An attempt to call my fellow workers away from the philosophy of defeat offered to us by many in the mainstream Left today.
By: Charna Fon
This statement is not intended to disparage the dedication of revolutionaries or organizers who happen to be involved in projects which have endorsed programs for Just Transition. The intention of this document is to argue that Just Transition will not and is not pushing either the Left further toward revolution, nor the working-class further to the Left. This is piece is not intended to be used as ammunition for excusing inaction or political purism. It is possible for us to win and necessary for us to put aside abstract political differences. This is a plea for us in the rank-n-file Left to reject co-optation and reformism, and embrace a real strategy of fighting back.
Our Present State
It seems that the call for workers to smash our chains by any means necessary has been replaced by the gradualism of “Just Transition”; so ill-defined and politically vague that it has been understood as everything from indigenous land redistribution to a green and more humane capitalism. Class analysis is increasingly fading from Leftist organizing and in its place we have an ever expanding cobweb of interpersonal “isms” (1). Ruling class ideas about personal responsibility over collective struggle have been introduced to the Left by non-profit elites and academics with undeserved and disproportionate influence. These leaders give us no clear direction, no decisive victory for the oppressed imaginable; just more issue based campaigns and superficial demands made of the Bourgeois power holders who control us.
“Movement building” is prioritized above every other political imperative, but the problem with this is that we have nothing to move ourselves toward unless we have a definite revolutionary objective. Without clear lines of delineation to set ourselves apart from center-Left liberalism in this way, we are condemning yet another generation of radical Leftists to co-optation and recuperation. Continuing to appease the reactionary, parliamentarian, opportunist wings of the Left will only degrade or otherwise altogether negate the strength of our struggle. Just Transition is not a revolutionary framework and should be immediately abandoned by all revolutionaries.
Just Transition and Capitalism
Many of the trade unions have passed resolutions outlining their endorsements of Just Transition, explaining the concept essentially as a comprehensive set of ecologically based reforms which put the financial burden for enacting those reforms on the ruling class rather than on workers. One such reform mentioned in nearly all programs for a Just Transition is a shift away from the use of fossil fuel as an energy source. A break with fossil fuel would only be possible under capitalism if that market were replaced by another market with as much or more growth and growth capability for the capitalists as fossil fuel currently has.
The fossil fuel market already produces a huge amount of value, and as is necessary for any market to exist, it is growing. Markets are never stable in capitalism; they are either in a state of growth or collapse. And it is clear at this point in time that the fossil fuel market is far from collapse. Oil futures alone represent an entire sub-market within the financial sector. The fossil fuel market has massive physical infrastructure and the value it creates is self-valorizing (2)–as all value in capitalism is–making this physical infrastructure only a single mode of value-creation within a vast array of finance capital based in the fossil fuel market (3). All of this value and potential value would need to be wholly, or to a greater degree, reproduced in another market sector if we were to transition into a system of so-called “green capitalism”. Given the necessity of capitalism to infinitely grow, a transition of this sort would merely be a matter of depleting different finite resources both ecological and social. Green capitalism is not only a false solution, it is an economic and environmental impossibility.
Capitalism can only obey its own rules–the rules of constant growth and accumulation by any means; this trait is inherent in it. We cannot regulate or reform our way to a capitalism that does not behave in a capitalistic way. Such attempts have resulted in an irreconcilable paradox with which our modern Social Democrats have been fumbling for decades. Nor can we regulate or reform our way out of capitalism altogether. Such lessons have been learned throughout history by revolutionaries like Lucy Parsons when she said “never be deceived that the rich will allow you to vote away their wealth.”
We are then left with only one path for liberating ourselves and the planet from capitalism–social revolution; workers and oppressed peoples collectively taking power away from capitalists and states. This process requires the working-class worldwide to exercise power where the most damaging blow to capitalism can be dealt; where capital is produced, reproduced and where value is sent into circulation ie: in our workplaces, neighborhoods and city streets. “The social power of the working class is rooted in our ability to stop capitalist production. This power can be utilized as a weapon against exploitation by the bosses.” (Workers Defense Guard 5 Platform Theses) It is only a decisive victory on the part of the oppressed in such a struggle that will make it possible for us to reorganize and disorganize our lives, creating the conditions for us to communally thrive as free individuals.
The Problem with Just Transition
The Just Transition framework does not include within it an analysis, program or vision for how and why to have a revolution. Even those examples of the Just Transition framework that identify capitalism as a root cause of modern ecological crises, such as that of Grassroots Global Justice, still lack an analysis of the hard economics of our current system. Neither do the more “radical” NGOs represent a substantive unsentimental path for how to do away with our current system. The position that capitalism has directly resulted in crises both economic and environmental is correct, as is the assertion that workers currently employed in fossil fuel industry jobs would need to have an alternative once those industries are no longer functioning (4).
However a key component missing from the Just Transition framework is a process for allowing (or forcing) fossil fuel industries to cease production, for reparations to be given out, for land redistribution to occur and for all the rest of the goals of Just Transition to come about. Such goals can only be completely attained by consequence of a social revolution. A revolution for a world without capitalism and the state must first smash the underlying system (not try to tame it) which has created or else perpetuated the conditions that Just Transition seeks to alleviate–that system is capitalism (5).
Just Transition is of a similar political character to the trade unions who first articulated and developed the concept. It is immediately pragmatic and ideologically incomplete. It addresses problems that have solutions which if brought to their conclusion would mean an end to capitalism, but it does not address capitalism itself, at least not directly or in any detail. For example, many trade unions have engaged in inspiring militant fights against bosses (and won) in the various “Fight for 15” campaigns across the country. But ultimately they are content for workers to remain as wage-slaves and to use union contracts as worker-boss peace treaties. Trade unionism does not concern itself with combating the overall economic system which necessitates organized labor to begin with (6).
Management concessions here and there should not be our measuring stick for the condition of the working-class under capitalism; nor should the moralist “human rights” framework we are given by Left-liberal NGOs be our ideological base for criticizing capitalism. Not only does the human rights framework offer us no hard analysis or concrete strategy, it is also commonly the rhetorical propaganda of the major players of capitalism, neoliberalism and modern day colonialism (7). It also happens to be heavily featured in many examples of the Just Transition framework along with other models of Bourgeois liberal discourse. This is the language of a Left that has been professionalized and recuperated, not the language of class struggle.
Similarly the emphasis on “creating new jobs” invoked by many of the trade unions when discussing Just Transition only leads us to more market based solutions. The labor-climate slogan “no jobs on a dead planet” implies that we must preserve ecological integrity only for the sake of continued wage-slavery in new industries other than those of fossil fuel. Furthermore it eludes not to a victory of the oppressed over the oppressors, but to a victory of one market over another.
The sentiment of the slogan “no jobs on a dead planet” brings up a question not only of language but also of practical political divergences. Is our priority simply for workers to continue to work or is it for us to continue life on this planet? If it is the latter then our labor-climate activists should remember, if we end up with a livable planet it will be one without capitalism. The shared reformist sentiment of both the trade unions and Left-liberal NGOs, either implicitly or deliberately, also provides ample rhetorical and theoretical space for the argument in favor of so-called green capitalism.
Perhaps for some revolutionaries, Just Transition is a strategically sanitized misnomer for social revolution and proletarian insurrection. Perhaps for others it is the coded language of a fearful and largely co-opted political Left. The experience that many Leftists of the rank-n-file have with Just Transition is as a quasi-Kautskyist program for mitigating class struggle by the faux revolutionaries of the NGO industrial complex. In either case it is clear that the Just Transition framework will not (nor is it even designed to) bring about a world without capitalism or state domination.
In order to save our planet, our species, we have to destroy capitalism. In order to destroy capitalism we have to make a revolution capable of defending itself. In order to make a revolution against capitalism we have to organize ourselves at “the fundamental economic choke point of capitalism–the point of production.” (Workers Defense Guard 5 Platform Theses) Our methods, both of organization as well as insurrection, must move us toward this end otherwise they are moving us backward.
- This refers to the identity politics argument which claims that instead of opposing classes (the majority–the oppressed, and the minority–the the ruling class) we face a network of “interconnecting individual oppressions”. This argument puts the issue of personal privilege at the forefront while glossing over structural violence; the structure is capitalism and the violence is that of class antagonism. What identity politics sees as “individual oppressions” are better understood as the oppressive social relations of a capitalist system. We cannot meaningfully oppose racism without also opposing corresponding oppressive social relations such as sexism. And we cannot meaningfully oppose any oppressive social relations without opposing their root cause–capitalism.
- The terms valorization and self-valorization refer to capital’s ability to accumulate value once in circulation and for value to itself become a form of capital ex: buying futures on the stock market.
- The predominance of finance capital is enhanced tenfold in capitalism’s current form known as neoliberalism. Capital’s physical infrastructure is merely incidental to the production and reproduction of value.
- Within the context of a capitalist system this alternative could mean a so-called “green job” but if we are to take the context of world which has overthrown capitalism then this alternative would be outside the realm of wage-labor altogether.
- Such a revolution must be armed and organized according to the brutality with which the state has historically intervened during periods of mass uprising.
- The argument here is not directed against trade unions perse but at a failure of critical analysis. Organized labor is one of the last best hopes of achieving a revolutionary moment, but this potential regularly goes unrealized or is actively suppressed.
- For example we often hear the phrase “human rights” accompany the phrase “peace keeping operation” when the state makes reference to engaging in colonial interventions.
Capital: Volume One. Karl Marx.
A Just Transition. Labor Network for Sustainability (http://www.labor4sustainability.org/post/a-just-transition/)
Protect Our Planet for Future Generations. United Electrical and Machine Workers of America (UE) (http://unionsforenergydemocracy.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/UE-2015-Resolution.-Protect.-support-for-TUED.pdf)
Just Transition Assemblies. Grassroots Global Justice (http://ggjalliance.org/just-transition-assemblies)
20 Theses Against Green Capitalism. Tadzio Müller and Alexis Passadakis (https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/tadzio-muller-and-alexis-passadakis-20-theses-against-green-capitalism)
5 Platform Theses. Workers Defense Guard (https://workersdefenseguard.wordpress.com/2016/04/07/5-platform-theses/)