“Revolution in a Warming World: Lessons from the Russian to the Syrian Revolutions”
by Andreas Malm
New Politics, June 7, 2018
In the report Climate Change and Labour: Impacts of Heat in the Workplace, several union federations and UN branches draw attention to what might be the most universal and the most widely ignored experience of global warming: it’s getting hotter at work. Physical labour makes the body warm. If it takes place under the sun or inside facilities without advanced air-conditioning systems, excessively high temperatures will make the sweat flow more profusely and the bodily powers sag, until the worker suffers heat exhaustion or worse. This will not be an ordeal for the average software developer or financial adviser. But for people who pick vegetables, build skyscrapers, pave roads, drive buses, sew clothes in poorly ventilated factories or mend cars in slum workshops, it already is; and the bulk of exceptionally hot working days are now anthropogenic in nature. With every little rise in average temperatures on Earth, thermal conditions in millions of workplaces around the world shift further, primarily in the tropical and subtropical regions where the majority of the working population — some four billion people — live their days…. In a hotter capitalist world, the pump can only extract the same amount of surplus-value by squeezing the last drop of sweat out of workers, but on the other side of some locally determined tipping point, that might not be sustainable….
Climate change is likely to be the accelerator of the twenty-first century, speeding up the contradictions of late capitalism — above all the growing chasm between the evergreen lawns of the rich and the precariousness of propertyless existence — and expedite one local catastrophe after another. What should revolutionaries do when it hits their turf? Seize the opportunity to depose any exploiters and oppressors they can get their hands on. But there is, needless to say, no guarantee of a happy outcome….
The ways of combating catastrophe and famine are available, the measures required to combat them are quite clear, simple, perfectly feasible, and fully within reach of the people’s forces. We could begin by updating the Communist Manifesto and list ten:
That would be a start — nothing more — yet it would probably amount to a revolution, not only in the forces of production but also in the social relations in which they are so deeply enmeshed….
Direct action in itself would solve nothing: there have to be decisions and decrees from the state — or, in other words, the state must be wrested from all the Tillersons and Fridolins of this world for any transitional program like the one sketched above to be realized. In the post-1989 ideological hangover that still affects the activist milieus making up the climate movement in the North, however, there lingers a fetishization of horizontal direct action as a self-sufficient tactic and a reluctance to consider Lenin’s lesson: ‘The key question of every revolution is undoubtedly the question of state power.’ Rarely if ever has it been more important to heed that lesson than now.
Can the climate movement grow by several orders of magnitude, gather progressive forces around it and develop some viable strategy for projecting its aims through the state — all within a relevant time frame in this rapidly warming world? It is a tall order, to say the least. But in the words of Daniel Bensaïd, perhaps the most brilliant theorist of revolutionary strategy in the late twentieth century, ‘any doubt bears on the possibility of succeeding, not on the necessity of trying.’