System change, not climate change! Marxism and the environment
Date: Sunday 26th July
Time: 17:30 - 21:00 BST
Capitalism’s rampant exploitation of the earth’s resources is wreaking havoc on the natural world: with a spike in freak weather events, floods, wildfires and so on. In recent years, the struggle against climate change has erupted with explosive force all over the world, led by school students. But does the solution lie in ‘green’ production methods and policies? Are lifestyle changes like veganism the answer? Or is the problem more fundamental, requiring a radical transformation of the capitalist system? Our speaker, Jack Halinski-Fitzpatrick, is the director of Wellred Books, the official bookshop of the IMT.
- IMT theses on the climate crisis
- IMT statement: for revolutionary change, not climate change!
- Climate chaos: capitalism to blame
- After COP21, an inconvenient truth: the problem is capitalism
Jack: The question of climate change is no longer a thing of the future. Freak weather events are becoming more common. Forests are burning. And people are dying from heat waves, drought, floods and famine.
Two years ago a report was released by the IPCC that modelled the effects of climate change.
They concluded that unless global temperature rises are limited to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, a tipping point could be reached. It points to a future where humanity would be driven to mass displacement, war over natural resources and barbarism. But to keep temperature rises to below this level would require a 45% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.
And what has been the response? According to the UN, governments are planning to produce 120% more fossil fuels than would be consistent with meeting this target. But this prospect has not been completely unanswered. Last year saw millions of young people begin to fight back.
In September 2019 alone, 6 million people took part in the Fridays for Future climate strikes. And these were not just caused by worries about the climate. They are a product of the instability of the system and the radicalisation that this is provoking. We can see that there is a large layer of radical young people who are not interested in waiting around for change.
Whilst the climate strikes were huge and inspiring, they were unfortunately limited. Firstly, they were not linked up to the labour movement on a systematic basis. Secondly, the labour movement itself really showed no way forward. On top of all of this, they were to a large extent derailed by liberal NGOs, Green Parties and groups like Extinction Rebellion.
In a certain sense, Extinction Rebellion also reflects the growing radicalisation among many layers of society. They recognise that “letters, emailing, and marches don’t work.” But the alternative that they present is just as impotent. The founder goes on to suggest that, instead, the movement needs “about 400 people to go to prison [and] about 2-3,000 arrested.” So, as if by magic, once you hit this level, the government just decides to carry out a green transition.
They also argue that all classes can be convinced and so they actively try to depoliticise the movement. One of their main demands is that governments should “tell the truth”. The trouble is, we live in a world where if the two richest men piled all of their wealth in $100 dollar bills, they would be sat in space. The vast majority however would be sat on the floor. For a government that defends this system to tell the truth would be suicide and it would be therefore be naive to think that this would be possible.
Rather than basing themselves on the only progressive class in society – the working class – they focus instead on stunts. But these stunts at best play a reactionary role by reducing the confidence workers have on themselves. It can lead to the conclusion that, rather than getting involved in a struggle to change society, it can just be left to a small group. At worst, these actions could play an even more reactionary role by turning workers away from the environmental movement.
Others, such as Labour left activists in the UK, have campaigned for banks and other corporations to divest from fossil fuels. First of all, it is quite unlikely that these companies will come under sufficient pressure from left-wing activists to divest. But even if they did, each time they were able to convince one company to divest, the vacuum would just be filled with another.
The problem goes deeper than this though. In one article, The Economist explain that the more renewable energy is deployed “the more it lowers the price of power from any source.” Sources of power are a commodity under capitalism. So once there is investment in renewable energy, you have a new source of very cheap and abundant power. As supply increases, the price of all sources of power goes down. You saw this between 2012 and 2016 in the United States, the installation of solar panels increased hugely and profits equally sored by huge amounts. One solar-panel capitalist described this as a ‘circle of death. He said, with “global overcapacity forcing down prices, [firms are compelled] to produce more to gain the benefits of scale, which further lowers prices.”
Capitalism is an anarchic system, where each capitalist competes against all others to produce a profit. When demand exceeds supply for a particular commodity, capital is directed to that sector. This means that more and more of that particular commodity is produced until supply exceeds demand. But it is impossible for individual capitalists to realise that this point has been reached until it’s too late. The realisation only comes when the particular commodity produced can no longer be sold for profit. Since the working class is paid less in wages than the value it creates in the labour process, this causes periodical crises of what is called ‘overproduction’. Too many commodities are produced to be profitably absorbed by the market. And this if of course much the same with sources of energy. And the point as well to make, is that this problem would only be exacerbated if governments were to introduce subsidies for green energy. It would only lead to markets becoming even more glutted and so drive the sector into an even deeper crisis.
So if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change by keeping global warming to below that 1.5C level. We require an energy transition far quicker and more radical than anything we have ever seen. So these periodic crises that capitalism goes into act as a barrier to this quick transition.
Now one idea that is gaining followers is the idea of de-growth or zero growth. The idea is that: “the faster we produce and consume, the more we damage the environment.” So they call on the advanced economies to embrace zero or even negative GDP growth. Environmental damage is not caused by industrialisation or growth as such. But by the way production is organised and controlled. We can see that already, with the introduction of renewable energy means energy emissions no longer rise in lockstep with economic growth. So the point to be made is that if we had a democratically planned economy, which properly utilises renewables and rationally allocated energy and resources. We could bring about an absolute uncoupling. So economic growth had no impact on emissions.
Linked also to this is the idea of overpopulation. Various members of the British royal family for example have said that the biggest problem facing the environment today is overpopulation. Unfortunately, that does not mean that they limit their own population. The first thing I would say to recognise is that large families have a material base. In developing countries, rural families have to rely on having many children. Because in the absence of a welfare state, parents need to rely on their children to support them when they get old. As evidence of this we have seen declining fertility rates across the world as countries develop and urbanise. So, if you had an economy where everyone’s needs were met, that would be one way of limiting population if that really was your aim. But of course the British royal family are not in favour of this.
But the main thing to say is that we are very far away from having reached a limit in terms of how many humans the earth can support. The ideas put forward here are merely a reheated version of the ideas of Thomas Malthus. He was an early 19th century economist, who asserted that famine, poverty and disease were all products of overpopulation. His ideas were disproved because with advances in agricultural technique, a bigger population could be supported. The bigger surplus that was produced enabled the bigger population to be supported with high nutritional levels. And his ideas are still wrong today. We produce enough now to feed 10 billion people on the planet. And the technology already exists to make the complete transition to renewable power. So, more people does not necessarily have to mean more emissions.
Again, using the same sorts of logic, there are those who argue that, if we all just consume a little less, we can save the planet. The Global Footprint Network for example, marked Earth Overshoot Day. This is the day, according to them, when humanity has used up nature’s resource budget for the year. So to deal with this, we have people who suggest we should stop eating meat. We have people who launch campaigns against so-called ‘fast fashion’.
The first question to ask these campaigners is, just who is it that they are suggesting is consuming too much? In 2016, the UN estimated that 815 million people were suffering from chronic undernourishment. This will only be exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. And regarding fast fashion, also, the National Education Union in the UK surveyed teachers on child poverty. They reported children wearing clothing that was ill-fitting, others with holes in their shoes, and others attending school in the winter who had no coats. This is in the advanced United Kingdom. After a period where workers have suffered brutal austerity, to talk about consumerism, really, for most people is a sick joke.
But even after considering this, where does this ‘consumerism’ come from? Capitalism requires capital to be constantly flowing around the system. It needs us to spend, spend, spend. To manage this, huge amounts of resources are directed towards the advertising industry. This is an entire industry that aims to make humans feel worthless so that they feel they have to consume. On top of this, even if you were convinced by all of these campaigns. Increasingly, products are designed with an artificially- limited life. Many people watching have experienced this when they buy a mobile phone or a laptop maybe. It seems like clockwork, as soon as the warranty expires, it breaks. But this is incredibly useful for a capitalist. If you are a capitalist, and you sell someone a phone that is perfect and works forever, how would you sell that person another phone? Under capitalism, there is a disincentive to produce high-quality products, within reason of course. What all of these theories do is place blame for the climate crisis on working class people themselves.
But the real culprit is not the actions of workers, it’s capitalism and the capitalists themselves. Just to give some figures, less than 10% of waste that is sent to landfills is from households, over 70% of greenhouse gas emissions are produced by 100 big companies. And just 20 companies have produced ⅓ of all CO2 produced since 1965. So, rather than blame those who are actually responsible, we are encouraged to blame ourselves or others. This acts also therefore to ‘greenwash’ austerity because cuts to living standards are justified in order to save the planet.
But even if it was possible to convince every individual to stop consuming, would this even work? Well, in response to the coronavirus pandemic, many countries introduced stringent lockdowns. Flights were grounded, shops were shut, people did to a large extent stop consuming. What impact did this have? The International Energy Agency expects global greenhouse gas emissions to be 8% lower in 2020 than in 2019. So even if people endure these huge changes to the way they live their lives, we would still have 90% of the necessary decarbonisation still left to do.
What, also, has this shutdown brought with it? It has brought possibly the deepest capitalist crisis in history, which will result in massive unemployment and, eventually, brutal austerity. So that just shows, capitalism requires us to consume, and if we stop, the system goes into crisis. This only brings unemployment & suffering for the working class.
Instead of these individualistic solutions, there are some who propose things like carbon taxes. Ian Parry, an economist at the World Bank for example, argues for a carbon tax of about $35 per ton. His plan would raise the price of petrol by about 10% and the price of electricity by 25%. And this he puts forward as the best way to make sure that countries meet their emissions pledges. However, in the UK in 2016, 10% of the population were in what’s called ‘fuel poverty’. And what that’s meant, well, in the winter of 2017 in the UK, there were 46,000 excess deaths amongst elderly people as many cannot afford to heat their homes properly. So, a carbon tax would hit the poorest hardest, and push more people into fuel poverty.
We are opposed to making the working class pay for the climate crisis. So we should support the Yellow Vest movement in France which was itself sparked by a proposal to introduce a fuel tax. Or the uprising in Ecuador, which was itself sparked by a plan to reduce fuel subsidies.
Elsewhere, there are those who argue for what is called a Green New Deal. This is inspired by the Keynesian policies that were introduced in the US before the post-war upswing. The idea is government-led investment in green technologies and funding this through taxation. The aim would be to ‘stimulate demand’ and ‘boost consumption’. The Green New Deal is certainly a step forward compared to these individualistic solutions. Climate change at least here is presented as a political question.
But, the question that must be asked is where will the money come from? Because governments don’t have money of their own, they can only get it through borrowing, through taxation, or printing money. When it comes to taxation, the government can choose to tax the workers or can tax the capitalists. Taxing workers, merely cuts their consuming power and so reduces demand in the economy. Which is of course the opposite of what the stimulus is intended to do.
Taxes on the capitalists, on the other hand, means biting into the profits of the capitalists. This can create a strike of capital, capitalists refusing to invest. So, taxation can only stimulate demand by suppressing it elsewhere.
Borrowing, as well, brings its own problems. Governments already around the world were in huge amounts of debt, and this has only been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, the response to it. Now some, like Ocasio-Cortez in the United States contend that the Green New Deal will pay for itself through growth. But is this possible? Well if you look at US government debt as a percentage of GDP. In 1946 this stood at 119%. Following this, the post-war upswing did allow the United States to reduce this level to 31% in 1974. But, we are living in a completely different period today.
The thing to recognize is that the post-war upswing was not caused by the policies of the New Deal. After all, it was not until after 1945 that the world economy began growing again. And this occurred, mainly, because of the destruction of WW2, which created demand to build the economy back up again. Today on the other hand, world markets are saturated. Just to give some figures again, capacity utilization, in both the United States and Euro area stands at under 70% today. Whilst in China it is around 74%. What this means is that most countries are not utilising the productive capacity that they already have. Why is that? It’s because there is not enough demand in the economy due to the crisis. So it’s not a question of a lack of money to invest, but it is due to the organic crisis of capitalism. So this can’t be solved simply by pumping more money into the economy. This would only exacerbate the problem of overproduction.
Ultimately, capitalism is incapable of bringing about the changes that are needed quickly enough. Almost all of the IPCC’s [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] models require negative emissions. So they need us to suck CO2 out of the atmosphere. This could be done through low-tech means such as reforestation. But there are also some high-tech potential solutions such as enhanced weathering. Now I won’t go into this in too much detail because this is quite a speculative technology at the movement and would require an enormous amount of investment to enter the running as a plausible alternative.
But the point I would like to make is that this investment is not being carried out by capitalists. Why? Because it’s not possible to make money out of it. The only reason for capitalists to invest in anything is to make a profit. You don’t need to take my word for it, I’ve got a quote from the Economist here:
“Though renewable energy could profitably generate a fair share of the world’s electricity, nobody knows how to get rich simply by removing greenhouse gases.”
So there you have it, because no one knows how to make it profitable to suck greenhouse gases out of the environment, it is not done.
This drive in order to produce profit also encourages companies to cut corners and drive down standards. Just one example of this is the Volkswagen emissions scandal. Here, they installed a ‘defeat device’, which could basically recognize when the car was being tested. They could then change the performance accordingly in order to improve their results. So it allowed the company to appear as though they were meeting regulations, but they were able to do that whilst avoiding reducing the performance of the car.
Now it is of course true that this is only one scandal. But the point to recognize is that capitalism is a system that rewards those who cheat, provided they get away with it.
Side by side with this barrier of profit is that of the nation state. It’s a very uncontroversial statement to state that international cooperation is needed in order to bring about the sort of change that we needed. This would be both to mitigate against the impacts of climate change that we are already seeing. But is also needed in order to help countries switch to more green energy sources. Just to give one example, Bangladesh, it’s a country where millions of people are at risk from flooding. It’s a situation where Himalayan meltwater and heavy monsoons can inundate the Ganges Delta.
But you see a similar problem in the Netherlands, which also sits on the delta of a river. But the difference is that, in the Netherlands, there is a system of dikes and canals which means that water can be directed to the sea. In addition to this you have urban planning, which basically enables the quite basic requirements of homes to be placed outside of floodplains. This is opposed to the unplanned slums that you see in Bangladesh, also allow floodplains to be kept clear. Essentially what we see here, is that because the Netherlands is a much richer country than Bangladesh, it is possible to deal with this problem.
In order to deal with these sorts of disparities, the capitalists and their representatives have come up with a solution. In the Paris Agreement, they nobly resolved to transfer $100 billion a year from the advanced to the developing countries. And there is a net transfer of wealth that takes place. Each year $2 trillion flows from the less advanced to the more advanced countries in the form of loans, repatriation of profits and things like this. So $2 trillion in the opposite direction than what was intended. Or not intended, what was ‘agreed’ to apparently in this Paris Agreement.
This is no accident, because capitalism divides the world into competing nation states, each of which puts the interests of their own ruling class first. Of course, some international cooperation is possible. When the capitalist system is in a healthy state and the economic pie is growing, nation states are capable of making agreements. We have seen the creation of the European Union for example. But, as soon as we enter a period of crisis, each government attempts to export its problems to all the other governments.
What is it that we see today? We see increasing protectionism, we see the breaking apart of international institutions and we see generalised geopolitical instability. So the material base for the sort of long-lasting international co-operation that is needed in order to deal with the climate crisis just does not exist.
We can take solar power as an example. We could provide a huge amount of green, clean energy today. If we covered the uninhabitable regions of the Sahara desert with solar panels, you would then be able to redirect that energy around the globe on the basis of need. This isn’t my idea, it was a project that began by the German capitalists in the early 2000s. In order to move away from a reliance on Russian gas, they established this project which was called Desertec. The problem was that the energy produced by these solar panels would have to be directed through the Spanish state. And in the context of austerity at that time, there was no question of upgrading the infrastructure to enable this to happen. The Spanish state, also, had its own ruling class to look after. Which included its own domestic fossil fuel industry. So they had no interest in investing in this project.
Greta Thunberg once said:
“If solutions within the system are so impossible to find, maybe we should change the system itself.”
I would say that the capitalist system has proved incapable of the radical and rapid action that is needed to save the planet. If it is incapable of fulfilling this most basic requirement, then surely it is time that it was gotten rid of. Now this IPCC report estimated that each year until 2030, around $150 billion needs to be invested in renewable and non-fossil fuel sources of energy. On top of this, to reduce overall energy demand, $340 billion is needed to be invested in buildings, transport and industry.
But the money to pay for this is there! Every year, $1.7 trillion is spent on military expenditure and the weapons trade. Meanwhile, lying uninvested in the banks of big business is $2 trillion in the US, €2 trillion in Europe and £700 billion in the UK. As I explained earlier, this money is not invested because there is a lack of profitable outlets for this investment.
To deal with the climate crisis, we need a worldwide plan. This would involve the rapid move from fossil fuels to renewable energy. We also need to properly rationalise and plan our farming. And we need to mitigate the impacts of climate change that are already upon us. However, how the old saying goes, you can’t plan what you don’t control & you don’t control what you don’t own. It’s the concentration and accumulation of capital that capitalism brings that’s brought about the situation that I explained earlier. Where the bulk of all emissions come from a handful of large companies. But, this makes things a lot easier for us. It means we just need to nationalise these large corporations and put them under the democratic control of the workers themselves. The workers who work in these industries know far better than the bosses how to run them.
Just to give one example, in 1976, the Lucas Aerospace Corporation announced that they were going to cut thousands of jobs because of technological change and international competition. But the workers, instead, drew up a proposal. They demonstrated that the same factories, machines and employees could be retooled and redeployed. They showed, that instead of producing missiles, which the company was producing previously, they could produce renewable technology and advanced healthcare equipment. The workers were eventually sold out by the trade union and labour leaders, but this demonstrates the creative power of the working class.
You imagine also if we had a democratically planned economy, rather than combining some of the best minds in the world to think about how to make a new button for a mobile phone, you could instead direct scientists, engineers and others to socially useful areas. Or, rather than blaming working people for consuming too much, we were able to instead provide free, high-quality public transport and free home insulation.
Now of course, a socialist society wouldn’t automatically be green. But, a democratically planned, socialist economy gives us the tools to ensure that it is. Because with the active participation and the running of society by the working class, it allows society to be run in the interests of need, rather than profit.
Now the thing of course to remember is that no ruling class in history has ever given up its power and privileges without a fight. But history has also shown that there is a power that is far stronger than any ruling class. That is the working class when they are organized around a socialist program. As the saying goes, not a wheel turns, not a lightbulb shines without the kind permission of the working class. Because the working class holds power in their hands and if they are mobilised, they are capable of shutting down society. So whilst it was incredibly inspiring to see the movement of the students on the streets, these protests are not enough if they remain limited in this way. Now students can, and have acted as a spark for the workers’ movement in the past. You can just see May 1968 as an example of that. The point is though that students, on their own, are not capable of changing society. It is only the working class that has the power to do this. On top of this as well, it’s only the working class that has the inclination to change society.
The capitalists won’t save this planet, they’re already living on another one! And some of them, like Jeff Bezos, are already researching how to colonise other planets for them to destroy! History has shown that when working people do move into action, there is no lack of self-sacrifice and fighting spirit. What has consistently been lacking instead, is a leadership worthy of the name. And it’s the building of this leadership that should be the focus of today. So yes, to stop climate change we do need system change. But system change will only take place if the working class are organised and led to fundamentally transform society. We need a fundamental transformation to a democratically planned socialist society. That is the only way that we can solve the climate crisis.
Jonas: Hi comrades and greetings from Denmark. Thank you for an excellent leadoff. I want to talk a bit about the political side of the question and how the ruling class reacted to the climate movement that we saw previously.
Now the climate movement was very impressive. Millions of young people spontaneously taken to the streets, also in Denmark. Demanding system change not climate change, which essentially is a revolutionary slogan. And I think it represents the revolutionary energy which has been building up in the youth. The pressure from this mass mobilization was so big that the ruling class and its governments around the world, especially in Europe, and in Denmark, they felt the earth shake under their feet. Because the youth exposed them.
For years and years it has been all talk and no action. And this was what the youth wondered. So how should the ruling class react to these school strikes and mass mobilizations? If they try to repress them and drive them into the classroom by use of the police battons, they would risk escalating the situation and bringing the working class into the equation. As happened in France ‘68 with the repression of the students. So no, this was too dangerous. So instead they went another way. If you can’t beat them, join them. They simply adopted the movement. All of a sudden, everybody was now in favour of a green transition. All politicians, the banks, the industry, all of the establishment.
So many governments passed lofty long-term targets and statements of intent. And this also happened in Denmark, where all the political parties passed the ‘climate law’. In here they set the target of being co2 neutral by the year 2050 and to make a 70% reduction in emissions in 2030, compared to the 1990 level. Even the employer’s organization, the Danish Federation of Industry, made a ‘green program’, tax cuts to the rich in the name of the environment. Cuts to student grants to finance the green transition. We should drill for oil in the arctic Danish colony of Greenland in the name of the climate. So as to say everybody was very green now and everybody supported this climate law. This tactical shift of the ruling class, it was celebrated as a victory by the so-called left, and the NGOs celebrated. They had got their piece of paper, the ‘climate law’, so they demobilized and the movement died down. Betrayed by its NGO leadership, basically. But in the real world, everything stayed the same. And some in the climate movement saw this for what it is, a hoax. So they demand action, but still within the confines of the capitalist system, resulting in the demand for carbon taxes.
But this leads to other problems. Without having a working class perspective front and centre at all times, these ‘green’ policies very quickly turn reactionary. Taxing the consumption of meat, of fuel and so on. This as Jack explained is de facto making the working class pay. And such demands lower the consciousness of the working class. And I think especially in the current situation of a deep crisis, the state should keep its hands out of the workers’ pockets. I don’t think, to be honest, that the Yellow Vests movement was really the last example of a supposedly ‘green’ policy sparking mobilization of the working class. When the governments in the near future need to introduce austerity to finance their massive stimulus, I think we can expect that many time or at least a few, this will happen in the name of the climate.
So our job as Marxists, is to explain that the exploitation of our collective environment and the working class are two sides of the same coin, the profit motive. And we have to explain to the climate activists, that the reformists and the establishment are deceiving you. Don’t look to them for change. The working class is the only force that has the power to change society, radically. To remove the profit motive through revolution. But as with so many things in life, one thing is to say it and another thing is to do it. To link the climate struggle with the working class, I think that the demands have to be closely linked to the social questions. For instance, give work to all the unemployed, expropriate the closed factories. Open them and make them part of a radical green transition. Expropriate the big capitalists and banks! Those who are the culprits of climate change, as Jack explained, those who have profited off the exploitation of the working class and our collective environment. And use these companies to make a real green transition with good wages and good working conditions under worker’s control.
A political consumerism might seem like an easy way out and a way that ‘I’ can at least do something, but it is a luxury view on this earth few can afford. But not only is it not sufficient, it also has reactionary implications. Because it pushes the workers and poor away from the climate struggle and into the arms of big business. Into the arms of the bosses who want to preserve the status quo, the exact opposite of what we need. So if we are serious about wanting to avoid catastrophic climate change, we have to take the fight to the real enemy, the capitalist class. And give a working-class content to the slogan “system change not climate change.” Thank you.
Adam: As Jack said in his leadoff, individual solutions to the climate crisis are no solution at all. The pandemic has really shown the limits of the idea of ‘de-growth’ under capitalism. We have to be very clear, ‘de-growth’ under capitalism is called a recession. And it’s the working class who will be asked to pay or forced to pay, in the form of job cuts, unemployment, poverty. And as Jack said in his leadoff, even with all of the closures, all of the shutdown, of the lockdown, we saw only a predicted 8% fall of carbon emissions this year. And we’d need this every single year if we’re going to reach the targets necessary to curb climate change. So this really highlights the limits of individualistic action, of boycotts, of consumer choices as a so-called solution to climate change.
And I think ordinary people can see the limits of these ideas as well. They can see the hypocrisy, the stinking hypocrisy of the bourgeois who push this line all while going about their lives with mansions, and yachts and luxury goods. And it’s very telling that the key demand on the youth climate strikes have been for system change not for individualistic change. So I think it’s very positive that you’ve seen a movement that’s looking for wider economic solutions to this crisis. And this is where the demand for a Green New Deal comes in.
But I think we have to also as Marxists be very cautious and sceptical of this demand. Because the idea of a Green New Deal is like an empty bottle, and different people will fill it with different content, different class content. It’s very similar, actually, to the demand to defund the police that you see come out of the Black Lives Matter movement. For radical youth and labour activists, a demand like defund the police really means abolish the police. But the liberals will take this demand and use it to try and diffuse and divert the movement. And it’s the same for the Green New Deal. Radical youth see it as a demand that talks about some sort of economic planning in society, the idea of having some sort of control over industry and infrastructure. But the liberals also adopt this slogan and they turn it into a harmless Keynesian demand, just a bit more investment here into renewable energy or into insulation.
And it’s similar actually in this respect to the original New Deal in the 1930s. Keynes and also Franklin Roosevelt, neither of these people were socialists. They were liberal bourgeois who wanted to save the system, not transform it. And it’s the same now, the Green New Deal is not about overthrowing the system, ‘system change’, it’s about saving the system, when it comes from the mouth of the liberals. Now the original New Deal didn’t work in the 1930s. And a Green New Deal won’t work now for the same reasons. And that’s that you can’t manage capitalism, you can’t make it kinder and greener.
Capitalism is an inherently anarchic system driven by private ownership and production for profit. Under capitalism it’s not the government that dictates to big business in the market, but the other way around. What we need is not this vague idea of a Green New Deal, but we need socialist planning. And as Jack said, in order to have a plan you need to have control, and in order to have control, you need ownership. Now today, it’s the left reformists who’ve really bought into Keynesianism and into the Green New Deal as a key demand. The reformists think you can manage capitalism, you can patch it up. They think that the crisis, both the economic crisis and the environmental crisis are just ideological. They think it’s all a political choice and you can persuade the capitalists to invest rather than to cut and to be green rather than to pollute.
They don’t understand that the system is driven by material class interests, not by subjective individual will. The left reformists will talk about things like public ownership and a climate transition and green unionized jobs. But in reality, they see all of this as being possible without system change. Without getting rid of the profit motive and private ownership of the key levers of the economy. And without abolishing the laws and dynamics of the capitalist system. And we see this most clearly with the question of who pays? Who will pay for a Green New Deal. They say just tax the rich or borrow and spend. If it were so easy as that, way hasn’t anyone done that in the last 10 years, or in the last 50 or 100 years. Clearly the perspective ahead of us is not one of a boom where these kind of reforms will be offered by the capitalist class.
We’re entering the deepest crisis in the history of capitalism. It’s going to be cuts and austerity, not investment, that are on the order of the day. And in this period, the capitalists will be looking to put the full burden onto the shoulders of the working class. And this includes the costs of the climate crisis. So the only solution, is for a democratically and rationally planned economy along socialist lines. Not a Green New Deal but a socialist planned economy, internationally and under worker’s control. This isn’t going to come from pleading with the capitalists, but from organizing and mobilizing the working class. It means linking the labour movement with the climate movement. And arming ourselves with revolutionary ideas. We must be completely clear, it’s capitalism that’s killing the planet. And we need revolutionary change not climate change. Thank you.
Alessio: Well, I think we all agree that the movement against climate change has been a wonderful mass awakening of the youth. And at the mass level, it expressed the request for radical change in the entire system. A potentially revolutionary request. And this shows that youth instinctively understood the nature of the problem. It was the leadership of the movement and especially of ‘Fridays for Future’, at least here in Italy, who didn’t.
There was this argument that politics was divisive and so no position could be taken. This was explicitly stated in the international declaration at the end of the assembly in Lausanne and I quote, “our requests are based on reliable data and scientific evidence”, that’s true, “it is not our responsibility to propose solutions.” But of course in this way, without taking a position, the only position remained those of the Liberals and the Greens. So their theory was that their role was to put pressure on institutions and to support those who supported ecological measures of any kind. But this completely ignores the nature of capitalist system. Which as Adam was explaining, is not driven by a debate of ideas or even less, public welfare, but just by the search for private profit.
This is a system where millions of people are starving to death and where in the last month, April and May, we saw millions of cattle, pigs and chicken be burned because they had no markets. Especially in the US but not only in the US. In such a system, the whole debate on ecological measures under capitalism, is a debate on the use of public resources to make a specific production profitable for a short period of time without any serious plan. We see, for example, big energy companies that instead of converting energy sources into renewables, propose to store carbon dioxide underground. A process that solves nothing and is dangerous as well. But the process to make profit twice, the first time when you sell the fossil energy, and the second one taking public resources for storage. Many of these companies created special branches with ‘green’ names, to ask for green financing by the public. It is really a revolting hypocrisy on this green economy.
And yes, everybody was talking about renewable energy, but today coal, oil and gas cover 90% of the primary supply of energy. And the prediction was that they will still have 80% of the share in 2040. But now with this economic crisis, the situation has further worsened. Because in addition to what Jack was saying in his leadoff, now oil price has collapsed. And this put out of business many renewable energies. This is not only due to the lockdown, because there were signs of overproduction in the energy sector already in mid 2019. And more generally, in this situation of overproduction, in the middle of a war to conquer markets, environment is the least of capitalists’ concern. The US exist from the Paris Climate Agreement is just one example. Saudi Arabia postponed its vision 2013 project, it was a partial investment towards renewable sources. Also in the ‘green’ European Union, in the negotiation to guarantee the recovery fund, big cuts have been made to health and environmental research projects, like Horizon Europe and EU Life. The coordinator of EU Life has said that these budget cuts represent an unprecedented slashing of European research and innovation, with negative impacts for decades to come.
So to conclude, an apocalyptic change is underway both in the objective situation and in mass consciousness. And we had this coincidence, the climate crisis and the coronavirus crisis show the billions of people that this system is unable to solve any fundamental problems of. Despite scientific resources that would be and could be radically developed, but of course only with a rational and planned management. And if with the climate movement, we have seen the youth entering into the field, with the coronavirus crisis we will see also the workers’ strikes. But not only the strikes, it was important as well that the workers began to discuss what was needed to be done, since the bosses didn’t, and which activities were essential to the society and which were not. And discussing about the closure of non-essential activities, but also in some cases for the reconversion of factories, like the workers of General Electric in the US, who asked to produce ventilators to face the health crisis. And you can be sure that the workers know exactly how they could convert production, to make it safe, both for health and for the environment. Therefore, we’ve seen not only the barbarism of capitalism that is advancing, but also what is the only power in society that can solve this crisis. And that is the power of the organized working class. Thank you.
Florian: Comrades, I want to speak a little bit about the Greens, who got propelled to new heights in Europe, especially in the German-speaking part of it. And not in the last place by youth voting for them as a party which speaks out consistently against climate change in the last decade. As the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. So I want to explain what the Greens really represent in bourgeois politics.
They developed mainly as a by-product of the big movements of the 70s and beginning of the 80s. Movements against environment destruction of course but also against nuclear power, armament and the women’s oppression. And borrowing from the militancy of these movements, they had an aura of petty bourgeois radicalism, so to say, surrounding them. Yes, which led to many leftists and so-called communists to join them. But we have to see they did not have any link to the organized worker’s movement and little appeal to most workers. And so, there was only one way forward for these parties, and this was a slow integration as a normal bourgeois party in the political system. I could give many examples but I want to focus on one because it’s a little bit funny. In Germany, there’s the reason of Baden-Württemberg which is the southwestern region of Germany with 11 million inhabitants. It’s a big sense of industry, especially the car industry. For example, there’s the headquarters of Daimler, which is the company that produces Mercedes cars. And others like Porsche and Bosch companies. And since 2011 when the Fukushima accident happened, it has a green prime minister. His name is Winfred Kretschmann, he’s an ex-Maoist like quite a few green politicians in Germany. And we have to say he gets along very well with the big car manufacturers in this region. Going even as far as kicking out the typical green symbolism out of the window by proudly driving a big Mercedes car and bragging with that. And when the emission scandals Jack spoke about broke out, he faithfully defended these car manufacturers by proudly saying people should buy more diesel cars and not less.
So in reality you see what stays from the Green program if they go into power. To put it bluntly and sharply, the Green leaders are only another strand of bourgeois demagogy. Of course another strength of Trump, Bolsonaro and the others was a nicer, softer, greener face. But they still do not have (and lie offensively that they do) no solutions to the problems which they were voted in to solve. But one has to notice a little thing as Trump, Bolsonaro and the others scolded by the bourgeois and the bourgeois media, which the Greens also were for a long time for being utopians and not looking after the economy and things like that. Now they are treated much nicer. And for the reason for that is on the one hand like other comrades explained the Greens can be used to channel the movement against climate change, to save water so to say. But there is more to it especially in Germany you have to put it very bluntly that German imperialism at the moment is trying to weaponize the issue of climate change in the struggle between the imperialist powers And the Green Party is posing itself as the best way with which to do that.
As many comrades in the discussions in the last two days have explained already the crisis of capitalism leads to a rising of protectionist tendencies all over the world. And German imperialism is far too small to compete on the world market alone against the giants of the US and China. So if they do not want to sink in the current crisis Germany has to Unite the diverging European Union to the inside bringing especially Italy and Spain into line. Secure the home market so to say, but also build a united economic block to the outside which can fight in these trade wars all over the world with protectionist measures of its own. And they systematically do that by going for a system of so-called ‘carbon border taxes’. I cannot go into it for the lack of time but in effect these ‘carbon border taxes’ are nothing more than tariffs for all the goods coming from outside of Europe. The greens pushed for that for some time but the big German capitalists wrote it on their own program now and Ursula von der Leyen, the new German head of the European Commission is working on that. Before the lockdown she made it the official policy of the European Commission, and now after a short pause in the lockdown, this project has reopened again with Merkel and Macron finding an agreement on it.
We as Marxists have to expose these measures very sharply for what they are, they are no tool whatsoever to fight the fact of climate change in capitalism, but only a tool of one strand of imperialism to fight against the others. Even the Handelsblatt, one of the leading newspapers in Germany for the big capitalists, was forced to say and I quote, they say “the export refund” they mean for exports to other countries, “works against the climate protection objective of that measure”. However, the scrapping of the refund would mean a considerable competitive disadvantage for European companies. This is a dilemma for which no solution is inside. Well we can agree with them and it shows what the bourgeois has to offer if that’s the biggest thing that they’re pushing for in Europe. Like I said before, as the way hell is paved with good intentions, we have to tell the truth to all the youth who fight against climate change. That like comrades said before, there’s only one solution and that’s a socialist planned economy. Thank you.
Jack: Thanks comrades, I think it’s been a really, really excellent discussion. There have been lots of really excellent points that have been made that I didn’t have time to fit into my original leadoff. And I will try and touch on some of them now.
First of all I think Jonas was absolutely right to talk about the revolutionary energy building up amongst the youth. You can see this both with how radical the climate strikes have been but also in terms of how radical the Black Lives Matter demonstrations have been, and this really is something that Marxists need to take account of. A few of the comrades talked about the attempt to co-opt or divert the green movement. And I think that this shows that without a revolutionary leadership, without a mass Marxist organization, these movements can be co-opted. What we need is a mass Marxist organization that can intervene in these movements and take the leadership away from the liberals and the NGOs. I think the comrades explained very well how these groups are enemies, they are the enemies of socialism and so they are the enemies of a green transition.
Jonas I think was right to explain how we have to link demands very closely to social questions and that can be a very good way to combat the conservatism that we've seen amongst many of the trade union leaderships in the UK. For example, many of the leaders of the biggest trade unions have actually come into conflict with the green movement talking about, you know opposing job losses and things like this. But I think we have, as the comrades have explained, we have the perfect answer to this because a socialist transition with a democratically planned economy would mean no job losses. But of course that outlook is beyond that of some trade union leaders.
Adam very well explained how, you know it's impossible to manage capitalism and make it nicer. You wonder how anyone who has seen the experience of Greece over the recent years can still think that we can manage capitalism or convince capitalists. Here you had Syriza, a so-called far-left government took power and did try to negotiate with the capitalists and their representatives. But this was just another demonstration as to the fact that if you are not prepared to break with capitalism then ultimately it is big business that decides. In free capitalist societies such as Britain you are free to think and say as you please but that's only so long as big business decides, because whenever attempts are made to reform the system what you see are strikes of capital and capital flight. Ultimately you have capitalists being able to blackmail governments to do what they want.
Alessio, as well I think was right to point out that it's only a democratically planned economy that is capable of solving the climate question. We can take just to illustrate this with an example, we could take the example of Cuba. Of course it's not a democracy but it is still a planned economy, so despite the deformities that I don't have time to go into they have made some quite significant advances in the fight against climate change. And so they were the first country to meet the UN's targets for sustainability. So you compare this against some mighty capitalist powers such as the United States and Cuba has been able to make advances far in advance of the US. But it would be fairer of course to compare Cuba to a country in a similar region that is a similar size such as Haiti. And so I think what has been achieved in Cuba, if you were able to carry that out democratically in a far more developed, larger economy you could have huge advances.
Alessio also talked about the fact that in this war of markets the environment is the least of capitalists’ concerns. I think you do hear, sometimes, figures’ attempts to try and convince capitalists and their representatives about climate change, in a kind of cost benefit analysis i.e. it will be far more expensive to deal with the impacts of climate change than to sort out the problem now. But there was one professor who actually quit the IPCC, he said that they were being too alarmist and he writes that the total loss of global economic output due to climate change would be an annual drop in GDP of between North Point 2 and 2% and he said that half a century of climate change is about as bad as losing one year of economic growth. And he compared this he said that since the start of the crisis of 2008 the income of the average Greek person had fallen by more than 20%. He concluded and he said climate change is not then the biggest problem facing mankind now, this is obviously very cynical but this is the kind of mentality that capitalism breeds.
I think Florian very well explained the role of the Green parties. I think you know one of the best demonstrations that you can give someone as to the nature of Green parties is what happened in Austria, when they joined in a coalition with the anti-immigrant right wing. You had a government that was formed that had the aim of cuts to emissions alongside cuts to immigration. So I think yeah this clearly demonstrates the Green parties are not our allies. Now I'm being told to sum up and what I want to say is that I think this has been a spectacular event so far with over 6000 people registering to learn about Marxist ideas.
Now I’d say if you agreed with the ideas that have been said today, yesterday or in the coming days it's not the time to sit on the side-lines and just agree from the comfort of your living room. Rosa Luxemburg once said that there are two alternatives facing humanity, and I think that the increasing number of freak weather events that we've seen over the recent period gives some indication as to the barbarism that we will face if capitalism is not overthrown. We want to avoid that barbarism and ensure a socialist society instead. Then I'd say that the only thing that you can do is to join an organization that is building a revolutionary leadership around the world and that is the International Marxist Tendency. Thank you.