The left, the far-right and climate chaos

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Electoral politics and compromises won’t save the climate or stop the far right

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Demonstration organized by the far right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party

by João Camargo and Leonor Canadas

Translated by the authors for Climate & Capitalism from the Portuguese website Setenta e Quatro. João Camargo and Leonor Canadas are members of Climáximo, an open, horizontal and anti-capitalist collective.

The far-right is rising everywhere. The fact that it had a massive result in the recent Portuguese elections is only a surprise for those who haven’t been paying attention. In communicational terms, the far-right is the anti-system. It exists, was built with huge amounts of capital on the ashes of neonazi groups, the remnants of colonialist, old time fascists and opportunists with the support of mainstream media and a huge boost from social media. It was an organizational effort, planned and executed with a lot of money, time and energy. In Portugal, the far-right venture Chega has mobilised more than one million to vote, many of them out of abstention.

In Portugal, the left refused any form of ruptural program, stating its willingness to support the center from day one of the electoral period to try and theoretically block the ascension of the far-right, which had by then already had part of its cruel program adopted from the center to the right. After the election, the strategy seems to be the same.

In terms of climate justice, the campaign was a veritable sequel to “Don’t Look up.” No party, from the far-right to the left, proposed a program compatible with even a 2ºC scenario of the long insufficient Paris Agreement. In 2024 no party made even a nominal effort to have a plan to stop climate chaos. The pull to the center has been terrible. The electoral results were also terrible.

The climate crisis means fascism. This isn’t a new insight, it’s just physics. In rising material scarcity, authoritarianism and violence to maintain capitalist order, privilege and property will always push into fascism, even if that wasn’t the plan. But fascism is clearly one of the key plans of capitalist elites. Last week European Commission president Ursula Von der Leyen accompanied Italy’s far-right prime-minister Georgia Meloni to Cairo to bribe the Sisi Egyptian dictatorship with over 7 billion euros on behalf of the EU into imprisoning climate and war refugees there.

The European People’s Party has already signaled they will ally with European Conservatives and Reformists, one of the two far-right European parties, in the upcoming years. The center-right is already ruling with far-right policies. The far-right and its program has been normalized in every sense and everyone was pulled to the right. All polls for the upcoming European Parliament elections point to a majority of the far-right and the conservatives which will very likely dismantle even the most meagre progressive policies in the EU.

In the UK, the coup against Jeremy Corbyn ushered in a centrist Labour leadership under Keir Starmer, which will succeed the Tory government with a new wave of conservative politics that will make Tony Blair seem left-wing.

The gradual convergence of Podemos and then Sumar in Spain to the “establishment” (as an organization as well as in the public eye) keeps feeding Vox as an alternative. Biden’s disastrous climate and Palestine policies seem designed to guarantee Trump’s return. In Germany, attempting to govern through the neoliberal consensus, SPD and the Greens are at the 10-15% interval, both below the neonazi AfD.

On a variation, in France Macron has directly incorporated Marine Le Pen’s politics into his own agenda, with the far-right in power without taking power (although polls show them higher than ever). It’s less and less credible to try to explain away the trend of the rising far-right using contextual, national stories. The mistake is not tactical or communicative. The mistake is in the analysis of the political situation and where we are headed.

The rise of fascism could have been avoided with a very different political approach to the last structural crisis of capitalism more than a decade ago, with the creation of revolutionary programs and praxis. That time is gone. The rise of fascism must now be met face on, while simultaneously we dive deeper into the climate crisis – which means crop failures, bankruptcies, cost of living crisis, austerity and hatred, fueling anti-system sentiment among the people.

To meet the rise of fascism head on now means dropping analysis of electoral cycles as a frame of reference. Power in 2024 is certainly not based on any national or regional parliament. There is no more normality to cling on to.

The left and the greens haven’t done everything wrong, they have only done most things normally. In this age, that means doing most of them wrong. The organizational culture of most left-wing and progressive organizations (party and non-party, including the greens) was developed or stabilized in a time of regularity, predictability and slow development of ideas. That time is over. On the other hand, far-right organizations have developed and thrive in this context. It wasn’t moderation or respectability that delivered huge results to the far-right in recent elections.

A plan to stop climate collapse in our current situation can be nothing less than a revolutionary plan. The necessary emission cuts to stop climate breakdown are incompatible with any sort of capitalist normality. This plan must overhaul a lot of the current social relations developed under capitalism, and create new ones. It means creating productive systems which are directly opposed to the interests of the current elites, which have chosen to crash civilization and the environment rather than abdicate any measure of their wealth and power.

We make a simple statement: winning elections isn’t making a revolution or changing the system. It never was. Winning formal power in capitalist institutions means to make small shifts in this system. Some might be beneficial in the short term, but no real measure of change can be achieved and the likelihood of it being quickly reversed is high, not to say certain. That is clearly the Portuguese experience after the 2015 government supported by the left. That time is gone. The backlash is obvious. The culture war waged by the far-right at the global level is happening in a tilted table that should be abandoned. Media and social media will not deliver us power, they will only take it away from us.

There is a new specter haunting Europe. That specter is the far-right. But it is only a specter, an apparition, no matter how many likes, shares and even votes it gets. Behind that specter there rises a very meaty and material monster — the climate crisis — that will destroy capitalism no matter how many small Hitlers and Mussolinis it pushes as influencers, electoral candidates or even as coup d’etat dictators. The question that should now be put in every meeting of every left-wing and progressive leadership is if they will let themselves be destroyed together with capitalism.

Is there a plan on the left, at the international level, to stop that meaty monster that will eat up civilization? Waiting for the next “electoral cycle” and then coalescing into the center, delivering all anti-system and rebellious spirit and feeling to the far-right has not been a good plan. It has been tried repeatedly in the last years and failed.

If an organization is working to take power, its strategy must definitely not focus on elections in any other way than instrumentally. We need a plan for power and to step up with radically just programs to tackle the climate and social crisis. That means becoming a real threat to the status quo, It means taking risks, being popular and bold.

The lack of a revolutionary program and of a revolutionary praxis, no matter how green it is, is one of the reasons why the far-right is rising. There is no political polarization, just a complete shift to the right, with the left pulled into the black hole of the center and actually presenting plans that aim at saving capitalism, when they should be pushing all the wrecking balls to take it down before it takes all of us down with it.

We need a real polarization with the far-right, not appeasement politics. That means a revolutionary shift, and in 2024 it means a change of tactics into action and mobilization for a radical eco-social program of how society is to be organized to prevent breakdown and deliver social and historical justice.

We have waited long enough. If the institutional progressive forces on the left and the greens set themselves as gatekeepers of revolution, instead of their promoter, they need to step out of the way. There is a very narrow path for us to win and a thousand dead ends. None of them include waiting any longer.

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  • “We need a plan for power and to step up with radically just programs to tackle the climate and social crisis.” Yes, I find in this article is a welcome recognition of the weaknesses of the center/left. But beyond revolutionary rhetoric we need a strategic plan. As I argued on this site (https://climateandcapitalism.com/2024/01/08/an-ecosocialist-strategy-that-can-still-make-1-5-possible/) the first critical task is building the broadest coalition to defeat fossil capital, the promoter of the climate denialist and now climate delayist far-right, with such a radically just program. And this coalition should include so-called “green capital”, while simultaneously challenging its problematic extractivist and worker/community agenda. Build transnational working class capacity to win a global Green New Deal which increasingly increases social management of society, more ecosocialism, less capitalism.

  • Hi! I largely agree with the above article and with the comment by Philip Ward, however I would like to add the following.

    Sadly, the revolutionary programme and praxis never got further than the dead end that the Bolsheviks and Maoists took it. While the reformist left became the reformist centre and the post second world war generations of anti-capitalists became bogged down in sectarian squabbling and point scoring against each other. Therefore a collective critical analysis of the egocentric and aggressive (Leninist, Trotskyist, Stalinist, Maoist) vanguard model they were still promoting, never emerged nor an alternative to the hierachical mass society structure preferred by these so-called Marxist elites. However, in the meantime, planetary reality and the capitalist mode of production has substantially changed both qualitatively and quantitatively and so too must our ideas.

    The experience of the Russian and Chinese Communist Revolutions indicate that the hierarchical mass society model, even when controlled by those who are convinced they are following the ‘revolutionary’ ideas of Marx (or Engels, Lenin etc.) still remained hierarchical, still retained wage slavery and still treated nature as a resource to be bought and sold as an expendable commodity. Marx cannot be held responsible for that. Furthermore, the planetary biosphere, including its air, water and land and all that lived within it, was in previous generations considered to have a lasting – even eternal – stability resource wise. For generations past, (including past revolutionary thinkers), it appeared beyond the ability of human beings to disturb that life – supporting biosphere stability by anything they did or didn’t do. Indeed, that is still the default position of the present day millions who often base their denials of climate change and ecological extinctions on exactly that ‘eternal’ planetary biosphere type supposition.

    This is also the case with regard to those many humans who have a favourite species they wish to conserve but do not understand that the Whales, Tigers or Pandas they favour also need the oxygen and food, provided by the mature plants and algae which are being destroyed or depleted by humanities production, consumption and contamination on steroids. Saving such iconic species requires saving all the planets species, particularly those at the base of supplying all the oxygenated air we (and they) breath and the base of the food chains we are all part of, such as the billions of insect larvae and plant seeds. We revolutionary anti-capitalists and revolutionary-humanists, therefore need to free ourselves from many of the ideological confines experienced by and practically imposed upon our teachers – even the great ones – and begin working things out for ourselves. We need to commence and continue our own research and base it on the latest verifiable forms of evidence available to us. This evidence is much greater than was available to previous generations, so we ignore it at the cost of seeing no further or understanding less than our previous generations. The human brain is an amazing organ which is capable of examining evidence in order to separate fact from fiction. However, unfortunately the human brain is just as amazing at inventing evidence or distorting evidence in order to turn preferred fictions into pretend facts.

    Consequently, as I see it, the urgent task is to focus on the former and minimise the latter, no matter how uncomfortable it makes others feel. The powers that be will do all they can (extreme authoritarianism or whatever) to preserve the present system which serves them so well. At the moment we lack a sufficiently large critical mass to prevent their machinations, the best we can do at the moment is to prepare the ground for future struggles by becoming clearer ourselves on what will be needed from the present and future human species, in order to cease destroying the huge interconnected web of life on earth which is the prerequisite for the futuer survival of all life on earth.

    Regards, Roy (www.critical-mass.net)

  • This is probably an accurate assessment of the current state of affairs, although whether the capitalist class actually needs fascist politics to carry through its current programme needs consideration. You could argue that it doesn’t: even its inhumane migration policy is economically counter-productive. And they don’t need yet to put working class leaders into concentration camps ready for execution, as there is no sign of widespread resurgent militancy, let alone a pre-revolutionary crisis.

    The other question is what is this revolutionary ecosocialist programme going to look like. It may have all the traditional measure we would expect, public ownership, democratic workers’ control, seizing the private assets of the bourgeoisie and collective versus private provision, but it looks to me as though that is inadequate to stop climate catastrophe (even if it can be stopped, which is unlikely). GHG emissions need to be cut every year by at least 5 billion tonnes – 12, 14, 16, 19, 24, 31, 45, 83 and 100% in successive years. This will achieve zero emissions by 2034. At the same time CO2 needs to be removed from the atmosphere, for which the only feasible – non-extractivist alternative is restoration of forests and savannah (both on a huge scale).

    I don’t see this programme happening without very large inroads into the accepted levels of comfort and levels of consumption for the working class in the richer countries. It will happen anyway under capitalism, as a result of the huge disruption caused by the climate crisis, but there is no point in avoiding the conclusion that a post-revolutionary society would have to carry out a programme of war communism (cf Andreas Malm) if humanity is going to survive. Socialists should be discussing this openly and arguing to policies that point in that direction now and stop pretending that ecosocialism is capable of delivering Nirvana.

    • Before we go about touting an austerity agenda for the working class in order to save the planetary biosphere (which is essentially the same messaging we will very soon be getting from the international capitalist ruling class), perhaps we ought to consider how we are going to put that ruling class itself on a severe austerity program by means of a revolutionary transfer of power. It will most certainly involve a sustained anti-fascist struggle, as the one-percenters are unlikely to throw up their hands and surrender.