Revolutionary Strategies on a Heated Earth

Responding to Non-linear Developments in Condensed Time

December 31, 2021

The recent heat waves in the northwestern United States, western Canada, Siberia and the Mediterranean as well as the floods in Germany in China were extreme, but by no means unexpected. These weather extremes are signs that the Earth system1The Earth system comprises cycles and processes in sub-systems or “spheres” such as the atmosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere, geosphere, pedosphere, lithosphere, biosphere, and even the magnetosphere as well as well as the impact of human societies on these components. Earth systems research mostly analyses changes in these systems on a planetary scale. It brings together researchers from many disciplines. In comparison: The narrower notion of ecosystem describes the interrelationships between living organism and their environment in a particular unit of space. is changing sharply and abruptly. They are the new normal. These abrupt disruptions in the climate and Earth system make all political ideas of a gradual socio-ecological transformation an illusion. Only a strategy of revolutionary rupture is adequate and realistic to face this challenge, but what that strategy ought to look like is only discernible in a blurred outline. This article follows up on the debate about ecosocialist strategies and the actuality of a dual-power perspective emphasized by David McNally and Gareth Dale.2McNally 2021; Dale, Armstrong Price, et al. 2021.Ecological constraints make these considerations even more urgent.

The climate is changing abruptly

The recent floods and fires, and the devastation and death of many people in very different regions are turning abstract fears into lived experience. These events do not come as a surprise. They confirm what climate researchers have been warning about for many decades. The draft of the 6th Assessment Report of Working Group I of the IPCC on the physical basis of the rapidly accelerating global heating,3IPCC 2021. published on August 9th, is a sober and technical warning of the consequences of the inescapable physical laws of nature.

The IPCC report summarizes the process of future global heating in five illustrative Shared Socioeconomic Pathways.4IPCC 2021: SPM-15. It strikingly condenses the range of possibilities into SSP1 Sustainability, SSP2 Middle of the Road, SSP3 Regional Rivalry, SSP4 Inequality and SSP5 Fossil-fueled development. The pathways are combined with different amounts of radiative forcing (a measure of the Earth’s radiative balance, of which greenhouse gas emissions are an important component), which result in different scenarios. The findings are as brutal as they are sobering. The goal of the 2015 Paris Climate Conference to limit global warming to 1.5° C can no longer be achieved within the framework of the existing capitalist conditions, conditions that the IPCC accepts.

Even if governments at the COP 26 conference in Glasgow were to agree on the most radical scenario (SSP1-1.9) of a rapid and comprehensive reduction of greenhouse gas emissions – which is already out of the question – the world would still be on a catastrophic path. Even in this scenario, the Earth system would change so dramatically and abruptly in just a few decades that any hopes for major socio-ecological transformation within the framework of the capitalist mode of production would be stripped of their foundations.

In order to limit the temperature increase to 1.5° Celsius with a probability of 50%, the world may still emit 500 Gt CO2. To achieve a probability of 83% only 300 Gt CO2 would be permitted.5IPCC 2021: SPM-38, Table SPM.2. This culminates in an absurd idea. If the world continues to emit around 40 Gt CO2 per year, every machine worldwide that emits CO2 would have to be shut down immediately by 2030. This calculation does not even take into account the historical ecological debt of the early industrialized imperialist countries which have been colonizing the atmosphere with their emissions and already used up their carbon budget.

In reality development is running in the opposite direction. CO2 emissions continue to rise significantly. According to the latest nationally determined contributions of 191 countries, annual greenhouse gas emissions excluding land use, land use change and forestry will increase to 55.1 Gt CO2 equivalents by 2030. This represents an increase of 59.3% from 1990, 16.3% from 2010, and 5% from 2019.6UNFCCC 2021: 5, 14, 26, Figure 7.

The IPCC refers to the middle scenario (SSP 2-4.5) as a no-additional climate-policy reference scenario. This scenario corresponds to the upper range of governments’ aggregated “nationally determined contributions”, NDCs submitted in the aftermath of the 2015 Paris Climate Conference.7IPCC 2021: ch1-100, ch1-104; UNFCCC 2021: 29. It assumes an emissions peak roughly between 2040 and 2050 and predicts that the world will cross the 1.5°C threshold in the early 2030s and the 2°C threshold by mid-century. Between 2080 and 2100, global average surface temperatures will almost certainly heat up by 2.7° C (in a range of 2.1 to 3.5° C) above pre-industrial times.8IPCC 2021: SPM-16-17, Figure SPM.4; UNFCCC 2021: 29, Figure 9. With this pathway, heating would continue to accelerate. The Earth would evolve into a hot planet whose Earth system would abruptly change completely.

But experience so far shows that governments are not even delivering on these inadequate plans and promises. If emissions continue to rise at the current rate, the average surface temperature could heat up by 3.3° to 5.7° C by the end of the century. That would be tantamount to a complete collapse of the climate system. The last time global surface temperature was 2.5°C or higher than 1850-1900 was over 3 million years ago.9“The last time global surface temperature was sustained at or above 2.5°C higher than 1850–1900 was over 3 million years ago (medium confidence)” (IPCC 2021: SPM-17). What is happening now is of immeasurable Earth-historical significance.

It is obvious that the world society is moving towards abrupt changes in the Earth system. Large parts of the Earth, including numerous megacities, will probably become uninhabitable in just a few decades. If current climate policies continue, the temperature niche within which human society has been able to develop will change more in the next 50 years than at any time in the last 6000 years. Depending on population increase and global heating, one to three billion people will no longer live under climatic conditions that existed during the last 6000 years. Excluding migration, one-third of the world’s population is projected to be exposed to mean annual temperatures exceeding 29°C, currently found on only 0.8% of the Earth’s land surface and concentrated mainly in the Sahara. The regions potentially most affected are among the poorest in the world.10Xu, et al. 2020. Immeasurably more severe than the consequences of the ongoing Covid 19 pandemic, this process will amount to the extermination of a portion of the world’s poor population.

Such heating would trigger a disastrous momentum of its own and further drive global heating. A cascade of mutually reinforcing mechanisms will turn the Earth into a hot planet, which will be inhabitable only to a limited extent for human societies and many other species.

Anthropocene capitalism: “green” into barbarism

In addition to global warming, biodiversity loss, ocean acidification, and land-use change through deforestation, nitrogen and phosphorus inputs into the biosphere and atmosphere have already reached or even exceeded carrying capacity limits. For more than 200 years, the capitalist mode of production has cultivated a social metabolism with nature that has changed the Earth system to such an extent that at least since the great acceleration after the Second World War, the Earth has entered a new Earth-historical epoch, what Earth system scientists are calling the Anthropocene.11Angus 2020.

The stable phase of the Holocene, which began after the last ice age and lasted about 11,700 years, is over. But it was precisely the life-friendly climate configuration of the Holocene that enabled the development of human civilization as we know it. The transition to the new geological epoch of the Anthropocene poses an immeasurable challenge to human society, the scope of which can hardly yet be assessed.

The comprehensive ecological crisis is an expression of the contradiction between the planetary boundaries of growth and the endless accumulation dynamics of capital.12Harvey 2014; Chesnais 2016; Mahnkopf 2020. The capitalist mode of production practices a social metabolism with nature that pushes it to disrespect planetary boundaries.13Angus 2019. The ‘treadmill’ of accumulation leads to a planetary overload and to an “overall break in the human relation to nature arising from an alienated system of capital without end.”14Foster, et al. 2010: 17f, 47. This ecological rift is the result of a social rift: the domination of humans over humans.15Marx 1894: 821. Ecological destruction threatens the physical survival of millions of people and challenges the reproduction of entire societies. From the late 1970s onward, finance capital increasingly took command of the processes of capital accumulation. The exploitation of labor and the plundering of nature have progressed in an even more unrestrained manner worldwide.16Chesnais 2016.

In response to the destruction of nature, there are increasing efforts to also consider nature or so-called “ecosystem services” as capital. This conceptual extension of a colonial relation to nature does not protect ecosystems, but rather creates a new asset class. It offers financial capital – organized in banks, funds, pension funds, large corporations of all kinds, and wealthy individuals – a new opportunity to earn returns in the form of interest and rents.17Zeller 2010.

The finance-fossil-state complex is not slowing down. The owners of the capital invested and placed in the fossil sector are not thinking of writing off their assets,18Joan Robinson (1956: 8f, 29ff) distinguished between investment of capital in order to extend or sustain productive capacities and placement of capital in order to obtain financial gains based on property titles. This distinction remains very helpful to understand industrial dynamics driven by the ambition to increase shareholder value. indeed quite the opposite. The G20 countries have subsidized fossil energy and infrastructure to the tune of about $3.3 trillion from 2015 to 2019. While the G20 countries have poured more than €360 billion into climate-friendly initiatives, they have pumped four times as much money into CO2-intensive sectors.19BloombergNEF 2021. Yet this is far from new. Capitalist states have been inextricably intertwined with the financial and the fossil fuel sector for decades.

In part through such state support, the fossil fuel economy remains profitable. Accordingly, capital continues to flow into this sector. The Financial Times reported on July 23rd that rising electricity demand has made thermal coal the most lucrative asset class.20Hume 2021. So coal will continue to fill the gap for a long time. As electricity demand continued their recent surge, thermal coal prices also rose. Although renewable energies such as wind and solar power are growing rapidly, they are not keeping pace with the rising demand for electricity and energy. Buoyed by the earnings expectations of financial capital, fossil fuel corporations continue to pursue extensive investment projects worldwide.21UNEP 2021; urgewald 2021.

Ecological destruction threatens the physical survival of millions of people and challenges the reproduction of entire societies.

Globally, there is simply not enough capacity to satisfy the existing demand for energy without relying on fossil energy sources. Not even the automotive industry would be able to develop and technically process enough copper, cobalt, coltan and rare earths to entirely convert their fleets to electric vehicles. Even if it wanted to, the industry currently lacks enough of the proper raw materials. This is because renewable energies are extremely resource-intensive, and building an infrastructure for renewable energies will itself continue to consume huge amounts of fossil energy. In order to keep the prices of raw materials low enough so that the prices of renewables do not exceed those of fossil fuels, an imperialist race is already underway to control and develop raw material deposits. A “green” capitalism is therefore, necessarily an imperialist one.

The greenhouse gas emissions budget has been depleted in the imperialist countries which historically bear the primary responsibility for these emissions. Yet governments talk about “net zero emissions”. Behind this rhetoric lies a great red herring to which, unfortunately, the climate movement and left-wing parties sometimes succumb when they adopt the term unquestioned. “Net-zero” strategies involve appropriating and using vast areas of land in dependent, poor countries to absorb carbon emissions so that the large emitters in imperialist countries can avoid significant reductions of their own emissions. Such compensation strategies lead to an explosion in land demand. Industrial forests and plantations for CO2 sequestration come into competition with food production and thus aggravate hunger. This development is based on a massive increase in the unequal distribution of land, thus the impoverishment and displacement of people in the affected countries. “Green” capitalist modernization thereby intensifies neocolonial plunder and intra-imperialist rivalry which must be stopped. “Net zero” is part of a global imperialist climate policy. The climate movement needs to clarify and oppose this diversionary tactic.

Hypothesis: revolutionary strategy

With Anthropocene capitalism, we are entering a phase full of uncertainties and abrupt turns. These include both the physical foundations of social life, economic instability, social confrontations, as well as the sharpened imperialist rivalry and accompanying geopolitical shifts in hegemony. Earth system dynamics with their tipping points will impose harsh and unexpected changes on societies. Pandemics, as well as societal catastrophes from droughts, floods, and hot spells, will become the normal state of affairs. They will shape the struggle between classes.

The heated planet is already abruptly breaking off many long-established and familiar ways of life. This is what we already experience in these times of the pandemic, what has already been experienced by people whose homes are washed or burned away, and what will continue to be experienced by people who have to leave their cities because of unbearable heat. There are neither safeties nor certainties.

These changes force all movements and organizations working to overcome the capitalist mode of production to fundamentally reflect on strategy. What kind of anti-capitalist strategy would be appropriate to confronting these fundamental challenges? The reform-oriented strategies have long been on feet of clay. Productivity advances since the 1970s have not been sufficiently big to permit both the capture of a high rate of profit and any considerable raising of wages, let alone the building and maintenance of a well-developed social infrastructure.22Husson 2021; Roberts 2021. Moreover, the planetary boundaries of the Earth system23Steffen, et al. 2018; Steffen, et al. 2015. pose substantial obstacles to the accumulation process upon which reform-oriented strategies must themselves rely.

But the intensified global ecological crisis makes a socio-ecological reform of capitalism completely impossible, especially in the short time needed. It is becoming clearer than ever that the ideas of gradual progress as well as a continuous strengthening of socialist forces through participation in bourgeois governments or taking charge of government responsibility are built on sand. The political as well as the economic and ecological, that is, the material preconditions for a gradual reform strategy to improve conditions accepting ecological restrictions simply do not exist within the framework of the capitalist mode of production.24In another article, I explain in detail why notions of social-ecological reform of capitalism and proposals for a (left) Green New Deal are ecologically insufficient and economically inconsistent (Zeller 2021a).

Unfortunately, the more radical forces of the socialist movements have been content with a poverty of strategic debates and a strange self-restriction for several decades. If ecosocialists want to change the balance of power, they are challenged to formulate strategic hypotheses which require an appropriate understanding of the current period and of societal dynamics in time and space. There are almost no debates on how to change the social balance of power to such an extent that the build-up of counter-power institutions results in a situation of dual power. However, any form of dual power will be fragile and, therefore, must finally lead to a decisive struggle between the continuity aimed at by a restoration of the old order and a victory of the revolutionary forces.

Only by rapidly imposing an anti-capitalist rupture can the global heating be slowed down to such an extent that a disastrous momentum of its own is prevented, which would seriously jeopardize the survival of our societies.

Before sketching some outlines of a revolutionary ecosocialist strategy, I shortly present reflections on the socio-political consequences of the non-linear and jerky developments of the Earth system and society. For this purpose I take up Vladimir Ilyich Lenin’s, Walter Benjamin’s and Daniel Bensaïd’s considerations on non-linear understanding of time. I argue that ecosocialist forces must be prepared to deal with these abrupt turns and develop appropriate transition programs oriented toward strengthening self-organization and counter-power.

Broken and condensed time in Anthropocene capitalism

In an inspiring article Daniel Bensaïd argued that the idea of mechanical progress without crises or ruptures corresponds to an understanding of homogeneous and empty time.25Bensaïd 2002. This is ultimately a non-political time. He recalled Vladimir Ilyich Lenin’s understanding of politics as a strategy for direct intervention and breaking up of state and economic structures. In contrast to classical social democracy, Lenin understood politics as a time full of struggles, a period of crises and collapses. Drafting his concept of revolutionary crisis, he captured situations that did not correspond to the continuous strengthening of a social movement, but rather expressed a general crisis of the relations between all classes of a society.26Lenin 1916.

Bensaïd developed this line of thinking via Walter Benjamin’s understanding of history. Benjamin argued that the strategic time of politics is neither linear nor empty in the sense of a mechanical process. Rather, he argued, it is a discontinuous, a disjointed and fractured time, full of knots and events pregnant with meaning. Benjamin criticized the linear understanding of progress of social democracy, a criticism that also applied to the degenerated communist movement of his time and which is still valid today. For progress does not advance inexorably. Socialist potentials cannot grow from a linear reformism in the midst of the rapid collapse of the Earth-system. In the midst of sudden social shifts and ecological devastation, the idea of linear development in a homogeneous and empty time is completely inappropriate.27Benjamin 1940; Bensaïd 2002: 3; 2003: 154.

Another thought of Walter Benjamin helps us to see the sharpness of the present challenge. Under the impression of fascism, the Hitler-Stalin pact, the beginning of the World War II, and the failure of the workers’ movement to stop fascism and the bureaucratic degeneration of the USSR, he wrote: “Marx says that revolutions are the locomotives of world history. But perhaps… revolutions are the grasp of the human race for the emergency brake traveling in this train.”28Benjamin (1940: 153) refers to Marx’ The Class Struggles in France 1848-1850, where he analyzed social renewal through the conscious intervention of the peasantry alongside the proletariat (Marx 1850: 85). Making this point, Benjamin clearly expressed his understanding of societal development. There is no linear progress; development is rather characterized by leaps, condensations, stagnation and regression. What is important is action because the emergency brake does not pull itself. “The only hope lies in real social movements”, concludes Michael Löwy.29Löwy 2016: 88.

Today, grabbing the emergency brake is the only way to prevent productive forces from fully unfolding into destructive forces and dragging humanity into the abyss. Revolution is no guarantee of an emancipatory perspective, but it is a prerequisite for preventing the locomotive from derailing. However, the time in which we can pull the emergency brake is short and is getting shorter. So the strategic question is: how can we pull this emergency brake?

Bensaïd and Benjamin presented an understanding of a broken time. Figuratively speaking: the hand on the dial of a clock jumps again and again, but irregularly and surprisingly. This means that constellations change abruptly, societies change by leaps and bounds, history, so to speak, leaps and quantity changes into quality. Such an approach helps in understanding the present challenges in a view of the rifts of the Earth system and suddenly unstable social processes. But time not only breaks, it condenses before it breaks.

This condensed time is the result of partly mutually dependent historical processes. Many changes coalesce: the sudden changes of the Earth system and ecosystems caused by the predatory and destructive social metabolism with nature, economic and social crisis, impoverishment, precaritization and fragmentation processes, geopolitical rivalry, political orientation crisis of the ruling capital fractions and an existential crisis of the classical labor movement.

These dynamics form an inextricable conglomeration with immense social consequences. They occur spatially in a markedly uneven manner, both concentrated and selectively dispersed over a large area, mostly interdependent. This period of condensed time differs from the stable phases of capitalism from World War II to the 1970s, or even to a certain extent from 1990s when there were only few sudden changes and social eruptions.

A current example of comparatively minor significance serves to explain such concatenation of circumstances: In late August 2021 SARS-CoV2 contagions spread rapidly during the fourth pandemic wave in some southern U.S. states. Hospitals were overcrowded. A hurricane passed over the affected region. Hospitals could not be evacuated. Governments had not made preparations. The material and social infrastructure in the affected region was inadequate, being a result of general profit orientation, austerity policies in recent decades and capitalist uneven development in the USA. Large segments of the population are impoverished. The federal government, state and city governments have other priorities. Caught in their logic of competition and in their roles as the guarantor of the conditions of accumulation for capital, they were not acting adequately to the situations and were thereby, through denying the qualitatively new condensation of major challenges and through prioritizing business friendly conditions, actually exacerbating the very same disasters.

The processes of pandemic, state retreat, impoverishment, and climate disaster collide, chain and condense in a short time. They not only have an enormous impact on a large number of people, but can also reinforce each other and trigger chain reactions. The condensed and broken time are mutually dependent. Whether this compression then results in a leap, thus a qualitative change in society, depends on the subjective actions of the people affected and their organizational power.

Revolutionary ecosocialist strategies

A crucial question is whether these interlinking processes and events, some of which result from substantial changes or even the crossing of tipping points of the Earth system, also lead to revolutionary tipping points – to situations in which the shift to a qualitative new situation takes place in part through radical agency.

So far, the coincidence of the different crisis processes has indeed led to revolutionary crises in various places in recent decades. Examples include the revolutionary uprisings in the Arab world in 2011 and the revolts in Ecuador, Chile, Lebanon and Iraq in 2019 and 2020. But socialist forces were nowhere able to win substantial influence. Anti-capitalist structural reforms have not been implemented anywhere, not even in Venezuela. Everywhere, one or another form of counterrevolution prevailed.

Moreover, these uprisings lacked socially anchored revolutionary organizations that would have been able to process previous experiences and bundle different concerns in these movements into an anti-capitalist transitional program.30See the extraordinary balance of revolutionary rehearsals in the neoliberal age (Dale, Barker, et al. 2021). In no country do revolutionary or even ecosocialist organizations have a social anchoring that would allow them to take major, much-needed political initiatives.

Grabbing the emergency brake is the only way to prevent productive forces from fully unfolding into destructive forces and dragging humanity into the abyss. Revolution is no guarantee of an emancipatory perspective, but it is a prerequisite for preventing the locomotive from derailing

The political projects of social democratic, green and left-wing parties are completely ineffective in these condensed times, because they still assume stable conditions. They really yearn for stability and security, but only in the imperialist centers of the world economy. These strategies contribute to the fact that the social and ecological problems become even bigger, and burdens are shifted on the people in post-colonial countries.

The time for gradual and small-scale socio-ecological transformation debates has passed. There is no longer any room for this. Social-ecological reform alliances and projects for a “left Green New Deal” are ecologically insufficient and economically inconsistent. In the imperialist countries, they lack any material, economic and political basis. Orientations that rely on a socio-ecological transformation of capitalism are built on sand in Anthropocene capitalism and will lead to horrific defeats.

In order to limit global warming to 1.5° C many areas of production, starting with the armaments industry and large parts of the automotive industry, need to be shut down. Those small parts of the automobile industry that are still useful, such as bus production and the manufacture of commercial and community cars, must be merged under democratic control with the rail sector to form a sustainable mobility industry. The financial sector must be reduced to what is necessary to finance such transformations and an adequate social and industrial infrastructure.

All of these requirements reflect one big, immutable truth: the financial-fossil-state complex must be broken up. Many fossil corporations are (partially) state-owned, which shows that state ownership alone is not the solution. We need to build a movement capable of socially, democratically appropriating the financial and the entire energy sector as well as other key industries. This is a prerequisite for broader industrial transformation.

In these abruptly turning and condensed times, we need social and political strategies that correspond to and can intervene into the abrupt turns and ruptures. That is why it is necessary to bring revolutionary perspective from historical debates into the current conflicts. A revolutionary perspective of social rupture is appropriate to the tipping points and ruptures in the Earth system. However, revolutionary constellations can arise from very different developments.

Suppose, for example, that in an early industrialized and imperialist country supported by an enormous mobilization of workers in labor unions and social movements, a government pursuing a radical social-ecological reform program was elected. This would be a completely different government than the current PSOE-UnidosPodemos government in Spain or illusory projects such as a SPD-Green-Left coalition in Germany, a President Mélenchon in France, or even a President Sanders in the United States. Such a government would introduce radical structural reforms based on an advantageous balance of power developed from strong working class and social movements. It would face the challenge – in contrast to the restraining recommendations of Poulantzas31Poulantzas 2002: 30; 1978: 198. – of decisively intervening in the production processes of key industries and handing over the corporations to the democratic control of society. This alone would already be a revolutionary act.

But other scenarios of emerging dual power are also conceivable. For example, democratically organized grassroots structures as well as councils in enterprises and neighborhoods could establish a rival power to bourgeois, or even authoritarian, governments. These grassroots councils would then need to face the challenge of defending themselves against repression.

Geographical dual power is also conceivable. For example, self-governing structures might be established in some regions of a country which would then be faced with the challenge of enforcing and vigorously implementing socio-ecological transformation measures, and then growing them throughout the national economy, eventually spilling over, perhaps through similar formations, into other countries.

Sectoral forms of dual power could arise when workers in some sectors of the economy begin to take charge of industrial conversion in a self-organized way, but fossil path dependency has not yet been broken in other sectors. In addition, a historically completely new situation must be taken into account: In various countries, more or less simultaneously, regionally or sectorally limited dual power situations could emerge on the basis of massive mobilizations and extended processes of self-empowerment. Probably, such upheavals, could only partially be able to challenge corporate and state power. This would give rise to the challenge of seeking the revolutionary decision at the continental or transnational level. In all these constellations, the international balance of power as well as mobilizations elsewhere in the world, not least in postcolonial countries, would need to be taken into account.

Whatever governing constellations arise, a strategy aimed at building up social counter-power would always be necessary and decisive. It is essential that the climate movement, social movements, and ecologically aware and militant labor unionists anchor themselves in society and build structures in neighborhoods, educational institutions, and workplaces. On this basis, the balance of power can be changed in such a way that concrete transformation measures can be implemented. If such processes become generalized and the organs of counter-power gain greater social legitimacy, situations of dual power can arise.

Whether the forces of an ecosocialist transformation then succeed in asserting themselves depends on their organization and the international balance of power. When social conflicts harden, it is obvious that an ecosocialist transformation must immediately internationalize itself in order to succeed.

Practical and organizational considerations

We need an immediate debate on the strategy for a comprehensive social transformation toward an ecosocialist society. This is a society that decides together, shares more and produces less.32Compare Tanuro 2020: 249ff; Löwy 2016: 28ff. As I’ve argued elsewhere, “a change in the forms of life requires a radical transformation of the forms of production and the ways of working. In this sense, an ecological transformation of production, transportation, technological development and all everyday life, including reproduction, must be fought for in order to initiate a sustainable social metabolism with nature.”33Zeller 2020: 73. This means that the exploited and oppressed successfully oppose and end the economic and political power of the bourgeois class in a process of self-empowerment.

Revolutionary ecosocialist strategies, however, face the challenge of providing concrete responses at the local, regional, national, transnational, continental, and global levels. But the necessary building of social counter-power faces strategic challenges that urgently need an open discussion. I ask three immediate clusters of questions to start this discussion:

  • How can such a broad transnational social movement that really substantially changes the balance of power be organized? How can we succeed in winning the great mass of wage earners and workers in all their diversity for such a perspective?
  • Are the labor unions, which until now have been more concerned with the competitiveness of companies than with the health of workers and the natural foundations of life an instrument, or a hurdle?
  • How can we succeed in combining solidarity with small and landless farmers fighting in the countries kept in dependency against land grabbing with a concrete strategy on the local, national, and transnational level in the imperialist countries? How can the diverse and heterogeneous class of workers, in alliance with peasants, landless and indigenous people, mature into a political subject that can successfully win the power struggle with national and international capital?

Immediately, it is necessary that the climate movement and, within it, the ecosocialist currents connect transnationally to begin a common strategic debate. In the early industrialized imperialist countries, the climate movement should concentrate on a few axes and make every effort to fundamentally change the balance of power. For the time being, there are three focal points:

  • First, the focus must be on the fossil fuel corporations. It is necessary to consider how we can conduct broadly effective transnational campaigns for the expropriation of these corporations and their democratic social appropriation. Socialization is a prerequisite for dismantling the fossil sector so that it does not lead to mass layoffs and impoverishment processes. Socialization enables fossil fuel companies to be converted to renewable energy providers. This must be accompanied by an extensive decentralization of energy transformation and supply.
  • Second, we urgently need a comprehensive ecological transformation of how mobility is organized, including a far-reaching ban on motorized individual transport from urban agglomerations and a massive restriction of air traffic. This presupposes that the aviation and automotive corporations and their major supplier companies are socially appropriated, broken up, and merged with the railway industry to form a publicly and workers-controlled integrated mobility industry. It is necessary to consider how this perspective can be sharpened within a broader social campaign.
  • The third focus aims at the social appropriation of the financial sector. Financial capital is a central pillar of the fossil fuel industry; its power must be broken. With a joint international campaign for the social appropriation of the financial sector and the transfer of funded pension systems into publicly controlled and pay-as-you-go pension systems, ecosocialist forces and the climate movement could take an important step towards linking important social concerns with defossilization.

A central element preparing for an ecosocialist transformation is a democratic discussion about the amount of socially necessary working time and its distribution. Depending on the reduction of personnel in the old sectors and the personnel requirements in the new sectors, working time must be managed and, where possible, massively reduced.

The analysis of the ruptures in the Earth system and the contradictions of the capitalist mode of production and domination, as well as the arguments for a revolutionary ecosocialist perspective, remain incomplete unless a substantial reorganizing process can be advanced. When history takes leaps and bounds, there is a need for actors to leap, to think strategically, to act, and thereby to help ensure that the leaps history takes are emancipatory leaps.

This brings us to the problem of organizing.34I developed these reflections more extensively in a recent publication (Zeller 2021b). Here Lenin offers us some clues, though quite different from those Andreas Malm refers to in his striking and misplaced reference to the lessons of war communism in the early years of the Russian Revolution. Andreas Malm pleads for an ecological Leninism and thinks that the war communism in revolutionary Russia offers a helpful orientation for the current challenge of planning an economy that responds to growing ecological challenges. His analogy is historically and politically mistaken. Malm does not clarify what character such a state should have, and he does not clarify who the social subjects of the transformation process should be. His radicalism appears to be subjectless and thus cannot be operationalized politically. He focusses his arguments on secondary issues and dangerous tendencies such as the question of violent actions against fossil installations. Much more important than a debate on militant action is the programmatic and strategic radicalization necessary to build mass-based independent organizations and institutions from below.35Malm 2020, 2021.

Here again Daniel Bensaïd can be a guide.36Bensaïd 2002. If we support the assumption that the working class, in all its diversity and multifacetedness, is the subject of social change, because only workers in the broadest sense of the word can directly shape the production process, then the question arises as to what role they have in “pulling the emergency brake”. This, rather than Malm’s centering of violence itself, brings us to the problem of organization and representation.

With reference to Lenin, Bensaïd emphasized that class struggles and movement dynamics must be clearly separated from the understanding of the political parties. Class struggle is not reduced to the antagonism between the worker and the entrepreneur. In the class struggle, the entire working class in its diversity confronts the entire capitalist class on the level of the entire capitalist production and reproduction process. This statement is crucial precisely in relation to the problematic of reproduction, the extra-workplace struggles of everyday life and, of course, to all material aspects of production and reproduction. Even if not enjoined by a narrow conception of “workers” all these struggles are equally parts of the class struggle.

Political class consciousness can emerge outside of narrow economic struggles – though not outside the class struggles, which are political and social at the same time. Revolutionary parties represent the working class not only in an antagonistic relation to a group of entrepreneurs, but in its relations with all classes of society and the state. In this understanding a revolutionary party is not the necessary result of a linear, homogenous and cumulative experience, nor does it take the role of the humble teacher to pull the workers out of the darkness of ignorance, but it becomes the strategic operator of the class struggle. It is the form of organization through which struggle can begin to be ready for and respond to the unexpected.

For Bensaïd, Lenin’s relevance to the present situation derives from his strategic thinking. The organization must be ready for action, whatever may happen. It must understand the conditions in order to make concrete policy, that is, to intervene consciously in society, to change the balance of power strategically.

Angus, Ian (2019): The Discovery and Rediscovery of Metabolic Rift. In: M. Empson (Hrsg.): System Change not Climate Change. A Revolutionary Response to Environmental Crisis. London: Bookmarks Publications, p. 51-67.

Angus, Ian (2020): Im Angesichts des Anthropozäns. Klima und Gesellschaft in der Krise. Münster: Unrast-Verlag, 264 p.

Benjamin, Walter (1940): Über den Begriff der Geschichte. In: G. Raulet (Hrsg.): Werke und Nachlaß / kritische Gesamtausgabe; Bd. 19, 1. Aufl., 2010. Berlin: Suhrkamp.

Bensaïd, Daniel (2002): Leaps! Leaps! Leaps! International Socialism Journal (95 summer).

Bensaïd, Daniel (2003): Un monde à changer. Mouvement et stratégies. Paris: Textuel, 190 p.

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