The following letter was received after we published a short article looking at the difference in the class content of the yellow vests in France and Extinction Rebellion in Britain.
I read your article comparing the yellow vest movement and Extinction Rebellion.
I think you’ve overlooked some considerations by merely dismissing the class composition of the protesters. Anyone can act in the interests of the overwhelming majority, and one can even further the goals of international proletarianism while working with enemies of the working class – the co-operation between the Soviet Union and the western allies to defeat European fascism is proof of this.
If Comrade Stalin had refused to accept locomotives from America or fighter planes from Britain out of a desire to remain pure from the influence of liberals and capitalism, the genocide campaign of Hitler would have dragged on for months or years. As it happens, Comrade Stalin correctly placed the needs of the masses over any petty desires to keep party hands clean of compromise.
The disaster approaching us is an even greater threat to the working class than Hitler’s war of extermination against socialism. The compromises to defeat it might therefore be even greater.
The communist movement within Britain is not on the cusp of seizing power. Britain is not in a revolutionary situation. Our organisational aspirations must therefore be aimed at raising consciousness such as by educating politically active movements like Extinction Rebellion. But the correct lessons must be applied, and attacking a movement for superfluous mistakes or necessary compromises may hinder the education of the movement by teaching them not to trust the most class-conscious proletarians.
You correctly point out that policies to restrain the damage of climate change may primarily affect the working class of Britain, rather than the bourgeoisie, who are better able to pay for increased fuel costs. That is unfortunate, but climate change will kill millions of people from thirst and famine, and displace tens of millions more. Those deaths and displacements will fall primarily on the working classes of the global periphery – people even less able to cope with the changes than the working class of Britain.
Furthermore, the refugee crisis will eclipse the one we saw following America and Britain’s destabilisation of the middle east. The working classes of Europe will be persuaded by the right-wing governments and press that the millions of sick and starving proletarians fleeing climate change necessitate even harsher measures against domestic dissent – that means us, comrade.
Therefore, in the interests of allowing the working class of Britain to continue to be organised and led by the most class-conscious proletarians without being suppressed akin to the KPD under Hitler, we must address the crisis head on without appealing to excuses. The reasons we were unable to prevent the breakdown of the world system won’t matter because the communist movement will be just as defeated.
Likewise waiting for a revolutionary situation to emerge may mean merely waiting to die. We need to take active measures to preserve industrial society and therefore the scientific advances of the last three hundred years. The bourgeoisie gain and maintain their membership in their class by ruthless self-interest. They will always wait for others to make sacrifices and then reap the benefits.
It may therefore be in the best interests of the international movement of communists that Britain’s working class ‘take a haircut’, if doing so will save tens of millions of lives and livelihoods in a few decades time.
Real action v greenwashing
Thanks for reading and for taking the trouble to respond to our article on Extinction Rebellion.
The article you read was just a short comment piece and so didn’t go into great detail. A longer analysis will hopefully be forthcoming soon.
We agree entirely that climate change poses an enormous threat to humanity; the question is what to do to address it. All available evidence so far points to the fact that we will be incapable of doing anything meaningful to address the crisis so long as we retain the system of production for profit (capitalism), which precludes long-term decision-making or planning, and which has economic crisis and war built into its very fabric.
This is not a question of compromise but of understanding the challenge that faces us and acting appropriately. Our job as communists is to convince all those who genuinely want to address climate change that they need to join the movement for socialism rather than waste their time and energy on lobbying capitalist politicians to ‘reform’ a system that is essentially unreformable.
Increasing the cost of using cars (ie, further taxing already impoverished workers) while failing to create decent and free/cheap public transport and retaining the system of capitalist production is like outsourcing recycling to the lowest bidder so they can dump it in the sea or in an impoverished part of the world. It is greenwashing; it does not meaningfully change the situation except to exacerbate inequality and to kick the can down the road in terms of taking action that is actually meaningful.
A working-class green agenda
Glad you read our article looking at the yellow vest movement and Extinction Rebellion. The essence of your response is contained in your last paragraph. It is terrifying, as it shows you have bought into the prevailing capitalist propaganda so totally that you not only dismiss the importance, but the agency of the working class.
To cut to the chase, your last para runs: “It may therefore be in the best interests of the international movement of communists that Britain’s working class ‘take a haircut’, if doing so will save tens of millions of lives and livelihoods in a few decades time.”
Using the neologism taking a haircut, you demand that the British working class must accept an austerity to the level (at least) the EU has been inflicting on Greece, and by implication you reject both the yellow vest movement’s demand to end green ideology-inspired austerity in France as well as the end of the fifth republic that has allowed Macron to come to power.
In times of want and crisis, even the softest of soft lefts has hitherto always argued for hardships and privations to be shared equally; and the suggestion that the working class of any country take a haircut is a departure from all traditions of left thinking, not just the Real McCoy of Marxism Leninism. More than that, it denotes a reactionary position so profound, it could have come out of the mouth of Marie Antoinette.
Yet the Extinction Rebels have no idea that their haircut for the working class ideology is reactionary, and that by spreading it, they are the puppets of today’s capitalists, who now ever so cleverly disguise themselves (a la Richard Branson) as ordinary blokes who just happen to have a few billion in the bank because they work as well as play hard.
You don’t see any of that either because the rhetoric in play skilfully confuses the issues. Witness the language you use in second part of your last statement if doing so will save tens of millions of lives and livelihoods in a few decades time.
These words follow your demand that the working class should take a haircut; they resonate because they connect with traditional cultural references to self-sacrifice, from Dicken’s Sydney Carton in a Tale of Two Cities to Casablanca and other tearjerker war films. Except instead of the Extinction Rebels offering up self-sacrifice, they are demanding that the working class make their far more difficult lives even more difficult.
Stirring words, like false narratives, have always been used to rally us to fight the battles of the elite, whether it’s to send us to the trenches of World War One or to get us to lie down in the street demanding haircuts for the working class. So has fear. The Huns are bayonetting babies in Belgium; if we don’t stop them, they’ll be bayonetting our cherubs. Saddam has weapons of mass destruction and is so mad he is going to bomb Slough. Working-class people are eating so many hamburgers we will be killed by the flatulence of cows.
Wake up and smell the coffee, but first, for the sake of argument, let’s presume that the most extreme of climate doomsayers is correct. The Four Horses of the Apocalypse are upon us; we are in the Last Days. What practical use would subsidies to wind farms or carbon taxes, bans on plastic bags or even banning air travel for the plebs actually do to stop the End-Time in its tracks?
Nothing, Nada, Rien.
Much bigger and much quicker action would be required. Action so much bigger and quicker that only a communist world would be able to achieve and impose it.
And if things were truly as Greta’s managers tell us, not only international travel, but international trade would have to end. We would all have to bicycle to work (presuming our work was green enough to continue and that we had the physical strength for a thirty-odd mile commute by bike each day).
The very fact that the climate change spokesmen-elite (Al Gore, Ed Miliband and their backers) don’t talk about these massive upheavals and are in fact demanding very little action beyond massive handouts to green companies and haircuts for the working class is actually a very big clue as to the basic dishonesty of their position.
This is not to say that there are no pollution, despoilation, deforestration, soil erosion, climate change issues. Of course there are. Capitalism is wanton and destroys and kills, but the proletariat has a green agenda of its own, and it does not involve haircuts, but a proper use of the Earth’s resources, the end of production for profit, and the introduction of production for need.
It involves running water, sanitation, sufficient food, housing, healthcare and education for all of us, but the yellow vests are further down the road of providing that than Extinction Rebellion, because you have to be Red to be Green.