SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Socialism Today 115 - February 2008

Climate change & social movements

THE ARTICLE by Pete Dickinson, No Plan B, (Socialism Today No.114) raised the manner in which dramatic climate change might provoke disastrous strategic gambles by the US. This in turn raises the issue of what forms of action might be taken by workers.

Visiting the flood-stricken areas of Britain in the summer, Gordon Brown praised the ‘Blitz spirit’ of ordinary people dealing collectively with the crisis. Such New Labour condescension aside, this does raise issues about the manner in which the dramatic effects of rapid climate change will present workers and the poor globally with all the day-to-day problems of a capitalist system unable to provide sufficient infrastructure or amenities. Recent events such as Katrina and, on a much smaller scale, the fuel protests of 2000, have highlighted the weak links in capitalism’s incredibly refined and inflexible infrastructures, even in the industrialised world, and, of course, any ‘adjustments’ capitalism makes in these infrastructures will be at the expense of the poor.

If current scientific predictions are borne out and changes are as dramatic and relatively sudden as imagined, organisations such as tenants’ associations and community groups could become conduits for moves towards alternative forms of distribution and amenity organisation in affected areas. This is not to present some wild-eyed doomsday scenario suggesting that a socialist society could miraculously emerge from disaster, but rather to point to the manner in which existing structures such as tenants’ organisation, trade unions and community campaign groups might be transformed as working people attempt to collectively deal with problems of provision and distribution. Obvious parallels exist with aspects of the 1926 general strike.

Back in the late 1980s, in Britain, many on the left sneered at the bold and creative approach that Militant (the Socialist Party’s predecessor) took to working with tenants’ associations etc to found the Anti-Poll Tax Unions, to put in place structures which unified and led the struggle that flared up in 1990-91, yet of course this foresight proved correct.

The ‘two stage’ approach epitomised by George Monbiot – that capitalism first has to change its spots and somehow initiate global, collective long-term action in the interests of all humanity, is both a pipe dream and completely undialectical. As a political ‘programme’ it leaves a vacuum to be filled by individualist ethical consumer campaigns and Marshall McCluhan influenced movements around such things as farmer’s markets, which of course cannot, in themselves, address the collective, mass political issues which will be at the forefront as climate change bites.

John Timberlake



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