On your bike

Phil Kent criticises the limitations of greenism

It was clear from the number of stalls belonging to revolutionary groups that a substantial element of the left is trying to intervene in and influence the green movement. All preaching the virtues of ordinary people coming together to provide a solution - but not quite to the point of practising this by coming together themselves.

The first workshop I attended with about 30 or 40 others reinforced this impression of left involvement. It was entitled 'Do we have to sacrifice living standards to fight climate change?' Whose living standards was not mentioned and in fact the question was not answered, but all the speakers claimed to be for socialism of one type or another, including Alex Fisher of the Green Party. Ruth Thomas-Pellicer (a rather incoherent academic) was a fan of the young Karl Marx and Elaine Graham-Lee of Respect thought revolution would in the end be necessary.

But no one from the top table uttered the words, 'working class'. It seems that it is a class-free socialism that is on offer. Theory is abandoned in order to make 'socialism' more palatable to the greens. In view of this you could almost sympathise with the speakers from the floor who called for the dropping of ideologies in favour of "letting the facts speak for themselves". It sounds so reasonable, but it expresses an empirical or sciencist viewpoint that implicitly accepts the norms and common sense or existing capitalism in all its craziness.

Two speakers whose arguments I could follow both called for local democracy, linked of course to local activity. Think globally, act locally as a strategic approach to politics. While I have no problem with local activity, localism is problematic. Surely if climate is global then the problem can only be solved globally. This calls for a centralisation of decision-making at a world level. Capitalism spontaneously organises the world in the interests of accumulation for its own sake and constantly tries to hollow out or restrict democracy as far as it can. Centralisation is democratic only if it represents conscious control of the whole from below and local initiatives have value to the degree that they serve bringing this about. On their own they are limited or even conflictual and in that case you end with the tyranny of structurelessness - anarchism.

In fact the openings were interesting in their own way and threw up a large number of questions that could have occupied the entire conference for the whole day instead of a minority for an hour and a half. Before we could get going it was all over. Nothing destroys serious debate or is more open to manipulation than workshops - they should be banned.

The second one I attended, 'Is there a corporate enemy and if so who?', left me feeling I should have gone somewhere else. It was a Greenpeace-type affair about picking out the most evil capitalists in the world, exposing their activities and calling on people to boycott their products. While this can be entertaining, it does have its obvious limitations.

The villains this time were Exxon, Land Rover and Ryanair. A speaker from the floor related how he had driven past an Esso station while very low on fuel - and was relieved that the next garage was Shell. The concept of very evil capitalists implies a lesser evil and even good capitalists, though they don't seem to have found many yet.

Apropos Ryanair, it was pointed out that only 6% of air passengers were from social class D and E, so a flying ban would not inconvenience the poor. But is the problem not with a capitalism that, as well as exploiting people, constantly creates new wants and needs? Needs and wants that constantly go from being luxury items to become necessities. Is the CACC really going to argue for the outlawing of cheap holidays in Spain or Greece?

I suggested that Exxon and Ford contributed so much money to George Bush because they wanted the protection of the American state, without which their exploitation of people and nature would be impossible. So should CACC not be fighting for the extension of democracy in the US and globally, including replacing the standing army with a people's militia, up to the point where international popular control totally replaces the principle of profit with the principle of need? But this was beyond the remit of the speakers, whose conception of class struggle was non-existent, corporate enemy or no corporate enemy.

But when people actually came together in the plenary session, we saw how peripheral the far left is in the minds of most of the organisers. No space for the SWP here. Michael Meacher and Caroline Lucas were both agreed that we need a completely different type of society, but what they seemed to mean by this is that we the people should ride bicycles, take our holidays at home, etc.

In other words, meeting the challenge of climate change is the responsibility of individuals sacrificing their lifestyle, while the state and capital are kindly requested to clean up their act.