On 6 November 2021, Police Scotland came to the Young Communist League offices in Glasgow, apparently responding to a report of ‘burglary’. When it was clear nobody had stolen any of the treasured stall paraphernalia we stored in there, they began to make enquiries with our neighbours. Uncovering nothing about ‘those communists upstairs’, they went to meet with our landlord, just to double-check if we had paid our rent for that month.
Whilst this visit was unannounced, it was no surprise as to why it occurred. The United Nations’ 26th Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) was underway in Glasgow, with mass demonstrations prepared for 7 November. The Young Communist League ‘has previous’ for high-profile disruption, as seen at the Defence and Security Equipment International arms dealer convention, just a month before COP26. The security services were taking the right precautions against a similar action by the YCL during another, much more publicised international conference.
Hours after our interaction with the police, we were marching through our city behind one simple message: Socialism or Extinction. Of the tens of thousands of protesters gathered that day, the police prioritised our comrades, surrounding us for hours. Additionally, I was the only protestor arrested and charged at this demonstration, for “culpable and reckless conduct”.
This began two years of a legal back-and-forth, for an alleged crime that, empirically, presents less of a danger to the public than the currently lawful operations of the fossil fuel extraction industry. When I finally had my day in court, two police witnesses could not agree on what had happened. Rather than letting me return to my life, acquitted by a lack of witness evidence, the Crown Prosecution Service instead prolonged the trial to portray my comrades and I as violent thugs, in the vain hope of convincing the jury I still ‘deserved’ to be convicted. This resulted in multiple legal breaks during my trial and numerous changes to my indictment. In the end, the jury took my side and I was found not guilty.
This was a huge relief for me and my family, and I want to thank comrades across our movement who had heard about my trial, and reached out with messages of solidarity. My story, however, was nothing unique. The CPS, whether motivated by a conviction rate target or sheer malice, routinely employ this cheap tactic, stretching out the inevitable acquittal at the end of these weak criminal cases, into years of stressful uncertainty for young protestors and their families.
Such a tactic doesn’t just involve keeping you in agonising suspense about your future. It also means wages and paid leave lost, enduring the awkward conversations and judgement of colleagues, refreshed worries when your indictments are altered, and a host of other pressures to accept a guilty plea, for the sake of an easier life, rather than standing by the actions of you and your comrades. Operating in this way gives the CPS a chance of winning cases without meeting any burden of proof, or satisfying juries which tend to sympathise with young dissidents.
On balance, there is also an ideological reason why the powers-that-be chose to target the YCL. Most major environmentalist groups, such as Extinction Rebellion (XR), have done viral stunts and disruptions, including halting commuter traffic and public transport. They essentially see environmentalism as a set of attitudes and lifestyle changes that society should adopt en masse. Politically, we can summarise them as liberal environmentalists.
Liberal environmentalism does not offer a coherent solution to the global climate crisis, but trilling moralism, built on a sanctimonious condescension that the masses completely reject. It demands changes in the lifestyles of individual workers, as opposed to tackling capitalism in Britain and most of the world, which is directly responsible for the climate crisis. As such, it represents nothing but a superficial challenge to the ruling class, requesting them to manage capitalism in a more sustainable way but implicitly affirming their position.
The YCL on the other hand, is not an environmentalist organisation, but a working-class organisation. Our environmental line is formed by putting our class’ interests first. We recognise that the capitalist mode of production, whilst necessitating the exploitation of workers, also depletes our planet’s resources and produces harmful emissions, damaging the environment we live in. We therefore conclude that the abolition of capitalism and its replacement with socialism is the only way to avert cataclysmic climate change. We can summarise the YCL then as working-class environmentalists, in contrast to the previous tendency. We don’t just challenge our regime to ‘do better’ in responding to the climate crisis; we want the revolutionary overthrow of the ruling class, and that is why we were targeted by the state.
Neither Extinction Rebellion nor the later Just Stop Oil were founded on a demand for a socialist economy, operated by a workers’ state, in order to confront climate change. Instead, they champion a collective sacrifice of everyone’s living standards, including the vast majority of us who have done nothing to cause climate change. As a result, the “actions” that these groups take do not target those directly responsible for the current climate crisis, but ‘everyone’. This not only serves to morally absolve the capitalist class by assigning guilt to the masses for the environmental decline, but also antagonises working people against environmentalism. Do the CEOs of major oil companies drive down the gridlocked streets of London? No: they can freely jet around the planet, or operate via a computer, if needed. Do the board members of major power companies conduct meetings in art museums? No: they meet in their shiny office towers, with security robust enough to keep out the riff-raff.
Obtuse, obscure, and meaningless action will not win workers. In fact, we have seen the antics of Extinction Rebellion and Just Stop Oil alienate people from environmentalism entirely, by playing into an unhelpful culture war discourse. Environmental groups have also failed to tackle the question of the “Just Transition” and what that will mean for the countless workers within impacted sectors. Prioritising their dogma over the needs and reality of the workers within the fossil fuel industry, many take a deeply impractical and callous stance of overnight abolition.
Take Scotland’s only oil refinery, Grangemouth, as a case study. Owned by billionaire tax exile Jim Ratcliffe, Grangemouth is set to close by 2025, leaving 500 workers without a job. Does this decision fall in line with a “Just Transition”? Should it warrant a jubilant celebration as an environmental victory? Perhaps to liberal environmentalists, but to working-class environmentalists, our answer is a resounding No. To the Grangemouth refinery workers, their workplace will in fact be resold and repurposed into a “fuel import terminal”. This myopic transformation, heralded as a move away from fossil fuel dependence, will in fact result in an increase of carbon emissions produced by this newly adapted supply chain and logistics hub.
Many different environmental groups exist throughout Britain, yet nearly all of them have failed to win the confidence of the working class. Image, tactics, and dogmatism play a major role in this blunder. The issues, as important as they are on the global scale, are not being addressed or showcased locally. We must also acknowledge much of the current regime’s environmentalist gesture legislation, coupled with the liberal environmentalists emphasis on the need for ordinary people to make sacrifices, have generated a perception that averting climate change will necessitates a decline in the living standards of workers.
Measures such as Ultra Low Emission Zones, CO2 defined road tax rates, and an uncertain phasing-out of petrol vehicles, punish working-class people for not being able to afford to adapt. Fines, increased costs of keeping an outdated car or van on the road, and the expense of electric cars will ultimately not be felt by the ruling-class. For working people to embrace environmental solutions, they require a level of infrastructure that our present neoliberal regime will claim is unaffordable and impractical. Without struggling for improved infrastructure alongside curbing emissions, the liberal environmentalists are left to cheerlead the implementation of arbitrary, punitive legislation in the name of net zero targets, and therefore dismiss workers’ legitimate concerns for their livelihoods.
These are just some of the failings of liberal environmentalism. I believe it is also equally, if not more important, to examine the successes of working-class environmentalism. In the Wyndford area of Glasgow, the option to retrofit 600 homes was robbed from tenants of the Wheatley Group, Scotland’s largest social landlord company. Instead, the company initiated plans to demolish 600 high-rise flats and replace them with 300 homes, at increased prices. As you can infer, this would force residents out of their community. The prospect of retrofitting the old flat block, a significantly more environmentally-friendly solution, was denied to the residents, as Wheatley ignored impact assessments on what a demolition would do to the local environment.
After a tremendous grassroots resistance by locals, including an occupation of a tower block by Young Communists, this proposed demolition has been halted, as of the time of writing. Make no mistake, this massive environmental victory was the result of the equally massive class victory of Wyndford residents over their landlords.
Where should Scotland’s working-class environmentalists focus our attention next? In a cynical attempt to use some of the opposition to environmental measures in his favour, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced an insane expansion of North Sea oil extraction into the Rosebank oil field. Potential extraction of Rosebank’s oil and gas has been calculated to produce the same CO2 emission of the 28 lowest-income nations in the world combined. Whilst liberal environmentalists have been highlighting the hypocrisy of approving this drilling frenzy in juxtaposition to net-zero commitments spouted at previous COP sessions, recent history tells us they will not offer a solution that combines the needs of our planet with the needs of workers. We must be ready to make the argument for socialism as the ultimate response to the climate crisis. We must make clear that averting the destruction of our planet doesn’t need to entail collective sacrifices for ordinary people, but can in fact offer a collective prosperity for all.
The workers of Scotland, Britain and the international working class must seize the means of production to guarantee the preservation of our planet. Linking class war and environmentalism should be fundamental for our future activity heading into 2024 and beyond. We must link climate change to our everyday actions, reinforcing the protection of our natural resources and surroundings, just as much as we do with the class issues of housing, workplace disputes, and austerity. We do not wish to tighten our belts, just so we can continue to be exploited under some sort of net-zero capitalism: we want to destroy capitalism and remove the source of environmental harm, providing our people with the best living standards possible.
The League will always fully utilise Marxism-Leninism when approaching the subject of climate change. This is what the establishment fears. We have a scientific foundation to build upon which keeps us stable and attracts others away from the narrow liberal and reactionary mindset to the cause of Communism. We must build a class-conscious green movement. A green movement imbued with the deepest shade of red.
Nathan Hennebry is a member of the Young Communist League’s Glasgow branch