Cuckoos in the nest

The Campaign Against Climate Change looks set to grow in 2006, writes John Downes. But where is it going programmatically?

CACC is part of the Global Climate Campaign, which is coordinating protests internationally in order to influence the UN climate talks in Nairobi, Kenya, from November 6-17. CACC organised the demonstration in London on December 3 2005 to coincide with the first meeting of parties to the Kyoto protocol held in Montreal.

Background to Kyoto

The United Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was opened for signature at the 1992 UNCED conference in Rio de Janeiro (the 'Earth summit'). On June 12 1992, the United States, along with 153 other countries, signed the UNFCCC, with the goal of "preventing dangerous anthropogenic interference with Earth's climate system".

In the spring of 1995, the parties to the convention met for the first time to bring a more coherent approach to how countries could adequately meet their commitments. It was at the third conference of parties (Cop3), in Kyoto, Japan, on December 11 1997, that the protocol was adopted. This was the meeting where most industrialised countries agreed to legally binding reductions in greenhouse emissions for an average of 6%-8% below 1990 levels.

However it was not until 2005 that the Kyoto protocol came into force, because two conditions had been fulfilled: first, it had to be ratified by at least 55 parties to the convention, and, second, this had to include developed countries representing at least 55% of total 1990 carbon dioxide emissions. The first condition was met in 2001, when 128 countries had ratified the protocol. When, on November 18 2004, Russia signed up, the second condition was met, and the protocol came into operation on February 16 2005. Obviously the ghost at the wedding was the United States of America - the world's biggest economy and biggest polluter.

Despite the diplomatic 'triumph' of getting the agreement operational, the bulk of scientific opinion is now convinced that the targets set under Kyoto are far too little, far too late. Sudden, catastrophic and irreversible climate change can only be prevented by far bigger reductions of CO2 and other such emissions and a complete turnaround of economic priorities "¦ and maybe even the whole human relationship with nature. Climatology has gone from being about short-term weather forecasting and dry academic studies of the oscillating patterns of distant past. It has become unmistakably and overtly political.

Campaign Against Climate Change

On January 12, activists convened for the first major CACC meeting of 2006. There were six items on the agenda of this two-and-a-half-hour meeting, including arrangements for the national planning meeting to be held on Saturday February 11 and outlines of the major campaigns for 2006. Discussion revolved around the Global Climate Campaign and the November demonstrations, but the most interesting item concerned the national planning meeting and, more specifically, the form it will take. This debate revealed the fault lines in CACC.

Phil Thornhill, the campaigner who set up CACC, is still its heart and soul. He epitomises the campaign's weaknesses and its strengths - slightly disorganised, but riding the rough with the smooth, and always appearing to get through.

However, growing awareness of the realities of global climate change, and of the groups using it as a lever to promote their own agenda, has had an effect on the campaign itself. This was the sticking point of the January 12 meeting - how to formalise a structure for a campaign that up till now had been working tolerably well, without any questions asked about the motives of people assigned to carry out tasks.

Now suddenly suggestions are being made: shouldn't we elect a central committee, and what about a written constitution? CACC does have a 'top table', so to speak, made up of representatives of the various groups and individuals who have endorsed and continue to endorse the campaign. These include journalist George Monbiot and Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker. The committee has 15 members, of whom nine are affiliated to Friends of the Earth, including Phil Thornhill. Other affiliates on the committee include Globalise Resistance, the Islamic Foundation for Ecology and the Christian Ecology Link.

However, there exists a widespread fear that any elected organising committee with powers to decide strategy would be used as the means to hijack the whole campaign.

Interested parties

So who is feared?

Respect certainly has ambitions to be involved in the campaign. Resolution 32, put forward by the national council at the 2005 Respect conference, reads: "Respect believes that only massive public pressure will compel the government to action on climate change and therefore resolves to support the demonstration called by the Campaign against Climate Change for December 3 2005 as a step towards building a mass movement against climate change."

Former Green Party member Elaine Graham Leigh of the Respect national council has said: "What we really need to be doing is building a global movement so that everyone, in every country, is in a position to pressurise their government to make substantial cuts in emissions and so on. That is the genuinely democratic approach" (Weekly Worker December 8 2005).

But everyone knows that behind Respect lies the SWP. The SWP has not only managed to reduce Respect to a shell: it does the same thing to each and every campaign it sets up or manages to control.

Globalise Resistance is a classic case. Set up to unite those within the 'anti-capitalist movement', initially GR did attract quite considerable numbers to its meetings and actions. But one by one the SWP fell out with its fellow travellers and would-be allies. As to the rank and file, they soon realised that they were being used by the SWP as little more than cannon fodder. GR is now all but defunct. To the extent that it still exists, it acts simply as a transmission belt into the SWP.

The website Schnews puts it perfectly: "It [the SWP] is only interested in activities to the extent that its brand recognition increases. So when George Monbiot was invited by the SWP to be a main speaker at a number of GR rallies, this allowed the SWP to promote Globalise Resistance as a broad-based movement involving well known figures like Monbiot. The important business of that tour was reported in Socialist Worker: 'On the Globalise Resistance tour 18 people joined the SWP in Manchester, 10 in Birmingham, nine in Sheffield, eight in Leeds and four in Liverpool'" (www.schnews.org.uk/monopresist/monopoliseresistance/index.htm).

So the cuckoo in the CACC nest is prominent SWP comrade Jonathan Neale, who in CACC meetings describes himself as representing Globalise Resistance, but in Respect and the European Social Forum has nowadays taken to wearing his CACC hat.

The fear of many who attended the January 12 meeting was that the SWP is sneakily moving to take hold of  the CACC. In private the word is that the affable comrade Neale is under central committee instructions to capture CACC and turn it into one of the SWP's many 'united fronts'. That would, it is said, drive away 'genuine' activists who are campaigning for a cause they passionately believe in.

There is, of course, more than a grain of truth here. The SWP is a bureaucratic sect which neither operates internal democracy nor possesses a revolutionary programme. The only thing that really concerns the SWP central committee is recruiting people so that they pay subs to keep the machine well oiled and provide the SWP with the votes at meetings and paper-sellers at demonstrations.

Way ahead

But the majority's protest politics carries its own limitations and dangers. In the last analysis it too can only result in eventual stagnation and the failure of CACC. What is needed organisationally is full membership democracy, not the continuation of a cosy cabal. But the main question, as always, is politics. CACC needs a minimum programme which can weld together a truly mass movement which, through its own experience, learns that a different social order is required. As things stand the programme of the majority amounts to an obsession with George Bush.

CACC's campaigning focus has long been US unwillingness to sign up to Kyoto: annual demonstrations symbolically end up at the American embassy. Log on to the CACC website (www.campaign.org/index. shtml) - it is full of anti-American/anti-US imperialist imagery.

Demands on the US to sign up - and for Blair to abide by the agreement - may appear to be practical politics. But such programmatic narrowness actually lets the global capitalist culprit off the hook. The implication is that Kyoto is good coin and if put into effect can actually prevent an ecological disaster. But it can't.

John Bellamy Foster has said: "Marxists better understand the obstacles that capitalism poses to ecological change, and recognise that the only answer is a revolutionary one" (Weekly Worker November 10 2005). For us that means developing a minimum ecological programme that is technically achievable under capitalism but which is premised on the interlinked needs of humanity and maintaining the stability of the planet.

Such a programme can only but be implicitly anti-capitalist. Of necessity draconian inroads must be made into the workings and logic of the existing system. Production and distribution on a capitalist basis leads straight to planetary disaster. Therefore we need our own programme for production and distribution which challenges profit and puts needs in first place.

Unless it develops and promotes such a programme, CACC will constitute itself as part of the problem, not part of the solution. Striking up alliances with Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, the Green Party, etc is perfectly principled, but what is not principled is reducing our programme to Kyoto. We cannot begin with what capitalist governments say they find acceptable, or what they say they can afford. That is simply self-defeating.

Broadness ought not to be our guiding principle. That leads to a programmatic fudge designed simply to keep on board the overtly pro-capitalist, the timid, the vested interests and the 'big name' celebrities. Where broadness for the sake of broadness gets you can be seen with the successive Stop the War Coalition demonstrations - nearly two million at its peak, but now a shadow of its former self. The STWC could not even come out and call for a vote against the New Labour warmongers in the 2005 general election.

Although it is likely that CACC demonstrations will spontaneously grow over the next few years, there will come a point when people will tire of being mere foot soldiers. Waving banners and placards in front of the American embassy is all very well. But of necessity we must confront the underlying social causes that lie behind the danger of catastrophic climate change. We need a minimum programme that leads millions of people into action against the rule and logic of capital.