Oil companies, dictators and greenwashers captured COP27. Hope lies in movements outside the talks

November 21, 2022

This assessment of COP27 was published by Truthout on Friday, and the agreement struck yesterday doesn’t change the main points. Headlines yesterday welcomed the fund for loss and damage – but so far it is just an “empty bucket”, as Mohamed Adow of Power Shift Africa pointed out.

Demonstrators outside the talks in Egypt. Photo from Omar Elmawi’s twitter feed

In other ways the deal reached was ruinous. There was no clear commitment to phase out fossil fuels. “The fact that the outcome only talks about ‘phasedown of unabated coal power’ is a disaster for Africa and for the climate”, as Babawale Obayanju, of Friends of the Earth Africa, said. Oil and gas are not mentioned, and “one small word, ‘unabated’, creates a huge loophole, opening the door to new fossil-based hydrogen and carbon capture and storage projects, which will allow emissions to continue.” Simon Pirani, 21 November 2022.

The international climate talks in Egypt – the 27th Conference of  Parties to the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, or COP27 – have become a dystopian nightmare: oil companies, dictators and greenwashers captured the process more effectively than ever. 

But there is hope: alliances are taking shape – between civil society, scientists and labor – that aim to break the fossil fuel companies’ deathly grip on climate policy.

Corporate capture  

This year’s United Nations climate summit, which ends on Friday at the luxury Sharm el-Sheikh resort, is the first to which oil and gas companies were invited to participate in the official program of events. Rachel Rose Jackson of Corporate Accountability commented that “COP27 looks like a fossil fuel industry trade show.”  

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The limits of western economic war with Russia and the failure of climate policy   

October 17, 2022

By Simon Pirani

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Russia’s war on Ukraine marks a historical turning point. The illegal annexation of four Ukrainian regions in September, and the nuclear threats issued, are a dangerous intensification. It is a matter of principle, in my view, that the labour movement and civil society internationally should support Ukrainian resistance, and I have written about that elsewhere.[1] In this article, I make an initial attempt to understand the economic war being waged alongside the military conflict, the resulting disruption of energy markets, and their place in the broader social and ecological crises shaking capital.

Anti-war protest in Lisbon. Photo from Feminist Antiwar Resistance / @t_alexx_t

In the first section, I argue that the western powers’ economic war against Russia is reactive and limited; even now, sections of western capital hope to mend ruined business relationships with Russia. In the second section, I show that, until 2014, western policy was focused on integrating Russia into the world economy on the west’s terms: even after the Kremlin’s military intervention in Ukraine, the western response remained reactive. The third section is about the consequences of this year’s invasion for energy markets – in particular the European gas market – and for the energy transition. Narratives of “energy crisis” are being used to double down on fossil fuel investment and undermine the western powers’ commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, magnifying the impact of the war and climate crisis for the whole of humanity.

1. Economic warfare and its limits

The aim of the western powers’ sanctions on Russia is to try to discipline the Putin government, not to destroy it. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, and illegal annexation of four Ukrainian regions in September, marks the breakdown of the relationship established in 1990-92 between Russia and the European powers, especially Germany – a breakdown that those powers had desperately hoped to avoid. This breakdown will transform not only capital’s military arrangements in Europe, but also the energy system, in which cheap Russian gas has been a key element for four decades.  

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Achieving climate justice is about solidarity across borders. Not charity

October 7, 2022

A conversation with Canadian socialist David Camfield about his new book, Future on Fire.

Simon Pirani: Congratulations on the publication of your book Future on Fire. It stands out, in my view, because you avoid pronouncing neat “solutions” to climate issues, you consider actually existing social movements and how they might address the climate emergency. You point to the limited scope of parliamentary politics and “green new deals”, and in chapter 3 argue that mass movements” are “our only hope”. I agree.

You argue that the point of these movements is “to develop the power to force governments to enact the climate justice measures that are needed”. That’s altogether different, you write, from seeking “governing power” (which anyway doesn’t have total control over the state, let alone capital). Movements shouldn’t limit themselves to “pushing the envelope” or holding governments accountable; it’s about applying “relentless and escalating pressure”. I agree.

“People in the global south are being hurt more by climate change”: a protest in Uganda against the East African Crude Oil Pipeline. See “About the photo” at the end

The question in my mind is: does it make sense to talk about a “mass movement” on climate issues at all? I am not sure that truly mass movements, in response to issues influenced by climate change, will look like “mass movements about climate”. You argue persuasively that the climate issue is always combined with the social issue: you give the example of Haitians being more vulnerable to death in storms than Cubans, because of the different societies they live in. And you quote Naomi Klein saying that “climate change acts as an accelerant to many of our social ills – inequality, war, racism – but it can also be an accelerant for the opposite, for the forces working for economic and social justice”.

Isn’t the reality that – rather than appearing as “mass movements on climate” – mass movements will actually develop in response to immediate, tangible issues, and that the task in hand is to find ways of taking these movements beyond the immediate, to address the larger issues of both climate and capitalism?

Take the “yellow vests” movement in France, which started in response to a tax on diesel fuel. You point out that far-right forces tried to divert the movement along anti-migrant lines, but were successfully confronted by left-wing forces who pushed against social inequality. All this gave rise to one of my favourite slogans, that you quote: “end of the world, end of the month, same struggle”. You write that the yellow vests “forged a powerful link” between climate issues and social issues. But wasn’t the reality actually more complex? Wasn’t that link only realised in a very small, fragile way, that still has to be built upon?

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War and climate justice: a discussion

July 22, 2022

OpenDemocracy yesterday hosted a useful, and sobering, discussion about the war in Ukraine and the fight for climate justice, with Oleh Savitsky (Stand with Ukraine and Ukraine Climate Network), Angelina Davydova (a prominent commentator on Russian climate policy) and me.  

To open, I made three points about the policy response by the governments of rich western countries that consume most of those fossil fuels.

1. Political leaders are focusing on replacing Russian oil and gas with supplies from elsewhere. This undermines all the promises made at the international climate talks.

So the UK government, just after the Russian invasion of Ukraine this year, gave the go-ahead for a new oil field, Jackdaw, operated by Shell – when we know that tackling climate change means there can be no new oil fields in rich countries.

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‘The Russian empire is failing in its own way’

June 1, 2022

A conversation between Simon Pirani and Anthony McIntyre about the Russian war on Ukraine. Reposted, with thanks, from The Pensive Quill

Anthony McIntyre: You have a long-time immersion in Left politics. We know each other almost forty years. On my first trip to London in 1995 you and I visited the grave of Karl Marx in Highgate Cemetery. I have always held to the descriptive potency of Marxism while finding it prescriptively impotent. I distrust the doctrinaire. Whatever about any differences that may exist in our respective outlooks, we continue to view the world broadly through a Marxian lens, which should help anchor the following exchange in Leftist ground. 

Kharkiv, after the Russian assault. Photo from Ukrainska Pravda

You have been writing and commenting a lot about Russia’s war on Ukraine. TPQ runs two or three pieces weekly from People And Nature in the hope of informing the debate and I suppose to some extent shaping it. We would both agree that the Russian offensive war is the supreme international crime. Yet, we have some on the Left – we expect it from the Right – claiming neutrality, adopting the Kissingerian posture during the Iran-Iraq war that it is a pity both sides can’t lose. I suspect in many cases that is a form of cover for their real sympathies probably lying with the Kremlin. They tend to be old tankies who subscribed to the Brezhnev Doctrine and for whatever convoluted reason think this is the same doctrine served up in a modern dish.

Eric Draitser describes much of this as the “fraudulent narratives of the Kremlin disinformation army on the Left.” How do you feel upon observing people on the Left opting out of supporting Ukrainian society in its struggle to essentially survive in face of a military onslaught from a right-wing capitalist authoritarian state?

Simon Pirani: I used to think that the western political establishment blamed the “Kremlin disinformation army” for things that were really its own fault. For example, it blamed Russian cyberwarfare for Hillary Clinton losing the 2016 US election to a quasi-fascist clown – whereas that was largely the result of decades of class warfare by the Democratic Party against working-class people, and blacks in particular, in the US, which eroded what electoral support it had from them. The war in Ukraine has made me rethink this, partly because this “disinformation army” is much closer at hand for me.

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‘The deeper we go into war, the more Putin stands to lose’

April 27, 2022

An Open Letter to my Brazilian friends and colleagues about the invasion of Ukraine, by FRANÇOIS CHESNAIS 

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In this letter I would like to explain to Brazilian friends and colleagues my position on the war in Ukraine, namely that it is a unilateral aggression by Russia. I received a message from a friend in which I detected the idea that the war can be understood as a legitimate response to a situation created by NATO. This “campist” position is encouraged by the fact that four Latin American countries that are at the forefront of the fight against the United States – Cuba, Nicaragua, Bolivia and El Salvador – abstained in the vote in the UN General Assembly resolution condemning “aggression against Ukraine”. A dozen formerly colonial African countries did the same. The pro-Russia stance taken by the Monthly Review may also encourage the “anti-imperialist/anti-US camp” position.

Members of the independent miners union at the front, 12 April. Photo from the Confederation of Free Trade Unions

A deep hostility towards US imperialism (nurtured by more than a century of history dating back to the invasion of Cuba under President McKinley in 1898), which is shared with many militants of the South American left, risks making some of my friends and colleagues agnostic about, or even tolerant of, the invasion; unclear about its aims; and indifferent to the methods of warfare directed against civilian populations that are employed by the Russian military. Named a “special operation” by Vladimir Putin and his ministers, it is an aggression on the part of Russia with the aim of ousting the Volodymyr Zelensky government from power; perpetuating the separation of the Donbas regions in the east of the country; vassalising the central and western part of the country; and bringing the whole population to heel.

I recognise that my position is shaped by the fact that Russia falls within my geopolitical framework of thought as a European. The Stalinisation of the Comintern at the turn of the 1930s, and the international influence of Stalinism through the vassalisation of the countries of Eastern Europe, meant that revolutionaries in France, as in Italy and Spain, had to deal with powerful Communist Parties bound by the foreign policy of the USSR.

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Russian army unleashes terror in occupied cities

March 24, 2022

On Monday 21 March Russian soldiers fired at demonstrators shouting “go home” in the main square in Kherson, south eastern Ukraine, injuring several people.

Thousands of people have demonstrated with Ukrainian flags every day since the city was occupied on Thursday 3 March.

Monday’s violence began after demonstrators found that the town’s monument to the “heavenly hundred” – Ukrainians who died in the 2014 uprising against former president Viktor Yanukovich – had been defaced.

Russian soldiers versus a demonstrator in Kherson, 21 March. From Vchora’s facebook feed

Someone, presumably Russian soldiers, had spray painted “the ZSU [Ukrainian armed forces] murder children in Donbass” on the monument. People started cleaning off the spray paint, and were attacked with grenades, teargas and live rounds. (The local newspaper Vchora put a film of the incident on line here.)

The resistance to the Russian army in Kherson – a largely Russian-speaking city of 290,000, and the only major city to be occupied – highlights Russia’s deep dilemma in Ukraine. Not only has the population not greeted its army, but mass popular resistance is playing a central part in the military conflict.

Although Russian state TV has broadcast reports of plans to set up a Kherson “people’s republic”, similar to those established in Donetsk and Luhansk in 2014, these have been rejected by the Kherson regional council.

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Putin has sacrificed Russia’s economy for this war on Ukraine’s people

March 24, 2022

By SIMON PIRANI. Reposted, with thanks, from Truthout

The Russian army, having failed since invading Ukraine to take a single major city, has turned to besieging and bombing civilians, and to terrorizing opponents in the areas it controls.

This ruthless, anti-popular character of the Russian war is the key to understanding what motivated the Kremlin to launch it in the first place, turning upside down its relationship with Western powers, and Russia’s own future, for decades to come.

Demonstrators chanting ‘go home’ while walking towards retreating Russian military vehicles in Kherson

In Kherson, Melitopol, Berdyansk, and other occupied towns in southeastern Ukraine, Russian troops have faced crowds of thousands calling on them to go home. Mayors who refuse to cooperate with the Russian army have reportedly been kidnapped. Along with other Ukrainian activists, they have been taken to Luhansk — one of the two eastern Ukrainian “people’s republics” established with Russian support in 2014 — and reportedly prosecuted there. The “republics,” unrecognized even by Russia until last month, suppress dissent with abductions and arbitrary detention free of meaningful judicial constraint.

The war looks very different to the one Russian President Vladimir Putin described on the day of the invasion. The Russian army would “demilitarize” and “denazify” Ukraine, but there were no plans to occupy or to impose anything by force, he said. Occupation has since become a central focus.

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Is this monstrous war of aggression really between two equal sides?

March 21, 2022

An open letter in response to the Manifesto Against War

Dear comrades,

I write in anger and sorrow about your Manifesto Against War, to which I turned in the hope of learning from you about how we can situate the anti-war movement in the wider struggle against capital.

Enumerating the causes of military conflict, you refer, first, to “the growing rivalry between the greatest imperialist powers”. Third is “Islamic fundamentalism”. But before that, second, comes that “the US government has positioned its military alliance system, NATO, against the Russian Federation to prevent the integration of the defunct Soviet empire’s successor into an enlarged, stable and peaceful European order with mutual security guarantees”.

Demonstrations in Ukrainian cities occupied by the Russian armed forces are part of a people’s war

You don’t explain why you think that, in this age of the deep crisis of the capitalist system – which in your words “unleashes ever more violent struggles for geostrategic zones of influence” – such a “peaceful European order” could ever have been possible.

That hope, embraced by Mikhail Gorbachev and many social democrats in the 1990s, was surely dashed as the economic crises of neoliberalism (1997-98, 2008-09, etc) multiplied, as the Russian bourgeoisie emerged in its 21st-century form on one hand, and the alliance of western powers pursued their murderous wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere on the other.

Download this letter as a pdf.

You don’t explain why you name the US government and NATO, and Islamic fundamentalism, as causes of the current war … but not the Russian elite, which actually started it.

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Ukraine: the sources of danger of a wider war

March 21, 2022

More than three weeks into Russia’s assault on Ukraine, the dangers of a long-drawn-out conflict, or of a wider war, or both, hang in the air.

To gauge these dangers correctly and to build an effective ant-war movement, it is important to understand the war’s character.

Ukraine’s defensive war is both a war by the state and a “people’s war”, in my view; Russia’s war is an imperialist one, increasingly aimed at the population. I’ve commented on these things elsewhere (e.g. here, here, here). Here I focus on the western powers and their relations with Russia and Ukraine, and the deep crisis of capital that underlies these.

“Women in black”, an action inspired by Feminist Antiwar Resistance at the weekend. Participants in cities across Russia carried white flowers to remember victims of the conflict in Ukraine

Those western powers have levied massive, unprecedented economic sanctions on Russia. Their leaders have stated repeatedly that, while they will supply Ukraine with weapons, they fear an escalation of the conflict and will not introduce a no-fly zone – for which they have been repeatedly denounced by president Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine. Russian president Vladimir Putin has been equally insistent that NATO threatens Russia; his declared war aims include “demilitarisation” of Ukraine and the end of “NATO expansion”.

In the western anti-war movement, the issue of NATO expansion comes up in two ways.

On one hand, politically: post- or proto-Stalinist tendencies, and some others, taking their cue from the Kremlin, not only accept (without much explanation) that NATO expansion is a major threat, but also argue that NATO bears more responsibility than Russia for causing the war (yes, you read that correctly), and is at least as significant a political target as the Kremlin. I have written about these corrupt, damaging arguments elsewhere, and Ukrainian socialists have answered them (e.g. here, here and here).

On the other hand, there is genuine fear that the war could escalate beyond Ukraine, and that the western powers could become involved militarily, producing a disaster even greater than that now enveloping millions of Ukrainians.

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