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Contribution of Party of Labour of Austria

Jan 15, 2024

Socialism and people's power are the only way out of the climate and environmental crisis

Dear comrades,

For several years now, capital, bourgeois science and politics have been operating with the concept of "green" capitalism. Behind this is a series of innovations and technical developments that have been incentivised by the environmental crisis and, most recently, by the imperialist war in Ukraine. Climate policy plays a major role in all bourgeois parties in Austria, but at the same time the contradictions between the parties remain. In bourgeois debates, there is repeated talk of a "Green New Deal" or a new social contract in the context of "green" capitalism. If you dig a little deeper, these are the usual false contradictions propagated in the bourgeois discourse of "right-wing vs. democrats", "welfare state vs. neoliberalism" or "free market vs. state investment". Ultimately, they only serve to conceal the contradiction between labour and capital and are emphasised more or less depending on government participation or opposition and party history. These contradictions, presented as fundamental, are at the same time the contradictions between the capital factions associated with the bourgeois parties over the administration of capitalism. They are intended to channel discontent and ensure the integration of the working class and the popular strata into the bourgeois administration.

The conflicts taking place between the energy monopolies in the background of these debates can also be observed. In 2022, for example, there was already a tough debate in the EU about which forms of energy should be sustainable and green. Since 1 January 2023, gas and nuclear power plants have also been considered sustainable. France's energy companies in particular were the driving forces behind such a regulation. Around 70 per cent of France's energy requirements are covered by nuclear power plants. This means that the large monopolies in the French energy sector have so far favoured nuclear power. Many Eastern European EU member states also have an interest in this. Hungary, for example, wants to invest in its own nuclear power plants with Russian support.

The categorisation of nuclear power is unimportant for the German energy monopolies, as the German government decided to phase out nuclear power years ago. However, the categorisation of natural gas as a transitional form is extremely important for the German energy monopolies, as natural gas plays a major role in energy supply. Gas plays at least an equally important role for Austria, not only in terms of its significance for the energy supply but also with regard to OMV. OMV is a semi-state-owned multinational integrated oil, gas and petrochemical group. OMV was at some times the largest energy monopolist in parts of Eastern Europe. Still today, OMV plays an extremely important role in the CESEE (Central, Eastern and Southeastern Europe) region and is involved in numerous pipeline projects.

In the automotive industry, too, new battles between the monopolies over the division of the world are taking place against the backdrop of the energy and environmental crisis. In the slipstream of the "Fridays for Future" movement, a struggle for new technologies, keyword electric car, took place. Until recently, Elon Musk and Tesla had a unique selling point here and an interest in influencing their own market share by swaying the mood of the media and political factions. They are trying not to leave this market to Tesla alone by producing their own e-cars. This dispute is flanked by bonuses for scrapping the previous car with a combustion engine and buying an electric car as a replacement. The fact that electric cars are not at all about the environment, but about the profits of the corporations, is already shown by the poisoning of the soil when mining lithium for the car batteries. The debate about punitive tariffs for e-cars from China in Germany is also evidence of intensified competition between monopolies for markets under the label of "green" capitalism.

Climate change must be recognised as a fact, as well as the fact that it is essentially caused by humans and that it will bring massive changes to people's living conditions across the entire planet Earth, including the destruction of the livelihoods of many people. Any denial of these facts must be branded as unscientific and irrational by communists. It must be shown that this irrational view contradicts the interests of the working class and the peoples and is exclusively in the service of certain capitalist forces.

Climate change is caused by capitalism. The characterisation of climate change as "man-made" may be correct, as long as it is only generally about the difference between humans and nature when determining the causes. The communists see this difference and they see man in general, but they don't stop there: They also see the particular, which, in order to reflect reality, must be determined essentially along historical social formations. Those who only see the general, but not the particular, have a distorted view of reality that only benefits capital. Against the merely generalised talk of the "man-made" nature of climate change, communists emphasise that it is capitalism that is causing it. Communists do not allow the responsibility for climate change to be (partially) placed on the shoulders of the working class. Capitalism produces for profit, regardless of all the consequences for humans and nature, and this is also how politics is organised. There is talk of ecology, sustainability and the "Green New Deal", but this is all window dressing.

The Austrian government, consisting of the conservative Austrian People's Party and the Green Party, is preparing the ground for a policy of energy poverty for the Austrian working class and the popular strata under the label of Austria's "green” transformation. The so-called eco-social climate tax is a central element of this government policy.

The eco-social climate tax aims to put a price on CO2 emissions. It is another tax that primarily affects the working class, as they pay the tax when fuelling their cars or heating their homes. The government is trying to present this as a driving force for innovation and investment in reducing CO2 emissions. The fact is, however, that it is not the landlord who has to pay the CO2 tax for heating a rented flat, but the tenant. However, the tenant cannot change anything about how their flat is heated, but can instead just sit in a cold flat. The situation is similar for those members of the working class who are dependent on travelling to work by car. It is the government that is promoting urban sprawl with a lack of affordable housing in urban centres and a shortage of public transport, forcing people to drive to work, go shopping or pick up their children from school/kindergarten by car. As a bonus on top of this, every household will receive a bonus at the end of the year from the revenue generated by the new tax. The amount of the bonus is based on who has consumed how much CO2. So those who are rich enough to live in the latest flat with good insulation and modern heating and drive an electric car will get the most back. In particular, those sections of the working class whose low incomes mean they live in old flats with poor heating and/or have to drive an old car with high fuel consumption pay the highest contributions and get the least back from the tax. 

The Minister for Climate Protection, Environment, Energy, Mobility, Innovation and Technology from the Green Party, Gewessler, is acting as an aggressive representative of new monopoly groups that are focussing on new technologies that are considered green. She is not content to merely shift the costs of the supposed "green" transformation onto the working class and the popular strata. Time and again, she is coming forward with new proposals. Last autumn, she tried to force the semi-state-owned energy company OMV to terminate its long-term supply contracts for gas with the Russian energy company Gazprom. In effect, this would have meant a violation of the contract and a further increase in energy costs for the working class and the popular strata in Austria. The minister's demand ultimately failed because cancelling the contract would have been a breach of contract, and support for Ukraine against Russian aggression was not sufficient justification.

The latest proposals include cuts or even the cancellation of subsidies that employees receive for commuting to and from work and the cancellation of tax breaks for diesel.

At the same time, the monopolies receive generous subsidies to cope with increased energy costs and for investments as part of the propagated "green” transformation. From 2025, Austria will also have a nationwide deposit system for single-use bottles. The regulation is presented as a measure against the widespread use of plastic bottles and aluminium cans. The aim is to reduce aluminium and plastic waste. However, the costs for converting existing deposit machines do not have to be paid by the retail groups themselves. The costs are generously covered by the government.

The illusions about the possibility of a people-friendly management of the system, which would supposedly lead to a more socially just, environmentally friendly and peace-friendly capitalism, have been completely shattered. Maintaining the profitability of the new "green investments" and the monopoly corporations as a whole requires an increase in the degree of exploitation of workers, the expansion of flexible labour relations and a manipulated labour force. 

Although the "Green New Deal" and investments in the "digital transformation" will lead to a further accumulation of capital and profits, they will not be able to reduce either high unemployment or relevant and absolute poverty because they are not accompanied by a general reduction in working hours and a simultaneous increase in labour income. Not only do the "green projects" not protect the environment, as they are not accompanied by appropriate protective measures against natural hazards such as forest fires, floods and earthquakes, but they also contribute to the destruction of forests, mountains and ecosystems and have a wide range of negative consequences overall.

The task of communists is to show that the label of "green" capitalism and "green" transformation only serves to disguise the daily exploitation of humans and nature under capitalism. A system that focuses on maximising profit can never do without the exploitation of humans and nature.

Socialism and communism, on the other hand, place the working class and the satisfaction of its needs at the centre of society. In such a society, where the exploitation of man by man is ended, there is also the potential to end the exploitation of nature by man. The superiority of a socialist organised planned economy over the anarchic market economy of capitalism can be demonstrated by a very simple example in Cuba. In Cuba, for example, as part of the energy revolution, 2.5 million refrigerators throughout the country were replaced with more modern and energy-efficient models through a state programme. It is the task of communists to link the climate and environmental issue with such tangible and concrete examples of the superiority of socialism over capitalism.