In the political discourse around green issues, the world outlook associated with various green groups is portrayed as left wing. This is largely because the green world outlook generally opposes capitalism, its leaders frequently use the rhetoric of the Left, are promoted as being left wing by the mainstream media, and usually identify themselves as being of the Left.
Moreover, many green leaders and activists were radicalised in the 1960s and 1970s and have genuinely left wing backgrounds. They see the green movement as a continuation of their previous left wing radicalism.
The measure of whether an outlook is on the Left needs to be assessed against criteria based on core values that have given meaning to the concept historically. Left wing traditions have never been green and, I would argue, the identification of the green outlook with left wing politics has only been possible over the past few decades because of the decline of the Left.
Contrary to what right wing commentators declare, the green movement is not the Left in new form but a product of its absence as a significant force in contemporary politics. Like nature, politics abhors a vacuum. Green ideology has filled the vacuum created when the Left went into hibernation in the mid 1970s, after a spectacular rise during the second half of the previous decade.
What then are the core values that determine a left wing outlook, and what are the traditions of the Left in regard to nature and the non-synthetic environment?
The values of the Left are based on two interconnected qualities: opposition to oppression and tyranny (i.e., support for democracy and freedom); and enthusiastic support for material progress, for a world of (as we used to say in the communist party) “abundance for all”. These values have defined the Left since 1848, when Karl Marx issued the Communist Manifesto.
Marx, and the genuine Marxists, wanted to overthrow capitalism, not because it was supposedly bad for the natural environment, but because the key contradiction within it - between the social nature of production on one hand and private appropriation on the other - stood in the way of personal freedom for the workers and a real unleashing of the productive capacities of human beings.
Marx believed that “wage slavery” was based on exploitation and alienation, and that the workers should rise up and seize the means of production for their own ends rather than for the profit of the small group of owners. In a sense, Marx was a real supporter of “free enterprise”: but for the producers rather than the owners. There is nothing green at all in a Marxist position.
Marx’s comrade, Frederick Engels, compiled the booklet Socialism: Utopian and Scientific precisely to defeat the influence of the “greenies” (i.e. utopians) of his time. Marx and Engels established a left wing tradition that fully embraced - indeed waxed lyrical about - modernity and the achievements of industrial capitalism.
Their opposition to capitalism, I repeat, was based on an analysis that saw it as retarding social and material progress. Their views on the relationship between progress and nature were consistent with the “Age of Reason” and the scientific revolution: nature, to the Left, has never been something with which to seek harmony and balance - let alone with which to live “sustainably”.
The classical Marxist view was expressed at the left wing lastsuperpower website in the following way:
The whole history of humanity is that we are a species that does not adapt its lifestyle to its environment but develops "unsustainablly" in ways that require transforming our environment our technological forces of production and our social relations of production. Our unsustainable development has already terraformed most of this planet so that it is no longer a "wilderness", substituted "synthetic" for "natural" products for everything we live on (including ancient things like domesticated wheat and other food staples) and will go much further both intensively here and extensively across the universe and at the same time it has totally transformed the way we relate to each other and will continue to do so.
Throughout our history there have been progressives wanting to speed up the movement forward and reactionaries demanding that we should live within our means. These ideologies are closely connected with the fact that ruling classes fear the instability and threat to their domination that goes with changes undermining our old mode of life while oppressed classes always want more from life than what their exploiters think they should live on.
Discuss in our Forums
See what other readers are saying about this article!
Click here to read & post comments.
42 posts so far.