South and leads to fascist fantasies of limiting population growth in these countries. These arguments made by the far right are the most dangerous and are given oxygen by those who see overpopulation as a key driver of the climate crisis.

Central to recent formations on the far right has been the great replacement theory. Groups in Europe and the US claim that migration from the Global South, especially by Muslims, is replacing white populations in the West. Included in this is the huge number of refugees and migrants created by climate change. An ideological imperative for the far right is an all white nation and what they regard as so-called “climate refugees” are a threat to this.

The authors also explain how the 2015 Paris accords—which went nowhere near far enough in dealing with the crisis—drew fury from the right. As Trump demonstrated when he withdrew from the agreement, the right saw them as a challenge to national sovereignty.

The authors disprove these theories by showing that those in the Global South, even when accounting for population growth, contribute the least to the crisis. At the same time they are hit hardest by its effects.

The section of the book that traces the development of racism and fossil fuels is particularly interesting. Modern racism was manufactured at the time of the Atlantic slave trade to justify a total domination over “others” in the pursuit of natural resources and free labour. This domination over non-europeans was in part fuelled by the desire to conquer lands rich in fossil fuels. And the centrality of coal, gas and oil to the industrial centres of empire was incredibly important. The combination of fossil fuels and racism established an ideological and material superiority for the imperial powers.

This book is a useful intervention into some of the current debates in the climate movement. “Environmentalism for everyone” is sometimes a slogan employed by the more moderate sections of the movement. But the conclusion of this approach can lead to arguments that give cover to racist views. For example in the past Rupert Read, a spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion, argued that the climate movement had to be against open borders and immigration in an effort to win right wing support. But this does nothing but give credence to the ideologies of the right, which inherently counter any form of progressive environmentalism. They may employ false eco-fascist arguments, but the right are committed to hurtling towards the abyss when it comes to climate.

So what now for the climate movement? This book puts forward the crucial task of building the struggle for climate justice. The climate protests of 2019 and the huge mobilisations after the murder of George Floyd in 2020 show a widespread desire to fight for action on the climate and against racism. The more these two movements work together and understand the links between their struggles, the greater chance of building a better society

As we mobilise for COP 26 in Glasgow in November, questions of climate justice, the Global South, and the responsibility of the Western ruling classes are firmly on the agenda. Without ideological certainty, there is a risk of allowing gains for the right. This makes the tasks of climate activists and anti-racists all the more urgent. Anti-racists must be at the heart of the movement in the run up to COP, but also in the years which will follow – not only to oppose the right, but to challenge the crisis-riddled system which creates both racism and the ongoing climate crises.

  • White Skin, Black Fuel: On the Dangers of Fossil Fascism. Andreas Malm and The Zetkin Collective, Verso, £20.00. It is available from Bookmarks the Socialist Bookshop

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