15 Jul 2009

Don't forget Nick Origlass!

I have been rereading various books on ecosocialism and I still think one of the best is Alan Robert's The Self-Managing Environment'.

It was written by the Australian socialist and scientist in 1979, I remember taking it out of Chippenham Library circa early 1980s and being very impressed.

It very clearly links economic growth to environmental destruction, showing the destructive qualities of capitalism. Lots of key ecosocialist ideas such as Marx's identification of the metabolic rift between human beings and nature, the importance of commons and the need to see how capitalism shapes technological in negative ways.

I also enjoyed its crisp, clear, concise writing style....if you are an ecosocialist its a pretty powerful tool for self-education.

Above all, Roberts argues that consumerism is a product of alienation, something he takes from Marx and Marcuse. We need to be in control of our work and top down undemocratic forms of socialism are wrong. Roberts argues for self-management, with everybody in charge, not an elite, either the kind of elite we have or a paternalistic socialist or green elite.

I think I have been sold on these arguments ever since.

Robert's book is dedicated to Nick Origlass who died in 1996,

The dedication is worth noting:

'Back in the 1940s a learned judge chided him for his failure to respect the court: employers, governments and union officials had a similar grievance. All agreed that the ironwere were in a fight against impossible odds. He did not listen, nor did the ironworkers: together, quite incredibly, they won.

In the 1960s, as a pioneer in resisting 'progress' through environmental destruction, he led residents in a march against an expressway that threatened their homes. Wearing his mayoral robes, paint-pot in hand for slogan-writing, brushing police aside, he had evidentally failed to develop much respect.

In fact there is one source of authority for which he holds the deepest respect: that rank and file whose mistakes, he believes, will be numerous but never as fatal as those made by even the most brilliant controlling elite.

Not just in tribute, but with the warmest affection, this book is dedicated to the man who grasped long ago, and proved in practice, the connection between self-management and the salvation of the environment:


Nick was known as the most expelled man in Australia, expelled from trade unions, the Communist Party and in 1968 he was kicked out of the Labour Party.

Nick is one of the sadly few examples of Marxists putting environmental politics at the centre of their concerns in the 20th century. His local Labour Party was controlled by a right wing group sympathetic to property developers and industrialists.

He was expelled for opposing the siting of a chemical waste dump that he thought would put local people in danger, he set up his own local political party, won election after election, ended up as Mayor and put his back into direct action against environmental threats to local people.

Clearly a good role model and a rare example of some one who succeeded, albeit at a local level, in getting elected and far from selling out, making real progress.

I am not that knowledgeable about the ins and outs of ecosocialist politics in 1970s Australia, but I know Nick was sympathetic to the Green Ban movement.

Australia has one of the greenest and most radical Green Parties in the world, its also got a left in the form of the DSP who publish Green Left Weekly who take ecology seriously and put their back into real change.

I am sure Nick contributed to all that its good in Australian ecopolitics, I think more people should look at what he did and be proud.

There is a bio of Nick, 'Red Hot: the Life and Times of Nick Origlass, by Hall Greenland. Wellington Lane Press, Sydney, 1998.'

I haven't read it yet but I must try and get hold of it.

The only photo I have found of him is from a meeting in 1996, the year he sadly died.


Ben Courtice said...

Nick Origlass also features in the documentary "Rats in the Ranks" about everyday corruption among the Labor councillors in Balmain. If you can track it down it's pretty funny in a very dry sort of way... it's all interviews and real life footage, yet the behaviour of the fools on council quite clearly merits the title.

Derek Wall said...

thanks Ben....we know all about politicians on the make here in the UK, may be its time for 'Rodents at Westminister', although comparing animals to politicians seems a little unfair on the mice, etc

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