If Time Magazine Celebrates Greta Thunberg, Why Should We?

In just over 6,500 words, Time Magazine  makes the case for Greta Thunberg being 2019’s Person of the Year. For much of the left, this confirms that she is a corporate tool. Founded in 1923 by Henry Luce, Time was the flagship of the Luce empire. Print newsmagazines have gone into a steep decline with the advent of the Internet. Despite a steep decline in circulation, Time remains the second-largest weekly after People.

Henry Luce was one of the most powerful Republican Party supporters in the 20th century, the Rupert Murdoch of his day. Luce was a member of the China Lobby that sought the overthrow of Mao Zedong. He also urged JFK to invade Cuba. Unless he did, Luce planned to imitate William Randolph Hearst and push for war, even if involved the big lie. These odious policies and others fell within the rubric of the “American Century,” a concept Luce articulated in Life magazine, another part of his empire. Through such magazines, he shared the dominant view of the American ruling class during its “globalization” phase. He had close social ties to men like John Foster Dulles, Secretary of State, and his brother, director of the CIA, who worked overtime to overthrow any government that dared to defy Washington’s will.

So, why should the left celebrate Greta Thunberg being named person of the year given this background?

Just a week ago, I was startled to see an article by Time editor-at-large Anand Giridharadas titled “How America’s Elites Lost Their Grip” that called attention to the growth of support for socialism in the aftermath of the 2007 financial meltdown. The article concludes: “This year, America’s ultra-elites seemed to bend over backward to lend support to the idea that maybe the system they superintend needs gut renovating. As a political movement bubbled up to challenge their wealth and power, the elite’s own misbehavior trickled down. And where the two met, ideas that once seemed unutterable started, to many, to sound like the future.”

That “gut renovating” does not involve overthrowing the capitalist system. Time Magazine’s purpose seems more about pressuring the elites to clean up their act. That’s why they put Thunberg on a pedestal.

The Time article is a useful introduction to her activism. It turns out that climate change activists convinced her to build a movement inspired by the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. While her movement and that of the Florida students have attracted massive media and popular support, they have done little to make a dent in gun violence or climate change.

August 20, 2018 marks the beginning of the youth movement she inspired. She parked herself in front of the Swedish parliament with a home-made sign. She was there to protest but also to overcome the depression she felt over climate change. Her father said that after she began striking, it was as if she “came back to life.” In only a year, her activism led to mass actions across the planet, with 250,000 marching in New York and 1.4 million people on the streets of Germany.

Government leaders who favor fossil fuel energy can’t stand her. Putin said he does not “share the excitement” over her activism, and Bolsonaro called her a “little brat.” Upon learning that Time had honored her, Donald Trump tweeted that she must work on her “Anger Management problem” and chill out, insensitive words to use on someone with autism.

Time also mentions how the capitalist class has climbed on the climate change bandwagon. Corporations such as Emirate airlines have become “woke”, with its president stating that the climate strikers helped him realize “we are not doing enough.” In December, Klaus Schwab, the founder and CEO of the World Economic Forum, published a manifesto urging a more responsible form of capitalism. Enlightened corporate executives would act as stewards of “the environmental and material universe for future generations.”

For many on the left, such a corporate presence amounts to a conspiracy to make the world safe for capitalism. Conspiracy-minded websites like Global Research and Off-Guardian depict her as a Trojan Horse designed to blunt the genuine environmentalist movement. If you follow the conspiracist left on such questions, you will soon learn that the name Corey Morningstar keeps cropping up.

In 2019, Morningstar wrote a series of articles attacking Thunberg on her blog “The Art of Annihilation” that deserve to be read, if for no other reason than the traction they have on the left. You can read them in a single volume from Amazon amounting to 210 pages. It is beyond the scope of this article to cover her entire written crusade against the Swedish sixteen-year-old in depth (that it doesn’t deserve). However, a cursory examination will reveal a methodology that boils down to Deep Throat’s advice to Robert Redford in “All the President’s Men”: “Follow the money.”

In her first article, Morningstar charges Swedish PR executive Ingmar Rentzhog with masterminding a pro-corporate conspiracy using Thunberg as his cat’s paw. By hyping Thunberg, this phony movement will cater to the needs of Klaus Schwab, Goldman-Sachs, Michael Bloomberg, et al.

Rentzhog was an early supporter of Thunberg, who convinced her to be part of a social media outreach he started. Called We Don’t Have Time. It has raised millions through its foundation, helping to make Thunberg and her cause a household name. Thunberg serves on the foundation’s board, alongside Jamie Margolin just two years her senior. Since We Don’t Have Time markets carbon offsets, a dubious method of reducing greenhouse gases, Morningstar jumps to the conclusion that Thunberg and Margolin are out for a fast buck as branders of “sustainable” industries and products.

For this type of analysis to work, Morningstar has to be careful not to say anything much about Zero Hour, the activist network Margolin founded. She started Zero Hour because of the inadequate response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and how difficult it was to breathe in Seattle after a rash of Canadian wildfires. She is also a plaintiff in the Aji P. v. Washington case. This suit targets the state for dragging its heels on climate change. Just two months ago, Margolin joined other young people in suing Democratic Governor Jay Inslee and the State of Washington over greenhouse-gas emissions. Inslee depicts himself as a liberal, environmentalist governor. If Margolin is a Trojan Horse like Thunberg, her choice of a target hardly sounds like she is trying to make it in corporate, Democratic Party, environmentalist circles.

In another article, Morningstar condemns Thunberg for saying that she would strike until Sweden conforms to the Paris Agreement, itself an inadequate response to the looming threat. Like most human beings except for Morningstar, Thunberg is capable of mistakes. It was a mistake to settle for the compromised U.N. goals. She must have learned something since then. Just two days ago, she blasted soft emissions targets at a U.N. climate summit. I would recommend reading the full NBC news report that begins:

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg on Wednesday denounced the pledges of wealthy countries and businesses to curb climate change as hollow and deceptive, calling them “clever accounting and creative PR” in a speech before world leaders at the United Nations’ annual COP25 climate meeting in Madrid.

She reminded the bourgeois do-gooders that their pledges to reduce emissions do not include aviation, shipping, importing and exporting goods and consumption. They also count on offseting their emissions elsewhere. Even if Ingmar Rentzhog plans to make money through marketing in carbon offsets, this is not part of Thunberg’s vision of saving the planet from an apocalyptic future.

If you have the patience to trudge through Morningstar’s tedious prose, you will finally discover her real grievance. It is not that Thunberg is proposing inadequate solutions to climate change. Instead, it is that the issue itself is a diversion from the actual task of overthrowing the capitalist system. She writes, “Today’s climate emergency mobilization must be recognized for what it is: a strategically orchestrated campaign financed and managed by the world’s most powerful institutions – for the preservation of capitalism and global economic growth. This is the launch of a new growth industry in the Global South coupled with the creation of new and untapped markets.”

Yeah, who cares about icebergs melting and the Great Coral Reef disappearing? The real problem is capitalism—as if the two phenomena were not related.

In addition to her blog, Morningstar also posts to the Wrong Kind of Green. There you will find “Follow the Money” type articles on environmental activism, as well as attacks on the White Helmets as al-Qaeda operatives. No big surprise there.

On May 6, 2019, she wrote an attack on the Extinction Rebellion, a new direct action-oriented environmentalist group that she claims seeks to isolate “radical voices” like her own. She argues that its enemy is not the capitalist economic system devouring everything in its path but the radical activist, prepared to defend the Earth “by any means necessary”.

You are left wondering what type of activism passes her litmus test. At the conclusion of this article, you get an idea of what kind of model we should follow. She ponders the question: Are we tearing down the institutions, or keeping them propped up? Now, who can be against tearing down institutions? Not me, for one. But when she identifies Marilyn Buck as a “true” revolutionary, I have to wonder what kind of movement she hopes to see built.

Buck, who died in 2010 at the age of 62, was part of SDS. Like Mark Rudd and company, she grew frustrated with mass action, such as the kind Greta Thunberg promotes and decided to begin using terrorist methods to change the world. As symbolic protests, the Weathermen set off bombs at government buildings after hours when the risks of injuring people were minimal. Buck went further. She joined the Black Liberation Army and took part in the 1981 Brinks robbery that left an armored car guard and two cops dead.

After her arrest and imprisonment, Buck went through a transformation that reflected her rejection of such tactics and overall political growth. She wrote for Monthly Review and other journals to her credit.

One wonders, however, whether it is this Marilyn Buck or her self-destructive younger self that Morningstar admires. Given the hatred that some environmentalists have for capitalist despoliation, it is not surprising that in the most extreme form you end up with the misanthropy some Deep Ecologists displayed. If the human race had to disappear for wildlife to flourish, so be it. (During my darkest thoughts deep at night, I begin to feel like them.)

At the Scientists Warning blog, one writer categorizes her as a “collapsitarian”, a tendency reminiscent of the more nihilistic forms of Deep Ecology. Toward the very end of her series of articles attacking Thunberg, she writes, “We can dismantle the capitalist economic system devouring what remains of the natural world – but not if we identify with our oppressors and the very system that enslaves us. It is our natural world and her living natural communities that sustain us. Not industrial civilization – not technology.”

Keeping in mind that industrial civilization is what allowed her to circulate her diatribes on the Internet, it is difficult to ascertain what sort of world within she wants to live. It is certainly not a socialist world. Looking for a reference to socialism in the hundreds of thousands of words she has written against Thunberg, you will find none. We see nothing but a reactionary worldview that offers no solution to the people of the Global South in whose name she speaks. Like it or not, we have no alternative to industrial civilization. Despite the egalitarian and ecological heart of hunting and gathering societies, this is not an option in the 21st century.

In “Origins of the Family”, Engels writes:

Since civilization is founded on the exploitation of one class by another class, its whole development proceeds in a constant contradiction. Every step forward in production is at the same time a step backwards in the position of the oppressed class, that is, of the great majority. Whatever benefits some necessarily injures the others; every fresh emancipation of one class is necessarily a new oppression for another class. The most striking proof of this is provided by the introduction of machinery, the effects of which are now known to the whole world. And if among the barbarians, as we saw, the distinction between rights and duties could hardly be drawn, civilization makes the difference and antagonism between them clear even to the dullest intelligence by giving one class practically all the rights and the other class practically all the duties.

Today, civilization makes the difference and antagonism between rights and duty clearer than ever. We are striving for a world in which rights are maximized and duties are minimized, at least in the sense of being obliged to work ten hours a day in an Amazon warehouse for $18 per hour. One hundred years from now, robotics might relieve most of humanity from this kind of wage slavery. We will then be able to spend most of the day in leisure. The road to get there will be rocky beyond belief, but there is no other road that we can take.

Louis Proyect blogged at https://louisproyect.wordpress.com and was the moderator of the Marxism mailing list. In his spare time, he reviewed films for CounterPunch.