Green liquidationists snub Lindsey German
ISG tags green politics onto left reformism, reports Alan Morgan
The International Socialist Group, the British section of the Fourth International, recommends Londoners to vote for Siân Berry of the Green Party as its first preference in the mayoral elections on May 1. This might prove to be a pivotal turning point. Certainly it is a shameful retreat from elementary working class politics by an allegedly ‘revolutionary Marxist’ organisation.
This move towards the Greens corresponds to a wider turn being made by other sections of the Fourth International that has been promoted over the last couple of years. Given the very real global ecological crisis, the abject failure of the so-called parties of ‘recomposition’ and the growing popularity of what are called green politics, a majority in the Fourth International’s leadership decided that the moment had arrived to reinvent themselves yet again. The result is ‘ecosocialism’ - ie, an adaptation to the petty bourgeois politics of the green parties, movements and campaigns.
In the form of the ISG this means green politics tagged onto the left reformism it has long espoused in elections. This red-green “convergence” was described by the ISG’s Chris Brooks in a plug for the December 2006 conference on global warming organised by the ISG-sponsored Socialist Resistance: “Two visions exist of a progressive and radical transformation of the world: one ecologist and the other socialist. Socialist Resistance hopes to stimulate a socialist ecology that can unite and enrich both ‘reds’ and ‘greens’. The convergence of these movements could form a new paradigm for civilisation: ecosocialism.”1
Whether or not the green version of the world is “progressive and radical” is very much open to question. Wage labour and the market are almost assumed as a given. Indeed in general greens envisage a petty bourgeois utopia of small businesses, yeomen farmers and a general retreat before nature. There is certainly a distinct whiff of Malthusianism. Not so many years ago the Green Party was demanding that the population of Britain be reduced to a “sustainable” 20 million.
What of socialism? Well there are many socialisms. Karl Marx and Fredrick Engels wrote about feudal, christian, utopian, state, military and even bourgeois socialism. But the proletarian socialism they fought for was specifically envisaged as bringing to an end the antagonistic contradiction between human being and human being, and between human beings and nature.
However, instead of highlighting that heritage and combating the dangerous and anti-working class ideological influence exerted by green or ecosocialism, the ISG have collapsed into it (as in the past it and its predecessors collapsed before Titoism, student vanguardism, feminism, pacifism … and many another ‘short cuts’).
In 2006 the ISG published Ecosocialism or barbarism - presumably an adaptation of Rosa Luxemburg’s famous slogan, ‘Socialism or barbarism’ - by Jane Kelly and Sheila Malone. The pamphlet brought together articles from what they grandly said were the world’s leading ecologists and Marxists, and included ‘An ecosocialist manifesto’ by Joel Kovel and Michael Löwy.
This has provided encouragement for Derek Wall, male principal speaker for the Green Party. Transparently sincere (some might be tempted to call him naive), he really does believe that - albeit with a little bit of intellectual help provided by the reds - socialism can be achieved through the electoral advances, organisation and eventual government provided by what is quite clearly a non-working class party.
Speaking from the platform at Socialist Resistance’s climate change conference, Wall declared that the Koval-Löwy manifesto “is an essential document because it argues that unlimited economic growth is unsustainable”. He concluded by saying: “It’s great to see socialists embracing ecosocialism … The alternative … is literally unthinkable destruction.”2
In the name of convergence the ISG comrades enthusiastically supported the setting up of the Ecosocialist International Network, inaugurated in October 2007. And at its September 2007 annual general meeting Socialist Resistance confirmed it was “changing its political programme, perspectives and public profile towards being an anti-capitalist, ecosocialist organisation”.3 However, the Socialist Resistance comrades were at pains to stress that this programmatic change “does not mean dropping our commitment to anti-imperialism and anti-capitalism, feminism and the rights of the oppressed, anti-racism, and so on”. Neither, of course, “does it mean a radical version of the Green Party”. That is exactly what it does mean. A radical version of the Green Party - only much, much smaller and much, much less successful.
Liam Mac Uaid explained at the AGM that “our newspaper will change in three ways: first, articles need to spotlight the issues, organisations and people who take an anti-capitalist approach to climate change; second, we will bring together an advisory board to guide us; thirdly we are inviting discussion and suggestions about the name of the newspaper.”
At the time the ISG/Socialist Resistance was clearly contemplating ditching Respect and going for pastures new. There were differences. In Birmingham Stewart Richardson wanted to stay. But in what was far more than a symbolic gesture ISG leader Alan Thornett stepped down from its officer’s group in high dudgeon and Liam Mac Uaid publicly announced that he had left Respect altogether. Of course, this was before George Galloway’s challenge to the SWP stranglehold, before John Rees’s humiliating defeat in Tower Hamlets and before the SWP decided that is was being ‘witch hunted’ by rightwing malcontents, businessmen and religious communalists.
With the Respect split the ISG/Socialist Resistance suddenly found itself in a leading position. Galloway praised Thornett as Respect’s “leading theoretician” (along with Nick Wrack). Rats returned to the sinking ship; eg, Liam Mac Uaid rejoined. It was under these unexpected circumstances that the ISG/Socialist Resistance decided to hand over the paper’s journalistic and other resources to Respect Renewal. A short time after, the monthly paper Respect was launched.
However, last month comrade Mac Uaid announced on his blog that Socialist Resistance itself was to be relaunched as a “new magazine”, whose editorial board would include himself, as well as comrades Brooks and Kelly. Amongst its “advisory editors” are Kovel and Wall. Comrade Mac Uaid reiterated, if anyone was in any doubt, that supporters of Socialist Resistance want to build “a party that is opposed to imperialist wars and capitalism. The type of party we want defends asylum-seekers and women’s rights”.4
A statement that was turned on its head when Mac Uaid’s next post reported the decision of the ISG, at its March 29-30 conference, to vote Siân Berry and Ken Livingstone as first and second preferences respectively. Comrade Mac Uaid is not an ISG member, but he very close and his blog acts as one of the organisation’s most important means of publicity.
The ISG conference endorsed the January 28 statement of ISG leader Alan Thornett that Ken Livingstone’s position on “privatisation of services, the City of London or the Metropolitan police are completely unacceptable”. Therefore, “If there is a credible leftwing candidate put up against Livingstone we should vote for that candidate and cast a second vote for Livingstone” in order to keep out Tory candidate Boris Johnson.5
Although there was no opposition at the ISG conference to this, there was some disagreement as to who might constitute a “credible leftwing candidate”. Surely the obvious person (if we use the term “credible” in its broadest sense) is Lindsey German, the candidate of the SWP’s Left List? Both the ISG and Socialist Resistance had advocated a vote for German and Livingstone as first and second preferences when she stood as mayoral candidate of the newly formed Respect in 2004.
The reasons for not doing so this time are twofold. Firstly, there is the ISG’s turn to green socialism. Secondly, the ISG now loathes the SWP with a barely concealed sectarian hatred: “… her mayoral campaign is an integral part of the destructive Left List campaign for the mayor and the assembly, which is a direct rival to the Respect campaign. Moreover the Left List itself is a direct result of a split in Respect which was damaging to the wider movement and which was completely unnecessary.”6
So, because the SWP provoked a split in Respect, that makes it impossible to give a critical vote to SWP-backed candidates? Respect Renewal is, of course, not standing for mayor and is advocating a first-preference vote for Livingstone, who can at least be described as coming from the working class tradition.
What of Berry’s credentials? She is not only “putting forward a strong environmental platform, but also campaigning on a living wage for Londoners, for affordable housing and for bringing back London transport into public ownership”.
But apparently the ISG is happy to support a candidate who champions “smaller businesses”, supposedly because they put “more of their profits back into their community”. Surely, instead of offering first-preference support, the ISG should be drawing a sharp line of class distinction between the politics of socialism and those of “small, local and sustainable business”.7
One of the ISG’s main reasons for refusing to first-preference Livingstone is his backing of the police action in shooting dead ‘terrorist suspect’ Jean Charles de Menezes. Presumably, then, it finds the Green policy on ‘shoot to kill’ preferable: “Lethal force may remain an option, but only under the legal protections afforded by the European Convention of Human Rights.” No doubt the ISG regards “high-visibility policing”, including “more police officers on bicycles”, as a policy that is ripe for convergence.
On the US-UK war on terror, the ISG asserts: “The Green Party in England and Wales have also been part of the anti-war movement from the beginning.”8 It is doubtless true that the Greens attend anti-war demonstrations, but they did not call for the withdrawal of US-UK forces, at least not in any meaningful sense.
Spencer Fitz-Gibbon, the party’s head of media, in 2004 actually damned the call to immediately pull out the troops: “This is a disgraceful, callous attitude, because we know Iraq would dissolve into civil war.” The Greens think US and UK troops should only withdraw if they are replaced with a “UN peacekeeping force”.9
In France the Fourth International’s Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire have taken a very welcome step back from the liquidationist abyss. It has committed itsef to a new revolutionary party of the working class. Meanwhile in Britain the ISG is going further and further to the right and increasingly watering down its pale pink politics in favour of petty bourgeois green socialism.
1. Socialist Resistance September 2006.