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Marxism and the Changing Climate

SYSTEM change, not CLIMATE change!

Written by Ndumiso Ncube

Featured in our uManyano lwaBasebenzi publication

Worldwide, science shows that climate change is speeding towards a point of no return; tipping points from which damage will be irreversible. Despite the wealth of scientific evidence, world leaders are doing nothing of value to act against this disaster, with COP25 in Madrid the latest example. To address climate change effectively, a united working class must lead the way to change the system.

Humanity is part of nature and depends on it for survival. Marx used the term “metabolism” to describe the necessary exchanges between humanity and our environment. He observed how the development of capitalism had opened up a “metabolical rift”, which today has grown into a gaping chasm that threatens our very existence.

Research shows the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere is increasing rapidly: in the past 19 years it has increased by 10%! In 2000, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere was 367 ppmv (parts per million by volume). Today is is 407 ppmv. The loss of polar ice, higher temperatures globally, rising sea levels, and drought are only some of the effects. The rate at which floods occur has increased 15-fold since 1950. Africa is the highest on the Climate Change Vulnerability Index, which measures the negative impact of climate change on human populations and the ability to cope with these changes. If business as usual continues, parts of Africa could be uninhabitable by 2100.

As Earth’s temperature rises rapidly, scientists are concerned for human survival – with a mere increase of 1,2°C we already witness devastating cyclones such as Idai, drought such as in the Northern and Western Cape, and forest fires in Australia, the Arctic, Central Africa and the Amazon.

Industries continue harmful practices like deep mining, fracking, fertilisers, etc, even with green alternatives in existence, because spending on new machinery and technologies would impact their profits. 800 000 people die annually from breathing contaminated air. Millions of farmers worldwide are struggling to adapt to changing weather patterns, diminishing grazing fields, and decreasing crop yields, resulting in famine, drought, malnutrition and starvation.

The challenges confronting humanity require a coordinated global effort to shift the production of energy, agriculture, food, metals, textiles, as well as transport, construction and forestry – in short, every aspect of the economy.This is impossible under the capitalist logic which subordinates everything, including people and planet, to the profit motive. Marx explained, capitalism will remain in conflict with nature; to continuously expand it exhausts natural as well as human resources. Therefore, it is bound to come up against natural limits as resources are depleted.

Marx argued that the socialised human must actively manage the relationship between human and nature, taking rational measures to ensure the sustainability of life on earth. Only an international socialist society, run by the working class will be able to take the necessary steps in dealing with climate change.

 Global protests against climate change, sparked by the Fridays for Future movement, are taking place. In many countries, youth strike from school every Friday and millions have taken part in strikes calling for climate justice and system change.

Marxists need to stand with young people fighting for their future. As the workers movement awakens to the devastating impact of climate change, we must clarify that capitalism itself must fall, remaining resolute in our call for the working class to join and lead the struggle for system change – for a socialist alternative!

Service delivery struggles unite and coordinate

Written by Trevor Shaku and featured in our uManyano lwaBasebenzi publication

On 14 January 2020, nine members of Ikgomotseng community appeared before Brandfort magistrate court on charges of public violence related to  a September 2019 service delivery protest. Due to the backlog in social services, unemployment and grinding poverty, the community of Ikgomotseng, just outside of Bloemfontein, embarked on a protest to demand jobs and service delivery.

From a chaotic runaround with police, WASP cadres re-orientated the protest and rallied the entire community behind the struggle, based on a clear fighting strategy.

Just as revolutions are not chaotic riots but disciplined and organised struggles to wrestle power from the ruling elite, Marxists use interventions in day-to-day mass struggles to instill revolutionary organisation and discipline. This creates new traditions for working class actions, and also acts as education and preparation for the ultimate struggle for socialism. Revolutionary programme and discipline are vital to make our struggles sustainable.

The community submitted a 14-point memorandum with demands such as: the allocation of residential sites, state (RDP) housing for the existing shack dwellers, completion and opening of community hall and library, fencing of the landfill and sewage, eradication of the bucket system and unemployment.

These demands are similar to those of thousands of community protests that have engulfed the political landscape for years.

The backlog in service delivery is not only created by rife corruption, but by the structure of the political economy itself. Public funds serve to make the system just about work for the capitalist ruling class but do not match the needs of the vast majority. Raising funds through tax collection has severe limits in an economic system built on exploitation of workers, with mass unemployment and poverty wages as key pillars – especially in the era of neoliberalism where governments have bowed to big business by cutting corporate taxes. Municipalities are largely funded by electricity and water tariffs, fundamentally a tax on the poor. Many state-owned enterprises are bankrupt and rely on state bail-outs.

This leaves the state with little in its coffers to deliver basic services like those required in Ikgomotseng. Its interest in doing so only awakes when it fears that the pillars of the system may be shaken. But the resources are there – in the pockets of the super-rich.

The 6 303 people in Ikgomotseng make up 0.8% of Mangaung’s 787 930 population, out of whom 3 415 are neither ”economically active”, nor in any form of education. This includes pensioners but many are youth, ‘Not in any form of Education, Employment and Training’ (NEET). Less than 10% of those who matriculate in Ikgomotseng make it to higher education.

The high number of NEET youth in the community is not surprising – Ikgomotseng is a microcosm of the nation which has 10 million ”NEETs”.

The ANC government has no solutions for the crisis that has resulted in the high unemployment rate, widening levels of inequality and grinding poverty for the majority. Not because it has leaders who cannot think, but because of the structural makeup of capitalism – a system they have fought to preserve since coming into power in 1994.

Since government cannot voluntarily solve this backlog on service delivery – if anything, they have been privatising provision of these essential services to corporates – what will?

When we organise and fight, communities can force through change, but to go beyond rage to concrete gains, coordination is needed. There were on average four protests a week in 2018. Communities are up in arms fighting for service delivery, but their struggles are isolated from one another and from the crucial force of organised workers. This has weakened their ability to make concrete gains despite the high levels of fierceness and determination.

WASP calls on the Ikgomotseng community to ally with other communities within Mangaung Metro, appealing for trade union solidarity in action, in order to launch a coordinated and powerful movement to fight for service delivery and jobs.