Thursday, 6 August 2020

William Morris and the Art of Dissent

Written by Clare Conway and first published at Writers Rebel

It was a windswept Saturday afternoon in early February this year, as I huddled by the doorway of the Coach House at Kelmscott House, Hammersmith waiting to meet the writer Zakia Carpenter-Hall. “… the wallpaper man.” A snippet from a breeze-snatched conversation interrupted my thoughts. William Morris: Wallpaper Man. Somewhat irrationally the words irked me. Yet, I had to be honest and admit to once sharing a similar viewpoint of Morris’s legacy as supreme craftsman of decorative patterns inspired by a lifelong affinity to nature.

Fast forward to the confines of lockdown when the rumbling roar of traffic and buzz of city life was replaced by the soaring sound of birdsong. People became more aware of the natural world. Across the globe air pollution dropped in major cities. Within the fear and personal tragedies there was a glimmer of hope that life continued, and that perhaps this was our chance to change things—a moment of reflection on how we live, how we work and what matters.

A June article published in Nature—the leading international weekly journal of science—termed this cataclysmic time of grief, separation and ‘unusually reduced human mobility’ as the ‘anthropause’, a period during which we might find that slight adaptations to our lifestyles could potentially produce major advantages for mankind and our ecosystems. Hope in uncertain times? Opportunities for change? Alas, perhaps not. 

The World Economic Forum (WEF) identifies the link between the pandemic, our fast-moving, interconnected world and increasingly ‘dysfunctional’ relationship with nature. The easing of lockdown spurred an unprecedented rise in littering. Throughout the UK, from beaches to national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty, respect for nature was suddenly and brutally forgotten. Rubbish threatened our wildlife.

Nature reserves were trashed. I witnessed first-hand Turner’s iconic view of the meandering Thames desecrated by spewing bins and the detritus from alcohol-fuelled, ‘socially-distanced’ balmy weekends. In the words of Jason Alexander, founder of Rubbish Walks “… the country has gone a little bit feral.” What would William Morris, described by the late cultural historian Fiona MacCarthy as “the high priest of the countryside” make of this blatant disrespect and indifference?

Forget six counties overhung with smoke,
Forget the snorting steam and piston stroke,
Forget the spreading of the hideous town;
Think, rather, of the pack-horse on the down,
And dream of London, small, and white, and clean,
The clear Thames bordered by its gardens green.

Prologue to Morris’s The Earthly Paradise (1868–70), (I: lines 1–6) 

You may wonder why it would matter what a Victorian polymath would think. What is the relevance? Where is the link? For those who recognise the threat and ongoing impact of the climate emergency the answer to this focus on Morris can be found, as I did, in the simplest exploration of the prolific output of his life’s work and collaborations, and in particular his political writings. 

For Morris, beauty and plenitude was rooted in nature. “The earth and the growth of it and the life of it! If I could but say or show how I love it!” There’s a childlike exuberance in the simplicity of this sentiment. Although proclaimed by the character Ellen in Morris’s utopian, time-travelling novel News From Nowhere (1890), they are expressive of Morris’s views, and visually reflected in the vibrancy and exquisite detail of his decorative work. Morris despaired of man’s wilful destruction of nature.

Our ongoing indifference to the significance of the natural environment: our native plants, our noble trees, our dwindling birds and wildlife was, and still is, symptomatic of a materialistic society where we work to live and fill our homes with “useless goods, whether harmful luxuries for the rich or disgraceful makeshifts for the poor.” In a lecture entitled: Useful Work Versus Useless Toil from 1884 Morris expounded:

Wealth is what Nature gives us and what a reasonable man can make out
of the gifts of Nature for his reasonable use. The sunlight, the fresh air, the unspoiled face of the earth, food, raiment and housing necessary and decent…This is wealth.

In her seminal biography William Morris: A Life for Our Time Fiona MacCarthy defines Morris’s sense of place as “… almost a disability. Places clung to him. When one of his places was endangered, in the sense of being demolished or crassly redeveloped, he felt it as a sense of human grief.” The depth of Morris’s despair at man’s wanton destruction of nature and indifference to art is rousingly expressed in the following extract from the talk Hopes and Fears for Art: the Prospects of Architecture in Civilisation delivered in March, 1880 at the London Institution: 

No one of you can fail to know what neglect of art has done to this great treasure of mankind: the earth which was beautiful before man lived on it, which for many ages grew in beauty as men grew in numbers and power, is now growing uglier day by day, and there the swiftest where civilisation is the mightiest: this is quite certain; no one can deny it: are you contented that it should be so? 

In a lecture to the William Morris Society in 1959, the historian E.P Thomson described Morris as a “great moralist, a great moral teacher”, a “revolutionary without a Revolution.” Within a contemporary context the central tenets and ‘pungency’ of Morris’s beliefs possess an undeniable relevance to today. If we examine the damage and destruction wreaked by HS2 on our irreplaceable ancient woodlands, meadows and native flora and fauna, and consider the content of this extract from The Prospects of Architecture in Civilisation we can see why he is considered to be an eco-socialist visionary:

There is one duty obvious to us all; it is that we should set ourselves, each one of us, to doing our best to guard the natural beauty of the earth: we ought to look upon it as a crime, an injury to our fellows, only excusable because of ignorance, to mar the natural beauty, which is the property of all men; and scarce less than a crime to look on and do nothing while others are marring it, if we can no longer plead this ignorance.

The words are an impassioned rally cry; an attempt to shake us from a passive acceptance of the travesties enacted against the natural world; to alert us to the danger of no longer noticing what’s missing until it’s too late. The UK red endangered lists of birds, crafts, and plants are a reminder of what we stand to lose. That the ‘rascally’ Mistle Thrush and Song Thrush, the speckled stars of ‘Strawberry Thief’ Morris’s most reproduced pattern––available now on face mask too––both feature on the RSPB red endangered list of British birds is a forewarning that the familiar can quietly become the forgotten.

The wild strawberry is also categorised as in ‘near threat’ due to our disappearing wildflower meadows. It comes as a shock to discover that since the 1930s, 97% of our meadows have disappeared. Dr Trevor Dines, botanical specialist at Plantlife, the British conservation charity describes these poetically as “petalled paradise”, a “natural tapestry”, and implores us to “love, cherish and protect” them for future generations.

Love is enough: though the World be a-waning,

And the woods have no voice but the voice of complaining,
Though the sky be too dark for dim eyes to discover
The gold-cups and daisies fair blooming thereunder

Love is Enough, (1872)

Our response and support is critical given the positive environmental impact of our ‘species-rich’ grasslands. The UK’s biodiverse meadows provide a myriad of benefits including: crop pollination, flood prevention and carbon storage, while enhancing our sense of well-being. That this could be lost to us seems unimaginable, but without the invaluable work and commitment of charities such as Plantlife it could sadly become a reality. 

And so, we end where we began. I look back in gratitude at that windswept afternoon in February as I stood outside the Hammersmith house that was William Morris’s final home. Gratitude for the once familiar and carefree bustle of daily life; the families strolling through Furnival Gardens; the cyclists, joggers and dog walkers wending their way past the quaint Dove pub that nestles on the bank of the Thames. Gratitude for that overheard conversation that was to provide me with the title for a forthcoming exhibition of work made by a new generation of artists, designers, illustrators, poets and writers, each inspired by the cultural and political legacy of Morris.

From the printmaker and her 4-year-old daughter foraging for oak galls to make natural dyes, to the project using AI to generate new Morris patterns, the diversity of themes and range of responses reinforce the resonance of William Morris’s life’s work today. The essence of the exhibition is perhaps best expressed in the following quote from a letter written by Morris to Georgiana Burne-Jones that are stitched onto a handmade quilt by Graphic Design student Izi Thexton: 

To do nothing but grumble and not to act – that is throwing away one’s life. 

The words serve to remind us that “hope must be ever with us” for we are the makers of the future.

Clare Conway is a designer and educator. She is founder of Storybox Collective, a group of artists, designers and writers who apply a serendipitous approach to archival research through collaborative making. The Collective’s latest exhibition William Morris: Wallpaper Man, a collection of new work inspired by the legacy of William Morris, is scheduled to open in Autumn 2020 at the William Morris Society and online. You can follow its progress on https://www.instagram.com/thestoryboxcollective/

Monday, 3 August 2020

Can the Green Party change tack to become a real force for change?



Written by David Taylor

There are any number of nautical cliches to describe the present position of the Green Party – becalmed, all at sea, in the doldrums, rudderless etc – as the present leadership seem to have learnt nothing from the missteps and strategic errors of the recent past. 

These include losing members over the alliance with the Lib Dems, supporting adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) antisemitism definition, failing to defend party democracy in the face of attacks by extreme transgender activists and presiding over the Holistic Review which has centralised control so a small group make all the key party decisions. This is by no means a complete list !

The 2019 General Election result caused despair amongst progressives. A triple whammy – Johnson won, Corbyn gone, Brexit done. But morale now seems to be on the rise and the widespread lethargy and indifference fading away. There is even a glimmer of hope in the Green Party as from 3rd - 31st August the leading positions in the party are up for election so party members will have the chance to vote for change. Another bright note could be that the Greens have become the leading party on Brighton Council. But Oh, the irony !

The prize comes due to Labour councillors being suspended or resigning the whip after allegations of antisemitism, such as condemning the oppression of Palestinians or stating the obvious - that Jeremy Corbyn was the victim of an orchestrated smear campaign. If the Green Party leadership had had their way at the 2018 conference, the IHRA definition of anti-semitism would have been adopted by the party and it would be the Green councillors who would have to keep silent on the actions of the Israeli state or be suspended.

In the event the leadership panicked when they saw the way the wind was blowing and remitted their motion. Loud applause from conference for speakers opposing the motion, mainly Jewish members, was followed by a standing ovation for Shahrar Ali after his blockbuster of a speech. A link to his speech can be found here.

The Labour Party experience shows that this issue cannot be dodged. No amount of concessions were ever going to stop the attacks on Corbyn as the object was simply to get rid of him. When he did apologise the apology itself was taken as an outrageous affront and further proof of his pandering to his antisemitic supporters. 

Shahrar Ali says that Israel must “be held to account for its unconscionable actions against the Palestinian people”. He has seen the Green Party become increasingly timid, or completely silent, on the matter while he himself has been subjected to racist slurs and malicious attacks.

Shahrar is standing in the election and says if elected as Green Party Leader he will continue to “speak for the rights of the oppressed against their oppressor in the best tradition of the Green Party” Shahrar looked back to 2015 when he was last a member of the Green Party leadership team and the party won a million and a quarter votes - because it had a vision. He says we need to be bold and unapologetic in talking, not just about reform, but about an ecosocialist transformation of the economy including redeployment of arms manufacturing towards wholesale renewable energy infrastructure.

Shahrar has been working to build solidarity on the ground in minority communities and for Green supporters to get more involved with Black Lives Matter. So the question is – can we move beyond our comfort zone and elect the first BAME leader of a main UK party ?

Theo Simon is standing as Trade Union Liaison Officer (TULO), a post which the GP leadership proposes to abolish. Theo says “the proposal to get rid of the TULO post is a huge political and tactical mistake. Our connection with organised Labour has probably never been more important to build on than it is now, as I believe will become apparent over the coming months. We need to leave our comfort zone and engage with the daily reality of people`s workplace struggles and the rapidly increasing membership base of our unions. We have a dog in this fight ! 

At the 2018 Green Party conference Theo proposed the motion “for a renewal of GPEW`s democratic structure” to address concerns that a unhealthy culture had arisen within the party. He was able to rally co-proposers from every side of the opinion spectrum in the Green Party including Dr Rupert Read, Shahrar Ali, Beatrix Campbell, Judy Maciejowski, long time GP exec member Dee Searle, veteran anti-nuke campaigners Linda & Brig Oubridge, Land magazine editor Dr Mike Hannis and over 60 others.

The motion was prompted by the actions of extreme transgender activists, which have caused many decent and tolerant members to leave the Green Party and has been a toxic distraction from more important matters. It was high time that the problem was addressed before even more harm was done and Theo Simon deserves our thanks for stepping up to the task despite the atmosphere of legal threats and intimidation surrounding the issue.

Theo is described as “a folk musician and general election candidate” - a rather understated summary ! As the 2015 General Election candidate for Somerton & Frome he said he was aiming for a 10% share of the vote. As the previous Green vote was zero this was thought to be just talk but, after a brilliant campaign, he walked the walk and secured over 9% ! I first met Theo when I was involved in booking groups for gigs and we were always guaranteed a sell out with his group Seize the Day.

They would have risen to great heights by now if Theo hadn`t been so committed to the planet and to Social Justice. Whether standing with Palestinians and Jews in Ramallah resisting Israeli occupation, being arrested at Hinkley C protests or dashing down to the Isle of Wight to back the Vestas workers who were occupying the site against the UK`s only wind turbine factory being moved to the USA - he always put the fight first. As for the music – you can hear it on https://seizetheday.org/.

There is precious little time left for the changes needed if humanity is to survive on the planet. This election may be the last chance to put the Green Party back in the game, able to play a significant part in the fight for radical change. If we take this opportunity to elect Shahrar Ali as leader, Andrea Carey-Fuller as deputy leader with proven campaigners like Theo Simon on the team, we may just be able get the Green Party back on track.

David Taylor is a Green Party activist, former election candidate and a branch chair of Unite the union, and a Green Left Supporter

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Limits of the Green New Deal



Written by John McCollum and first published at Marxist sociology blog

The Green New Deal is an exciting social program generating a great deal of interest on the left.  Like its predecessor, the New Deal of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the GND holds out the promise of preventing the worst effects of anthropogenic climate change, and guaranteeing a better standard of living for its participants.  Presumably, it would be large enough to put upward pressure on wages in the private sector or be a guarantee of employment and includes increased federal spending on renewable energy, social democratic guarantees of a living wage, and other forms of environmental cleanup.

For the Marxist left, the GND is an object of considerable interest, both politically and academically.  Many of the popular left-leaning and socialist publications in the US, including Jacobin and Current Affairs, have published extensive analyses of the GND for a wider audience.  As more Americans realize the need for a decisive break with capitalism, the GND offers an opportunity for the US public to challenge political and economic orthodoxy, to say nothing of the potential to avert climate catastrophe and raise the living standards of the working class. 

It also offers a positive social imaginary to counter the prevailing “doom and gloom” of catastrophic climate change predictions.  The GND also promises to close racial, ethnic, and gender inequalities.  Indigenous activists have also drafted their own plan, the Red Deal, to address the environmental and economic struggles of indigenous peoples in the United States.  A recent addition to the GND through the Sanders’ presidential campaign and Rep. Ocasio-Cortez’s office includes decarbonized, affordable housing.

To the credit of the GND’s supporters and their efforts to promote it, a wide swathe of the US population is interested in the program, according to recent polling.  A broad segment of the working class, including many self-declared Republicans, finds the idea of environmental sustainability and a decent living standard enticing.  The GND holds out hope of challenging neoliberal doctrines and bringing a large portion of the economy under democratic control.  Eliminating the “reserve army of labor” through a jobs guarantee would massively increase labor’s bargaining power.  Similarly, such a bill could lead to a “just transition”, nationalizing fossil fuels en route to complete decarbonization of energy.

Despite this good news, there are some reasons for hesitation.  There are some issues surrounding the Green New Deal that the left needs to broadly consider coming out of the eco-Marxist left, especially the scholarship and writing of John Bellamy Foster and the “treadmill of production” theorists, including Allan Schnaiberg, David Pellow, and Kenneth Gould.  Second, we must consider the likelihood of the state becoming the main engine of this movement, rather than private capital, replacing our prevailing system of production with a “state-sponsored” green capitalism.

I consider the GND’s limits in the most optimistic and open spirit, and I hope that this piece will help to write a more effective program.  The political opportunities opened by such a plan are something to celebrate, but if the GND ultimately worsens the climate crisis, the Deal will hardly have been worth the political capital spent in passing it into law.  For this reason, I hope leftists of all orientations will take a moment to consider these critiques.

The dangers of expanded production and consumption

One of the most prominent theories in environmental sociology is the “treadmill of production” theory pioneered by Allan Schnaiberg in his 1980 The Environment:  From Surplus to Scarcity, and expanded upon with his frequent collaborators Kenneth Gould and David Pellow.  This theory holds that demands by both capital and labor to expand economic production create new and greater forms of waste.  Similarly, this pressure promotes more efficient use of resources.  However, this efficiency incentivizes further net consumption. 

This “Jevon’s Paradox” was first demonstrated in 1865 by William Stanley Jevons in Britain’s improvements in steam engines resulting in faster consumption of the country’s coal supplies.  A similar phenomenon prevails with small cars in the US today.  Take, for instance, the gain in “miles per gallon” efficiencies in personal automobiles.  Although the fuel efficiencies of most vehicles have risen dramatically since the 1970s, the addition of millions more automobiles and the increased distances Americans commute mean that Americans are consuming more gasoline than ever before.

The treadmill of production idea becomes relevant in the context of the GND because of the gains in energy production efficiency, as well as the program’s proposed investments in the expansion of public transportation and “clean” manufacturing methods.  The efficiency gains of a nation-wide energy efficiency program can be undone by a total increase in material inputs.

Examining renewables in greater detail, wind turbines and solar panels produce a host of environmental externalities.  Both technologies rely on the availability of rare earth metals.  Their manufacturing and disposal generate other forms of toxic pollutants.  Also, converting land from either “natural” usage to land for renewables will also have a variety of environmental externalities, exemplified by solar farms in California’s deserts, which have displaced native species like the desert tortoise.

Another issue resulting from this practice will be a widening of the “metabolic rift” between global regions and between the natural metabolism of the earth and humanity’s production and consumption of natural resources.  John Bellamy Foster’s work on the “metabolic rift” derives from Marx’s Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 and Marx’s attendant interest in the widening gap between “town and country.” 

Marx studied the developments in agricultural science and soil chemistry during his era and noted the tendency of capitalism’s material demands to outstrip nature’s restorative capacities.  As the natural fertility of soil declined, agricultural producers came to rely on distant sources of nitrogen-based fertilizers.  This shift led to a “metabolic rift” in the spatial distribution of soil nutrients and a temporal rupture in the earth’s natural cycles of soil fertility.

The GND threatens to reproduce this gap.  To use a single example, though the US has some deposits, the rare earth metals used in solar panels and wind turbines will come from Global South states where mining and processing these minerals poses great risks to human health and the environment.  The benefits of using these materials in renewable technologies will not be seen by the citizens of those countries where extraction occurs. 

The GND’s agricultural methods hold some promise of making major gains in de-carbonizing the US’s agricultural system, but the movement of soil fertility around the US as agricultural goods made in one region move to another still would widen the spatial and temporal elements of the metabolic rift.

At present, it does not appear that the GND is dealing with the contradictions of the treadmill of production and a widening metabolic rift.  The “treadmill of production” poses yet another problem though:  the contradiction of continually expanding production to meet the systemic demands of capital to accumulate and workers’ attendant dependence on this cycle for wages.  Production of “green” things may need to expand continually to generate employment and welfare benefits for workers. 

Workers in a new state sector could find themselves dependent on this expansion, just as they would have under private capital.  Although “green”, this expanded production will recreate the environmental problems the GND is meant to end.  Getting off this treadmill is going to require more than just vigorous investment by the state in green infrastructure.  Next, I turn to the GND’s potential to create a state-sponsored green capitalism.

The creation of a green fraction of capital

The GND is consciously modelled on the New Deal of the 1930s.  The New Deal saw an expansion of social programs benefiting wide swathes of the working class.  Social Security was lifted wholesale from socialist programs.  Farm aid encouraged both recovery from environmental problems like the Dust Bowl and debt relief for poor farmers.  Infrastructural development raised wages and boosted further growth.  In terms of arts and culture, working people were mobilized into new forms of cultural production celebrating working-class identity.  The general agitation during this period by the broad left pushed these programs forward despite the opposition of powerful factions of the capitalist class in the United States.

Despite this legacy, the New Deal preserved capitalism during one of its most dire crises to date; the GND may perform a similar regulatory function.  One of the boosts the GND is likely to give to capital is through state investment through private partnerships.  The GND does not propose the creation of state ownership of utilities, much less agriculture, housing, or medical care.  Similarly, the bill has provisions for energy upgrades through refurbishing existing buildings, environmental cleanup, and an unusual provision to “ensure businesspersons are free from unfair competition.” 

Without further establishing state ownership over these sectors, many of these provisions are going to add value to existing private property or rely on contractors to do the work, paid for by large sums of public money.  Although the GND provides decent employment and these emission reduction programs are desperately needed, much of this activity will generate further wealth in private hands if not performed by the state.  The present electoral left may not be capable of enacting or want to deliver on this revolutionary goal.

The Green New Deal could end up following a similar course of initial interest, growth, and collapse.  However, a “Green” New Deal has other social and environmental goals which need to be considered.  As environmental degradation continues, compromise measures that do not lead to drastic cuts in greenhouse gases, mining and processing of non-renewable energy sources, and losses of biodiversity will not suffice.  However, such activities might provide some degree of environmental stability that will enable capital to continue its dominance.

John McCollum is an assistant professor of sociology at Minot State University.

Wednesday, 22 July 2020

Vote for Change in the Green Party Leadership Contest



I joined the Green party in early 2006, a former Labour party voter and supporter, though never a member, disillusioned with the decision to participate in the invasion of Iraq, and much else that New Labour represented. I had also become increasingly alarmed by climate change, and had discovered ecosocialism, which I thought the Green party was best placed to promote. What I found was, although somewhat disorganised, a decent party, which genuinely seemed to want to do politics differently, ethically and democratically. A sharp contrast to Labour, for sure.

Over the years though the party has embarked on journey away from the principles that I found so attractive. It probably began with the move from principle speakers to leader (or co-leaders) in 2008. I voted against the move, but accepted the result, seeing that it might get us more media attention, which was largely how it was sold to the membership. But the party did seem to be heading off on a different trajectory though, from that point.

In more recent years I started to hear more and more disturbing stories about the inner workings at the top of the party. In 2016, reports emerged of local Green parties being leaned on by the leaders, Caroline Lucas and Jonathan Bartley, at that stage, to stand down from a by-election in Richmond, in favour of the Lib Dem candidate. The chair of one of the local parties involved, Kingston, was forced to resign after he revealed details about a £250,000 donation made to the Green party on the condition they did not stand in Richmond. This was used to pile pressure on the local parties.

In 2018, a story was published on the Left Foot Forward website, accusing Shahrar Ali, a former co deputy leader of the party, and a candidate at the time for leader, of antisemitism. The piece was written by the new editor of the site, and recently resigned Green party member, Josiah Mortimer. It featured a selectively edited video of a speech made by Shahrar Ali, which was eventually restored to its full, complete length. Was this an attempt to smear Shahrar Ali? It certainly looked like it.

In 2019, I was shocked to hear that a senior member of the Green party, at the behest of the Campaign Against Antisemitism group, had used the party’s internal complaints procedure, against Shahrar Ali. The complaint was eventually dismissed, but why did this prominent member use the internal complaints system like this? A question unfortunately never answered by the member concerned.

I got to thinking that something wasn’t really right with what was going on and started to dig deeper into things as best I could. I found that people who knew about the machinations of the party’s leadership, were only willing to speak to me about it anonymously or privately. 

I contacted a former employee of the Green party, about the antisemitism complaint brought against Shahrar Ali. She did not want to go public with what she knew, but agreed with me privately when I suggested to her that ‘there is something rotten at the top of the party.’

Later in 2019, a member of one of the local parties involved in the disastrous Unite to Remain electoral pact with the Lib Dems (and Plaid Cymru) I was in touch with, told me that the national party had side-lined their party from the decision to not stand. The local party did not want to be associated by the Unite to Remain pact. Shades of the Richmond by-election.

I watched with dismay as Natalie Bennett in 2019, was given a peerage, as part of Theresa May’s resignation honours. The decision was made by the small group around leadership, with no say from the wider membership. If I’d had a vote, I probably would have voted for Natalie, but that is not point, this is all part of the undemocratic nature of the party’s hierarchy. 

London Green Left blog has also learned that Rashid Nix, the equalities and diversity co-ordinator on the Green party executive (GPex), is taking two senior London Green party members to an Employment Tribunal for racial discrimination. As well as an internal victimisation case. This after the two members concerned walked out of a judicial mediation meeting between both sides of the dispute.

Whilst waiting for the internal process to begin, a story was published on, yes you guessed it, Left Foot Forward, written by Joe Lo. Both Lo and Mortimer were writers for the Bright Green website prior to Left Foot Forward. The piece looks like a crude attempt to smear Nix’s name. A tactic we have seen before used against Shahrar Ali by the same website.

Finally, someone did go public. Dee Searle, a former GPex member, who has now left the party, wrote a piece for this blog which sheds a shocking light on what goes on at the top of the Green party. It says that a small clique around the leaders and Caroline Lucas’s office, take all the decisions, are democratically unaccountable and has ‘become more ruthless and less tolerant of genuine discussion.’ I urge you to read this post, and also the comments below it where others corroborate what Dee Searle has written from their own personal experiences.

It saddens me deeply, that this is what the party has come to, but members have perhaps one more opportunity to free the party from its controlling clique, and put the party back on a decent pathway. This year’s leadership and deputy leadership elections are that opportunity. Please use your vote wisely.

I will be first preferencing Shahrar Ali for leader, and Andrea Carey-Fuller for deputy leader, who I know to be decent people, and great campaigners, but whoever members decide to vote for, please do not vote for the incumbents. The Green party needs to change, and it is in your hands if we are to have a party we can be proud of, once again.  

Voting is from 3 to 31 August.

Friday, 17 July 2020

Can the Green Party be Saved from its Leadership Clique?



Written by Dee Searle, who is a former member of the Green Party of England and Wales. 

Earlier this month the widely respected campaigning journalist and writer Bea Campbell left the Green Party, citing bullying, authoritarianism and narcissism among radical transgender activists.

Campbell’s description of the impact on the party of what she calls the “extreme trans dogma” that transwomen are women; transmen are men - at the expense of women’s rights and safety - is pretty shocking. Unfortunately, it’s just one aspect of a much wider and deeper crisis in the party. 

The party claims to do politics differently but in practice acts pretty much the same as other political parties. It is riven with internal tribalism; allows key decisions to be taken by small groups of well-connected members; prioritises electoral success over radical environmental campaigning; has a dysfunctional, partisan disciplinary system; engages in some questionable employment practices; and has become a platform for those with political or professional career ambitions and/or who want to advance a particular strand of identity politics. 

Most Green Party members bask in Caroline Lucas’s speeches and/or focus on local activities, oblivious to machinations at national level. However, in my four stints on the Green Party Executive from 2015 to earlier this year, I’ve witnessed the party become more ruthless and less tolerant of genuine discussion. In addition, as an ordinary, elected, Green Party Executive (GPEx) member, I was powerless to make any real difference because the big decisions are taken by the Administration and Finance Committee and/or a group around the leadership and Caroline Lucas’s office. 

This is why I took the sad decision to leave the party in June, after almost seven years of active membership. In addition to GPEx membership and almost daily involvement in national or local organising, I’d spent three years as Chair of Camden Greens, and stood for the party in local council and London Assembly elections, and in Tottenham during the 2015 General Election, when our small, last-minute scratch team achieved our best ever result there. 

Many of the Greens’ troubles stem from the decision taken by the party in early 2016 to prioritise winning local council elections under the Target to Win (TtW) system. The rationale was that we desperately needed a second MP to support Caroline and the way to achieve that was to first win control of a local council as had happened in Brighton. The flaw in this logic is that Brighton is atypical of pretty much anywhere else in England and Wales. Plus, there is only one Caroline Lucas! 

At surface level it makes complete sense for a political party to focus on winning elections. However the underside is that pretty much all of the party’s resources were devoted to developing and maintaining a national election machinery, with no funds left for issue-based campaigning. 

Field offices were established and regular “campaign” schools (in reality elections training) held to enforce the rigour of TtW. Local parties selected to pursue TtW must work only in target wards, with activities limited to door knocking and repeat newsletter deliveries (no street stalls allowed). Newsletters and other publications can only include material on local issues and not cover wider politics, such as the climate emergency or Brexit. 

This concentration of resources on elections goes a long way to explaining why the Green Party is often missing from the big political debates. It’s not just that there are few of us and the media is biased towards the big parties: we actually don’t have much substance to contribute. 

At an internal review of the 2019 snap General Election manifesto, it was revealed that genuinely radical climate mitigation policies developed by the party’s Climate Change Policy Working Group had been removed by a small group around the leadership team and Caroline Lucas’s office because they weren’t vote winners. Yet the election was being held against a background of almost daily revelations about the gathering pace of climate-related environmental calamity. A squandered opportunity to step up campaigning pressure if ever there was one. 

The creation of the manifesto was a microcosm of so much that is wrong with the party. GPEx Publications Coordinator and Policy Coordinator (both roles elected by the membership) were excluded from substantive input, which is slightly odd for a policy-heavy publication. The manifesto was finalised by the group that had removed the climate policies. Green Party Regional Council (which was the body with official sign-off responsibilities) was given around 24 hours to approve an 88-page document. This enabled the leadership to insert favoured commitments (such as transgender people being able to change their legal gender based on self-identification, which is not Green Party policy) and weaken inconvenient ones. 

The party has not published a full internal review of its 2019 General Election campaign, despite the fact that it spent far more than on any previous election (£409,475, according to the Electoral Commission) but was still way behind its best showing (2.7 per cent of the vote, compared with 3.6 per cent in 2015) and didn’t achieve its stated aim of winning a second seat. 

Of course, it’s not unreasonable for a radical political party to underachieve in elections nor to avoid washing its dirty linen in public. What is more worrying is that these unaccountable actions have become the norm for the Green Party, where even those in elected governance positions are unable to hold the decision-takers to account. Instances where GPEx members have been blocked from raising concerns range from the use of social media election ads quoting comedian Jimmy Carr (notorious for tax evasion and a stage show that includes rape jokes) and a woman posing in bra and knickers, to a staff member being summarily dismissed and denied access to union representation, and a court finding of race discrimination in recruitment practices. 

The Greens are supposed to stand for a better kind of politics, based on transparency, integrity, decency and, above all, selfless campaigning to protect our planet’s natural and human resources. The party has no monopoly over environmental politics. Following success by Europe Ecologie Les Verts (an environmentally-focused green party) in France’s local elections, some Extinction Rebellion groups are looking at setting up their own political wing to fight the London Assembly elections and beyond, and there are rumblings elsewhere of setting up a new ecological party. 

This may all come to naught. But if those taking the decisions at the top of the Greens have misjudged the wider mood, they risk leading the party into oblivion. A salutary thought for candidates in the forthcoming leadership and GPEx elections.

Wednesday, 15 July 2020

Make Rojava Green Again Call for Action Days on the 18th and 19th July



Call for Global Action Days on the 18th and 19th July

Together with the campaigns Rise Up 4 Rojava and Women Defend Rojava, we call for two international days of action on the 18th and 19th of July 2020, against the bombing and invasion of Basûr (Southern Kurdistan, Iraq) and the occupation of Rojava regions by the Turkish army.

Together, we call on all people who share the values of democratic confederalism – democracy, ecology and feminism – to take to the streets and to Rise Up 4 the Revolution. From our side, we would also particularly want to call for all ecological groups, movements and parties and to all people who feel and see themselves as ecologists to join the demonstrations and actions. 

War is the antithesis of ecology

We think that to be ecologist means also to be against all the wars of aggression. Because, wars are the contrary of what we, as ecologists, fight for. While we are trying to build an ecological and ethical world where all living things can co-exist in harmony, wars are only further destroying and polluting our planet. 

While we give so much effort in reforesting deserts, in building ecological energy infrastructures, in providing non-polluted and non-toxic food and water to all people, wars can destroy all of it in few days and pollute the soil, the air and the water with long-lasting effects. And this is what is happening today in Bakûr (North Kurdistan, Turkey), Rojava, North-Eastern Syria and Basûr.

Through its invasion of Syria and Iraq, the Turkish state destroys all living: burning fields and forests in Rojava, cutting down the olive trees of Afrin, bombing electrical and water infrastructures, cutting the water flow of major rivers coming from Turkey to Syria, and now for some weeks bombing more than ever the untouched nature of the mountains of Southern Kurdistan, polluting the soil, water and air for an unknown time. 

The Turkish attacks target all places which fight for democracy, ecology and feminism

For years already, the Turkish state, with the occasional approval of NATO, the US and Russia, pursue a genocidal war against the Kurds and other minorities of the Middle East (Êzîdî people, Armenians, Chaldeans, Assirians, etc.) and is now invading Syria and Iraq against all international laws. 

But what they are targeting is the political project that is behind those people: their goal is to put an end to the construction of a democratic, ecologist and feminist area in the Middle East that could spread to the world. Indeed, the Rojava revolution, together with the liberated Arab regions of North-Eastern Syria,  the Free Mountains of Kurdistan, the self-governed Maxmur refugee camp and the democratic Êzîdî region of Sengal are all examples that another way of living is possible outside the Capitalist Modernity. 

These are all places where democratic confederalism is put into practice and where ecological and feminist societies are being built up. Because Rojava, together with those other places inspire so many people in the world, they are a threat to their nationalist, capitalist and patriarchal interests. Therefore, Turkey decided to bomb and burn every inch of those lands. Their message is clear: either surrender to capitalist modernity, or face total destruction of the nature and the people. 

On the 15th of June, the Turkish army shelled Maxmur and Sengal. And some days later they started their ground offensive to invade Basûr (Southern Kurdistan, Iraq) where dozens of bombs are falling every day since then. The 23rd, they also struck Rojava with a drone, murdering 3 women of Kongra Star, the umbrella organization of the Women’s Movement, in a neighborhood of Kobane. Also on the 25th, another drone killed 8 civilians in the province of Suleymaniya. And in the mountains, the war continues. 

This is why we call for international solidarity! We ask all people who believe in the value of ecology, of feminism and of radical democracy to take to the street the 18th and 19th of July for the days of action and to join the preparatory actions worldwide. 

Against all war of aggression, against all fascism and totalitarianism, against patriarchy and capitalism, against the destruction of all nature: 

Rise up for Rojava,

Rise up for the Free Mountains of Kurdistan

Rise up for the Sengal region and Maxmur, and

Rise up for the build-up of an ecological and ethical world!

Alone, we are nothing, but together, we are unstoppable! 

Make Rojava Green Again 

PLEASE LET US KNOW ABOUT ANY PUBLIC EVENTS SO WE CAN ALSO HELP IN MAKING THEM PUBLIC ON OUR WEBSITES AND WITH FRIENDS, TOO! 

Mail to::internationalistcommune@riseup.net

#RiseUp4Rojava

Sunday, 12 July 2020

Support rises for Hugo Blanco, faced with ultra-right attacks



Written by Pepe Mejia and published at Socialist Resurgence

Socialist Resurgence urges our readers to sign the statement in defense of Hugo Blanco, an historic activist in the Trotskyist movement in Peru and a longstanding peasant and environmental leader. Sign the statement here.

Intellectuals, social activists, and public officials in Europe and Latin America have expressed their support for Hugo Blanco in the face of attacks by the extreme right in Peru. In less than 48 hours [by June 25], more than 2000 people have signed a manifesto in support of one of the historical leaders of the peasant, Indigenous, and environmental movement in Peru and Latin America, the legendary left-wing political activist Hugo Blanco, who has been vilified, defamed, and reviled by sectors of the far right in the Peruvian army, police force, press and politicians.

Among the signatories are the renowned and prestigious Argentine anthropologist and feminist, Rita Segato; the technical secretary of the Autonomous Territorial Government of the Wampis People, Shapiom Noningo; MEP Miguel Urbán; Uruguayan intellectual Raúl Zibechi; Alberto Acosta, President of the 2007 Ecuador Constituent Assembly; Bo Lindblom, ex-president of the Swedish section of Amnesty International; the current Mayor of Cádiz, José María González Santos; the Asháninca leader, Ketty Marcelo López; and the full Council of the Maya People (Guatemala).

Other signatories included the intellectual, Boaventura de Sousa Santos (Portugal), Maristella Svampa (Argentina), Edgardo Lander (Venezuela), Joan Martinez-Alier (Catalonia, Spain), Alberto Chirif (Peru), Jaime Pastor, political scientist and editor of Viento Sur (Spain), Peruvian congress members Rocío Silva Santisteban, Mirtha Vásquez, Lenin Checco Chauca, former congress members Indira Huilca, María Elena Foronda, Marisa Glave, Rodrigo Arce and Marco Arana, Spanish deputies Gerardo Pisarello and Maria Dantas, deputy Mireia Vehi of the CUP, the former deputies of the Madrid Assembly, Raúl Camargo, Carmen San José and David Llorente from Castilla La Mancha among others, as well as journalist Pepe Mejía, economist and ecosocialist Manuel Garí, Swiss economist Charles-André Udry and writer and UAM lecturer Jorge Riechman.

The manifesto responds to a statement issued by the Association of General Officers and Admirals of Peru (ADOGEN-PERU), an association aligned with the Fujimori coup that dissolved Congress on 5 April 1992. When many high-ranking officers from the Peruvian Armed Forces were accused of corruption, the aforementioned ADOGEN did not issue any condemnation. It also spoke out against the final Report of the Truth Commission, where the involvement of the military in the violation of human rights, disappearances, torture, and extrajudicial executions is verified. Later, when the involvement of high-ranking military officers with drug trafficking was denounced, information endorsed by the United States embassy in Lima, ADOGEN did not issue any press release.

The ADOGEN statement, signed by its president, the Brigadier General, Raúl O’Connor, says: “We express our total indignation and rejection of the documentary sponsored and broadcast by the Ministry of Culture, in which the figure of the guerrilla Hugo Blanco, an individual who murdered and tortured members of the Peruvian National Police and Peruvian peasants, in a clear uprising against the Nation and the rule of law, blatantly violating the Constitution and the laws of the Republic …”

Later, several politicians located on the Peruvian far right, such as Ántero Flores-Aráoz and Javier Villa Stein, expressed their rejection of the documentary and the legendary peasant leader Hugo Blanco. Another far rightist, Luis Giampietri, also condemned “in a categorical way the publication of the propaganda: ‘Hugo Blanco Río Profundo’, a film that under the mask of a documentary apologizes for terrorism and praises the murderous and criminal terrorist Hugo Blanco, who executed and murdered in cold blood courageous members of the police who were fulfilling their constitutional work.”

Luis Alejandro Giampietri Rojas, as vice-admiral and specialist in naval intelligence, demolitions and special operations, participated, on 18 June 1986, in the deaths of more than 300 prisoners. On the island of Fronton, off the coast of Callao, the Blue Pavilion, where the inmates had taken cover, was shot down. Many were crushed to death by the collapse of the building’s heavy walls, but many others were killed by bullets fired by the Marine Corps. In 2006 Giampietri occupied the first vice-presidency with the social democrat Alan García.

In addition to retired military and politicians, far-right journalists have spread defamation against the former senator, deputy, and member of the 1979 Constituent Assembly, Hugo Blanco Galdós, in relation to the documentary “Hubo Blanco: Río Profundo”, directed by Malena Martínez. The documentary, which has won international awards, shows in its official trailer a few words from the Cusco-based leader, where he remarks that “I am completely against terrorism, I believe that people must be convinced with words … now, when a people decides to arm itself to defend itself, it is self-defence.”

The first 2000 signatories in support of Hugo Blanco maintain that: “The undersigned, citizens of Latin America and other continents, repudiate the accusation that, fifty-seven years after the events that raised up the impoverished peasants of the Valle de La Convention and Lares, intends to criminalize and discredit the politician, former deputy, former senator and longstanding activist for the rights of nature. Today, at 86 years old, Hugo Blanco Galdós is considered one of the pioneering leaders of the struggles of agrarian reform, and against the extractivism that pierces the entrails of our territories. ”

“Hugo is an example for his tireless commitment to justice and to the people, be it in Pucallpa, Cajamarca, La Convencion, or Cauca. Also because he is one of the few left-wing leaders who today has been able to take a significant turn, without losing his convictions, towards another struggle: for the environment. Blanco summarizes it relentlessly: before he fought for socialism, today it is about the fight for the survival of the species.”

June 21, 2020: Translated by International Viewpoint from Poder Popular.

An English translation of the statement appears below. Sign the statement here.

In vindication of Hugo Blanco

Concerning the exhibition of the award-winning documentary “Hubo Blanco Río Profundo,” a group of military colluded with a series of former right-wing politicians, together with journalists from virtual publications, have issued some pronouncements naming the former member of the Assembly 1978 constituent, democratically elected by the sovereign people, Hugo Blanco Galdós, as a terrorist and murderer.

The undersigned, citizens of Latin America and other continents, repudiate that accusation that, fifty-seven years after the events that raised the impoverished peasants of the La Convencion Valley and Lares, seek to criminalize and discredit the politician, former deputy, former Senator and persevering activist for the rights of nature. Today, at 86 years old, Hugo Blanco Galdós is considered one of the pioneering leaders for the struggles of agrarian reform, and against extractivism that pierces the bowels of our territories.

Hugo is an example for his tireless commitment to justice and to the people, be it in Pucallpa, Cajamarca, La Convencion, Chiapas or Cauca. Also because he is one of the few leftist leaders who today has been able to take a significant turn, without losing his convictions, towards another fight for protest: for the environment. Blanco summarizes it relentlessly: “Before it was fighting for socialism, today it is about the fight for the survival of the species.”

This life dedicated to the fight for justice, democracy and the defense of Mother Earth has been represented by Malena Martínez in “Hugo Blanco: Rio Profundo.” The award-winning documentary has provoked the unacceptable reaction of certain emblematic characters of the cave-dwelling right, who consolidate in their ranks the harshest of Peruvian authoritarianism, and who fear the example of this son of the Cusco hills, where even today the scream resounds, “Earth or death: we will win.”