Zapovednik & The environmentalist Question in Dance Music
Écrins National Park in France
Murray Bookchin said in 2002 a few years before passing “Whether the twenty-first century will be the most radical of times or the most reactionary – or will simply lapse into a gray era of dismal mediocrity – will depend overwhelmingly upon the kind of social movement and program that social radicals create out of the theoretical, organizational, and political wealth that has accumulated during the past two centuries of the revolutionary era.”
It seems that we are going toward the most reactionary times as we see unfold the chauvinism of yet another imperialist war in Ukraine and for a gray era of dismal mediocrity in culture that we will see below how it unfolds.
This essay will explore the history of social ecology during the soviet era and will take on exploring the idea of Marx Metabolic rift, and will try to offer something deeper that the surface level talk on the environmentalist question in dance music.
The Ideology behind Zapovednik
Russian conservationists had been pressuring for the creation of ‘’Zapovednik’’( roughly translated by “nature preserves'’) long before the October Revolution.
Despite the very profitable earning possibilities of fur trade, the Soviet government was as protective of game animals as it was of its forests during the tumultuous economic crisis of the Revolution and the Civil War. Lenin approved the decree "On Hunting Seasons and the Right to Possess Hunting Weapons" in May 19191.
The conservation program and hunting regulations were so important to Lenin, that he took time off leading the front, to meet with the agronomist Podiapolski2 in the midst of the Civil War. "Having asked me some questions about the military and political situation in the Astrakhan' region, Vladimir Ilich expressed his approval for all of our initiatives and in particular the one concerning the project for the Zapovednik”, Podiapolski recalls. “He stated that the cause of conservation was important not only for the Astrakhan krai, but for the whole republic as well." Lenin’s profound attachment to the Zapovednik program and ecology, in general has a long history. In 1881, the Narodnaya Volya, or “People’s Will” murdered Tsar Alexander II. Resisting the autocratic regime through violent means and fueled by growing discontent, a group of students at St. Petersburg University, including Lenin’s older brother, Alexander Ulyanov, plotted in secret to assassinate the new tsar, Alexander III.
As Ben Stahnke wrote in his article “Lenin, Ecology, and Revolutionary Russia”
“Alexander [Ulyanov] had become something of a role model for his younger brother,” Christopher Read noted; and “[t]hrough hard, academic work Alexander had succeeded in getting to university, no mean feat at a time when there were only some ten thousand university students in the whole Russian Empire.” The assassination plot, however, was quickly uncovered by the Tsar’s secret police, leading to Alexander Ulyanov's arrest, trail, and subsequent execution by hanging in 1887.” The execution of Alexander Ulyanov, a Zoology and Natural Science student, was the catalyzing event for Lenin’s radicalization at age 17.
What’s the ideological background behind early Soviet environmental policy?
Sources : Russian Nature Reserves and Conservation of Biological Diversity Mark A. Colwell, Alexander V. Dubynin, Andrei Yu. Koroliuk and Nikolai A. Sobolev Natural Areas Journal
To understand the scale of this program, there will be 40 natural reserves totaling 7,000,000 ha, a number that will triple by 1950, covering nearly twice as much ground (12,500,000 ha)3
This explain why Lenin's death in 1924 was like opening the Pandora’s Box, for Soviet environementalism. With Stalin’s infamous ”second revolution”, there was pressure to extend agricultural development into the protected Askania-Nova nature preserve in the Ukrainian steppes.
"Do not desecrate nature!" 1960's Soviet environmental poster
Some scholars speak of a certain “irony” in Russia’s relation with ecology, juxtaposing early politics anchored in a dialectical vision of nature influenced by a long tradition of Russian conservatism with the rise of Stalinist forced industrialization.
The Stalinist transformation of the Soviet ecological movement implied the need for new economic miracles, the "primacy of practice" the new interpretation of the Marxist "mastery of nature" and above all the political culture of the Stalinist Soviet Union worked against the conservationist views of the 1920s.
The main example cited as representation of what we call “ecocide”(Feshbach and Friendly 1992; Peterson 1993)4 happened at the peak of the Stalinian bureaucratic era, or a couple of years before the Soviet dissolution. If we take a look at the date when Lake Baikal was almost completely drained or the Chernobyl incident, which will be the trigger for Gorbachev’s new policy to get rid of the leftover Stalinist “glasnost” (transparency in Russian).
It’s pretty evident that the dire situation of Russian conservationism and environmental preservation policy which led to "paper parks" (parks that exist in name yet are unable to fulfils requirements to be considered a natural reserves)5 almost destroying all the advancements made in this domain6, is a direct result of the unbridled industrial and agricultural expansion initiated by Stalin's first Five Year Plan.
The Bolshevik interest in social emancipation coexisted alongside ideas of ecological emancipation, as both society and the environment are in dialectical relation.
One of the most emblematic manifestations of this critical relation between capital and the environment lies in Marx’s first volume of Capital - “All progress in capitalist agriculture is a progress in the art, not only of robbing the worker, but of robbing the soil; all progress in increasing the fertility of the soil for a given time is a progress toward ruining the more long-lasting sources of that fertility. . . .”7
He emphasized the need for planning for the environment, suggesting measures such as the elimination of the antagonism between town and country through the more even dispersal of the population8 and the restoration and improvement of the soil through the recycling of soil nutrients.9
Marx employed the concept of metabolic rift to capture the material estrangement of human beings in capitalist society from the natural conditions of their existence. To argue that large-scale capitalist agriculture created such a metabolic rift between human beings and the soil that it’s incompatible with basic conditions of sustainability.10
Implementing social ecology is a question of radically transforming the institutions to create the conditions of a democracy, active and real for that it is necessary to abolish the institutional and economic structures of dominations which are the nation-state and capitalisms, these structures have created a centralized and impersonal world, where all can be transformed in merchandise to produce always more accumulations.It is not in such a world that the civic and political participation will be able to express themselves fully.
The Environmentalist Question in Dance Music
Steve Aoki’s jet in Hamburg airport
We’ve seen a growing number of initiatives and discussions around limiting carbon imprint for venues with a focus on commercial flights for touring DJs.
The following excerpts from Chal Ravens’ article “What can dance music do about the climate crisis?” published in 2019 are a perfect example of the most platformed discourse in dance music regarding the environment.
“Climate change is a very real question for dance music, simply because it's a question for everyone—particularly in the over-polluting, over-consuming developed world, which has already taken more than its fair share of the planet's resources. It's a good moment to start asking: what can we do?”
The author here explains that the climate crisis is a question that touches on everyone’s lives, so you would think that the line of thought will take us toward something other than an individualistic angle. However, she seems to suggest that the eco-side is simply a question of lifestyle fix that we can implement ourselves and not an urgent issue concerning the 100 companies responsible for 71% of global emissions, as The Guardian reported back in 2017.
“The mark of a successful DJ seems to be the amount of time they spend traveling between gigs, taking hundreds of flights a year. Their individual carbon footprints are vastly bigger than the average in the developed world, which is already too big to sustain. Dutch DJ Job Sifre, a resident at De School in Amsterdam, started thinking about this problem when he noticed that his fellow DJs never seemed to talk about the environmental impact of their job. (..) calculated that, in one year, his flights for 20 international shows added about four tonnes of greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere.”
Talking about DJs who are on a heavy international touring program which involves a lot of flights it’s an interesting angle, especially if we focus on the Dutch scene, since the most prominent companies from the study above are Dutch. Perhaps highlighting the involvement of the country’s companies in fossil fuel production which are heavily responsible in the current crisis could have been more useful than this act of greenwashing for commercial DJs.
Another interesting thing to note is the reason DJs have to hop on flights in a hectic manner, sometimes coming back where they started the tour after flying 200KM away, is because of exclusivity clauses, that clubs impose to DJs. In 2022 researcher and dance music enthusiast Mathys Rennela wrote in his article Abolish DJ Idolatry - “Exclusivity contracts and scarcity of the offer (in comparison with the overwhelming supply) have given rise to a plethora of continental tours which are often ecologically and economically unsustainable.”
“DJs, and in particular full-time & touring DJs, do not have the same class interest as club workers”, he writes. “They are reactionary in the strictest sense of the term, as their objective is to maintain the status quo or possibly go back to an even older mode of organization. From there, I argue that club workers should play a central role when it comes to organizing dance music, and that DJs occupy far too much space in the struggle.”
Sifre’s example is a perfect case of DJ Idolatry, which I firmly believe should be abolished. If DJ were interested as a class to do anything other than greenwashing they would collectively put pressure on clubs to lift exclusivity contracts or at least start a meaningful conversation around this subject, which I am still waiting to happen.
The solution proposed by Sifre at the time was a carbon offsetting scheme specifically for DJs - “The idea behind offsetting is simple: work out how much carbon you've put into the atmosphere, then pay money into projects which take it out.” Green capitalism is not a solution to a problem created by capitalism in the first place. Thinking that financializing carbon emission by redistributing money to projects who “take it out ” is a solution, is another example of the ignorance of the dialectical relation between society and the environment. An idea like the carbon tax, often just lead to frauds.11
As far as anti-air travel discourse, we can clearly see making it an individual issue comes up short, when Lufthansa comes clean about running 21,000 empty flights to secure landing and takeoff rights.12
In June 2019, the consulting firm Carbone 4 demonstrated that if a French person implemented a set of actions every day ranging from small gestures to real changes in individual behavior - such as never taking a plane again, systematically carpooling and eating vegetarian - he or she would only achieve a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of around 25%. The authors of the study point out that the impact of individual action is not negligible, especially with regard to vegetarianism, but their conclusion is clear: "It is clear that even a generalized "heroic" behavior cannot allow a sufficient decrease to respect the 2°C objective of the Paris Agreement, which requires the disappearance of 80% of current emissions.13
The very concept of "carbon footprint" was conceived in the early 2000s by the American communications agency Ogilvy & Mather14, hired by British Petroleum (BP), one of the world's largest oil companies, to promote the idea that climate chaos is not the fault of companies but of consumers. What this discourse achieves is airlines implementing “off-setting” programs where they support projects to plant a tree when you fly and other liberal formulas like “supporting working with local communities in developing countries to foster emission reductions in everyday life”
to continue on this, as put on the website ourworldata.org “ Air travel dominates a frequent traveler’s individual contribution to climate change. Yet aviation overall accounts for only 2.5% of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. This is because there are large inequalities in how much people fly – many do not, or cannot afford to, fly at all [best estimates put this figure at around 80% of the world population”As a reminder, the energy sector represents 73.2% of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.15
There are two important facts to look at treating the environmentalist questions within the left first as Isaac Cronin, Terrel Seltzer put it in Call it Sleep — A Situationist Film:
“As a revolutionary strategy, Bolshevism is a failure. The signs are everywhere. The Democratic workers states are a sham. There is no democracy. There are only workers in the state. ” This is why it was so easy for Stalin’s “second revolution” to destroy the environmentalist leaning of the early “Bolshevik revolution”, which as the record states was a takeover by Lenin and his followers, making it particularly easy for another strong figure to change the direction of the policy implemented as long as a personality cult is built.
Then what are the liberals who subscribe to green capitalism missing in the conversation around the occurring eco-side? We always come to the same conclusion - in the absence of a materialist vision we can't expect a dialectical reading of materialism. This intellectual crisis naturally moves the discourse towards Neo-Malthusianism, green capitalism, eco-fascism and a further continuation of the spectacle, in a Debordian sense, of Climate change submit, with the child god figure of Greta Thunberg who is himself tired of it.16
What did the Liberal environmentalism achieve? The COP26 couldn’t even stick to their stated goals.17
The discourse in dance music is not serious because it’s led by petty bourgeois guilt -ridden actors when it’s not just sticking to a surface level discourse around “the climate crisis”. We’ve seen above how theory like Marx’s metabolic rift can lead to a program that takes the whole scale of the ongoing ecocide seriously but also how is it important to go even further taking hint on Bookchin notions of social ecology.
Douglas Weiner's "Models of Nature: Ecology, Conservation, and Cultural Revolution in Soviet Union," Indiana Univ., 1988)
Russian Nature Reserves and Conservation of Biological Diversity Mark A. Colwell, Alexander V. Dubynin, Andrei Yu. Koroliuk and Nikolai A. Sobolev Natural Areas Journa
John Bellamy Foster Marx's Theory of Metabolic Rift: Classical Foundations for Environmental Sociology
Russian Nature Reserves and Conservation of Biological Diversity Mark A. Colwell, Alexander V. Dubynin, Andrei Yu. Koroliuk and Nikolai A. Sobolev Natural Areas Journal
Richardson, William. Environmental History Review 14, no. 3 (1990): 103–5. https://doi.org/10.2307/3984735
John Bellamy Foster Marx's Theory of Metabolic Rift: Classical Foundations for Environmental Sociology
Marx and Engels  1967, pp. 40–41
Within biological and ecological analysis, the concept of metabolism, from its beginnings in the 1840s and to present day, has been used as a central category in the systems-theory approach in the relation of organisms to their environments. It refers to a complex process of metabolic exchange, where an organism (or a given cell) draws upon materials and energy from its environment and converts these by way of various metabolic reactions into the building blocks of proteins and other com- pounds necessary for growth. The concept of metabolism is also used to refer to the regulatory processes that govern this complex interchange between organisms and their environment (Fischer-Kowalski 1997, p. 120)
Mickaël Correia - Enquête sur les multinationales qui brûlent notre planète