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Progressive politics and the Green Party: home and abroad. April 9, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.

An interesting snippet in the current edition of Prospect raises some uncomfortable questions as regards Green parties across Europe, and these questions have a direct relevance to the sort of projects being championed here and at Dublin Opinion, Notes on the Front and the Irish Left Review.

Because in piece on ‘the rise of the Green Conservatives’ we are informed that:

Green conservatism is in the air. Cameron’s Tories are out-greening new Labour; in the US, former Bush speechwriter David Frum has outlined an eco-friendly agenda to help renew Republicanism. But it is in Germany, writes Hans Kundnani, that a right-green alliance is actually taking root. In the city-state of Hamburg, the Christian Democrats and Greens are negotiating a “black-green” coalition that could redraw Germany’s political map much as the “red-green” experiment of the 1980s and 1990s did.

It’s certainly true that this wave of green thinking is being surfed by some unexpected people. The depth of their commitment is, of course, a rather different matter. Whether Cameron has a visceral attachment to such politics is a very very open question. That it has softened his image is beyond doubt. The late arrival of US conservatism at the feast is even more questionable, although intriguingly the US evangelical movement is fracturing to some degree around just this issue with a considerable number of evangelicals seeing it as central to their faith.

But, as ever, such matters are symptomatic of broader political processes:

This development is largely a consequence of the new arithmetic of power in Germany. Since Oskar Lafontaine’s left-wing party merged with the PDS (the former East German communists) last year, a five-party system has emerged in which it is increasingly difficult for either of the two traditional blocs—the Christian Democrats/Free Democrats on the right and the Social Democrats/Greens on the left—to form a stable coalition.

So, the logic of democratic, and in particular proportional representational, politics is such that it crushes forces together, even those which appear seemingly disparate. That this is partially due to the further left in the shape of the Left Party is fascinating in itself (worth noting the Green currents within that party). The piece continues that:

The Greens are keen to reduce their dependence on the Social Democrats—and they have more in common with the Christian Democrats than one might think. When the German environmental movement emerged out of “citizens’ initiatives” against nuclear power in the late 1970s, it included Social Democrats and Christian Democrats, and drew heavily on a right-wing, anti-modernist tradition going back to the German Romantics.

And one might suggest that the Greens see an opportunity to wield the sort of power once held by the Free Democrats. But, the fact that there are philosophical convergences should hardly be news to those of us interested in Green thinking. But a crucial point is raised later:

One influential figure who now straddles this divide is Thomas Schmid, a former comrade of Joschka Fischer, and now editor of the conservative daily Die Welt. Moreover, the Greens, unlike the Social Democrats, have always been a middle-class party with a liberal economic wing. Until recently, a major stumbling block to a black-green alliance was the Christian Democrats’ anti-immigrant rhetoric. But that now seems to be in retreat. If so, the new alliance could have a future beyond Hamburg.

I think the class basis of the Green parties is significant, and its importance is reflected in the recent tactics of the Irish Green party. I don’t want to suggest for a moment that there was a lack of sincerity in GP members when it came to campaigning issues, indeed quite the opposite. That was how the GP developed a public profile and began the long march towards some degree of state power. But, in that march the party itself changed while the perception of it remained quite similar. It doesn’t entirely strike me as odd that the poll ratings have increased. Consider this, up until very recently the discourse in politics about the Green party from Fianna Fáil and others was one where they were portrayed as near extremist or lunatic on a range of issues. That their public outings such as chaining themselves to trees on O’Connell Street fitted directly into this discourse only serves to demonstrate how important that was to them. However, as they have assumed power that rather precious side of their public image has been downplayed in favour of a much more sober presentation. To the point indeed that a grim looking John Gormley stood just behind Bertie Ahern during the latter’s resignation statement. That’s quite some distance to travel, whatever ones thoughts on the issues.

But it also seems to point to a sense that while the campaigning activity was important, as power came within grasp it became less important. Now, in the dynamic pointed to earlier, the reality of a global political environment becoming more open and accepting of Green issues and their reification to issues of ‘high’ state consideration the campaigning side could be jettisoned, at least in part, or seen as as lesser to what is being described as a potential planetary crisis.

And in that context the attraction of linking up with parties of left or right, but most important of government, because enormously important. And for the Green parties there is sufficient wriggle room ideologically. They can indeed be business friendly, or socially conscious, or both simultaneously.

This is not to say that somehow they’re a cuckoo in the nest of the left. Their instincts are broadly centre left, but it is to suggest that bringing them into future alliances of the left may be more difficult than it seemed even twelve months ago. And returning to the poll rating, what is fascinating is how it continues to slide upwards. Self-evidently people like the Green Party in government, and the more they see them there the more they like it. Where is this new found (and possibly entirely ephemeral) support coming from? I don’t know, but of course even small increments in their overall support are useful for them considering the relatively low base they start from. Is it a sense of a sort of ‘tamed’ radicalism that appeals to an electorate tired after a decade of FF/PD? Or is it a sense that Green thinking is part of a wave, and therefore they might actually be right. It’s all very puzzling, not least I suspect to the GP itself. Because by the yardstick of previous political dynamics they should have eviscerated their support by going into government and being forced to oversee a raft of contentious decisions. And yet, remarkably they haven’t. Which suggests to me that their base is somewhat more conservative than was once thought, or that they are attracting a new and rather less radical base than before, and in sufficient numbers to avoid attrition from their more radical fractions. Interesting.

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1. Conor McCabe - April 9, 2008

The interesting thing about the Irish greens is that, unlike their German and other European counterparts, this is their first time in senior political office. So, while it is possible to notice a swing to the right in European green parties, in Ireland what we are seeing is the Greens as they are – their base, so to speak – and that is as you suggest in your final paragraph, WBS, a conservative, centre-right party. There is no “swing” because there is nothing to compare the last election with (local government nothwithstanding). This is their first time, and the first time we get to see them as they are.

Their standing in the polls does not show whether they have kept the same voters, or have lost voters but gained new ones – all it shows is that they are more then holding their own. But I’d wonder if they are managing to hang on to those of a left persuasion – and they certainly got votes from that constituency.

The Greens want to become the new PDs, well let them. The idea of a broad left is just that – working with those who are of the left within the political mainstrean, not trying to convince political parties to take a more left-leaning view. The donkey work remains: that is, any canvassing that has to be done will have to be done on the ground. In other words, the electorate have to be convinced of the benefits of left-wing social and economic policies, not the Greens.

The idea of a broad left should never take away from that fundamental point: the electorate have to be convinced. Cross-party links without a second front on convincing the electorate only serve to make those involved feel like they are doing something. The Greens can devote themselves to loft insulation grants. We have to remain rooted on policy.

2. Damian O'Broin - April 9, 2008

There are probably a number of threads here that are worth pulling. But the main one is the relationship between Green parties, green politics and environmentalism on the one hand and an economically and socially progressive broad left on the other. Clearly, it is possible to be green on some level without being interested in, for instance, a more egalitarian society. All parties are conglomerations and the Green Party is no different in this regard. It has members who share a left view of the world while also no doubt housing those who – environmentalism apart – would be as happy in Fine Gael or the PDs.

Of particular interest in this regard (and something I’m supposed to be writing a piece for ILR on!) is the role of Climate Change within this dynamic. Climate Change is the over-riding issue for anyone with from a green perspective and indeed, for everyone on the planet. But there are many ways to deal with the effect of climate change. Some solutions will be strongly egalitarian and involve real burden-sharing. The contraction and convergence model proposed by the Global Commons Institute is a classic example of this.

But there are also ways of tackling climate change which don’t challenge the powerful in the world. And no doubt this is what the western governments and big business will row in behind when it comes to the crunch. Whether it involves writing off some off the poorest and low-lying areas of the world, failing to enable poorer countries to move to low-carbon energy generation or building a metaphorical wall around the West in the vain hope of keeping the rising tides and the climate refugees out.

But while its possible for greens not to be progressive, I think it is impossible for progressives not to be green. And if green parties are ducking and diving left and right to make the best of realpolitik then its up to left parties to take a strong, informed and radical line on green issues. Sadly, that’s not really happening. At best it’s window dressing for them at worst they run a mile so as not to be seen as loony. The problem is that climate change is shifting the ground from under conventional thinking on economics, progress, development, consumerism and much more. If the left don’t embrace green-ness then they’ll be utterly out of touch.

Conor – I think it’s a little unfair to bash the Greens for not sticking with a broad left, especially as there is no such broad in existence and as any of the left parties would have happily dived into coalition if the maths had fallen their way.

I think overall the Greens did a poor deal, but I understand why they did they deal. The next five years are going to crucial in relation to climate change and the big decisions will have to be made at inter-governmental level. Hence, perhaps the Greens desire to hop into government with any potential suitor, left or rigtht

3. Conor McCabe - April 9, 2008

I have never criticised the Greens for going into coalition – only for selling themselves so cheaply, for making a poor deal.

And I’m not criticising the Greens for not sticking with a broad left – especially as no such thing actually exists in Ireland! (I mentioned the broad left because WBS mentioned the greens maybe forming part of it in a possible future broad left.)

what I’m saying is that, maybe it’s just wrong for us to assume that, were there to be a broad left, that the Greens would even want to form part of it. Maybe it is not in their interests.

I’m starting to think that maybe their deal with FF wasn’t such a poor deal after all – that maybe the Irish Greens just aren’t progressive, that they make up a conservative party and they got the deal they wanted. In other words, other things like tackling speculation on land and houses just isn’t their bag, despite forming a part of their manifesto.

All small parties have to compromise in coalition, but I’m starting to think, well, what were the compromises? Maybe some of the things I would assume to be compromises were, in fact, not compromises at all.

and you are absolutely right about green issues being left issues – that while the Green party might be able to swing from left to right, the left can’t really do that. Green issues are left issues, but it does not follow that green parties are automatically left-wing parties.

4. Damian O'Broin - April 9, 2008

what I’m saying is that, maybe it’s just wrong for us to assume that, were there to be a broad left, that the Greens would even want to form part of it. Maybe it is not in their interests.

Perhaps. But those I know who are involved / connected with the Green Party would most definitely consider themselves progressive.

I think the deal that was done was poor. Their weak position was compounded by the fact that FF didn’t actually need them involved. Maybe they were too anxious to get into government – partly to prove that they were real politicians, partly because they felt they needed to be there to make some progress on climate change. Probably a bit of both.

Maybe it was really Bertie’s greatest cunning stroke – to foil the emergence of a broad left coalition. Damn his genius ;-)

5. WorldbyStorm - April 9, 2008

It’s interesting how we can read any number of positions into the GP. And it matters because they’re crucial, at least to me, to a broad left/progressive approach.

6. Conor McCabe - April 9, 2008

I forgot to say earlier on Damian that you’re right: I am being a bit unfair on the Greens. There are a lot of progressives in the party, and a lot of progressives support them. It’s just that my thinking on the Greens as an automatic left-wing party has changed in the past year, and that’s really down to my own fault, as I lazily assumed that they were a left-wing party. Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t. The fault lies in my assumption.

7. soubresauts - April 9, 2008

You’re all being very nice to the Greens. I have to point out that they sold out. They reached the point of “Four legs good, two legs better”.

Other Green parties in Europe have sold out, more or less, over the last few years, though I doubt that any have been quite as brazen as the Irish Greens. I wasn’t the only one shocked at the appallingly bad GP/FF Programme for Government, worked out through what was called “negotiation” (by Gormley, Boyle and Geoghegan), but was really capitulation. Shocking too was the overwhelming GP vote in favour of the deal.

Even a Green insider like David Healy was shocked; see:

The fact that Healy subsequently accepted a job offer to be one of Gormley’s advisers helps to explain how the serious-minded Greens “accepted the reality”. Though it doesn’t quite explain how the Greens, for the last ten months, could be silent about almost every issue they were indignantly vocal about before.

It’s worth remembering that the Greens won six seats in the Dáil in 2002, the same number as they won in 2007. One thing that happened in those five years is that they recruited a lot of new members. My take on it is that a lot of those new members were PD-type people.

The new members are middle-class; the old members were middle-class. Class politics doesn’t explain why the Greens now dance to FF’s tune.

As to why the Greens aren’t going down in the polls…
Is it a sense of a sort of ‘tamed’ radicalism that appeals to an electorate tired after a decade of FF/PD?
That’s a large part of it, I’d say. I’m sure quite a few FFers would happily vote Green now.

All can now look back at Gormley’s “Planet Bertie” speech (http://tinyurl.com/69o22l) and say how quaint it was.

8. Damian O'Broin - April 9, 2008

OK, so the Greens ‘sold out’. Do you think that, given the opportunity, the offer and the arithmetic, that Labour or Sinn Fein wouldn’t have done the same?

The practice of Irish politics over the last 20 years has been how the smaller parties can position themselves to make the best deal with FF (or in theory, if they were any good, with FG). We may not like it, but that’s the environment our politicians operate in.

I think it was a poor deal, made from a weak position. I’m not trying to excuse it here, just to explain it. The Greens found themselves with an opportunity to enter government. They had one (and in reality, only one) issue that REALLY mattered – climate change. In the end, they had to jettison many of their dearly held positions to give themselves some leverage offer how Ireland tackled this one issue. Maybe they would have been better trying to keep the pressure on, but they made their choice and it was a choice made against the clock. If they manage to secure real progress on energy policy and emissions then they’ll have been proved right. I just don’t know how they’ll be able to do that within the constraints of this programme for government and with FF hanging around their necks.

9. WorldbyStorm - April 9, 2008

I think Damians assessment of this is certainly reflective of the view the GP took (and it would be very close to my own thoughts). I also think the deal was pretty poor. But they saw it as better than no deal. And the problem is that there is a rational case that better in so they could prevent future problems rather than out where they simply couldn’t and where climate change would be paid absolute, rather than almost absolute lip service. I’m not sure that they somehow took on a bunch of PDs on a day excursion from the right. I think the dynamics we’ve seen have been much more subtle than that. In any case, those who were driving the decision process had been involved for donkey’s years. I also agree that given the nod Labour and SF would have jumped (I know that for a fact from a number of contacts in Labour and note also the SF dumping of policy in the pre-Election phase). And in that context – and in consideration of the fact that even had they not entered government an FF-PD-Independent coalition would have been formed – they took the chance. It may well have been wrong, but I find it hard to play any particular alternative scenario involving Labour, SF, or indeed others and not wind up precisely where we are today, which is indeed dispiriting. Which would entail further defeats on all the issues and no possibility of achievements. It’s a horrible, and rather cynical political formulation, but it is also logical.

10. soubresauts - April 10, 2008

Hey, WbS, that’s very defeatist of you!

Anyway, this seems to capture the mood:

11. Michael Taft - April 10, 2008

In assessing the political base of the Greens (or any other party) it is important to view the dyanmic of their electorate. In the last election Green voters, where they had an opportunity, transferred in much greater numbers to Labour than to either Fine Gael or Fianna Fail (which only got 10% of Green transfers). So among the electorate there is a progressive leaning.

The Greens have created an innovative role in Government – being in it but not of it. However, the extent to which this compartmentalisation could work for other smaller parties is debatable. Were Sinn Fein to enter Government would they merely focus on partition and North/South relations? Would they impress their working class base? Were Labour to enter Government would they focus on, say, health – like a glorified hospital-candidate party? Or merely focus on public services? This is not possible without a broader economic and social critique which makes compartmentalisation problematic.

For those who support a broad-left or progressive politics, it would be a mistake at this early juncture to get out a slide-rule and decide which party is on this side or that. There are no automatic members of such a grouping. As some commentators have pointed out, both Labour and Sinn Fein would eye the prospect of joining a future Fianna Fail-led government with some enthusiasm. The ‘donkey work’ as Conor rightly puts it, is both between and within the parties where progressives congregate. At times (most times?) we all share WBS’s pessimism. But thanks to soubresauts ‘mood capture’ we can have a laugh at the truth while pounding the streets.

12. WorldbyStorm - April 10, 2008

Michael, that’s very important as regards their transfers. That certainly doesn’t place them on the centre right… that said there are strands within the GP which certainly aren’t averse to much much more centrist thinking.

13. Mick Hall - April 10, 2008

The green party’s are almost totally made up of middle class people and as such they have little interest in making life better for working class people, indeed in my experience like many of their class, they despise working class people, but more to the point fear the organized WC. The old UK ecology party was top heavy with right wingers, indeed it was funded by the brother of jimmy Goldsmith, I believe his son Zac still lurks around the UK Green movement today.

In my opinion the Irish greens have shot their bolt by entering into a FF coalition, so they become a replacement for the PDs, what percentage of the vote do the PDs get? the Greens [IR] will lose more votes than they gain come the next general election no matter what the opinion polls are saying now, what leftist would vote for them after their behavior in government?

We on the left should be very careful who we get into bed with on global warming, Capital is already laying the blame for G/W in the public mind at the feet of the emerging nations, especially China and India, and I do not feel we can rule out military aggression, we should all remember what the real cause of WW1 was.

In the past the Greens would never even consider standing a side for a better positioned Left candidate, despite the lefts willingness to do likewise. Yes we should work with them,indeed any party that agrees with us on single issues, but whether they are progressive in the way most leftist use the term I doubt it.

The left is class oriented and cannot but be so, and so are the green, however there is one deference, we support the working classes above all else where the greens support the middle class and we forget this at our peril.

14. WorldbyStorm - April 11, 2008

I think despise is way too strong a term. But there is an interesting issue as regards their core ideology which because it is centred on climate change does take on a ‘this is it and all else is subsidiary’ complexion – hence the rationale for participation in government. That said I’m generalising wildly and I also know many within the GP who are left/redistributive inclined.

15. soubresauts - April 11, 2008

Mick, you raise an interesting issue: Who or what is working class? If you’re sure about a definition, do give it to us, please.

During most of the 40 years I spent in Dublin, I thought I had a pretty good idea of who the WC people were. They were people who lived in WC areas, which had clear characteristics, such as:
* Many if not most of the people were unemployed.
* There were no trees.
* All of the people smoked all of the time.
* Only the men drove cars.
And so on.

That was a few years ago. It’s different now, isn’t it?

… But there is an interesting issue as regards their core ideology which because it is centred on climate change does take on a ‘this is it and all else is subsidiary’ complexion – hence the rationale for participation in government.

The putative rationale, WbS. And always a convenient excuse for glossing over corruption, incompetence, negligence, and sheer bad faith. The Greens were fully informed about global warming back in 2002 when they also had six TDs.

However, John Gormley said a few revealing things in his “Planet Bertie” speech in February last year:

“I cannot bear the thought of another five years in Opposition.”

That said I’m generalising wildly and I also know many within the GP who are left/redistributive inclined.

Are they still within the GP?

How can the Greens be silent about Basic Income, the cornerstone of their economics policy?

Compare what they were saying in January 2003…

Trevor Sargent: “We have also led changes by campaigning for a levy on plastic bags, by prioritising wind energy over fossil fuel generated power, and by campaigning for a Guaranteed Basic Income which led to the introduction of tax credits.”

“Mr Gormley predicted that Iraq would be the predominant issue in the coming months and said that the Green Party position had been consistent and unequivocal. ‘Starting this week in the Dáil we intend to put the Government under enormous pressure. We will be supporting the Independent’s Private Members motion and using every parliamentary device to expose the hypocrisy of this Government.’”

There’s more…

Gormley continued: “Health… We will continue by publishing a new position paper every month on areas such as the re-structuring of health boards, primary care, health insurance and risk equalization. I will also be publishing a major document on water fluoridation…”

Well, I think we know why the Greens are silent these days. Brian Cowen doesn’t want to hear them, and the Greens don’t want to annoy Brian. They just want to save the world.

16. Pax - April 11, 2008

damian wrote: “Climate Change is the over-riding issue for anyone with from a green perspective and indeed, for everyone on the planet. But there are many ways to deal with the effect of climate change. Some solutions will be strongly egalitarian and involve real burden-sharing.”

I think there’s a bit of a fantasy going on about the possibility of the Green party stopping, or have an appreciable effect on, climate change by their current policies in government. Climate change is an ongoing problem and it’s basically a form of pollution reduction.

Since everyone benefits from this reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, and no-one can be excluded from the benefits of pollution reduction, pollution reduction is a public good. Which, as far as I see it, makes the problem intrinsically a left wing one in the very same manner as say health care is a public good which is better provided by the public systems created by democratic socialists in the apre-war era. (and are currently under attack but anyways…)

Just like any public good, greenhouse gas emissions reduction will be under-demanded, and therefore under-produced in the context of market incentives.

The difference between the current Greens and those democratic socialists is that they seem to think that a form of meek and meager Green conservationism is going to appreciatively arrest climate change.

I think the current Greens are very much like the old liberal party in their approach. A successful future is perhaps more likely from the likes of the German ‘Left’ party than these ‘first’ Greens. I use quotes on first, because in a way it would be like going back to early eco-socialists like William Morris (later being Rosa Luxemburg). As Joel Kovel points out (and critiques a lack of environmental awareness too amongst socialists) Morris was very consciously environmentally aware for the time. Unfortunately things went off track with regard to the Soviet communists overall, but in particular, when they mindlessly aped the capitalist market system in it’s non-internalisation of externalities.

17. Starkadder - April 11, 2008

“The difference between the current Greens and those democratic socialists is that they seem to think that a form of meek and meager Green conservationism is going to appreciatively arrest climate change.”

I’d have to agree with those posters who said the Greens entered
the deal from a position of weakness-unlike the Independent
TDs of a few years ago, they don’t seem to be able to exert
any pressure on the government. And I think many of
their supporters will be angry with them, not necessarily
for going into coalition, but for not pushing the coalition
in a Green-ward direction.

Having said that, I was glancing thru Dan Boyle’s “A Journey
to Change” today and I was surprised to the see the Green
Alliance & later the Green Party kept repeating the
nonsensical mantra “We are neither Left nor Right
nor Centre but Green”. Sorry, you have to pick a
political position to go with your environmentalism.

And I’d second Pax’s thoughts on Morris, Kovel and
the eco-socialists.

18. Starkadder - April 11, 2008

I’m sure I remember seeing a letter in the Irish Times
from Christopher Fettes expressing his unhappiness at
the Green Party’s current direction.

According to AJTC Fettes is a follower of Henry George,
whose economic ideas had a strong influence on
Victorian socialists.

19. soubresauts - April 11, 2008

For those who don’t know, Fettes was the founder of the Irish Green Party.

Henry George’s ideas were seminal in the party, as were those of the peace movement, the anti-nuclear movement, environmentalism in general, feminism, the basic income movement, and the Esperanto movement.

Where are they now? Even some of the Greens are arguing the pro-nuclear case these days.

I note that the party still retains the core principle:
“The poverty of two-thirds of the world’s family demands a redistribution of the world’s resources.”

Despite unprecedented prosperity, we have one in five Irish people living below the poverty line. Who has ideas for the redistribution of Ireland’s resources? Basic income for all?

20. CL - April 12, 2008

Attn: the republican party of no property and their partners the Greens:

“We claim that the land of Ireland, like the land of every country, cannot justly belong to any class, whether that class be large or small; but that the land of Ireland, like the land of every other country, justly belongs in usufruct to the whole people of that country equally, and that no man and no class of men can have any just right in the land that is not equally shared by all others.”-Henry George, July 11, 1889, Toomebridge, County Derry.

21. WorldbyStorm - April 12, 2008

It’s good.

22. sonofstan - April 12, 2008

“We are neither Left nor Right
nor Centre but Green

is nonsense of course, in the context in which it is uttered, but it may conceal a deeper aspect of the green project. In many ways, the retreat into environmentalism is a secularised religious – and deeply protestant – retrenchement; instead of mass political action and confrontation with the ruling classes, it values personal acts of eco-piety – taking care of your own carbon footprint, growing your own food etc. – the replacement of politics with personal ethical witness.

As such, it resembles nothing so much as the retreat from politics of the classes and creeds that were at the vanguard of the English revolution that led to the Cromwellian commonwealth – after the restoration, the energy that had fanned that brief democratic moment were diverted into quietism and pacifism; most noticeably in the Quaker movement, or else into building the city on the hill in the colonies; because the world remained irredeemable through revlotion, personal salvation became the priority, or rather the salvation of small communities of the elect; and, just as the greens grew from the left, but moved away from the working-classes, so the puritan inheritors of the legacy of the diggers and levellers became an alternative middle-class also, alienated by their sobriety, industry and dress from amongst whom they lived.

23. Wednesday - April 13, 2008

As nonsensical as that Green slogan is, the way things have worked out for them it’s actually pretty accurate. In opposition their voting record was to the left of every party outside the Technical Group, now it’s to the right of every party outside the Government.

24. Damian O'Broin - April 13, 2008

Interesting analogy Sonofstan. There is without a doubt that retreat tendency in the environmental movement. But it does sit alongside a more activist spirit as well

25. joemomma - April 13, 2008

Starkadder: “I’m sure I remember seeing a letter in the Irish Times from Christopher Fettes expressing his unhappiness at
the Green Party’s current direction.”

I don’t remember seeing such a letter, but I do know that Fettes came out in support of going into government back in June.

soubresauts: “Even some of the Greens are arguing the pro-nuclear case these days”

Which Greens would they be? Remember, anonymous politics.ie posters don’t count.

sonofstan: The analogy between the Green movement and religion is well-worn, and I certainly see where it’s coming from. Personally, however, I can’t abide the idea of environmentalism as religion, which is why I support a movement engaged in electoral politics rather than just bearing “personal ethical witness”. The aim of an environmentalist should not be to simply avoid blame for global environmental catastrophe, but to prevent it.

However, in purely practical terms the need for “personal acts of eco-piety” is unavoidable – we genuinely do need people to start making personal choices that contribute to the solution rather than the problem. In my view the job of the political wing of the green movement is to effect changes in society that make these choices as attractive as possible.

The Quaker analogy has been made before, and I think it was Eamon Ryan who said that the Greens don’t want to be the Quakers (admired but at a remove from mainstream Irish society) but rather the Catholics.

So I don’t see the Green movement as a retreat from politics or a retrenchment. However I do think there is a sense in which the Greens will always be at odds with pure left parties, especially revolutionary parties. Whereas parties purely seeking social or economic justice can accept setbacks and delays in achieving their ultimate aims, the Greens see ourselves as operating against a deadline.

I’ve often heard the critique from the left that the Greens are wasting their time trying to advance environmental aims within a capitalist system, and should instead seek the overthrow of that system as a necessary first step towards true environmental protection. It’s certainly true that capitalism (and specifically consumerist capitalism) has been a major driving force in environmental degradation, but I don’t know if we’ve seen evidence that environmental protection automatically follows from alternative systems. More importantly, it has to be recognised that we’re probably as far from the overthrow of capitalism as we have ever been, so putting the achievement environmental aims on hold can’t be the ethical choice.

26. Old habits die hard « The Cedar Lounge Revolution - April 13, 2008

[...] in British Politics, racism. trackback In a time when the British Conservatives have, through the adoption of quasi-Green policies and the nomination of cuddly Boris as their mayoral candidate in [...]

27. sonofstan - April 13, 2008

Whereas parties purely seeking social or economic justice can accept setbacks and delays in achieving their ultimate aims, the Greens see ourselves as operating against a deadline.

This is the kind of thing I mean; our aims are political and therefore negotiable, yours are on an all together higher plane of moral urgency…

28. WorldbyStorm - April 13, 2008

It shouldn’t really be ours or theirs. These are shared aims. People have made different tactical, and strategic, choices on how to progress them. We may differ on those choices, but the aims remain the same…

Actually I should add in support – somewhat – of joemomma’s contention that the Labour party which ostensibly has the aim of progressing social democracy and socialism made a clear choice pre-May not to work with one major party and to work with another. Hard really to not agree that certain choices were made on precisely the basis jm outlines in that instance.

29. sonofstan - April 13, 2008

I wasn’t necessarily pitting ‘us’ – socialists of whatever hue – against ‘them’ – Greens – I was responding to the syntax in the bit i quoted from jm’s comment; still, though, I remain to be convinced that ‘social and/ or economic justice’ are core green aims…..

I’m confused a bit by jm’s last paragraph; capitalism is the agent of environmental degradation, but its hegemony appears immovable; therefore we should see what we can achieve within the confines of an economic system that works directly and consciously against our aims? is it any wonder that, to the sceptical, it appears that the right are wearing a green fig leaf, rather than the greens commandeering the instruments of state for their ends? The ease with which the likes of Cameron and the German CDU – not to mention FF – can perch on the green bike when appropriate should alert Greens as to how little of a threat to said hegemony you are or ever will be.

30. joemomma - April 13, 2008

“This is the kind of thing I mean; our aims are political and therefore negotiable, yours are on an all together higher plane of moral urgency…”

I don’t think it’s a question of “our” aims being on a higher plane – as WbS says these should be shared aims. It’s a question of the relative priority attached. All political aims are of course negotiable in the short term, the question is which ones do you try to achieve first.

I’ve always been a lefty but I’ve become a Green because I’m not willing to wait around for the flowering of global socialist revolution before addressing issues which I believe will be irreversible down the line.

On the other hand, I’ve always argued that the Green movement must continue to identify itself as progressive, as there are any number of illiberal approaches one could take to environmental issues. If tackling global warming is the only aim of the movement, then it could just as easily take on an eco-conservative or even repressive character. The purpose of the Green movement is to present ways of dealing with global warming in a progressive — i.e. just — way.

This is born out of the conviction that these issues cannot be avoided in any case – if we don’t build a progressive environmental movement then they will be dealt with at the crisis point by conservative forces.

There’s a politics.ie thread on which I’ve argued this all out previously, but the search function on that site seems to be banjaxed at present.

31. sonofstan - April 13, 2008

Great answer.

Does the logic of your position – the substantial middle paragraph, in particular – predicate that you should seek to build alliances with progressive forces rather than barter post- electorally?

32. joemomma - April 13, 2008

I’m confused a bit by jm’s last paragraph; capitalism is the agent of environmental degradation, but its hegemony appears immovable; therefore we should see what we can achieve within the confines of an economic system that works directly and consciously against our aims

You see I don’t accept that capitalism is the agent of environmental degradation, i.e. that any system other than capitalism will automatically result in better environmental protection. It is perfectly possible to imagine a system of global socialism in which natural resources are over-exploited, for example.

While our system is certainly antithetical to environmental aims, to adopt an approach that says the system must be entirely replaced before environmental challenges can be tackled really would be a quasi-religious position – an act of faith in dramatic change at some unspecified future date.

In any case perhaps we’re setting up something of a false dichotomy – non-puritan socialists seek to make gains within the capitalist system all the time.

33. sonofstan - April 13, 2008

You see I don’t accept that capitalism is the agent of environmental degradation, i.e. that any system other than capitalism will automatically result in better environmental protection

Yeah, i see your point. i’d argue though, that global capitalism has a dynamic of ceaseless expansion built into it by speculation that funds it that must be destructive of any environmentally balanced economy. In a way, its the ultimate material expression of the Hegelian concept, forever sublating all before it as it reaches for the absolute…….

You’re right too of course, that waiting around for the revolution to immanentise a heaven on earth is more than ‘quasi- religious’ – although i think the sliver of utopia revealed by the revolutionary moment is vital also: and of course socialists have supped with the devil too.

34. soubresauts - April 13, 2008

About Irish people being pro-nuclear…
joemomma wrote:
“Which Greens would they be? Remember, anonymous politics.ie posters don’t count.”

Well, one GP member, whom I could name, was quite up-front with me about it. Even someone as well-informed as Pidge seemed to be ambivalent about it.

You can hardly deny that a lot of Greens have been influenced by James Lovelock, now nearly as famous for his pro-nuclear views as for his Gaia theory.

I’d also suggest that a lot of Greens are influenced by commentators like Matt Cooper, who recently penned this woolly pro-nuclear article: http://tinyurl.com/5jr9jh

“Irish people tend to recoil when they hear the word ‘nuclear’, conditioned by a combination of Adi Roche and Homer Simpson to believe nuclear is a massive danger to life and limb, even though much of the modern scientific evidence refutes that.”

Yeah, that Adi Roche is silly and ignorant, isn’t she?

35. Pax - April 15, 2008

joemomma wrote: “In any case perhaps we’re setting up something of a false dichotomy – non-puritan socialists seek to make gains within the capitalist system all the time.”

That’s what I was trying to veer away from with my post above. I was putting aside my own view, which is, to sum it up quickly, – it’s capitalism or a habitable planet- to see how far the Greens have gone in their current direction. Are they anywhere near creating the environmental equivalent of an NHS? I think the answer to that is clear.

Of course the delivery of the public good that is health care, (within most developed nations through public means), was achieved without the overthrowing of capitalism. In contrast I see no sign whatsoever from the Greens that the public good of pollution reduction (wrt greenhouse gas emissions) will be solved in a similar manner by them.

Having said that, I also fear that any sustainable, long-term (because the problem is long-term and ongoing) solution will be as hard to achieve as the overthrowing of capitalism. And thinkering at the edges only to see that turned around in a few decades quite easily is pretty futile on these timescales.

And as the current threat to public healthcare provision, (from the very creators of it- in part) shows, even if the Greens create a ‘Green NHS’, capitalism will always find a way to capture and enclose…

Finally I think a lot of the misconceptions on socialism and the environment comes from a misreading of the tragedy of the commons as something owned in common but without regulation. Unfortunately this is buying into neoliberal assumptions and is hardly empirical.
as I pointed out on pie, on a thread on water privatisation.

I can’t find it now so see below by Kieran Allen (scroll down to “2) Free public services are wasteful – establish property rights and user fees.” )


“…The argument against the commons can, however, be disputed on the grounds both of efficiency and its inherent assumptions about human nature.

Hardin’s original argument confused the idea of a commons with unlimited public access where there are no rules. It did not allow for common ownership within which people would draw up regulations to restrict their individual interests. It is not clear why there should be any such assumption that social groups cannot develop rules to sustain their collective interests. Most herdsmen would understand the danger of overgrazing and would, presumably, want to prevent it. Hardin never explained why they could not discuss this possibility together and devise rules to stop it occurring. The most elementary point about social groups is that they develop a ‘moral order’ that enforces norms on the individual. Have fishermen not developed codes about catching within seasons? Do people not refrain from cutting down trees in public forests? Are there not readily accepted public health rules to sustain our cities? These socially accepted codes are only breached when a private, for profit motive intrudes into the wider culture.


The wider claim that private ownership over natural resources leads to better stewardship is not supported by empirical evidence. In a market economy, corporations are driven by the immediate competitive needs rather than by long-term planning. If share price movements drop, they need to show quicker returns on investment and may have to cut back on projects. This explains why private companies often abuse their ownership of natural resources. Far from water companies being the champion of conservation, they have been shown to frequently cut corners to make quicker profits. The British Environmental Agency, for example, has cited water companies as being among the worst environmental offenders. Five major companies have been repeatedly prosecuted for violations ranging from water leakages to illegal disposals. [lii] Stewardship over water is more likely to be guaranteed by extensive public investment in a common piping network to reduce leakages and other water conservation measures….”

36. joemomma - April 19, 2008

I found that politics.ie thread via Google: Capitalism and the Environment. I respectfully suggest that it makes good reading.

I think I’ll bump the thread and include a link to this post, in the hopes of attracting david and ibis over here.

37. WorldbyStorm - April 19, 2008


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