Climate protests, capitalism and the working class movement

Considering normally climate demos only attract a few thousand, last saturdays protest in London and elsewhere of 50,000 was massive. This is because A) the capitalists and their governments look especially incapable of addressing the issue at the moment, around the Copenhagen summit which seems doomed, even from a ‘bourgeois climate politics’ perspective. and B) the ideological right are fighting back with a massive campaign of denial and conspiracist wingnuttery thats gaining ground. In this situation people are more motivated to take to the streets, hence we get 50,000 rather than the usual 5,000.

But what next?

So far we haves had a strategy of protest… i.e we started with the idea of making climate change an issue, ‘raising awareness’. protesting to ‘make the politicians listen’, to make them ‘do something’. But then the capitalists started to ‘do something’ – carbon trading, biofuels, nuclear power, etc. Its now clear to many that there is no capitalist solution.

Therefore we also have a strategy of transition  – a practical grassroots and locally oriented movement trying to make the ‘transition to a low carbon economy’. This is inevitably attempted in a petite bourgeois way, through allotments, local trading schemes, etc. There is also the ‘climate justice’ movement with its more systematic anti-capitalist / anti-imperialist critique – although this at the moment remains confined to the ‘activist milieu’.

What about the workers?

And we have only just started to develop a programatic response from the working class movement – so now we have the trades union demand for millions of new green jobs, the TUC’s ‘just transition’ project etc. Of course the problem here is the existing weakness of the working class movement, (especially in the UK) after our decades of defeat and retreat.

Vestas workers occupy factory - green trades unions demands are growing

The solution? I don’t think the working class movement will be rebuilt on a purely syndicalist or economistic basis. Workers fight when they see their resistance forming part of a wider political picture – when they have some form of coherent political perspective en masse (however flawed and contradictory that perspective may be). The collapse of left reformism / stalinism / social democracy in the face of neo-liberal globalisation has weakened grassroots working class resistance.

Thus the working class movement will only be rebuilt as part of a new political response to the failures of neo-liberal capitalism – a response that includes addressing climate change and ecology. When socialism re-emerges as a mass project it will be shaped by these questions. The emergence of environmental consciousness is one of the distinctive features of our epoch. Thats why the next socialism might be an ecosocialism.

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