A review by David Orton
Red And Green: The New Politics of the Environment.
Edited by Joe Weston. London: Pluto Press. 1986.
This book is made up of a series of eight essays. The editor, Joe Weston,
writes the introduction
and the first and final essays: “The Greens, ‘Nature’ and the Social Environment” and
“New Priorities for Environmental Campaigning.” Weston is chairman of the strategy
committee of the United Kingdom Friends of the Earth, and his views set the dominant tone of the
book. The titles of the other essays are “Peace is More Than Banning Bombs” by Mark
Levene; “Redefining the Environmental ‘Crisis’ in the South” by Michael Redclift; “The
Inner-City Environment: Making the Connections” by Jeremy Seabrook; “Radical
Environmentalism and the Labour Movement” by David Pepper; and “Mixing It: Energy,
the Environment and the Unions” by Kim Howells. Overall, the book is divided into two
sections: Part One: Redefining Environmentalism, and Part Two: Building Social
Greening Social Democracy
The writers featured in Red And Green are described as “socialists
Most, if not all of the writers are active in the British Labour Party. There is a tinge of antiquated
anti-communism in this book with references to an “iron curtain” and the contrasting of “democratic
socialism” to “totalitarian” socialism. There appear to be two common assumptions which permeate
Red And Green: (a) that one can “green” social democracy, i.e. the British Labour Party and, hence,
that greens do not need their own political party; and (b) that socialism can be equated with social
democracy and be brought into being through parliamentary politics by the British Labour Party or,
by implication, a party such as the NDP. Neither of these assumptions are shared by this reviewer.
By its title, we expect Red And Green to address the inter-relationship
- actual, lack of, or
potential - between the new developing green movement and the old-established, existing socialist/
communist movements. One would hopefully expect a convincing position to be advanced for why,
in Rudolf Bahro’s words, “the ecological position is also the radical socialist one.” One thinks
of a number of pertinent questions or problems:
(1) What does the green movement stand for and are its goals compatible
or incompatible with
the socialist/communist or capitalist economic systems?
(2) Is it industrialism/technology or capitalism which is the main
motor for the degradation of the
(3) What does it mean to speak about “convergence” between the socialist
movements (a fashionable view on the left), when on many environmental issues which affect their
particular industries, unions and capitalist employers are in the same bed defending their specialized
interests of jobs/income and profits, at the expense of the environment and wildlife?
(4) How does one reconcile a deep ecology viewpoint of “equal intrinsic
value of all entities”
with what seems to be a basic human-centered ethos in socialism/communism, yet incorporate the
history of individual self-sacrifice for the collective good of the working class movement? The
paradox for greens is that what happens to other life forms and the biosphere itself depends ultimately,
on what humans will do.
(5) Does this book, as well as recognizing the importance of capitalist
self-interest as often the
major factor in the destruction of the environment, also recognize the historic and contemporary
responsibility of Marxism/socialism/communism for environmental degradation?
Don’t expect satisfactory answers (or answers at all) to these or similar
pertinent questions in
Red And Green! The flavour of what they can expect is perhaps reflected by the following
statements by Joe Weston:
“...despite all the arguments about the social benefits of ecological protection,
this concern for ‘nature’ remains little more than a middle-class understanding
of what ‘nature’ is.”
“Clearly the green analysis of environmental and social issues is within
framework of right-wing ideology and philosophy.”
“It is not the left which should be turning green but environmentalists
be turning red.”
To be fair to Weston, there are a number of positive statements made about
the green movement.
But the positive seems to make the book schizophrenic because the overall thrust is derogatory
towards greens who are not socialist. While I agree with the sentiment of one of the main viewpoints
in this book that capitalism, not industrialism, is at the center of many problems that greens face, the
point is asserted in a patronizing manner, rather than carefully explained and argued for. What
Weston sees as positive in the green movement he tends to lump in with the utopian, decentralized,
anarchist trend within socialism which has mainly a theoretical existence. The negative side of
anarchism is not discussed. Weston focusses upon inner city problems - poverty, slums, urban decay,
crime etc., - what he calls “social environmentalism.” Many greens, especially in Canada and the U.S.,
tend to turn their backs on any concern with greening urban society. So in this regard we can learn
from Weston. Yet he is contemptuous towards nature and a concern for wildlife protection. For
Weston, the basic ecological problems are poverty problems.
The best of the essays in Red And Green is the one by Webster and
Lambe. It discusses the
question of technology and social organization and quotes Marx’s famous statement, “the way in
which machinery is exploited is quite distinct from the machinery itself.” In other words, it is
not technology per se, but the use to which technology is put, that is the problem. These two authors
are positive towards the green movement. Michael Redclift’s essay is also of interest. David Pepper
has the same viewpoint as Weston but is more sophisticated. Pepper explicitly attacks deep ecology.
The other essays in Red And Green are not particularly relevant.
This book - with its view that greens are middle class wets and not a new
addressing the ecological realities of the 1980s - shows a total lack of understanding of what the
green movement is all about.
Published in the British Columbia publication The New Catalyst, Winter 1987/88.
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