Theo Sharieff, Socialist Party youth and student organiser
Since the beginning of 2019, young people have been walking out of their schools and colleges to demand urgent action from the politicians on climate change. Millions internationally are searching for solutions to the climate crisis.
It is in this context that some politicians, such as left Democratic Party congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (AOC) in the US, a self-declared socialist, have raised the idea of a ‘Green New Deal’, gaining support from many workers and young people, and including many measures which socialists would strongly support.
AOC has tabled a resolution to the US congress that calls for the federal government to drive a conversion to 100% green and renewable energies, and to create millions of ‘high wage jobs’ through state investment into public works. This idea has been taken up elsewhere, including here in Britain.
The Green New Deal harkens back to American President Franklin Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal’ of the 1930s, which was a package of state investment into public works and industry following the depression of the 1930s.
It was an example of ‘Keynesian’ economic measures – broadly referring to government intervention into the economy in order to stimulate demand with the aim of ‘fixing’ capitalism – although it began to run out of steam by the late 1930s.
In essence, they are policies which seek to find solutions to capitalism’s problems within the confines of the limits of capitalism itself.
Some capitalist economists argue that it was these kinds of Keynesian policies which created the post-war upswing, a period of huge economic growth for capitalism globally in the 1950s and 1960s.
But it was in fact the other way round – it was the post-war economic boom, the product of unique historical economic and political conditions following World War Two, which gave the capitalist class room to implement Keynesian measures.
Today, the situation is completely different. We are living through a drawn out crisis of British and world capitalism with big business and their political representatives – the Tories and the Blairites here in Britain – doing all they can to make the working class pay for their crisis through austerity and cuts.
Capitalism does not have even the wiggle room it did in the post-war period to easily allow for the huge level of investment required for a Green New Deal today.
‘Neoliberal’ policies were the capitalists’ response to a changed economic situation after the end of the post-war boom to allow big businesses to recover their profits in a period of decline for capitalism – meaning the driving down of wages, privatisation of public services, and deregulation of financial markets.
This has taken on an even sharper character since the 2007-08 crash, with austerity leading to increased suffering, misery and poverty affecting working class and young people over the last decade.
That’s why fighting for Green New Deal policies raised by the likes of AOC – achieving carbon neutrality by 2030, public investment into new industries and technologies and the creation of millions of decent jobs on trade union rates of pay – means fighting capitalism, and for a socialist Green New Deal.
Some advocates of the Green New Deal argue that increases in corporate tax rates and the creation of ‘green bonds’ by central banks could fund the plans.
But the capitalist class internationally would put up massive resistance to such measures, including, but not limited to, moving their assets abroad.
Even with big cuts in corporation tax rates in western countries in recent decades, giant corporations like BP, Centrica, Amazon, Starbucks, Apple, Vodafone, etc, have avoided paying taxes altogether, or only marginal amounts, through Byzantine global accounting arrangements in order to retain mega-profits.
That’s why a socialist Green New Deal would mean nationalising the giant energy companies, alongside the remaining commanding heights of the economy, under the democratic control and management of the working class.
This means the top 150 monopolies in Britain, as well as the banks and finance companies which control an estimated 80% of the British economy.
This would allow for a state monopoly on foreign trade, and the introduction of measures to prevent flights of capital.
By placing these key industries under the democratic control of the working class, it would be possible to develop a socialist plan of production to meet the needs of workers, young people, and the environment.
This would not only allow putting an immediate end to the pollution caused by the fossil fuel giants, which are invested in by the banks and speculators, but to democratically direct the wealth hoarded by the big banks and giant corporations.
Such huge resources could be invested into renewable and green energies – to step up research into new technologies and integrated public transport systems – all with democratic workers’ oversight as the transition from carbon energy to green energy is made to guarantee no loss of jobs or pay.
By nationalising the construction companies for example, a mass programme of council house construction could be launched to build millions of carbon neutral homes and generate thousands of jobs.
Understandably, many workers who are currently employed in the fossil fuel industries may look at proposals for a Green New Deal with a fear for their job security and livelihoods.
This is reflected in America, where the largest trade union federation, the AFL-CIO, wrote an open letter to sponsors of the Green New Deal.
Although the letter generally accepts the need for a switch to renewable energy to fight climate change, the right-wing leaders of the AFL-CIO also say that the Green New Deal “is far too short on specific solutions that speak to the jobs of our members and the critical sectors of our economy… and makes promises that are not achievable or realistic.”
This is why it is so crucial that we fight for the working class and the rank and file of the trade unions to play the leading role in the climate movement.
A programme of creating alternative green jobs on trade union agreed rates of pay and conditions, and for the retraining and reskilling of workers currently employed in environmentally damaging industries to guarantee no loss of jobs, would cut across the fears of green measures.
Obviously, climate change is a global issue which cannot be ended within the confines of any single country.
The fight for a socialist Green New Deal in any one individual country would need to be accompanied by an international appeal to the working class and young people to struggle to end capitalism and for the socialist transformation of society globally.
Of course, individual capitalists across the globe in many countries may recognise the gravity of the situation and may even speak out publicly about the need to fight climate change. But the question is – does the capitalist system they rule over have the tools necessary to fix the situation on a global scale?
Capitalism is a system in which the creation of profit from the unpaid labour of the working class results in the owners of big business reigning supreme, with the capitalist classes of nations competing against each other for markets, labour and raw materials, to make as much profit as possible.
Would the capitalist class in the US, for example, be willing to sink the billions of dollars of investment required to develop and transition to 100% renewable energy with no prospect of short term returns in profits?
As long as their international rivals continued to rake in super-profits from the fossil fuel industry and the continued plundering of the earth’s resources, there would be a huge disincentive on the capitalist class of any one individual nation to push forward the development of new environmentally friendly infrastructure and energy.
Even if it came to state investment in green energy, the powerful and dominant fossil fuel wing of the capitalist class would be hugely threatened by the rise of a new green energy industry as a point of competition to their supremacy in the capitalist market and would fight to undermine it every step of the way.
This is why fighting for a socialist Green New deal would have to be part of a struggle for socialism internationally – to take the reins of the economy out of the hands of the capitalists and establish an international economic plan for the needs of the environment.
Here in Britain, the first crucial step towards achieving a socialist Green New Deal would be to kick out the Tories – the government of the rich which exists to protect the interests and the profits of the big polluting companies which are responsible for climate change in the first place.
Campaigns to get councils to pass climate emergency declarations are a good starting point for building the movement in our local towns and cities. But action is what is required now – not words by austerity politicians.
The Tories are extremely weak and divided. If Labour councils used their massive reserves and spending powers to refuse to vote for Tory cuts delivered from Westminster and set no cuts budgets, mounting campaigns locally to turn Corbyn’s anti-austerity message into action, the Tory government’s collapse could be hugely accelerated.
These anti-austerity no-cuts budgets could incorporate elements of a socialist Green New Deal – such as mass programmes of carbon neutral council house construction, funding for fully integrated local public transport, and a restoration of funding to waste management and recycling services.
National action is also crucial. Only by building working class action – including strikes which shut down production and hit the capitalists where it hurts, in their pockets – can these things be achieved.
The trade union movement in Britain with its combined six million members (collectively making it the largest organisation in the country) could play a huge role in leading such a struggle.
Greta Thunberg, who started the school student strikes in Sweden, has said she is in favour of general strike action by the trade unions to bring about the changes we need.
Such a movement could force the Tories to call a general election and deliver a Corbyn-led government on an anti-austerity programme.
That programme – which includes a £10 an hour minimum wage, scrapping tuition fees, a mass programme of council house building, and the re-nationalisation of the railways and energy companies – would be vociferously opposed by the capitalist class.
But what frightens the capitalists even more is the potential for such measures to embolden the working class underneath Corbyn to push him further than he intends to go – to a full socialist programme.
They will mobilise everything in their arsenal to undermine him at every stage, including the pro-austerity, pro-war, pro-capitalist elements of his own party – the Blairites.
Corbyn must take action against these right-wing backstabbers in his party now rather than later to fight the inevitable sabotage they will attempt to enact.
This would open the opportunity for Corbyn and his supporters to re-found the Labour Party, and throw its doors open to all socialists, trade unionists, anti-austerity fighters and climate crisis campaigners – to transform it into a genuinely mass, working class party.
Vital to winning a socialist Green New Deal is building a workers’ movement that fights the capitalist class every step of that way – to kick out the Tories, and to defend a Corbyn government from the attacks of big business through socialist measures, and for the replacement of the system of capitalism with a socialist alternative that can plan for the futures of workers, young people, and the planet.