On September 20, 2019, three days prior to the United Nations Climate Action Summit, over 4 million workers and students from across the world took part in a series of massive demonstrations in which they called upon world leaders to take decisive action against climate change. This latest wave of climate strikes has been the largest of its kind to date.
In Australia, rallies were held in 115 locations across the country, with an approximate total of 350,000 demonstrators in attendance nationwide, almost doubling the figures seen on March 15 earlier this year. While many participants flocked in vast numbers to join rallies in the country’s major cities, a considerable number of smaller demonstrations were held by activists throughout Australia’s more remote communities and townships in an encouraging display of international solidarity in favour of climate action.
The internationally co-ordinated demonstrations are the latest and most significant in a growing youth-driven movement to pressure governments across the world to implement substantive measures to mitigate the effects of anthropogenic climate change, a problem which proceeds largely from our species’ reliance on fossil-fuels. The movement’s central demands include the enactment of a ban on any new coal, oil and gas projects, a transition to 100% renewable sources of energy by 2030 and the provision of adequate funding for its facilitation, as well as for the redeployment of workers employed in the fossil-fuels industry to the renewable energy sector.
Such a considerable mobilisation of the population in defence of their common interests offers hope for the further development of independent mass political movements which are prepared to challenge and defy established political forms and relations of power, rather than being circumscribed to their narrow parameters. The discovery of collective power through direct action and mass mobilisation is a critical step in the formation of this process and will prove decisive as struggles for social and environmental justice intensify.
Also promising is the fact that supporters and spokespeople for the climate strike movement are particularly oriented toward a systemic analysis of the climate crisis as opposed to primarily appealing to individuals to alter and amend their consumption patterns. The demands of the movement make very clear the necessity for a complete overhaul of the global energy-industrial complex if the threat of extreme weather, global warming, rising sea levels, the breakdown of the planet’s ecosystems and ensuing loss of biodiversity are to be averted.
Acute class antagonisms run to the very heart of the climate crisis; the energy-industrial complex which constitutes a monumental pillar of global capitalism is the driving force behind the present climate crisis, the implications of which threaten to directly and severely compromise the wellbeing of the world’s population, the vast majority of whom are working people.
Governments across the world are complicit in this gross perversion of social and environmental justice by allowing major mining, rigging and hydraulic fracturing projects to proceed in the face of staunch public opposition, by granting taxpayer-funded subsidies to these projects, as well as by repealing environmental protection legislation.
In Australia, two recent instances exemplify this process by which supposedly ‘democratic’ institutions are usurped and subordinated to the interests of powerful multinational energy corporations: the approval of the Adani coalmine project in Queensland, and the lifting of a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in the Northern Territory in 2018.
The profit motive itself provides a substantial impediment to the urgent development of infrastructure needed to provide sustainable, renewable forms of energy. With projections of a ‘climate deadline’, i.e. the point at which major changes to the Earth’s climate are unable to be reversed, ranging from 2020 to 2030, the capacity for those entities comprising the global energy-industrial complex to effect such a drastic, extensive and costly transformation within the parameters of capitalism’s relations of production will remain an impossible dream.
Despite the emergence of some promising technological advances in the production of renewable energy under capitalism, leaving its distribution to be determined by market-forces would afford only a very gradual, uneven proliferation of such technology.
The present climate crisis, in which the capitalist mode of production is irrevocably bound up, calls into question the very utility of a system which prioritises the acquisition of profit and the accumulation of wealth above even existence itself. Communists have a significant role in illustrating the class antagonisms which perpetuate the climate crisis and impede its reversal by injecting a revolutionary and class-conscious perspective into the discussion surrounding the crisis, and in projecting a vision as to how socialism, nationalisation of the energy sector, and a planned economy would provide the means to circumvent this impending catastrophe.
Consequently, there also arises the need to resist reformist tendencies within the environmental movement which are aimed at preserving the very structural properties of capitalism which produced and perpetuate the climate crisis. Similarly, pervasive attempts by right-wing fanatics and mouthpieces of the fossil-fuel monopolies to allege a ‘climate hoax’ as part of a ‘globalist conspiracy’ for ‘world government’ must also be engaged and combated. Such ideas do continue to hold sway over some sections of the working class and every effort must be made to illustrate, uphold and appeal to the class interests of those workers who have been taken in by such reactionary propaganda and, through material analysis, to reveal the class antagonisms which actually do pervade the existing social order.
The affiliation of progressive trade unions to the environmental movement offers some degree of impetus to a further proliferation of a class-based analysis of the climate crisis. September 20’s wave of climate strikes attracted wide support from up to ninety trade union organisations across the world, as well as four international federations of trade unions. In Australia, members from up to 33 unions participated in demonstrations across the country, continuing a tradition established decades ago by the militant Builders Labourers Federation which supported a multitude of progressive and environmental causes and which led a series of controversial conservation-oriented strikes throughout the 1970’s referred to as ‘green bans’.
Support from among particular sections of the business community was another prominent and highly publicised aspect of the climate strike. In Australia and New Zealand, approximately 2400 companies, consisting largely of not-for-profit organisations, legal firms, start-up companies, tech firms, small lenders and consultancy firms among others, pledged their support to the ‘Not Business As Usual’ campaign, permitting their employees time off to attend the strike or closing for the day altogether.
Petit bourgeois support for such progressive causes is not uncommon and offers some promise with regard to the prospects for advancing certain minimal or preliminary demands of the socialist program. For instance, there is the possibility of significant potential among this more progressive stratum of the petit bourgeoisie to be mobilised in support of a campaign to nationalise the energy sector on the grounds that it would enable the implementation of necessary measures to curb the effects of climate change, while also dealing a blow to imperialism.
The potential for such alliances to facilitate the advancement of temporary or preliminary goals both in the struggle for climate action and against imperialist hegemony is something to be given due consideration with respect to the building of a united front: “Narrow the target, broaden the base”.
The Program of our Party makes our tasks clear:
“The only two sources of wealth are human labour power and nature. Capitalism attacks, devalues and destroys both…Imperialism is based on growth at all costs and puts profits before the needs of people and the environment. It must be overthrown and a socialist society established. Only this will make it possible for humans to be able to live in an environment that is sustainable long-term.
“The Party and the working class must exercise leadership in protecting the environment and ensure that a socialist society works not to “conquer” nature, but to co-exist with it, restoring the balance between humanity and nature.
“The First Peoples of this continent and its islands survived at least 60,000 years prior to invasion. They have the answers to restoring balance and must be listened to.”