Workers of the World, Unite to Save the World

From the start, Communists around the world have prided themselves on international solidarity, on placing the needs of the working class as a whole above the needs of any one section of the class. We have also boldly proclaimed that we represent the solutions of the future in the struggles of the present.

Marx and Engels, in the Communist manifesto, wrote

“The Communists are distinguished from the other working-class parties by this only: 1. In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality. 2. In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole.”

This approach has renewed relevance for the posture Communists take on environmental issues.

Climate change, along with other environmental issues, has increasing international importance, determining the future of humanity in a way that is new. The needs of humanity, of which workers and poor people are the vast, vast majority, for a future with clean air, clean water, ecosystems free of persistent organic pollutants which degrade the human reproductive system, and sufficient food, shelter, and health care, is threatened by the continuing growth in greenhouse gas emissions, by the current production, distribution, waste, and agricultural systems.

The needs of humanity must take precedence over the short-term interests of one group or another, and over one country or another. This is not just a matter of theory, of ideology, it is a matter of science and survival.

The mining and production and transportation of coal provide a contentious set of issues. Obama, while continuing to speak about the importance of addressing climate change, also supports continued growth in coal production. This so-called “all-of-the-above” strategy, ignores the reality of the growth in greenhouse gas emissions, and ignores, as Bill McKibben puts it in a recent Rolling Stone article, the basic math of how much fossil fuel is left in the ground and how much we can emit and stay within the margin of safety for humanity, for limiting global warming.

There are struggles taking place about coal. These include struggles over the building of new coal-fired electrical plants. Also struggles over whether or not some West Coast ports will expand their facilities to enable a dramatic increase in rail traffic to export huge quantities of coal to China. Also struggles over mine safety (often ignored by coal companies) and mining practices such as mountaintop removal and the disposal of waste, especially contaminated water, from the mining process.

Any serious environmental program must include provisions for job retraining for displaced workers, for job creation in new energy production and conservation, for addressing the damage to local communities when large-scale changes are made in areas dependent on the coal industry. And environmentalists much make common cause with workers, who suffer environmental hazards on the job (such as black-lung disease), environmental hazards in the communities where they live (from the bursting of “waste containment” holding tanks and pools, for example), and the general environmental challenges facing all people. Coal miners are not the enemy.

But the short-term need for jobs in a particular area cannot trump the long-term needs of the entire working class.

Communists must project a program that addresses the needs of the working class as a whole. When they ignore how serious our environmental challenges are, they can project short-term policies that are counter-productive.

For example, in a recent Bloomberg News article about the improving position of the Communist Party in the Czech Republic, reporter Jeffrey Donovan notes (along with some distorted and incomplete coverage of the recent history of the Czech Republic) that the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia “seeks an end to environmental limits on brown coal, to boost jobs.” If true, this is an example of putting forward proposals that may seem to favor working class jobs but that end up harming the working class as a whole.

Marxist philosophy insists on looking at processes in their totality—while we can break things apart to help understand them better, we then have to put things back together to fully understand them in all their interconnections. To give the working class a “choice” of jobs that will harm humanity is no choice at all, and no favor to those workers either, not in the long run.

And the long run is increasingly right here, right now. Many of the predicted effects of climate change are already happening, already changing our world, already making it a more difficult place, already putting many in harm’s way.

To address this, we need a working class program for the entire working class, on that addresses the long term health of our planet. We have to save our planet before capitalism destroys the material basis for socialism.

Post your comment

Comments are moderated. See guidelines here.


  • This is an excellent, to the point, piece.
    It suggests that control and ownership of natural and energy resources(coal, its example)may be and is more important than coal industry jobs and wages.
    Workers and communists are able to understand and respond to physical problems, which may be on different levels, at the same time.
    W. E. B. Du Bois, in 1961, wrote in his request for admission letter to the CPUSA, that the communists would and should fight for worker control of transportation, communication resources. Also, he wrote that the workers should fight for ownership of all natural resources.
    Without this control and ownership the working people as one, cannot protect our human bodies from harmful production processes, nor can we protect the health of future generations of workers.
    Now, as we close in on M L K day, 2013, let us be reminded what M L K said in '68 of the great Du Bois-"It is time to cease muting the fact that Dr. Du Bois was a genius and chose to be a Communist. Our irrational, obsessive anti-communism has led us into too many quagmires to be retained as if it were a mode of scientific thinking."
    Du Bois told in '61, like this excellent article, 50yrs. later:

    "Workers of the World, Unite to Save the World"

    Posted by E.E.W. Clay, 01/10/2013 12:00pm (6 years ago)

RSS feed for comments on this page | RSS feed for all comments