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An interview with Climate Vanguard

By: The degrowth.info editorial team., Climate Vanguard


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Since the late 2010s, a surge in youth-driven climate activism around the world has seen young people being taken increasingly seriously as agents of transformation seeking just climate futures. Climate Vanguard is a new organisation entering this space, with a novel and ambitious objective of radicalising youth climate movements around an explicitly eco-socialist ideological framing.


Degrowth.info spoke recently with Climate Vanguard to learn more about the organisation’s approach to social-ecological transformation, and its plans for 2024.


degrowth.info: Can you start by explaining what Climate Vanguard is, how it came about, and who is involved?


Climate Vanguard: Climate Vanguard is a youth-led organisation empowering the youth climate movement (YCM) through radical political education. The organisation launched in October 2022 with the aim of elevating the YCM’s mandate onto firm anti-capitalist footing – the type of progression that could see the YCM fulfil its potential as a world-historical force of eco-socialist transformation.


We founded Climate Vanguard based on our own experience in the YCM. While the YCM has pushed the climate crisis into the political limelight, the YCM has not built the requisite power to win transformation. It is our analysis that part of this shortcoming is the dominance of activism – understanding “activism” as a narrow focus on action – and a lack of regular engagement with theory and praxis. We therefore set out to empower the movement by providing ideological and strategic support.


Climate Vanguard is explicitly oriented toward the YCM, rather than the general climate movement, for three reasons. First, the YCM has already shown itself to be a particularly potent force globally, and it can be expected that ecological breakdown will increasingly become the point of entry into organising and politics for young people globally. Second, the youth climate movement is especially underserved when it comes to movement infrastructure – political education infrastructure in particular. Finally, Climate Vanguard is a youth-led organisation and we are attracted to building youth power, which has important distinct characteristics for radical organising.


That being said, we don’t conceive of our work as separate from the wider climate movement. Youth organising serves as the point of entry for many people who will eventually age up into the non-youth specific parts of the movement. As such, we see our work as contributing to the development of principled, skilled organisers who can build the strength and power of our movement for years to come.


Climate Vanguard pursues its mission through three interconnected focus areas. First, we deliver political education on the root drivers of ecological breakdown, on the radical transformations needed to realise a just, habitable world, and on political organising strategies to realise such transformations. This is carried out through a variety of forms, including reports, briefs, workshops, and social media content. Second, Climate Vanguard provides direct research and communications assistance to youth climate groups in order to shape and substantiate campaign demands. Third, Climate Vanguard convenes youth activists to learn from each other and negotiate common strategies.


Climate Vanguard’s work is led by a three-person core team which, with the support of the advisory board, sets the organisation’s strategic direction. The work itself is carried out by the core team and the Climate Vanguard Collective, which is a group of young people who are either currently contributing to, or have previously contributed to, Climate Vanguard’s work on a project basis. The Collective’s contributions range from research support to design work and communications.


degrowth.info: What are Climate Vanguard’s key ideological influences?


CV: The first ideological figure who has had a huge influence on our work is Vladimir Lenin – of course, we don’t go to great lengths to hide that; it's on the front door: Climate Vanguard. In our eyes, Lenin is a compelling theorist and practitioner for a few reasons:


First, Lenin had a laser-sharp focus on mobilising against the root causes of crisis. He was extremely effective at connecting people's material suffering to the First World War, which was itself a symptom of capitalist imperialism. In our current conjuncture, it is imperative to organise against the root drivers of ecological collapse. Focusing on symptoms is a deadly distraction.


Second, Lenin championed the politics of speed while remaining deeply committed to rigorous theoretical study and democratic debate. It should be clear to all readers why reflexive political urgency is of paramount importance in the struggle against ecological breakdown.


Third, Lenin’s revolutionary strategy centred on gaining state power and subordinating it to the people’s will. Building eco-socialism requires democratising the means of production, decarbonizing our economy, degrowing unnecessary and ecologically destructive forms of production, decommodifying basic needs, and global decolonization. It is hard to imagine how we will coordinate and execute the necessary large-scale emergency planning to do so without gaining state power.


Finally, Lenin understood that anti-capitalism and anti-imperialism were two sides of the same coin. Leninism went on to inspire socialist and national liberation revolutions around the world, from Vietnam to China to Cuba to Guinea Bissau to Burkina Faso. Anti-imperialism must be woven deep into our analysis and actions. It is not an add-on but an inextricable component of global eco-socialist struggle.


In addition, many contemporary scholars also provide important direction to our politics. Notable thinkers include Andreas Malm for consistently sharp eco-socialist theorising, Kai Heron and Jodi Dean for their ecological revitalization of Leninism, Breht O’Shea and Alyson Escalante for introducing us to the wider Left (if you don’t know the podcasts Revolutionary Left Radio and Red Menace, please check them out!), Max Ajl for his ruthlessly anti-imperial focus on ecological politics and global development, and finally, we would be remiss to leave out our day one, Jason Hickel, whose work was our gateway into Marxism.


degrowth.info: What types of work have you been doing so far, and where?


In our first year of operation, we’ve carried out projects in each of Climate Vanguard’s three focus areas.


In terms of political education, we’ve produced a series of short, accessible briefs for YCM organisers on key issues ranging from climate survival programmes to proletarian ecology. We’ve also offered continuous political education through social media outputs. As for in-person political education, we’ve developed and delivered a workshop titled Programming the Revolution, which explores the utility and process of creating an eco-socialist programme.


In the spring of 2023, we collaborated with Green New Deal Rising, a UK-based youth movement, providing them with direct campaign support. For this project, Climate Vanguard produced a report and a related communications deck covering the topics of debt cancellation, climate finance, green trade, and migrant justice. The report has armed Green New Deal Rising organisers with a set of specific internationalist green new deal demands.


Finally, with regards to convening, we recently hosted a three-part workshop series bringing together YCM organisers from around the world to discuss the systemic drivers of ecological collapse, the role of common strategy in combating them, and an exploration of future collaboration opportunities.


You’ll see from all of these examples that we haven't limited ourselves to working within a specific geography, however this will soon be changing – more on that later.


degrowth.info: Which groups have you worked with, and who would you like to connect with moving forward?


CV: Up to this point, we’ve worked with youth climate groups which exhibit significant variability across geography and organising approaches. However, a common thread is that they each have an understanding that capitalism and imperialism are the root causes of ecological breakdown, and they are committed to aligning their organising efforts with that analysis. Unfortunately, there are still too many groups in the YCM who, for a variety of reasons, haven’t committed themselves to principled anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist organising. This is a reality which offers a clear mandate for continued, wide-spread political education work.


Moving forwards, there are two networks that we would like to connect with more. First are radical intellectuals who have much to teach young organisers, and as such, should be brought into more direct contact with the YCM. Ecological breakdown is politicising more and more young people. It is of the utmost importance that we harness this momentum and forge a generation of committed eco-socialist organisers. Second, we are looking to connect more with organised youth outside of the narrowly defined “climate” space (e.g. those organising in labour unions and various social justice movement, be it feminism, anti-racism, Palestinian liberation, anti-war, abolition, migrant justice, or LGBTQIA+ movements) to facilitate deeper interaction with YCM organisers, building toward a united, revolutionary youth front.


degrowth.info: What has the response to your work been like, and what are the main challenges you’ve faced?


CV: Overall, we’ve gotten a really good response from YCM organisers. The youth movement generally lacks necessary movement infrastructure, so if we can play even a small part by offering a youth-to-youth space of collective learning, sharing, and education, that is a valuable contribution. Reflecting on our first year of work, we believe we’ve already served that function for some groups, but, of course, there remains a long road ahead.


Some of the main challenges we’ve faced are more technical barriers like fundraising and having enough capacity to do all the work we would like to. Another issue with political education work is gauging its impact. We have various ways of measuring certain aspects of our reach but it's always a bit difficult to capture its real-life effects.


degrowth.info: What does Climate Vanguard hope to achieve in 2024?


CV: In 2024 Climate Vanguard is embarking on quite a new strategic direction.


We have the analysis that a new type of eco-socialist organisation is necessary to coordinate a united front of change agents and win transformation. Such a formation must draw on key aspects of past Leninist parties while adapting to present conditions. We see a few examples of such structures in existence, and we feel a deep responsibility to contribute to this development.


Therefore, we are narrowing Climate Vanguard’s geographic focus on the UK, where we will be exploring how youth organisers can catalyse the emergence of such a formation. The process will begin with six months of in-depth research on the current conjuncture followed by outreach and recruitment.


It’s quite a scary change because we are diving into the unknown, but this strategic pivot is the outcome of our analysis about what needs to be done and we are totally committed to helping realise the political necessities of the moment. Whatever we learn in the process we intend to share with organisers in other contexts so that we can all carry on the fight for collective liberation.


If comrades wish to follow our work, they can check our website for regular published works and engage with our various social media platforms, including Instagram, Twitter, and Tiktok.



About the authors

The degrowth.info editorial team.

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Climate Vanguard

Climate Vanguard is a youth-led organisation empowering the youth climate movement through radical political education. You can visit their website here.

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