We spoke with Leonid Shaidurov: a 17-year-old activist who has played a leading role in the School Strikes for Climate movement in Russia. He has helped organise students in schools and is a member of both the coordination council for Fridays for Future internationally and the organisational committee in Russia. He agreed to be interviewed in order to give advice to school students hoping to build on the movement around climate change.
What is Fridays for Future [FFF] and why do you think it has taken off?
The initial cause of the FFF movement was undeniably climate change. However, this movement also takes place in the context of the crisis of capitalism and attacks on the living standards and the rights of working people. The economic crisis of 2008 happened when I was six. For people my age, all we have known is crisis. This means that many young people, like myself, are concluding that, in order to achieve a truly bright future, a real struggle for a world unspoilt by the interests of capital is needed.
There is a growing realisation that the exploitation of resources, and of one person by another, is an inherent part of capitalism, and that it is capitalism that causes the world’s environmental disasters. This has led large numbers of young people to the idea that the only way to deal with climate change is revolutionary change.
This is why I have immense respect for Greta Thunberg. Her sounding the alarm has awakened this movement around the entire world.
Does Fridays for Future have a political programme and, if so, how was it arrived at?
The initial politics of FFF amounted to a desire to stay away from politics. However, whilst you may think you are uninterested in politics, politics is always interested in you. It is not enough to just raise awareness and hope that capitalist governments will change. That is why I believe that, sooner or later, FFF must develop radical answers to the climate crisis, but also to the causes of the climate crisis.
I also firmly believe that, with the help of revolutionary school students from around the world, the politics of FFF will be radicalised. From my experience of school strikes in Russia, in struggle, people sooner or later overcome their narrow focus on one problem and realise the need for revolutionary change, which offers a solution to the whole complex of problems. That is why I think the FFF movement can be radicalised. The future is ours!
Why do we need to get rid of capitalism to deal with climate change?
To combat climate change, we need to look at the root cause of the problem. We live under the system of capitalism. Under this system, the ruling class is only interested in profit, because it is a competitive system, where those capitalists that do not make a large enough profit may go out of business and be relegated into the ranks of the working class. In addition to this, the separation of the world into nation states means that these states must compete against each other to encourage investment. This means that, whatever government takes power, they can be blackmailed by international capital to carry out their dictates.
It is only with a planned economy that we can stop climate change. A planned economy would be one that is aimed at satisfying the needs of humanity rather than maximising of profits. However, we need to think about how we can achieve this. It is only the working class that is the progressive class in society. Only the working class can bring about a fundamental change in our system, from one based on profit to one based on need. This is because of their position in society. All material wealth in society is created by the working class. This means that the working class, unlike us as school students, has the power to change society in their hands. The problem is that they are unaware of this.
Have you faced any repression for your activism?
It is very difficult to fight for the future in Russia. It is a real dystopia where dissent is considered a crime, and the struggle for human rights is considered extremism.
I am persecuted by the Centre for Combating Extremism (Centre ‘E’) for organising school pupils and students. I played a leading role in the successful struggle against the presence of Yunarmiya (Young Army Cadets National Movement) in some schools. This is an organisation that brings rifles to schools to train children for the Armed Forces in the future. Where we were active, we managed to kick them off the campuses.
I was also targeted for winning some concessions for food benefits. In Russia, education is very expensive, and many struggle to afford school dinners. We carried out occupations and strikes on this question and won solidarity from teachers and parents. These actions forced the officials to reduce food prices in schools.
Finally, I was persecuted for forming the Free Education Coalition. This is an organisation comprising several university student unions, a school students’ union and a teachers’ union. The aims of this organisation include: improving the conditions at school for students; improving the working conditions of teachers; increasing the autonomy of the organisations promoting student rights; and free elementary, secondary, middle and higher education in Russia.
To me, it seems that in times of universal lying, telling the truth is extremism. Only international solidarity can help me.
Do you have a message for school students looking to save the planet today?
My message to other school students would be that, when you fight to change the world, the censoring and the repression comes first, and you become legitimate later. It is never the other way round. However, always remember, the future belongs to us, and not the powerful. If we unite around a revolutionary programme, we can change the world!