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Now that the
debate regarding Brexit is over perhaps we need to move into a period of
reflection and discussion regarding how effective was our 21 year presence in
the European Parliament (EP).
The party has
always had a very critical position regarding the EU and indeed any objective
review of our current policy would conclude that we are essentially a
partythat view the EU as a neoliberal club. However, the party also
agreed that it would be important to engage and see what reforms could be
undertaken from within.
Wehad MEP’s in the EP since 1999. From 1999-2014
we had two MEP’s, Jean Lambertand
Caroline Lucas (who was replaced by Keith Taylor in 2010). From 2014-2019 we had
three MEP’s with the addition of Molly Scott Cato.
appropriate to take a review of what actually was achieved during these 20
years.With all respect to the additional MEP’s elected in June 2019,
I am not going to include their short sojourn as it’s not really relevant.
In the twenty
years we have been present in the EP it seems to me that whatever gains were
made have been marginal. Just consider the following events that took place and
which our then MEP’s actually supported:
Lisbon treaty was ratified, despite having been voted down by French and Dutch
Citizens in referendums, the EP simply
ignored the votes of the citizens, cancelled all other planned referendums and
simply proceeded to adopt what had been rejected, albeit with some procedural
sleight of hand.
·The Directive on renewableenergy was endorsed in 2009, supported by our
MEP’s. Sounds just the right kind of thing that we should be supporting but in
fact as predicted by several NGO’s it unleashed a land grab which enslavedand displaced hundredsof thousands of poor people across the globe
and also destroyed multi flora sites by converting them into single crop use.
had the Iraq war, which saw the green group in the EP, to which we belong
supporting the German Greens in their support for the war.
had the EU Carbon Trading Scheme which again was supported but simply resulted
in large windfall profits for the biggest polluters.
had the Fiscal Compact, which again was supported by the Green Group, which brought
into law austerity as a guiding principle and resulted in people in Greece,
Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Cyprus, Italy all being subjected to
had the Citizens Initiative which was presented by our MEP’s at conference as
creating real citizens power. In fact it has been nothing of the sort, simply
window dressing to create the semblance that citizens could actually force
I could go on
but my aim is to simply generate an honest reflection and discussion. This may
be even more necessary if we go down the road of seeking some kind of
Progressive Alliance as we need to learn, in my view, from the very marginal impact we were able to exert over
20 years. For those of you wanting to see more, then I encourage you to visit
theEP website and there you can find
what actually our MEP’s did and like me, you may wonder what was the relevance
of their actions.
Haroon Saad is a member of Waltham Forest
Green Party and a Green Left supporter
we have become aware of this equilateral triangle of Climate Change,
Militarization and of Democracy in Peril, the obvious question that confronts
us is “What is to be done?”
is obvious that we cannot overlook the struggle taken up by environmentalists
across the world who are petitioning governments, particularly governments in
advance capitalist nations, for meaningful legislation to fight climate change.
There are people across our world who are involved in the struggle against
militarization of the planet and the advent of neo fascism which both put our
democracies in great danger.
reform is necessary and even better if it were radical reforms. Yet we know by
past experience that we cannot fully rely on capitalist governments who placate
to capitalist/imperialist imperatives to change the system or even to give us
radical reforms. This is totally in contradiction with the ideology of profit,
the structure on which capitalism is based on. So, again we ask ourselves “What
is to be done?”
many of the demonstrations on Climate Change that have circumvented the planet,
numerous placards indicating the need for ‘System Change” could be seen
indicating that Climate Change is important, but the ultimate culprit is the
capitalist system itself.
insistence on system change shows quite clearly that environmental
consciousness has now developed into an ecological consciousness. Yes, the
question of environment and ecology are very different and indicate an
ideological void between the two terms.
consciousness is based on awareness, whether social or political, that demand
reforms presented to petitioning elected governments to bring forward
legislation to combat the ills that exist in our environment. This in itself is
this approach remains a prisoner of the traditional political party system,
controlled by the servants of capitalism, who have no intention of developing
the radical reforms necessary to fundamentally change our environment. We can
qualify this type of struggle as simply reformist in nature and does not create
in the legislative bodies a sense of urgency. This is why many are turning to
direct action such as Extraction Rebellion or the Mohawk nation who are
erecting barricades across railway lines.
other words the ideological element that is necessary in this important
struggle is missing. The word Ecology is much more far reaching and is more
embedded in the concept that we are also part of nature.
means that the struggle is also part of the complete understanding that every
living being, as humans, animals, trees etc. (flora and fauna) are also
partners in a vast understanding of the workings of our planet. This is
contrary to an environmental consciousness. The struggle is one of ecological
challenges that humanity is facing are beyond a simplistic understanding of
making sure we recycle. The profound crisis we are experiencing has had a long
history that has its roots in the greed dominated by profit. Throughout human history
there has always been the presence of profit. Whether it be truck and trade,
exchange of services leading up to the invention of money as an instrument of
this process in systems was based on the idea that certain profit was necessary
to be able to pay for services, salaries, necessities of life etc., but it had
not yet been erected as the ultimate instrument of accumulation, until the
development of capitalism.
the advent of capitalism, profit gave way to private property, which over time
created a capitalist class (the bourgeoisie) whose sole purpose was to
accumulate profit taking vast sums of money, not under truck and trade, but
based on the exploitation of workers, and peasants. The ultimate system of
exploitation has come of age. Now the goal was to perfect it.
sole existence of the bourgeoisie was based on the accumulation of capital to
develop more capital. In other words capital became the goal to be attained if
we wanted to have power and eventually use this power to govern the masses. A
system which in its early beginnings, according to Karl Marx in Das Kapital,
relied primarily on the dominance and the workings of the nation-state, created
by the bourgeoisie, to serve their interests.
this was not enough as we entered the age of capitalist industrial revolution
as documented by the historical classics of Eric Hobsbaum. It was at this
moment in the capitalist historical development, that to continue the
capitalist profit accumulation needed to expand in order to feed the monster
that is capitalism.
expansion for natural resources became a necessity. International trade and
exploitation of natural resources was always present, starting with gold and
silver, cotton and tobacco, lumber and eventually with the scientific
revolution of the middle the 19th century mining and oil products. From
mercantilism to colonialism we were now in the new era of imperialism that is
still with us today.
the partnership of capitalism and imperialism, we can understand the
devastation this system has done to our planet, our climate patterns and the
sword of nuclear destruction hanging over our heads. Radical policies, as I
have said earlier, are important for the immediate future but we must also
understand that capitalism/imperialism has to be the ultimate target. System
change is the order of the day.
change is all well and good, but what system do we need? In the recent past
many believed in some form of socialism that turned out with the experience of
the Soviet Union under Stalin and Stalinism to be a false socialism. Today the
People’s Republic of China, once a beacon of socialism remains for many true
socialists a question mark.
need a new socialism. We need today a new definition of socialism, adapted to
the different conditions of the 21st century. We are in the age of the Internet
and all its derivatives. We are experiencing the new era of a post-industrial
revolution. All these changes have created new ideas, new generations, and a
new political culture.
cannot exist today if we do not understand ecological consciousness.
Eco-socialism is our new order of the day. Some would call it social ecology.
Independent of the title we give it, we must feed this new approach with new
concepts if we are to struggle and win against capitalism/imperialism.
concepts such as citizen’s direct democracy, the Right to the City,
decentralized democracy, cooperative housing, horizontal approach to
governance, creation of movements of empowerment, return to citizen’s
committees, neighborhood councils controlled by citizen’s, the right to recall
of our elected officials are all elements that must be examined, conceptualized
and constantly restructured if we are to create a new system to replace
must rely on the idea of popular education of the workers, lower middleclass,
progressives and even left radicals without which the idea of “power to the
people” would remain just a slogan. The concept of a political party must also
be re-examined, in order to not replicate the traditional (capitalist)
political party structure and even the structures of the parties of false
new conditions that have forged the new societal trends of the 21st century
impose upon us a new concept of development, a new working class or a new
salaried class consciousness adapted to these new conditions.
is still on its road to destruction, by maintaining the exploitive/oppressive
model. The radical Marxist-Gramscian socialist left, the anarchist socialist
left must take up the obligation to define this new system change.
Eco-socialism or social ecology should be the order of the day.
To delay in
developing these new concepts, and redefine the word socialism in accordance
with these new conditions would leave space for the social liberals, the social
democrats who have throughout the 20th century usurped the right to speak for
and defend the working class.
Antonio Gramsci one of the greatest organic intellectuals, wrote in his seminal
work (Letters from Prison) while a guest in the prisons of fascist Italy, the
radical left must always put forward its positions which are contrary to
capitalism and its false prophets. As Gramsci elaborates, the radical left is
always in the position of a war of ideas.
is the first hurdle that we must pass in the battle of class struggle.
Similarly to define eco-socialism in our present conditions of the 21st century
we must also as the radical left cross this first hurdle.
Cuccioletta PhD is a historian, author and activist, Coordinator of Nouveau
Cahiers du Socialisme and a member Political Analysis Collective
oil, gas, and coal companies would incur what the Financial Times (FT) recently
described as “breathtaking” losses if they’re not allowed to extract and burn
their enormous reserves. In total,
fossil fuel CO2 emissions contained in untapped reserves are estimated at 2910
gigatonnes (GT) or nearly three trillion metric tons. To put that number in
context, a sole GT is twice the mass of the global human population and enough
to stretch 200 million elephants from the earth to the moon. The FT estimates
that more than half these assets would be stranded if the 2°C global warming
target set by the 2015 Paris Agreement were met.
by ExxonMobil, Saudi Aramco, Total SA, Royal Dutch Shell and other corporations
include rights purchased to explore in a given area as well as reserves under
wells and other infrastructure already producing hydrocarbons.
unlikely event the rise in temperature was more drastically curtailed to 1.5°C,
more than 80 per cent of these assets would be rendered worthless. This would inflict
losses of nearly a trillion dollars on shareholders, or about one-third of the
current valuation of the world’s major oil and gas companies. About 33 GT
of carbon emissions were released in 2019, according to the International
Energy Agency (IEA). If the annual rate of emissions were frozen at that level,
a further 2640 GT would still be burnt by century’s end, well beyond the target
of 1200 GT which the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assumes is
necessary to hold the rise in global warming to 2°C. To meet the
more ambitious 1.5°C limit, only 464 GT of the estimated 2910 GT of CO2 in the
remaining oil, gas and coal assets could be burnt. Producers with the highest
carbon intensity in their oil and gas reserves, notably those in the Canadian
tar sands, would be hit hardest. Foot-Dragging
scale of the potential losses explains the refusal or foot-dragging by
governments beholden to the industry to implement the Paris Agreement. The
agreement is already regarded by climate scientists as inadequate to meet the
threat of tougher regulation leading to some percentage of stranded assets has
been enough to spook major investors, especially as the pressure to curtail
emissions rises with each flood, hurricane, firestorm, and other extreme
weather event associated with climate change. The coal
sector, the largest emitter, has experienced the most capital flight, but oil
and gas are not far behind. “As the first target for asset owners keen to
decarbonize their portfolios, coal miners have performed disastrously over the
past decade. Bloomberg’s index of global coal miners, the largest of which are
in China, has plunged 74 per cent from its peak in early 2011… Collectively,
world oil and gas company market values have fallen about half as much as coal
miners since their own decade peak in 2011.” If the
present trend continues, the shift in energy investment from fossil fuels to
renewables “would be one of the biggest ever shifts in the allocation of
capital,” according to the FT. But even if it occurs it’s certain to fall well
short of what is urgently required to avert catastrophic climate change. Despite all
the noise emanating from governments, central banks, and investors over the
past decade, the IEA says capital expenditures by the largest oil and gas
companies directed to wind, solar, and other renewables still represents less
than 1 per cent of their holdings. All of which
lends support to the program advanced by ecosocialists and various proponents
of a Green New Deal – public ownership of the energy industry as a precondition
for a rapid conversion to clean energy and a radical restructuring of the
capitalist economy. Marvin Gandall is a former journalist
and union official and is currently active in Climate Justice Victoria, Canada.
“BP has been lying to the world about the climate crisis… and Bernard Looney (their new CEO) has been working for BP the whole time. They’re out of time, we’re out of patience - and they need to get out of the oil and gas business entirely!”
One of the Greenpeace activists involved in the action against BP’s London HQ, Weds. 5 Feb. 2020.
In the (VERY!!) early hours of Wednesday 5 February, I was one of over 100 Greenpeace activists who turned up outside BP’s London HQ in St. James Square. The aim was to send a clear message to their new CEO, Bernard Looney, who was due to start work that day.
He claims he ‘gets it’ as to why so many climate activists are frustrated about the on-going ‘dirty energy’ projects of fossil fuel companies such as BP; and has said he will soon be setting out his low carbon ambition for the company.
But BP - and all the other dirty energy companies - clearly STILL don’t get that, as has Bill McKibben pointed out, we can either have dirty energy companies with healthy balance sheets; OR we can have a relatively healthy planet. But we can’t have both! So we need to do all we can to get the message across that AT LEAST 80% of all fossil fuel reserves need to stay where they are - in the ground.
“Since I wrote one of the first books for a general audience about global warming way back in 1989,…, I can say with some confidence that we’re losing the fight, badly and quickly - losing it because, most of all, we remain in denial about the peril that human civilisation is in.”
Bill McKibben, Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math, Rolling Stone, 2012.
Thus, in an attempt to help end that “denial about the peril” referred to by Bill McKibben, Greenpeace decided to give BP a ‘wake-up!’ call. Despite an unusually rapid - and initially very heavy-handed - police response, we were able to achieve our main objective: to shut down the entire BP office, so that Mr. Looney would be unable to get into his office on his first day as BP’s new CEO.
This was achieved by 24 Greenpeace activists blocking all 6 doors into the building, using two main methods.
Firstly, getting one activist locked-on to a ‘lifeguards’ chair right in front of each of the doors. In order to make removal of these protesters difficult for the police, the chairs were 2m 20cms high. Ordinary police officers are not allowed to attempt to remove protesters from any structure which is more that 2m high! Instead, they have to await the arrival of the specialist Protester Removal Unit.
The other method was then manoeuvring heavy oil barrels in front of each door, and getting 3 other activists locked-on to each one:
One of the 6 groups of 4 which successfully blocked their allocated door.
Internationalism in practice.
Many of the activists involved in this action came from other European Greenpeace groups - to help underline the fact that the Climate Emergency is a global issue: in part, because companies such as BP operate right across the world. My team ‘buddy’ was a young woman from France.
The team we were in was given the task of blocking the main entrance - although we were successful in that, as were the other teams, the aggressive policing prevented us from achieving our additional goals. One of which was to placing hoardings around 2 sides of the building:
The hoardings which, in the end, we were not able to get into position
(my back is to the photographer, as my ‘buddy’ & I place the panel on the L.)
Solar panel ‘tents
The other additional task was to fill 2 of the streets with 250 used solar panel ‘tents’, under which the remaining activists would sit and attach themselves - thus effectively blocking those streets for the duration of the protest:
Police quickly removing the solar panel ‘tents
(I’m under the panel on the L.)
After having dived under - and been forcibly removed from! - 4 of these quickly-erected ‘tents’, at around 3.30am my buddy and I joined 50 or so other activists to lay down in Charles II Street, to block it using more traditional civil disobedience methods.
For an overall view of the action, there is plenty of additional information to absorb via this link:
Some of the activists (but not those from France or Spain, for instance!) were somewhat taken aback by the initially very ‘robust’ police response to what was - as always with Greenpeace - an entirely peaceful action. In addition, it has emerged that some of those protesters who were arrested for their part in this action, were not treated very well - another ‘first’ for a Greenpeace action.
However, from the beginning, I had wondered if this action - the first major nvda action of 2020 - would be a test case for future police responses to peaceful civil disobedience. Apart from anything else, Johnson now has a secure majority for his hard-right government - which even Tory Ken Clarke has described as “the most right-wing Tory government Britain has ever seen.”
In particular, Cummings and Johnson probably suspect that, as the economic impact of Brexit - whether it be a hard Brexit or a No-Deal Brexit - begins to hit many of those Labour voters who ‘lent their vote’ to the Tories last December, there may be many protests and disputes to come in the years ahead.
The path ahead
On a personal level, since leaving the Green Party - and thus, in effect, Green Left - in December, I remain party-less. Whilst some are suggesting I re-join the Greens, and others that I join the Labour Party, I’m not convinced by either set of arguments. As alternatives, both Left Unity and Socialist Resistance have some attractions - as both are ecosocialist and both support PR.
But I suspect that party politics - and certainly electoral party politics - has probably had its day for several years ahead. With Johnson now having such a secure majority, it’s fairly certain that his government really will implement both the new boundary changes and Voter Photo ID:
The shape of things to come - evidence suggests that Voter Photo ID ends up reducing the number of young/poor people voting in elections.
Both of those will, overall, benefit the Tories over all other parties and, at the same time, harm Labour in particular. If Scotland goes independent, the opposition to the Tories in England and Wales will also lose the important SNP votes in parliament. Such developments point to permanent Tory rule for the next decade, or more.
In such a situation, mass extra-parliamentary political activism, based on nvda, will prove much more effective than electoral politics in the years ahead.
For those who do belong to political parties opposed to the Tories and neoliberalism, the best way forward may be to focus on building community-based movements that will be strong enough - and linked-up enough - to take action not only on issues such as the Climate Emergency, but also on austerity, privatisation of our NHS, creeping authoritarianism, and racism/fascism.
However, as regards the ever-worsening Climate Emergency, the words of Mike Berners-Lee and Duncan Clark are a fitting conclusion:
“Given where we are now, it’s crucial that more people hear the simple facts loud and clear: that climate change presents huge risks; that our efforts to solve it so far haven’t worked; and that there’s a moral imperative to constrain unabated fossil fuel use on behalf of current and especially future generations.”
M. Berners-Lee & D. Clark, The Burning Question, 2013, p.170
Allan Todd is an environmental activist from Cumbria
The first Ecosocialist Manifesto was announced by Joel Kovel and Michael
Lowy in September 2001. Kovel died in 2018 and Lowy has since said that it was
in the main composed by Kovel. The introduction to the manifesto was candid about
the fact that ecosocialism was just an idea at the time: We all
suffer from a chronic case of Gramsci's paradox, of living in a time whose old
order is dying (and taking civilization with it) while the new one does not
seem able to be born…This manifesto nevertheless lacks the audacity of that of
1848, for ecosocialism is not yet a spectre, nor is it grounded in any concrete
party or movement. It is only a line of reasoning, based on a reading of the
present crisis and the necessary conditions for overcoming it. We make no
claims of omniscience. Far from it, our goal is to invite dialogue, debate,
emendation, above all, a sense of how this notion can be further realized. Innumerable points of resistance arise spontaneously across the chaotic ecumene
of global capital. Many are immanently ecosocialist in content. How can these
be gathered? Can we envision an "ecosocialist international?" Can the
spectre be brought into being? Has the
spectre been brought to life? Well, I think that it has, but there is an
awfully long way to go before this philosophy replaces capitalism as the
dominant world economic system. We have not completely resolved Gramsci’s
paradox, but ecosocialism is alive and, fairly slowly, spreading across the
world. There have been two further manifestos written, and four international conferences held, the last one in Lisbon, Portugal in 2018. Green Left, the ecosocialist grouping in the Green party of England and Wales, that I belong to, was formed in 2006. Ecosocialism
can be found in thoughts and words, at least, on every inhabitable continent on
the planet, and examples of all can be found on this blog. The latest attempt to
connect this nascent movement was started this year, the Global Ecosocialist Network. The
ecological crisis has worsened since 2001 of course. An ever warmer planet
releasing extreme weather conditions, drought, floods, stronger storms and species
depletion being the result, and people are starting believe that this is manmade. But, in large numbers, they have not drawn the conclusion that the economic system is the cause. A rather hopeful attitude that capitalism can be reformed, to put it
charitably, greenwashing to not, is the general response. This is what Kovel, in
his book The Enemy of Nature, referred
to as the ‘force-field' of capitalism - people just can’t imagine a world without
as a term, like socialism, has been incorrectly used in the mainstream media, but it is being used, to describe what are really social democratic type policies, like the Green New
Deal, adopted by green and social democrat parties, especially in the US and UK.
Social democracy though is Keynesian, not socialist, which aims to save
capitalism from itself. True ecosocialism wants to replace capitalism
altogether, not save it, because it is the effective cause of the crisis. Social democracy is a classic case of treating the symptoms, rather than the cause of disease, if
ever there were one. All the same
this shift is to be welcomed, as these type of policies at least move us in the
right direction, and would have a mitigating effect on the crisis.
Ecosocialists know though, that ultimately this sort of reformism will fail to resolve the crisis, when the underlying dynamics of capitalism’s need to grow,
exponentially, cannot be left in place. Recent times
have also thrown up a fascistic political popularism, with the election of leaders in the US,
UK, Australia and Brazil, and coups against governments that have veered towards
ecosocialist policies, in Venezuela and Bolivia. The capitalist system fights
hard when it is under threat. Towards the
end of the manifesto, how far we have to travel was acknowledged: No one can read these prescriptions
without thinking, first, of how many practical and theoretical questions they
raise, and second and more dishearteningly, of how remote they are from the
present configuration of the world, both as this is anchored in institutions
and as it is registered in consciousness. I think that
consciousness is changing, but time is not on our side. Climate change is
already happening, and in many ways it is probably too late to stop it
completely. There is a radical side to the Extinction Rebellion protests and it seems to me, the thinking of the school climate strike movement founder, Greta Thunberg. Even if every government in the world were to abandon capitalism
and embrace ecosocialism tomorrow though, too much damage has already been done to
avoid the crisis altogether. But unless people in greater numbers start to make
the connection between the capitalist system and ecological breakdown, we are in
for a very grim time indeed. It will, of
course, take a revolution to bring about a change of system of this magnitude, hopefully
a peaceful one, because ecosocialism is not something that can be voted in,
in a bourgeois democracy. Our movement needs to grow internationally to the
point where it becomes unstoppable, and we are still nowhere near that, but we
must believe, and convince others to believe, it is possible. To quote
another couple of sentences from the manifesto: The deepest shadow that hangs over us
is neither terror, environmental collapse, nor global recession. It is the
internalized fatalism that holds there is no possible alternative to capital’s
with Leo Zeilig and first published at ROAPE.net
interview with the socialist writer and activist, John Molyneux, ROAPE’s Leo
Zeilig asks him about climate change, capitalism and socialist transformation.
In an important initiative John has recently founded the Global Ecosocialist Network(GEN)
which brings together activists and researchers from across the Global North
and South. The network hopes to amplify the socialist voice in the struggle
against environmental crisis. Africa, he argues, is crucial to the fight
against climate change.
Can you tell
readers of roape.net about yourself? Your background, activism and politics.
I was born in
Britain in 1948 and became a socialist activist and Marxist in 1968 through the
struggle against the Vietnam War, the student revolt and May ’68 in Paris. I
joined the International Socialists in June of that year. I have remained
active ever since. From the mid- seventies onwards I began writing in the field
of Marxist theory, publishing Marxism
and the Party (1978) and What
is the Real Marxist Tradition? (1983) and other books,
pamphlets and articles. Since the late nineties I also started writing about
art and have a book on The
Dialectics of Art coming out later this year.
From 1975 to
2010 I was a teacher at various levels in the city of Portsmouth –
secondary school, further education and then in the School of Art at Portsmouth
University. In 2010 I retired and moved to Dublin where I have continued to be
an activist with People Before Profit and
a writer, publishing books on Anarchism, the media, Marxist philosophy and
Lenin for Today. I have also served as the founder and editor of the Irish Marxist
speak a little about your involvement in the climate change movement? As a
long-standing socialist and activist, when did you first become seriously aware
of climate change – what was it that impacted on you explicitly?
I don’t think
there was any single moment. I think probably it was the socialist
Neale, who first fully explained the issue to me somewhere around the
turn of the century. Jonathan served for a period as Secretary of the Campaign to Stop Climate Change and
I was involved in that campaign in a limited way. But I didn’t find that they
were very receptive to my revolutionary socialist ideas.
quite early on I was convinced that climate change was going to be an
existential crisis for humanity because I was convinced that capitalism was not
going to stop it. There were, of course, debates about this question. Many
people thought there HAD to be a capitalist solution or at least a solution
within capitalism because they thought overthrowing capitalism was out of the
question. Others, including Marxists, engaged in hypothetical debates as to
whether capitalism might, in theory, be able to deal with the issue.
My view was
that regardless of what might theoretically be possible the actually existing
capitalism we were dealing with was not going to stop climate change or even
seriously try to stop it until it was too late. This was because capitalism is
driven by profit and competitive accumulation at every level and because it is
far too heavily invested in fossil fuels to simply switch to renewables. To
those who say we can’t wait for your socialism, we need change NOW, my reply is
I will fight alongside you for change, but I don’t believe we can wait for
capitalism to go green, it’s simply not going to happen. I hope I’m wrong but
so far, I’ve been right.
understood how disastrous climate change was going to be but at first I thought
of it as something fairly far in the future – by the end of the century etc –
and probably outside my life time. But it has become clearer and clearer that
even the IPCCs (the Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change) predictions are too conservative and that the
beginnings of climate catastrophe are with us already.
specifically last year – with the extraordinary global protests of school
students and many others – the climate emergency has broken onto the world
stage, leaving us all forever changed. Can you discuss how you interpreted this
movement and its significance, and any weaknesses you see?
strikes for climate were unequivocally magnificent and hats off to Greta
Thunberg and everyone else involved. It was wonderful to see young people
stepping forward and on such a global scale. The civil disobedience organised
by Extinction Rebellion,
especially in the first London Rebellion Week, was also a fantastic step
forward. Every socialist should enthusiastically back them and constructively
engage with them. I haven’t much time for leftists who dismiss
radicalising young people because of their lack of ‘the correct programme’ or
base in ‘the organised working class’.
But of course,
these movements, like every emergent mass movement, have weaknesses. In particular
it is a weakness that they tend to think of themselves as ‘beyond’ or ‘above’
politics and therefore often discourage political debate. In my opinion every
aspect of climate change and the environmental crisis is intensely political
and some political forces (largely those on the serious or ‘hard’ left) are
friends of the planet and the climate movement and others (the right and far
right) are its enemies. Without fetishizing the figure of 3.5% [XR thinks that
mobilising 3.5% of the population is necessary to secure ‘system change’]
I think XR’s aim to mobilize those sort of mass numbers is excellent but I’m
not sure that all their methods of organising are conducive to achieving this.
just initiated the Global
Ecosocialist Network (GEN) bringing together activists and researchers
from across the Global North and South. Can you explain what you hope to
climate emergency has generated much increased public awareness of climate
change and the environment generally and a new wave of activism which many
socialists are part of and engaging positively with. However, the current
environmental discourse – internationally – both in terms of the media and most
of the public is dominated by what could be called ‘green liberalism’. A more
radical version of green liberalism is also prevalent among activists along
with a vague ‘deep green’ consciousness. This goes together with an
understanding of system change as essentially a change in collective mind set
which lends itself to illusions in the possibility of converting corporations
and mainstream politicians and the State.
At the moment
the socialist voice in the movement is very limited, certainly not dominant.
But the socialist voice is essential because capitalism is not going resolve
either the climate change issue or the wider environmental crisis. Socialist
transformation of society is objectively necessary. Moreover a socialist
approach is crucial to winning over and mobilizing the mass of working class
people. Unfortunately, in this extremely urgent situation much of the
international revolutionary left is very weak.
Our network is
an attempt in a small way to improve this situation, to amplify the socialist
voice and reach out to new forces. Its initial aim is to bring ecosocialists
together to facilitate the exchange and propagation of socialist
environmentalist ideas along with reports on the development of the crisis and
resistance from around the world. Later it may be able to hold conferences and
issue calls for action.
‘ecological writings’ have been fairly recently written about by writers like
John Bellamy Foster, and others. Can you explain why a structural challenge to
capitalism is essential, and how Marxism can help in this challenge?
First, I think
we should acknowledge the enormously important intellectual work done by John Bellamy Foster and
his collaborators such as Paul Burkett and Ian Angus. There was a widespread
interpretation, including among Marxists, of Marx as ‘productionist’ and a
‘super industrialiser’ and therefore anti-environmentalist. They demolished
this myth. Speaking personally I owe a considerable debt to John Bellamy Foster
for his book Marx’s
Ecology. When I read it after more than 30 years as a Marxist it
substantially transformed and deepened my understanding of Marxism. The concept
of the ‘metabolic rift’ is hugely important. I’m very proud that he is a
sponsor of GEN. Ian Angus’s Facing
the Anthropocene– he’s another sponsor – is also brilliant.
I have already
explained above the essential reason why we need a structural challenge to
capitalism but this applies at every level. Production for profit is inherently
destructive of nature whether we are talking about the dumping of toxic waste
round the corner from where I live, to the plastic choking the oceans, to the
deadly pollution of the air – all the way to the overarching challenge of
What is more
capitalism will ensure that the response to climate disasters which it is
generating will be callous, cruel, class based and racist. This has been
demonstrated time and again from Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans to Hurricane
Maria in Puerto Rico to the fires in Australia. We need to challenge capitalist
priorities, structures and the system as a whole, not only to stop
environmental degradation and catastrophic climate change but also to deal with
radical review and website on political economy, focuses on Africa.
Unfortunately, we have not covered the climate emergency in enough detail
recently. The mobilisations last year were weak across the continent, as
inspiring as they were. What role does Africa have to play in the struggle
against climate change and how do you see the Global Ecosocialist Network
absolutely crucial to the struggle against climate change. In terms of
immediate effects Africa will almost certainly be the worst hit part of the
world. The drought in Southern and Eastern Africa is already truly deadly and
the extent of poverty in Africa will magnify the consequences of every climate
disaster and extreme weather event. That this comes on top of the fact that
Africa, as a whole, has the lowest per capita carbon footprint of any continent
makes Africa the litmus test of any verbal commitment to climate justice.
racist hierarchy of death in the world will ensure that hundreds or thousands
of lives lost in central or eastern Africa will be less reported and count for
less in terms of Western consciousness than five or ten lives lost in
California or Australia.
mobilizations in Africa linked to demands for climate justice would be the best
possible antidote to this state of affairs.
It is therefore
a key task of the Global Ecosocialist Network to do what it can to rectify the
disgraceful neglect of the situation in Africa and to stimulate radical
resistance in the African continent.
What are the
immediate tasks for the network, and how do we expand it?
immediate task is to expand the readership of the website and the membership of
the Network both through individuals joining and organisations affiliating. For
this we need our existing members and supporters to actively promote GEN and
recruit to it. Here it is important to stress that joining GEN is ‘commitment
light’: it does not entail any major obligations in terms of activity, nor does
it impinge on any individual’s or organisation’s existing political practice.
If in the next
period we can gain enough members and resources – we have no external funding
whatsoever – we can move to the next stage of convening some kind of
international meeting or conference. Hopefully this would enable us to put the
Network on a sounder democratic footing than it has at present – obviously
doing this on a global basis presents certain problems e.g. anywhere such
a meeting is convened, be it Rio or Paris, Cape Town, Lagos, Mumbai or Sydney,
will be much harder for some comrades to reach than others. Possibly down the line
we can develop multiple regional foci or centres. The holding of the Cop
26 Conference in Glasgow in November may also serve as a focus for
Molyneux is a socialist, writer and activist and editor of Irish Marxist
Review. John is also a founder of the Global
I have recently been reading ‘The
Emergence of Ecosocialism,’ a collection of essays written by the now sadly
departed Joel Kovel. Edited by Quincy Saul, and published in 2018, the
essays have all been published previously, albeit in subscription journals,
mainly Capitalism Nature Socialism,
which Kovel edited. One of the main themes that runs through much of the
collection is for the need for green politics to fully embrace ecosocialism as
its central philosophy, if it is to be effective in tackling the ecological crisis.
essay ‘Ecological Marxism and Dialectic,’ first published in 1995, he begins by lamenting:
it now commonly constitutedappears as a stranger in ecological circles. This is not as it should be, but
is a fact. It is a disastrous fact, if only because this keeps green movements
from understanding the cause of ecocatastrophe, but it is fact nevertheless. I
do not think the estrangement can be mended absent a major critique of current
green and ecological thought for residual anti-communism, tendencies towards
mystification, general social obtuseness, and latent reactionary potential. However,
it is no less essential to criticise Marxism for its role in perpetuating the
Having been a
member of the Green party of England and Wales for almost fifteen years now, I
can certainly confirm that greens all too often put individual ‘lifestyle’
actions, such as having a vegan diet or using and promoting renewable energy
sources to the fore, whilst believing that our economic system, capitalism, can be made ecologically
rational. There is nothing wrong with ‘doing the right thing’ in our individual lives, but
in terms of making a significant difference to the ecological crisis, it has a very limited effect.
As for greening
capitalism, the impact could be greater here, but will ultimately fail because of
the nature of capitalism. It is a hopeless endeavour, and I think, the idea that this is possible, displays a lack of knowledge of political
economy. For capitalism to thrive, even to survive, it needs to generate
endless economic growth, or else is thrown into a crisis of recession or
depression. Periodically capitalism does go into recession, caused by the system’s
tendency to over produce, causing a collapse in the price of goods and reduced spending power (income) for consumers (unemployment).
these crises, the system needs to grow its way out, and it always has done so
far, but at a cost to the environment through more exploitation of the planet’s
resources and often accompanied by cuts to employee protection laws for
workers. Once growth returns so too does the harm inflicted on the environment,
until the next crisis. But logic informs us that this cannot go on forever,
resources are finite, and will be exhausted at some stage.
worse, this growth is generated by burning extra fossil fuels, releasing carbon
into the atmosphere, and so increasing dangerous climate change.
will not provide enough power for the ever hungry system. Even though renewable
energy production has risen over recent years, so has the extraction and use of
fossil fuels increased. This in a period when economic growth has been pretty
sluggish by historical standards. Green capitalism is a fantasy.
Kovel is right
to apportion some of the blame to traditional socialism for largely ignoring ecological
politics in its critique of capitalism. Marx himself didn’t really fully
incorporate ecological concerns in his writing, but there is some evidence that
he may have developed this more fully had he lived longer.
In another one of his
essays, ‘On Marx and Ecology,’ written for a speech in 2010, to a conference ‘Marxism
and Ecological Civilisation’ in Shanghai, Kovel says:
My thesis is
that an appropriation of Karl Marx in relation to ecology is necessary-though
not sufficient- for this project. Marx of course never used the term, ecological
crisis. The word ecology had just come into existence during his later years,
and the generalized ruin of nature was not a looming threat. Nevertheless, in
contrast to received opinion, Marx thought and cared deeply about nature and
wrote brilliantly about many ecological problems, especially those relating to
agriculture and the soil.
Marx identified the dynamic responsible for the ecological crisis, although he
did not do so directly, or all in the same place. In one of his earlier
studies, ‘On the Jewish Question,’ Marx writes:
“The mode of
perceiving nature, under the rule of private property and money is a real
contempt for, and practical degradation of, nature….It is in this sense that
[in a 1524 pamphlet] Thomas Munzer declares it intolerable ‘that every creature
should be transformed into property- the fishes in the water, the birds of the
air, the plants on the earth: the creature too should become free.’”
Kovel goes on
to suggest that Marx makes it clear that capital’s dominion has one overriding priority: its own accumulation prevails over all other goals and values ‘sacrificing
nature and humanity to the gods of profit. Quantity rules over quality; and
exchange value displaces use value’.
Kovel says, to restore use
value to its rightful importance, labour should be freely associated, meaning
that capital’s need to turn use-value into exchange value, and the accompanying need
for ever increasing accumulation, will only be avoided by the removal of
capital from our productive processes. Only then, socialism,
what we call ecosocialism, will be able to replace this ecologically destructive capitalist system,
with an ecocentric, ecologically rational economic system. Otherwise, we risk ecocatastrophe and possible extinction as a species.
To coin a
phrase from capital’s great champion, former UK prime minister, Margaret
Thatcher, ‘there is no alternative’.