Panellists in order:
Hannah Fair, climate justice activist, doctoral student, Red Pepper writer
James Heartfield, author of "Green Capitalism"
Ru Raynor, anti-aviation activist at Grow Heathrow
Wood Roberdeau, Lecturer in Visual Cultures, Goldsmiths
The awareness of a growing planetary climate crisis in the 1990s appeared to coincide with a change: the final collapse of the traditional forces of the Old Left (communism and social democracy) and the consolidation of what many characterize as neoliberalism. For many green thinkers and activists, the political strength of the Right in the 1990s stymied any meaningful attempt to regulate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. But the global reach of climate change also generated sustained international resistance, which appears unified in its opposition to fossil fuel extraction. For Klein and climate justice activists, the combined weight of this resistance could “change everything” when coupled with the “erosion” of neoliberalism’s credibility, particularly in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, and the assessment that climate change is inextricably bound up with capitalism (i.e., that climate change cannot be regulated or solved using “greener” forms of capitalism, but would require a “system change”).
Yet amidst the proliferation of activity--from blocking pipelines, to campus fossil fuel divestment campaigns, to blockades to stop hydraulic fracking and mountaintop removal coal mining projects and protests at international climate talks--it remains unclear how climate activism might lead to something different. U.S. Democrats, for example, appear poised to benefit from discontents around inaction on climate change regulation (in spite of advancing neoliberal reforms in the 1990s under Bill Clinton). In the E.U., climate activism has taken a back seat to antiausterity, as governments responsible for the strictest austerity are largely credited with leadership in decarbonizing their economies. In fact, while an agreement overhauling the Kyoto Protocol seems increasingly likely at the Paris Conference of Parties (COP 21), the same cannot be said about the prospects for “system change.”
The focus of this panel is to consider what remains unchanged by the climate crisis. For there seems to be a continued problem of how discontents under capitalism become readily integrated into new forms of capitalism; a process whereby we unwittingly contribute to the perpetuation of capitalism without intending to. We ask panelists to consider how we might arrive at a post-carbon future from the Left (i.e., in a manner that generates greater consciousness of what capitalism is and how to potentially overcome it). What would a Left response to climate change look like? How does this differ from the Right?
"Whoever dares undertake to establish a people’s institutions must feel himself capable of changing, as it were, human nature, of transforming each individual, who by himself is a complete and solitary whole, into a part of a larger whole, from which, in a sense, the individual receives his life and his being, of substituting a limited and mental existence for the physical and independent existence. He has to take from man his own powers, and give him in exchange alien powers which he cannot employ without the help of other men."
Location and time:
7pm, Thursday 4th June
Ian Gulland Lecture Theatre,
Goldsmiths College, New Cross, SE14 6NW
Simon Griffiths, Senior Lecturer in Politics, Goldsmiths
Nancy Taaffe, Socialist Party of England and Wales; and TUSC (Trade Union Socialist Coalition)
Luke Gregory-Jones, BA Politics Student, and Student Occupier, Goldsmiths
Michael Theodosiadis, Phd candidate, Politics, Goldsmiths; writer and editor for respublica.gr
Jack Conrad, Communist Party of Great Britain (Weekly Worker newspaper); and Lefty Unity
In spite of many different political currents and tendencies, perhaps the most significant question informing the "Left" today is the issue of "political party.” Various "Left unity" initiatives have been taking place in the aftermath of the 2008 economic crisis and subsequent downturn, following Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring, alongside continuing "post-political" tendencies inherited from the 1980s-90s (perspectives such as expressed by Hardt and Negri's Empire, Multitude, and Commonwealth, John Holloway's Change the World without Taking Power, the Invisible Committee's The Coming Insurrection, the California student protestors' Communique from an Absent Future), the formation of SYRIZA in Greece, and the new party Podemos in Spain (who reject the organized "Marxist Left" as well as the established labor unions as part of the existing "political caste"). In Germany, Die Linke appears poised to break into high political office. At the same time, there has been a growing crisis of the largest "orthodox Marxist" ("Trotskyist") political organizations in the Anglophone and Western European countries, which has been characterized as the "crisis of ('actually existing') Leninism" in the developed capitalist countries. New publications have emerged such as Jacobin magazine, N+1 and Endnotes journals, as a new "millennial Marxism." And there has emerged a related discussion of the legacy of Marxism in principles ofpolitical organization going back to the Second International 1889-1914 ("neo-Kautskyism"), for instance in Lars Lih's revisionist history of Lenin and Bolshevism and the Communist Party of Great Britain's member Mike Macnair's book Revolutionary Strategy (2008), the latter occasioned by the formations of the Respect Party in the U.K. and the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste in France. Today, perhaps the most significant question facing the "Left" internationally is goes all the way back to Marx’s dispute with the anarchists in the First International: What would it mean for the Left to take "political action" today?
However, the issue of “political party” seems to generate more problems for the Left than it solves. Formalized political organization would appear indispensable for a long term perspectives beyond the ebb and flow of movements. Yet the role of a party in sustaining activity and discontents over time -- of building towards a revolution -- has had, at best an ambivalent legacy, leading as much to rationalizing politically ineffective strategies or giving cover for various forms of opportunism (e.g. reformism, careerism, etc.). Today the idea of political parties as a means for the Left -- through which the necessity for social transformation could be developed within society -- as opposed to an end in itself, is difficult to envision both theoretically and practically. Yet the existing default --politics without parties -- seems unable to do more than give sanction to the vicissitudes through which capitalism changes, but invariably persists. Worse still, without parties of its own, the Left is forced to either passively or actively support or at least place hopes in other parties. There appears no escaping the question of Political Party for the Left.
Questions for the panelists:
1) How do you think that addressing the question of political party today potentially helps or rather might undercut the Left?
2) How do you view the problem of political organization in relation to the various currents on the Left that have emerged in the last three years since #Occupy? What should be the long term vision of Left relative to the issue of political organization?
3) In what sense is a party different from a political organization? What is its peculiarity?
4) Political parties, movements and the state have been around for a long time. Is the way they have related in the past different from how they relate now? Do you consider any or all of them as permanent or transitory? More specifically is the need for a party fixed under capitalism, including its most fundamental characteristics? Or are these characteristics open to reconsideration?
5) How do political parties/organization relate to society as a whole? How ought they for the Left? How can the Left transcend the specific interests of political constituencies (e.g. the workers, minorites, the poor, the marginalized) with an eye to transforming society as a whole? Should it? How can a political party/organization of the Left be representative and revolutionary at the same time?
6) How has the need for the Left to take political power reasserted itself today? What are the most important historical precedents for this? How has this problem changed at present from the past?
7) The current trend towards political organization (e.g. SYRIZA, Podemos) has largely found the Left opposing traditional social democratic and communist parties. What is the significance of this trend? Is it a temporary, transitory phenomenon or does it mark a permanent change? Do you regard it as an advance or a regression with respect to the Left's approach to politics?