For decades now conferences on climate change have met and warned of future calamity if we did not act to reduce emissions from fossil fuels in time. This summer’s extreme weather events have shown that the future is now upon us.
The Climate Crisis is Upon Us
July was the hottest month since records began. August brought a continuous stream of extreme weather encircling the globe. Wild fires have raged in Southern Europe, turning tourist destinations into disaster zones. In Canada by mid-July wild fires had destroyed 25 million acres, mainly wilderness forests but still forcing 120,000 people to evacuate their homes. In the previous 40 years, annual damage (January – December) has only exceeded 10 million acres six times. Maui in Hawaii has been devastated by grass fires, and over a hundred people have died.
We are almost used to catastrophic climate events causing havoc in poorer tropical and southern countries. Now the prosperous north is suffering. In the USA on one day in August, 103.7 million people were in areas under extreme weather alerts. The flip side of extreme heat is extreme wind and rain. California has suffered its first hurricane, normally a feature of the Atlantic coast. Torrential rain and flooding have destroyed railway bridges in Norway. There have been deadly mudslides in India.
Climate experts are saying that this is the new normal and will only get worse. Between fire and rain, flooding and drought, food security and clean water supplies will be under threat. This will only increase the pressure on the poorest people in the world, and we can expect the climate crisis to create more refugees and mass migrations towards the richer nations. The refugee crisis and climate crisis have already combined in Northeastern Greece, where forest fires have killed at least a hundred refugees who had crossed the border from Turkey.
Given the scale of the crisis, you might expect politicians to pull together and find solutions to the crisis. In Britain at least, politicians are pulling together. Except that they are pulling in the wrong direction. The Tories have announced new licences for the exploitation of fossil fuels in the North Sea, and Labour has said that, if they win the next election, they will honour these commitments. Labour, with consistent 20% plus leads over the Tories in most opinion polls, are favourites to win the next election. But instead of offering a radical alternative they are, under the growing influence of Tony Blair, determined to prove that they are not a threat to the rich and powerful.
Politics is Powerless to Act
This creates a problem for the left. Yes, there is hatred for the Tories. But, ever since the defeat of the Great Miners’ Strike in 1985, class struggle has been in decline, notwithstanding the recent partial revival. So for most people Labour may not be an attractive option, but it is seen as the only political option to a continuation of Tory rule.
Yes, millions were enthused by Corbyn. But defeat and demoralisation always strengthen the right. It is impossible to gauge how many committed socialists survived with their politics intact after the defeat in 2019. But, however many thousands we can muster, millions will vote Labour on the basis that they have to be more competent, more caring and less corrupt than the Tories. It is a very low bar, but Starmer will probably find a way to slither under it.
We Need a New Politics
Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party allowed us to imagine the possibility of a left Labour government coming to power via the ballot box. Since Labour betrayed that dream, the majority of socialists still cling to the idea that a new democratic socialist party with Corbyn’s policies could pick up millions of votes. It might not win this time, but next time – who knows?
This is just another dream. Every month it seems we get another initiative to bring the left together to create an electoral alternative to Starmer when we should be looking to create, strengthen and support alternatives to electoralism. These alternatives are encompassed by direct action, civil disobedience, strikes and demonstrations. When people act together to change the world, they change themselves, they open up to radical and socialist ideas and become potential recruits to a new socialist party. These streams of resistance can be combined to challenge capitalism. That is not to rule out an electoral challenge in the future. But such a challenge will always depend for its success on the strength of working class organisation and resistance in the workplace, in our communities and on the streets. If electoralism is seen as a substitute for these strengths, it will fail.