The danger of a great catastrophe … is imminent. All the newspapers have written about this time and again. … Resolutions … admit that a catastrophe is unavoidable, that it is very close, that extreme measures are necessary to combat it, that “heroic efforts” by the people are necessary to avert ruin, and so on.
Everybody says this. Everybody admits it. Everybody has decided it is so.
Yet nothing is being done. …
The slightest attention and thought will suffice to satisfy anyone that the ways of combating catastrophe … are available, that the measures required to combat [it] are quite clear, simple, perfectly feasible, and fully within reach of the people’s forces, and that these measures are not being adopted only because, exclusively because, their realisation would affect the fabulous profits of a handful of … capitalists.
— V. I. Lenin
V. I. Lenin wrote these words in October 1917. He was talking about the looming danger of famine in Russia. Yet with just a few small omissions, the quote describes our situation right now. Everyone knows that climate catastrophe is underway. There were solemn declarations by virtually all bourgeois politicians at the COP27 climate conference last fall. Yet nothing is being done. The necessary measures are simple — yet they would disrupt the profits of the capitalists, and thus nothing is being done.
Extinction Rebellion (XR) has blocked roads in different countries. In Germany, different activist groups engage in civil disobedience in an attempt to force the government to act: Ende Gelände has occupied coal mines; more recently, members of Letzte Generation have been supergluing themselves to the pavement and blocking traffic. Both groups have been subject to terrible repression. Letzte Generation is being investigated as a “criminal conspiracy” and has even been accused of “climate terrorism.” Astoundingly, while their tactics seem radical, their demands are moderate: they want politicians to “listen to the science,” introduce a speed limit on the autobahn, and implement other minor policies.
The main theoretician of this strategy — civil disobedience to force governments to act — is the Swedish academic Andreas Malm.1Malm is sometimes referred to as a Trotskyist because of his membership in the United Secretariat (Usec) of the Fourth International, which forms the right wing of today’s Trotskyist movement, and which takes reformist positions. His pamphlet How to Blow Up a Pipeline generated attention around the world, inspiring New York Times opinion pieces and even a feature film. A second pamphlet, Corona, Climate, Chronic Emergency, written during the Covid lockdowns, called for “war communism” and “ecological Leninism” to fight the climate emergency.
As Leninists, we love it — but Leninism means much more than what Malm is proposing.
No One Is a Pacifist
More than anything, How to Blow Up a Pipeline is brilliant clickbait. Malm does not actually write a word about how fossil fuel infrastructure could be destroyed. Instead, he is wondering why more people haven’t been doing that. As John Lancaster asked,
Is it because the people who feel strongly about climate change are simply too nice, too educated, to do anything of the sort? … Or is it that even the people who feel most strongly about climate change on some level can’t quite bring themselves to believe in it?
For much of the climate movement, pacifism is treated as an absolute. The environmentalist Bill McKibben, for example, insists that only nonviolence, in the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, and Nelson Mandela, can be effective. He wants to save the planet — but only if the movement can avoid causing the slightest damage to anyone’s property. Fridays for Future has a reputation as the best-behaved protest movement in history. Letzte Generation blocks roads in orange safety vests and reacts passively to assaults by drivers. Amusingly, this extreme pacifism has not spared them from accusations of “violence” and “terrorism” from the mouths of right-wing politicians.
In his book, Malm deconstructs the pacifist myths of bourgeois society. Capitalist politicians condemn “violence” by the oppressed while justifying enormous levels of violence by their special bodies of armed men, such as police and armies. Movements for progressive change could never avoid violent confrontations with the powers that be. Mandela, for example, might be remembered as a saintly figure who stoically accepted decades of prison. In reality, Mandela was the head of an armed organization — uMkhonto we Sizwe — that carried out bombings against the apartheid regime. Mandela’s “terrorism” was once condemned by the same governments around the world that now hold him up as a pacifist icon. The man himself once said, “I called for non-violent protest for as long as it was effective.” King, similarly, always carried a gun. For many such famous “pacifists,” nonviolence was a tactical choice in a specific situation.
Pacifism is never absolute. As an example, Malm cites the case of a Norwegian Nazi who entered a mosque with a shotgun, planning to murder as many people as possible. Three elders subdued the gunman, pinning him down and hitting him on the head. A true pacifist would reject the “violence” of bruising a Nazi’s skull. Any reasonable person, of course, would accept such a violent act as a small price to prevent mass murder. Thus, everyone makes exceptions to their pacifism. As Malm puts it, “A pacifist who makes exceptions is a just war theorist.”
Marxists have never been pacifists. But then, most people have a gut feeling that not all violence is the same — it depends on what political aim it serves, and whether it is coming from the oppressors or the oppressed. Very few object to the “violence” of the prisoners of the Buchenwald concentration camp rising up against the Nazi guards. And as Malm convincingly argues, we cannot afford to think about climate change any differently. The capitalist system is hurtling us toward the murder of every single human being. Surely, some amount of violence would be justified to prevent this outcome.
This kind of pragmatic attitude is the only alternative to climate despair. Wealthy liberals like Jonathan Franzen want us to accept that there is nothing we can do to stop the destruction of the planet. Malm is appropriately shocked at this idea
It is … easier, at least for some, to imagine learning to die than learning to fight, to reconcile oneself to the end of everything one holds dear than to consider some militant resistance.
Even if the situation is “hopeless,” it is the fight that makes us human. The actions by Nat Turner, by the Warsaw Ghetto fighters, etc., were also “hopeless.” Yet they inspire us even centuries later. As Bertolt Brecht wrote, “If all is lost, then you must fight!”
But what is the goal of all the civil disobedience and sabotage that Malm is proposing? If these are the tactics, what is the strategy?
How to Blow Up a Pipeline doesn’t really get to step 2: What is to be done after the explosives have detonated? Malm, coming from a communist background, obfuscates his sources. His pamphlet quotes the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky and the German left-wing terrorist Ulrike Meinhof, but their names are assigned to endnotes. In the text they are reduced to a “voice” warning of the danger of fascism and a “West German columnist” (!), respectively.2Malm writes, “‘Protest is when I say I don’t like this. Resistance is when I put an end to what I don’t like. Protest is when I say I refuse to go along with this anymore. Resistance is when I make sure everybody else stops going along too,’ as one West German columnist wrote in 1968.” That was actually Meinhof, founder of the Red Army Faction. In the conclusion, Malm writes, “In the early 1930s, it became more evident by the month that Germany was slipping down a slope that would end in the Nazi seizure of power. ‘How much valuable, irretrievable time has been lost! As a matter of fact, not much time is left,’ cried one of the voices that most insistently warned of the danger and urged his audiences to spare no efforts in combatting it.” That was Leon Trotsky.
Malm was clearly radicalized by the Covid pandemic, and in his next pamphlet he let the red flag wave unabashedly. The subtitle is War Communism in the Twenty-First Century, and the text is packed full of references to Lenin, Trotsky, the Bolsheviks, and revolution. Malm makes one particularly fascinating analogy. When we try to picture the warlike mobilization needed to save humanity from climate catastrophe, we often picture the U.S. War Production Board from World War II.3This is an analogy we made in Left Voice: “During WW II the U.S. economy submitted to central planning by the War Production Board (WPB). On February 22, 1942, for example, all automobile production in the United States ceased. Nearly overnight, all these industrial capacities shifted to building tanks and airplanes. Today, the private auto manufacturers say they will need decades to switch away from fossil fuels. These are decades we simply don’t have. Production needs to be radically changed immediately, under societal control.” Robert Belano and Nathaniel Flakin: “A Green New Deal Can’t Save Us. A Planned Economy Can,” Left Voice #4. But there’s a better historical example. After the Russian Revolution, the young Soviet Union was invaded by 21 imperialist armies. The Bolsheviks called for “war communism” to defend the fragile power of the working class. Brute force was used to requisition grain from the peasants, since this was the only way to supply the Red Army and the cities. There was no other option to hold back reaction and fascism. In our coming, desperate struggles to survive on a burning planet, similarly enormous sacrifices will also be needed.
Malm makes a fascinating point: Trotsky famously traveled from front to front on an armored train. That train was burning wood, that is, renewable energy. The Red Army was green!4Unfortunately, this endlessly quotable analogy doesn’t quite work, given that burning wood is not renewable: recapturing the carbon by growing new trees could take decades or centuries. But we still like this for literary reasons.
War communism unleashed the inconceivable power of a real people’s revolution, as history has repeatedly shown, from Paris in 1789 and Port-au-Prince in 1791, to Petrograd and Moscow in 1917, to Madrid and Barcelona in 1936. The Red Army won the civil war in Russia because millions of workers and peasants fought for their own liberation. They had taken over the farms, the factories, and state power — and they were willing to sacrifice everything to defend their gains. This is kind of revolutionary mobilization we need to impose radical and immediate changes to the global system of production.
Malm’s idea of “war communism” includes a series of “draconian restraints and cuts”: these include stopping deforestation, reducing emissions from transport, and expropriating the oil barons. Once fossil capital comes under the control of all society, the state could not only shut down fuel extraction but use the newly freed resources to remove carbon from the atmosphere.
Yet Malm’s “Ecological Leninism” is limited. In fact, it’s the only kind of Leninism that has earned a positive mention in Jacobin magazine, otherwise well known for its social democratic nostalgia.
Malm is using Leninism as a term for a disciplined political movement. But throughout history, lots of movements have been dedicated to a cause: the Jesuits, the Scientologists, the Imperial Japanese Army, and so on. Leninism is about discipline in the service of a specific program: the working class smashing the capitalist state and creating a workers’ government to build socialism.
Leninism and the State
Lenin’s best book was written during a brief lull during the revolution of 1917. In State and Revolution, he explained that the state is not a neutral administrator of society. Rather, the state is an instrument of one class to oppress other classes. The capitalist state defends private property of the means of production, and oppresses the working class and the poor. In this sense, even the most democratic republic is a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. Marx and Engels studied the experience of the first working-class attempt to seize political power, the Paris Commune of 1871, and concluded that the working class cannot simply take over the existing state apparatus. Instead, it must smash the bourgeois state and replace it with a proletarian state based on bodies of self-organization, such as workers’ councils. Lenin added that a workers’ state would only be half a state: a Commune-like state would be based on the immense majority of society, and its purpose would be to defend the workers’ power against the former capitalists. Therefore, it would not need much in the way of a bureaucratic apparatus. As the new socialist society developed, the workers would increasingly take over all administrative tasks themselves, and any kind state would become superfluous and wither away.5State and Revolution is an excellent book — it’s concise and not too hard to read. Check it out if you haven’t had a chance yet!
Malm agrees with Lenin in certain ways. He points out that capitalist states have shown themselves to be “constitutionally incapable” of acting in the interests of humanity to stop the climate catastrophe. Their only purpose is to make sure that the bourgeoisie can accumulate ever more capital, even if that means burning the planet and everyone on it.
Malm also rejects anarchist fantasies that state power can be abolished from one day to the next — especially in the face of an existential crisis. “It appears tautologically true,” he writes, “that an actual transition would require some coercive authority.” He quotes Lenin approvingly: “We need (for a certain transitional period) a state. This is what distinguishes us from the anarchists.”
This much should be clear to all serious socialists. The working class will have to break the power of the capitalists and all the institutions that protect them, such as the police and the prison system. The only way to do this is by force — and this systematic use of force by one class against another is exactly what we mean by a workers’ state.
Tellingly, though, Malm leaves out the following sentences from Lenin’s quote:
We need a state, but not the kind the bourgeoisie needs, with organs of government in the shape of a police force, an army and a bureaucracy (officialdom) separate from and opposed to the people. All bourgeois revolutions merely perfected this state machine, merely transferred it from the hands of one party to those of another.
The proletariat, on the other hand, if it wants to uphold the gains of the present revolution and proceed further, to win peace, bread, and freedom, must “smash,” to use Marx’s expression, this “ready-made” state machine and substitute a new one for it by merging the police force, the army and the bureaucracy with the entire armed people.
Yes, the struggle for humanity’s survival as the planet warms will require this kind of revolutionary mobilization, with billions of people organizing to destroy every last vestige of the capitalists’ power. Humanity’s entire productive apparatus must be put under democratic control to adapt to a world on fire, and to save as much as possible.
But Malm’s “Leninism” deliberately omits the idea of smashing the state. He writes,
We have just argued that the capitalist state is constitutionally incapable of taking these steps. And yet there is no other form of state on offer. No workers’ state based on soviets will miraculously be born in the night. No dual power of the democratic organs of the proletariat seems likely to materialize anytime soon, if ever. Waiting for it would be both delusional and criminal, and so all we have to work with is the dreary bourgeois state, tethered to the circuits of capital as always. There would have to be popular pressure brought to bear on it, shifting the balance of forces condensed in it, forcing apparatuses to cut the tethers and begin to move… But this would clearly be a departure from the classical programme of demolishing the state and building another — one of several elements of Leninism that seem ripe (or over ripe) for their own obituaries.
This is the theoretical equivalent of three-card monte: Malm is happy to evoke Lenin’s radical image, but he rejects “demolishing the state.” What is left over is standard-issue reformism. Malm is calling on the capitalist state to carry out “war communism” — while simultaneously admitting that this same state cannot even take minimal measures to reduce carbon omissions. He writes that a “workers’ state based on soviets” will not “be born in the night” — but no one has ever proposed this. Quite the opposite: the central thesis of Leninism is that such a state can be created only by the conscious efforts of millions and billions of workers, with their energies centralized by a revolutionary party. This is precisely what Leninists fight for!
With one turn of phrase, Malm shows his allegiance to the reformist (“Eurocommunist”) theorist Nicos Poulantzas, although this time the name is not even mentioned in the footnotes. While Marx and Engels argued that the state is a “committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie,” Poulantzas countered that the state in fact represents a “condensation of class forces.”6As Poulantzas put it, the state “is the material condensation of the relation of forces between classes and class fractions.” For a Marxist critique of Poulantzas in German, see Stefan Schneider, “Den Staat zerstören oder übernehmen?,” Klasse Gegen Klasse. In other words, for Poulantzas, the state apparatus represents a site of struggle between the different classes, and the working class can shift the balance of power inside the state and ultimately take it over. This is, at the end of the day, just an unnecessarily verbose expression of the old reformist theory that the working class can win power inside the bourgeois state.
This position on the state is what unites the “Leninist” theoretician Malm with decidedly nonsocialist activist movements like XR, Ende Gelände, and Letzte Generation. They all aim to use civil disobedience to force the state to implement emergency measures against the climate catastrophe. Malm understands that this is impossible — and argues that there is no alternative. In other words, our only hope is something that history and theory have shown to be completely impossible. At the end of the day, this is just a “socialist” version of the climate despair advocated by Franzen.
Liberals with Bombs
As Trotsky pointed out, the energy that the working class needs to force the bourgeoisie to implement a policy in workers’ interests is actually far greater than what would be necessary to conquer political power.7Writing on 1848, Trotsky noted of the bourgeoisie, “To compel these deserters to fulfill their obligations would have required on the part of the proletariat not less energy and maturity than would have been necessary for the setting up of a provisional workers’ government.” Malm says there is no time for the working class to destroy the bourgeois state and build socialism. We would argue the exact opposite: there is no time to let the capitalist states continue to add fuel to the fire while we invest our efforts in small-scale sabotage and illusory hopes that a bourgeois government will somehow serve our ends.
Toward the end of his discussion on “war communism,” Malm expresses greater support for social democrats than for Leninists:
Nothing could have been better for the planet than Jeremy Corbyn becoming the prime minister of the UK in 2019 and Bernie Sanders winning the presidency of the U.S. in 2020.
He similarly praises the Brazilian government of Lula. It’s not exactly clear that Malm thinks such reformist governments will save humanity — rather, he hopes that such a government, under the pressure of mobilizations, “would have to go beyond itself” and abolish capitalism. Lula is now in his third term as leader of Brazil while the destruction of the Amazon continues. The hope that such a bourgeois government, under the pressures of mobilizations, would suddenly take anti-capitalist measures, is precisely what led Malm and his cothinkers in the USec to support Syriza and Podemos. Instead of socialism, all the working class got were betrayals and demoralization.
The “Leninist” Malm thus places his hopes in the very same social democratic politicians that Jacobin magazine holds up. For Malm, the eventual aim of direct action is to elect reformist governments that will finally get serious about reducing carbon emissions. This confirms something Lenin pointed out more than a century ago: more often than not, “revolutionaries” like Malm calling for “propaganda of the deed” are nothing but “liberals with bombs.”
Writing in Jacobin, Chris Maisano has a pithy response to Malm: “Don’t Blow Up a Pipeline.” He argues quite convincingly that if your goal is to get a bourgeois government to implement some kind of Green New Deal, then you need to stick to bourgeois tactics, such as backing left-wing candidates in primary elections and lobbying members of Congress. Social democratic ends require social democratic means — and spectacular acts of sabotage would only get in the way.
There is something nefarious about Malm’s plan to have the capitalist state implement war communism. In 1918–21 in Russia, workers were called on to make unimaginable sacrifices to defend the power they had won. Malm is calling for similar sacrifices — but without the power.
When Malm calls for “draconian restraints and cuts,” while simultaneously keeping the capitalist state in place, this can only mean attacks on workers’ living standards while the capitalists’ profits are safeguarded. In fact, this is essentially what bourgeois governments are already engaged in: “green” austerity will mean that the rich can keep their private jets in the air around the clock, while the poor are told to give up flying in the name of “climate protection.”
This kind of austerity has nothing to do with war communism. In fact, it is closer to the policies of the German Empire during World War I. Under the dictatorship of the Kriegsamt (war agency), there was indeed a mobilization of all of society: the masses were forced to cower in trenches at the front, work long hours in munitions factories, and stand in line to get rationed turnips. Children died like flies from epidemics. Yet while bourgeois politicians called for a shared national sacrifice, speculators were drinking champagne and making record profits. Some of the most right-wing voices in the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) believed this state management of the economy was a step toward socialism. They called it Kriegssozialismus, or “war socialism.” Looking back, we can clearly see that the capitalist state’s temporary control of the economy enabled only greater barbarism.
It seems as if Malm, with his defense of the capitalist state, is actually much closer to Kriegssozialismus than to “war communism.”
What Is Climate Leninism?
“Ecological Leninism,” as formulated by Malm, is surprisingly moderate. His two books lack an anti-capitalist perspective. Rather, he thinks climate action can come about if enough people engage in sabotage. Specific examples he mentions are letting air out of the tire of SUVs8To be fair, this action was carried out back in 2007 in Sweden, when SUVs were used only by the wealthy. Today in the United States, SUVs are so widespread that any sabotage would primarily affect the working class. or temporarily occupying coal plants. More recently, activists have deliberately been targeting big capitalists, such as when they sprayed orange paint on the megayacht of one of their heirs of Walmart. Whatever one thinks of such actions — or even of blowing up a pipeline — they are simply not enough. Even if the climate movement managed to blow up a pipeline every single day, fossil capital’s fire machine would keep on chugging.
A reformist like Jacobin’s Chris Maisano says, This is why we need political power! True. But Maisano assumes that having a Corbyn, Sanders, or Lula in charge of the bourgeois state means that the working class is in power. Malm, despite advocating more radical tactics, would seem to agree. The problem is that even if a sincere reformist gets into the prime minister’s chair, the capitalist state remains “constitutionally incapable” of addressing the catastrophe at hand.
What does “Ecological Leninism” entail? Malm offers a three-point definition: (1) “turning the crises of symptoms into crises of the causes,” that is, using the catastrophes caused by capitalism as an opportunity for change; (2) “speed as paramount virtue”; (3) “leap[ing] at any opportunity to wrest the state in this direction, break with business-as-usual as sharply as required and subject the regions of the economy working toward catastrophe to direct public control.”
None of this is wrong, exactly. But Malm’s Leninism sounds more or less like social democratic reformism — just on a much quicker timeline. This is actually the Max Power way: “the wrong way, but faster.” Rosa Luxemburg, in contrast, pointed out that reform and revolution are two opposing programs:
People who pronounce themselves in favour of the method of legislative reform in place and in contradistinction to the conquest of political power and social revolution, do not really choose a more tranquil, calmer and slower road to the same goal, but a different goal. Instead of taking a stand for the establishment of a new society they take a stand for surface modifications of the old society.
With that in mind, let’s look at five additional ideas that make up true Climate Leninism:
1. The Centrality of the Working Class
We need to radically transform the entire global economy. But what social subject can possibly hope to change everything? Activists hiding underground for months as they plan to blow up individual pipelines will never have the power of the masses. Leninism recognizes that the working class — the people who sell their labor power and keep capitalism running — are the people who can lead the struggle for a different society. The proletariat can unite all oppressed and exploited people in an alliance to crush the bourgeoisie.
More than a few climate activists will reject the working class as a subject of radical transformation. (“That is just a Marxist dogma from 150 years ago!”) They point to concrete experiences of the climate movement in Germany, where the union representing coal miners has been the most vicious opponent of even minimal climate action. Similarly, the metalworkers union has defended its members’ jobs in the car industry, seemingly uninterested that such jobs will be destroyed by climate change, along with the rest of civilization.
This just proves that without organization, the working class can’t realize its potential. At the moment, most workers’ organizations are run by millionaire bureaucrats. These bureaucrats get their privileges by making deals with the capitalists. It is only when workers fight to become an independent political subject that they reveal their power to change the world. We have a concrete example of this from the oil workers at the Total refinery in Grandpuits, France. They were told they were going to be fired as part of a “greenwashing” campaign by the multinational corporation. In response, they organized rank-and-file assemblies. They did not fight to keep refining oil and thus burning the planet — nor did they accept being thrown out onto the street in the name of “green capitalism.” They united with climate activists and fought for their jobs, as well as for the transformation of the energy sector under workers’ control. Imagine that: oil workers fighting for clean energy! This is possible thanks to the “magic” of self-organization and socialist ideas.
The refinery in Grandpuits is just a tiny example. But there are other examples of workers who occupy their workplaces and realize they can restructure production in the interests of everyone. These examples show how the world could be run in a totally different way — not to maximize profits for a handful of billionaire parasites, but to meet the needs of all people. Leninism shows that the working class, led by a revolutionary party, can transform the world.
2. Revolution to Smash the Bourgeois State
Malm argues correctly that the capitalist state is “constitutionally incapable” of addressing the climate catastrophe. As we argued above, Lenin showed how workers can destroy the capitalist state. This is possible on the foundation of working-class self-organization, such as workers’ councils, which tend to appear in every revolutionary process. Revolutionaries today need to fight the union bureaucracies and the social movements, and push for self-organization.
3. A Revolutionary Party
Leninism also understands that the working class can accomplish its historical mission only through decisive action. This requires a party made up of the most conscious and determined fighters of the working class — a vanguard party. Such a party could run in elections, but its center of gravity would be in the class struggle. Leninism seeks to build a party of combat.
4. A Press as a Scaffolding
Leninism showed that the scaffolding for building up a revolutionary party is a revolutionary press. Workers need to create their own media in order to share their experiences of struggle and draw the lessons from them. A century ago, this meant a newspaper. Today, revolutionary media need to use all the technical possibilities.
Leninism understood that no socialist transformation can take place in a single country. In times of climate catastrophe, Stalinist ideas about “socialism in one country” are even more preposterous than ever. Malm assumes that all capitalist nation-states will remain in place indefinitely. Lenin, in contrast, saw the Russian Revolution as merely a first step toward founding a socialist world republic. This is why Leninism organizes internationally.
Climate Leninism, in short, calls for nothing less than the complete destruction of every bourgeois state. It’s not easy. But it’s the only realistic option we have to stop the catastrophe. That’s why we are fighting to build a working-class party for socialism.
Leninism against Despair
The last few years have seen a certain demoralization of the climate movement. It’s been a few years since Fridays for Future mobilized millions of young people around the world. They were hoping that capitalist politicians, moved by the desperate cries of the youth, would finally listen to the science. But governments continue to do nothing. For anyone who believes these governments are democratic, this is almost incomprehensible — and, thus, it’s easy to despair.
The key is to understand that these are the leaders of capitalist states. Their only duty is to make sure that their capitalists increase their capital and outcompete other capitalists. If the planet burns in the process, that’s not really their problem. That is why they keep building cars and freeways and coal plants. It’s not that they don’t believe the science — in fact, they probably get better science briefings than we do. The problem is that the emergency measures we need to address the crisis require “despotic inroads on the rights of property,” in the words of Marx and Engels. No capitalist state can do that. And no amount of civil disobedience can or will change that.
But once we understand that capitalist states are the enemy, we realize that they can and must be destroyed by the working class. We see that the world contains billions of workers who could put the machines of fossil capital to a sudden halt. To quote Brecht again, “If you have understood your situation, how will anyone be able to stop you?” This is where strategy comes in — Leninism gives us theoretical tools to organize the struggle against capitalism.
In 1917, in the pamphlet quoted at the beginning, Lenin closed by calling for a “thorough and consistent break with the capitalists.” He argued that the only hope lay in socialist revolution:
Perish or forge full steam ahead [toward revolution]. That is the alternative put by history.
Either we smash the capitalist state or we all burn — this is the alternative.
|↑1||Malm is sometimes referred to as a Trotskyist because of his membership in the United Secretariat (Usec) of the Fourth International, which forms the right wing of today’s Trotskyist movement, and which takes reformist positions.|
|↑2||Malm writes, “‘Protest is when I say I don’t like this. Resistance is when I put an end to what I don’t like. Protest is when I say I refuse to go along with this anymore. Resistance is when I make sure everybody else stops going along too,’ as one West German columnist wrote in 1968.” That was actually Meinhof, founder of the Red Army Faction. In the conclusion, Malm writes, “In the early 1930s, it became more evident by the month that Germany was slipping down a slope that would end in the Nazi seizure of power. ‘How much valuable, irretrievable time has been lost! As a matter of fact, not much time is left,’ cried one of the voices that most insistently warned of the danger and urged his audiences to spare no efforts in combatting it.” That was Leon Trotsky.|
|↑3||This is an analogy we made in Left Voice: “During WW II the U.S. economy submitted to central planning by the War Production Board (WPB). On February 22, 1942, for example, all automobile production in the United States ceased. Nearly overnight, all these industrial capacities shifted to building tanks and airplanes. Today, the private auto manufacturers say they will need decades to switch away from fossil fuels. These are decades we simply don’t have. Production needs to be radically changed immediately, under societal control.” Robert Belano and Nathaniel Flakin: “A Green New Deal Can’t Save Us. A Planned Economy Can,” Left Voice #4.|
|↑4||Unfortunately, this endlessly quotable analogy doesn’t quite work, given that burning wood is not renewable: recapturing the carbon by growing new trees could take decades or centuries. But we still like this for literary reasons.|
|↑5||State and Revolution is an excellent book — it’s concise and not too hard to read. Check it out if you haven’t had a chance yet!|
|↑6||As Poulantzas put it, the state “is the material condensation of the relation of forces between classes and class fractions.” For a Marxist critique of Poulantzas in German, see Stefan Schneider, “Den Staat zerstören oder übernehmen?,” Klasse Gegen Klasse.|
|↑7||Writing on 1848, Trotsky noted of the bourgeoisie, “To compel these deserters to fulfill their obligations would have required on the part of the proletariat not less energy and maturity than would have been necessary for the setting up of a provisional workers’ government.”|
|↑8||To be fair, this action was carried out back in 2007 in Sweden, when SUVs were used only by the wealthy. Today in the United States, SUVs are so widespread that any sabotage would primarily affect the working class.|