The largest demonstration against climate change ever will take place in New York City on Sunday, Sept. 21. This important action deserves the support of all employed and unemployed workers and certainly of all who consider themselves revolutionaries.
Climate change is such a dire issue for the worldwide working class that it merits a massive response, one long overdue in the United States. An urgent, unprecedented struggle is needed not only to stop further damage on the planet, but also to reverse the consequences of a crisis already in motion.
Some 100,000 to 200,000 people who join this demonstration will be geared up for struggle to defend the environment. All those who consider themselves revolutionary should contribute to the day’s events in a way to encourage further participation and greater struggle from all involved.
They especially should do what is possible to target the capitalist system itself.
We raise this because the idea of abolishing capitalism as a way to resolve the climate crisis does not even enter the minds of the current organizers of this demonstration. Moreover, one of the main groups sponsoring the event is a coalition called The Climate Group, which includes among its members and sponsors Duke Energy, HSBC and Goldman Sachs. Bloomberg, HP, Dell, P&G, Ikea, Nike and News Corp. are also included. Their expensive subway ads claim that the People’s Climate March will be a place where “both bankers and hipsters” can march together.
Everyone likes a broad demonstration. But bankers are the enemy. Their idea of fighting climate change is to set up a market for shares in pollution rights. And the big capitalist monopolies are also the major polluters. They have bought themselves a place at the table in the protest movement so they can sabotage it. They do not broaden the movement, but narrow it to appease the rest of the 1%.
All the more so must revolutionaries and all class-conscious forces do their utmost to politically influence this important demonstration. Make the slogan “System change, not climate change!” ring loud. Highlight the Pentagon’s role as the world’s No. 1 polluter and imperialist war as the greatest contributor to climate change. Fight environmental racism in solidarity with the most oppressed sectors of the global population.
Much is at stake
Seven hundred volunteers packed the last organizing meeting for the People’s Climate March. It was a young crowd, mostly white but with many people from oppressed communities as well. They were there to struggle, because with climate change so much is at stake.
How much? Half the 650 bird species in North America are threatened; the iconic pine and aspen forests of the Rocky Mountains are dying off, killed by drought, insect infestations and wildfires; and in Guatemala drought has cut down production of corn and beans, resulting in serious food shortages.
A May 6 scientific paper titled “National Climate Assessment” reported that every corner of the U.S. without exception is feeling the effects of climate change. Water is “growing scarcer in dry regions, torrential rains increasing in wet regions, heat waves becoming more common and more severe, wildfires growing worse, and forests are dying under assault from heat-loving insects. … Climate change, once considered an issue for the distant future, has moved firmly into the present.” (globalchange.gov)
A week later, the government-funded military research organization called the CNA Corporation’s Military Advisory Board reported that “the accelerating rate of climate change poses a severe risk to national security and acts as a catalyst for global political conflict.” It gave examples of drought in the Middle East and Africa, which led to conflicts over water and food. Rising sea levels in highly vulnerable coastal regions such as those in Vietnam, Bangladesh and India are placing huge numbers of people at risk for food and safety. All this easily leads to an increase in forced migration and a new wave of refugees the world over.
Secretary of State John Kerry, instead of campaigning to stop climate change, made racist comments and called for more troops: “Tribes are killing each other over water today. … Think of what happens if you have massive dislocation, or the drying up of the waters of the Nile, of the major rivers in China and India. The intelligence community takes it seriously, and it’s translated into action.” Kerry continued by saying that the report’s findings “would influence [U.S.] foreign policy” and would create more demand for U.S. troops. (New York Times, May 13)
We are fighting against climate change. Kerry is fighting the next imperialist war.
Leadership is important: lessons of the past
Large demonstrations are good. But program and readiness to struggle mean a lot. Sometimes a lack of revolutionary leadership takes all the steam out of a demonstration. For example, in 1982 there was a demonstration in New York against the Reagan administration’s plan to put nuclear rockets targeting the Soviet Union in Western Europe. One million people marched in Central Park.
The problem was that this action coincided with Israel’s invasion of Lebanon. The demonstration leaders refused to allow even one talk protesting the U.S.-backed Israeli aggression. Lack of international solidarity took the steam out of a massive and otherwise progressive protest. But a grassroots distribution of leaflets by Workers World protesting U.S.-Israeli aggression found an echo in the crowd.
Another important struggle took place at the time of the first U.S. war against Iraq in 1991. The social-democratic tendency in the anti-war movement opposed U.S. bombing but supported the call for sanctions against Iraq, considering this a deterrent to war. Forces that were more class conscious and anti-imperialist argued that sanctions were also a form of war. To allow sanctions meant conceding to the lies U.S. imperialism was using to justify its intervention.
The tactic to support sanctions showed there was a tendency in the movement that could not break from Washington’s propaganda. Such a tendency cannot be counted on to fight vigilantly for the interests of the working class.
Differences have also shown up on the tactical front for the climate change march. It was originally set for Sept. 21 because the United Nations is taking up climate change the next day. Yet organizers capitulated to police demands — the march goes nowhere near the U.N., nor even to Times Square, but is gathering at Columbus Circle and marching to 11th Avenue.
The progressive movement fights hard for the “right to sight and sound.” That is the right for any protest to be within sight of the target and to be heard by those one is protesting. We don’t want to lose that right to the cops.
What the left must do
Revolutionaries, communists and class-conscious elements are the best defenders of the working class. Because of the deep contradictions in the leadership of this march, the left must participate and bring its program to those who want to fight climate change, a program that speaks to revolutionary class consciousness.
The left is struggling to intervene in the class struggle on many fronts: The low-wage worker struggle, stopping the war against Syria and Iraq, stopping NATO in Ukraine, defending the people of Ferguson, Mo., organizing in defense of immigrants, defending militant unionists.
But class-conscious elements must rise to the challenge and join workers in India and Bolivia and Liberia who deeply understand that no movement on climate change will succeed without understanding that the interests of the working class and oppressed are irreconcilable with those of the capitalist class.
Only the working class in its entirety can even begin to deal with the crisis of climate change.
Socialism is the answer, and not just in Cuba, which leads all other countries in a small carbon footprint. If we are to stop climate change, we need to fight for socialism in the U.S. Many of the climate marchers probably never thought socialism in the U.S. was even possible. We know it is possible and necessary.
Climate change is a working-class issue to the core. It is an issue of the entire working class, those here today and those born tomorrow. Only the workers running society can make the necessary plans to run society for the benefit of humanity and the environment, not for profit. Only the workers running the means of production can genuinely stop the dramatic effects of climate change.
Stop the Pentagon and corporate polluters! System change, not climate change!