The Green party has been getting a lot of publicity recently, for promoting the so-called Citizen’s Income. This ill-thought-out idea came a cropper when the incoherent and ill-prepared Natalie Bennett was interviewed by Andrew Neil (the so-called “car crash” interview): I’m sorry, it’s not nice, but I can’t resist:
Anyway, here’s a considered and well-argued Marxist (or semi-Marxist) critique of the Citizen’s Income, from the left wing Scottish blog Mair nor a roch wind:
Against the Citizen’s Income
The idea of a “Citizen’s Income”, or “Basic Minimum Income”, or whatever else it gets called, has been rattling around the left for ages, but has been thrust into the limelight by the recent failure of the “surging” Green Party to successfully advocate it more publicly. It’s already popular amongst the autonomist and eurocommunist elements of the left, but the slew of coverage it has had recently means it’s worth briefly setting out the case against it from a more class-oriented position:
The best argument, as far as I’m aware, for the Citizen’s Income says that it would lessen workers’ dependency on the labour market, allowing them to refuse work and thus removing the ability of the ruling class to force down wages by threatening to replace you with someone cheaper. This would help us transition away from a low-wage economy and force the automisation or eradication of what David Graeber calls “bullshit jobs”, and would give the working class breathing room to fight for socialism. This seems to be the essence of Paul Mason’s recent defence of the policy in the Guardian.
This seems pretty fatally flawed on a number of levels. First up, let’s assume that the Citizen’s Income wouldn’t necessarily achieve these things. A variant of it was proposed ages ago by the neoliberal economist Milton Friedman in the form of the “Negative Income Tax”, and Richard Nixon gave it very serious consideration in the early 1970s. It’s not hard to imagine why the right might support it: under a government controlled by capital, a guaranteed minimum income would essentially be a huge public subsidy for low private wages. In the case of Freedman and right-wing ‘libertarians’ this was also a mechanism to dismantle ‘dependency’ on the state through replacing the public ownership and provision of services with a single cash payment. Indeed, it’s not far away from Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit, or Blair and Brown’s tax credits.
So we need to assume that every government in control of the Citizen’s Income will use it to empower the working class, particularly the government that actually implements it. But a worker’s government is just that – a worker’s government. In fact this is the only kind of government that could plausibly put it into practice. As Mason argues, the policy would demand a great deal of restructuring for business, with huge additional investment required to transition from low-wage to high-wage industry. Only in the depths of Fabian fantasy would the ruling class put up with this without a fight. At the very least, they would try to seize control of the policy and transform it into something far more beneficial to them, as US businesses did with various New Deal programmes in the postwar era. So if we’re proposing that a ‘progressive’ Citizen’s Income could actually be implemented and sustained, we’re assuming that there is already a very powerful working class, with a well-organised, radical party at its head, that can win power and impose its will upon the rich and their allies.
But a powerful working class doesn’t need legislation to get high wages – that’s what trade unions are for, and when they’re strong they do a perfectly good job of raising wages without legislative help. So in order to have a ‘progressive’ Citizen’s Income, you would need certain radical conditions to be in place – but creating these conditions is the goal of the policy! For the left, it’s an idea that can only survive by eating itself, forever consigned to a kind of resigned utopianism where working class power is the rhetorical ends, but is completely abandoned as means.The Citizen’s Income is only confirmation that any perspective of wielding political power through working class mobilisation and organisation has been abandoned by large sections of the left in favour of the hopefully benign actions of the state. This was evident in the hopes that many placed on the hopefully more “democratic” government that would be provided by an independent Scotland and is also clear in the Green Party’s aspiration for a state funded political party system, removing both big business and organised labour from direct influence on political parties.
For all that, let’s assume for the sake of argument that it’s still possible. A Citizen’s Income by itself could just as easily be reactionary as progressive – for it to be the latter, we’re really talking about it being just one element in a broad programme of radical structural change in the economy that would ultimately require the permanent domination of the propertied class by the working class.
We’re talking, in short, about socialism. And if we assume socialism to be a process of transferring power and wealth from the few to the many, what function does the Citizen’s Income serve in that? We’ve already established that strong trade unions can do a perfectly good job themselves of guaranteeing better wages, but now we’re suggesting that that power be given to the state. And once you can rely on the state to guarantee you a decent income, why join a trade union? All of sudden we’ve got a supposedly progressive policy kicking the legs out from under working class organisations and boosting the abstract, supposedly classless power of the state. The Citizen’s Income doesn’t build working class power; on the contrary, it is parasitic upon it.
Fundamentally, it’s a nationalist policy. It doesn’t begin from questions of class and power but from an imagined community ultimately embodied in the state, in which everybody’s interests are equally considered and represented, and struggle is procedural, between vague strategic coalitions organised around ideas, rather than warlike, between the classes in which very real material interests are concentrated and combined. It’s hardly surprising that those peace-loving Greens are so enthusiastic about it.
Rory Scothorne (@shirkerism)
Exciting, isn’t it?
While Alex Salmond demands the right of an independent Scotland to retain the pound, stay in the EU, remain in Nato and keep the monarchy, the Greens (or, at least, their member Adam Ramsay) have entered the fray with a persuasive statement of why the rest of us should support independence. A comrade, perhaps rather cruelly, provides a précis:
12 Reasons Why England Can’t Ignore Scotland’s #Indyref
1) It’s exciting
2) It’s really exciting isn’t it?
3) It’s got people talking
4) It’s big, a biggie, a big deal
5) It’s practically revolutionary – Smash the State!
6) Scotland will be rich without England, honest
7) Scotland will be an anti-racist country
8) You’re no the boss o’ me, Cameron!
9) We will dump all those right wing Labour MPs etc (somehow) – and replace them with nicer people
10) We’ll tak’ the high road …
However, another comrade (a Scot, as it happens) added a further comment: “I think you’re all being very unkind to the Green chap. His Twelve Reasons are the most succinct and intellectually rigorous statement of the case for an independent Scotland that I have ever come across.”
It’s almost a pity that he will forever be remembered for one particular role:
No question, of course, of which party the well-meaning, but deluded and self-righteous middle class prat Tom Good would have been founder-member.
(Guest post from Pink Prosecco)
The Green Party held out against the whole concept of leadership until 2008, when Caroline Lucas was elected with an overwhelming majority, but seems now to have adjusted to the idea, as four candidates have put themselves forward for the recently vacated post: Natalie Bennett, Pippa Bartolotti, Peter Cranie and Romayne Phoenix.
Natalie Bennett sets out aspects of her agenda here – she wants to build on the party’s first green shoots of electoral success.
In the comments she talks with obvious passion about her vision – which she is anxious to communicate in detail otherwise ‘we’re just sounding like a slightly nicer Labour Party – when we in fact have a radically different vision of the future Britain.’
Now – I have a weakness for this kind of rhetoric, and in fact, when I did a questionnaire to find out what party I should vote for (I’m good at finding ways of putting off work) I learnt that I really ought to consider going Green.
One reason for ignoring this suggestion can be summed up in two words: Pippa Bartolotti. She represents the least attractive side of Green politics in the UK. On her website she grumbles that ‘It is fairly typical to be accused of anti-semitism when suggesting that the policies of the Likud government are less than perfect.’ (Oddly, I’ve never experienced that problem myself.)
You can read more about Bartolotti over on Greens Engage.
Her Liberal Conspiracy post (all the candidates were offered one) was pretty bonkers.
By contrast, Peter Cranie sets out his vision in a clear and pragmatic way, confronting the fact that the electorate does not place green issues high on its agenda, and thus needs to be engaged by the party’s policies on housing and jobs.
You can read more about Cranie’s views here.
Rather tellingly, the longest answer is to a question on Israel/Palestine. Cranie, it should be noted, though clearly no Likud supporter, takes antisemitism seriously, and seconded a motion (which failed) to get these guidelines accepted by the party.
As Sunny Hundal notes in the comments to Cranie’s Lib Con piece, he is a candidate who seems well fitted to engage with potential as well as present supporters of the party.
Romayne Phoenix has a varied background in activism and is Chair of Coalition of Resistance. Her Lib Con post asserted her difference from the other candidates but failed to demonstrate where this difference lay. (And is ‘difference’ the best way of securing votes from party members?)
The election will take place in September.
“Anti-nuclear campaigners have generated as much mumbo jumbo as creationists, anti-vaccine scaremongers, homeopaths and climate change deniers. In all cases, the scientific process has been thrown into reverse: people have begun with their conclusions, then frantically sought evidence to support them” – George Monbiot, The Guardian 6 Dec 20112
The outspoken environmentalist George Monbiot, in his regular Graun columns and elsewhere, has for some time now, been writing a lot of sense about nuclear power. Unlike most Greens (including the British Green Party and its overrated leader Ms Lucas) he is willing to examine the evidence and not fall back upon anti-nuclear superstition. In fact, he starts his column today with a startling admission:
“It’s a devastating admission to have to make, especially during the climate talks in Durban. But there would be no point in writing this column if I were not prepared to confront harsh truths. This year, the environmental movement to which I belong has done more harm to the planet’s living systems than climate change deniers have ever achieved.
“As a result of shutting down its nuclear programme in response to green demands, Germany will produce an extra 300m tonnes of carbon dioxide between now and 2020. That’s almost as much as all the European savings resulting from the energy efficiency directive. Other countries are now heading the same way. These decisions are the result of an almost medievel misrepresentation of science and technology. For while the greens are right about most things, our views on nuclear power have been shaped by weapons-grade woo.”
His comments about the potential of integral fast reactors (IFRs) are particularly important and must be taken very seriously by all rational people.
Read the full article here ; The ignorant, hysterical comments that follow on CiF and Monbiot’s replies are also most instructive.
Another voice of reason: Les Hearn at Workers Liberty.
“The founding fathers built a constitution of checks and balances believing reasonable men would agree.; how could they have foreseen Sarah Palin, Michele Bachman or Glenn Beck?” – Polly Toynbee in today’s Graun
Following Obama’s humiliating capitulation to the right-wing loons of the Tea Party, the Graun‘s Polly Toynbee (not one of our usual favourites here at Shiraz) speculates on the likelihood of such a movement arising in the UK and is generally fairly optimistic with regard to mainstream politics:
“Whatever you think of the Tory party, it is not shot through with US craziness,
not on stem cell research and gay marriage, or even really on abortion – though
they will toughen its conditions. Steve
Hilton’s cunning plan to abolish all consumer, employment and maternity
rights got a dusty answer, while his green passions are at least tolerated. Most
Tories are driven by Thatcherism, with its shrink-the-state, on-your-bike thirst
for deregulation. But although Oliver Letwin‘s
parents were Ayn Rand disciples, the American right’s call of the wild is no
closer to Tory core sentiment than is Labour’s ritualistic singing of the Red
Flag once a year. Britain is more rightwing than mainstream Europe, our media
more strident, but we haven’t crossed the Atlantic – yet.”
I think Toynbee’s right about British politics – UKIP and the Tax Payers’ Alliance remain thankfully marginal forces with little popular support and well-deserved reputations for wackiness. That could change, of couirse, but for now I agree with Toynbee that the main arena for irrational, paranoid and reactionary populism in Britain at the moment is science – or, to be precise, anti-science.
Professor Steve Jones’ recent report on BBC coverage of scientific matters showed how even the good ol’ Beeb’s much-vaunted “impartiality” in practice has played into the hands of irrational nutters, flat-earthers and fanatics, by giving their nonsense equal coverage to the overwhelming consensus of scientific opinion.
Jones cites the examples of climate-change, the MMR/autism row and GM crops, as exaqmples of the BBC giving “false balance” between fringe fanatics (or, in the case of climate-change deniers, paid lobbyists) and the overwhelming weight of international scientific opinion. I would add the Green Party’s and CND’s irrational objection to nuclear power to that list.
But the recent story about threats to scientists working on Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is, perhaps the most dramatic recent example of at least some people’s paranoid consumerist hostility to rationalism and objectivity in science:
British researchers looking at the causes of chronic fatigue syndrome have received death threats from protesters angry at their focus on possible mental triggers, a report said Friday.
Several scientists researching the condition, which is also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), say they are being subjected to a campaign of harassment and abuse, the BBC reported.
Professor Simon Wessely, a scientist based at King’s College London, told BBC Radio that he now scans his mail for suspect devices after receiving “maliciously unfair” threats of violence.
“It’s direct intimidation in the sense of letters, emails, occasional phone calls and threats,” Wessely said, adding that those behind the abuse were also making official complaints to British medical bodies.
“I think sadly some of the motivation here comes from people who really do believe that any connection with psychiatry is tantamout to saying there is nothing wrong with you, you are making this up… That is profoundly misguided.”
A doctor representing sufferers in Britain said there was anger about the way the condition was being probed.
Charles Shepherd, medical adviser to the ME Association, said threats to scientists were “completely unacceptable” but called on the British government to support more research into the possible biological causes.
“I think you need to put this into the context of the fact that we have about 250,000 people with this illness (in Britain). A very, very tiny minority of these people are involved in this sort of behaviour,” he said.
A major US study in 2009 claimed that a mouse virus was the cause but researchers later said its findings were wrong and likely based on contaminated lab samples.
Toynbee closes her piece with a quote from Chief scientist John Beddington, arguing that society must become “Grossly intolerant of pseudo-science, the cherry-picking of the facts and the failure to use scientific evidence and scientific method”. That’s the best – in fact, the only – defence we have against Tea Party thinking, whether from UKIP, the Greens or climate-change deniers.
“Closer to home the energy secretary Chris Huhne is mulling over the collapse of the ‘couldn’t happen here’ argument. It may have washed with Chernobyl in Soviet Ukraine but will not survive if the worst-case scenario plays out in high-tech Japan. That may still not happen, and if even the mix of an 9.0 magnitude earthquake, an accompanying tsunami and a hydrogen explosion does not cause lethal melt-down, then the balance of the rational argument could conceivably be more in favour of nuclear in a month’s time than it is today.” - Guardian editorial 15/03/2011
“All over the world, from China to Germany, governments are halting their nuclear power station programmes because of Fukushima.. But what is that supposed to ‘put right’? Whatever went wrong in Japan must have something to do with laying a chain of obsolete reactors precisely along a famous tectonic fault. But the German reactors at Unterweser or Neckarwestheim are nowhere near an earthquake zone, so why has chancellor Merkel shut them down for three months? It’s about as rational as the grand Chinese salt panic: hoarders have snatched it off every shelf in China, after a rumour that Fukushima had turned the salt of all the oceans radioactive.” - Neal Ascherson in The Observer 20/03/2011
Today may not seem an auspicious date upon which to suggest a favourable re-assessment of nuclear power. Twenty five years ago the world’s worst ever civil nuclear accident happened, and the people of Chernobyl are still suffering the effects. Children are still being born with genetic abnormalities and dying of thyroid cancer due to exposure to radioactive iodine contained in contaminated milk. As we discuss nuclear power, we must never forget this: it’s the single strongest argument against.
And now, of course, there’s Fukushima, which appears to have given the Greens and other anti-nuclear power campaigners another powerful argument. But has it? Just as the obsolete Soviet-era design and lax (to the point of non-existent) safety factors at Chernobyl make that disaster something that simply could not happen in an advanced capitalist democracy, so the poor design and siting (in an earthquake zone) of the TEPCO Fukushima plant is n ot something that would happen in Western Europe.
As the Guardian editorial (above) speculated a month ago, “if even the mix of an 9.0 magnitude earthquake, an accompanying tsunami and a hydrogen explosion does not cause lethal melt-down“…then maybe the Japanese earthquake, far from destroying the case for nuclear power, has actually vindicated it.
Certainly, a number of environmentalists and green-leftists seem to be coming round to that viewpoint, including George Monbiot, in a brave article that enraged a number of his erstwhile friends in the green movement. And Les Hearn, in a recent edition of the AWL’s newspaper Solidarity argued that we should…
Get nuclear power’s risks in perspective
The terrible events recently in Japan have resulted in at least 15,000 deaths, of which those attributable to the overheating cores and hydrogen explosions at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant amount to… zero.
However, the situation at the power plant is potentially more serious if it is not controlled. What has been happening?
Some time ago, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) decided to build nuclear power plants in an earthquake zone. They judged that their design was robust enough to withstand a powerful earthquake. They judged that safety measures were adequate in the case of interruption of the electricity supply to the coolant pumps. They hadn’t considered the possibility of a large tsunami.
The plants are Boiling Water Reactors (BWRs) — sort of giant nuclear kettles. The core contains fuel rods of uranium-235 (235U) and plutonium-239 (239Pu) which undergo fission (atom-splitting) reactions, releasing neutrons, radiation, heat and fission products. The neutrons are fed back into the fuel rods in carefully controlled amounts to sustain a chain reaction, releasing heat which is continuously removed by superheated water under 70 times atmospheric pressure. This is allowed to boil, high pressure steam being used to drive electricity generators.
The radiation is absorbed by the core and cannot escape. It eventually contributes to the heat of the core.
The fission products are smaller atoms, usually radioactive. Most dangerous are caesium-137 (137Cs) and iodine-131 (131I). They are contained within the fuel rods, paradoxically making these more radioactive for a while than the original U or Pu.
So what are the safety features of the Japanese BWRs? If the electricity to the pumps cuts out, the chain reaction must be stopped to prevent the release of more heat. This is done by inserting boron control rods into the core. These absorb neutrons so that new fissions cannot occur. Then residual heat must be removed from the rods. The fact that the coolant water is at about 300 ºC shows that the core heat is considerable. If current is cut to the electric pumps, back-up diesel pumps come into operation. If these fail, batteries operate the pumps electrically. Before these run out, TEPCO assumes the main or diesel pumps will be working again.
What actually happened on 11 March and after was as follows. The buildings withstood one of the most powerful earthquakes in recorded history and the control rods were automatically inserted into the core. However, the electrically powered pumps were disabled when the earthquake felled power lines. Diesel pumps kicked in but were then swamped by an unexpectedly large tsunami. Then the shed-load of batteries took over for a few hours but, when they ran down, neither had the electricity had been restored nor the diesel pumps restarted. The core started to overheat.
This risked damage to the fuel rods, resulting in emission of caesium-137 and iodine-131. The risk of damage was increased as the heat of the core made it difficult to cool it with the seawater that the plant workers and emergency services were trying to dump on the reactors. The water was instantly boiling and being driven off as steam. The danger of the fuel rods melting and emitting even more radioactive substances was growing. It is not clear that this would lead to a more catastrophic breach of the steel containment: this would require temperatures exceeding 1500 ºC. But it would increase the danger to the workers of excessive radiation, and risk spreading radioactive caesium and iodine in the surroundings.
The problem of these substances is two-fold. Caesium compounds are very soluble and chemically similar to compounds of sodium and potassium. Caesium rapidly spreads through the environment and is absorbed by plants and animals which may be part of the human diet. Its half-life is about 30 years, meaning that it takes about 100 years to decay to 10% of its original level. However, except locally, it is unlikely to be particularly hazardous. Iodine is more problematic. It is absorbed easily and passed on to humans in food. The body then concentrates it in the thyroid gland, converting a low general dose of radiation to a much higher specific dose to one tissue. It has a half-life of eight days, making it more radioactive atom for atom than caesium-137 but dropping to less than 1% in two months. Preventative measures can easily be taken, minimising the risks.
It is not clear whether the reactors will be brought under control without substantial emission of radiation. It is clear that TEPCO should have sited the back-up pumps higher to avoid inundation by tsunamis. It is less clear but arguable that an earthquake zone was not a wise choice.
Nevertheless, the minimal injuries and absence of deaths compared with the effect of the earthquake and tsunami should help to put nuclear power’s risks in perspective. And we’re not talking about another Chernobyl.
“Fundamentally, therefore, not only is the Green Party institutionally anti-semitic, but for deep-seated political and emotional reasons it is incapable of dealing with this” – Toby Green
Over at Bob from Brockey’s consistently excellent site, ex-Green Party member Toby Green denounces the anti-semitism of the party he’s just left. He doesn’t name names, but it is possible to work out who he is talking about…
I think the first part of Green’s article, blaming the “Trotskyite views” of the Greenleft for the toleration of anti-semitism within the Green Party, is nonsense. The main ‘left’ figure in the leadership of the Greens – Derek Wall – is far closer to Stalinism than to any form of Trotskyism. Even worse nonsense is Toby’s claim (taken from the appalling reactionary John Grey) that, “in secular liberal society …the emergence of repressed religious manifestations… (shows itself in) … hatred of the secular form of Judaism, the political state of Israel, and a repressed form of anti-semitism that dare not speak its name.” This is just incoherent drivel, taken from an ex-Thatcherite and consistent opponent of humanism and the enlightenment – one of the most profoundly reactionary ‘intellectuals’ at large in the world today.
But you can judge for yourself, and read the whole article here.
Anyway, the important part of Toby Green’s article is this denunciation of the anti-semitism that is condoned at the highest level (up to and including Caroline Lucas) within the Green Party:
“This has become abundantly apparent in the Green Party´s abject failure to address clear anti-semitism (and indeed other forms of prejudice) within the party. There appears to be a crass and touchingly self-congratulatory view that if someone is a member of the Green Party, they therefore can´t be prejudiced. This sort of self-regarding drivel is a symbol of one of the worst aspects of the party, which is that all too many members of the party belong because they want to feel good about themselves, not because of what they might achieve. Take the example of fair trade: a recent edition of Green World held what was essentially a two-page advertorial for a fair trade company. Fair trade is on the rise, more available in British stores than in other countries. Why? Because British leftist consumers like to feel good about themselves. Kit Kats are labelled Fairtrade in Britain but not in many other countries for instance. Fair trade is of course better than slave labour, but it does not address the fundamental issue that siphoning off agricultural surpluses from poor countries for the economies of the developed world can do very little to help redress global economic inequities; this was indeed a cycle which began with the Atlantic slave trade, when African societies had agricultural surpluses requisitioned to feed slaves on the middle passage.
“Essentially, much of the membership of the party is therefore grounded in a sort of superior bad faith. And so of course, members of the Green Party can´t be prejudiced. If they accuse members called “Levy” of being Israeli academics in disguise defending Israel, they can´t be rehashing old Jewish conspiracy theories. If they circulate emails from David Duke, a key figure in the Klu Klux Klan, on how “Jewish Zionists” are shaping American policy in Israel in alliance with Obama (thereby rehashing not only anti-semitic myths but also an alliance of this with anti-Black racism), they can still work in Caroline Lucas´s office and be on the list for the European elections. If they circulate emails accusing Jewish members of parliament of double loyalty (to Israel and the UK), there´s no need to suppose that they are re-hashing the anti-Catholic discourse which surrounded JF Kennedy´s run for office in 1960. If they talk of the “squealing zionists”, there´s no reason for them not to be respected party figures.
“To be fair, after all of this, the party did recognise that there was an issue. A report commissioned by the Green Party Regional Council (GPRC – a powerful decision-making body in the decentralisd power structure of the party), and written by two non-Jewish members, said that these were examples of a toleration of low-level anti-semitism, and that therefore a working party on anti-semitism was recommended to be established. Although kicked into the long grass at first, it started work when a senior figure recommended an article by a known holocaust denier on his blog. But the working party was quickly an impossibility. I should know: I was the chair, a position I only adopted when no one else was prepared to. Replies to very calm, polite emails asking for input came there none. Ever. Weeks would go by without any discussion, and if I as chair then asked for input this was always slack. One member only ever sent one email to the group. Eventually, a crisis came when a new GP member posted emails to a list confirming that the epithet of “squealing zionist” was justified. Since this was one of the phrases criticised in the original report to the GPRC, I brought this to the attention of the group – at which point one member resigned.
“This should perhaps not be surprising, since the member who resigned was the very same member who had first used this phrase. The fact that the Green Party put him on the group at his own request (total membership: just 6) speaks volumes for their attitude to it. Especially since, in a subsequent email which this member circulated, he said he had long told the party that the group would be used as a means to change the party´s policy on Israel. That is, this member never had any intention of supporting the work of the group, and people in the party hierarchy knew this.
“So where did this leave the situation? The Working Party was dissolved. Members of the GPRC said they would come up with their own recommendations, and recommended the adoption of the EUMC definition of anti-semitism. This created uproar, and the decision was revoked by the GPRC through a process that was specially expedited outside the ordinary parameters of the functioning of the council. The GPRC instead adopted a policy that they would not develop a policy on anti-semitism, in spite of their own report. Thus, GPRC has accepted that there is a problem, and decided to do nothing about it.
“In the midst of all this farce, a wild card entered the process, which was the joining of the party of a Jewish member who was a leading light in Jews for Justice for Palestinians. This member took to making violent ad hominem attacks on Jewish and non-Jewish party members who were concerned at anti-semitism. In what would seem to me to be clear instances of projections of their own obsessions, they expressed surprise that there could be non-Jewish members who had these concerns, and accused people of having no interest in global politics except Israel (and defending the Israeli position). As someone who has always tried to find a balance between twin unacceptables – Israeli policy in the Occupied Territories and anti-semitism – and who moreover had repeatedly voiced elements of criticism of Israel on public email lists in the party, this simplistic drivelling verbal violence was hard to take. I remained in the party. However, this individual then launched a formal complaint against a Jewish party member who has been prominent in condemning the toleration of anti-semitism in the party, accusing them of entryism – even though in the accuser´s own emails it has become clear that this is what they themselves are guilty of, since they talk of how before joining the party they had been told by people how the “Zionist lobby” was “infiltrating” the party; that is, their joining the party appears to be a clear decision to enter it to fight what they perceive as wrong.
“So, what was the attitude of GPRC to this accusation? Although their own report has accepted that there is a problem with anti-semitism, and although anyone looking at these email lists can see the violence of this member´s almost daily tirades, the accusation has not been thrown out as trivial. Instead, a full tribunal of inquiry has been established. The idea put around by this new member is that, as a Jew, they can see through the anti-semitic myths. But what is lacking in this whole debate is an understanding of Jewish culture. Jews are notorious for disagreeing with each other – there are four synagogues in Gibraltar alone. And Jews are loud. Just because (a very small minority) of Jews disagree about what constitutes anti-semitism in this case, it doesn´t therefore mean the whole issue should be dismissed.
“Far from it. After four years of this charade, it has become clear that the Green Party is institutionally anti-semitic. Its institutions have not dealt with clear evidence of anti-semitism. They show no evidence of wanting to, and indeed now seem to have decided to target perceived “problem” members of the party who have raised this issue. This is fundamentally a political decision: the Green party has decided that it is increasingly a hard left party, allied with enemies of Western capitalism. Rightly, it thinks that Islamophobia is one of the more dangerous phenomena to have arisen since 9/11, and in reaction against this it turns a blind eye to discrimination against perceived enemies of Islamic peoples, Israel, and the Jews. This is a classic case of projection: horrified at their own government´s attitudes towards Islamic countries, and wanting no part in it, this mentality projects this violence onto a scapegoat – Israel and Jews.
“Fundamentally, therefore, not only is the Green Party institutionally anti-semitic, but for deep-seated political and emotional reasons it is incapable of dealing with this. Projection, bad faith, repression of basic belief structures needed by the human psyche, unthinking reaction, and anger to political forces of the 21st century: this is a potent, unhealthy and toxic mix which leads to bad policies, bad decisions, and a party which no thinking person can belong to any more. Certainly it cannot bring about a greater peace and stability in the world, which is one of the core things that the Green Party is supposed to stand for.”
Paul Hampton reviews Derek Wall’s The Rise of the Green Left: Inside the Worldwide Ecosocialist Movement (Pluto Press, 2010)
Ecosocialism is a fudge. It is a swamp with little coherence and even less ground. This book is impressionistic, superficial and politically flawed. Despite a reputation for ecumenicalism, Derek Wall manages to manufacture a ‘common sense’ imbued with the worst elements of Stalinist necromancy. It is a work fit only for the recycling bin of history.
First, Wall has a fundamentally flawed conception of capitalism. For him, capitalism is centrally about growth. It is growth that he believes is the root of ecological degradation. This is not a Marxist conception of capitalism – i.e. one that is rooted in the exploitation of wage labour by capital. Readers who want a more rigorous Marxist political economy of ecological degradation will not find it in this book. And in fact a socialist economy would grow, to produce for human need, even as it would use resources more ecologically.
Second, Wall’s big idea is that ecosocialism rests on a conception of “the commons”, which he associates especially with indigenous communities. He appears to promote a vegetarian future of composted toilets, fustian smocks and cheerfully living off the land – not something that is likely to appeal to the bulk of urbanised humanity. Yet his existing models are no better. He believes that Chavez’s Venezuela is cultivating a “participatory form of socialism” (p.112); in fact Chavez presides over an oil-fuelled Bonapartist state capitalism. Evo Morales is “explicitly advocating ecosocialism” (p.109), despite running a bourgeois government. Cuba has passed “the most radical ecological reforms in the world” (p.113), despite refusing to allow independent unions and environment movements to organise. Laughably, he cites the John Lewis partnership (p.60) as an example of worker ownership, despite the complete absence of unions and the active hostility of management to unions in that firm. In short the alternative to capitalism he promotes is impoverished, miserable and unattractive.
The third area of confusion is over the social forces for socialism, though in a rare moment of candour, Wall admits that, “Green political theory has often been weak when it comes to the question of ‘agency’ and that for many Greens, “species interest replaces specific class interest” (p.134). The basic problem is his elevation of indigenous struggles, over and above those of workers.
Hugo Blanco’s preface states that “the most important task of the ecosocialist is to defend those at the vanguard of the struggle, the indigenous and peasants in general” (p.xiii). Wall states that “indigenous communities are acting as an increasingly self-confident and well-organised vanguard of ecosocialism right across our planet” (p.136). He believes mystically that “indigenous people and peasants have discovered ways of sharing land that are ecologically sustainable and promote real prosperity” (p.16) and “those most concerned to respect other species are often indigenous people” (p.65). Apparently “ecosocialism is the environmentalism not just of indigenous people, peasants and other communities who live directly from the land, but of the poor” (p.129-130). This is a Narodnik position – and a long way from working class self-emancipation.
Wall states that workers “are often dependent on industries that are polluting and destructive (p.132) and “benefit from polluting technology because it provides jobs” and so “will have little interest in environmental issues” (p.136). Ecosocialists must “engage with trade unions” (p.132), though it seems mainly to make links with indigenous people (p.137). Wall supports the Zapatistas, yet their strategy shows the limits of indigenous agency. Mexico has a large and militant working class, with a quarter of its population in Mexico City alone. Rather than build an alliance with auto workers, textile workers, miners and millions of other proletarians, the Zapatistas largely ignored them. They had pretty much nothing to say about the working-class (teacher-led!) uprising in the state of Oaxaca.
Wall cherry-picks his way through the history of the left to find antecedents for his ‘ecosocialism’. It is a partial, selective effort. Marx and Engels get the usual name-check (p.72), as do William Morris and Edward Carpenter (p.75-76). Astonishingly there is nothing about the socialist ecology of the German SPD before 1914, despite the contribution of August Bebel on town and country, energy and deforestation, Karl Kautsky on agriculture and population, and Karl Liebknecht on cars, as well as the social-democratic Friends of Nature organisation. Instead a salutary quote from Rosa Luxemburg waxing about songbirds opens the book.
There’s a nod toward Leninist Russia (p.77), but nothing on wider Russian Marxist contributions of Plekhanov, Bogdanov or Bukharin at the height of the revolution. Instead Trotsky is panned on the basis of a few paragraphs about moving mountains that he wrote in a book about literature. Perniciously, Wall ignores what Trotsky wrote about science and about waste and hyper-industrialisation. And there is no mention of the discussions on nature, geography and materialism among the Comintern (e.g. Wittfogel) in the 1920s.
Wall manages to discuss the Frankfurt school of Western Marxism (p.82) without mentioning Alfred Schmidt, whose book The Concept of Nature in Marx (1962) predated Rachel Carson and the rest of the separate environment movement that emerged in the 1960s. He at least admits that many earlier ‘ecosocialists’ such as Andre Gorz, Alain Lipietz, Rudolf Bahro and Daniel Cohn-Bendit did in fact reject socialism as they embraced ecology (p.88). However Wall simply fails to explain the disjuncture of socialism and ecology from the 1930s, or the central role of Stalinism in creating this schism. It betrays an ignorance of the history of socialism unparalleled for one trying to refound the entire tradition.
For all his apparent chumminess, Wall reserves particular venom for the revolutionary left. Apparently “the far left in many countries” – especially Britain and Argentina – is “isolated from society, divided over esoteric disputes and splintering with almost continuous motion” (p.125). Allegedly there exists a kind of “Leninist gnosticism” – i.e. search for a secret knowledge of transformation. We are allegedly “political sects too fixated on ideological purity to act” (p.127). Instead he prefers just about anybody else to the “arid sectarianism” (p.141) of the far left.
The extent of Wall’s political incoherence is witnessed by three stances. First, his columns for the Stalinist Morning Star, the paper of the Communist Party of Britain. He is happy to help give them the veneer of a paper of the broad left, while they continue to spout pro-Stalinist propaganda. Second, his explicit support for the Respect party, whose political raison d’etre was the uplifting of political Islamists – with disastrous consequences for Asian communities and the left. Third, his love-in with those chameleons Socialist Resistance, who manage to combine theoretical accommodation and bandwagon-jumping with the most passive absence of political drive.
Wall laughably claims that the Green Party of England and Wales has a “strong trade union group” (p.132). The GPTU group is largely without influence in the British trade union movement. In fact it has less influence than almost all the tiniest left groups. It has almost nobody elected to a leading position in a UK trade union body. It never has a political intervention, or a strategy for the winning a trade union struggle, or a rank and file project. Rather, it issues paper press releases, expressing general support for struggles over which it exercises no purchase.
This is well illustrated by the Vestas struggle last year. Wall blandly states that “a wide variety of left and climate activists supported them” (p.132). Despite having hundreds more members than the AWL, the GPEW managed to affect precisely nothing in the struggle. It took a group of revolutionary socialists, principally AWL members – Wall doesn’t mention us in his tour of ecosocialists or those he regards as sectarians, impractical people, hair-splitters etc – to help initiate, sustain and develop the struggle. If Vestas workers had looked to Green Left, they would have found precisely nothing, probably never have occupied their factory, and gone down without a fight
Believe it or not, this is from an article arguing against voting Labour:
“I well understand the intellectual and tactical argument for supporting Labour as a means to aid revolutionary socialism (this has been put to me many times and at great length). But there is no large party in the current system which stands to the left of Labour. The Respect project was the closest alternative we’ve had for many years and we all know what happened there. Thus, it would appear that Labour, sadly, is the only tactical option for uniting the working class at large at the next general election.”
Couldn’t have put it better myself.
And believe it or not, this is from an an article arguing in favour of a Green vote:
“Programmatically, the Green party is far superior to its mainstream rivals. But its record in office, and its nature as a party, is mixed. In Leeds its councillors sustained a Tory-Lib Dem coalition and gave no support to last year’s successful bin strike. On the London Assembly Jenny Jones has acted as an apologist for the Met. The party failed to take a leading role in the anti-war movement and seems to have little interest in mass campaigning of any kind. Many Green cadre are hostile to the left and the unions and wedded to their own form of middle class managerialism. I’ve seen Green party leaflets that in their soft soap and political evasiveness were indistinguishable from New Labour’s. For this I don’t need to turn to a minor party.”
Indeed not, comrade: but like much of the petty bourgeois left, you’ve simply given up on the organised working class, haven’t you?