In February 2020, Monthly Review Online posted an interview I conducted with the activist and socialist John Molyneux. We discussed the climate crisis and socialist change. 

In an interview with the socialist writer and activist, John Molyneux, Leo Zeilig asks him about climate change, capitalism and socialist transformation. In an important initiative John has recently founded the Global Ecosocialist Network (GEN) which brings together activists and researchers from across the Global North and South.

Can you tell readers of about yourself? Your background, activism and politics.

I was born in Britain in 1948 and became a socialist activist and Marxist in 1968 through the struggle against the Vietnam War, the student revolt and May ’68 in Paris. I joined the International Socialists in June of that year. I have remained active ever since. From the mid- seventies onwards I began writing in the field of Marxist theory, publishing Marxism and the Party (1978) and What is the Real Marxist Tradition? (1983) and other books, pamphlets and articles. Since the late nineties I also started writing about art and have a book on The Dialectics of Art coming out later this year.

From 1975 to 2010 I was a teacher at various levels in the city of Portsmouth –secondary school, further education and then in the School of Art at Portsmouth University. In 2010 I retired and moved to Dublin where I have continued to be an activist with People Before Profit and a writer, publishing books on Anarchism, the media, Marxist philosophy and Lenin for Today. I have also served as the founder and editor of the Irish Marxist Review.

Can you speak a little about your involvement in the climate change movement? As a long-standing socialist and activist, when did you first become seriously aware of climate change–what was it that impacted on you explicitly?

I don’t think there was any single moment. I think probably it was the socialist writer, Jonathan Neale, who first fully explained the issue to me somewhere around the turn of the century. Jonathan served for a period as Secretary of the Campaign to Stop Climate Change and I was involved in that campaign in a limited way. But I didn’t find that they were very receptive to my revolutionary socialist ideas.

However, from quite early on I was convinced that climate change was going to be an existential crisis for humanity because I was convinced that capitalism was not going to stop it. There were, of course, debates about this question. Many people thought there HAD to be a capitalist solution or at least a solution within capitalism because they thought overthrowing capitalism was out of the question. Others, including Marxists, engaged in hypothetical debates as to whether capitalism might, in theory, be able to deal with the issue.

My view was that regardless of what might theoretically be possible the actually existing capitalism we were dealing with was not going to stop climate change or even seriously try to stop it until it was too late. This was because capitalism is driven by profit and competitive accumulation at every level and because it is far too heavily invested in fossil fuels to simply switch to renewables. To those who say we can’t wait for your socialism, we need change NOW, my reply is I will fight alongside you for change, but I don’t believe we can wait for capitalism to go green, it’s simply not going to happen. I hope I’m wrong but so far, I’ve been right.

I always understood how disastrous climate change was going to be but at first I thought of it as something fairly far in the future–by the end of the century etc–and probably outside my life time. But it has become clearer and clearer that even the IPCCs (the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) predictions are too conservative and that the beginnings of climate catastrophe are with us already.

Recently, specifically last year–with the extraordinary global protests of school students and many others–the climate emergency has broken onto the world stage, leaving us all forever changed. Can you discuss how you interpreted this movement and its significance, and any weaknesses you see?

The school strikes for climate were unequivocally magnificent and hats off to Greta Thunberg and everyone else involved. It was wonderful to see young people stepping forward and on such a global scale. The civil disobedience organised by Extinction Rebellion, especially in the first London Rebellion Week, was also a fantastic step forward. Every socialist should enthusiastically back them and constructively engage with them.  I haven’t much time for leftists who dismiss radicalising young people because of their lack of ‘the correct programme’ or base in ‘the organised working class’.

But of course, these movements, like every emergent mass movement, have weaknesses. In particular it is a weakness that they tend to think of themselves as ‘beyond’ or ‘above’ politics and therefore often discourage political debate. In my opinion every aspect of climate change and the environmental crisis is intensely political and some political forces (largely those on the serious or ‘hard’ left) are friends of the planet and the climate movement and others (the right and far right) are its enemies. Without fetishizing the figure of 3.5% [XR thinks that mobilising 3.5% of the population is necessary to secure ‘system change’] I think XR’s aim to mobilize those sort of mass numbers is excellent but I’m not sure that all their methods of organising are conducive to achieving this.

To read the full interview click here