Students hold placards as they take part in a protest against global warming by the Colosseum (Colosseo, Colisee) in central Rome on March 15, 2019. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

THE INTERNATIONAL MOVEMENT AGAINST CLIMATE CHANGE has begun to take root on a world level and also in Italy (although how solid it will become remains to be seen).

By Matteo Bavassano (PdAC) for International Currier 22 – Special Edition on Europe


The change is not surprising in itself. The last great international mass movements occurred in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, and to a lesser extent also the United States – those are the years of the “Arab Spring”, the European Indignados movements and the United States Occupy Wall Street. But there were no significant developments in Italy, for contingent and purely national reasons. It was certainly predictable that it would be different with the movement against climate change.

What was perhaps difficult to predict is the extent that, at least in the three global climate strikes organized by Fridays for Future, the Italian movement had the largest mobilizations in Europe. Some factors could indicate a development of this type; we will try to enumerate some of them (without trying to exhaust them all) and analyze them.

The importance of a non-superficial analysis

Analyzing the causes and scope of a movement that is not a working-class one such as this one against climate change, which has had mass weights in different countries, is a complex task. To do it properly it is necessary to make a series of simplifications, which unfortunately are often presented as a “class orientation” and is a common currency on the left. These simplifications can be divided primarily into two groups of opposite sign: sectarian and opportunistic – although they also go hand in hand[1].

Sectarian simplifications are based on the “absoluteness” of the inter-class character of the movement against climate change. They include positions ranging from conspiracy theories, according to the which the whole movement has been developed due to the interests of sectors of the world bourgeoisie because of the interimperialist confrontation between the “polluter” Trump and Chinese “green capitalism”. Therefore the protesters are like puppets that are manipulated by this inter-bourgeois clash. Another position is apparently based on class, they do not openly deny the problem of climate change but maintain that this is secondary to the primary contradiction, the capital-labour conflict.

These “positions” underestimate the importance of intervention in the movement, and ignore the battle for concrete demands against climate change that leave in practice the movement under the hegemony of bourgeois and reformist positions. In the theoretical field, they deny that the contradictory nature of capitalism is inseparable from that of capital-labour conflicts, but the fight against the destruction of nature must be an integral part of the struggle for socialism.

This can only happen if the political vanguard of the working class manage to interact constructively with the movement against climate change. Organizational measures need to be proposing togther with demands for the movement as a whole to gain the trust of the activists, demonstrating that the interests of the revolutionaries are that the movement develops and grows. It needs to be explained why the solution cannot only consist in the fight against climate change, but must necessarily be extended to a fight against the economic system in order to replace it with a socialist society.

The dialectic of the development of the movement against climate change

Beyond what the thinking of supporters of the conspiracy theories, the real reason why activists are mobilizing is because capitalism is destroying the planet. If we do not start from this fact, it is impossible to correctly frame the analysis of the development of the movement. Therefore it is impossible to understand how to intervene.

Bourgeois science has for years talked about climate change, and even before that, following the ideas of Marx and Engels, Marxists began to talk about this. They extended the field not only to global warming but include all environmental damage caused by capitalism, which the great bourgeois press is careful to avoid unless forced to do so and, above all, never links it to the economic system but only to its mismanagement.

One might wonder why the movement has developed at this time. It is very clear that the bourgeois press, at the request of the great bourgeoisie, decided to give greater importance to the climate problem. Previously relegated to the background of the 27 JANUARY, 2020 ITALY political debate the bourgeios press exploited the media image of a Swedish sixteen-year-old young activist, Greta Thunberg, to create a broad movement of opinion: Friday for Future. Especially in Europe, this responded to specific political demands due to the failure of the traditional parties of the European establishment. The Social Democratic parties, and more recently the neo-reformist parties (which since the last crisis has been the pillar of the states whose regimes had the most significant difficulty: Greece, Spain and Portugal), in order to curb the growth of the institutional right (Northern League, National Front, Ukip, etc.) parties and in order to revive governments that could have the support of the popular masses, eventually also through the growth of the green parties, as happened in the European elections last May.

For Marxists, however, these are not reasons to move away from the movement, but rather represent the objective image of the contradictions that indicate how to intervene in the movement: the bourgeoisie tries to exploit a real problem to create massive support for the reformist forces (as are the green parties), but to do so, it must really mobilize the popular masses against climate change.

However, the bourgeoisie does not control such mobilizations and, in fact, did not stop after the second climate strike, held a few weeks before the European elections: it is not possible to end a mobilization of this magnitude easily.

They need to be be seen building pressure on governments to take action against climate change. The more credible this perspective is, the more activists will be deceived that it is possible to find a solution without fighting the capitalist system. This is the reason why the United Nations welcomes Greta Thunberg and lets her speak to the General Assembly and before the masses of the world, so that it seems that the powerful of the Earth address the problem. And yet, contradictorily, the masses continued to mobilize, as evidenced by the oceanic demonstrations of the third climate strike.

Precisely, this dynamic of mass mobilization, which at the moment shows no signs of stopping, opens up important possibilities for revolutionaries. If the reformist forces propose, as is typical of their nature and their usefulness for capital, solutions to global warming compatible with the current economic system (although the contradiction between capitalism and nature is insurmountable) this allows intervention and propaganda of revolutionaries, who can exploit all the contradictions to try to give a class leadership to a movement that is born inter-class: in fact, only the socialist program can solve the environmental problem at its root. The main difficulty of revolutionaries to intervene in the movement today is due to their weakness in relation to the breadth of the movement itself.

The state of the movement in Italy

To the international framework explained here, it is necessary to add the national peculiarities, which show, at least at the time we wrote, Italy is among the broadest European movements against climate change.

Given that the mobilizations so far involve mainly students, it is important to keep in mind that there have not been large student demonstrations since spring 2015 against the “Good School”[2] of Renzi: this means that student forces have accumulated adding, to the forces of those who had already mobilized, the force of new generations of students (who are massively present in the demonstrations), and they have been able to give life to large demonstrations that also open up great possibilities for radicalization.

Secondly, it is good to take into account the more general political situation: the movement against climate change began to develop at the mass level in 2018, and even since September 2017. The “left” bourgeois press initiated a broad media campaign against the government, especially against the then Minister of the Interior, Matteo Salvini (Northern League), and his xenophobic and repressive measures. The campaign led to a series of initiatives organized by the Democratic Party and the parliamentary oppositions “of the left”, which mobilized tens of thousands of people across the country.

In this situation, the first two climatic strikes had an important mass participation, but the third strike, which occurred on September 27, represented a qualitative leap, bringing to the streets more than one million people. A participation that had not been seen for almost twenty years (for our part, we witnessed a march of about 150,000 people in Milan).

The magnitude of this third day of mobilizations surprised even those who had focused on the growth of the movement. In some situations anticapitalist slogans (a minority for now with respect to the movement itself) have begun to spread. It undermined those who wanted to make the movement apolitical, masking themselves behind the heterogenous nature of the demonstrations, but in fact trying to prevent the workers’ parties from participating in the demonstrations with their symbols.

This “selective” character certainly did not affect the administrators of the PD (such as the mayor of Milan, Sala), who quietly protected themselves behind their “institutional” role in making their political propaganda. The prejudice against the workers’ parties must be fought by personally participating in the movement, and although the red flags remain a taboo in virtually all demonstrations. Some are still not convinced that revolutionary parties can make propaganda of their positions during the demonstrations, despite all this, hundreds of young and very young people enthusiastically read every leaflet distributed in the various demonstrations that expressed anticapitalist positions.

Under this obvious predisposition of the young protesters towards radicalization, together with the magnitude of the movement, the reformist forces have an imperative need to control and slow its development.

The leaderships of the movement and their aims

The movement, by its very nature is not homogeneous, there has not been a precise structuring and it has different compositions and political leaderships in different cities. This, on the one hand prevents the development and radicalization of the movement at the national level, and on the other hand prevents control by bourgeois and reformist political forces increasing, because it allows the movement to continue to be controlled by the Social Centers[3] at the local level, especially in large cities.

The latter, behind a facade of anti- capitalist phraseology, actually condemns the movement not only to localism, in fact separating the struggles of the different cities, but also leads to subordination to the PD, which cannot make concrete political opposition in the movement, and due to the links that it has with the communal [municipal] administrations (destined to keep the spaces occupied).

The bourgeois and reformist forces, on the other hand, look to a vertical nationalist structure, bureaucratically imposed, that can normalize the movement by purifying it of everything that is embryonically revolutionary. The national assembly that took place in Naples on October 4 and 5, a week after the mobilizations, without the activists knowing about it until a few days before, represented a moment of confrontation between these two souls who dispute the leadership of the movement, and ended in a substantial organizational stagnation, despite the small steps forward at the general political level, at least in relation to the very confusing premises of the movement.

To achieve some results, the movement cannot be trapped in various locations, there are years of examples of failed student struggles because of the various social centers that led them. And here we return to the problem, just stated above, of the understanding that afflicts several organizations that call themselves “working class” that, because of opportunism, do not oppose the organizational models of the Social Centers, contenting themselves with the right to “give their opinion” in assemblies. They do not count for anything and are controlled by the Social Centres themselves that they put before the general interest of the movement, condemning it to impotence.

The necessary organization for the movement is national in nature, but it should not allow bureaucratic normalization by the reformists. For us, this organization must be based on the organization of the Friday for future movement (which, in regard to Italy is currently the prevailing structure), in local periodic assemblies, that democratically choose representatives for a national coordination that want to direct the movement and transform it from a movement of opinions into a movement of struggle. It needs to identify a series of national anticapitalist demands, and develop various territorial assemblies with local demands that will be carried out in the territory, so that a dynamic is created that expands the movement and makes it radical and increases its anticapitalist consciousness.

To do this it is necessary to take full advantage of the contradictions opened by a mass movement such as Friday for Future, despite its current confusion and political heterogeneity. Acting outside of that means condemning ourselves to be left out of mobilizations. With the development of the influence of slogans of the revolutionaries, the movement will gradually lose its inter-class character, and also the petty-bourgeois sectors, which will continue to mobilize and will join the program of revolutionary socialism.


[1] “Codista/codismo” refers to groups that follow a current of their own interests and accommodation, without possessing a specific political project, being regarded as harmful and opportunists.

[2] “Buona Scola” (Good School) is the name given to educational reform implemented by the Renzi, administration amending and degrading labor conditions.

[3] Centers of autonomous and anarchist activists.