Friday, October 6, 2017

2718. Reformism or Radicalism: Which Strategy for the Climate Justice Movement?

By Kamran Nayeri, October 6, 2017
People's Climate March, Washington D.C., April 29, 2017. Photo: Mark Theiler/Reuter.

1. Introduction
There is no question that the anthropogenic climate crisis is unfolding within the globalized capitalist system.  A central question is whether it is anthropogenic in the sense of “human actions” as if separate from the laws of motion of the capitalist system or it is actually the result of the anthropocentric industrial capitalist civilization regulated by the dynamics of capital accumulation.  The answer to this key question is essential for deciding what strategy to follow in the climate justice movement. Could we hope to work within the capitalist system and its institutions to stop and reverse the climate crisis or should we build a massive grassroots movement independent of the capitalist system and its institutions that work for reforms in the direction of transcending it?  Let’s call these two points of view respectively as the reformist and the radical strategies for the climate justice movement. 

There is no doubt that the mainstream currents in the climate justice movement subscribe to the reformist approach. Even when they organize and mobilize to protest the climate crisis, their goal is to support or foster policies that rely on the capitalist market forces and/or the capitalist state and institutions.  The radicals have questioned this reformist strategy (recent examples include Smith, 2016 and 2017; Nayeri, 2014, 2016A, and 2016B) and asked for a democratic discussion on such key questions of strategy.  However, the mainstream currents that dominate the movement have ignored their radical allies.  But what if the reformist strategy is based on a false premise and the crisis is existential as the scientific community suggests?  It is entirely legitimate, in fact necessary, to revisit these questions. 

In section 2, I will note two recent arguments in favor of the reformist strategy and show why they are wrong.  In section 3, I briefly will recount why the climate crisis is rooted in the anthropocentric industrial capitalist civilization.  In section 4, I will argue that the modern labor and socialist movements originated to challenge the industrial capitalist system and as such, they are a natural ally of the ecological movement but the rise of reformism in these movements have undercut their unity and effectiveness.  I will outline the two main causes of reformism: the rise of labor aristocracy and labor bureaucracy in the industrial capitalist countries, giving birth to reformist Social Democratic parties, and the rise of a bureaucratic caste, called Stalinism, in Soviet Russia in the 1920s, and expansion of its class collaborationist policies throughout the world. In section 5,  I will conclude with a summary and some policy implications of the results from the earlier sections. As the reader can verify, I am not presenting either an ideological argument or an uncritical view of the history and potentials of the labor and socialist movements.  Still, my argument is that to confront the social and planetary crisis, we must transcend the anthropocentric industrial capitalist civilization.  I still believe that the only potentially capable social agency for this transformation are the working people. At the same time, neither theory nor history has shown that they are either incapable of it or it is impossible for them to take on this challenge.  I hope my discussion would encourage others who have thought through some of these same issues to share their insight and that we can collectively emerge more enlightened, united, and effective in our common work to face the challenges of our time.

2. Some recent versions of the reformist thesis
The reformist point of view is not always presented as such.  Let me cite two recent examples. In the second panel of the Activists, Artists, and Academics Building Just Climate Futures Together, a web-based conference organized by Professor John Foran and his colleagues at the University of California, Santa Barbara, on August 18 a speaker, Tom Athanasiou, co-director of EcoEquity, introduced a comment to the discussion. In essence, he asserted that “[w]e don’t, as a matter of carbon budgets and rising impacts – as a matter of science – have time to get past capitalism….” But he stresses “… the need for a governance system that is capable of rational long-term planning and, at the same time, and economy that is fair enough to actually be, well, steerable” to mitigate catastrophic climate change. (The entire comment is available from the link above).  

On August 24, Bill Henderson, a Canadian climate justice activist, added a comment to a discussion thread on System Change not Climate Change listserv that ended with this:

“The political task is to recognize what is and what is not possible in our present politics and that system change, systemic change is now necessary. Ezra Silk [of The Climate Mobilization] and I would advocate for a wartime-style emergency government so that just as back in WW2 the general economy was stabilized but proceeded, but huge sectors were radically changed in tune with the war effort. What's more possible: a successful revolution against capitalism or possible emergency government where emission reduction of a scale needed was possible?” (Emphasis added)

There are a number of problems with these assertions.  Both Athanasiou and Henderson present their reformist point of view as one of expediency.  To do so, they falsely imply that the radical strategy is to complete a socialist revolution in order to deal with the climate crisis.  But the difference between the two strategies is not over fighting for reforms as I will discuss in some detail later.  The difference is in radical’s claim that climate crisis is systemic and working for reforms must be part of the strategy to empower working people to transcend the anthropocentric industrial capitalist civilization (see, for example, Nayeri 2017C). Athanasiou’s own precondition for effective climate mitigation policy, that is, a “governance system that is capable of rational long-term planning” and “a steerable economy” would require major inroad into the capitalist system in the direction of (ecological) socialism attainable only with independent mass education, organization and mobilization of working people.  Thus, either he is arguing for an anti-capitalist strategy which would conflict with his dismissals of the radical strategy or he hopes to reform capitalism to get “rational, long-term planning” and “a steerable economy.” From the historical experience of the bureaucratic command economies in the twentieth century, we know full well that only a democratic, largely decentralized planned economy run by the working people themselves can hope to overcome the existential crisis. That is consistent with ecological socialism but not with capitalism of any variety. 

Likewise, Henderson misunderstands the capitalist nature of Roosevelt’s mobilization for the World War II  which was an imperialist war for redivision of the world between contending capitalist powers and the destruction of the gains of the October 1917 socialist revolution in Russia.  He wishfully thinks the U.S. imperialist government will willingly and forcefully mobilize as Roosevelt did in WWII, to radically restructure, downsize and repurpose the U..S. economy.  The United States capitalist class won the WWII to inaugurate the American Century and bring about two and half decades of unfettered capitalist growth.  Today, scientists that study the planetary crisis identify this period as the Great Acceleration with climate crisis being one of its effects (more on this later).  Also, I urge Henderson to visit the Wikipedia entry chronology of the United States at war.  Mobilizing for war has been the second nature of the U.S. colonial-settler regime since its very beginning. Alas, Henderson will never find even one instance when this mobilization was for the benefit of the humanity. 

Of course, Henderson, as implied by his reference to Ezra Silk who authored the Victory Plan for The Climate Mobilization, has in mind something entirely different.  The TCM plan calls for very rapid phasing out of fossil fuels and establishing clean renewable energy sources.  The existing transportation system would be phased out in favor of mass transportation and railways running on clean energy sources. It calls for a transformation of industrial agriculture in favor agroecology and a plant-based diet. Other campaigns that are proposed include “overhauling the built environment,” launching a global forestry management program to stop deforestation and start reforestation, “mobilizing the Department of Defense to fight the climate crisis,” and a research and development program to study and implement near-term climate cooling approaches. The action plan also supports E. O. Wilson’s proposal to set aside vast parts of the land mass and oceans as protected nature reserves currently deemed by scientists as ecologically intact and crucial to stop the sixth mass species extinction.  Clearly, such a massive and rapid transformation in the U.S. economy cannot take place without mass education, organization, and mobilization of tens of millions of working people independent of the entrenched interest of the capitalist elite and their government and political parties. But that is the catch. Neither Henderson nor Silk and the TCM envision a break with capitalism. 

3. Root-causes of the climate crisis
To be a radical means to strive to get to the root-causes of the problem.   A hallmark of the reformist current is to isolate climate change from its socioeconomic, cultural, and political context and seek technological solutions.  Bill Mckibben, the founder of, who is the mainstream poster child of the climate justice movement, exemplifies the reformist approach.  In an interview with an Australian website (Mitchel, 2016), McKibben candidly explained that he “spent a lot of years getting it wrong…I thought we were engaged in an argument” with the fossil fuel industry. “We waited far too long to realise what a fight it was, and that there was an adversary on the other side.” But McKibben is still “getting it wrong.” Now, he thinks that politicians are “pawns” in the hands of the fossil fuel industry and he has decided to go after the “real bosses” by opening the eyes of the politicians (Nayeri, 2016A). McKibben has shown no willingness to consider any relationship between the climate crisis and the anthropocentric industrial capitalist system.  Consistent with his reformist outlook he has endorsed Mark Z. Jacobson’s technological “solution” for the United States that promises a post-carbon economy by the mid-century and presumably he would hope the same would be true for other major polluters in the world. 

But we know that climate change is only one facet of the planetary crisis (see, for example, Rockström,, 2009, updated in Steffen,, 2015A).  Let’s list what Rockström and his colleague have called “planetary boundaries,” boundaries beyond which humanity would not be safe and some of which have already been crossed and we know two of them, the climate crisis and the Sixth Extinction, are existential threats to humanity and much of life on Earth. 

1. Climate change
2. Change in biosphere integrity (the Sixth Extinction)
3. Stratospheric ozone depletion
4. Ocean acidification
5. Biogeochemical flows (phosphorus and nitrogen cycles)
6. Land-system change (for example deforestation)
7. Freshwater use
8. Atmospheric aerosol loading (microscopic particles in the atmosphere that affect climate and living organisms)
9. Introduction of novel entities (e.g., organic pollutants, radioactive materials, nanomaterials, and micro-plastics).

The question presents itself: what has caused the planetary crisis? 

Almost a year ago, the Anthropocene Working Group of the International Union of Geological Sciences that met in South Africa proposed that the Anthropocene (The Age of Man) be declared as a new geological epoch, marking the end of the Holocene which had begun about 11,700 years ago (Carrington, The Guardian, August 29, 2016).  Stratigraphers who study geological strata define each geological epoch on the basis of its particular deposits in the rock formation. Consideration of the Anthropocene is motivated by the anthropocentric industrial capitalism’s unleashing of forces of production and destruction so powerful that literary it has been changing the Earth systems.  Thus, the inauguration of the Atomic Age with the U.S. bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, 1945, has added radioactive deposits in rock formations that are a marker for the Anthropocene.  Steffen and his colleagues (2015B) have provided socioeconomic and Earth systems trend data dating from 1750 to the present that shows the correlation of the latter with the former.  For each of the “planetary boundaries” cited by Rockström and his colleagues, including climate crisis and the Sixth Extinction, we can trace the cause back to the anthropocentric industrial capitalism.  Malm (2016) has shown in great detail, how the English industrialization’s switch to coal from traditional sources of power, notably water mills, was not because it was cheaper or more abundant, but because it offered a superior form of control over workers and the production process. Thatis, it was motivated by the capitalist social relations.  Ultimately, fossil fuel use was generalized and tied to the ever-expanding scope and ever-faster pace of production as they created the climate crisis we face today (for a discussion of the capitalist roots of the Sixth Extinction, see Nayeri, 2017B).

Add to these the threat of nuclear holocaust, which is so real that mainstream politicians are debating it in mass media. The entire nuclear industry evolved out of the imperialist rivalry that brought us World War II.  The current face-off between the Trump administration and North Korea must be placed in this historical context.  Korea that was occupied by Japan since 1910 experienced a revolution led by pro-Soviet Union Kim Il-Sung when the Japanese empire collapse after its defeat in September 1945. But pro-capitalist forces led by Syngman Rhee mobilized in the south to face off Kim Il-Sung forces. By summer of 1950, Kim Il-Sung forces were on the verge of victory when the United States using the fig leaf of the newly created United Nations directly entered the war soon backed by the British forces.  Thus began the “Korean War” which ended in stalemate in 1953. No peace accord was ever signed.  At least 2.5 million Koreans were killed in the war.  The United States has maintained a military force in South Korea and a “regime change” policy toward the North Korea ever since.  Since 1958, the United States has placed nuclear weapons aimed at the North in South Korea. Today, North Korea (which the U.S. claims to have produced some 30 nuclear bombs) faces the U.S. imperialism that has over 9,600 nuclear weapons.  To paint the North Koreans as warmongers and a threat to the world peace is to be blind to this history and to forget that it is the U.S. who currently is engaged in war in seven countries far away from its borders.  The nuclear threat is very real but the danger comes from Washington, not Pyongyang. The North has offered a number of times to discontinue its nuclear program if the U.S. pulls out of South Korea and sign a peace treaty. 

Could the climate justice movement ignore these confluences of existential threats to the humanity rooted in the anthropocentric industrial capitalist civilization, led by the United States imperialism? 

Yet both and The Climate Mobilization work within the American two-party system and both ended up supporting Hillary Clinton, a war-monger and the favorite candidate of the Wall Street and Silicon Valley, in the 2016 elections. McKibben, who was a Sanders supporter, ended up going on a three-week national tour urging a vote for Clinton (I attended his talk at the Sonoma State University in California).  The decision to turn and TMC into a part of Clinton electoral machinery was taken by their top leadership and not discussed among their supporters.  That belies the non-partisan and democratic appearance of these organizations as climate justice coalitions that invite people regardless of party affiliations to be a part of their work and influence policy decisions. It lies outside the scope of this essay to examine other similar climate justice groups, but there are many that more or less think and act the same.

As Marx and Engels (1848), the founders of the modern socialist movement, pointed out long ago: “The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.” And as Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Party leader responded to a question from a student at a town hall meeting last January, “I thank you for your question. But I have to say, we’re capitalist and that’s just the way it is.” But what is capitalism if not a mode of production driven by a quest for higher profits and an insatiable thirst for the accumulation of capital by the commodification of all that exists through the exploitation of working people on the global scale?  

Even mainstream economics accepts that capitalism inherently has a drive to pollute, something it calls “(negative) externalities,” that is, externalizing production costs as social costs, such as the production of fossil fuels and releasing greenhouse gases.  Mainstream economics also admits to the so-called the “free rider problem” in climate change mitigation policies under capitalism (see, Nordhaus, 2015).  Individuals, firms, and capitalist states have little incentive to stop polluting if that entails bearing an economic cost and as long as they do not have to pay for their externalized costs (for a critique of mainstream economics in relation to the ecological crisis, see, Smith, 2016; Foster, 2009; for a general critique of economics as a framework for social and ecological policy, see, Nayeri, 2013A). That is one reason it took almost a quarter of a century for the world governments to sign the non-binding Paris Agreement that in McKibben’s words is good for the climate crisis in 1995, but not in for the one we faced in 2015.

4. Reformism in American politics
We are in the fifth decade of the capitalist offensive to restore profitability in the U.S.  Globalization and neoliberal policies have contributed to and framed the unrelenting attacks on the working people and the expanded the scope and ferocity of the capitalist expropriation of wealth from nature, therefore the planetary crisis.  Because of the entrenched reformism in the labor, social justice, and ecological movements, we have seen no sustained resistance against this offensive but merely more pitiful attempts to reform the system by working within the framework of the two-party political set up which has further diminished the effective power of these movements.  Meanwhile, the bourgeois politics of the two-party system consistently has moved to the right.  Just one example suffice: The Environmental Protection Agency was established under Nixon's presidency and is being gutted out under Trump's. 

The balance sheet of reformism in the U.S. demonstrates its utter failure. The U.S. labor movement has been under corporate and government assault since the 1970s.  With few important exception of strikes and fightback which have been all defeated largely due to class collaborationism of the union bureaucracy, union official everywhere have championed a giveback strategy to urge workers to support “their company,”  “their industry,” and “their economy,” a reformist strategy that by-and-large has been accepted the bulk of the working class.  The result is that the union membership in the U.S. now stands at 10.7%, the lowest in 75 years (Bureau of Labor Statistics, Union Membership Summary, 2016, accessed Sep. 10, 2017), wages have stagnated, working conditions have deteriorated, and standard of living declined. A lower section of the employed U.S. working class is paid below its level of subsistence forcing some to live off the food banks, become homeless, etc (That is why we have a "living wage movement"). The same decline due to reformist policies is evident in other segments of the social justice and ecology movements.  Forty-four years after Roe Vs. Wade Supreme Court decision, more than 87% of the U.S. counties lack a clinic and nationwide abortion clinics have been closing with no viable fightback in sight.  Fifty-four years after Martin Luther King’s led march on Washington D.C., blacks, in particular, black men, are murdered routinely and with impunity by the racist police forces around the country. The antiwar movement is largely extinguished while U.S. imperialism is waging war in seven largely devastated countries, including the longest war in American history against one of the poorest nations on the planet, Afghanistan (Afghan people have been subject to the Russian and American imposed wars since 1975).  Today, as “pre-emptive” attack by the United States against North Korea is being discussed, threatening the world with a nuclear war, the anti-nuclear and anti-war movements are incapable of organizing a mass resistance in the streets. The ecological movement, while having won some battles, has been powerless in dealing with the planetary crisis, including the existential threats of the climate crisis and the Sixth Extinction.

Correspondingly, the socialist movement in the U.S has declined.  In this case, the world political situation, especially the collapse of and capitalist restoration in the Soviet bloc and capitalist reorientation of China and Vietnam, have demoralized large sections of the Left that harbored illusions in the “Actually Existing Socialisms.” I will get back to these issues later in this section. 

For now, I like to draw the attention of the reader to a central fact. The labor and socialist movements have not always been reformist and in crisis and decline. The historian of socialism, Paul Le Blanc, quotes a summary of Christopher Lasch’s research on the Socialist Party of the revolutionary working class leader Eugene V. Debs which illustrates this fact. In the years immediately preceding the First World War when the U.S. was about 99 million in 1914: 

“At its numerical peak in 1912, the party had 118,000 members well distributed throughout the country. It claimed 323 English- and foreign-language publications with a total circulation probably in excess of two million. The largest of the Socialist newspapers, The Appeal to Reason, of Girard, Kansas, had a weekly circulation of 761,747. In 1912, the year Eugene V. Debs polled six percent of the presidential vote, Socialists held 1,200 offices in 340 cities, including 79 mayors in 24 states. As late as 1918, they elected 32 state legislators. In 1916, they elected Meyer London [from New York City] to Congress and made important gains in the municipal elections of several large cities. [Victor Berger from the Socialist stronghold of Milwaukee was also elected to Congress during this period.]” (Le Blanc, 2016, Page 37) 

The rise of the Congress of Industrial Workers (CIO) at the tail end of the Great Depression also demonstrates the potential power of the U.S. working class. 

"The birth of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) ushered in a period of labor militancy that transformed the American labor movement.
"For a 10-year period, between 1936 and 1946, the struggles of U.S. workers were among the most dynamic of any industrially advanced countries.
"The explosive nature of this growth in labor action can be seen in the number of strikes. Between 1923-32, there were 9,658 strikes involving 3,952,000 workers. Between 1936-45, there were 35,519 strikes involving 15,856,000 strikers." (Roberts, 2011)
As Sharon Smith (2002) outlines, the 1930s proved to be a turning point in the U.S. labor movement, with the CIO playing a central role.  

The question of what factors explain the specific trajectory of the U.S. labor and socialist movements in the U.S. has been studied by scholars and activists but lies outside of the scope of this essay.  For the present purpose, the question is how and why reformism actually emerged and found roots among the working people and their mass organizations.

The ideological and social roots of reformism
The ideological roots of reformism are in social alienation, that is when working people willingly give up our own power to the capitalist class and its institutions that subordinate, oppress, and exploit us.  Social alienation undermines our ability to independently confront the social and ecological crisis of our time; instead, we rely on the capitalist class and its institutions to solve such problems for us.  Given the unevenness of the process of development of working-class consciousness, the vanguard layers of the working people often find ourselves desiring to fightback but constrained by the seeming powerless of our class, the working class, still chained to the ideology of the capitalist class. This condition of isolation of the vanguard makes some of us fall back on the notion of working within capitalism instead of working for a radical break with it in the direction of an ecological socialist revolution. Examples of reformism I gave in the above section are also examples of social alienation.  But ultra-left sectarians also reflect the same problem of isolation of the vanguard; except they try to substitute themselves for the working class by resorting to all kind of "vanguard" or "direct" actions, instead of patiently explaining, educating, organizing, and mobilizing the class. 

Reformism in the labor and socialist movements is a problem dating back to the latter part of the nineteenth century.  Marx and Engels who lived the latter part of their lives in England wrote about the rise of the English labor aristocracy which complicated their own theory of the proletariat and socialist revolution (for a sample of their views see here). In the 1885 preface to the American edition of the Condition of the Working Class in England (1845), Engels wrote about “[t]he engineers, the carpenters, and joiners, the bricklayers” whose conditions have improved remarkably in the intervening four decades. 
They form an aristocracy among the working class; they have succeeded in enforcing for themselves a relatively comfortable position, and they accept it as final. They are the model working men of Messrs. Leone Levi & Giffen (and also the worthy Lujo Brentano), and they are very nice people indeed nowadays to deal with, for any sensible capitalist in particular and for the whole capitalist class in general.” 
But the British international economic, political, and military hegemony in the latter part of the nineteenth century also ensured that much of the working class materially benefitted from the spoils of the empire:
“The truth is this: during the period of England’s industrial monopoly the English working class have, to a certain extent, shared in the benefits of the monopoly. These benefits were very unequally parceled out amongst them; the privileged minority pocketed most, but even the great mass had, at least, a temporary share now and then. And that is the reason why, since the dying-out of Owenism, there has been no Socialism in England.”

In 1893 Engels criticized the reformist “socialist” Fabians in the following words:
“The Fabians here in London are a brand of careerists, who have sufficient sense to be able to foresee the inevitability of the social upheaval, but who nevertheless find it impossible to entrust this gigantic work to the raw proletariat and are therefore disposed to place themselves at its head. Fear of the revolution is their fundamental principle ... their tactic: not to combat the liberals resolutely as opponents but to impel them forward to socialist conclusions; ergo, to maneuver with them, to permeate liberalism with socialism ... These people naturally have a large bourgeois following and therefore, money …. It is a critical period for the movement here ... For a moment it was close to landing .... under Champion’s wings ... the latter works, consciously or unconsciously, just as much for the Tories, as the Fabians do for the Liberals. But ... socialism has penetrated the masses in the industrial regions enormously of late, and I count upon the masses holding their leaders in check.” (cited in Zinoviev, 1916)
The Bolshevik leader, Gregory Zinoviev, revisited the problem of bureaucracy and aristocracy of labor and their impact on the socialist movement in his Social Roots of Opportunism (1916) to explain why a big majority of the Second International parties and leaders supported “their own” bourgeoisie in the imperialist World War I.  Zinoviev expands Marx’s and Engels’ analysis of the English reformism to other early capitalist industrializers, including the United States, with a focus on Germany which had the largest and most influential party of the Second International at the time.  From 1870 to 1913, Germany and the United States overtook Britain as the leading world capitalist economy.  In Germany, rapid industrialization not only improved the workers’ lot but also enabled the capitalist class to grant them concessions as one of the earliest attempts at capitalist social policy.  These objective conditions gave rise to labor bureaucracy and aristocracy and favored a growing reformist current in the German Social Democratic Party (SDP) where the electoral policy was substituted for any extra-parliamentary strategy for socialist revolution.  Zinoviev examined these trends using official SDP statistics. He calculated that the party was run by a layer of self-serving functionaries:
“According to our calculation, 4,000 functionaries occupy at least 12,000 – if not more – important party and trade union functions. Every more or less efficient functionary takes care simultaneously of two to three and often even more offices. He is at the same time a Reichstag deputy and an editor, a member of the Landtag and a party secretary, the president of a trade union, an editor, a cooperative functionary, a city councilman, etc. Thus all power in the party and trade unions accumulates in the hands of this upper 4,000. (The salaries accumulate, too. Many of the officials of the labor movement receive 10,000 marks and over per year.) The whole business depends on them. They hold in their hands the whole powerful apparatus of the press, of the organization of the mutual aid societies, the entire electoral apparatus, etc.”
By 1912, the SDP was the largest party in Germany.  Entanglement of the increasingly bureaucratic party with the regular affairs of the German imperialism had already begun to produce adaptationist policies.  For example, in 1907 a minority of delegates to the Second International Congress at Stuttgart broke with the socialist policy of opposition to colonialism to argue that it had a “civilizing effect” on the colonized peoples and proposed a “socialist colonial policy.”  While the minority position was defeated (Lenin, 1907; Riddell, 2014), the reformist majority of the Socialist International eventually supported colonial and imperialist conquests and they do so to this day. For instance, the Zionist colonial-settler state in Palestine has benefited immensely from the Labor Party, which is part of the Second International. 

Eduard Bernstein, a leader, and theoretician of the SDP is widely credited with presenting a generalized case for reformism through parliamentary effort (Bernstein, 1899).  By trivializing and criticizing Marx, Bernstein claimed that capitalism had largely resolved it systemic contradictions paving the way for unfettered development allowing socialists to pursue their goal through electoral politics. In response, Rosa Luxemburg, one of the brightest and most courageous socialist leaders of the Second International, wrote Reform or Revolution (1900) in which she debunked Bernstein’s arguments and explained the revolutionary socialist view that underscores the importance of fighting for reforms as part of, not instead of, fighting for a socialist revolution.  It is entirely in order to quote a long passage in which she explains the relationship between reform and socialist revolution bearing in mind that taking part in elections was a practical and useful venue for some of the Social Democratic parties at the time.

Legislative reform and revolution are not different methods of historical development that can be picked out at the pleasure from the counter of history, just as one chooses hot or cold sausages. Legislative reform and revolution are different factors in the development of class society. They condition and complement each other, and are at the same time reciprocally exclusive, as are the north and south poles, the bourgeoisie and proletariat.
Every legal constitution is the product of a revolution. In the history of classes, revolution is the act of political creation, while legislation is the political expression of the life of a society that has already come into being. Work for reform does not contain its own force independent from revolution. During every historic period, work for reforms is carried on only in the direction given to it by the impetus of the last revolution and continues as long as the impulsion from the last revolution continues to make itself felt. Or, to put it more concretely, in each historic period work for reforms is carried on only in the framework of the social form created by the last revolution. Here is the kernel of the problem.
It is contrary to history to represent work for reforms as a long-drawn-out revolution and revolution as a condensed series of reforms. A social transformation and a legislative reform do not differ according to their duration but according to their content. The secret of historic change through the utilisation of political power resides precisely in the transformation of simple quantitative modification into a new quality, or to speak more concretely, in the passage of an historic period from one given form of society to another.
That is why 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. If we follow the political conceptions of revisionism, we arrive at the same conclusion that is reached when we follow the economic theories of revisionism. Our program becomes not the realisation of socialism, but the reform of capitalism; not the suppression of the wage labour system but the diminution of exploitation, that is, the suppression of the abuses of capitalism instead of suppression of capitalism itself.
In essence, (ecological) socialists fight for reforms as part of their strategy for transcending capitalism.  Thus, fighting for reforms must enhance, not undermine, the working people’s self-confidence and their ability for independent organization and action, that is, independent of the capitalist system and its institutions. 

The de facto split between the reformist and revolutionary wings of Social Democracy with the onset of World War I when a majority of parties voted for “their own” bourgeoisie, was institutionalized when after the victorious October revolution of 1917 in Russia, which brought to power workers’ and peasants’ Soviets, the Bolsheviks led the international effort to found the Third (Communist) International in 1919 whose task was declared to be:
“…to generalize the revolutionary experience of the working class, to purge the movement of the corroding admixture of opportunism and social-patriotism, to unify the efforts of all genuinely revolutionary parties of the world proletariat and thereby facilitate and hasten the victory of the Communist revolution throughout the world.” (Manifesto of the Communist International, 1919)
Let’s note that what is added here to Marx’s and Engel’s view in Communist Manifesto, which defines the communists as the vanguard section of the proletariat, is the emphasis on the need to battle “opportunism and social-patriotism,” that is the reformism of the Second International. 

The rise of Stalinism in the Soviet Union set back the revolutionary labor and socialist movements even more disastrously than reformism of trade unions and the Second International.  The rising bureaucratic caste in Soviet Russia in the 1920s purged the Bolshevik party of its revolutionary socialist program, strategy, and norms, and began the process of physically eliminating its central leaders and cadres as well as any independent workers and peasants movements.  In the 1925-27 Chinese revolution, Stalin who represented the rising bureaucracy in the party and the state politically disarmed the Chinese Communist party by supporting an alliance with the Chiang Kai-shek who led the “leftwing” of the Kuomintang, who, in 1927, crushed the revolution with a bloodbath of the  Shanghai proletariat. At the same time, Stalin proclaimed his “theory” of Socialism in One Country, that is, to sacrifice the world revolution in the interest of Soviet bureaucracy.  Trotsky who was the leader of the Left Opposition, who wrote a critique of Stalin’s policy in China and his “theory” of Socialism in One Country (Trotsky, 1927, and, Trotsky, 1928) that were banned and was to be secret from the leadership of the party and the Communist International (they were mistakenly distributed to some delegates), was expelled from the leadership of the party and banished to central Asia, later expelled to Turkey and eventually murdered in Mexico in 1940.  The entire leadership of the Lenin’s Bolshevik party, except for Stalin himself, was imprisoned, committed suicide, or was executed in the Moscow trials of 1936-38, or like Trotsky, assassinated.  

The Stalinist bureaucratic caste and its supporters purged the Communist International of its revolutionary currents, most notably the Left Opposition, with the same brutality. What remained as Communist parties uncritically followed Kremlin’s policies.  Thus, in Germany, the Communist party which polled between 10% to 15% of the vote in the Weimar Republic and was represented in the Reichstag and state parliaments, followed Kremlin’s dictate to direct its attacks not on the rising fascism but on the German Social Democratic Party.  A day after Hitler came to power, he banned the Communist party which subsequently suffered heavy blows.  From his ultra-left sectarian course, Stalin turned to the opportunist policy of Popular Front in which Communist parties subordinated themselves to the “progressive” capitalist parties and politicians. In the United States, the Communist party became a supporter Roosevelt and Democratic Party politics and has followed the same class collaborationist course ever since. Meanwhile, behind the scene, Stalin sought accommodation with Hitler and proceeded to sign a neutrality pact with the Nazi Germany on 23 August 1939, known by the name of their respective foreign ministers as the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. The pact acknowledged spheres of interest of the two powers, including a decision to divided Poland. Stalin abided by the pact until June 22, 1941, when Hitler attacked Soviet forces in eastern Poland.  When the Soviet Union was forced into a defensive war against Hitler’s Germany, Stalin turned to the Allies, and on May 15, 1943, he dissolved the Communist International to underscore that the Kremlin is not fostering world revolution.  

The world capitalist crisis that ended in World War II fostered revolutions in a number of countries which brought to power a number of leaders who were schooled in Stalinism such as Tito in Yugoslavia, to Enver Hoxha in Albania, Mao Zedong in China, and Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam, who eventually broke with the Kremlin over nationalist disputes, none ever returned to a revolutionary socialist course, and all followed anti-labor and counter-revolutionary policies at home and abroad. All eventually prepared the conditions for the return of capitalism.  Stalinism served as a major obstacle to the struggle for independent organization and mobilization of the working people and discredited the ideals of socialism among the broad working class masses of the world playing into the anti-communist campaign of the world capitalist rulers. 

But how did Stalinism arise is the Soviet Union in just a few years after the October 1917 socialist revolution?  Just as reformism arose in the labor movement and the Second International because of the rapid capitalist development in the West that benefitted a layer of the working class that became labor aristocracy and bureaucracy, Stalinism emerged in Soviet Russia due to sheer economic and cultural deprivation and political isolation due to the failure of the world revolution, especially in Europe.  

The Russian counter-revolutionary forces began to mobilize against the Soviet regime immediately after the October 1917 when Kerensky met with the rightist General Krasnov leading to the onset of the civil war. From 1918 to 1921, the Bolsheviks fought several counter-revolutionary forces backed, assisted, and armed by imperialist powers. By 1919, Russian territory was occupied by American, French, British, Japanese, German, Serbian and Polish troops. Still, by September 1922, the Red Army successfully defeated all counter-revolutionary forces. But at a huge cost.  In value terms, industrial production was at one-fifth and agricultural output at one-third of 1913.  There were famine and peasant revolt.  The civil war forced the Bolsheviks to adopt the policies of War Communism which centralized economic and political power in the hands of the Bolshevik party leaders, imposed wartime policies in factories and farms, including a ban on strikes, and organized a conscription army of five million men with strict discipline.  

Needless to say, War Communism imposed a condition that ran contrary to the stated belief of key leaders of the Bolsheviks.  For instance, Lenin’s view of socialism as expressed in his State and Revolution (1917) relies upon the soviets (councils) of workers and peasants was based on the assumption of successful socialist revolutions in Europe. Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution (1906) that forcefully argued to an uninterrupted transition from a revolution for the national democratic tasks to a social revolution under the leadership of the Russian working class was also predicated on the triumph of the European proletariat.  And in fact, the Russian revolution was accompanied by a series of mass upsurges and revolutions, including in Europe. But they were all defeated for various reasons.  The German revolution of 1918 was defeated and on the evening of 15 January 1919, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknech were arrested and murdered. The Bulgarian revolution of 1924 was defeated and the British General Strike of 1926 was liquidated.  The Chinese revolution of 1925-27 referred to above crushed in no small part due to the Stalin's class collaborationist policy.  But the heaviest defeats were those of the Austrian revolution of 1918 and the German revolution of 1923.  As Trotsky puts it in his Revolution Betrayed (1936) “these are the historic catastrophes which killed the faith of the Soviet masses in world revolution, and permitted the bureaucracy to rise higher and higher as the sole light of salvation.”

Moshe Lewin takes an even more somber view of the crisis.  In his introductory chapter, "A Dictatorship in Void," to Lenin’s Last Struggle (1968) he writes:
“The Revolution, represented as a seizure of power by the proletariat, which in fact it very largely was, presented a very different picture at the end of a civil war as a result of which most of its pioneers have been killed off. Two years after October, the Soviet had lost the direct exercise of power.  In March 1919, Lenin noted with deep regret, but with greatest frankness, that because of the deplorable level of education among the masses, ‘the Soviets, which according to their program were the organs of government by the workers, are only the organs of government for the workers by the most advanced section of the proletariat, but not by the working masses themselves.’” 
“…[T]he Party, in which the workers formed no more than a large minority, was substituted for the proletariat; it became both the arm and the sword of the revolutionary state.” (Lewin, 1968, p. 6)
Marcel Liebman in his excellent study, Leninism Under Lenin (1975) expressed the same view as Lewin’s: 
“Three years after writing State and Revolution, Lenin was to acknowledge publicly that what had arisen on the ruins of Tsarist society was ‘a workers’ state with bureaucratic distortions.’ Between and after these dates lay his desperate struggle against the installation of a bureaucratic system, which to him represented the main enemy of democracy and socialism. The history of this struggle is essential for an understanding Leninism.” (Liebman, 1975, p. 318) 
Lewin writes: “The industrial management began to make their presence felt… there grew up in the local and central government an enormous body of functionaries.” (Lewin, 1968, p. 8). As Trotsky notes in his Revolution Betrayed, Tsarist officers who were recruited to the Red Army during the civil war who took leadership positions in the Soviets when the five-million strong army was demobilized after the civil war ended.  The New Economic Policy (NEP) adopted in 1921, that encouraged market reforms to jump-start the ruined economy, gave a new life to middle layers in the Russian society. Trotsky writes: “The young bureaucracy, which had arisen at first as an agent of the proletariat, began now to feel itself a court of arbitration between classes. Its independence increased from mouth to mouth.” 

“Together with the theory of socialism in one country, there was put into circulation by the bureaucracy a theory that in Bolshevism the Central Committee is everything and the party nothing. This second theory was in any case realized with more success than the first. Availing itself of the death of Lenin, the ruling group announced a ‘’Leninist levy.’ The gates of the party, always carefully guarded, were now thrown wide open. Workers, clerks, petty officials, flocked through in crowds. The political aim of this maneuver was to dissolve the revolutionary vanguard in raw human material, without experience, without independence, and yet with the old habit of submitting to the authorities. The scheme was successful. By freeing the bureaucracy from the control of the proletarian vanguard, the ‘Leninist levy’ dealt a death blow to the party of Lenin. The machine had won the necessary independence. Democratic centralism gave place to bureaucratic centralism. In the party apparatus itself there now took place a radical reshuffling of personnel from top to bottom. The chief merit of a Bolshevik was declared to be obedience. Under the guise of a struggle with the opposition, there occurred a sweeping replacement of revolutionists with chinovniks. The history of the Bolshevik party became a history of its rapid degeneration.”
Thus the glorious socialist October 1917 revolution which still should serve as a beacon for the world working class was defeated. 

5. The road forward
Let me summarize and draw some conclusions from the preceding discussion.

1. The climate crisis is part and parcel of the planetary crisis caused by the anthropocentric industrial capitalist civilization.  To effectively combat catastrophic climate change we must fight for reforms through policies that empower the working people through education, self-organization, and self-mobilization, independent of the capitalist system and its institutions, and in the direction of an ecocentric ecological socialist future.   

2. The reformism in the climate justice movement reflects the reformism in the broader social justice and ecology movements. The reformist strategy has been disastrous for these movements in the United States in the past four decades. We are staring at three existential threats to humanity and much life on earth: climate crisis, the Sixth Extinction, and nuclear holocaust, all rooted in the anthropocentric industrial capitalist system. To avert extinction, these movements must rid themselves of reformist illusions.   

3. Clearly, the radicals in the climate justice movement, as well as other social and ecological movements, are a minority at this time. We must forge unity in action with the reformist majority while advocating our own action program, strategy, and tactics in the general movement. Unity in action is only possible if the reformist majority agrees to engage in actions that are independent of the capitalist system and its institutions.

4. The systemic crisis of world capitalism which has brought with it the shrinking of the middle classes, that are largely made up of labor aristocracy and bureaucracy, has also narrowed the socioeconomic basis of Social Democracy resulting in its long-term crisis.  As Trotsky pointed out, Stalinist bureaucracy fostered low productivity of labor which in the long run undermined its socioeconomic basis. With the collapse of the Stalinist Soviet Bloc and the return of capitalism there and in the Stalinist China and Vietnam, the pro-Moscow and pro-Beijing parties have splintered or collapsed.  Thus, there is much more potential political space for independent working class organization and action if a new wave of radicalization of the working classes begins. 

5. We have witnessed mass outrage at various facets of the social and planetary crisis in recent years.  There have been two large marches for climate justice: more than 300,000 marched in New York City in September of 2014 and over 100,000 marched in April in Washington D.C.   In January, 3.2 million people marched in the United States in defense of women’s rights, especially the right to safe and legal abortion. Worldwide 4.8 million people marched in 81 countries (Nayeri, 2017A).  The Black Lives Matter movement has emerged in response to the racist police murder of black people and the lack of any accountability.  The $15 minimum wage movement began in 2012 and now is established in 300 cities in six continents. The Boycott, Divest, Sanctions movement, to showcase Israel’s apartheid-like policies and build resistance to it, has taken roots on many college campuses and internationally. There are worldwide networks of the same or similar movements that can offer a new beginning for the much-needed mass radicalization.  The chief shortcoming of all these mass mobilizations is this: they have assumed the task is done after the street actions are over. In fact, the task is to enlist every participant in every single mass action to become a local leader in the movement and to return to the streets pressing for our demands with double, triple, and quadruple masses of working people.  We must organize on the job, at schools, in neighborhoods, at every other venue where working people get together. 

6. I must acknowledge limitation with my own arguments in this essay. They are based on Marx’s and Engels’ theory of the proletariat and socialism.  According to this theory, in defending their sectional interests, workers in general and industrial working class in particular, develop universal consciousness, thus their economic demands elevate to political demands which question the rule of the capitalist class and eventually pose the question of the workers' government which then opens the period of transition to socialism. as we know, the rise of the aristocracy and bureaucracy of labor in the West and Stalinist bureaucratic castes complicated Marxian theory. In this essay, I am suggesting that this century-long development is probably a detour. I have pointed out to the systemic social and planetary crisis as a radicalizing factor for the working classes worldwide. I have also suggested that the withering away of the "middle-classes" in the West has been undermining the social basis for Social Democracy and union bureaucracy while the collapse of Stalinism has largely eliminated another powerful impediment to independent working-class organization and action. Now, there may be reasons that my argument is flawed. For example, the early twentieth-first century working class at least in the capitalist is markedly different from the industrial proletariat of the latter part of the nineteenth century. It is largely concentrated in the service sector and there is a rise in contingent labor and the so-called the "gig economy." These do not lend themselves easily to militant unionism much less a society-wide socialist workers movement. Thus, the question of the social agency which is largely ignored in the radical movement in general and radical climate justice movement in particular demands much more attention.   Another historical detour is the alienation of humans from nature that began sometimes in the long process of transition from hunter-gatherer bands to the first farmers. This alienation took the form of systematic domestication of plants and animals (some wolves were "domesticated" by hunter-gatherers before the invention of farming). This world-historic transition was marked by a radical if gradual change an ecocentric worldview of the hunter-gatherers to the anthropocentric worldview of the early farmers.  Ths, domination, and control of nature became the foundation of the civilizations that followed. All civilizations have been class societies because the economic surplus produced by early farming groups make possible social stratification, thus, the social alienation that underlies all sorts of subordination, oppression, and exploitation of people.  (Nayeri, 2013B).  Thus, the two historical detours are complementary as the combined social and planetary crises are one and the same manifestation of the anthropocentric industrial capitalist civilization.  Thus, the working people's struggle to overcome them is at the same time the struggle to overcome social alienation and alienation from nature. 
7. Lastly, there is the problem of time. The pressure of time makes some allies like Athanasiou and Henderson adopt a reformist approach. Part of my response was offered at the beginning of this essay: radicals will fight for reforms even more effectively than reformist. To say, “we cannot wait for the socialist revolution” is to miss the point as I have argued. But we also hold no crystal ball about how fast political change can happen.  In 1971 when I decide to give my life to the cause of socialism and a revolution in Iran to bring down the U.S.-backed dictatorship in Iran, nobody imagined we will have the most massive urban revolution in the twentieth century in the mass upsurge of 1978-79 when millions repeatedly took to the street across the country to  brought down the Shah’s regime in February 1979 despite support for him by Washington, Moscow, and Beijing.  No one expected a general strike of the working class and its vanguard, the oil workers. No one imagined the rise of the Shora (council) movement of the workers, peasants, oppressed nationalities, students, and neighborhoods. If it were not for the treachery of the Stalinist (including Maoist) and centrist parties (Nayeri and Nassab, 2006) Iran could have had a workers and peasants government instead of the clerical capitalist dictatorship of Islamic Republic. We cannot predict the future. But we can help prepare the working people to take our future into our own hands, and not to give in to the world capitalists and landlords who subordinate, oppress and exploit us.  

Dedication: I have been writing this essay as I have been taking care of my beloved cat friend, Sunny, a female orange tabby I found under the mailboxes on Darby road on Christmas day 2011.  Sunny is judged to be about 12 years old.  After a serious illness last December, she was found to suffer from irritable bowel disease (IBD) which is a form of allergy to food.  A couple of months ago when the same symptoms resurfaced, she was found to also suffer from chronic kidney disease (CKD), a fatal disease in cats. She requires four visits a week to the hospital for SQ fluids, akin to dialysis for people.  A couple of weeks ago, they accidentally found a mass in her longs that proved to be lung cancer.  Sunny is very shy of people but somehow took me as her friend from the moment we met. The second night at home here, she jumped on my lap as I was sitting on the sofa watching a Netflix movie. This has become our quality time together almost each and every night.  Sunny has been like my little daughter and I shiver at the thought of losing her. But such is life and we must let go. With much love, I dedicate this essay to her. 

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