Dominic Maelzer outlines Extinction Rebellion’s redundant position in the struggle against climate change, and why socialism is the only way to save our planet .
XR is back. Yesterday swarms of idealistic citizens young and old, worker and student, precarious, off-grid and cringingly middle class, once again descended on central London to wreak havoc in protest at the government’s inaction around the climate change crisis – occupying Parliament Square, blocking off roads and encouraging supporters to be arrested as martyrs to the cause.
Indeed, the situation is increasingly dire. With the percentage of Earth’s landmass too hot for human life set to rise to a staggering 19% by 2070, we cannot afford to delay this fight any longer.
To this extent, as young communists we stand in common with XR’s cause. In seeking to represent the working class majority, it is our duty to fight for the future of our home planet – to work tirelessly to force the shift to renewable forms of energy, sustainable techniques in productive industry, and ecologically-responsible ways of conducting social life.
But there our common ground gives way. Our analyses of the underlying socioeconomic forces behind anthropogenic climate change, and our respective programmes for heading off the catastrophe, could not be more different.
While XR claims to be “apolitical”, we recognise that climate issues are political to the core – it is precisely capitalism that has ravaged the planet, and in the death drive for profit will continue to do so. So while we salute the commitment of the rank and file and their direct action approach, we cannot support the official XR line of non-violence – any policy based on “persuading” climate criminals to change their ways is doomed to fail.
The presence of YCL members at the demonstration was therefore not to support XR organisationally but to propagandise for socialism, to be the voice of the working class, the only class which can tackle head on the myriad crises of capitalism and globalisation – climate change included.
This distinction was not lost on XR officialdom. Following outrage from the usual right-wing hacks and Tory MPs on Twitter in the wake of our proclamation of “socialism or extinction”, the official XR account entered the fray. In a shockingly predictable turn of cowardice, XR did not go to bat for the young socialists that had come out to support their cause – instead taking the side of the hacks and denouncing us outright:
This position is obviously delusional. It is precisely capitalism, the political and economic power of the profit-hungry bourgeoisie, that causes climate change; and only socialism, which would control and plan these industries in the common domain, can stop it. So long as polluting industries remain in private hands, the planet and its people will be in jeopardy. A bunch of “randomly”-selected “citizens”, many of whom will have a financial stake in hindering change rather than accelerating it, will only lead us smiling further down the road to destruction.
Hundreds of young supporters have since said as much, expressing their outrage at the baffling short-sightedness of XR’s tweet and in many cases rescinding their support. Cracks are even beginning to form between XR UK and some of its lower-level organisations, with XR Youth Cambridge denouncing the official line on Twitter and citing “patriarchal colonial capitalism” as the root cause of the climate crisis, and XR Croydon stating that they “do not understand how any environmentalist can dismiss socialism so casually.”
Fortunately, it is not at all difficult to explain why XR has taken its bankrupt position straight from the mouth of the bourgeois-liberal establishment: XR is not an organisation of the working class, but of green capitalism.
XR is up to its neck in the rich’s money, making it an appendage to the whim of certain billionaires and their speculative capital hedge funds, many of which are the very finance-industrial juggernauts who have contributed to the destruction of our planet in the first place. Enormous sums have been sent their way by the likes of the Climate Emergency Fund – a project ran by Trevor Nielson, a member of the liberal aristocracy who networked through the Clinton administration; Rory Kennedy of the Kennedy dynasty; and Aileen Getty, whose own family dynasty made its fortune in oil.
Billionaire Christopher Hohn has donated £150,000 to XR through the Children’s Investment Fund – which formerly owned a two per cent stake in Coal India, a firm which extracted more than 400 million tonnes of coal in 2014. Hohn himself has pocketed more than £800 million in dividends from TCI Fund Management over the past four years while investing vast sums in scandalous firms – including a US rail company suspected of having caused a spate of cancers in the Houston area through contamination, and a Canadian company which was fined $1.9 million in 2017 after pleading guilty to gross negligence relating to massive spills of diesel into a river. This same firm was responsible for killing at least half a million fish after spilling 10,000 gallons of caustic soda in 2005.
Other TCI Management investments include Raytheon, a £50 billion American arms manufacturer which makes its living through environmentally destructive wars all around the world.
By following the money, we gain a much clearer understanding of Extinction Rebellion’s politics – were XR and its organisers to take a principled position against capitalism, the very wheels of its organisation would stop turning. XR’s paid activists, even at the lower level, therefore have an objective interest in brushing any class aspect of climate justice under the rug; the position XR expressed on Twitter is a simple reflection of that same false claim to be “non-ideological” capitalism has been making for years.
Just as the capitalist state – beholden to the free market and its crony benefactors in fossil fuels and agribusiness – is not equipped to handle the impending climate catastrophe; XR, being equally steeped in money from the dark heart of finance capital, is unable to propose any realistic solution to climate change. They are on the very payroll of its perpetrators.
It is equally important to remember that the big names in green investment – biofuel companies, wind-farmers, organic cell manufacturers – while developing tech which might be crucial to this planet’s future, are still driven by one thing and one thing only – market penetration and the bottom line. They have no more affinity for democracy or the working class than any other profit-seeking firm. If we put all our faith in them, instead of ourselves, we will simply find ourselves exploited by a new pantheon of green capitalists.
Taken to its conclusion, XR’s “rebellion” will constitute nothing more than a dispute between rival factions of the capitalist class, rather than any meaningful transfer of “power to the people”. In the words of Chico Mendes, Brazilian trade unionist and environmentalist murdered by ranchers in 1988, “ecology without class struggle is just gardening”.
Only a government with democratic control over industry, which plans its economy free from the vagaries of shareholder profit and the bottom line, is capable of meeting climate change head on. Only the workers of this planet can save it by democratic means. We do not have time for this petulant, class-collaborationist anti-politics. The rich will only ever be out for themselves.
What should be the relationship of the communists to XR and the climate struggle?
As the only major organisation taking action that reflects how serious climate change is, XR is currently essential. However, the danger is in their misdirection of people’s militant desperation on the behalf of capitalism.
The generation who should be invading the homes of ExxonMobil’s executives and the headquarters of Shell are instead blocking workers going about their business, occupying public spaces instead of those owned by our enemies. Working class people are being willfully and cynically thrown to the police for symbolic arrests by paid liberal organisers in hi-vis jackets. If left to its own devices, XR will let the people responsible for climate change get off scot-free – instead of forcing them to bear the brunt of the transition to a post-carbon economy.
As socialists, it is our responsibility to lead the working class away from the futile politics of class-conciliation, of symbolic stunts and grandstanding, and towards the politics of class struggle and independent organisation. We have to take the fight to the perpetrators of the climate crisis, not take their money and include them on our executive boards.
Above all though, our role is to be where the masses are. Our criticisms of XR and its tactics aside, time is too short to sit out this fight. We must find allies at every stage of the struggle and take these alliances as far as they will go, working with any and all progressive forces – while also making it clear where our interests diverge.
Our policy in praxis as well as theory must be dialectical in nature – one of unity and struggle, synthesis and divergence, alliance and independence. The long-standing Marxist principle that the communists must always and everywhere represent the interests of the working class, must be the voice of their revolution, is as true and salient as it ever was.
Socialism is the only way forward for humanity in the current crisis. Only the working class can lead us in weathering the storm. We must be its vanguard.
Socialism or extinction!