Demonstrations of more than 100,000 people took to the streets of Glasgow last Saturday. An array of groups, including trade unions, youth and anti-war organisations, and other environmental bodies, used the moment to send a message to world leaders assembled for the United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP26.
Despite the heavy showers and cold, the host city of the UN summit, which began on October 31, became the convening location for environmental activists to raise their voices and banners in support of climate justice.
The Young Communist League (YCL), who had assembled a blazing display of red banners in support of the march, described the conference as nothing but “lip service” by governments that fail to address the “monopolies and big business that they represent in fossil fuels, agribusiness, manufacturing and finance” running rampant across the globe.
A YCL statement prior to the march made their position clear. Capitalism is a system “which is only capable of serving the interest of the banks and monopolies” and is engaged in a “suicidal drive for ever increasing short term profit at any cost”.
“Only a system with absolute democratic control over industry, a Socialist system, is capable of tackling climate change head on. So we say: The choice is clear – Socialism or extinction,” the YCL statement read.
The event began at mid-day. As all four seasons fell on the marchers through the city centre, it became clear that the extensive law enforcement that flanked either side of the demonstration were interested primarily in the YCL’s section.
From the beginning, an iron ring of police surrounded the red bloc, mulishly encasing the peaceful demonstrators in a reckless display of law enforcement bias.
Displays of frustration at the police followed by chants of solidarity by fellow demonstrators then ensued. Food and drink were handed to the YCL, who were encased in the kettle for 2 hours before being released.
No clear explanation has been provided as to why the police acted the way they did. There were no acts of violence or intimidation. According to the official statement by Police Scotland, the detained communists “deliberately stopped on the parade route at the junction of Holland Street and St Vincent Street were contained by police on the grounds of public safety.”
However, demands by both the YCL and the surrounding protestors that they are permitted to continue the march demonstrate that this claim has zero basis in reality.
So why did the police behave the way they did? Why target the YCL specifically? Why carry out such a counter-productive and poorly-organised display which only served to tarnish the image of the police themselves further?
The answer, of course, is found in the question of class.
What makes the YCL different?
Environmentalism has been dominated by liberalism as long as climate change has been at the forefront of scientific and political life. Yet, while the climate is changing rapidly due to excess carbon output and habitat destruction, the solutions to the crisis have been placed squarely on the individual consumer.
Well-meaning liberal organisations like Extinction Rebellion still prioritise lifestyle changes like plant-based diets and recycling as a means to tackle the encroaching disaster.
Conversely, the socialist approach targets the systemic causes of environmental decay.
Following the events on Saturday, the YCL’s statement reiterated the “market conditions”, which are hegemonic in Britain and most of the world, as directly responsible for the climate crisis.
This squarely places the onus on an economic order which is based on the pursuit of profit by capitalists. This reality is indicated by the attempts by the governments of the world to address the crisis.
According to Global Witness, even the COP26 summit itself involved a participant list where fossil fuel companies had a larger delegation than any individual country.
In May earlier this year, the US Supreme Court Review ruled in favour of the fossil fuel industry, preventing elected city authorities from compelling nonrenewable energy producers to pay the costs of dealing with climate change.
The world is facing an existential threat, yet from the local to the transnational level, the trivial demands of corporate and commercial representatives has been considered at every stage, bureaucratising and stalling any attempts, however sincere, to move away from unmitigated disaster.
This leaves us with a list of cosmetic changes which fail to solve the crisis at hand.
Moreover, the imperialist countries, which based their initial development on the theft of capital and productivity from the rest of the world, now scapegoat their victims by advancing the grim moralism of de-growth and de-population to the exploited peoples of the world.
US President Joe Biden used his pulpit at the UN climate summit to level attacks against the People’s Republic of China, a developing socialist country. Washington has frequently blamed China for its carbon output even though the Chinese state has the world’s leading investor in alternative energy and has a per-capita carbon footprint far lower than the US.
Unlike many who call themselves environmentalists but fall in line with the imperialist onslaughts against China, the YCL recognises Beijing’s essential role in solving the environmental crisis and champions global cooperation rather than conflict.
On the question of violence
While preaching the ideological jargon of free enterprise and competition, capitalist governments have overseen an unprecedented swelling and widening of state power in both its support for the world’s biggest polluters, through both subsidy or diplomatic representation, and in the ability of its violent arm to crush those who identify the real problem.
As was made clear by the behaviour of law enforcement towards the YCL on Saturday, these market forces enjoy the complete protection of state violence. Thus, rather than capitalism being freedom from state power, private property interests necessarily require the state to enforce its interests.
Society and its productive basis are, by definition, collective. The materialist viewpoint is not one that socialists aspire to or wish to be the case, but rather a reality they recognise to be true.
Marxists observe that history is the struggle of antithetical social forces, as is the present. Ideologies that argue that society is congruous or based on atomised individual competition fail precisely because they don’t recognise this material reality. This is not an assertion of what Marxist’s desire to be the case but rather a description of reality.
When private property, and the governments that support it, are felt to be under threat, the veil of democracy and free expression is removed. The military coups and subsequent regimes of Asia, Africa, and South America throughout the 20th century were put in place to serve monopoly capitalism, located primarily in the US and its strategic allies, to ensure that access to cheap labour and mineral resources remained unobstructed.
Likewise, in the imperial core, the overtly fascist and genocidal regimes of Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, and Tojo were installed by a faction of domestic capitalists to halt the rising tide of revolutionary fervour following World War 1.
Capitalism’s relationship with freedom has historically been conditional on the basis that its productive relations remain in place. Why would it be any different today?
A common solution
One might be forgiven for being confused at such a discriminatory and disproportionate use of force being levelled at a relatively benign A to B march for climate justice. Yet, the uneasiness of capital in the face of growing illumination among the working class has now been made apparent.
As a result of the capitalist pursuit of profit at the expense of global longevity, humanity has become collectivised by our common ozone layer. The extreme weather patterns seen the world over in recent years is just the beginning of what could be devastating for all life on earth.
While this can inflame one’s nihilistic impulses, it just as easily exposes the reality of shared humanity and the class origins of the crisis. Either mankind can continue marching down its pre-ordained road towards disaster in the interests of our political and economic overseers, or we can change route and head in the direction of sustainability and socialism.
The YCL know this, and as indicated by the events in Glasgow on Saturday, the ruling class knows it too.
Jason D, is a member of the YCL’s Edinburgh branch