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Militant mass action can change the system

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Issue 2650
Extinction Rebellion and the school strikes have brought a taste of militancy back to British politics
Extinction Rebellion and the school strikes have brought a taste of militancy back to British politics (Pic: Guy Smallman)

The Extinction Rebellion (XR) revolt this week is inspiring. Crucially, like the school students’ climate strikes, it has seen a move from words to action.

It was no small matter to hold the streets of London and force wide discussion about crucial climate issues.

We need much more of this sort of initiative, organisation and vision. The present timidity and obsession with parliament by trade union leaders and much of the Labour Party is not enough.

Nothing significant changes without active resistance.

As the great black fighter against slavery Frederick Douglass wrote, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. 

“Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them.

“And these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both.”

Socialist Worker stands with all those arrested and applauds their courage.

The XR organisers rightly stressed the role of people who did not want to be arrested. But there is a danger that the movement can be divided between the most committed and their supporters.

Seeking to be arrested leaves the initiative with the state to decide how to deal with a movement.


Ben Smoke, one of the Stansted 15 defendants, wrote this week that he has no regrets about blocking a deportation flight.

But he said the trial “saw an unfathomable amount of resources, from across the movement poured into helping us fight our case”.

“A movement, particularly one seeking to change society as we know it, should not be a coterie of privileged activists who can afford the expense and time of getting arrested,” he warns.

Effective action also means bringing together the battle over the climate with other concerns.

People face austerity, racism, the far right and a future for their children that is imperilled by poverty as well as climate change.

A popular slogan of the Yellow Vests movement in France is, “End of the world, end of the week, same struggle”. It sums up the need to bring together the fight for action over climate chaos with the battle people face to make their monthly income last.

Winning requires more of the militancy we saw this week, but it also has to constantly involve a search for mass action involving millions of people.

Behind all of our problems lies capitalism, a system of class rule which endangers the planet through the search for profits.

We need to tear down a system where 100 companies have been the source of more than 70 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions since 1988. We need rebellion—and revolution.

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