Friday 28 April 2017

Would an Anti-Tory government really be a Coalition of Chaos?

We are only just into the general election campaign but the Tory government’s themes are already crystal clear. They will paint themselves as the only party to deliver Brexit, attack Labour as economically incompetent and attack the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, as soft on defence and security. Part of this strategy is to claim that they are the only party who can deliver ‘strong and stable government.’

At Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday in Parliament, every question from the Labour leader, went unanswered by Theresa May, the Prime Minister. Instead, she repeated campaign slogans, especially ‘strong and stable government,’ over and over again. She is not a quick thinker on her feet, and finds it difficult to respond properly to unexpected questions, which is why she is refusing to take part in televised debates, which have become de rigueur in recent general elections.

What the Tories are trying to do is frame the debate around the fact they are the only party likely to gain an overall majority in Parliament, at this election, and that Labour would need to form a coalition of at least three parties, probably more, to be able to form a government.

This worked well two years ago at the last general election, when they managed to worry English voters with the prospect of Labour needing to rely on the Scottish National Party (SNP), to form a government. This was graphically illustrated by the poster showing Ed Miliband, the Labour leader at the time, tucked away in the then SNP leader, Alex Salmond’s, top pocket.

So, this is a tried and trusted tactic, and the Tories have rehired Lynton Crosby who masterminded their successful 2015 campaign. They appear to be broadening this out this time to include the Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru, the Northern Irish SDLP and the Greens, to make the prospect seem even more ‘chaotic.’ The Lib Dems sensibly, have ruled out a coalition with either Labour, or the Tories, so this may reassure voters to some extent, but the British tend not to like the idea of coalition governments, especially such a multi-party one.

The Tories themselves, of course, entered into a coalition with the Lib Dems in 2010, because they were short of an overall majority, but with just the Lib Dems as partners, and it was briefly popular. The Lib Dems were routed in 2015, by the Tories in the main, so the coalition in the end was not popular.

The British electoral system, first past the post, as it is known, makes for a clear winner more than in other countries which have a proportional electoral system, although over recent years, the number of voters that the big two parties, Labour and the Tories, can command has gradually got less and less of the share of the vote. So this may be changing a little on some levels, but I still think coalitions are something of an anathema to most British voters.

But maybe it is changing. Vince Cable, Lib Dem, who was business secretary in the last coalition government, told Sky News: “The coalition of chaos stuff is pathetic. It did work last time. People were frightened of Ed Miliband and the SNP. This [time it] isn’t cutting through, nobody seriously believes Jeremy Corbyn is going to get into government. It is almost certain that we are going get a Conservative government, probably with quite big numbers. What we now need is credible opposition.”

The point Cable is making is that a coalition government is unlikely, and not really the aim of tactical voting, but reducing the size of the Tory government, in what is a special election, centred mainly around the issue of Brexit.

I watched BBC TV Question Time last night with interest, and when they discussed tactical voting and coalitions, the audience didn’t seem to be phased by this, judging by the applause for points raised in favour. This was in Oxford, so may not be representative of the country at large, but even so, I was taken a little by surprise by the reaction.

If the opposition parties did achieve a majority, which is not impossible I think, I see no reason why a ‘progressive’ coalition could not be formed, and there is no inherent reason why this needs to be either chaotic or unstable, since there is plenty that these parties can agree on, enough for a full Parliamentary term at least. It will depend on how the numbers add up, of course.

Perhaps someone should knock up a meme (I don’t have the skills for it) showing Theresa May in Donald Trump’s top pocket? Now that would be a powerful image of what this election is all about.

Tuesday 25 April 2017

May’s ‘Country is Coming Together’ Exposed as Bogus by New Poll

When the Prime Minister, Theresa May, announced her intention to call a general election last week, she said that the election was necessary because ‘the country is coming together on Brexit but Westminster is not.’ Anyone who thought about this for five minutes, concluded that the real reason May was calling the election, was to take advantage of Labour’s weakness and to shore up her position as Prime Minister and Tory Party leader.

Today, we have some evidence to support this line of thinking. The Independent reports a YouGov poll which puts support and opposition to leaving the European Union (EU) neck and neck at 44% for each, which suggests the country is far from united on the issue. Split down the middle more like.

Although the Tories and May as Prime Minister are well ahead in voting intentions at the moment, these polling figures suggest that the election may not be as comfortable as the government seems to think it will be. In an election that the government are trying to turn into effectively EU referendum 2, they have no lead amongst the public at large on the issue.

This suggests that it is a dangerous strategy for the Tories to try to move the agenda onto this territory, rather than the usual ground at general elections of economic competence and tax and spending. This was reinforced by the Tories yesterday by giving no guarantees of not raising taxes after the election, at least not for the full Parliament. This is a highly unusual approach for the Tories to take.  

It is a rather curious approach for the Tories to neglect their strongest cards and instead fight an election on an issue where they do not hold a big lead. I guess, once May had decided to call the election, on the pretext of implementing the referendum result against hostile forces in Parliament, then logically the main issue had to be Brexit. May also probably thinks this will enable her to capture some Labour voting seats, where the people voted in favour of Brexit, but it is a strange tactic all the same.

The Tories will no doubt bang on about chaos if they are not returned to government, Labour’s profligacy with the public purse and Corbyn’s stance on defence issues, but they run the risk of all of this being lost to the issue they themselves say the election is about. 

The key to all of this may well be Lib Dem voters, living in Labour held seats and Tory held constituencies where Labour is best placed to win the seat. Will they vote Labour? Surely they can see what the alternative will be, the hardest of Brexits and an unrestrained hard right Tory government. Not a happy prospect for anyone of a moderate disposition.   

I thought that Keir Starmer, Labour’s Brexit spokesman, made a decent speech today on Labour’s approach to the Brexit negotiations, offering a less risky exit from the EU, retaining single market access and remaining in the European Customs Union. The other opposition parties, Scottish National Party, Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru and Greens are all offering a softer Brexit, than the Tories, so there is some hope that May’s gamble could yet backfire.

The problem for the opposition parties and all of those who oppose the government’s interpretation of how we leave the EU, is the spread of these votes, in our grossly unfair electoral system, first past the post, but it also offers an opportunity. The 48% who voted to remain, (indeed the 44% concerned about a hard Brexit in the YouGov poll), if they turn out and vote tactically, can at the very least, remove the Tory's current 12 seat majority. Whether this will be enough to form an alternative government, is uncertain, but if the government does lose its majority in Parliament, it is a complete game changer as far as Brexit is concerned.

As living standards fall as rising prices outstrip near static wage rises as the election approaches, it may galvanise the opposition to the Tories, but it is more than just this. In this election, our values of tolerance, decency, fairness, respect and openness are under threat. A elective dictatorship, no less.

Various campaigns have been formed to support this tactical voting endeavour, Compass, Open Britain, and the campaigner Gina Miller’s Best for Britain, so there is an effort to make all of this real. Although you have to make the Tories favourites to win the election and increase its majority, all is not lost. There could be a surprise outcome to this election, there is still hope if we act together.   

Sunday 23 April 2017

Where Should Greens Stand, and not Stand, in the UK General Election?

I don’t know about other local Green parties, but in mine, Haringey, in north London, the decision to stand, or not, in this year’s snap general election, is causing some angst. I think, given the fact that this election has been sprung on us, it is best to consider whether we stand from a tactical voting perspective. I hope other local parties are also thinking through this possibility.

The aim of any tactical voting should be to support whichever party is best placed to beat Tory candidates, which in England is likely to be Labour or the Lib Dems in most places. It is not something I’m particularly happy about, having for years urged the voters to vote on principle for the party (Greens) that they most prefer, rather than settle for the least worse option. Lesser evilism, as it is known.

But in the circumstances, the snap poll and what is at stake for the country and its future relationship with the European Union (EU), and the prospect of a rabid right wing Tory government, seemingly determined to sweep away what is left of the welfare state, I think we have to consider this.

Local factors of course come into it, not just who are the likely winners of these Parliamentary constituencies, but also local electoral plans. In England (and Scotland and Wales), there are local authority elections and regional Mayoral elections on 4 May. This might mean that local party’s strategies for local elections are fairly untouched by a general election a month later, so it could be easier to take a decision to not stand in the general election.

That is not the case with London though. London council elections are in 2018, so this June's general election is definitely part of the equation now. Will London Green Parties have to build this into the calculations for next year? I think most probably will.

What is at dispute in my local Green Party, is whether we should stand a candidate in Hornsey and Wood Green constituency, where I live, in the general election. We did well in the other Parliamentary seat in Haringey, Tottenham, in the 2015 general election, taking 9% of the vote and coming second, though a long way behind Labour. It is the best result by far that we have ever had in Tottenham. We are targeting a ward in Tottenham for next year’s council elections, and there is no argument about standing in the general election in June.

In Hornsey and Wood Green we scored 5.4% in 2015, and this seat has a recent history of managing to save our deposit by gaining 5% of the vote or more in 3 out of the last 4 general elections. So it is not completely hopeless. This seat is currently held with a 11,000 majority by Labour, but was held by the Lib Dems from 2005 to 2015, mainly on the back of the Iraq war. There is absolutely no chance the Tories will win this seat.

I think Labour will win the seat comfortably. Catherine West, wisely, voted against triggering Article 50 to initiate our rather reckless course on exiting the EU, in a constituency that was in the top 5 or 6 Remain constituencies in last year’s referendum. I think this will cover her against any Brexit backlash that may occur in other places, in favour of the Lib Dems.

I was the Green Party election agent in Hornsey & Wood Green from 2007 to 2014, and have studied the voting patterns very closely over time. What the voters tend to do here is punish incumbents who go against their wishes on national matters. Barbara Roche the sitting Labour MP was thrown out in 2005 because of the Iraq war, and her successor Lynne Featherstone, was thrown out in 2015 because of her party’s coalition with the Tories from 2010 to 2015. I see no threat of this kind for Catherine West, who seems to be a reasonably good MP too.

So, for me there is no tactical reason why the Greens should not stand here. I don’t see there is anything to lose by standing, but I think there is by not standing. If we don’t stand, and I don’t think it will make any difference to the outcome, one way or the other, but we will be giving the Lib Dems a free ride to rehabilitate themselves here. In fact, I think if we do not stand, we will make it more likely the Lib Dems do better than if we do stand.

As election agent over the years, you get to meet lots of activists from other parties, and many Labour activists have said to me that they were pleased we stood, because they think it takes votes off the Lib Dems, and they may well be right. I think we will take as many votes from the Lib Dems, probably more, than from Labour.

I must confess I don’t understand all the angst about this locally, but I suppose we are just in dread about what may happen generally on 9 June. But we should not lose sight of the fact that any tactical voting should be aimed at thwarting the Tories, not helping the Lib Dems.  

Saturday 22 April 2017

Who’s ready for a snap election – and who isn’t?

Written by  And first published at The Conversation

Prime Minister Theresa May’s decision to call an early general election was bold and unexpected. She could have waited three more years before going to the polls, by which time she would already have negotiated Britain’s exit from the EU. The word from Downing Street had repeatedly been that May opposed calling an early election, as there was too much to do with the Brexit talks approaching to justify taking time out.

And yet this once seemingly bland politician has again surprised everyone with her decisiveness. In announcing her intention to hold a vote on June 8, May explained that divisions in Westminster led her to seek a mandate for her Brexit vision. She accused the opposition parties of obstructionism, arguing that they are weakening the government’s negotiating hand with the EU. May’s hope is that a solid Conservative majority will settle the question of whether she has the consent of the electorate to take Britain out of the single market – a position her opponents have dubbed “hard Brexit”.

So, has May made the right call? UK election cycles are normally four to five years, but occasionally earlier elections are called. Harold Wilson called one in 1966, just two years after winning the 1964 election with a wafer-thin Labour majority of four seats. He increased that to 96. In February 1974, Labour, still led by Wilson, formed a minority government when the election resulted in a hung parliament. He called another election in October and this time secured a majority – although it was only by three seats.

One of the most famous instances of an early election, however, was one that was not called. In 2007, Gordon Brown succeeded Tony Blair as Labour prime minister, two years after the previous election. Three months into his premiership, Brown toyed with the idea of going to the country, encouraged by favourable polls. Speculation was allowed to build up over a fortnight to the point where an early election was expected. However, a shift in the polls during the Conservatives’ annual conference was enough to kill off the plan. Brown’s credibility never recovered from “the election that never was”. It symbolised his indecision and he was dubbed “bottler Brown” by his opponents. He would later face several coup attempts by Labour MPs, clinging on only to lead his party to defeat in 2010.

There appear to be no such dangers for May. Unlike Brown, she is seen as decisive and capable. She did not allow speculation about an early election to generate. Her announcement was a bolt from the blue. Neither is it likely that May was worried by the prospect of late poll swings. YouGov’s most recent poll put the Conservatives on 44%, a massive 21 points ahead of Labour on 23%. For a government with a small majority in parliament, that poll lead makes an early election extremely tempting.

Meanwhile, Labour continues to languish under Jeremy Corbyn. The party is split between centrist MPs who despair of their leader and a left-wing mass membership that has twice elected Corbyn with thumping majorities.

The party is in a desperate position and heads into an election in its worst shape since the collapse of Ramsay MacDonald’s Labour government in 1931. That year saw Labour reduced to a rump of just 52 seats, and while a defeat on a similar scale won’t happen this time, Labour could well find itself losing seats for a fifth consecutive election – unprecedented for the party.

YouGov’s recent poll suggests a seven-point uniform swing from Labour to the Conservatives since 2015. Even if the polls narrowed somewhat, the Conservatives would still win about 40 seats from Labour on a five-point swing. Dozens of Labour MPs will be panicking at the prospect of this election, fearing that the Tory triumph in the Copeland by-election of February 2017 is a harbinger of things to come.

Brexit on the ballot

Does all this mean it’ll be plain sailing for the Conservatives? This will be a Brexit election and the government’s negotiating aims will come under fierce attack. The Liberal Democrats will hope to win back some of their lost seats in south-west England, urging a “soft Brexit” or even a second referendum.

The Scottish National Party (SNP) will accuse the Conservatives of ignoring Scotland’s vote against Brexit and the first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, will fight the election seeking a mandate to hold a second independence referendum. If the SNP retains the vast majority of its Westminster seats – it won 56 of Scotland’s 59 seats in 2015 – Sturgeon will claim her mandate and May will find it harder to postpone a so-called #indyref2. However, if the SNP slips back, with gains for the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, May will feel emboldened to resist Sturgeon’s demands.

There could have been greater dangers for May in delaying an election. Governments can easily be blown off course by events. James Callaghan might have won an election in the autumn of 1978 but decided to wait until 1979, by which time his government had been destroyed by the winter of discontent.
British politics is currently in a state of extreme flux, leaving the government at the mercy of events. The Brexit negotiations could get messy and heated. The Lib Dems could win by-elections. Labour could replace Corbyn with someone more credible. Given time, each could have eroded support for the government, leaving it electorally vulnerable and undermining its negotiating strength.

May might never get a better chance to drive home her advantage. If she wins big, she will be able to end the taunts that she is an “unelected prime minister” who has no direct mandate for her Brexit vision. If, somehow, things do go wrong, and she fails to achieve a majority, all bets will be off and a second EU referendum would become a realistic prospect. But as things stand, that looks highly unlikely. The smart money is on an increased Conservative majority.

Wednesday 19 April 2017

Will June’s General Election see a return to Tactical Voting?

In calling a snap general election, the Prime Minister, Theresa May, is clearly hoping  to strengthen her position as Tory party leader and Prime Minister. The opinion polls suggest that she will increase her majority of MPs in Parliament, and she wouldn’t have called the election otherwise. It does look as though the Tories will win big, but there is, probably, just one hope for anti-Tory, anti-hard Brexit voters.

A formal alliance of parties to the left of the Tories is a non-starter, in England anyway, as Labour has ruled out working with any other party, and the Lib Dems have ruled out working with Labour. There may be some local deals, which will involve Greens not standing in some constituencies, in favour of Labour or Lib Dems, but that is far as it is likely to go. This will not be enough to defeat the Tories, but there is one other possibility.  

Tactical voting became fashionable in the 1990s, as a way to defeat the Tories. It came from the voters themselves, as the Lib Dems and Labour did not publicly advocate it, but voters worked this out for themselves.

How it worked was like this. Labour and Lib Dem voters looked at previous results and chose to back whichever of Labour or Lib Dems was best placed to beat the Tory candidate. It was very successful, and in the 1997 general election the Tories were reduced from a party of government to a party with less than 200 seats in Parliament.

The Lib Dems benefited from this by increasing their numbers of seats, but Labour were helped to a landslide victory, too. Even Tony Blair’s centrist (ring wing if you like) Labour were unable to beat the Tories in some areas, mainly in the south of England, but the Lib Dems did beat them. There was a time when there might have been a coalition government between Labour and the Lib Dems, but with Labour winning so big in 1997, the idea was dropped (by Labour).

The Lib Dems ruined all of this by entering into a coalition government with the Tories in 2010. In 2015 the Lib Dems were reduced from 57 MPs to just 8. What I think happened in large part was that Labour leaning voters, saw that voting Lib Dem did not keep the Tories out, as we ended up with a Tory led coalition, propped up by the Lib Dems.

Labour supporting voters, who had tactically supported the Lib Dems as best placed to beat the Tories, withdrew their support for the Lib Dems, understandably, and returned to voting Labour, or perhaps moved onto the Greens instead, or didn’t bother voting at all.

But I just wonder whether tactical voting will make a return now. The general election on 8 June is a special election, which will be dominated by the issue of Brexit. Around 70% of Labour voters voted to remain in the European Union (EU), and at the very least will be appalled by Theresa May’s hard Brexit strategy, even if they don’t want to overturn the referendum result entirely. Might these voters be tempted to vote tactically to get a softer Brexit? I think many of them will.

Lib Dem voters may be more reluctant to support Corbyn’s Labour, but the chance of Labour forming a government after the election are remote indeed. What a tactical voting approach on the leftish of UK politics might achieve though, is to remove the Tories overall majority. This would undoubtedly be the end for May as Prime Minister, and even if the Lib Dems entered another coalition with the Tories, they could influence the type of Brexit that would be pursued by the new coalition government. If the Lib Dems were wise they wouldn’t enter into another coalition with the Tories, but would support them on certain issues, and Brexit could be fashioned in a less reckless manner than what we appear to be on course for now.

For the Green Party, local parties might want to consider whether to even stand in some constituencies, to give this process a little help. I think they should at least think about it. And pro EU voters should familiarise themselves with the results of the last couple of elections where they live, to see who might beat the Tory candidate.

If this doesn’t happen, I fear an authoritarian Tory government, hell bent on a reckless Brexit and privatising the NHS, and generally finishing off the public sector, more benefit cuts and with massive tax cuts for big corporations and wealthy individuals.

Anything would be better than this, surely?

Tuesday 18 April 2017

Snap General Election – It’s Theresa May that is Playing Politics not the Opposition

The Prime Minister, Theresa May, surprised everyone today by calling for a snap general election, intended for 8 June. May has been saying for months that there is no need for a general election before the scheduled date in 2020, so today’s announcement is a complete U-turn.

With the Fixed Term Parliament Act, calling snap elections is now not in the gift of the Prime Minister, but needs a two thirds approval by MPs. The opposition parties though have said they will vote in favour of the early election, perhaps as soon as tomorrow.

May insists that her change of heart on the matter has been brought on by the opposition parties opposing, (which is what they are meant to do) her version of Brexit. This is a rather weak excuse, and I suspect will fool no one. People, I think, will see it for what it is, pure political opportunism.

With the main opposition party, Labour, in disarray, and big leads for the government in opinion polls, as much as a 21% lead over Labour in some polls, and with uncertainty over how the Brexit negotiations with European Union (EU) will pan out, the temptation to increase her government’s majority in Parliament, was too much.

The Tories will probably win the general election easily, but there are risks involved for May in holding the election next month. The first is of a possible backlash against the decision from voters, who have shown no desire for an early poll. We had a general election two years ago, and the EU referendum a year ago, and voters don’t like having listen to all the political spin on too regular a basis. And they don’t like politicians ’playing politics’ with important issues and they may decide to punish those responsible for this – the government.

Connected to this, could be a low turn-out at the election. The EU referendum last year had a higher turn-out than any UK general election since 1992. If some of those leave voters don’t bother voting, but remain voters are galvanised by the chance to clip May’s wings, and do turn-out in big numbers, anything is possible.

Even worse, voters might see May's tactics akin to that of Turkish President Erdoğan's, dictatorial power grab, with his dubious referendum win at the weekend, which increases his powers over Parliament considerably. This looks suspiciously like what May is up to here with the snap general election.

Another risk, with the Lib Dems recovering their popularity to an extent, and I hear that those Tory MPs who won seats from the Lib Dems in 2015, are nervous of losing to a resurgent Lib Dem party, especially in areas where the majority voted to remain in the EU. May could end up with a smaller majority than she has now, which would weaken her politically, if it didn’t finish her off as Prime Minister entirely.

And then there is Scotland. May’s argument for denying the Scots a second independence referendum, is that nobody wants one and that the Brexit deal will not be complete (in terms of the exact outcome) and will be unknown. May can’t really use these arguments anymore because exactly the same can be said of holding a general election now.

Perhaps the most unlikely risk is that Labour will pull themselves together and do better than the opinion polls are forecasting, but this can’t be ruled out completely. We live in strange electoral times as we have seen in the last year or so, so it is unwise to dismiss this possibility entirely.

This certainly looks like a cynical ploy from the Prime Minister. If she really wanted to give the ‘people’ a say in her Brexit strategy, she could have called the election before triggering Article 50, which was the starting pistol for our formal leaving of the EU. 

But she didn’t want that at all, she just wants to bolster her position, as leader of the Tory party and to wipe out any opposition to her version of how we exit the EU. I just hope this all backfires, and May’s political career is brought to an ignominious end.

That is a cheery thought to end on. Let’s throw the arrogant Tories out! 

Sunday 16 April 2017

Russian Revolutionary Art 1917 to 1932 - From Socialism to Authoritarianism

I visited the Royal Academy of the Arts exhibition 'Revolution: Russian Art 1917–1932' in London yesterday, just before it closes tomorrow. It is inspired by the exhibition shown in Russia in 1932, just before Stalin's clampdown on artistic free expression.

The exhibition covers paintings, films, sculpture, textiles and ceramics from the early days of the Russia revolution in 1917, and follows changes through the 1920s and into the 1930s under the influence of the Bolshevik leadership, particularly after the death of Lenin and the rise to power of Stalin.

In the early years of the revolution there was a great explosion of the arts, which built on the trend towards the avant garde that had already begun in Russian (and more widely) before the revolution. There was much excitement in artistic circles about the new dawn opening up in Russia, brought about by revolutionary thinking. Two examples are below.

(Ivan Kliun 1923)

(Lyubov Popova 1921)

The Bolshevik's were only a fairly small force with something like 350,000 supporters in a country with a population of 140 million at the time of the revolution. It was decided that propaganda was necessary to spread revolutionary thinking to the masses.

(I predict a riot: Bolshevik (1920) by Boris Mikhailovich Kustodiev)    

By the late 1920s the Soviet authorities condemned the avant garde style and promoted what became known as Socialist Realism, a style that was easy for the masses to understand. For a few years these different approaches co-existed, but in 1932 Stalin decreed that Socialist Realism was the only acceptable style for the Soviet Union, ending a era of dazzling creativity in the arts.

(Poster shows the workers triump over the capitalists 1920)

 (The power of the workers 1931)

(Andrey Golubev, Red Spinner, 1930) 

Stalin's principle goal was to turn the Soviet Union into a world power by expanding its industrial production. In 1928 he introduced the first of his five year plans, which set targets for each factory. A new breed of superhero workers known as 'shock workers' symbolised this synthesis of man and machine. Artists were encouraged to depict this in their work.

Workers were seen as the liberated proletariat who no longer had to sell their life and labour for the profit of others. Together they collectively owned the means of production interpreting what Marx called the 'dictatorship of the proletariat,' in this new worker led productivist system.

This conveniently ignored Marx's concept of 'freely associated' producers, in favour of what Lenin first called 'state capitalism,' which was ruthlessly and brutally driven forward by Stalin. The reality was that many workers were effectively slaves, and strikers and slow workers were imprsioned or even shot. Thousands died in accidents, of starvation or from freezing temperatures.

After the revolution, the peasants were promoted as equal partners with industrial workers, symbolised by the by Soviet emblem the hammer and sickle.

(The poster above is actually from the 1960s, but captures this partnership of industrial and agricultural workers)

(1930s poster depicting agricultural workers)

Stalin's plan involved the industrialisation of agriculture which included the collectivisation of farms into large operations, but took little notice of local conditions and practises. Famine was the result where millions died of starvation, through crop failures.

Stalin also promoted sports in Russia, with the competition with the US in events such as the Olmypics eventually. By the 1970s it was seen as a demonstration of the strength of the Soviet system over the capitalist USA. In the same way, Russia beat the US into putting a man into space, only 40 years after the revolution, which had started from a low point of a virtual feudal economy.

  (The Shot-putter, by Alexander Samokhvalov, 1933)

The 1932 exhibition was the last call of freedom for the arts, afterwards avant garde art was suppressed. Within a year it had vanished from public view, locked in storerooms. From this moment onwards the Union of Soviet Artists was the sole arbiter of Soviet art. Socialist Realism became the only approved style in the USSR.

I knew from political history much of what this exhibition portrays, but it was still interesting to view it through the prism of art. The euphoria and promise of the early years of the revolution, with its upsurge in creative arts, gradually ground down into simplistic propaganda, in the cause of authoritarianism and suppression. A vivid dream turned into a nightmare. The exhibition details neatly the bastardisation of socialism in the USSR, and left me feeling sad, an opportunity missed.   

Thursday 13 April 2017

Green nationalism? How the far right could learn to love the environment

Written by Peter Paul Catterall and first published at The Conversation

Green politics is associated with the left these days, but that doesn’t rule out an eco-friendly turn at the opposite end of the spectrum. After all, nationalist worries over finite resources and talk of “threats to tradition” have been echoed throughout the history of the green movement.

So, is a far right environmentalism possible? And if so, given climate change is hugely disruptive for any form of traditional nationalist idyll, how long before far right groups join the likes of Greenpeace on the frontlines?

Modern forms of green activism emerged in the 1960s in a context of threats like acid rain or increasing pesticide use which transcended national boundaries. The EU in the early 1970s also began to grapple with environmental problems that could no longer be effectively managed by individual states.

This form of green activism thus showed that the nation state had failed to protect citizens against environmental problems. As such, it drew upon an older tradition that in the 1800s reacted against the perceived attacks on humanity and nature by capitalist interests by calling for a return to the land.

This could give early environmentalism a left-wing flavour, as in the Winter Hill trespass of 1896 when thousands of people in Bolton reclaimed an ancient right of way through private land. But the disruption that modernisation brings also produced a range of responses that could be termed “green nationalism”.

The far right feels threatened

The far right respond to threats they perceive to custom, culture, identity and locales posed by cosmopolitan elites. They usually have settler value systems that express pessimism and victimhood, emphasise threats rather than opportunities and see conspiracies as explanations for the degradation of their personal and group life-chances and local environment.

This leads to a green nationalism of defensive parochialism in which degradation of local features are opposed because they negatively affect customs – such as tending allotments, or the retention of the village green – threaten the familiar locale, and represent the effects of distrusted outsiders.

How this plays out in practice seems to depend upon which outsiders they distrust. In the US there are Tea Party environmentalists who have been mobilised, for instance, by the impact of polluting energy companies. However, a tradition of blaming government not business, along with diversionary nationalist propaganda (Drill here! Drill now!) funded by wealthy oil barons, has meant these same activists are often vehement opponents of better environmental regulation.

In contrast, far right groups in Britain seem simply to ignore the environmental threats posed by extreme energy extraction such as fracking.

Nationalism needs landscape

The landscape is a key element in national identity throughout the world. A defence of that landscape against perceived threats can so become an environmentalism focused on preserving the distinctive characteristics of a nation’s land, from the rolling green fields of England to the snow-capped mountains of Switzerland.

This has often been accompanied by other ways of reasserting identity. Myths of a pagan past in harmony with nature have been a feature of green nationalism, from its beginnings through to the Anastasia ecovillages in contemporary Russia where, unlike their equivalent hippy communes found in the West, sustainable living is combined with a “reactionary eco-nationalism”. Such myths give identity and meaning to some groups attracted to the far right, such as the skinhead movement that emerged in Britain in the 1960s, while also providing imagined alternatives to the drudgery associated with modern capitalism or the compromises of democracy.

‘They come here, use our finite resources …’

The other aspect of the green movement that is appropriated by the far right is the concern about the depletion of key resources by unchecked usage. At its most cynical, this can be a far right equivalent of business “greenwashing”. However, it also reflects a tendency to see economics and society as a zero-sum game in which every gain for others is a loss for the victimised groups they see themselves as.

Concerns about finite resources therefore align with anxieties about immigration. Far right groups and their media supporters are swift to exploit fears of threats to the local animals allegedly posed by immigrants. Such baseless hostility is then compounded by the widespread and equally erroneous view that England’s green and pleasant land has already largely disappeared under concrete.

Green causes are not usually the main motivating factor for those attracted to the far right. This does not mean, however, that their espousal is mere greenwashing.

The far right tends to think of green issues differently from their left-wing counterparts. Their approach focuses on the local, not the global, and reflects the centrality of landscape to national identities. Their defensive parochialism means that these threats are usually seen in cultural terms through the appropriation of victimhood, hence the tendency to focus upon immigration as opposed to the emphases of left-wing environmentalists.

Green issues tend to be seen by the far right through the distinct lenses of cultural identity and the land. That does not necessarily prevent, however, the emergence of a green nationalism.

Peter Paul Catterall is Professor of History and Policy, University of Westminster

Wednesday 12 April 2017

French Election - Jean-Luc Mélenchon Competes with Marine Le Pen for the 'Popular Classes'

This is an edited French to English Google translation of a piece first published at BFMTVJean-Luc Mélenchon is a former co president of the ecosocialist Parti de Gauche.

Mélenchon is the candidate of France insoumise (unsubmissive France) which is a wide ranging coalition of left and green parties and political groupings in France. 

Jean-Luc Mélenchon continues to climb in the opinion polls while Marine Le Pen has been declining for several weeks. The latter is now worried by the candidate of the "France insoumise", Jean-Luc Mélenchon. At the Figaro debate this Monday, the president of the National Front made the candidate of "rebellious France" alternately "an immigration champion", a candidate likely to levy "an additional 100 billion euros in tax" or a candidate who "a little, like Philippe Poutou, fucks the French ."

The timing of these attacks is not insignificant. Marine Le Pen began attacking her rival, who is polling third in opinion polls, as he started getting closer to her in these polls. 

Mélenchon can hope to qualify for the final round now, to the detriment of Le Penn, in this month's presidential election.

After having siphoned off the support of the candidate nominated by the Socialist Party, Benoît Hamon, can Jean-Luc Mélenchon divert a significant number of voters from Marine Le Pen?

With Jean-Luc Mélenchon's progression among young people and workers, according to Eddy Fougier, a political scientist and researcher associated with IRIS, Marine Le Pen has good reason to worry:

"We know that Marine Le Pen usually scores quite high with some young people, though it maybe not be the same young people who have flocked to Mélenchon, but they do compete for this audience. Indeed, according to an Elabe poll for Les Echos, Jean-Luc Mélenchon is the preferred candidate of the 18-24 age group, with 29% of voting intentions in his favour from this audience.

Another Elabe poll, delivered last Wednesday, this time for BFMTV, had indicated a tremour in another part of the electorate. It looked at voting intentions by socio-professional category, and observed that Jean-Luc Mélenchon got 18% of white collar voters and 20% among blue collar voters (a three-point increase since the end of March for the latter section of population). Of course, Marine Le Pen remains largely ahead in these sections of the electorate (33% white collar, 39% blue collar) but it is declining.

At the end of March, she gathered 45% of the blue collar vote according to an investigation by same institute. "There is competition between Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Marine Le Pen for these voters but it is limited, because for the 'popular electorate,' especially the blue collar workers, the themes of Islam and immigration weigh heavily in this election. Even a limited progression of Jean-Luc Mélenchon in this sector of the population can count though, says Eddy Fougier recalling that "in 2012, Jean-Luc Mélenchon did not score so well amongst the workers."

Humanism and "degagism" (casualism)

This crescendo in support for the representative of "France insoumise" in the popular classes can be explained in various ways. "Jean-Luc Mélenchon captures a part of the anti-establishment feeling, the desire to try something other than Marine Le Pen's radicality", describes the political scientist who continues: "In a sense, Jean-Luc Mélenchon has two advantages that can appeal both to a category of young people and to a part of the working class world. He has the advantage presented by Emmanuel Macron, that is to say, in short, a humanist logic, and the advantage presented by Marine Le Pen's radicality." Not to mention that these young and active members of the popular classes could be tempted by "the Melenchonian degagism", adds Fougier.

Finally, the social shift made by Le Pen as new president of the National Front from 2011 and its Euroscepticism could be about to be pre-empted by the candidate supported by the Communist Party:

"The National Front has said that we should prefer the original to the copy, in terms of the criticism of capitalism and liberal Europe. On these subjects, Jean-Luc Mélenchon is likely to appear as more credible," Fougier says.

And if ... they both qualify for the final round of the election? We should maybe not jump to the conclusion of thinking that Mélenchon will eliminate Le Pen in the first round. The uncertainty of the electorate tossed about by a campaign made worse by the affairs and counter-balances of the primary on the left, and general economic gloom could well serve the two contenders with so different profiles:

"When looking at the economic and social situation and what the French say, most say that things will get worse before they get better. In which case, a second round, between Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Mélenchon is conceivable. This would be an unprecedented scenario for the radical left to bear the standard of the left (and centre right?) and to go up against the far right for the Presidency," concludes Fougier.

The first round of the French Presidential election is on 23 April. 

Sunday 9 April 2017

“Ecosocialism is more than a strategy, it’s a project for Civilization”

Alexandre Araujo Costa, a Brazilian ecology activist, spoke to Belgian ecology writer and activist Daniel Tanuro on a range of questions concerning ecology and ecosocialism. First published at International Viewpoint.

For many years, left-wing organizations did not pay much attention to environmental issues in general but at least since its 15th Congress, the Fourth International seems to be increasingly concerned about what we call an “Ecological Crisis”. What has changed?

Indeed, most left-wing organizations missed the point in the 1960s when the so-called “ecological crisis” emerged as a new question of broad social interest (though one can pin a symbolic date on this emergence: Rachel Carson’s book, The Silent Spring, published in 1962). The main reason for this is that these organizations focused mainly on the anticolonial wars and revolutions in the dominated countries (Cuba, Algeria, Vietnam…), on the mass movements against the bureaucracy in the East (Poland, Hungary) and on the convergence of youth and workers’ radicalization in the West.

But this reason is not the only one, in my view. One must also consider that left organizations couldn’t easily cope with the ecological crisis from a theoretical standpoint. For instance, many authors felt uncomfortable with the denunciation of capitalist technology and with the very idea of limits to growth. Actually, Marx’s work is very rich on these topics, but it was as if his successors had forgotten his contributions (on the enclosures, on capital’s rupture of the humankind-nature social metabolism, on the consequences in forestry, agriculture, land management, for instance). This is even the case for very creative and open revolutionary Marxist thinkers like our comrade Ernest Mandel.

I want to be clear about this: in my view, to speak of Marx’s ecology is a bit overstated; the tensions and contradictions in Marx’s and Engels’ work must be taken into account. But the ecological aspect of Marx’s heritage is truly impressive, and his criticism of political economy provides us excellent tools to make it flourish. So, how should we explain the fact that most of the Marxist left missed the ecology train in the 1960s? Stalinism bears a great part of the blame, of course, but this explanation is not very convincing in the case of antistalinist currents… I think there has been a very broad contamination of the left by productivist and scientistic conceptions. It began in social democracy at the end of the 19th century, and was not really rooted out in the communist movement - perhaps because Russia, where the revolution took place, was a backward country.

I think what has changed is threefold: firstly, the nuclear threat has fostered a growing consciousness that technologies are not neutral; secondly, poor peasant and indigenous struggles showed the social dimension of ecological questions; thirdly, a few authors began to revisit Marx on nature and exhume his legacy. Nevertheless, the majority of the left was content with a pure propagandist approach, telling the people that no ecological alternative is possible within the framework of capitalism, which is true but doesn’t mean we do not need concrete ecological demands and reforms, articulated with social demands in a transitional programme.

An important step in the direction of this programme was the Ecosocialist Manifesto written by Michael Löwy and Joel Kovel in 2001. The initiative of this manifesto was fostered by the deepening ecological crisis and its global character, with climate change as a major threat. At the same time, more and more activists in our organizations are involved in social movements on the ecological challenge, particularly the climate movement and the movement for food sovereignty (which are closely linked, given the important part agribusiness plays in global warming). Since its last congress, the Fourth International has defined itself as an ecosocialist organization.

From your viewpoint, how worrying is climate change? Is it simply a matter of using the right technologies such as substituting fossil fuel by renewables? Can the Earth’s climate be set right by a combination of carbon capture and geoengineering?

Climate change is extremely worrying. Actually, it is probably the most dangerous social and ecological threat we must cope with, with huge consequences in the short, middle and long term. I won’t go into too much detail, but one must know that a 3°C temperature rise will most probably provoke a sea-level rise of about 7 metres. It will take us a thousand years or more to get there, but the movement will be impossible to stop. In the short term, specialists think a sea-level rise by 60-90cm could occur by the end of this century. It would mean hundreds of millions of refugees. If you take into account the other effects of climate change (extreme weather events, decrease in agricultural productivity, etc.) the conclusion is frightening: above a certain threshold, there is no possible adaptation to climate change for a humankind of 8-9 billion people. Where you place the threshold is not (only) a scientific question but (above all) a political one. In Paris, the governments decided to act in order to maintain the warming well below 2°C and to try to limit it to 1.5°C. An average 2°C warming should be considered a catastrophe.

Obviously, climate change is not the only threat: other threats are the massive extinction of species, the acidification of the oceans, the degradation of soils, the possible death of marine life due to nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, chemical pollution, the depletion of the ozone-layer, overuse of freshwater resources and aerosol loading of the atmosphere. But climate change plays a central role and is connected, directly or indirectly, to most of the other threats: it is an important factor in biodiversity loss, ocean acidification is caused by the rising atmospheric concentration in CO2, the excessive amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus in the oceans come from agribusiness, which plays a central role in freshwater overuse and soil loss, and so on. The fact that most problems are interconnected entails that it would be wrong to isolate the response to climate change from the response to the other challenges. However, all these ecological challenges have the same fundamental origin: capitalist accumulation, quantitative growth driven by the race for profit.

This means that climate change is far more than a technological issue. It poses the fundamental question of a global alternative to this mode of production. And this alternative is objectively extremely urgent. Actually, it is so urgent that, even from a technological point of view, the strategy of green capitalism is biased. Of course, it is perfectly possible to rely only on renewable sources to produce all the energy we need. But how do you produce the PV panels, windmills and other devices? With what energy? Logically, you have to take into account that the transition itself will require extra energy, and that this extra energy, being 80% of fossil origin when the transition starts, will provoke extra CO2 emissions. Thus, you need a plan, in order to compensate these extra emissions by extra cuts elsewhere. Otherwise, the global emissions can continue to rise even if the share of renewables improves quickly, which means you may be exceeding the so-called “carbon budget”, which is the amount of carbon you can add to the atmosphere if you want to have a certain probability of not exceeding a certain temperature rise threshold before the end of the century.

According to IPCC, this carbon budget for 1.5°C and 66% of probability is 400 Gt for the period between 2011-2100. The global emissions are about 40 Gt/yr, and they’re improving. In other words, the 1.5°C carbon budget will be spent in 2021. So, we have already hit the wall. This is the concrete outcome of the capitalist frenzy for profit and of its refusal to plan the transition in function of the necessary emissions reductions.

This, indeed, opens the debate on carbon capture and geoengineering. Within the framework of the capitalist productivist system, carbon capture and geoengineering are the only possible “solutions” to offset exceeding the carbon budget. I use quotation marks, because these are sorcerer’s apprentice solutions. One of the most mature technologies is so-called Bio-energy with carbon capture and sequestration (BECCS). The idea is to replace fossil fuels by biomass in power plants, to capture the CO2 resulting from the combustion and store it in geological layers. Because growing plants absorb CO2 from the atmosphere, a massive deployment of the BECCS should permit to reduce the greenhouse effect, and, as a consequence, improve the carbon budget. It’s a very hypothetical solution, among other reasons because nobody knows if it will be technically possible to keep the CO2 underground, and for how long. At the same time, it’s an extremely tricky response to the problem, because producing the necessary biomass will require huge land surfaces: about the equivalent of a fifth or a quarter of the land used by agriculture today.

On the one hand, conversion of cropland to biomass plantation would be detrimental to food production. On the other hand, establishing industrial biomass plantations in non-cultivated areas would entail a terrible destruction of biodiversity, a phenomenal impoverishment of nature. It is, let’s say, highly questionable that 95% of the IPCC climate scenarios include the implementation of such a technology. Between brackets, this is further evidence that science is not neutral and objective, especially when it comes to making social-economic projections.

It is important to note that the fact that the carbon budget for 1.5° will be exceeded and that the 2°C budget will most likely be quickly exceeded too, does not mean that we should accept capitalist technologies as a lesser evil. On the contrary. The situation is extremely serious, the fact is that reducing and cancelling carbon emissions won’t suffice. Saving the climate requires removing carbon from the atmosphere. But this objective can be better achieved without resorting to BECCS or other dangerous technologies.

The reason capitalism opts for technologies such as BECCS is that they suit the race for profit. The alternative is to develop and generalize a peasant organic agriculture and careful forest and land management, respectful of Indigenous peoples. In this way, it will be possible to remove great amounts of carbon from the atmosphere and to store it in the soil, while fostering biodiversity and providing good food to everybody. But this option means a fierce anticapitalist battle against agribusiness and landowners. In other words: the solution will not be found in the technological field, but in the political arena.

Recently Oxfam presented a study showing that 8 men alone control the same amount of wealth as half of humanity. We also broke the global temperature record (again) and our atmosphere surpassed 400 ppm of CO2 concentration. Are climate change and inequality connected?

Of course they are. It is well known that the poor are the main victims of catastrophe in general and of climate catastrophe in particular. Obviously, this is also true for climate catastrophes due to human activity (more accurately: due to capitalist activity). It is already the case, as we have clearly seen in all regions of the world: in the Philippines in 2014 with the typhoon Haiyan, in the United States in 2005 with the hurricane Katrina, in Pakistan in 2010 with the great floods, in Europe in 2003 with the heat wave, in Benin and other African countries with the droughts and the rising sea level, and so on, and so on.

Furthermore, the capitalist response to climate change works as an accelerator of this social inequality. This is because this policy is based on market mechanisms, in particular, commodification/appropriation of natural resources. It relies mainly on the “internalising externalities”, which means the price of environmental damage has to be assessed and included in the prices of the goods and services. Of course, this price is then passed on to the final consumers. Those with money can invest in cleaner technologies - electric cars for instance – the others cannot, so that they pay more for the same service (in this case, for mobility).

In the deepening of inequalities, the insurance sector plays a specific role: it refuses to ensure growing risks in areas where the poor live, or improve the premiums people have to pay to the companies. The financial sector in general plays a major role, because it invests in the carbon market, which is highly speculative. For example, it invests in forests because the function of forests as carbon sinks has become commodified. As a result, indigenous peoples are banned from their livelihoods, in the name of the protection of nature that they have shaped and protected for centuries. A similar process of expropriation and proletarianisation is under way in the agricultural sector, due to the production of biofuel and biodiesel, for instance. Here too, the protection of nature is used as a pretext for a policy that deepens inequalities and enforces corporate rule.

It is likely that these market mechanisms of commodification and appropriation of resources will become more and more important in the future, generating more and more social inequalities. This is obvious in the light of what has been said before, about the implementation of geoengineering, BECCS in particular. But it goes even further than that. The last report by the Global Commission, a very influential think-tank chaired by Sir Nicholas Stern, is dedicated to the role of infrastructure in the transition to a so-called green economy. The document defines nature in general as “infrastructure”, explains the necessity to make the infrastructures attractive to capital and concludes that a key condition for this attractiveness is generalization and stabilization of property rules.

Potentially, capital wants to incorporate nature in general as it incorporated the workforce (though the workforce also is a natural resource).

Could you talk a little about the connection between ecological crisis and immigration and how you think the tendencies for the future?

This is one of the most horrible consequences of climate change. As told before, above a certain threshold, there is no possible adaptation to climate change for a humankind of 8-9 billion people. The most endangered are those who will be forced to leave the places where they live. This process is already underway in several regions, for instance in West Africa, where it combines with the effects of war, dictatorship, terrorism and land grabbing by multinationals. It is also underway in Bangladesh, Vietnam and some small islands state. What do the people who flee do? They concentrate on the outskirts of towns. Their social structure is broadly affected - gender relationships in particular, with a loss of economic power for the women. Some of them, mostly males, try to migrate to rich countries. If they survive the journey, they try to send money to the family. It’s a huge disaster.

How do you evaluate the rise of Trump in this context?

The figure I have given for the 1.5°C carbon budget means Trump comes to power at a moment where we are on the edge of runaway climate change. During his campaign, Trump said climate change is a hoax created by “the Chinese” in order to make US manufacturing uncompetitive, and he promised to quit the Paris agreement. His staff is full of climate deniers, and the person he chose to lead the EPA wants to destroy it from within, after having tried for decades to destroy it from outside, as an attorney general of Oklahoma.

All this is extremely worrying. We do not support the Paris agreement, nor do we support Obama’s “nationally determined contribution” (NDC) to this agreement: both are completely inadequate from an ecological point of view and deeply iniquitous from a social point of view. In particular, we know there is a huge gap between the objective of the Paris agreement (1.5-2°C) on the one hand, and the cumulative impact of the NDC (2.7-3.7°C) on the other hand. In terms of emissions, this gap will amount to about 5.8 Gt in 2025. To assess the impact of a US decision to quit the agreement, it must be known that the US NDC amounts to an emissions reduction by 2Gt by 2025 (compared to 2005), and that these 2Gt represent about 20% of the global effort included in the NDC of the 191 signatories of the agreement. As a result, Trump’s programme, if put in practice, means the US would add 2Gt carbon to the gap of 5.8 Gt between what the governments of the world have promised to do and what should be done not to exceed a 1.5°C rise in temperature. In other words: with the US, it will be very, very difficult not to exceed the 2°C, as I have said before; without the US, it might be impossible.

I think the majority of the ruling classes worldwide are now convinced that climate change is a reality, a huge threat to its rule, and that this threatening reality is “of anthropic origin”. This has not changed with Trump’s election, as shown by the reactions of China, India, the EU, etc. Even Saudi Arabia confirmed its commitment to the Paris agreement, and its NDC. But the effect of the US defection, if confirmed, will be that the other countries will be even less disposed to step up their efforts in order to fill the gap. From this standpoint, the EU’s very conservative position says a lot.

We should demand everywhere that governments step up climate efforts: in order to fill the gap between Paris and the NDC, on the one hand, and to offset the US defection, on the other hand. This is not possible to achieve within the framework of current capitalist policy: it calls for reforms breaking with market logic, such as free public transport, public initiatives to insulate buildings, support to peasants against agribusiness and to Indigenous peoples against mining and logging companies etc.

It is true that it won’t be easy for Trump to achieve his goal, because part of the US climate policy depends on states, cities and businesses, on the one hand, and because CO2 is filed as a polluter in the Clean Air Act, on the other hand. But the problem must be seen in a much broader context. It’s not only the problem of Trump’s climate policy, but of his policy in general. Trump’s project is to counter the decline of US hegemony in the world. This is also what Obama aimed for, but Trump’s method is different. Obama wanted to achieve this objective within the framework of global neoliberal governance. Trump wants to achieve it through a nationalist, racist, sexist, islamophobic, anti-Semitic, brutal policy. He is mainly focused on capitalist China, the rising power that could challenge the US in the future. This project entails a serious danger of war, even of a third world war. There are analogies both with the decline of the British empire and the rise of Germany before WWI, and with the rise of Hitler in a context of a very deep economic, social and political crisis before WWII (I don’t say Trump is a fascist, that’s not the point). Yet, in this situation, by force of circumstances, the urgency of the climate crisis could be relegated to a secondary question, although intelligent people in the ruling classes are aware that it is not.

Every cloud has its silver lining. The positive side of the situation is that the polarization in the US benefits not only the right, but also the left. The Women’s March, the mass mobilizations against the “Muslim ban” and the March for Climate on 29 April, among others, show it is possible to defeat Trump. The challenge is huge, not only for people in the US but for all of us, worldwide. In the present situation, defeating Trump is the best way to fight for the climate. In all countries, we should try to jump on the bandwagon of the social mobilization in the US. The women’s movement in the US has just launched an international appeal to join their struggle on the 8th of March (International Women’s Day). That’s the example to follow. In the same spirit, we should try everywhere to organize demonstrations for the climate on 29 April (or 22, date of a March for Science in the US). Not to support the Paris agreement, of course, but to put forward radical ecosocialist demands.

As we live in a world that is so deeply modified by human activities, many scientists agree that we have entered a new geological epoch: the Anthropocene. What implications do you think this must have in the revolutionary left programme and strategy?

This is indeed a very interesting debate. The scientists consider that the Anthropocene started after the Second World War. This is because it is only from that moment that the impact of human activity resulted in geological changes, such as sea-level rise, nuclear waste, accumulation of chemical molecules that did not exist before, etc. From a geological point of view, this cannot be contested: the date relies on objective facts. But there are two underlying social and political debates: about the mechanisms driving this objective change, and about the implications in terms of programme and strategy. Both debates are linked.

The debate on mechanisms is a debate about the reasons why humankind is destroying the environment. Of course, capitalism bears the most responsibility for this destruction: its logic of growth, of production of abstract value and of maximization of profit is incompatible with ecological sustainability. The exponential character of the curves showing the evolution of the different aspects of the ecological crisis as a function of time is a clear illustration of that: all these curves (GHG emissions, depletion of the ozone layer, chemical pollution, aerosol loading of the atmosphere, species loss, etc.) show an inflexion point after the Second World War. The link with the long wave of capitalist expansion is absolutely obvious. To deny the major responsibility of capitalism, to pretend that the Anthropocene is an outcome, not of capitalism, but of Homo sapiens, and even of the genus Homo, is ridiculous.

But this is not the entire story. For environmental destruction existed before capitalism, and existed on a massive scale in 20th century non-capitalist societies, as well. There is a certain similarity with the oppression of women: it existed before capitalism and continued in the so-called “real existing socialist societies”. The conclusion of the analysis is the same in both cases: abolishing capitalism is a necessary condition for women’s emancipation and for a non-predatory relationship of humankind with the rest of nature, not a sufficient one. In the field of women’s liberation, the implication of this analysis is twofold: women need an autonomous movement, and revolutionists should build a socialist tendency within this movement. Here, we have clearly the limit of the comparison, because no autonomous movement of nature can intervene in the social debate, of course.

What conclusion should we draw from that? That some humans must intervene on behalf of nature in the social debate. That’s what ecosocialists want to do. Thus, ecosocialism is much more than a strategy to link social and environmental demands: it is a project of civilization, aiming for the development of a new ecological consciousness, a new culture of the relationship with nature, a new cosmogony. Nobody could determine the content of this new consciousness in advance, of course, but I think it should be driven by respect, care and caution. We know that humankind has a huge capacity to dominate. It is a product of our intelligence. But the “domination” can be understood in two senses: as an act of brutality and appropriation on the one hand, as the capacity to understand, to solve difficult questions, on the other hand. We should urgently stop dominating nature in the first sense and try to “dominate” in the second sense - as a good student completely knows their subject.

We have caused a lot of destruction, but there is no reason why our intelligence could not be used to take care of nature and rebuild what we have destroyed, if possible. Though, contrary to what Jared Diamond says, some other societies in the past took care of their environments very wisely, thanks to a very deep knowledge of it.

What we need, in short, is not only a social revolution but also a cultural revolution. It has to start immediately through very concrete behavioural changes, but it is not a pure question of individual behaviour; changes have to be fostered socially and will progress through concrete struggles, too. Indigenous societies are a source of inspiration. I think the small peasants will play a decisive role in this process, for obvious reasons. And women, too. Not because they would be more sensitive “by nature”, but as a result of their specific oppression. Firstly, because they produce 80% of the food, women are directly confronted to the reality of the degradation of nature and its consequences. Secondly, as a result of patriarchal oppression, women are most often in charge of reproductive tasks within the family: this gives them a specific point of view about the importance of the three drivers I have mentioned: respect, care and caution.