Sunday 30 June 2019

The Socialist Workers Party is Infiltrating Extinction Rebellion

To any political activists on the left who have been involved with the British SWP in various campaigns, this post will come as no great surprise. This is their modus operandi after all.

Written by Alan Story 

I was an active member of Extinction Rebellion (XR) in Sheffield in the UK. I joined in mid-January 2019 and we in XR Sheffield met EVERY Monday evening - quite impressive for a new group, for a vegan meal followed by a planning meeting. I found them a friendly bunch and think we accomplished quite a lot as we'd try to do “our bit” to challenge climate change.

However, a few of us began to wonder why an increasing number of members from the local branch of the Socialist Workers Party were attending our meetings? 

At a meeting on 29 April, for example, eight or nine SWPers walked into our meeting and took up strategic positions around the cramped room. Perhaps that kind of thing happens at sessions of 300 people in London. But in Sheffield? And on the global warming issue?

Later that same evening the apparent mystery was explained. I was forwarded an e-mail sent the week before from SWP HQ in London to all SWP members in the UK. The orders were clear: climate change is the SWP’s issue of the moment and Extinction Rebellion is the SWP’s flavour of the month.

The entire e-mail is copied in below. A few phrases give you a sense of what’s being planned. “GO TO YOUR XR MEETING” (boldface) – and get stuck in! … get yourself added to whatsapp groups and mailings lists ….we will have a model motion and self- sign out soon…make sure you have [SWP] materials for the [next] Youth Strike 4 Climate…INVITE XR TO SPEAK AT AN SWP MEETING ( boldface).” The 29 April issue of the SWP’s ‘Party Notes’ gives 500 further words of detailed and ‘crucial’ instructions to the troops.

The subtext and the objectives are clear. If we play our cards right, we just might have another SWP front group by autumn. Mind you, what to call it is still to be resolved. Should it be called ‘STAND UP TO CLIMATE CHANGE’ or ‘THE STOP CLIMATE CHANGE COALITION.’? The SWP’s national secretary Charlie Kimber will make that decision later.

But if the SWP’s top brass is certain that it needs the UK’s rapidly blossoming climate change movement for fresh recruitment fodder, does that movement, including XR, need the SWP? For three briefly-stated reasons (among others), I say a firm ‘NO’.

1) On the one hand, it is very clear that the anti-climate change movement needs radical ideas. And such ideas - ecosocialist, socialist, green, anarchist, Marxist and so forth - should be welcomed. Capitalism cannot solve the climate change crisis. To be frank: I am worried that a significant number of politically inexperienced anti-climate change activists will be overly cautious about debating and discussing radical and socialist ideas if the tired bromides from the SWP are taken to represent the best of the UK left and of contemporary radical thought and practice. They don’t. An anti-radical/ anti-communist/ no politics please backlash is a real worry.

2) But while new ideas are definitely required, what XR does NOT need is an outside organisation of experienced and disciplined political operators to enter it with the usual SWP objectives in mind: recruiting new members, manipulation, stirring up disputes and splits, capturing leadership roles and the like. (To even begin to list and explain the more than eight splits, ‘re-groupings’, break-aways, mass resignations, splinters and ideological ‘dust–ups’ within the SWP during the past 15 years would take a treatise…and a thick one at that.) XR does not need a split yeasted up by a group’s who feeds on division, as well as by infiltration.

3) And speaking of infiltration: environmental groups - and many other political groups on the left - have long been the target of infiltration by police agents and agent provocateurs. It became such a scandal that the UK government was forced to set up the ‘Undercover Policing Inquiry’ in 2015. Check out the long list of groups which evidence has shown were infiltrated:

Only the most naïve would believe such infiltration has ceased. What target would be more obvious today than XR? It has had more than 1,000 members and supporters arrested in the past 16 days. As a 71-year-old socialist who has been activist on the left since 1965, let me pass on a word of advice to my former XR colleagues: you need to “up your game” when it comes to shutting out infiltrators from the BOTH the police and the SWP.

Alan Story is a member of Sheffield Green Party and has now left Extinction Rebellion for unrelated reasons to this post. 


Text of the email sent out (on official SWP digital stationery) on Thursday, 25 April 2019 at 16:10 by the SWP head office in London to their members across the UK.



Dear comrades:

The Extinction Rebellion (XR) protests over the last week mark a big shift. Their scale and size is very impressive, and the protests have shown that mass action can shift the debate on climate change.

Socialist Worker has some very good coverage of the XR here, including an important article by Alex Callinicos. As the SWP we have been part of the protests from the beginning, and in many places we are part of local XR groups. It’s crucial that the party continues to do this.

Below are 5 ways you can relate to XR in your local area:

1. Go to your local XR meeting - and get stuck in! XR report that around 30,000 people have joined them in the last few weeks. This means local XR meetings are likely to be big and full of new people - comrades report 300 at the Bristol XR meeting last night! The meetings might sometimes be in different formats but it is worth being part of them. Find your local Extinction Rebellion page on facebook, get yourself added to whatsapp groups and mailing lists. We should be part of outreach groups - we will have a model motion and self-sign outsoon.

2. Can you set up a wider meeting on climate change in your area? The SWP has played an important role in the climate movement over the years, especially within the Campaign against Climate Change (CaCC). Comrades have helped initiate a meeting in central London tonight with CaCC, XR, school strikers and Green New Deal activists. Can you do something similar in your area?

3. Youth Strike 4 Climate, Friday 24 May: The next student strike has been announced as 24May. Make sure you have materials for the strike. But also see if you can get in touch with the students organising it to build up support among trade unions and the public.

4. Trump Protest. The protest against Donald Trump’s visit has been announced for Tuesday 4 June. It organised by Together Against Trump, a coalition including Stand Up to Racism and CaCC. Local initiatives will be taking place - can you invite XR to be part of them?

5. Invite XR to speak at an SWP meeting. Lots of branches have had XR speak at SWP meetings on System Change not Climate Change with an XR speaker alongside an SWP one.

If you want to discuss any of these initiatives, please speak to Lewis or Amy in the National Office on 0207 840 5600. And let us know how you get on!

In solidarity


Friday 28 June 2019

Exclusive - Interview – Views from the Revolution in Rojava

This interview is with the Rojava Internationalist Commune and Plan C Kurdistan Cluster in the UK, where indicated.

Tell me a little about how the Rojava automatous region was formed?
Commune: “Rojava” in Kurmanci means West, because it’s the West of Kurdistan, in the North of Syria. With the so-called Arab Spring in 2012, that shook the existing power structures in many countries in the Middle East, also in Syria people started to protest against the Assad Regime. But even before that, the Kurdish population was organizing itself, on the basis of the ideas of Abduallah Öcalan in the Region of Rojava. Since any political activity of the Kurdish population was forbidden and many activists were put in jail, these organizations were working illegally.

With the uprising of the people in Syria, also Kurds stood up in 2012, pushing out the regime troops and bureaucrats and starting the process of building structures of self-defence and self-administration. That was the first step in the process of forming the  Democratic Autonomous Administration of North-East Syria as we know it today, and that includes way more than just the areas of Syria in which the Kurdish population is the majority. In the resistance against the so-called Islamic State, the forces of self-defence, liberated large parts of Syria so that today this Democratic Federation includes cities like Raqqa and Deir Ezzor.

How is government carried out in Rojava?

Commune: The general system is based on the idea of the self-administration of the people, on the social values and strong participation of everyone. In this sense the political power comes from the local level like neighbourhood and village councils. These councils are forming bigger entities of coordination between each other, and committees for the different aspects of social life, like healthcare, self-defence of the neighbourhood, economy or ecology. In these committees the direct work is done, fulfilling the needs of the people and solving problems of society.
It is important not to see it just as a political structure, but also a mindset which this self-administration is built on. Without a political and moral society, there will be no way to build structures of self-administration. To be a political society means the will to participate, to take an active role in shaping your one reality. And to be a moral society means, that there are values in the society and on that basis people make decisions and judge things as right or wrong.

Can you give some examples of where women’s representation in governance has made positive improvements for women?

Commune: Because of the representative function of the governance of the Democratic Federation of North-East Syria, the improvements for women are made in their daily lives, pushed by various women’s organization under the umbrella of Kongreya Star (Star Congress, a confederation of women's organizations) rather than a top down process. 

It is fundamental to the women’s movement to build women’s institutions in every area of life, so that women can free themselves intellectually, economically, emotionally, and spiritually from the authority and violence of patriarchal domination. In every institution of the society, dual leadership – what is called “hevserok” – applies everywhere in Rojava, from the local neighbourhood commune to the executive committee of the federation.

And for all the general institutions a gender quota applies, so that in every council, commission, leadership position or court, women must make up at least 40 percent. Today this quota has been far exceeded in many institutions. Important achievements of the revolution include the establishment of women's cooperatives through which women gain economic independence from their husbands and families. 

And in the Federation, marriages are only allowed from full age, without force, and polygamous marriages are forbidden. But most important is the change in the mentality of the society and the view of women and their growing self-confidence. Women play an active role in all areas of society and also in the military defence of the revolution.

You are running a campaign called ‘Make Rojava Green Again’, tell me more about this?

Commune: The “Make Rojava Green Again” campaign was launched in early 2018 by the Internationalist Commune of Rojava, in cooperation with Committees of self-administration in Rojava, with the aim of supporting and developing a democratic-ecological society in north eastern Syria. The campaign functions like a bridge between Rojava and ecological movements, activists and scientists around the world in term of technical knowledge, ideological discussions and protests on the streets.

In the framework of the campaign, different practical works are done in Rojava, the building of a tree nursery to planting of trees in the Internationalist Academy and in the city of Derik, building a system for reprocessing and developing a project for wind energy. Besides these practical works, with the published book “Make Rojava Green Again”, the campaign functions as a framework for ideological discussion connecting the experiences and realities of different struggles.

In the end we can say, that the campaign is an invitation to participate in our work: to be part of building an ecological society in Rojava and bringing international solidarity to life.

I know that you take inspiration from the writings of Murray Bookchin on Social Ecology. Have you heard of Ecosocialism which is a very similar political philosophy?

Commune: Yes, we have heard of Ecosocialism and we see it in the same line with our search to overcome the ecological crises of capitalist modernity in building a democratic, ecological society on the basis of the liberation of women. It is true, that Öcalan’s writing and also our ecological works take inspiration from the works of Murray Bookchin, who put the ecological question at the centre of his analyses and revolutionary perspective, not seeing it as a contradiction that will be automatically solved by overcoming class society. Significant for us is the historical perspective he empathizes on, analyzing the relationship and interdependence of humankind and nature, identifying the ecological crises as crises of society.

Central for our approach is to overcome the orientalist view on the question of development and progress, acknowledging the values of former societies as reference for our future perspective of a society in balance with nature. And in this sense also challenging the positivist mentality and logic of capitalist indefinite growth and expansion. 

Furthermore, ideas like those formulated in the framework of social ecology or Ecosocialism, are creating for us a positive perspective of humankind, without which any struggle seams meaningless. We believe that people can make life better with their creative power, their understanding of justice, and their will to change. And that in such times as these and in the face of the crises of capitalist modernity, so much seems lost and irrevocable.

With ISIS now in retreat in Syria, will you be able to concentrate your energy on projects other than military operations?

Commune: Even though ISIS is militarily defeated, still there are many cells of armed ISIS fighters, ready to destabilize the region with attacks and assassinations. And against these cells there is still the need for military operations and self-defence. And with the end of ISIS, also the imperialist powers like the US, Russia and regional powers like Turkey and Iran are increasing their attempts to control the area and the revolutionary dynamic in Syria.

For years the fascist regime of AKP-MHP, the two main Turkish political parties, (under the leadership of Erdogan) has openly stated that they do not accept the revolution in Syria, and threaten further invasion with the help of Islamist gangs like former ISIS fighters, as happened last year in the canton of Afrin. As long as different political and military powers are trying destroy this revolution, there is the need for a strong self-defence. And we have seen, that a war that is started by Turkey, will be an even bigger war than against ISIS. So if we are honest, the bigger war is standing in front of us.

But of course also the civil projects are growing massively in the Democratic Federation of North East Syria. Just to look to the rebuilding processes in cities like Raqqa and Deir Ezzor, the massive reforestation efforts made by local municipalities and the investments and energy put into social institutions and projects.

Plan C Kurdistan Cluster: Like our comrades at the Internationalist Commune say, in many ways it’s now that the struggle really begins: the peace may prove far more difficult to win than the war. Of course the fight against ISIS, the so-called Islamic State or Daesh, was long, hard and by no means certain, but the type of enemy meant that some aspects were relatively secure, and the hegemonic powers more or less onside (even if they didn’t and will never support the revolution in any meaningful sense).

We saw some of the dangers of this moment even before the war against Daesh was finished, with the Turkish state and AKP-MHP regime’s fascist and imperialist invasion of Efrin – and, most importantly, the near total silence of global powers then still relying on the SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) and YPG/YPJ (People's Protection Units - Women's Protection Units), as well as the absence of so many “friends” who mobilised during the Kobani resistance. Compared to those demonstrations in 2015/16 the Efrin mobilisation was tiny. 

So from our perspective it’s not so much that the end of open military operations (though not the threat, as the Daesh insurgency has begun properly now with attacks and field burnings) provides an opportunity for different projects, but that this is the crucial moment to strengthen our efforts to build widespread practical solidarity.

And this is where internationalist support becomes absolutely essential. There’s a long and rich tradition of revolutionary internationalism, and the Rojava Revolution has produced beautiful examples like the International Freedom Battalion, as well as martyrs like Anna Campbell, the match of any other moment in revolutionary history. But the scale is far, far smaller, for clear material reasons, but this is something that must be recognised and addressed.

Revolutionaries, and especially dedicated revolutionary organisations, must do the necessary work of raising awareness, providing political education, and building practical solidarity campaigns – by which we mean not merely doing a post on social media, but really working hand in hand to provide forms of material support.

You have an international campaign also, called ‘RiseUp4Rojava – Smash Turkish fascism’, what is happening with this around the world and especially in the UK?

Commune: For a long time now we’ve been discussing with different organizations and initiatives in different countries about the possibilities and the necessity to form a global network, uniting in a campaign against the Turkish fascism and in the defence of the Revolution in Rojava. And from these discussions the campaign “RiseUp4Rojava” was built, following the aim to build an international front against Turkish fascism. Of course, this includes exposing and answering the hypocritical policies of the imperialist countries.

Plan C Kurdistan Cluster: RiseUp4Rojava is both an exciting development and an absolutely necessary one. Lacking the mass internationalist movements and organizations of the past, we need to build our own from the bottom up – which is long work, but also provides the opportunity to address some of the mistakes of the past. So it’s really exciting to be building concrete connections across borders, and making plans to not only defend, but to rise up for the revolution – this is the real meaning of solidarity, not when you simply do something for ‘them over there’, but when you really, deeply see them as you and you as them.

In a UK context the campaign gives the opportunity to build this solidarity in the relatively strong anti-arms trade movement that exists here. Of course, this movement is nowhere near as strong as it needs to be, especially since the UK is one of the largest war profiteers in the world, not least selling to the Turkish state, as well as Saudi Arabia. 

Similarly, the anti-war movement is quite liberal, many dedicated campaigners don’t question capitalism or the nation state, some involved don’t even include non-lethal weaponry and technology in their analysis – it’s often simply about not selling to the “bad guys”.

So RiseUp4Rojava provides not only the opportunity to build solidarity with Rojava and the Kurdish Freedom Movement in the UK anti-arms trade movement, but also the opportunity to bring the revolution’s politics to that movement, and help it overcome its current limitations. 

To this end we and other comrades, particularly the local groups federated in the Kurdistan Solidarity Network, will participate in the mobilisation against the DSEI arms fair that happens in London every year, not only in the demonstrations and actions themselves, but also providing literature and workshops about the movement’s theory and practice.

How do you see the future of Rojava in the medium to long term?

Commune: Rojava is the uprising of the people against the system of nation-states, Islamic fundamentalism, and imperialism, on the basis of the ideas of a radical democratic self-government of the people. In this sense the Rojava revolution is the revolution of the 21st century. It would be wrong to hope or to prognosticate the stabilization of this revolution, without general changes of powers structures in the Middle East, first of all in Turkey.

This revolution has to grow, to expand in ideological terms, lighting the fire of resistance and revolution in all the people from Syria, the Middle East, until Europe. If this does not happen, if the ideas of the revolution, their fight for rights and dignity is cut down, curbed in military crackdowns, then the revolution in Rojava has a difficult future. Even if many things have been achieved, it is still a daily fight for a socialist line in the revolution itself.

The biggest threat to this revolution is Turkish fascism. Its imperialist policy, the attempts of cultural genocides against the Kurdish population and other minorities in the Middle East and its geographical expansion in Rojava but also in Iraqi Kurdistan, will only be stopped by a change in the system in Turkey itself.


Wednesday 26 June 2019

New Report Suggests ‘High Likelihood of Human Civilization Coming to an End’ in 2050

Written by Nafeez Ahmed and first published at

A harrowing scenario analysis of how human civilization might collapse in coming decades due to climate change has been endorsed by a former Australian defence chief and senior royal navy commander.

The analysis, published by the Breakthrough National Centre for Climate Restoration, a think-tank in Melbourne, Australia, describes climate change as “a near- to mid-term existential threat to human civilization” and sets out a plausible scenario of where business-as-usual could lead over the next 30 years.

The paper argues that the potentially “extremely serious outcomes” of climate-related security threats are often far more probable than conventionally assumed, but almost impossible to quantify because they “fall outside the human experience of the last thousand years.”

On our current trajectory, the report warns, “planetary and human systems [are] reaching a ‘point of no return’ by mid-century, in which the prospect of a largely uninhabitable Earth leads to the breakdown of nations and the international order.”

The only way to avoid the risks of this scenario is what the report describes as “akin in scale to the World War II emergency mobilization”—but this time focused on rapidly building out a zero-emissions industrial system to set in train the restoration of a safe climate.

The scenario warns that our current trajectory will likely lock in at least 3 degrees Celsius (C) of global heating, which in turn could trigger further amplifying feedbacks unleashing further warming. This would drive the accelerating collapse of key ecosystems “including coral reef systems, the Amazon rainforest and in the Arctic.”

The results would be devastating. Some one billion people would be forced to attempt to relocate from unlivable conditions, and two billion would face scarcity of water supplies. Agriculture would collapse in the sub-tropics, and food production would suffer dramatically worldwide. The internal cohesion of nation-states like the US and China would unravel.

“Even for 2°C of warming, more than a billion people may need to be relocated and in high-end scenarios, the scale of destruction is beyond our capacity to model with a high likelihood of human civilization coming to an end,” the report notes.

The new policy briefing is written by David Spratt, Breakthrough’s research director and Ian Dunlop, a former senior executive of Royal Dutch Shell who previously chaired the Australian Coal Association.

In the briefing’s foreword, retired Admiral Chris Barrie—Chief of the Australian Defence Force from 1998 to 2002 and former Deputy Chief of the Australian Navy—commends the paper for laying “bare the unvarnished truth about the desperate situation humans, and our planet, are in, painting a disturbing picture of the real possibility that human life on Earth may be on the way to extinction, in the most horrible way.”

Barrie now works for the Climate Change Institute at Australian National University, Canberra.

Spratt told Motherboard that a key reason the risks are not understood is that “much knowledge produced for policymakers is too conservative. Because the risks are now existential, a new approach to climate and security risk assessment is required using scenario analysis.”

Last October, Motherboard reported on scientific evidence that the UN’s summary report for government policymakers on climate change—whose findings were widely recognized as “devastating”—were in fact too optimistic.

While the Breakthrough scenario sets out some of the more ‘high end’ risk possibilities, it is often not possible to meaningfully quantify their probabilities. As a result, the authors emphasize that conventional risk approaches tend to downplay worst-case scenarios despite their plausibility.

Spratt and Dunlop’s 2050 scenario illustrates how easy it could be to end up in an accelerating runaway climate scenario which would lead to a largely uninhabitable planet within just a few decades.

“A high-end 2050 scenario finds a world in social breakdown and outright chaos,” said Spratt. “But a short window of opportunity exists for an emergency, global mobilization of resources, in which the logistical and planning experiences of the national security sector could play a valuable role.”

Sunday 23 June 2019

The Tories are now an Exclusively English Nationalist Party

If any further evidence were needed of the direction of the contemporary Tory party, a YouGov survey of party members published last week has provided it. Sixty-three per cent of members said they would be prepared to accept Scottish independence to get Brexit, while 59 per cent said the same about a united Ireland. Just 29 and 28 per cent were opposed, respectively.

The drift towards this has been apparent for some time, with until the 2017 general election, the Tories being an endangered species in Scotland. The 2017 general election saw a recovery for the party, winning thirteen seats in Scotland. But that election was unusual in breaking the trend of the last forty years which had seen the both Labour and the Tories losing their share vote all across the UK. It looks increasing as though that election was a blip, in the trend though, rather than a sea change.

The figures quoted above are truly astonishing in many ways. The full name of the party is the Conservative and Unionist party, which refers to the union of England and Scotland, and should not to be confused with the Unionists of Northern Ireland, although these Unionists can usually be relied to support Tories, should they be needed. The union is now expendable, it seems, disregarded for their greater passion of Tory members, for Brexit.

Theresa May, the outgoing Tory prime minister, made a point of principle of not taking risks with the union with Scotland and Northern Ireland, but she is clearly in a minority in her party these days. Her stance almost certainly contributed to her downfall. The Tory party is a very different animal in 2019, to the one which May joined in the 1970s.     

Which brings us to the current bore-fest, that is the contest to replace May as leader of the party and prime minister. I have yet to hear any of the contenders express the kind of view indicated by the YouGov survey. The future of the union with Scotland and Northern Ireland has not been a topic discussed very much at all as far I can remember, especially by the most hardline Brexiteer candidates. It would be contentious of course, but the possible break-up of the union is surely a relevant issue, in contest to become the prime minister of the United Kingdom?

The contenders were trying to win support from MPs from across the party in the first stage of the election, and Tory MPs maybe not be so gung-ho about ditching the union, but this issue will not go away when a successor is chosen. Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain in the European Union in 2016 referendum, and that sentiment seems if anything to have strengthened. A border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, is very unpopular with both Irish neighbours, and a hardline, no deal Brexit is very unpopular in Scotland.

Looming over the Tory leadership contest is Nigel Farage and his Brexit electoral vehicle, which is not really a party in the traditional sense, with no members and no internal democracy. I doubt Farage will shy away from splitting the union in pursuit of a pure Brexit, because he has little support in Scotland or Northern Ireland. The Brexit ‘party’ is largely an English party, with even the support it has in Wales, coming from people who live in Wales, but self-identify as English.

So, the next Tory leader will, if they want to win a future general election, either have to run the risk of splitting the union or see their party replaced (as the English national party) by Farage’s Brexit party. It would likely lead to Labour winning the next election as the right would be divided, in the winner takes all electoral system in the UK. It wouldn’t entirely surprise me if there was some kind of electoral alliance between the Tories and the Brexit party at the next election, even a merger.

It would be the beginning of the end of the union though, which many in all of the nations of the UK might well welcome, but it would signal the end of the Tory party from its historical role of defenders of the union.

Who would have thought that the English Tory party would be the catalyst to an end of over 300 years of union between England and Scotland and the admittedly overdue uniting of the island of Ireland into one independent country? The arrogant English vote is all that is left for the Tories, and they only have themselves to blame.  

Saturday 22 June 2019

The Green New Deal - Whither Capitalism?

Written by Güney Işikara and Ying Chen and first published at Developing Economics

 The Green New Deal resolution by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ed Markey sparked an immense amount of discussion on all layers of political discourse, national and international. The way Ocasio-Cortez, Bernie Sanders and many others phrase the problem in the broader context of social, economic, and environmental grievances caused by capitalism is crucial for setting the terms of debate and struggle. 

This opens up space the left can use to address such issues in a systematic way rather than being content with symptomal healing. In fact, countless contributions have already been made on theoretical and tactical grounds.1

In this piece, we build on those contributions, and unpack the dynamics inherent to the capitalist system that would need to be addressed in the ongoing discussions. We also shed light on the limitations of a market-based and growth-centered approach to tackling climate destabilization, while offering other domains of political intervention such as property relations and demarketization of subsistence.

A Big Step Forward:Contextualizing and Re-Politicizing Climate Action

The idea of a Green New Deal is not new. It goes back at least to 2008, when a group of influential people who referred to themselves as The Green New Deal Group called on the UK Government to adopt a program of massive investment in renewable energy and provision of the green economic transformation with low-cost capital, creation of green jobs, and the like. In the same year, some economists in the U.S. published a report, outlining key strategies to address global warming and transform the country into a green economy, while creating jobs. 

This was also around the same time that the United Nations Environment Programme began to promote the idea of a Global Green New Deal. The Green Party of the United States has also been campaigning for a long time for a Green New Deal that links green transition to a broader social and economic program.

However, most of the approaches to the problem are rather disorienting and blurring. The concept of the Anthropocene, for instance, paints a picture where an undifferentiated humanity is responsible for climate change, and thereby obscures the underlying specific relations, leaving the stage to a depoliticized, technocratic debate between climatologists and economists.

What is new about the recent Green New Deal resolution sponsored by Ocasio-Cortez and Markey is that it puts climate action into the broader social context and moves away from the prevalent depoliticized framings. It recognizes the great inequality between the carbon footprint of the rich and the poor both globally and in the U.S. context. 

The resolution includes a job guarantee with a family-sustaining wage, provision of high quality healthcare for all Americans, affordable and safe housing, economic security, and access to clean water and air, along with measures to dramatically expand and upgrade clean, renewable power sources, build new capacities, increase energy efficiency, and make public transportation a clean and affordable option. 

It recognizes that such an all-embracing transition is only possible through a deep and broad mobilization where the public sector takes the leading role, committing to massive infrastructure investments, providing the adequate capital at favorable conditions, and supporting the vulnerable sections of society by creating secure jobs and extending the realm of public goods and services.

However, there is at least one further issue that deserves particular attention: the systemic, global character of the problem, manifesting itself in asymmetric historical responsibilities of different countries and classes, as well as their current capacities to take action.

Limits of Market-Based Policies

According to the latest IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report, the remaining global carbon budget for a scenario with a global warming limited to a maximum of 1.5 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels is 420 billion tons of carbon dioxide, or, approximately eleven more years of emissions at 2018 rates. This implies that a drastic cut in global emissions is imperative in the next decade.

The temporal dimension of the problem is at least as important as its size and complexity. A global strategy, even one that successfully reaches the goal of extensive decarbonization, will not qualify as a solution to avoid moving beyond 1.5 degree Celsius if it is implemented too late. This is a knife that cuts both ways. Yes, whatever progress is made in the immediate short- to medium-run is valuable. 

But it is deficient. No reaction that falls short of initiating a radical, all-embracing, and unprecedented transformation, which is very likely to run counter to the very logic of commodification and accumulation defining our capitalist economies, and hence disrupts them, will not be anywhere close to sufficient. This implies that the problematization of property relations and growth in the conventional economic sense must be part of the discussion.

Market- and incentive-based mechanisms have been among most popular measures proposed by both the left and the right. An important part of what is meant in this rubric is providing consumers and producers via the price mechanism with a set of incentives to reduce their emissions, most notably a carbon tax.

The logic that underlies a carbon tax scheme is the following: the unregulated market fails to take into account the social cost of production. It cannot get the prices correct and hence calls for an intervention to establish the latter. Note the implicit approval of getting the correct social cost of emissions, which are to be added to prices in the form of taxes. 

Despite the common faith in the accumulation-driven market mechanism, the relevant literature offers a spectrum of from below $1 to around $230 per metric ton of carbon, revealing a severe lack of convention as a result of uncertainty regarding the rate of innovations in the energy sector, the speed of the movement away from fossil fuels, the change in energy demand in response to increasing energy prices, not to mention all the epistemological and technical discussions about the so-called social discount rate.

The German case best exemplifies the inadequacy of a purely market-based response to climate destabilization. In 2007, the German government launched the Climate Change Action Program – 2020 with the target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 by 40% relative to 1990 levels, a less ambitious goal than what we need to according to the (usually optimistic) IPCC. It was one of the most comprehensive national plans making use of diverse, mostly market-based mechanisms. 

Moreover, it was accompanied by the National Action Plan on Energy Efficiency, which, covering the same period, clinched Germany’s title as the world’s most energy efficient country. In terms of climate change targets, the result is impressive and disappointing, motivating and alarming at the same time. By 2017, greenhouse gas emissions were only reduced by less than 30%. Consequently, the target was dropped in 2018.

This demonstrates that incentive-based mechanisms – even on a national scale – are not good enough, let alone sufficient. However, this does not mean to dismiss the need for massive reforms (including a heavy carbon tax) in the immediate short-run, but to recognize and confront that remaining within the structural limits of the current social, institutional, and economic context is itself paving the road to hell. 

To be a realist today does not mean to only seek for what can be done under political constraints, but to exploit existing opportunities to start to immediately mitigate climate change and at the same time push for radical social change. Putting the Green New Deal discussions into the context of our socioeconomic system and its power relations is hence vital.

Decoupling of GDP Growth from Carbon Emissions?

In order to achieve a one percent growth in global income, a near-one-percent increase in energy use is required. Currently, about 90% of global primary energy supply still relies on CO2-intensive fossil and biofuels, suggesting that economic growth still translates into increasing global emissions into the atmosphere. 

Although one of the crucial components of GND is to rapidly decarbonize the economy through investment in renewable energy, studies show that even an unprecedented wave of technological innovation would not suffice to globally decouple economic growth from carbon in such a short period of time.

The fact that the U.S. economy has been recently growing with relatively stagnant carbon emissions makes some people, including Barack Obama, believe that a decoupling has already occurred. The International Energy Agency was even keen to announce that the “[d]ecoupling of global emissions and economic growth [is] confirmed” following two years of stagnation in global emissions.

This is misleading on several grounds. First, the early celebration was based on the temporary stagnation in emissions in 2015 and 2016, which did not persist into 2017 and 2018 where global emissions increased by 1.6 and 2.7 per cent, respectively. Second, in the national context, inferences usually rely on territorial emissions related to domestic production. The U.S. is the largest net importer in the world, suggesting that the emissions associated with consumption in the U.S. are significantly greater than its territorial emissions associated with domestic production. 

Such nation-state perspective on carbon emissions is common, yet it conceals the global nature of the problem. In fact, an important part of the carbon reduction achieved in the Global North in the last two decades can be explained by the offshoring of polluting activities toward the Global South. Even within the Global South, much of the carbon reduction in China, for example, can be explained by offshoring activities to Vietnam and Bangladesh.

Two important respects should be emphasized here. First, global emissions keep increasing with global economic growth. And second, without a global coordination that challenges growth in the form of endless capital accumulation and dismantles the hierarchical division of labour, conclusions based on carbon reduction in individual countries are distorting the dismal truth.

To Grow or Degrow? Or Is There a Third Way?

While the world economy as a whole cannot keep growing in the next decade and at the same time dramatically cut its CO2 emissions, this need not mean to dispense with growth altogether and embrace degrowth. The problem asserts itself as a political question insofar as both growth and degrowth are necessary for different domains, industries, social classes, and countries in a differentiated and selective way.

Instead of recognizing growth as the crux of the debate, however, one must ask what growth means. There is no inherent connection between the growth of marketized output and an increasing living standard for working people. In fact, one of the best established facts in studies on inequality is that the working classes got very little from growth of the pie in the last few decades. 

Another example would be Cuba, which ranks among the top countries according to the human development index as calculated by the UN, mostly contributed by high life expectancy and literacy rate rather than GDP per capita, and still has one of the lowest per-capita ecological footprints globally.

The fact that the living standard of wage labourers has been delinked from GDP growth has an important implication: their well-being can be substantially increased under circumstances of a constant, or even shrinking GDP. We need not be concerned with maintaining or boosting GDP growth while discussing climate action. On the contrary, revealing and emphasizing the lack of connection between growth and well-being is more fruitful insofar as it demystifies the content of capitalist accumulation.

Obviously, this implies the adoption of a clear class position instead of sticking with green growth, presented as the only politically viable response. Yet the credo of what seems to be politically viable is what brought us here. In addition, not only concerns about well-being, but also the distribution of emissions points to the necessity of a class-based approach: annual per-capita CO2 emissions of the richest 10% is around 5 times greater than that of the poorest 10% in the USA. 

The extreme inequality of carbon footprint within and across countries is not primarily a problem of morality and justice, but a political question regarding the use of environmental commons, and as such, a question of ownership.

What is to be done? Interrupting the Logic of Capitalism

Now we get down to the nitty-gritty. Production as directed by the market mechanism, which puts profit above the satisfaction of human and social needs, is barely compatible with the notion that the living standard of the working classes is increased, while carbon emissions are drastically cut at the same time. 

If the economy is to be disrupted for the sake of a rapid and radical transformation of the energy infrastructure, production structure as well as consumption patterns, a demarketization of subsistence is indispensable. Both political and economic mobilization is very likely to remain weak otherwise.

The demarketization of subsistence can begin with the universal provision of healthcare and education, affordable housing for everyone, universal access to basic food items, and gradually be extended beyond this immediate realm. To be clear, this is part and parcel of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As such, it is not even utopian or too radical, but just incompatible with the drive of expansion inherent to capital, which seeks to commodify all possible spheres of everyday life.

Similarly, pushing for certain changes in property relations is a must for climate action. Fossil fuel companies declare that they will keep extracting and burning all the reserves they own, precisely because they own them! Climate deception dossiers clearly reveal that these companies have been very well informed since the late 1980s about the implications of their actions, and yet, they spent hundreds of millions dollars to manufacture and disseminate misinformation about climate change. 

The fossil fuel industry must therefore be nationalized to be able to control emissions through quantitative channels in the coming crossroad decade, which is the safest way reaching mitigation targets.

Today, the U.S. holds sufficient economic surplus to support a GND. The real problem lies in that the surplus-owning class refusing to invest into the crucial domain that helps sustain the very ecosystem we currently inhabit, which is as essential as food, clothing, shelter and transportation, if not more so. Hence the expenditure on its preservation, through the Green New Deal, falls within the cost of necessary reproduction of human society. 

If the surplus-owning class refuses to recognize the priority of spending in climate change mitigation to preserve the ecosystem, to maintain the reproduction of the human society, this is because they are just acting as their landlord counterparts more than four hundred years ago, who were content with idling on the surplus they owned until they were replaced by the bourgeois class who redirected the surplus into productive investment, and hence establishing capitalism as a politically legitimate system.

The public discourse, therefore, should be directed toward one that challenges the political legitimacy of the capitalist system in its capability to tackle the climate change crisis, rooted in its ownership structure and the consequent allocation of resources by means of the relentless pursuit of profit. 

Furthermore, not only capitalist relations that dominate the operation domestically, but also capitalism as a world system, which imposes a global division of labour and allows leakages of carbon emissions to the periphery, should both be confronted as the lingering obstacle to any effective solutions to the climate change crisis.

Doing the same things as in the two decades following the Kyoto Protocol and expecting a different outcome will flatly fail any meaningful climate action and drag us into abyss. The Green New Deal is a good start for change. 

The only way to fulfill its promises is to take up a confrontational path, intensify class struggle, spill the discussion of climate change beyond environmentalism so as to challenge and interrupt the logic of capitalism, and move toward a system where production of use-values overrides accumulation. •


Güney Işıkara is a PhD Candidate in Economics, The New School for Social Research.

Ying Chen joined the New School in the fall of 2016 as an assistant professor of Economics. Her current research focuses on the sustainable development in contemporary China from the perspective of social, economic and environmental sustainability.