London climate justice conference: A model of ecosocialist collaboration

By Ian Angus

September 17, 2009 -- Climate and Capitalism -- On September 12, about 100 people attended “Climate and Capitalism”, a one-day conference in London, England, organised by Green Left and Socialist Resistance.

I was invited to participate as editor of the Climate and Capitalism website, and as editor of The Global Fight for Climate Justice, published this summer by Resistance Books (Britain). (The meeting was in part a launch event for the book.) I spoke at the opening plenary [see Ian Angus' presentation below] and in a workshop on the global South.

Often, meetings like this are actually organised by one group, with one or two others as passive sponsors, named on the poster but otherwise not very involved. That was decidedly not the case this time. In fact, from everything I could see, this was almost a perfect example of collaboration between two groups – Green Left, the organised ecosocialist tendency within the Green Party of England and Wales and Socialist Resistance, the British section of the Trotskyist Fourth International.

In his talk to the final session, Liam Mac Uaid of Socialist Resistance explained the approach that both groups took to planning the event.

We very deliberately set out to make it internationalist and pluralistic. As you will have seen it was a genuine collaboration between Socialist Resistance and the Green Left. Both of us brought something of our own approach. Neither side was interested in ‘poaching’ a couple of the other’s members.

I’m not privy to their inner secrets but I’m guessing that Green Left is not planning entry work in Respect anytime soon and we won’t be joining the Green Party either. It has been a genuine example of two currents who agree on the importance of ecosocialism working together. Nothing more and nothing less.

The result has been a better event than either of us could have pulled off left to our own devices. Being in separate organisations is a lot less important than agreeing on many aspects of the politics and the event today shows that it is possible to organise together around those parts of politics on which we have a shared understanding.

Such collaboration is an absolutely essential part of building a mass ecosocialist movement. Quoting Liam Mac Uaid again:

If we are to are to build a mass movement to successfully challenge the climate change that capitalism is creating those of us on the traditional Marxist left have to admit that we have a great deal to learn from those individuals and organisations which have taken the issue much more seriously than we have for a great deal longer than we have. …

You don’t do that without listening to our guests from the Climate Camp, the Campaign Against Climate Change, Harcan Clearskies and the experiences of those for whom climate change is already a life or death in the global south.

Marxism was greatly enriched by the women’s movement. It has as much to learn from the environmental movement if it is to retain its relevance as an instrument for changing the world in the coming decades. If you have not realised that today you can’t really have been paying attention.

It also means that Marxists have to get away from the increasingly bizarre and unsustainable idea that integrating ecology in a meaningful way into political practice and programme is in some way a retreat from class politics motivated only by a desire to either recruit a tiny number of members of the Green Party or an abandonment of class struggle.

Liam has posted the full text of his remarks on his blog.

Every session of the meeting – plenaries and workshops – included speakers and moderators from at least the two sponsoring groups, as well as others, including the Scottish Socialist Party, the Campaign Against Climate Change Trade Union Group and independent activists.

Even more significantly, every session I attended or heard about included full and comradely discussion and debate from the floor. There was an impressive and refreshing willingness to express and listen to different views on analysis, strategy and tactics. Those discussions spilled out of the formal sessions into the hallways during breaks, and they continued for several hours in a nearby pub.

I won’t try to summarise all the discussions — in any event, with four simultaneous sessions in the morning and afternoon, I couldn’t attend them all. Fortunately the organisers had the foresight to record all of them. Some are already posted on the Green Left blog — I recommend them highly.

Obviously 100 people don’t constitute a mass movement. But by organising this event, and carrying it off in fine style, Green Left and Socialist Resistance have set an example that ecosocialists worldwide should learn from and emulate.

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Postscript: On the sidelines

It seems that no left-wing meeting is complete without someone complaining that the organisers have abandoned Marxism. In this case, that role was played by three members of something called the Alliance for Workers Liberty, who complained in one of the workshops that my talk to the opening session (see below) was “ecopopulist” not ecosocialist because I didn’t say enough about the working class. They have since expanded on that criticism on their website.

Angus gave an essentially classless view of the capitalism system; capitalism and imperialism were indicted, but their flipside, the development of the working class and the class struggle, were strangely absent.…

This is a regression from the insights of Marxism to utopian socialism – utopian because it is a good idea in general, but there is no social force than actually put it into practice.

I tried to find an AWL member to discuss their criticisms, but they vanished at lunch, and so far as I could tell they never came back.

(Minor quibble: The AWL article says I am a Trotskyist and a member of the Fourth International. So much for accuracy.)

Video: Ian Angus speaking in London

PART ONE (8:41)

PART TWO (10:04)