Marxists join biggest-ever climate strike: for system change, not climate change!

Friday 20 September saw the biggest climate strike in history, uniting millions of people across the globe in the fight to save the planet from the ravages of climate change, for which capitalism is the culprit. We share the following series of reports from comrades all over the world, who intervened in these events, arguing that only class struggle and socialist revolution can avert climate catastrophe!

Britain

The consciousness of many people in Britain, and particularly the youth, on the topic of climate change has gone beyond calls for individuals to start recycling, towards understanding that global action needs to take place before it is too late.

There were thousands of school children, teachers, parents and workers demonstrating side by side in Westminster. The most radical layer was the secondary school and college students, who were striking from school to protest, chanting slogans such as, “Whose streets? Our streets!” and “Who has the power? We have the power!” It was clear that they were inspired by climate activist Greta Thunberg, as well as being enraged by the inaction of governments across the world on this crucial topic over the past decades. Many workers had arranged a day off or came down on their lunch break, which is commendable, but the Labour Party and trade unions must begin a proper campaign to fully mobilise the workers in strike action. After all, it is the working class, rather than school students, who have the power to bring capitalist society to a grinding halt.

Jeremy Corbyn spoke at the strike about the steps towards reducing carbon emissions that he would take in office, including upholding the Paris Climate Agreement, but also “going a lot further than that.” He also said that “pollution knows no national boundaries – it can only be dealt with by international action.” It has been calculated that a solar panel farm covering a small section of the Sahara desert (about the size of Wales) could power the whole of Europe. However, projects like this are not in the immediate interests of capitalists, who have heaps of profit locked up in fossil fuels. We must break with capitalism to allow for long-term, democratic planning of energy, which is crucial to saving our planet.

Attempts to decarbonise have been on the UN’s agenda since 1988, and this is just another issue on which the ‘leaders of the world’ have been kicking the can down the road. Decades of inaction, due to the inability to break with the profit motive under capitalism, have led to this climate emergency, and so far the poorest countries have been most affected.

In October 2018, leading climate scientists issued a warning declaring that the worst effects of global heating will soon be unavoidable. Scientists were reported to be crying at this meeting. Those tears of desperation and helplessness must be channelled into the class struggle. The working men’s vote, working women’s vote, the weekend, the NHS, were all won through mass action of the organised working class. The same needs to be done for climate change today.

Labour and the TUC must build for genuine workers’ strike action and provide clear support and guidance, otherwise workers will not be emboldened to strike for fear they may lose pay or even face the sack. We must call for a general election now, bringing Labour to power on a radical socialist programme, nationalising the top 150 GDP companies and bringing them under democratically planned workers control – planning for need, not greed.

Czech Republic

On 20 September, there was a demonstration against climate change in Prague, 2,000 strong, and organised by students. Some of the slogans on the demonstration were very radical, with demands to change the system and not the climate – despite a few elements attempting to blame personal consumption for the climate crisis.

Czech climate demo 2019

The demonstration was widely supported and faced no opposition, except from one right-wing, libertarian party called "Svobodní", members of whom stood on the square with signs like "Against climate socialism!" This was a cheap attempt to use anti-communist propaganda to justify their reactionary views in front of the young people on the demo. However, instead of listening, attendees were laughing at them.

Many of the young people present were taking part in demonstrations and strikes this year for the first time in their lives. Some of these youngsters were wary about revolutionary politics, having been force-fed anti-communist propaganda from birth, and are understandably sceptical about the old Communist Party bureaucrats now supporting the Babiš oligarchy's scandalous government.

It is necessary for genuine Marxists to show them what revolutionary socialism really is, and many were receptive to our comrades’ message that saving the climate means ending capitalism!

France

On 20 September, there were large demonstrations in Paris, Lyon, Marseille and Toulouse. The demonstrations were mainly composed of school students, a few thousand in the big cities, and around 10,000 in Paris, amounting to 48,000 all over the country.

But an even bigger demonstration took place on Saturday in Paris, with 38,000 present, as the CGT and gilets jaunes mobilised for it. There were many people who were receptive to Marxism and the idea of a revolutionary solution to the climate crisis!

Climat Lyon demo 2019

Russia

A public meeting took place on 20 September on Lenin Square in St. Petersburg. It was a cold day, and the city authorities switched off all the lights on the square. But despite these unfavourable conditions, IMT activists unfurled a huge banner, reading «Меняй систему, а не климат!» ("Change the system — not climate change!") and had two official speakers on the panel: one discussing the student struggle against the climate crisis, and the other speaking as a scientist on the role of capitalism in causing global warming. Both were very well received.

Denmark

Since the general election in June, all political parties in Denmark – even the most reactionary – have embraced the climate struggle in the most hypocritical way. Everybody is green now. Even the Danish Federation of Industry is dressing up in green, and the entire establishment is embracing the struggle of the youth, saying that they have now learned their lesson and are listening.

Denmark climate demo 2019

Maybe for this reason, the climate strike was a bit smaller compared to the spring. A few thousand participated in the strike and demonstration. Compounding the problem, party political material was explicitly banned by the organisers – particularly the hammer and sickle.

The Danish comrades of Revolutionære Socialister nevertheless participated with their banner, (carrying the slogan “Climate Struggle is Class Struggle”), red flags and papers and leaflets. They were the only visible political organisation.

Denmark climate demo 4 2019

This attempt to make the climate struggle apolitical is extremely damaging to the cause. For this reason, the comrades issued an open letter to the organisers, arguing for the need to connect the climate struggle with the class struggle. It got quite a good response, although the organisers did threaten to call the police on the comrades if they tried to distribute leaflets at the demo – a threat that didn't stop them!

Denmark climate demo 3 2019

The climate struggle is too important to leave in the hands of the NGOs. It needs to be revolutionary or it will be meaningless.

At the demo, the comrades' slogans were well received, and connected with the very young participants, who gathered around our banner to hear what we had to say.

The day after, they organised a meeting on the same subject, entitled “Turn the climate struggle into class struggle”. It was well attended, with about 40 participants, and saw an excellent discussion.

Germany

The climate strike of 20 September has turned out to be an important milestone for youth and workers in Germany. Fridays For Future (FFF) organisers counted 566 demos that attracted 1.4 million people altogether: a figure not reached for decades.

The biggest attendance was registered in the major cities of Berlin (270,000) and Hamburg (100,000). In dozens of larger cities, the FFF activists counted local demos of tens of thousands. Even in many small towns and remote areas of the country, between a few hundred and a few thousand demonstrators took to the streets.

Berlin climate demo 2019

These figures alone mark the beginning of a new epoch, as the overall attendance far outmatched the expectations even of the optimists – and this despite the fact that, in many schools, there was a strong element of repression and intimidation, to prevent students from attending the demos in the morning.

The mood and many of the slogans chanted and written on placards showed that there is a younger generation growing up who have a deep distrust in politicians and their empty promises. Just a week before, some 25,000 environmentalists and left-wing activists had demonstrated against the Frankfurt International Automobile Exhibition (IAA) and the criminal role of German motor industry in polluting the planet with their combustion engines.

The rise of the FFF movement in Germany has given new hope to older activists and veterans of mass movements from the 1970s, who had become demoralised after suffering defeats. As a result, there were demonstrators from all generations present in the demos.

Berlin climate demo 2 2019

In August, Frank Bsirske, the outgoing chairman of ver.di, Germany’s second-biggest trade union, had announced support for the 20 September climate strike and called upon all union members to take a day off and join the demos. This has encouraged many union activists to take up the issue in the workplaces and raise the question of the right to a political and general strike, which is deemed to be illegal in Germany.

Waldkraiburg climate demo 2019

So, in the end, many union flags were seen flying at the demos and this will undoubtedly stimulate debate within the unions. Local groups of "Workers for Future" were set up. At the same time, the top ranks of the union apparatus, within and outside the DGB union federation, fear the idea of a general strike like sin.

Comrades of Der Funke (the IMT in Germany) were present in the demos in a number of cities and towns such as Berlin, Hamburg, Wiesbaden, Mainz, Waldkraiburg, Würzburg, Constance, Magdeburg and other places. The new issue of their journal and their stalls attracted the interest of young activists, and public meetings were called for the coming days.

While a crowd of 270,000 gathered around the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin on 20 September, only two or three stone throws away, Chancellor Angela Merkel's "climate cabinet" presented a "package" of measures, such as increasing fuel and energy prices, reducing VAT on rail tickets and subsidies for electric vehicles. Apart from causing hardship for working people, these petty measures are not even enough to reach the targets put forward by the Paris Climate Agreement, signed in 2015. What is needed is a bold, socialist programme to usher in the transformation of industry towards green production, while defending jobs and living standards and reducing the working day. Many jobs are at stake in the unfolding crisis of the car industry, but many more jobs could be created on the basis of a transport revolution. This, however, requires nationalisation and workers' control, and a global and democratically planned economy.

Mexico

In early September, in different schools and public places, a day of action took place, which continued the international mobilisation against the climate crisis, led by #FridaysForFuture.

The environmental struggle, led by high school and secondary school students, has come to Mexico and has been organised to demand a declaration of National Climate Emergency by the new AMLO government.

The march in Mexico was massive, involving thousands of young people and students from different universities such as UNAM, IPN, ENAH, and Ibero, along with high school students, who took to the streets to demand government policies against environmental catastrophe.

There is an atmosphere of strong struggle among the youth, evident from their recycled signs demanding an end to the pollution of the ocean and for the protection of endangered species. The youth demand a pollution-free planet and they shouted firmly that we need to change the political system.

The Marxist youth of La Izquierda Socialista participated in this mobilisation through a series of public events to discuss the origin of the climate crisis, and extended invitations for students to mobilise with them.

Some weeks earlier, on 5 September, the comrades organised a public talk in Apan University about the environmental impact of the Modelo Brewery in the region, which aroused great interest within the student community. They had a very good attendance and participation. Students showed great concern about what the brewery project implies for the workers and peasants of the town.

Apan climate demo 2019

On 20 September, the comrades went to every classroom for a political talk about climate change, joined by their student partners. The students received with great enthusiasm the latest issue of the comrades’ paper, with its front page headline: “Capitalism Kills: to the Planet and to the Youth”.

The comrades organised a public talk at Pachuca High School N°1 of the Hidalgo State Autonomous University, entitled: “Youth Against Global Warming and the Capitalist Crisis”. There, they invited the students to an open debate on this issue, with very good results, considering that it is a school with very little political organisation.

Pachuca climate demo 2019

The next day, they heeded the international call for a fight against climate change, making an appearance at the “Fridays for Future Hidalgo” at the monumental clock of Pachuca, where there was a series of presentations by different local bands and regional dances.

In this crisis of the climate, society and politics, the only alternative is the struggle for an egalitarian society – without violence, without exploitation and without a voracious policy of consumption of natural resources. Comrade Gustavo made these points clearly in an interview on TeleSUR, in which he stated that a planned economy is necessary – and that is why we have to fight for socialism:

The comrades will continue to participate in this struggle, and we are going to participate in the upcoming mobilisation of 27 September. It's necessary to mention that the activists of #FridaysForFutureMexico yesterday delivered a petition to declare a climate emergency to President Andres Manuel during his daily press conference.

The comrades’ slogans on the demonstration were as follows:

“For the environmental struggle, we must change the system!”

“Everyone go out and fight – everyone against capitalism!”

"Green capitalism is also death!"

"Down with the bourgeois, up with the species!"

Sweden

The FFF demonstrations of the 20 September were described by the organisers as the "warm-up" for the big global day of action on the 27th. Several hundred gathered throughout the day in Stockholm, Gothenburg, Lund, and other cities.

In the run up to the event, the Swedish Marxists of Unga marxister (Young Marxists) and Revolution talked to many school students, and argued for the necessity of saving the climate by smashing capitalism. On the day, the comrades participated in Lund and Gothenburg, and are now readying themselves for the climactic events of the 27th!

Sweden climate demo 2019

United States

Comrades from the USA took part in climate demonstrations all over the country, many of which were massive. In New York, the climate strike was set to begin at 12pm at Foley Square, with a march starting at 1pm, heading to Battery Park. Greta Thunberg was there in person at the beginning and end of the rally, with speeches beginning at 3pm until 5pm. The event gathered around 270,000 people, many of whom were high school students, who had official permission from city government to skip school for the climate strike (though teachers were not given the day off).

NYC climate demo 2019 5

For this reason, the comrades in the city made a big mobilisation, with literature tables, signs, and a large painted banner with the slogan: "Revolutionary Change, not Climate Change." They also printed an extra 100 issues of their latest paper, and had 200 climate pamphlets on hand, both with the same slogan on the cover.

NYC climate demo 2019 4

By 11am, the square was already packed with people, and hordes of cheerful high school students flooding in in a constant stream. With the exception of a couple of right-wing hecklers and libertarians who tried to physically block the comrades’ table, there was huge enthusiasm for their ideas. Dozens flocked to their stalls, many drawn in by such slogans as "Capitalism is killing the planet—fight for socialist revolution!", "100 companies make 71 percent of greenhouse emissions," and "For revolutionary change, not climate change!" Younger high school students were particularly receptive to these ideas, and several identified as “communists” rather than “socialists” (distinguishing themselves from reformism).

NYC climate demo 2019 2

While there still is (quite naturally) a lot of ideological confusion and eclecticism, the mood overall was very radical. Particularly among the youth, there is a big sense of urgency that we need a complete break with the current system to address the climate crisis. This provides a very fertile ground for our ideas and to strengthen the Marxist Tendency. This was the comrades’ largest intervention ever in NYC—and one of the largest in the history of the US section of the IMT—so it was an important milestone for our comrades in the States.

The turnout at the Philadelphia climate strike was far larger than anyone originally thought possible. About 1,500 people showed up at City Hall, starting at 11am. There was a heterogeneous mixture of politics and ideas and the turnout was very diverse in terms of age as well, with a very large portion of high school students (some of whom even showed up with their teachers) some elementary school students, college students, middle-aged professionals, and a fair number of senior citizens.

Philadelphia climate demo 2019

With this large, lively, and diverse turnout, the Philadelphia comrades showed up with immense enthusiasm and drive. With this vitality behind them, the comrades found themselves connecting with a large layer of the strike. Many strikers were open to their ideas, in particular the younger strikers and the members of the Sunrise Movement, who enjoyed listening to the comrades’ perspectives. In general, a large portion of the strikers understood that climate change is merely a symptom of a larger problem – capitalism – and that it can only be solved on the basis of a new economic and political system. All in all, it was a great day and an example of how the forces of Marxism in the Philadelphia Area are connecting with the mood.

Philadelphia climate demo 2 2109

Elsewhere, a crowd of about 6,000 people marched to the Capitol in St. Paul, Minneapolis for the climate strike. A great many were high school students but all ages were present: very young children with their parents, veteran climate activists in their 50s and older, and so on. The mood was much more radical than any other climate action the comrades have seen before. There were signs saying "system change, not climate change," and chants calling for "people before profits" – which the comrades in St. Paul used as a starting point to argue that capitalism is a for-profit system, and in order to fight climate change we must fight capitalism. At least one student asked the comrades to clarify whether they were socialists or communists, clearly looking for the latter.

Minneapolis climate demo 2019

The scheduled speakers were almost all high school students. Capitalism was frequently attacked as one of the problems causing climate change. There was lots of talk about a Green New Deal and pressuring the government to deliver change. The speakers’ list was not as openly supportive of the Democrats as in previous demonstrations of this kind. There were also several mentions of the Line 3 pipeline: a crude oil pipeline replacement project in the works in the northern part of the state.

Minneapolis climate demo 3 2019

At the end of the rally, there was an open mic, which allowed one of our St. Paul comrades to give a brief speech. He pointed to how capitalism is the root cause of climate change, stressed the importance of the working class as the only revolutionary force that can stop it, and that only through socialism can climate change be seriously combated. The speech was well-received by the crowd.

Minneapolis climate demo 2 2019

An estimated 5,000 people turned up for the climate rally at Boston City Hall Plaza. The comrades in the city went down very well: at one point there was a literal line of students waiting patiently to talk with them! The consciousness of the crowd was like nothing the comrades have encountered before. The students were absolutely open to socialism. One high school senior, who plans on studying Russian history in college next year, asked: "what kind of revolutionaries are you?", which prompted a discussion about the limitations of reformism.

Boston climate demo 2 2019

Additionally, there were about 500 people at the Tucson climate strike, starting at 4:30pm. There was a mood of enthusiasm and urgency among the people the comrades talked to, and almost everyone they spoke to agreed that socialism is the only solution to climate change.

Tucson climate demo 2019

Meanwhile, the Bellingham Youth Climate Strike started with speeches by several students and other community members. Significantly, at least two of the speeches by high school students emphasised that lifestyle changes are insufficient to address climate change, and what is needed is to "hold governments accountable." This attitude will certainly grow more militant on the basis of events. After the speeches, there was a march around the downtown area, comprising of about 1,000 people.

Bellingham climate demo 2019

In San Francisco, there was a climate strike in the East Bay, where many people were enthusiastically supporting Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: unsurprising, given AOC's "Green New Deal" policy. There were a few hundred people in attendance at Sproul Hall of Berkley, where the students were very excited, with lots of cheering and an evident desire to change the world for the better.

San Francisco climate demo 2019

The climate strike in St. Louis featured speakers and a brief march through downtown. The comrades’ slogans and material attracted quite a bit of attention. The crowd was largely young people, and the younger and more radical speakers garnered the most applause. The most popular speaker was 20 years old, who spoke to the comrades and gave their details for future discussion.

St Louis climate demo 2019

Finally, a comrade from the IMT attended both Boulder and Denver's climate strikes. In Boulder, the rally was held on the University of Colorado campus and even though it was advertised as a strike, organisers immediately stated that a permit they acquired for the rally forbade them from having "any type of setup." Also, when the audience asked for the presenters to be louder, as they could not hear, the speakers responded by saying "we don't want to disrupt classes."

For the most part, the protest was made up of older people than on other strikes, and the crowd in total was about 250-300 people. Most of the demands from the leadership focused on individual actions, with little political perspective. However, when they called on the crowd to "stop using plastic straws", there was vocal opposition to the limitations of such a demand.

Boulder and Denver climate demo 2019

The comrade enjoyed a warm reception from students who had just moved to Boulder and wanted to organise themselves to fight for the environment, some of whom called themselves socialists. A few of the older protesters were also very critical of the Democrats’ failures and concessions, and asked for more information about the IMT.

In Denver, the comrade was best received by the workers, some of whom were very class conscious and understood, not only that they were being exploited, but that non-profits and other establishment institutions – especially the Democratic Party – are parasitic organisations that are preventing change and are tied to the interests of capital. Two workers in particular gave extremely detailed explanations of their working conditions and one was extremely angry about the architecture industry’s union busting, profiteering and the power that it exercises over the state. The other was homeless and strongly agreed with our comrades’ analysis that only trade unions have the resources and means to engage the working-class for the transformation of society.