Colours, shades, limits
In the second of four articles Jack Conrad explores the good, the bad and the ugly sides of green political thought
Like every socially significant ideological current, greenism contains many schools of thought, competing viewpoints, rival campaigns, odd groupings and strange offshoots. A quick name check: Green Alliance, Population Matters, Bright Blue, Resurgence & Ecologist, Green Futures, Green Party of England and Wales, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Women’s Environmental Network, Earth First, Friday for Future, Extinction Rebellion, Campaign Against Climate Change, Earth Liberation Front, Green Anarchist, Alliance for Green Socialism. Evidently, greenism comes in many shades and with not a few additional colour permutations.
Classic, foundational green thinkers - Rachel Carson, Ernst Schumacher, Ezra Mishan, Donella Meadows, Dennis Meadows, Jørgan Randers and Ivan Illich - had the great merit of being in the forefront of those who brought the question of ecological degradation back to public attention, after many years of almost total neglect.1 We are talking about the 1960s and early 70s. The environmental damage caused by modern industrial society - both western capitalism and eastern bureaucratic socialism - was exposed. Growth for the sake of growth was condemned. The concluding message was as urgent as it was blunt: a sustainable balance between humanity and nature has to be re-established before it is too late.
Nowadays, the greens are a real political presence with a Westminster MP, seven MEPs and well over a hundred councillors. Wikipedia classifies the Green Party as “leftwing.”2 In point of fact, there are many good demands in its programme: abolition of the standing army, navy and airforce; withdrawal from Nato; replacing the monarchy with a republic; proportional representation for local and parliamentary elections.3 Etc, etc. However, overall - and in terms of green thought it is far from alone - the party remains trapped within the narrow confines of existing society. Basically, what it envisages is a downsized, a tamed, a domesticated capitalism.
The underlying ethos is localism, not globalism. Small businesses, mutuals, home and self-employment are held up as an ideal. Meanwhile, a remoulded banking system, with the Royal Bank of Scotland at its core, provides “cheap basic” services and lends “locally”.4 So banking capital is reigned in, but continues. Essentially the same happens with industrial capital. Hypothetically, the Green New Deal ends austerity, ensures that the economy is based on renewable energy and reskills and retrains the workforce. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez champions a similar Keynesian package in the United States.
But the programmatic limits are plain to see: though a “green economy” would supposedly replace the “exploitation of people and resources with decent, meaningful work”, in actual fact wage-slavery remains the norm for the vast majority of the population. Eg, despite claiming to have “big, bold ideas”, the Green Party commits itself to a “living wage of £10 an hour” by 2020!5 In other words, not just wage-slavery, but impoverished wage slavery … and that as a goal. Clearly, the interests of small capital trump the interests of labour.
Paradoxically, the Green Party supports the United Nations and opposes Brexit, while simultaneously denouncing globalisation and the international division of labour. Not that a green government would abolish international trade. No, international trade will “respect human rights, labour standards, environmental standards and climate commitments”, etc, etc. Nevertheless, the intention is clear: haul capital back into the cramped space provided by the nation-state.
While capitalism found an early life in the nooks and crannies of classical and feudal society, it is, in its mature form, fundamentally a global system. Having captured the state - tentatively in late medieval Venice and Genoa, more surely in the Dutch Republic and then decisively in Williamite England - capital used this salient to aggressively expand outwards. Protectionism, wartime autarchy and currency controls are, for capital, merely different means towards the same end. Capital develops by overcoming closed markets, old habits and customs, tariff barriers, competition, legal restrictions on hours, and strives for universal domination. The global market becomes the global economy and the means of production are revolutionised again and again. What once took a day to make now takes an hour.
Attempting to reverse that dynamic is both reactionary and bound to trigger a whole series of unintended consequences. What happens when the Green Party’s “innovative, collaborative, forward-facing” economy meets the unforgiving real world? Leave aside sinister moves by the deep state and push back by foreign powers. Chopping up transnational companies into national segments, breaking apart global supply chains and relying on small-scale capitalist enterprises must see overall productivity tumble downwards. Costs must rise and profits will be squeezed.
There would certainly be a flight of capital and the devaluation of the national currency. Hyperinflation surely follows. Shortages spread. People turn to black and grey markets. Corrupt fortunes are amassed. Social tensions become acute. Those with the most marketable skills flee abroad. A Green Party government would be faced with an unenviable choice: either screw up rates of exploitation and administer poverty or abandon the “fight for equality”. Unfazed, the Green Party solemnly promises “an economy that works for everyone”.6 Greenism as manifest self-deception.
In practice, the GPEW’s programme amounts to tougher legislating against polluting industries, enacting measures to reduce plastics, championing wind farms and solar panels, setting dates when net zero CO2 emissions will be achieved, etc. So, the Green Party’s “big, bold ideas to create a confident and caring Britain”, are, in fact, exceedingly timid. Like their German, Swedish, French, etc, colleagues, the underwhelming GPEW leadership - Caroline Lucas, Jonathan Bartley, Jean Lambert, Keith Taylor, Siân Berry, Jenny Jones - overwhelmingly consist of realos, not fundies. They would, given the chance, responsibly administer, not replace, capitalism. That explains why their lefter green opponents condescendingly dub them pale greens.
Moving on from the electorally significant GPEW, we shall have a look at the elitist pressure groups: Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth are typical. For the price of an annual subscription their millions of largely passive members get a vicarious thrill from TV, internet and newspaper-friendly stunts. Yet, despite the eco-warrior image, such organisations are, in fact, top-heavy with managers, administrators, communicators and fundraisers. “Interminable meetings, not action, are the order of most days,” writes Charles Secrett, FoE executive director between 1993 and 2003.7 Radicalism has certainly been blunted by a desire to cultivate and maintain links with the political establishment.
Because Greenpeace relies on propaganda of the deed, it is inevitably run on a ‘command and obey’ basis. Greenpeace has numerous offices, its own fleet of ships and a helicopter, and employs well over 2,000 people. Annual income amounts to some £300 million globally. Lucrative jobs as professional activists are much sought after. Scientists are employed too. Executives vie for dominance. Meanwhile, full membership is strictly limited and most local groups concentrate on money-raising. Street begging, on a wage of about £10-£11 an hour, has been turned into a successful commercial model.8
FoE is somewhat different. For example, while in the United Kingdom its CEO, Craig Bennett, is on a £80-90,000 salary and presides over 500 staff members, he allows local campaigning and initiative.9 However, finance not only comes from membership subscriptions. When it comes to elitist organisations, such as Greenpeace and FoE, capitalist philanthropists - eg, Richard Branson, Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg - provide considerable sums and arguably set the agenda. Note, capitalism is taken as a given - albeit once again, in the imagination, downsized and made eco-friendly. Almost by definition the same goes for Zac Goldsmith and the “liberal Conservative” Bright Blue outfit.10
Tory greenism is nothing new. In October 1988 Margaret Thatcher made her famous ‘green’ conference speech: “No generation has a freehold on this earth. All we have is a life tenancy - with full repairing lease. This government intends to meet the terms of that lease in full.”11 Indeed ever since the dawn of industrial capitalism there has been a strand of aristocratic conservatism which has protested against the despoliation of nature. The Young England movement of the early 1840s comes to mind. Born on the playing fields of Eton, Oxford and Cambridge it loosely grouped together an aristocratic membership - George Smythe, Lord John Manners, Henry Hope, Alexander Baillie-Cochrane, but most notably, its figurehead and leader, Benjamin Disraeli (who was no aristocrat, nor did he attend Eton).12
To gain a wider audience these gentlemen were obliged to appear indifferent to their own class interests. Nostalgically they put the case for a rural idyll of snug hamlets, independent artisans and upright yeomen farmers. Everyone has their place and everyone knows their place: “The rich man in his castle, the poor man by his gate.”
Even in our times protests against the damage wrought by capitalism can go hand in hand with barely concealed plans for a return to the feudal past. Roger Scruton coined the term oikophobia (oiko is the Greek for home) to castigate those who belittle or repudiate family values, established tradition and patriotic love of country (How to seriously think about saving the planet 2012). He singles out in particular Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky. Scruton envisages “environmentalists and conservatives” making “common cause” around “territory” - in particular its “strongest political expression”, the “nation state”.13
Before him, Edward Goldsmith (1928-2009), uncle of Zac, argued for cutting the population by 50%, repatriating immigrants … and establishing a green social order based on the patriarchal family, small-scale communities and something resembling the Indian caste system.14 Inspired by this overtly reactionary vision of the future, Michael Benfield, Freda Sanders, Tony Whittaker and Lesley Whittaker founded the People Party. Edward (Teddy) Goldsmith stood for them in the 1974 general election (he lost badly). But in 1975 the People Party became the Ecology Party and 10 years later in another name change it became the Green Party.15 So in terms of its political origins the Green Party is not left but far-right.
Young England had not the least interest in, nor wish for, democracy. Dreamy poems lauded absolute monarchy, the medieval church, along with benevolent alms-giving to the poor - patronising sentiments, which were the subject of much wicked mockery at the time. Young England accused industrialists of subordinating all moral scruples to the balance sheet. Utilitarianism excused greed. The rich and powerful had abdicated their responsibilities to the weak and vulnerable. Capitalism threatened to destroy everything tried and tested, everything venerated, everything that rooted people in the sacrosanct soil of past generations.
Unless halted, such vandalism, it was darkly prophesised, would inexorably lead to a revolutionary explosion and plunge the country into unimaginable chaos. Memories of 1789 were seared onto ruling class brains. Swift action had to be taken to rescue what little remained of the national heritage - historical monuments, ancient woodlands and time-honoured rural ways.
We heard a similar tune from the Countryside Alliance in the 1990s and 2000s. A melange of aristocratic landowners, plebeian retainers and the right wing of the middle classes, it symbolically dressed foxhunting up in the garb of timeless tradition. And in 2002 it mobilised 400,000 to march through central London not only in support of foxhunting but British food and British farms. In reality things are, of course, very different. Those who still run the Countryside Alliance - disgracefully, ermined Labour Party members included - are the very types responsible for degrading rural Britain. They ripped up hedgerows. They are addicted to state handouts and subsidies. They preside over and profit from monoculture and the wanton use of chemicals.
The origins of our denatured system of agriculture lie in the Enclosure Acts, beginning in the 13th century and completed in the 19th century. The mass of Britain’s peasant farmers were expropriated: a “plain enough case of class robbery”, declares EP Thompson.16 Not only was the best land put over to grain and cattle: huge tracts of moorland were turned over to killing ‘wildlife’ - grouse, partridge and fatted deer. An aristocratic playground. A small army of gamekeepers were employed to keep out the hoi polloi. Wolf, polecat, eagle, hawk and otter were all categorised as vermin and systematically exterminated. Foxhunting was invented only in the 19th century. Horses and dogs had by then been bred to the point where they had the needed speed and stamina.
Today an estimated 0.28% of families own 64% of the land.17 The - totally ineffective - Hunting Act (2004), chasing down and ripping apart exhausted foxes, served to symbolise that landed wealth, class domination and inherited privilege. In its own illegal way, it still does. No surprise - many Tory MPs continue to hanker after a repeal of the fox-hunting ban.18
There are pale greens who unapologetically promote monopoly capitalism. A small clique; but well connected and therefore disproportionately influential. Jonathon Porritt’s book Capitalism, as if the world matters (2005) serves as a kind of manifesto. He has been rewarded with all manner of posts, honorariums and prestigious invites. The obnoxious Charles Windsor counts as a friend and confidant. Porritt rejects capitalism, not “per se” - well, of course not - but in terms of this or that “particular model”. Unsurprisingly, he concludes that sustainability is fully compatible with a revised, retuned, recalibrated capitalism. If that is not possible, he grudgingly admits, then one would be morally obliged to “devote one’s political activities” to the “overthrow of capitalism”.19
Needless to say, ecological responsibility cannot replace accumulation for its own sake as the mainspring of capital’s laws of motion within capitalism. To claim otherwise is to desert reality. Undaunted, in 1996, sniffing the dividends, Porritt and Sara Parkin founded the Forum for the Future. After a simmering civil war they had both resigned from the Green Party’s executive just a few weeks prior to its annual conference.
Forum for the Future is a well-heeled charity - 66 staff members and an annual income of £5.2 million. It courts big business ... and its chequebooks. No one-way street. Forum for the Future magnanimously bestows green credentials on transnational corporations and translates sustainable development into the language of share price, cash flow, cost-cutting, efficiency and profit. Its 50-plus corporate sponsors and partners have, we are reassuringly told, a “proven commitment” to the environment.20 Amongst them are American Express, the British Aerosol Manufacturers Association, Jaguar Land Rover, Tata, Nestle, Sky, M&S and Aviva.21 Obviously being green is considered good public relations and therefore good business. Saving on inputs such as energy and other raw materials can certainly be presented in a way that buffs green credentials; as motivated not by the intrinsic capitalist drive to minimise costs, rather newly discovered concerns for the environment.
Green eco-taxes and subsidies, emissions trading and CO2 capture and storage all chime with manufactured public opinion. However, these green capitalist panaceas legitimise pollution, favour the most powerful concentrations of capital, threaten to pass on additional costs to the consumer or simply lead to offloading dirty industries onto less developed parts of the world: India, China, Vietnam, Philippines, etc.
Old technologies can be abandoned or superseded, but individual capitalists personify - are in thrall to - a mode of production which relies on constant growth. Hence they spare no effort, go to any lengths, to discover or invent novel ways to pass through the eye of awkward laws. Money is certainly used to purchase state guardians, to open up loopholes and, failing that, to bulldoze down legislation ... essentially allowing the fundamental laws of capital to reassert themselves.
Capital aims to expand capital - not cherish the environment or promote human wellbeing. Neoliberalism exacerbates what is a general characteristic. Capital and state interweave as never before. Corruption becomes institutionalised, normalised, and except in its most overt forms nowadays goes hardly noticed.
Environmental regulations are not only subject to outrageous abuse and constant string-pulling: governments willingly slough them off given sufficient bribes or pressure - the US being obviously by far the most important example: after all, it is the “biggest carbon polluter in history”.22
Despite this, Donald Trump promises to pull out of the Paris international climate agreement, cuts back on the US environmental protection agency, dismisses climate warming as a hoax and, all in all, has rolled back or reversed a whole raft of existing regulations.23 Here Trump walks in the footsteps of previous Republican administrations: George Bush repeatedly invoked ‘national security’ to justify abandoning environmental protection measures, including granting permission for drilling oil in wildlife refuges; Richard Nixon did the same.
Few CEOs dare speak out in favour of deregulation and yet the effects of deregulation are “often cited as a factor that has buoyed the stock market”.24 Undaunted by the reality of ‘actually existing’ capitalism, Forum for the Future promises companies that they can be “turbo-charged by sustainability”.25
Legally trained proponents of green capitalism seriously - at least according to their own warped precepts - want to extend the ideology of rights to include rivers, lakes, trees, mountains, the very air we breathe. They become legal personalities and can thereby gain protection in the courts.26 Natural objects should be given the same legal status as corporations, argues Christopher Stone.27 But rights, like politics, art and morality, is obviously a human construct. Nor has nature as nature interests. Human beings have an interest in nature, its preservation, its variety, its health, because nature supports human life and enhances humanity materially, culturally and spiritually. Nonetheless, the green legalists believe that by giving nature rights this will stop exploitation. History, to put it mildly, fails to support such a contention. Capital treats what is bought and sold, what is property, in a purely instrumental (slave-like) fashion. Necessarily that entails mistreatment as a means to an end. Labour is exploited. So too is nature.
Do the innate laws of capital mean that the system cannot be forced to partially curb its exploitative appetites and patterns of behaviour? Of course it can. Capitalism as a total system has never moved according to the exclusive interests of capital. There exists another power within it. There is the political economy of need, which constantly pushes in the opposite direction. In short, the class struggle conducted by workers and an immanent socialism.
Life is stacking up more and more examples, not only of capitalist decay, but the becoming of socialism: legal restrictions on working hours, universal suffrage, compulsory primary and secondary education, free health provision, unemployment and housing benefit, clean air acts, limits on emissions, health and safety, countryside access, minimum pay levels, etc. All negative anticipations, because socialism is emerging, but remains unseparated from capitalism.
Unsurprisingly, all such state-enforced measures cause their own problems: a hybrid system is a malfunctioning system. The law of value and state organisation interfere with the workings of each other, they conflict, they produce completely irrational results. Endless regulation, endless deregulation, privatisation, deprivatisation, marketisation, ballooning bureaucracy, chronic waste, meaningless tick-box targets.
Despite capital’s inherent drive to maximise exploitation - not least, given our present line of discussion, the exploitation of nature - it is held back, curbed, modified. But attempts to organise what is decay compound existing contradictions and add new ones besides. The system becomes uncontrollable even for its controllers - hence the greater likelihood of nature exacting its revenge.
Prostituted apologetics of the type coming from the Forum for the Future notwithstanding, there are anti-capitalist greens. Overproduction, waste, insatiable greed and the wanton misuse of nature are all subjected to savage criticism and on occasion profound analysis. Many radical green thinkers fondly cite Gerald Winstanley, William Morris and Peter Kropotkin as their fiery inspirations. Others prefer the milder flavours of St Francis of Assisi, Leo Tolstoy and Mahatma Gandhi.
Obviously, anti-capitalism is a many-headed beast. Before examining the deep greens, let us discuss Ernst Schumacher, George Monbiot and Murray Bookchin. Between the three of them they cover the spectrum of ecological thought that stretches from green Christianity by way of neo-Proudhonism to social anarchism. Besides a burning desire for global change, the thread that joins them is that ‘Small is beautiful’.
The future must be non-capitalist, but also decentralised, self-reliant and non-hierarchical. However, the social agent capable of bringing about such an outcome remains totally unconvincing in each account. For Schumacher it is enlightened aid workers and third-world bureaucrats. Monbiot talks of collective action by “poor countries”, while Bookchin looks to “libertarian municipalism”. All shrink from the necessary task of organising the working class into a revolutionary party.
Ernst Schumacher (1911-77) considered unrestrained industrialisation to be the cause of “unlimited sorrows”, especially in the former colonial countries. Schumacher advocated ‘appropriate technology’ and rejected the ‘bigger is better’ ethos characteristic of the 1950s-60s long boom. He located this ethos not in the organised concentration of capital, overseen by the social democratic state: rather in six leading ideas inherited from the 19th century.
That is, Darwinism and “natural selection”; the “idea of competition” and “the survival of the fittest”; Marx’s observation that all “higher manifestations” of human life - religion, philosophy, art, etc - are nothing but “necessary supplements of the material life process”; the “Freudian interpretation which reduces human life to “the dark stirrings of the human subconscious”; relativism and “denying all absolutes”; positivism and the claim that “no knowledge is valid unless it is based on generally observable facts” and therefore denies the possibility of objective knowledge of purpose and meaning.28 These ideas, which “claimed to do away with metaphysics”, were in fact, intoned Schumacher, “bad metaphysics and bad ethics”.29
Joining natural selection and historical materialism together with positivism and scientism is not as absurd as might first appear. Ideologically the post-World War II period was under the tyrannical sway of positivism - the official ‘Marxism’ of the Stalinites, on the one side, and social democracy and mainstream liberalism, on the other. Though undoubtedly failing to locate the real causes, Schumacher exposed the negative ecological results of both capitalist and Stalinite development. As an alternative, he famously opted for what he called ‘Buddhist economics’ (though he himself converted to Catholicism). His model was post-independence Burma!
A regular columnist in The Guardian, George Monbiot has written a string of excellent books: Amazon watershed, Heat, Captive state, Feral, etc. His case for a “democratic revolution” is fully elaborated in The age of consent (2003), which dissects the “global dictatorship of vested interests”. Clearly a revolt against 21st century capitalism, but just as clearly a reinvention of pre-Marxist utopian socialism.
Monbiot wants to “harness” globalisation in order to eventually extinguish capitalism. True, long down the road of his democratic revolution, reaching some pre-set programmatic milepost, the transnationals will finally be broken up and production radically decentralised. Once a confirmed localist, he now espouses globalism - at least in terms of strategy. His democratic revolution begins at the global level.
Anarchism and green capitalism are rightly rejected. But Monbiot suffers from what can only be described as a Pavlovian aversion when it comes to Marxism. The merest mention of Marxism sends his brain into a spin. Monbiot ridiculously blames Marx for Stalin’s gulags, Maoism and Pol Pot. Bureaucratic socialism is put down to the Communist manifesto. His “pathological” Stowe public school education clearly conditioned him all too well.
Monbiot has gone to the trouble of drawing up a detailed blueprint for tomorrow’s world. There will be a 600-seat global parliament - one MP for every 10 million people. Parliamentary voting will be weighed according to a sliding democratic scale - once again courtesy of our clever friend. However, the authority of his august body would be purely moral. National states continue to exist. It is just that they would now be under moral pressure to do the right thing. The world ‘government’ would have no law courts, no army. Nonetheless, a fair trade organisation ensures that transnationals retract their exploitative claws and respond to popular environmental concerns and worries.
How such a ‘one person, one vote’ global institution is supposed to arise, while national states and US, EU and Japanese transnationals still constitute the dominant economic power on the planet, is lightly skated over. Does anyone really expect the US administration to facilitate its citizenry voting in Monbiot’s elections? Would Washington shoulder the costs involved? And what about China, Russia, Iran and North Korea? Though Monbiot gives a passing nod in the direction of existing campaigning organisations, his elaborate schema is built on nothing more substantial than the clouds of fantasy.
Bookchin (1921-2006) offers a slightly less utopian perspective. Describing himself as a libertarian communist - a former ‘official’ communist and then Trotskyite - he took theory seriously. An impressive body of work contains much of value. Bookchin particularly targeted domination and hierarchy in class society. This has produced humanity’s imbalance with nature. He has no time for pro-capitalist greenism, overpopulation panics or technophobia - all have inbuilt reactionary implications. A complete social revolution is needed.
Bookchin’s unwillingness to embrace the means - the revolutionary party - is perfectly understandable, especially given the US radical milieu during his lifetime. The leftwing sects which passed themselves off as parties - even those which more modestly say they aspire to that aim - pathetically reproduce the structures and much of the attending egotism of capitalism itself. Central committees behave as boards of directors, the rank and file are treated as mere speaking tools. Then there are the proprietorial general secretaries.
Fleeing from this madness, Bookchin found refuge in the idea of little communes - municipalities which consist, to begin with, of hard-core cadre. Somehow these bacilli survive within the decaying body of capitalist society and steadily grow into organs of dual power. Momentarily suspending our disbelief at the chances of this happening, we are still left with a fundamental problem.
If for some reason these bodies managed to avoid succumbing to the antibodies of coercion, the pressures and the lures of capitalist society, no matter how powerful they became, they would still come to grief on the reefs of localism. By their very nature they would articulate sectional, not universal, interests and therefore quickly fall into bickering rivalry - the fate of trade unions as trade unions, co-ops as co-ops and soviets as soviets. Without the coordination, discipline and theory provided by the highest form of working class organisation, sectionalism is bound to take hold.
As personalities Schumacher, Monbiot and Bookchin are clearly motivated by a heartfelt desire to improve the lot of the world’s population. That cannot be so readily said of deep greens. Yes, they too savage consumerism, industrial effluent, monocrop agriculture, the whole cult of economic growth. However, for them, the adverse effects this has on humanity is secondary. Nature comes first.
Arne Naess (1912-2009), the Norwegian mountaineer and sage, began laying the theoretical foundations as far back as the early 1950s - at least to the degree that deep greenism can be considered a theory. He attacked the short-termism, the irrationality of neo-classical economics and sought to displace anthropocentric modes of thinking with what he and his followers call “biocentrism or egocentrism”.30
Anthropocentrism - which I take as meaning that humans alone have intrinsic value - dates back, he argues, to the Neolithic revolution, around 10,000 years ago. The adoption of anthropocentric modes of thought is collectively remembered in the story of Yehovah’s expulsion of Adam and Eve from the garden of Eden and other such myths.
The long and the short of it is that, once human beings stopped venerating nature and started to treat it as a thing to be subdued, an object fit only for exploitation, then they fell from grace and condemned themselves to the endless drudgery of labour. Civilisation thereby becomes a terrible mistake, a dangerous detour. Suffice to say, deep greenism lacks anything resembling an adequate account of history.
Deep greenism amounts to a retrogressive plea for humanity to adapt to nature, to give up on all hope of progressive social change and return to a lost innocence of childhood. But no adult can perform such a feat. Nor can the human species. The door to the past is permanently closed. It is impossible to sustain a 7.2 billion global population with Paleolithic hunter-gathering. The only door open to us is the future.
According to Naess, there is no moral hierarchy of life. He rejected all paradigms, whereby species are ranked according to whether they have a soul or possess consciousness. Naess says: “the right of all forms [of life] to live is a universal right which cannot be quantified. No single species of living being has more of this particular right to live and unfold than any other species.”31
This is not the self-denying ordinance it might first appear to be. Despite the insistence on non-hierarchy, elementary biological necessities have to be recognised. “Except to satisfy vital human needs” there is no sanction to kill. But there is a “vital human need” for food that must be constantly satisfied. People have to consume fellow life forms … and thankfully they can do so with the sanction of the deep greens. In point of fact there is a deep-green macho minority, which actually revels in hunting, shooting and fishing as a means of rediscovering their human essence. Nature being red in tooth and claw.
In the spirit of Naess, we find green thinkers like James Lovelock expressing a scornful disregard for fellow human beings:
Our humanist solicitude towards the poor living in the impoverished suburbs of the big cities of the third world, and our almost obscene obsession with death, suffering and pain - as if these were harmful in themselves - all these thoughts deflect our attention from the problem of our harsh and excessive domination of the natural world.32
A line of thought which has led some deep greens to view the HIV/Aids virus either neutrally or as yet another addition to life’s rich tapestry. Some actually welcomed it.33 Celebrating authenticity, fragility and destiny, these ecobrutalists decry anti-Aids drugs and the entire health infrastructure. Nature knows best. Via Aids humanity is being culled. When that task is finally completed, it is the deep-green survivalists who will inherit the earth.
To say the least, all such viewpoints smack of anthropomorphism. Nature is given human attributes. Hence we find the American naturalist, Aldo Leonard, telling us to “think like a mountain.” Biocentrism, to state an obvious truth, is a human-created ideology. If it means recognising that humans are part of nature - the uniquely conscious part - that human society should cease fetishistically worshipping production, that we should start looking after nature by reordering ourselves, then no serious communist would disagree. On the other hand, if biocentrism means placing nature above the interests of humanity, diminishing the human and depicting it as a disease, then we must disagree.
Deep greenism comes ‘unencumbered’ by a fully debated and democratically agreed programme. It is a loose conglomeration and ideologically very pick and mix. Deep greenism often blurs over into New Ageism, with its self-realisation and lifestyle obsessions. Consequently deep greens are prone to navel-gazing individualism and to falling under the spell of charismatic charlatans. Exponents frequently hold completely juxtaposed positions and easily lurch from elation to despair and vice versa.
Ecofeminist deep greens blame “capitalist patriarchy” and male values for the degradation of the environment.34 Women are considered innately attuned to nature. Menstruation and motherhood separate them from men and go towards what is essentially a form of biological determinism. Not a few have taken to witchcraft.
One celebrated exponent of deep-green irrationalism is the physicist Fritjof Capra, founding director of the Center for Ecoliteracy in Berkeley, USA. According to his official website, he “frequently gives management seminars for top executives”.35 After touring Germany in the early 1980s, Capra co-authored Green politics (1984) with ecofeminist Charlene Spretnak. In The Tao of physics (1975) and later books such as The web of life (1996) and The hidden connections (2002), he details why he believes physics and metaphysics are both inexorably leading to the same stunning conclusion: “there are hidden connections between everything”.36
As is standard deep-green fare, Capra dismisses as outdated the mechanical ‘Cartesian-Newtonian paradigm’: in justification he cites 20th century developments in sub-atomic physics and systems theory. Instead, he calls for a delving back to the truths that can be discovered in the ancient eastern outlook - ie, Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism - which maintain a mystical holism. Of course, the truths Capra finds in these religions/philosophies are primitive forms of dialectics.
Take Lao Tzu, the 7th century BC Chinese teacher and thinker. Brilliantly, he grasped the fact that all things are changing, and changing into their opposites; they do so by following their own natural way (Tao). Lao Tzu eschewed the gods and instead emphasised the “dialectic of nature”.37 Humanity must learn to quietly accept its laws. Other deep greens find similar truths in classical Greece. Heraclitus (circa 544-483 BC) also said that there is nothing certain in the world except change. He too concluded that things turn into their opposites. Properties of the real word were captured in the minds of these outstanding philosophers and turned into various modes of dialectical thought.
Deep greens believe they have discovered the highway to social transformation through mentally shunning western scientism and embracing what they consider to be the esoteric secrets of ancient wisdom. Others - not least society at large - are urged to follow their path to enlightenment.
Primitive dialectics is one-sided, having been developed by members of the exploiting classes - specifically those intellectuals who possessed the abundant leisure time needed to contemplate and debate. However, their dialectics were quietist - a means of interpreting, not radically engaging with the world. That was the great advance brought about by the Marx-Engels team.
Marxism is the world outlook of the revolutionary working class. Taking the best from previous philosophies, Marxism continues, but transcends, philosophy. Marxism is quintessentially about practice: investigation is for the purposes of overthrowing all existing social conditions through pursuing the class struggle.
The political economy of the working class points far beyond the narrow confines of mere trade unionism. A few hours off the working week, a bit more pay at the end of the month - that cannot remotely satisfy the needs of the working class. The working class needs to become fully human. That necessitates establishing genuinely human relationships within society and through that a human relationship with nature.
So the only consistent defender of nature is the working class. Every other social agent is illusory. Nothing else can conceivably organise itself into an alternative material force capable of positively transcending capital.
To be ecological therefore requires more than being anti-capitalist. It is necessary to be a partisan of the working class, an undiluted red, a Marxist l
. For a useful bibliography of classic, early, foundational green thinking, and first, second and third waves see John Barry’s summary (pure.qub.ac.uk/ws/files/5420698/Green_Political_Theory_John_Barry.pdf).↩
. The Guardian June 13 2011.↩
. See R Scuton How to seriously think about saving the planet Oxford 2012; Z Goldsmith The constant economy London 2009; and brightblue.org.uk/about.↩
. R Harris (ed) The collected speeches of Margaret Thatcher London 1997, p341.↩
. See J Morrow (ed) Young England Leicester 1999.↩
. R Scruton How to seriously think about saving the planet Oxford 2012 p19.↩
. See E Goldsmith and R Allen A blueprint for survival Harmondsworth 1972.↩
. EP Thompson The making of the English working class New York NY 1963, p218.↩
. D Mead The new law of peaceful protest Oxford 2010, p121n.↩
. The Independent May 9 2017.↩
. J Porritt Capitalism, as if the world matters London 2011, p87.↩
. New York Times June 1 2007.↩
. New York Times June 7 2019.↩
. EL O’Donnell and J Talbot-Jones ‘Creating legal rights for rivers: lessons from Australia, New Zealand, and India’ Ecology and Society Vol 23, No1 March 2018.↩
. See CD Stone Should trees have standing? Los Angeles 1974.↩
. EF Schumacher Small is beautiful London 1993, pp68-69.↩
. Ibid p72.↩
. A Drengson (ed) The selected works of Arne Naess Vol 1, Dordrecht (Netherlands) 2005, p18.↩
. Arne Naess Ecology, community and lifestyle: outline of an ecosophy Cambridge 2001, p166.↩
. Quoted in D Nichols Environment, capitalism and socialism Newtown 1999, p103.↩
. See rationalwiki.org/wiki/Hard_green#cite_note-deepcrit-4.↩
. See M Mies and N Shiva Ecofeminism London 1993.↩
. F Capra Hidden connections London 2003, pvii.↩
. L Kohn and M Lafarge (eds) Lao-tzu and the Tao-te-ching: studies in ethics, law and the human ideal Albany NY 1998, p196.↩