Our theme for the month of October is “This Day in History.”
The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it. — Karl Marx, “Theses On Feuerbach,” 1845
On October 24th (and 25th) of the Julian calendar in 1917, the world forever changed. In one of those very rare moments, the sum of a people seized the wheel of history and demanded something brand new: change. The Bolshevik Party successfully revolted against the Russian provisional government and challenged the status quo of the capitalist world order.
Communism was no longer an idea. To use the words of a popular Leftist film critic in one of his many reviews of Sergei Eisenstein’s 1927 film October (Ten Days that Shook the World), “it was momentous and unparalleled in history, that monarchy and religion can collapse and that freedom is possible.”
Perhaps we need a change of that scale again. A revolution not against monarchy but capitalism, the very thing killing our shared planet.
The climate disaster, the most significant emblem of the Anthropocene, has triggered the “sixth extinction.” If we continue as is, and perhaps even if we don’t, mass species extinction will continue accelerating. The scientific consensus is that human CO₂ emissions are making Earth uninhabitable.
Radical thinker Andreas Malm, a Swedish professor of human ecology at Lund University, knows the scientific reality first-hand. As he observes in his provocatively titled book How to Blow Up a Pipeline: Learning to Fight in a World on Fire, most climate scholars consider the target limit for temperature rise between 1.5-2°C. Anything higher, catastrophic climate change will be unavoidable.
To say the target has been neglected would be generous. Ida Sognnaes, researcher at the Centre for International Climate Research in Norway, notes “current policies and policy pledges can still lead to warming outcomes of 3°C in 2100.” Despite all the “blah blah” from progressive politicians, governments, and corporations, economic investment in fossil fuel energy has actually grown. To quote Malm again, “Two-thirds of capital placed in projects for generating energy in the year 2018 went to oil, gas and coal—that is, to additional facilities for extracting and combusting such fuels, on top of all that already spanned the globe.” Big capital’s role in the self-made destruction of our home has been nothing short of throwing gasoline on a fire.
We can’t afford to wait for the neo-liberal progressive order to finally solve the crisis by drastically cutting emissions. With the stakes of extinction, there is no time to waste. To use the words of the teen climate activist Greta Thunberg, “If the emissions have to stop, then we have to stop the emissions.” We must act now.
Like October 24th of 1917, the emergency breaks of the train of history need pulled once more. If we do nothing, “property will cost us the earth.” If we do something, maybe it won’t.
Human flourishing and freedom can’t be lost in the next revolution of ideas—as it often was previously. We would do good to remember the Polish-German revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg’s critique of Leninism/Bolshevism: “Without general elections, without unrestricted freedom of press and assembly, without a free struggle of opinion, life dies out in every public institution, becomes a mere semblance of life, in which only the bureaucracy remains as the active element.”
But we must also take to heart her (arguably) most famous maxim: “Socialism will not be and cannot be inaugurated by decrees; it cannot be established by any government, however admirably socialistic. Socialism must be created by the masses, must be made by every proletarian. Where the chains of capitalism are forged, there must the chains be broken.” As October 24th has shown before, something new is possible.
At the very least, humans can’t flourish if we don’t survive.