Wednesday, 17 April 2019

A “Green New Deal”?: The Eco-syndicalist Alternative


Written by Tom Wetzel and first published at Ideas & Action

Capitalist dynamics are at the very heart of the current crisis that humanity faces over global warming.

When we talk of “global warming,” we’re talking about the rapid — and on-going — rise in the average world-wide surface and ocean temperature. Thus far a rise of 0.8 degrees Celsius (1.4 degrees Fahrenheit) since 1880. According to an ongoing temperature analysis conducted by scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, two-thirds of this temperature increase has occurred since 1975. A one-degree rise in temperature might seem like no big deal. As the NASA scientists point out, however, “A one-degree global change is significant because it takes a vast amount of heat to warm all the oceans, atmosphere, and land by that much.”

We know that carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels is at the heart of the problem. For many centuries the proportion of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere ranged between 200 and 300 parts per million. By the 1950s the growth of industrial capitalism since the 1800s had pushed this to the top of this range — 310 parts per million. Since then the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen very rapidly — to more than 410 parts per million by 2018. This is the result of the vast rise in the burning of fossil fuels in the era since World War 2 — coal, petroleum, natural gas.

The problem is rooted in the very structure of capitalism itself. Cost-shifting is an essential feature of the capitalist mode of production. An electric power company burns coal to generate electricity because the price per kilowatt hour from coal-fired electricity has long been cheaper than alternatives. But the emissions from burning coal travel downwind and cause damage to the respiratory systems of thousands of people — including preventable deaths to people with respiratory ailments. This is in addition to the powerful contribution to global warming from the carbon dioxide emissions. 

But the power firm doesn’t have to pay money for these human costs. If the firm had to pay fees that would be equivalent to the human cost in death, respiratory damage and contribution to global warming and its effects, burning coal would not be profitable for the power company.

Firms also externalize costs onto workers, such as the health effects of stress or chemical exposures. The “free market” pundit or hack economist might deny that companies externalize costs onto workers. They might say that wages and benefits paid to workers for each hour of work measure the cost of labor. But the human cost of work can be increased without an increase in the compensation paid to workers. If a company speeds up the pace of work, if people are working harder, if they are more tightly controlled by supervisors, paced by machines or software, this increases the cost in human terms.

Toxic chemicals used in manufacturing, in agriculture and other industries pose a threat to both the workers and to people who live in nearby areas. Usually working class people live in neighborhoods near polluting industries, and often these are communities of color. This is another form of capitalist cost-shifting.

State regulation of pesticides or air pollution often ends up acting as a “cover” for the profit-making firms. Despite the existence of pollutants generated by leaky oil refineries and pollutants emitted by other industries in industrial areas in California — such as the “cancer alley” of oil refineries in the Contra Costa County area or the similar refinery zone in Wilmington — the government agencies set up to deal with air pollution in the Bay Area and Los Angeles County protected polluters for years by focusing almost exclusively on pollution generated  by vehicle exhaust. In this way the South Coast Air Quality Management District and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District have been an example of “regulatory capture” by corporate capital.

Power firms that generate vast amounts of carbon dioxide emissions — and firms that make profits from building fossil-fuel burning cars and trucks or from the sale of gasoline and diesel and jet fuel — have not had to pay any fees or penalties for the growing build-up of the carbon dioxide layer in the atmosphere. The global warming crisis thus has its explanation in cost shifting and the search for short-term profits and ever growing markets — features that are at the heart of the capitalist system.

If global capitalism continues with “business as usual”, the warming will have major impacts — killer heat waves, more ocean heat pumping energy into hurricanes and cyclones, rising ocean levels from melting of ice in the polar regions and melting of glaciers, destruction of corals in the oceans, and a greater danger to the survival of many species of living things.

Previous attempts to get global agreement to cut back burning of fossil fuels have been ineffective. The Paris accords merely proposed voluntary targets. NASA scientist James Hansen described it as a “fraud”: “There is no action, just promises.” According to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the dire situation calls for “rapid and far-reaching transitions…unprecedented in terms of scale.” The IPCC warns that there needs to be a 45 percent world-wide reduction in the production of heat-trapping gases (mainly carbon dioxide) by 2030 if humanity is to avoid dangerous levels of global warming.

Clearly a global change is needed. But how to bring this about?

The concept of a Green New Deal has been proposed by Green Party activists, climate justice groups and various radicals for some time. The slogan is based on a comparison with the statist planning used by President Roosevelt to respond to the economic crisis of the 1930s as well as the vast and rapid transition of American industry to war production at the beginning of World War 2. The idea is that the crisis of global warming should be treated with equal urgency as the mass unemployment of 1933 or the fascist military threat of the early 1940s.

After the election to Congress of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — a member of Democratic Socialists of America — the Green New Deal resolution was introduced into the US Congress by Ocasio-Cortez  and Senator Ed Markey. This lays out a set of ambitious goals, such as 100 percent electric power generation in the USA from “clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources.”

Other goals include “removing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from manufacturing…as much as is technologically feasible” and “overhauling” the transport sector “to eliminate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions” from transport “through investment in zero-emission vehicles, accessible public  transportation and high speed rail.” Along with this resolution, a letter was sent to the US Congress from 626 environmental organizations backing the Green New Deal proposal. These environmental groups made it quite clear they oppose any market-based tinkering — reforms that we know won’t work — such as “cap and trade” (trading in pollution “rights”).

Many have proposed “public-private partnerships” and public subsidies to private corporations. Robert Pollin, writing in New Left Review, talks about “preferential tax treatment for clean-energy investments” and “market arrangements through government procurement contracts.” All part of a so-called “green industrial policy.” A green capitalism, in other words.

But workers are often skeptical of these promises. Companies will simply lay people off, under-pay them, or engage in speed-up and dangerous work practices — if they can profit by doing so. For example, low pay, work intensification and injuries have been a problem at the Tesla electric car factory which has received 5 billion dollars in government subsidies. Tesla recently laid off 7 percent of its workforce (over three thousand workers) in pursuit of profitability.

An alternative approach that looks to statist central planning has been proposed by Richard Smith — an eco-socialist who is also a member of Democratic Socialists of America. Smith characterizes the proposal by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez this way:

Ocasio-Cortez…is a bold,  feminist, anti-racist and socialist-inspired successor to FDR…She’s taking the global warming discussion to a new level…She’s not calling for cap and trade or carbon taxes or divestment or other “market” solutions. She’s issuing a full-throated call for de-carbonization — in effect throwing the gauntlet down to capitalism and challenging the system…[1]

Smith believes the goals of the Green New Deal can’t be realized through things like “incentives” — and he’s right about that. He points out that the Green New Deal resolution “lacks specifics” about how the goals will be reached. To realize the goal of “de-carbonizing” the economy, he proposes a three-part program:

Declare a state of emergency to suppress fossil fuel use. Ban all new extraction. Nationalize the fossil fuel industry to phase it out.

Create a federal program in the style of the 1930s Works Progress Administration to shift the workforce of the shut-down industries to “useful but low emissions” areas of the economy “at equivalent pay and benefits.”

Launch a “state-directed” crash program to phase in renewable electric power production, electric transport vehicles and other methods of transport not based on burning fossil fuels. 

Develop programs to shift from petro-chemical intensive industrial agriculture to organic farming.

Even though “AOC explicitly makes a powerful case for state planning,” Smith says, a weakness of the Green New Deal resolution, from his perspective, is the failure to “call for a National Planning Board to reorganize, reprioritize and restructure the economy.” When he talks about nationalization, he notes “We do not call for expropriation.” He’s talking about buying out the shareholders at “fair market value.” This is essentially a proposal for a largely state-directed form of capitalist economy — a form of state capitalism.

Smith’s proposal is wildly unrealistic. Are we to believe that the corporate-media influenced American electoral scheme can be used to elect politicians — through the business-controlled Democratic Party — to enact a multi-trillion dollar program of seizures of the fossil fuel industry, auto manufacturers, and chemical firms and set up a planning board to direct the economy?

The American working class did make important gains in the Thirties — such as the Fair Labor Standards Act (minimum wage, unemployment insurance) and Aid to Families with Dependent Children. These concessions were only won due to an uprising of the American working class in a context of vast struggles around the world — a working class revolution in Spain, plant occupations in France, a communist insurgency in China, the Communists holding on in Russia. In that moment capitalism faced a threat to its very existence.

The USA saw a huge working class rebellion between 1933 and 1937 — millions of workers on strike, hundreds of thousands of workers creating new unions from scratch,  rising influence for revolutionary organizations, a thousand workplace seizures (sit-down strikes), challenges to Jim Crow in the south. And in 1936 this angry and militant mood also pushed very close to the formation of a national Farmer-Labor Party that would have been a major threat to the Democrats. Many formerly intransigent corporations were forced to negotiate agreements with unions. The Democrats chose to “move left” in that moment.

It’s also a mistake to romanticize the New Deal. People talk of the 1930s WPA as the model for “job guarantees” — that is, government as employer of last resort. But there was still 17 percent unemployment in USA as late as 1940. Workers in the WPA often had beefs such as low pay. Communists, socialists and syndicalists organized unions and strikes among WPA workers. The gains that working class people were able to win in the Thirties did not simply come about through electoral politics. 

Nor were the conservative, bureaucratic “international unions” of the American Federal of Labor the vehicle either. They were more of a road block — exactly why several hundred thousand workers had created new grassroots unions from scratch by late 1934.

Smith is not alone in pushing statist central planning as a solution. This concept is being talked up lately by various state socialists, including people associated with Jacobin magazine and DSA. These advocates often assume the state is simply a class-neutral institution that could be taken hold of by the working class and wielded for its purposes.

In reality the state is not class-neutral but has class oppression built into its very structure. For example, public sector workers are subordinate to managerialist bureaucracies just as workers are in the private corporations. The day-to-day workings of state institutions are controlled by the cadres of the bureaucratic control class — state managers, high end professionals employed as experts, prosecutors and judges, military and police brass. This is in addition to the “professionals of representation” — the politicians — who are typically drawn from either the business or bureaucratic control classes, that is, classes to which working class people are subordinate.

As a top-down approach to planning, statist central planning has no way to gain accurate information about either public preferences for public goods and services or individual consumer preferences. Statist central planning is also inherently authoritarian. This is because it is based on a denial of self-management to people who would be primarily affected by its decisions — consumers and residents of communities, on the one hand, and workers in the various industries who would continue to be subject to managerialist autocracy.

Self-management means that people who are affected by decisions have control over those decisions to the extent they are affected. There are many decisions in the running of workplaces where the group who are primarily affected are the workers whose activity makes up the production process. Taking self-management seriously would require a form of distributed control in planning, where groups who are primarily affected over certain decisions — such as residents of local communities or workers in industries— have an independent sphere of decision-making control. This is the basis of the syndicalist alternative of distributed planning, discussed below.

State socialists will sometimes make noises about “worker control” as an element of central planning, but real collective power of workers over the production process is inconsistent with the concept of central planning. If planning is to be the activity of an elite group at a center, they will want to have their own managers on site in workplaces to make sure their plans are carried out.  Any talk of “worker control” always loses out to this logic.

Statist central planning can’t overcome either the exploitative or cost-shifting logic of capitalism, which lies at the heart of the ecological crisis. Various populations are directly impacted by pollution in various forms — such as the impact of pesticide pollution on farm workers and rural communities or the impact on air and water in local communities. The only way to overcome the cost-shifting logic is for the affected populations — workers and communities — to gain direct power to prevent being polluted on. For global warming, this means the population in general needs a direct form of popular power that would enable the people to directly control the allowable emissions into the atmosphere.

As difficult as it may be, we need a transition to a self-managed, worker-controlled socialist political economy if we’re going to have a solution to the ecological crisis of the present era. But this transition can only really come out of the building up of a powerful, participatory movement of the oppressed majority in the course of struggles against the present regime.

The Syndicalist Alternative for an Eco-socialist Future

The problem is not that people struggle for immediate changes that are within our power to currently push for. Rather, the issue is how we pursue change. Changes can be fought for in different ways.

The basic problem with the electoral socialist (“democratic socialist”) strategy is its reliance on methods that ask working class people to look to “professionals of representation” to do things for us. This approach tends to build up — and crucially rely upon — bureaucratic layers that are apart from — and not effectively controllable by — rank-and-file working class people. These are approaches that build up layers of professional politicians in office, paid political party machines, lobbyists, or negotiations on our behalf by the paid apparatus of the unions — paid officials and staff, or the paid staff in the big non-profits.

Syndicalists refer to these as reformist methods (for lack of a better term). Not because we’re opposed to the fight for reforms. Any fight for a less-than-total change (such as more money for schools or more nurse staffing) is a “reform.” The methods favored by the electoral socialists are “reformist” because they undermine the building of a movement for more far-reaching change. The history of the past century shows that these bureaucratic layers end up as a barrier to building the struggle for a transition to a worker-controlled socialist mode of production.

We can say that an approach to action and organization for change is non-reformist to the extent that it builds rank-and-file controlled mass organizations, relies on and builds participation in militant collective actions such as strikes, and builds self-confidence, self-reliance, organizing skills, wider active participation, and wider solidarity between different groups among the oppressed and exploited majority.

Syndicalism is a strategy for change based on non-reformist forms of action and organization. Non-reformist forms of organization of struggle are based on control by the members through participatory democracy and elected delegates, such as elected shop delegates and elected negotiating committees in workplaces. And the use of similar grassroots democracy in other organizations that working class people can build such as tenant unions. Non-reformist forms of action are disruptive of “business as usual” and are built on collective participation, such as strikes, occupations, and militant marches.

A key way the electoral socialist and syndicalist approaches differ is their effect on the process that Marxists sometimes call class formation. This is the more or less protracted process through which the working class overcomes fatalism and internal divisions (as on lines of race or gender), acquires knowledge about the system, and builds the confidence, organizational capacity and the aspiration for social change. Through this process the working class “forms” itself into a force that can effectively challenge the dominating classes for control of society.

If people see effective collective action spreading in the society around them, this may change the way people see their situation. Once they perceive that this kind of collective power is available to them as a real solution for their own issues, this can change their perception of the kinds of change that is possible. The actual experience of collective power can suggest a much deeper possibility of change.

When rank-and-file working class people participate directly in building worker unions, participating in carrying out a strike with co-workers, or in building a tenant union and organizing direct struggle against rent hikes or poor building conditions, rank-and-file people are directly engaged — and this helps people to learn how to organize, builds more of a sense that “We can make change,” and people also learn directly about the system. 

More people are likely to come to the conclusion “We have the power to change the society” if they see actual power of people like themselves being used effectively in strikes, building takeovers, and other kinds of mass actions. In other words, a movement of direct participation and grassroots democracy builds in more people this sense of the possibility of change from below.

On the other hand, concentrating the decision-making power in the fight for social change into bureaucratic layers of professional politicians and an entrenched union bureaucracy tends to undermine this process because it doesn’t build confidence and organizing skills among working class people. It fails to build the sense that “We have the power in our hands to change things.” Thus a basic problem with electoral socialism (“democratic socialism”) is that it undermines the process of class formation.

The electoral venue is also not favorable terrain for the working class struggle for changes because the voting population tends to be skewed to the more affluent part of the population. A large part of the working class do not see why they should vote. They don’t see the politicians as looking out for their interests. The non-voting population tends to be poorer — more working class — than the voting population. This means the working class can’t bring the full force of its numbers to bear.

A strategy for change focused on elections and political parties tends to lead to a focus on electing leaders to gain power in the state, to make changes for us. This type of focus leads us away from a more independent form of working class politics that is rooted in forms of collective action that ordinary people can build directly and directly participate in — such as strikes, building direct solidarity between different working class groups in the population, mass protest campaigns around issues that we select, and the like.

To be clear, I’m not here arguing that people shouldn’t vote, or that it makes no difference to us who is elected. Often in fact it does, and independent worker and community organizations can also direct their pressure on what politicians do. But here I’m talking about our strategy for change. I’m arguing against a strategy for change that relies upon — focuses on — the role of elected officials, a political party, or the full-time paid union apparatus.

An electoralist strategy leads to the development of political machines in which mass organizations look to professional politicians and party operatives. This type of practice tends to create a bureaucratic layer of professional politicians, media, think-tanks and party operatives that develops its own interests.

When the strategy is focused on electing people to office in the state, college-educated professionals and people with “executive experience” will tend to be favored as candidates to “look good” in the media.  And this means people of the professional and administrative layers will tend to gain leadership positions in an electorally oriented party. This will tend to diminish the ability of rank and file working class people to control the party’s direction. 

This is part of the process of the development of the party as a separate bureaucratic layer with its own interests. Because they are concerned with winning elections and keeping their hold on positions in the state, this can lead them to oppose disruptive direct action by workers such as strikes or workplace takeovers. There is a long history of electoral socialist leaders taking this kind of stance.

To the extent electoral socialist politics comes to dominate in the labor movement — as it did in Europe  after World War 2 — declining militancy and struggle also undermined the commitment to socialism. The electoral socialist parties in Europe competed in elections through the advocacy of various immediate reforms. This became the focus of the parties. Sometimes they won elections. 

At the head of a national government they found that they had to “manage” capitalism — keep the capitalist regime running. If they moved in too radical a direction they found they would lose middle class votes — or the investor elite might panic and start moving their capital to safe havens abroad. In some cases elements of the “deep state” — such as the military and police forces — moved to overthrow them. Most of these parties eventually changed their concept of what their purpose was. They gave up on the goal of replacing capitalism with socialism.

Eco-syndicalism

Eco-syndicalism is based on the recognition that workers — and direct worker and community alliances — can be a force against the environmentally destructive actions of capitalist firms. Toxic substances are transported by workers, ground-water-destroying solvents are used in electronics assembly and damage the health of workers, and pesticides poison farm workers. Industrial poisons affect workers on the job first and pollute nearby working class neighborhoods. Nurses have to deal with the effects of pollution on people’s bodies. Various explosive derailments have shown how oil trains can be a danger to both railroad workers and communities. The struggle of railroad workers for adequate staffing on trains is part of the struggle against this danger.

Workers are a potential force for resistance to decisions of employers that pollute or contribute to global warming. Workers can also be a force for support of alternatives on global warming, such as expanded public transit. An example of working class resistance to environmental pollution were the various “green bans” enacted by the Australian Building Laborer’s Federation back in the ‘70s — such as a ban on transport or handling of uranium.

A recognition of this relationship led to the development of an environmentalist tendency among syndicalists in the ‘80s and ‘90s — eco-syndicalism (also called “green syndicalism”). An example in the ‘80s was the organizing work of Judi Bari — a member of the IWW and Earth First!. Working in the forested region of northwest California, she attempted to develop an alliance of workers in the wood products industry (and their unions) with environmentalists who were trying to protect old growth forests against clear-cutting.

Worker and community organizations can be a direct force against fossil fuel capitalism in a variety of ways — such as the various actions against coal or oil terminals on the Pacific Coast, or labor and community support for struggles of indigenous people and other rural communities against polluting fossil fuel projects, such as happened with the Standing Rock blockade in the Dakotas. Unions can also be organized in workplaces of the “green” capitalist firms to fight against low pay and other conditions I described earlier.

The different strategies of syndicalists and electoral socialists tends to lead to different conceptions of what “socialism” and “democracy” mean. Because politicians tend to compete on the basis of what policies they will pursue through the state, this encourages a state socialist view that socialism is a set of reforms enacted top down through the managerialist bureaucracies of the state. Certainly state socialists are an influential element in Democratic Socialists of America.

I think a top down form of power, controlled by the bureaucratic control class in state management, is not going to work as a solution for the ecological challenges of the present. The history of the “communist camp” countries of the mid-20th century showed that they were also quite capable of pollution and ecological destruction rooted in cost-shifting behavior.

On the other hand, the syndicalist vision of self-managed socialism provides a plausible basis for a solution for the environmental crisis because a federative, distributed form of democratic planning places power in local communities and workers in industries, and thus they have power to prevent ecologically destructive decisions. 

For syndicalists, socialism is about human liberation — and a central part is the liberation of the working class from subordination and exploitation in a regime where there are dominating classes on top. Thus for syndicalism the transition to socialism means workers taking over and collectively managing all the industries — including the public services. This is socialism created from  below — created by the working class itself.

Syndicalist movements historically advocated a planned economy based on a distributed model of democratic planning, rooted in assemblies in neighborhoods and workplaces. With both residents of communities and worker production organizations each having the power to make decisions in developing plans for its own area, a distributed, federative system of grassroots planning uses delegate congresses or councils and systems of negotiation to “adjust” the proposals and aims of the various groups to each other. 

Examples of libertarian socialist distributed planning models include the negotiated coordination proposals of the World War 1 era guild socialists, the 1930s Spanish anarcho-syndicalist program of neighborhood assemblies (“free municipalities”) and worker congresses, and the more recent participatory planning model of Robin Hahnel and Michael Albert.

A 21st century form of self-managed socialism would be a horizontally federated system of production that can implement planning and coordination throughout industries and over a wide region. This would enable workers to:

Gain control over technological development,

Re-organize jobs and education to eliminate the bureaucratic concentration of power in the hands of managers and high-end professionals, develop worker skills, and work to integrate decision-making and conceptualization with the doing of the physical work,

Reduce the working week and share work responsibilities among all who can work, and

Create a new logic of development for technology that is friendly to workers and the environment.

A purely localistic focus and purely fragmented control of separate workplaces (such as worker cooperatives in a market economy) is not enough. Overall coordination is needed to move social production away from subordination to market pressures and the “grow or die” imperative of capitalism and build solidarity between regions. There also needs to be direct, communal accountability for what is produced and for effects on the community and environment.

The protection of the ecological commons requires a directly communal form of social governance and control over the aims of production. This means direct empowerment of the masses who would be directly polluted on or directly affected by environmental degradation. This is necessary to end the ecologically destructive cost-shifting behavior that is a structural feature of both capitalism and bureaucratic statism. Direct communal democracy and direct worker management of industry provide the two essential elements for a libertarian eco-socialist program.

1. “An Ecosocialist Path to Limiting Global Temperature Rise to 1.5°C” https://systemchangenotclimatechange.org/article/ecosocialist-path-limiting-global-temperature-rise-

Sunday, 14 April 2019

What is the difference between Eco-socialism and Eco-anarchism?


I count myself as an eco-socialist, but there are various strains of this political philosophy. They range from the type of eco-socialism practiced in Venezuela and Bolivia, with a centralised government headed by a (male) leader, through to the Green New Deal proposals championed now by social democratic politicians in the US and UK (though first proposed by Green Parties in both these countries). To, at the other end, an anti-capitalist variety, to which I belong, which includes such figures as Joel Kovel and Michael Lowy, who co-authored the first eco-socialist manifesto.

But even within this strain there are different emphasis placed on some aspects of philosophy, chiefly, surrounding the centrality of Karl Marx’s writing on ecological matters. Writers at the Monthly Review such as James Bellamy Foster and Paul Burkett, insist that Marx was an eco-socialist, but others, like myself, are more loosely Marxist. So we first need to be clear what we mean by eco-socialism. Eco-socialism is an eco-centric socialism. I gave a talk about eco-socialism in London, where I defined the main component parts thus:

Metabolic Rift

Nature contains billions of ecosystems, all connected in a finely balanced way, to form what we might call the ‘ecosphere’. Capitalism disrupts and eventually completely ruptures this balance, setting off chain reactions which cannot be cured easily, if at all. Human beings are ecosystems too, and the way the system forces us to live, causes a rupture between us and nature and leads to illnesses like stress, depression and obesity.

And to those who say the ways of capitalism are ‘human nature’, then if this is true, why have we only been living this way for a few hundred years? The only thing natural about capitalism, is that it was invented by creatures of nature, us. And we can just as easily un-invent it – and we should.

Eco-socialist writer James Bellamy Foster has managed to link this to Karl Marx’s notion of an ‘irreparable rift’ between humans and nature, in volume three of Capital.

The Commons

Historically, in Britain and other western nations, people were forcibly removed from common land as it was enclosed, with violence employed, to drive the people off the land and into the capitalist factories in the towns and cities. And today the same thing is happening in developing countries.

By taking away people's alternative way of providing for themselves, they are left with no choice but to move into cities and work often 16 hours a day for meagre pay in factories, where health and safety is non-existent, and female workers are routinely harassed and molested.

When I visited Senegal in west Africa a few years ago, one day I spoke with some fishermen who complained about the factory ships from the European Union, Russia and Japan that were hoovering up all of the fish, so much so, that the local fisherman couldn’t catch enough fish anymore to earn a decent living. Here was a system of managed commons which had fed local people for thousands of years and provided a livelihood for the fishermen, destroyed by the capitalist factory boats. Robbing from the poor - to give to the rich.

You have probably heard of the ‘global commons’ on the internet, peer to peer sharing and free software, which eco-socialists welcome, with the possibilities it provides for living outside of the capitalist system, to some extent anyway.

Ecocentric Production

This is a quote from my favourite eco-socialist writer Jovel Kovel describing our vision of eco-socialism: ‘a society in which production is carried out by freely associated labour, and by consciously eco-centric means and ends’.

I think this phrase covers the production process under eco-socialism neatly. The ‘freely associated labour’ bit refers to the absence of surplus value, profit for capital.
Production would be for ‘use-value’, not ‘exchange value'. It will require useful workers only, doctors, nurses, teachers etc. and there will be no need for work such as pushing numbers around on a computer in a bank in the City of London, which is useless to humanity - and indeed harmful.

What is produced will be of the highest quality, and beauty, and made to last and be repairable. My laptop packed up last week and I put it in for repair. But they couldn’t fix it because they couldn’t get the replacement part – this laptop is only a little over a year old, but it is obsolete. Throw it away, and get another was the advice. This is purposefully a planned obsolescence, to drive demand for new production within modern capitalism.

In Green Party circles you hear a lot about sustainability, or sustainable production, but we eco-socialists prefer the word sufficiency, or sufficient production. Only as much as is needed will be produced, and no more. It should go without saying that the production process will be in balance with nature too.

Radical Democracy

Democracy in an eco-socialist society will devolve all decisions down to the lowest possible level. A series of assemblies, local, town, regional and at least at first, national. The assemblies will be freely elected and each assembly will be subject to recall from the level below, and assembly members should serve only one term. Eventually, the central state will be dissolved.

There are varieties of anarchism too, ranging from the individualist to collective types, but all tend to advocate horizontal leadership rather than hierarchical ones, and tend to pursue ‘statelessness’ as a central aim. Certainly at the left end of the anarchism spectrum the philosophy is anti-capitalist and truly democratic.

Eco-anarchism sits within the anarchist philosophy, it includes a critique of the interactions between humans and non-humans, as well just human ones and aims to bring about an environmentally sustainable anarchist society. Social ecology developed mainly by the writer and thinker Murray Bookchin, is part of this strain of anarchism and many eco-socialists count Bookchin as a part of our tradition.

Bookchin was at first a libertarian socialist, but moved to a more unambiguously anarchist philosophy, though he thought Marx’s thinking and writing was valuable, and was mainly at odds with the Marxist academic establishment in the US in 1960s, who he accused of crowding out anarchist thinking. 

His ideas have been taken up and are presently being practised in the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Syria, known as Rojava. The Democratic Union Party and the Kurdish National Council, joined to form the Kurdish Supreme Committee and the People's Protection Units militia were established to defend their territory. Eco-socialists find great encouragement and inspiration from this experiment, and see it as very similar to what a future eco-socialist society might look like.

There were disagreements between socialists and anarchists in the nineteenth century, with, for example, William Morris the British socialist, who eco-socialists count as one of our own, clashing with anarchists at the Social Democratic Foundation. But the divide really opened up in the twentieth century, mainly because of the successful socialist revolution in Russia and the way it developed, into a nasty authoritarian state with an empire of states around the world and a very powerful military.

Eco-socialists hold the same sort of view as anarchists of this twentieth century, actually existing socialism, and think that the Russian revolution took socialism in the wrong direction, away from a truly libertarian path socialism had promised, and Marx wrote about. Marx’s ideas on ‘freely associated labour,’ was nowhere to be seen in the USSR or the other actually existing socialist states.

After the necessary anti-capitalist revolution, a peaceful one hopefully, eco-socialists believe that some sort of ‘central state’ will be needed, which is not the view of anarchists, by and large, but this should be time limited. I think central direction will be essential, to set in train a process which will lead to eco-socialism, but its aim should also be to dissolve itself as soon as possible, certainly in no more than ten years, and probably less than this.

I know that many anarchists are wary of socialists calling for ‘left unity’ and with good reason. Too many present day socialists are unreconstructed, and often shamelessly so, that eco-socialists despair of them too. So, I’m not really calling for a unity with these types of people and their philosophies, but I would ask that anarchists take a fair look at eco-socialism, particularly eco-anarchists. In my view, there are so many similarities between the two philosophies, and not many differences.

Thursday, 11 April 2019

Scrap Subsidies for Biofuel – Drax AGM Protest London Wednesday 17 April


In 2017, around £1 billion in UK renewable energy subsidies – paid out of a surcharge on our electricity bills – went to power stations burning wood. This is money which should go to genuinely low-carbon renewables such as wind, wave and solar power. Altogether, far more wood is being burned for electricity than is produced annually in the UK.

Far from being green energy, biomass burning makes climate change worse, destroys forests and damages biodiversity. It also harms communities who live near wood pellet plants and biomass power stations and wastes bill-payers’ money on a false solution to our energy needs. 

Drax Power Station is the single greatest emitter of carbon dioxide in the UK, burning more wood than any other plant in the world, as well as continuing to burn coal.

Now, Drax is determined to regain its former position as the country’s top fossil fuel burner, too: it is asking for permission and subsidies to replace its two remaining coal units, which the Government says must close in 2025, with much larger gas powered ones. 

This would make Drax the biggest ever gas power station in the UK (without burning any less wood). 89 environmental organisations – 75 of them from the UK – have signed an Open Letter against these plans, and over 95,000 people have signed a similar petition. 

In return for trashing forests and digging up communities, Drax is receiving massive subsidies, when it should have been closed down years ago. Drax is cashing in on over £2 million in subsidies every single day. Meanwhile, subsidies for genuinely renewable and low carbon onshore wind and solar power have been slashed across the UK. 

We're a week away from Drax's AGM, where Biofuelwatch activists be holding a colourful and noisy protest. This year, Drax's AGM will be back in London. Biofuelwatch will be outside with banners, music and speakers to call out Drax's forest-destroying biomass, its burning of coal, and its mega gas power plans. 

Biofuelwatch would be most grateful for your support with spreading the word and help with getting lots of people along! This includes sharing our Facebook events page: facebook.com/events/701697476899900/ 

Where?

Outside Grocers' Hall, Princes Street, London, EC2R 8AD - close to Bank tube station

When?

Wednesday 17 April, 12 noon to 1.30 pm

What?

A colourful and noisy protest with music and speakers. Bring your own banner if you can!

Afterwards, we will move on to the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, whose £1bn a year subsidies drive and support this nonsense, to urge them to 'Scrap Biomass Subsidies' biofuelwatch.org.uk/subsidies-alert

For more information about Drax, please see our new briefing and webpage: biofuelwatch.org.uk/axedrax-campaign/

Please write to your MP to demand the government Scrap Biomass Subsidies. £1 billion a year is wasted in burning wood, which should go to genuine, low-carbon, no-burn renewable energy.

Follow Biofuelwatch on facebook and twitter!

Sunday, 7 April 2019

Beyond the Green New Deal: Eco-Socialism and Decolonization


Written by Michael Novick and first published at EcoWatch

Environmental catastrophes in southern Africa and in the U.S. Midwest underscore the fact that life-threatening damage from capitalist-induced climate change is happening already.

Hundreds died as a result of the cyclone in Mozambique and elsewhere, where the resultant flooding has caused an "inland sea." Record flooding in Nebraska and elsewhere has caused multimillion-dollars of destruction, and more flooding is anticipated. Native communities in South Dakota have been hit particularly hard, with industrial and other waste contaminating drinking water sources.

Things are getting worse, despite the Paris Accord, with or without Trump and the U.S. Tim Radford of Climate News Network reports British meteorologists warning that although 2018 broke all records for greenhouse gas emissions, 2019 will see even more carbon dioxide added.

Some point to the Green New Deal introduced by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Edward Markey as the answer. Apparently it has been rendered DOA as far as Congress is concerned, via a "stunt vote" by Mitch McConnell in the Senate. But the impact of U.S. economic and military actions around the world make it clear that more than a "new deal" is needed, that decolonization and demilitarization are central to overcoming global climate injustice.

As the Indigenous Environmental Network has pointed out, the Green New Deal leaves much to be desired:

"The IEN applauds the Green New Deal resolution for its vision, intention, and scope. ... From sea level rise to loss of land, Indigenous frontline communities and Tribal nations are already experiencing the direct impacts of climate change, and we are encouraged to see these congressional leaders ... help Indigenous communities and Tribal nations protect their homelands, rights, sacred sites, waters, air, and bodies from further destruction.

"However, ...we remain concerned that unless changes are made..., the Green New Deal will leave incentives ... to continue causing harm to Indigenous communities.... the most impactful way to address the problem is to keep fossil fuels in the ground. We can no longer leave options for the fossil fuel industry to determine the economic and energy future of this country. Until the Green New Deal can be explicit in this demand and close the loop on harmful incentives, we cannot fully endorse the resolution."

The IEN identifies several major problems with the Green New Deal:

1. Its goal of "net-zero emissions" implies the use of "carbon accounting" including carbon pricing systems and/or Payments for Ecological Services. This provides opportunity to fossil fuel industries to continue extraction and combustion. Geo-engineering technologies like Carbon Capture Sequestration can be claimed as producing net zero emissions as well as "building green infrastructure." Carbon trading allows polluters to buy and sell permits to pollute, and privatizes the air that we breathe.

2. "Renewable/Clean Energy" needs to be clearly defined. Burning "bridge fuels" like fracked gas, municipal waste and biomass, nuclear energy and large-scale hydroelectric dams all pose major environmental justice concerns.

3. Restoring and protecting threatened and fragile ecosystems is linked to supporting climate "resiliency." Restoration projects could be used as climate mitigation schemes. Programs like Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) "financialize" Nature and turn its "carbon-sink" capacities into commodities to be sold in speculative markets.

4. Compensation for farmers might include funding for GMOs and/or Climate Smart Agriculture, so-called "carbon farming" for "offsets" of industrial pollution.

5. Weak language on indigenous peoples sovereignty: Its "stakeholders" don't explicitly include indigenous people. IEN suggests the following language instead:

"The Green New Deal must be developed in transparent and inclusive consultation ... and partnership in recognition of the sovereignty and self-determination of federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native Tribes and villages including all ...rights secured under treaties, statutes, executive orders and federal and state court cases. 

These projects will also include ...Native Hawaiian organizations and State recognized Tribes. Acknowledge the ... Tribes that develop ... their own Free, Prior and Informed Consent laws [for] Indian Country, inclusive of their lands, waters, territories and resources; and off-reservation hunting, fishing, medicine gathering, food gathering, cultural and spiritual practices..."

Indigenous people worldwide pay a heavy price for U.S. practices. U.S. imperialism continues to have primary responsibility for damage to the climate. According to the University of Michigan, in 2018, 80 percent of the energy consumed in the U.S. came from oil, gas, and coal. Only 11 percent came from so-called "renewables"; 40+ percent of that was biomass, which requires a large amount of land and energy to produce and still causes carbon emissions. And that doesn't include all the U.S.-destined production and energy consumption that has been off-shored to low-wage countries.

According to PopularResistance.org:

"The U.S. is the largest crude oil producer in the world. … [At the end of March,] Mike Pompeo met with oil and gas industry executives to remind them of their role in fueling wars to control the world's oil. Bill Van Auken reports, 'Pompeo's speech provided a blunt description of U.S. predatory aims across the planet that involve the interests of [its] energy conglomerates.' [Pompeo] was open about U.S. imperialist aims regarding oil in Iran and Venezuela."

The U.S. military is responsible for the worst and most widespread pollution on earth, yet this goes unreported by corporate media and unaddressed by U.S. environmentalists. It wasn't the focus of restrictions at the UN Climate Change Conference. Global operations of the U.S. military (wars, interventions, over 1000 bases around the world and 6,000 facilities in the U.S.) aren't counted against U.S. greenhouse gas limits. 

According to Steve Kretzmann, director of Oil Change International, "The Iraq war was responsible for ...more than 60 percent [of the emissions as] that of all countries. . . . [M]ilitary emissions abroad are exempt from national reporting requirements under U.S. law and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change."

So people in the U.S. must struggle to keep hydrocarbons in the ground, resist U.S. militarism, and uphold the sovereignty of indigenous people. This includes offering concrete alternatives, like the Mutual Aid centers in Puerto Rico, or the clean water programs supported by Puerto Ricans in Action in Los Angeles, to recovery efforts controlled by U.S.NGOs and the military. 

Puerto Rico is as damaged, ongoing, by U.S. colonialism and disaster capitalism, as by Hurricane Maria. That's why the Puerto Rican Federation of Teachers, in the documentary "Lucha Si!" and in their daily organizing, make it clear that decolonization and Puerto Rican sovereignty is the solution to the privatization of schools being imposed under the colonial government's austerity programs and the U.S.-imposed "PROMESA" financial junta that controls the island nation's finances in order to prioritize repayment of debt to vulture capitalists. 

On the occasion of getting the PR Department of Education to reverse the closing of several schools, Mercedes Martinez, the union president, said, "Everything is possible, if we fight. More than ever proud to have been arrested with 20 comrades for defending public education."

Similarly, to respond to the devastation in Africa, we must support self-determined grassroots efforts. More than 1.5 million people have been affected across the three Southern African countries, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi. The Chimanimani district in Mozambique has been cut off by torrential rains and winds that swept away roads and bridges knocking out power and communication lines. Global Citizen offers specific ways to help victims, as well as general guidelines for providing conscientious assistance to formerly colonized peoples.

Decolonization as central to the struggle for sustainability and climate justice goes well beyond the current Green New Deal resolution. As eco-socialists in the Democratic Socialists of America acknowledge in their paper on an eco-socialist Green New Deal, we must "demilitarize, decolonize, and strive for a future of international solidarity."

They call for abandoning global military domination, and building consensus throughout the Global North for de-carbonization that outpaces less-industrialized countries, who have contributed the least to and are suffering the most from global warming. The U.S., they propose, should welcome refugees, share life-saving technologies freely, and provide mitigation resources requested by peoples in the Global South.

Their proposal continues, "Recognize the sovereignty of Indigenous peoples... Accept the decisions of Indigenous communities regarding future green infrastructure projects that impact their lands.... Remove United States military presence... around the world; end military aid and arms exports; and demilitarize our borders."

This is a step forward, along with acknowledging that we must solve the climate crisis and the inequality crisis together: "Climate remedies in the context of austerity will produce a popular backlash.... [I]neffectual gradualism and corporate obedience ... [have] proven to be a dead-end for humanity. We need rapid, systemic transformation that heals the stratification of wealth and power while putting de-carbonization and justice at the forefront."

Unfortunately, this same anti-colonial, anti-racist and anti-militarist orientation is not necessarily reflected in local implementation plans. The DSA-LA resolution on an eco-socialist Green New Deal in Los Angeles talks about "green jobs" and a bit about integrating work around housing and homelessness, and around immigration issues, but doesn't use an anti-colonial or anti-racist lens, and is silent about issues of militarism, local military-industrial complex industries or extractivism.

There is a strong need to sharpen up such proposals so that the axiom, "think globally, act locally" doesn't liquidate the essential role of the military and colonialism in creating the current crisis, or the role of self-determination and conscious solidarity in overcoming it. A truly eco-socialist approach would take on militarization of the police and the border, the toxic conditions in prisons, and related issues to help explain why we need to end capitalism and colonialism, not cut a deal to give them a new lease on life. Capitalism kills—its life is our death.

One positive aspect of the local proposal is that it does identify the need for mutual aid projects as a basis for organizing. As the threat of climate change increasingly becomes the deadly reality, we cannot afford to leave survival to the right-wing or racist survivalists. The left must step up to promote anti-racist collective common solutions in the process of uprooting and replacing the system that is to blame. 

"Survival pending revolution" was the basis for the Black Panther Party survival programs, and such efforts are needed more than ever today, to hasten the day when massive reforestation and restoration of grasslands and wetlands destroyed by capitalism and colonialism can begin to restore the natural carbon cycle. To de-carbonize, we must de-colonize.

Michael Novick is a longtime anti-racist with the Anti-Racist Action-Los Angeles/People Against Racist Terror (ARA-LA/PART). He is also a labor activist and a member of the local station board of KPFK 90.7FM in Los Angeles. He can be reached at antiracistaction_la@yahoo.com.

Thursday, 4 April 2019

What Now for the Green Party?



Written by David Taylor

The Green Party seems to be taking increasingly desperate measures to justify its existence. Yet climate change is now recognised, almost universally as the most serious issue facing humanity – so why the anomaly? As usual, to quote Harold Macmillan, its “events, old boy”: in this case the events put in train by Corbyn`s rise and Brexit. Both, I would say, compounded, by the origins and social composition of the Green Party itself. 

During the Blair years the party started to break out of the old Ecology Party niche, with its emphasis on lifestyle choices, and opposed not only the Iraq war but New Labour`s economic policies. After the 2008 financial crash and the election of Caroline Lucas as the first Green Party MP, this process accelerated and attracted many who had been politically homeless in the face of the New Labour/Tory/LibDem consensus for globalisation, privatisation and austerity. Many were former Labour Party activists and by 2015 the party had its best ever general election result – fought on a social justice and anti-austerity agenda and membership peaked at 68,000.

2015 General Election campaign postcard

Some say that the success of this Green Surge helped to open the door for Corbyn.  Most of the Green Party's policies of 2015 were in Labour`s 2017 manifesto and most of the activists who joined the Green Party from Labour returned to work for a radical Corbyn led government. The notion that such a government was now a real possibility focused the minds of many other Green Party members. Was supporting Labour now a more realistic vehicle for radical social change than just voting Green? 

Obviously Labour had the potential to be more effective, but only if the left won the battle in the party and its green policies were to be extended, prioritised and implemented. In spite of these caveats many did decide to join Labour (some saying they did so with a heavy heart). Nearly 40,000 left the Green Party during 2017/18 including many experienced activists and people who had held key positions on leading bodies. The current membership of around 36,000 reflects a more recent influx – mostly people attracted by the Peoples Vote on Brexit stance of the Green Party leadership.

In 2013 the Green Party conference decided to define the party “as a party of environmental and social justice, the two elements being inseparable”. The loss of many on the left of the party since 2016 led to calls to “go back to our core roots” ie scrap the social justice dimension. The days when Natalie Bennett could tell conference “ask not what the trade unions can do for us, Ask what we can do for the trade unions!” were over. 

The leadership were in a bind, unsure of how to position the party and it was clear that a difficult period lay ahead. This was to be amply confirmed at the 2017 general election when the Greens lost 700,000 votes, mostly to Labour. But in 2016, with Caroline Lucas back again as leader, the party concentrated its efforts on a “Yes to the EU” campaign for the Brexit referendum. This was a shift from the historical position of favouring localism “think global, act local” over ceding control to centralised, unaccountable blocs. In fact the party was largely eurosceptic from its foundation – until 2016!

One of the striking posters from former national
Campaign Co-ordinator Howard Thorp`s team

“With its elitist smears against Leave voters the Peoples
Vote campaign is as divisive as Farage himself”
Adrian Cruden, writer and blogger

The Leave result in the EU referendum was entirely predictable; the government having handed voters a cudgel, millions took the opportunity to bash them with it – for reasons often unconnected with Europe. This is where the class nature of the Green Party comes in. The party has a far higher proportion of academics, professionals and middle and upper class members than any other party – the very people who were horrified by the result. Some could hardly believe it, saying their lives were shattered whilst others thought about leaving the country. 

So no big surprise that the party piled onto the “Peoples Vote” bandwagon with enthusiasm, making it a top policy priority. This call for a second referendum confirmed the widely held view that the establishment wanted endless votes until the people “voted the right way” - as had happened with EU votes in several countries in the past.

“A series of missteps and strategic errors”

Green MP Caroline Lucas

Countless people have been inspired by Caroline Lucas who never seemed to put a foot wrong in her approach, her media appearances or her analysis. She still has wide public respect and will probably become a “national treasure” but the shock of Brexit resulted in a series of missteps and strategic errors. The Green Party seemed locked into a period of panic reactions to events – backing the divisive “Peoples Vote” campaign; panicking over anti-semitic allegations; not defending party democracy in the face of attacks by “identity politics” militants - and moving heaven and earth to make sure the Urgent Holistic Review (HR) proposals to change the Green Party structure took effect. 

The 2018 Autumn conference spent more time wrangling over internal party organisation  than debating the political challenges facing the party. The membership at large had little or no interest in the HR rigmarole or the referendum to agree the changes. Party staff and resources had to be fully mobilised to harvest enough votes for a 16% turnout and avoid an “egg on face” outcome.

The Green Party has some of the trappings of an NGO including a well paid CEO and a culture tending to favour outsourcing of tasks to “professional” companies and fundraisers rather than using the skills and expertise which many members have offered voluntarily. These same members are bombarded with financial appeals to support a head office bureaucracy whose internal workings are pretty hit and miss with constant changes in staff and systems. 

A review to make the party more efficient and member friendly would be a good idea but the HR is almost the exact opposite. Decisions on political activities will be centralised in an 11 member Political Executive (PEX) and the Board of Directors of a limited company will deal with staff, finance and day to day functions. A 45 member Council will take on all the work done by committees currently dealing with policy development, conferences,  publications and campaigning  and international affairs. 

Only a dozen of these 61 posts will be directly elected. This adds up to centralisation of control by the party leadership and bureaucracy. Members have described the abolition of the International Committee as “Our Very Own Brexit” as the changes do not accord with the rules of the European Green Party.

“There will not be a Green government in time to make the necessary changes. So we need
to work with as many others as we can”
Romayne Phoenix, former Co-Chair Green Party of England & Wales

The first fruits of the HR decision making process were not long in coming. In early 2019 a “WinterFest” was held to review policy and discuss possible conference motions. More of these forums are in the pipeline with the distinct possibility that Spring conference will be ended or downgraded. This is all too reminiscent of New Labour under Blair when policy forums, attended by a minority of councillors, wonks and spin doctors made policy and conference became little more than a rally. Labour have now scrapped the forums in favour of more democracy and a much more democratic conference. 

A new Green Party Political Strategy document says  “research on the 2017 general election has shown that the party does not “own” an important and popular policy in the eyes of the electorate. We will undertake further research to help us identify which of our policies might fill this gap”. If only we had George Orwell to comment on these immortal lines! A Green Objectives section defines the key objectives as environmentalism and “social liberalism” - a slippery term to replace “social justice”. 

Then we have the Strategic Objectives which include overtaking the LibDems to become the third most popular party; increasing councillors to 300 (out of 14,000 !); retain the Green MP; poll 1,000,000 at the next general election and reach 80,000 members by 2022. This wish list puts the party only slightly ahead of where it was in 2015, yet by 2022, on worst case scenarios, we will be only 8 years away from unstoppable climate breakdown. 

Many people thought that the Urgent Holistic Review would be confined to organisational tinkering but it has become clear that such a root and branch reorganisation reflects a political reorientation. The main activity of the Green Party has always been electoral and, with no prospect of more MPs in the near future, the party is now focused on competing with the LibDems – in mainly Tory held local council seats. If the motley crew of Blairites,Tories and Labour rejects of the “Independent Group” manage to contest local elections, they will also be competing for the same ground. 

All members have had an appeal from HQ assuring them that they would have to do nothing more than sign their name to become a “paper candidate”. The hope must be to contest enough seats to keep up the appearance of still ranking as a player. More generally the party is concentrating on “green thinking” people who are really concerned about climate change issues – anti-fracking campaigners, Extinction Rebellion etc.  

Taken together with the “Peoples Vote” axis, this denotes a distinct middle class orientation which inevitably moves the party in a rightward direction. No longer a social democratic anti-austerity party, but “eco-lib.dem” with councillors morphing into a band of LibDem lookalikes with a green streak.

“The climate movement must engage with the labour movement,
the only political force with the capacity to deliver the
transformation needed to avert catastrophic climate change”
Green Party Trade Union Group post


In a global context all this may seem like a sideshow at a far corner of the fair. It is, in fact, part of a pattern. The 2008 financial crash ended three decades of unstable equilibrium for the world economy and we entered a new era of uncertainty which has been described as a “post-modern” variant of the 1930s. In Europe opposition to austerity and the rise of populism has led to the near collapse of opposition parties identified with the Establishment. This includes Green parties in France, Italy, Greece and elsewhere. 

The Irish Greens are only starting to recover from their wipe out after entering Coalition with austerity parties. In the 2018 Swedish general election the Green party lost 10 seats (down to 15) whilst the Left party gained 7 seats (up to 28).  Where the Greens and the Left are united, substantial gains have been made. In the Netherlands local elections the Green Left topped the poll in several cities and came second in Amsterdam.

In the European parliament the UK`s three Green MEP`s are in the Nordic Green Left bloc and know better than most that the “Another Europe is Possible” campaign most closely resembled official Green Party policy. Yet in the Brexit debate the party seemed joined at the hip with the official Remain campaign. Even worse, the party leadership later made common cause with, and appeared on platforms with, leading LibDem, Tory and Blairite Labour MP`s, calling for another referendum – identifying the Green Party as part of the Establishment. 

Personally, I voted Remain, mainly in disgust at the xenophobia whipped up by the Leave campaign and sections of the media. There is another side of the story though. I have an old friend who lives on a large ex-council estate where austerity has inflicted an almost Dickensian level of poverty, where people are literally starving and where little kids rummage in bins for food before they go to school. 

He told me that he had never seen such solidarity and community spirit on the estate, as the residents turned out to vote Leave. After being ignored for years, with nothing left to lose, here was a chance to “stick it to the man”. A pretty well heeled crowd of people, draped in EU flags, later told them they were wrong, illustrating both the divisive nature of Brexit and the distraction it has been from the real issues.

The Green Party is not alone in facing an uncertain future – the other parties being equally at the mercy of unknowable events. Nevertheless we can be certain that concern about climate change will mushroom as people move from being aware to being scared and there will be a wider and more receptive audience for the Greens. Unfortunately, the Green Party has been particularly prone to attract those who regard membership as another item to add to their green portfolio, and after a bit of box ticking, they play no further part in party deliberations or activities. Caroline Lucas has described the Green Party as “necessary but not sufficient” stressing the need to engage with co-thinkers in parliament and campaigners outside. 

This is truer than ever. The climate crisis can be only be tackled at government level and with countries working together on a global scale and, if humanity is to have a future, an end to the capitalist model of never ending exploitation of resources to maintain constant growth. Bearing in mind the timescale this seems a tall order but we can only do what we can.  

For now this must include supporting the election of a Corbyn led progressive government while working with those such as Red Green Labour who are raising the profile of climate change and economic growth issues within the Labour Party, and demand that a future Labour led government will lead the move towards green policies.

“In a time of universal deceit telling the truth
is a revolutionary act” - George Orwell
*Thanks to Howard Thorp for his favourite quote

David Taylor former Sedgemoor Green Party co-ordinator and Chair of West Somerset Green Party is a Green Left supporter