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“Capitalism isn’t providing a future”: would a socialist society put an end to climate change?

By Anna Nash and Siyuan He

According to the UN, the human race has only 12 years to limit the catastrophic impacts of climate change. Meet a group of millennials who are willing to overthrow capitalism to save the environment.  

“Stop Adani! Stop – stop Adani!” Stepping out of Town Hall station, first, you’ll hear it. Then you’ll see it. In a sea of 30,000 activists, hundreds of banners and signs bob up and down, shouting “THE OCEANS ARE RISING AND SO ARE WE” and “YOUR PROFIT IS OUR LOSS”. A young woman, introducing herself as Ruby, takes to the podium as hush falls over the crowd. She tells her audience that she’s only 16. She’s missing a day of year 10 to be here, and will probably face disciplinary action when she returns to school on Monday. “The climate is not the price to be paid for economic growth,” she says. The crowd roars in agreement, hanging onto her every word. Members of the protest range from young children in primary school on their parents’ shoulders, to retirees travelling in groups through the dense crowd. “We want to change the climate for the better,” Isabella Cipolla, 19, and Eleanor Wilson, 20, say. 22 year-old Harrison Lee and 23 year-old Louis Debord stand in solidarity with students walking out of class today to strike, both agreeing, “more people, more power.” Now, Ruby, like previous speakers, has reached the crowd’s list of demands for their government. They call for a stop to construction of the Adani Coal Mine, no new fossil fuel projects, and 100 per cent renewable energy by 2030. With every demand, the masses grow ever louder, echoing throughout Sydney’s CBD, a wake up call loud enough to reach Canberra. Making the majority of the noise is vast patch of red at the front of the crowd. Their scarlet banner, stretching across more than 15 of its members, gives them away. It’s the Socialist Alternative, and they got here at 8 am for an 11:30 start. 

On March 15, more than a 1.5 million students across the globe walked out of school and university to participate in the ‘School Strike 4 Climate’. The event, taking place in more than 2000 towns and cities worldwide, is a call to action for government bodies to put an end to climate change. In the US, there is growing support for democratic socialist Bernie Sanders in his second bid for the presidency in 2020. The popularity of UK’s leader of the Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn also hints at a change in the majority’s political taste. And now, following a 2018 survey commissioned by right-wing think tank, the Centre for Independent Studies, 58 per cent of Millennials, and so the majority of those attending the strike, favour socialism over capitalism. 

The Socialist Alternative is a left-wing group with branches across Australia, boasting 16 campus clubs, including Macquarie University, the University of Sydney and UNSW. The club campaigned for the strike for weeks. The UNSW branch, made up of 20 members, sets up outside the library every morning, handing out flyers for upcoming socialist meetings, forums and events, and also selling The Red Flag, a publication that the club established. Hersha Kadkol, leader, or “organiser” as she prefers to be called, of UNSW’s branch of the club, along with other enthusiastic volunteers, spent the days and weeks leading up to the strike lining the library steps encouraging more students to skip class and attend. “We support efforts by young people to make a difference through protest,” she says, handing a flyer preaching Marxism to a passer by. “Protest politics is an absolutely indispensable element of socialist politics.” 

Socialist Alternative members believe that climate change is a direct product of capitalism, focusing particularly on the extreme impact the Adani Coal Mine is expected to have on the environment. Josh Lees, organiser for Macquarie University’s Socialist Alternative, believes the construction of the mine is undemocratic, saying, “The mass of people are against it. The majority of people don’t want to see more fossil fuels and yet governments are ploughing ahead.” Lees, along with his socialist counterparts, believe the extraordinary power of the wealthy, and the fact that major political parties benefit from their wealth, is to blame for projects such as the Adani Coal Mine going ahead despite the voice of the majority, which, in this case, is two thirds of Australians. “We don’t really live in a democracy as long as we live in a world that’s run for profit,” Lees says. 

The Socialist Alternative’s newspaper, the Red Flag, includes pages dedicated to student writing in every issue. Wollongong University student Chloe Rafferty warns the readers that a revolution is brewing, and that it can’t come fast enough. “Capitalism is quite clearly not providing a future,” she says over the phone in Wollongong.  Throughout her works, Rafferty attacks the one per cent that perpetuate a capitalist society, painting the social system as a direct cause of not only the climate crisis, but also political and economic crises. “It’s a system that’s built on a whole bunch of barbaric practices,” she says. “It’s a society where a tiny minority of people get to make all of the core decisions about how our society runs.” Rafferty believes that these products of a capitalist society are what will catalyse a rebellion, allowing an organized group of socialists to take over. And she isn’t the only one. 

The Socialist Alternative believes the last time the masses were this mobilised was for the Vietnam War. “We are coming together and standing up against capitalist oppression,” India Old, says. She is a new member of the club, only joining a few weeks ago during her orientation week for university, but she has already volunteered to man the library steps to lure newcomers. Leader Kadkol agrees, explaining that it’s up to the working class to come together and to, quoting Marx, “‘Fit to found society anew.’” Lees, Macquarie’s leader, delves deeper, suggesting what would become of society, saying “Socialism is a transitional phase immediately after a mass working class uprising and revolution. Communism is the end point when we’ve achieved a totally equal, classless society without oppression and inequality.” 

Both leaders and members of the Socialist Alternative are adamant that socialists have been key activists in countless protest movements throughout history. Lees says that socialists were integral throughout Australia’s campaign for marriage equality, saying the club played an integral role throughout. “We were the ones keeping the issue alive, who kept piling the pressure onto the Labour party,” he says. “We were the ones who first put out the call through various campaign groups for that huge protest that was held in Sydney during the yes vote which had around 50,000 people.” 

According to the club, communist parties have been heavily involved in many movements, such as the push for equal pay in Australia, Indigenous land rights, the fight for workers rights and of course anti-Vietnam War efforts. Is it naïve to suggest socialist groups won’t have a hand in ending climate change? And so, is it naïve to suggest that the overthrow of capitalism isn’t imminent?