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The global left must dare to win on a tight deadline

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Youth climate activists in Uganda call for an end to fossil fuels on April 29, 2023. We must be honest and serious about what climate collapse means to our struggles for justice, peace and wages, bread, housing, education, and health for all, the writers say. – Picture: End Fossil: Occupy!

By Joao Camargo and Leonor Canadas

It is time we — the left in social movements as well as the left in unions or political parties — come to terms with our own failures and face the present and future head-on, with courage and confidence. If we don’t organise for revolt and rebel now, there very simply might not be a chance to do it in the future.

The left is facing tremendous crises. These crises are visible in its lack of vision, its lack of excitement for the future, its lack of plans for power, its lack of confidence in the possibility of victory, and an overall fear of taking risks. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy: The less we believe and the less we risk, the less chances we have of actually succeeding.

These crises then manifest in reduced mobilisation capacity, mobilising without transformational objectives, poor electoral results, and simply accepting to play within the rules of a game which we were never supposed to play, a game we were historically responsible for breaking. General alienation, apathy, and poor material analysis about the meaning of our combined crises is of huge concern. This isn’t a pathway to move forward; it has no possibility of succeeding.

Decades have gone by since we have first heard about the environmental and climate crises and the need for a productive transition away from fossil fuels and the destruction wreaked by constant expansion and intensification of production.

Almost 20 years have gone by since the financial crisis of 2007-2008 shook the world and the neoliberal hegemony, and since we witnessed and joined with hope, rage, and excitement the beginning of years full of popular discontentment turned into rebellions, uprisings, occupations, mass protests, and other mobilisations, calling for structural changes, from the Arab Spring to Occupy and Indignados.

In that period, we needed more ambition and less compromise, more radical vision and bold proposals, revolutionary programmes and practices. We had almost none of it. We were lulled by the siren’s song of incremental change and got pushed further back than in decades. We are still being pushed back, but this time toward a cliff.

The elites of capitalism have declared a war to the death on humanity by perpetuating an economic system dependent on fossil fuels.

After the pandemic, a cost of living crisis structurally connecting the climate emergency to the socioeconomic crises hit working people and the poor while corporations and energy companies declared the biggest profits in history. They not only filled their pockets with our money, but they have also never filled their pockets with so much profit as now, while we are starving, being displaced, persecuted, and, in many places, killed.

Yet, once again, the political and social left is utterly failing to respond appropriately to the moment. The far-right occupied the anti-system space and rhetoric that has been left mostly vacant.

It is irrelevant that the far right is the frontline of the defence of capitalism; narrative power is power and it has a material expression. They have taken an important part of that rhetoric, with the left standing defending decrepit institutions of late capitalism and letting itself be equated with the status quo.

The years ahead will be years of mass social discontent and unrest. The only way for that to not become fuel for fascism and the far right is if new power arises on the left, setting up ruptural programmes of social and productive transformation and adopting compatible strategies and tactics, pushing for system change and the revolution required to achieve it. If the political and social left doesn’t step up, any existing polarisation will be between the far right and the extreme centre, which will result in the collapse not only of capitalism, but of the material conditions for large scale human civilisation.

The environmental and climate emergency is not a secondary question in the pathway we choose going forward. The climate crisis is a climax of all the crises of capitalism, a humanitarian global crisis that is already threatening human rights, lives, and environmental balances as never before.

This crisis must directly define the strategy and programmes that will shape the future. Either we tackle this crisis, or no programme of transformation will be viable. Whatever we make of the left over the next years will define not only the future of the left, but the future of humanity.

An ecosocialist left must emerge now, ready to step-up and plan for power, articulated at the global scale. This must be an internationalist ecosocialist left, which is anti-imperialist, anti-colonialist, anti-racist, and trans-feminist. It must be a left that is not willing to give up on a new future and is ready to imagine and build the pathways to win it.

The struggle continues, but it won’t continue forever. The environmental and climate crises set deadlines for change to happen. We must be honest and serious about what climate collapse means to our struggles for justice, peace and wages, bread, housing, education, and health for all: It means we need strategies to win these battles in the short term, not in the long run. These strategies are beyond the horison of elections and electoral cycles, they must refuse any role of mere conciliator of class interests.

The struggle ahead is a class struggle. The elites of capitalism have declared a war to the death on humanity by perpetuating an economic system dependent on fossil fuels. No other war will bring about as much death, destruction, and violence as the war waged by them on the working people, under fossil-fuelled capitalism.

No amount of propaganda around green transition can hide the simple fact that there is no transition happening, there is only a share of renewables entering a continuously expanding energy system used to destroy everything, while pushing many territories over the threshold of liveability.

The task ahead is system change — a full and radical transformation of our socioeconomic system in the short term. For that, an ecosocialist revolutionary left is essential. This is the task of the generations alive today, that needs to happen not in an unforeseen future, but in the short term.

The organisational effort to bring this response into existence will be gargantuan, and it will require true commitment by an unwithered revolutionary left that stands to lose everything if it doesn’t dare to win.

Joao Camargo is a climate activist in grassroots movement Climaximo in Portugal and in the Climate Jobs campaign. He’s an environmental engineer and climate change researcher at the University of Lisbon and an author. Leonor Canadas is an activist in Climaximo, a grassroots climate justice movement based in Lisbon. She has a degree in agricultural engineering.

This article was first published at Common Dreams