The COP26 conference is entering its final days and capitalist leaders the world over are scrambling to finalize an accord that satisfies the polluting bosses without tipping off the mass climate movement to their total inaction. They’ve been engaged in “green” theater for weeks, desperate to keep a lid on the mass climate movement at their doorstep. 

The vast majority of young people at the demonstrations this weekend had no illusions in the conference. They saw it for precisely what it is: an exercise in hollow gesturing. However, there is still a degree of confusion in the movement about precisely why COP26 will achieve nothing. It’s not simply political inaction or incompetence. It is because capitalist world leaders are diametrically opposed to any measure that would disrupt the profits of major corporations. They are not just slow moving or lazy, they are steadfastly committed to blocking any climate measures that would threaten the super rich or the stability of their system. Understanding this very simple fact will be a crucial lesson for the struggle to preserve life as we know it. 

We cannot appeal to the better nature of Joe Biden or Boris Johnson and gently guide them toward sustainable solutions. The only way we can pry any victories out of the hands of the capitalist elite is if we threaten the survival of their system. 

This is precisely the message 300 members of International Socialist Alternative (ISA), the Marxist international we are in solidarity with, delivered to Glasgow this week.

What Type of Movement?

Based on the Power of the World Working Class

A mass, international climate movement cannot limit itself to yearly days of action or lobbying politicians. We need a movement that can win, and that means first and foremost basing ourselves on the power of the world working class to change society.

As thousands chanted this past weekend, “climate change is a war of the rich against the poor!” We cannot allow billionaire greenwashers like Bill Gates (who has a carbon footprint 3,000 times bigger than the average person) or Jeff Bezos (whose trip to space produced more carbon dioxide in its first ten minutes than 30 average humans produce in one year) into our movement. 

Any effective fight for an energy transformation, for affordable green housing, for fully funded fire services, for free public transit, or any number of critical climate demands has to be driven by the working class.

Democratic Structures

The billionaires and their representatives have structures and forums to discuss their response to the climate crisis: COP26 was one of them. We need our own. We need mass democratic discussions to determine a program for the movement, as well as ongoing organizational forums to determine strategy, tactics, and – crucially – elect accountable leadership. Importantly, unlike the structures of the super rich, ours will not exclude the masses of people in the neocolonial world currently being ravaged by climate disasters they played little role in creating.

Socialist Change

As the COVID nightmare laid bare, it is the masses of the working class that are essential to running society, but we are not the ones that control it. We transport, educate, feed, and care for the world but we do not own it.

Young people, and increasingly wider sections of the working class, know that we cannot afford another meaningless set of non-binding half measures. The capitalist system, which relies on brutal exploitation of people and natural resources, is in total crisis.

Halting the race toward climate catastrophe means fighting for the socialist transformation of society. This is the message the ISA brought with relentless determination to the mass protests outside COP. 

We distributed hundreds of pamphlets spelling out exactly what this would mean.

  • “It means turning the power structure of society on its head. A new workers’ state will have the interest of working people as its priority instead of today’s capitalist state whose laws, repression, and weapons exist to keep capitalist profits safe at any price.
  • It means that the key parts of the economy will be nationalised (owned collectively) and run under workers’ control and management.
  • It means that workplaces together with schools and communities, will become a forum for the democratic running of society, making use of everyone’s creativity and input instead of merely a place of exploitation.
  • It means sharing out the work to make unemployment a thing of the past and to give everyone time to take part in running their workplace, community, and society, as well as for holidays and free time.
  • It means production according to people’s needs with products that last, can be repaired, and are made from raw material that can be reused.”

And we described how this could usher in a drastic reduction in emissions:

  • “12% of total CO2 emissions come from road transport. By massive investment in free public transport in all cities, transporting goods by rail, and stopping global shipping being used as a means to cut labor costs, these emissions could be cut dramatically and very quickly.
  • 6% of emissions comes from deforestation and fires. Deforestation could quickly be turned into its opposite while fires could be reduced through forest management, more responsible urban planning, and reversing cuts to fire services.
  • So called “business travel,” which makes up a big part of air travel (12% of total air travel in the U.S.) could be dramatically reduced.
  • Today’s industry and energy companies create enormous emissions (around 10% of emissions) exclusively through ineffective processes. With a planned economy which eliminates unnecessary waste, and energy-saving investments, these emissions could be drastically reduced.
  • 17.5% of emissions come from energy used in buildings. By insulating buildings, often a quite simple measure, this could be lowered quickly.
  • Entire capitalist structures and industries which are extremely destructive could be dismantled: the arms industry, the extremely excessive advertising industry, and financial speculation, including crypto currencies.”

Whether or not we are ready for it, we are on track for a dramatic showdown between the international working class and the bloodthirsty billionaires. Winning that battle will have consequences for the whole of humanity, so our movements have to be prepared.

In the words of Scottish born revolutionary socialist James Connolly: “For our demands most moderate are, we only want the earth.”

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