There is a growing sense of anger and horror at the destruction of our environment by the irresponsibility of a few – the handful of monopoly capitalists who control the banks, big business, and all the levers of the economy. It is crucially important that the movement to protect our planet starts with a clear, achievable programme, and that given the gravity of the issue we do not limit ourselves to asking for minor reforms but demand real change now.
The continued existence of life on our planet is incompatible with the continued existence of capitalism. Capitalism puts profits before all other considerations. It is not profitable to make existing industries environmentally friendly, so it is not in the interest of capitalism. The only way to save our planet is through a socialist revolution, to take the power of the monopolies and put them into the hands of the working class, and to organise the economy around a plan, central to which would be the protection of the environment.
We need to go further than ideas such as ‘divestment’, which ultimately amount to transferring shares in fossil fuels from one company to another, making no difference to the environment. In the best-case divestment scenario, many companies divesting would cause fossil fuel shares to plummet. The result would be speculators seizing the opportunity to buy cheap shares, and things would be back to normal in the blink of an eye. If the capitalist system continues to exist, it will assert its logic in this way. You can read more of our analysis of this question here.
Sometimes initiatives such as divestment are described as methods through which to raise awareness of the problems of climate change. Once we have people’s ears, it is argued, we can ‘come out’ as socialists, and start to put forward more radical demands. But this just sows confusion where instead we could be bold and open, explaining that capitalism, if allowed to continue, will choke off all life on this planet in a few hundred years.
Last weekend, Jeremy Corbyn addressed the State of the Economy Conference, saying that ‘we must take the power from the market and give that power directly to the people themselves’. The following day, John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor, gave a TV interview in which he joked that his job was ‘overthrowing capitalism’. The Labour leaders are raising the question of a socialist transformation of society. Those of us who are concerned about climate change should seize this opportunity to link the fight for the environment to the fight for socialism in our campaigning.
If we can build a mass movement to ensure that the Labour leaders carry through a socialist programme, we have a real chance to save the planet. Rather than one bourgeois institution selling its fossil fuel shares to another with no effect whatsoever on the environment, we could abolish profit-seeking, capitalist control of the economy entirely. We could nationalise, without compensation, the oil companies and the biggest polluters and put those companies under the democratic control of the working class, to be run for the needs of society and the environment, instead of for profit.
A democratically planned economy would allow us to use society’s resources to provide cheap, clean energy for all. If our movement were to strike a blow such as this, against capitalism and for socialism, it would be an inspiration to the working class around the world. Given the volatile political situation in all countries, there would be huge potential for a revolutionary movement to spread internationally. This is the only way to save the environment.
In this context, the campaign to bring back Clause 4 – the socialist clause of the Labour Party constitution – is very important. In Cambridge we recently held a panel discussion with the Momentum society on the question of Clause 4. We have been in touch with activists in Norwich, Peterborough and Stevenage to build support for the campaign regionally. And similar initiatives are taking place all over the country.
The campaign is gathering a head of steam. Just last weekend Clive Lewis MP became the latest high-profile sign-up, joining figures such as Dennis Skinner MP and the filmmaker Ken Loach. Clause 4, which commits the Labour party “to secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service”, was abolished by Tony Blair in 1994, and its return to the Labour constitution would be an historic advance for the labour movement. It would be the first step in the fight for a socialist transformation of society.
Corbyn and McDonnell have started raising the question of socialism. It’s up to us to answer by arming our movement with a bold and open socialist programme. It will not be these individual figureheads who save the environment or achieve the victory of a socialist revolution. It will be a mass movement of working class people who take their lives into their own hands and fundamentally transform society. We encourage everyone to help us build and arm this movement with socialist ideas by signing up to the Clause 4 campaign here.
In building a genuinely socialist Labour party, committed to workers’ control and ownership of the economy, we will be building a weapon with which we can wage a serious struggle against capitalism. The fight against capitalism, and for socialism, is the only real way to fight for the environment. Join us in this fight!
by Moses Levi, Cambridge Marxist Society