6 Nov 2010

‘Why can’t we just be Green?

This is a review from John Green, who has produced an excellent biography of Engels and blogs here

The Rise of the Green Left – inside the worldwide ecosocialist movement
By Derek Wall
Pubs. Pluto Press

The term ‘ecosocialist’ is a relatively new one. Today it might seem almost unnecessary to attach the ‘eco’ prefix as hardly anyone in the socialist movement can be unaware of the urgent ecological problems facing us. However, as we know to our cost from the past, many socialists believed the new system would triumph by producing more and outperforming capitalism in terms of industrial expansion and ‘taming’ nature. Few would think that way today.

Derek Wall, as a regular Star columnist, hardly needs any introduction as a clear and fervently committed socialist as well as environmental campaigner. Here he puts forward a compelling case for socialism but with an essential ecological core. He begins by defining what he means by ecosocialism and in doing so returns to Marx and Engels. He goes on to formulate an ecosocialist manifesto and outlines the challenges both socialists and environmental activists face in a world of globalised capitalism.

He answers those who ask: ‘why can’t we just be Green?’ and shows how almost any environmental initiative is only welcome to capitalism if it promises to generate profit and this corrupts what, in a different social context, would offer genuine progress. He points out that ‘ecosocialism is to a large extent also a battle over property rights.’ Under capitalism enormous, transnational corporations dominate national economies and lifestyles, and land ownership - still in the hands of a tiny minority – mean that democracy itself has become nothing but a withered fig-leaf.

Wall doesn’t shy away from criticising those Green Parties (as in Germany and Ireland) which have joined governments only to jettison many of their cherished principles in their embrace of a share of power and capitalism. He reiterates how it is impossible to be really Green if you don’t challenge capitalism itself.

In one chapter he gives a valuable and succinct overview of ecosocialist initiatives around the world, from Venezuela to New Zealand. He examines recent experiences in Latin America and the advances made there in terms of ecosocialism. Cuba’s agricultural system, he says, offers us an excellent example of where property is held in common, and where organic methods are widely used and recycling advanced.

He concludes his book with suggestions on what action needs to be taken to ensure that ecosocialism takes hold of the public imagination and how we can go about challenging the present power structures. He also lists a whole number of organisations which are involved in environmental/political campaigning. He points out that there is even already a Green-Socialist international: the Ecosocialist International Network, launched in 2007. He avoids getting bogged down in sectarian thinking on the left and steers a clear course between the various factions and parties without being over-cautious or timorous.

This is a slim book - Wall doesn’t believe in unnecessary prolixity - he makes his points clearly and succinctly. All in all, a very useful guide to where we are at in terms of environmental and socialist advance. It underlines once more the vital need for a broad alliance of the left and the Greens if we are to move forward.

John Green.

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