London climate demonstration shows new radical mood

Around 25 000 people marched through central London on March 7th to protest against government inertia in dealing with climate change writes Liam Mac Uaid. It follows last September’s larger demonstration the People’s Climate March which had the advantage of being backed by several of the big NGOs.

It was a distinctive mix of participants. Lots of older school age children had come with their friends and it was conspicuous how many family groups there were. Making up for the absence of unions and established labour movement organisations there was a strong presence of campaigning groups. You sensed that for many of the younger participants this was one of the first demonstrations they’d attended. It was a very youthful protest.

The demonstration fits into the shift that is taking place in British politics and the end of the almost absolute hegemony of the Tories and Labour. Insofar as any party was in tune with the bulk of the marchers it was the Greens, who’ve now got a much more left wing profile due to Natalie Bennett and Caroline Lucas. Yet you got a sense that a lot of the marchers were political orphans in the sense that they had no affinity with any of the mainstream parties, the far left or even organised campaigns. They had self mobilised.

DraxThe young marchers are the new emerging working class. They know that they will leave university with big debts, that it will be impossible for most of them to ever escape from rented accommodation and that they will, for the most part, be offered insecure, low-paid jobs. And to top it all they have a better grasp than most other people of the damage humans are doing to the climate. They have mostly grown up with a feeling that parties and even unions are not terribly relevant to them. This is entirely understandable as they will have seen minimal resistance to austerity from the unions and its embrace by Labour and the Lib Dems, an outfit that some of them had illusions at the last election.

There was a vibrancy and a militancy in the marchers’ spirits. As the photo shows, there was a sit down in the Strand, one of central London’s main roads. The police had originally refused to facilitate this democratic protest and had insisted that the organisers pay for private security companies to close the roads, an expense well beyond the means of any campaign. They were forced to back down but this is an unwelcome straw in the wind about what they might do in future. In any case they found enough officers to make sure that every branch of McDonalds and Starbucks on the route was well protected.

If we were to find one problem with the day it was that this protest clashed with Million Women Rise, an International Women’s Day event that was taking place a short distance away in Trafalgar Square. This may be due to human fallibility but it should be a learning experience which teaches climate change and other activists to check their diaries to avoid conflicts with other significant dates in the political calendar.

IMAG0603It’s hard to put a name to it but we are seeing a new movement of radical young people and the politically homeless trying to create something new. The Greens are the big beneficiaries at the moment electorally and in terms of recruitment. Their combination of anti-austerity politics and environmentalism has really caught the mood.

On a slightly partisan note, the leaflet for the Fourth International’s youth summer camp was well received. People who took it had no problem identifying themselves as environmentalists and feminists. How many of them would call themselves socialists is an interesting question for the left.

  1. “The Greens anti-austerity politics”.

    Is this the same Greens who have just voted in support of £25million austerity cuts in Brighton and joined with Labour and Tories in Brighton to condemn low-paid GMB union members for striking to combat pay cuts ?

  2. I think we should avoid phrases like “the damage that humans are doing to the climate”. I hope (and think) many of the young people on the march DON’T grasp the issue in that way, as the inevitable responses that flow from such an “analysis” are three-fold (not mutually exclusive):

    1) That the pressing need is to persuade people to alter their individual behaviour. Often this is done through moralising appeals to us as individuals. A good example is Jørgen Randers, one of the original authors of “The Limits To Growth” (

    2) A populationist strategy to reduce the number of “humans damaging the climate”.

    3) Despair at the “perversity of human nature” (especially when the response to the two “strategies” above does not come up to expectations).

    All of these demobilise the struggle against climate change.

    An ecosocialist analysis has to start from the nature of the capitalist system and its requirement for ever-expanding growth in exchange value. That is the fundamental cause of fossil-fuel-induced climate change.

    This does not mean that there is no point in fighting for partial measures to combat climate change, but it does imply that the measures need to point towards overthrowing capitalism as well, something the three responses above do not do.

  3. We as free people must not pull back from seeking the truth and consistency in any plans concerning our race, the planet and its species.
    If we look at the world, we are all sharing it as the whole, the one, and, at present, there is no other.
    The bottom line is, you cannot get off.

    It is each and everyone’s responsibility and duty to ensure that industry, Governments and corporate’s do not destroy the environment and species any more.
    There are no excuses for the wanton destruction of the planet, it’s species and habitats to date.

    You/we/I have only to look to see the massive environmental damage that big companies and governments have already created with their insatiable greed and their need for cash, control of people, energy and resources.
    The truth is they must be stopped from destroying any further.

    Alternative energy is not a fantasy, there is an inexhaustible amount of information readily available.
    Conservation of energy must also be fully realized, utilized and practiced.
    Do not be fooled into thinking bio fuels, or hydro electric dams are an answer.
    They serve no sustainable purpose, resulting once again in the destruction of habitats and the displacement of wildlife and indigenous people’s.

    As a race, we must not allow any to destroy our environment.
    We must not allow corporate, industry, or regimes to force us to be separated from interacting with our environment.

    Nuclear power is a demon seed with nuclear waste having a half life of 25,000 years.
    This means that it will still be 100% toxic to all forms of cellular life in 25,000 years time.
    Chernobyl in Ukraine and Fukushima (a curse to catch attention) in Japan have shown that no nuclear power plants are 100% safe, and once an accident happens, the species and environmental impact is both far reaching and devastating.
    Chernobyl and Fukushima must be taken as direct reasons for discontinuing the use of atomic energy,

    People must pluck the sickness of greed and corruption from their Nations
    You only get one chance, make that chance, one of a future for all People, species and planet.

    People must expose and oppose tyrants, regimes and oppressors and those who commit crimes against peace, genocide, and ecocide. Everyone is on the same Planet, we need to acknowledge that we are also on the same page in our History and Future.
    send the corrupt and unscrupulous to jail

  4. I don’t agree with PhilW on this (his comments above).

    I don’t see the problem in taking about “the damage that humans are doing to the climate”, because it is true. Nor do I see a problem in saying that people need to change their behaviour in order reduce their carbon, or indeed their ecological footprint. It is not moralising (or demobilising) to say so. It is not as important as structural changes at societal/governmental level of course but it is important because such personal choices have a very big impact on both carbon emissions and wider ecological damage.

    Even more problematic is his assertion that: “An ecosocialist analysis has to start from the nature of the capitalist system and its requirement for ever-expanding growth in exchange value.” This is true up to a point; but it is a very narrow (and inadequate) view of the ecological crisis as a whole.
    It is true that capitalism with its drive for profit and growth is the biggest single factor in the ecological crisis today—but it is part of a much bigger picture. Even if we ignore the fact that capitalism is a product of human beings ecological destruction by humans did not start with the emergence of capitalism, and, in my view, will not automatically end with its demise.

    What an ecosocialist analysis actually has to start from (in my view) is the role of modern humans in the current geological epoch. The uncomfortable fact is that modern humans are (and always have been) the most destructive species the planet has produced, and have always had a disproportionate impact on the environment and particularly on other species. Our impact on the biosphere, including species extinction, long preceded the arrival of capitalism.

    Modern humans eliminated most of the big land animals and flightless birds they came across after emerging from Africa. With colonial expansion, sailors and colonists rampaged though isolated and vulnerable species such as the dodo, the great auk and the giant tortoise. Species went from abundance to extinction in very short periods of time—particularly island populations.

    It’s true that environmental destruction (of all kinds) was greatly accelerated with the emergence of capitalism, but it was never just capitalism. Industrialisation—with or without capitalism—was (and is) also a massive challenge to the environment. As result of all this we are witnessing the greatest species extinction disaster since the demise of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

    Whilst a socialist society would create far better conditions to turn all this around it would still be a huge challenge. The absence of capitalism would not be enough. For most of the 20th century capitalism, and its drive profit, ceased to exist over a third of the globe; in the Soviet Union and China. The impact on the environment, however, was at least as damaging as it had been under capitalism.

    The reality is that environmental destruction will continue after capitalism is gone unless a sustainable alternative to it is prepared and constructed—which is far from an automatic process. This is another example of what ecosocialism is actually about. It is about the struggle not just for a socialist society, but for a sustainable socialist society, which is very different matter. One that is able to live in harmony with nature and not at its expense.

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