Greenery and Fascism
Letter published in New Interventions Vol. 8, No. 4 in reply to an article by John Sullivan.
John Sullivan’s diatribe against the Green Movement (New Interventions, 8/3) was written with his customary wit and I found it highly entertaining. However, it must be said that the underlying logic of the argument, with its repeated use of ‘guilt by association’, was reminiscent of the worst days of Stalinism, and that the conclusion of the article express a dangerously sectarian passivity.
Sullivan begins with the claim that the Nazis attempted to implement a ‘Green programme’. The main evidence seems to be that some Nazis liked animals. Unfortunately reality does not fit into such neat dichotomies. I understand that Leon Trotsky was quite fond of animals, but surely Sullivan recognises his anti-fascist credentials. I recently read in Searchlight of a character (whom I earnestly hope never to meet) who was not only an active racist but well-known as a cat-strangler. As a devotee of Enlightenment rationalism, Sullivan should know that an argument of the form:
Some Nazis liked animals
Greens like animals
\ Greens are Nazis
is not a viable syllogism. With this methodology we could achieve some interesting conclusions. For example: Mussolini made the trains run on time, \ Virgin Trains are in the forefront of the anti-fascist struggle. I therefore remain to be convinced that the socialist strategy towards Greens is to ‘treat them as you would an open fascist’.
Let me give Sullivan another quotation to ponder:
As long as the automobile remains a means of transport for especially privileged circles, it is with a bitter feeling that millions of obedient, diligent, and able fellows, who in any case live lives of limited opportunities, know themselves to be denied a mode of transportation that would open for them, especially on Sundays and holidays, a source of unknown, joyous happiness… The class-emphasising and therefore socially divisive character that has been attached to the automobile must be removed; the car must not remain an object of luxury but must become an object of use.
The speaker? Adolf Hitler at the 1934 Berlin Automobile Show.
I would suggest that the link between cars and Nazism goes rather deeper the various Green associations Sullivan digs up. As everybody knows, the Nazis were pretty enthusiastic road-builders. At best the Nazis used elements of ‘green’ thinking on an ideological level; but the promotion of car ownership was deeply rooted in their social and economic policies. The Nazis, after all, were not anti-capitalist or anti-industrial, despite the odd flourish of rhetoric.
To announce that one is on the side of the Enlightenment, science and progress does not mean that a blind worship of technology solves all problems. Does Sullivan, in his hatred of the ‘idiocy of rural life’, want to pave over every last blade of grass?
It may have escaped Sullivan’s notice that transport in modern capitalism is in a state of profound crisis. Cars in Britain kill more children every month than the Dunblane gunman. Hundreds of thousands suffer illness caused by pollution from motor vehicles. The waste of time and energy resulting from the monstrous traffic jams that exist almost permanently on our streets is a massive drain on economic resources that could be used for human need. If socialists have nothing to say about the problem, they might as well pack up.
Jaguar-driving John Prescott does not begin to see the solution, which contains two main elements. First is an adequate, accessible, cheap public transport system. Ken Livingstone understood that much with his subsidised fares scheme, which is why he is still a popular candidate for mayor of London. What the reformist Livingstone did not understand was the nature of the state; the unelected Lord Denning (who boasted to the Evening Standard that he had only been on a bus once in his life) smashed the scheme. And Livingstone, as a reformist, ran away from any thought of using the industrial strength of bus and tube workers to confront Denning (which is why sections of the bourgeoisie wouldn’t mind having him as mayor).
The second element, which neither Greens nor reformists begin to discuss, is the redeployment of workers in vehicle construction and related occupations into more socially useful work. This, of course, could only take place in the framework of socialist planning and workers’ control.
Organisations like Reclaim the Streets are at least posing these questions. But Sullivan tells us that ‘ordinary people cannot see this as anything but entertainment’. Now I have known John Sullivan for many years, and I am not at all sure I recognise him as an authoritative judge of what constitutes an ‘ordinary’ person. I suspect that Sullivan’s ‘ordinary person’ is a retired engineering shop steward, with a collar and tie, a collection of Edmund Hockridge records and a strong tendency to homophobia.
As it happens, the day after I read Sullivan’s article, I was returning home from a trade-union demonstration (in support of strikers sacked by Islington Council) when I found myself in the middle of a Reclaim the Streets demonstration. Now on Sullivan’s analysis I would, at best, have gone home to reread Anti-Dühring and feel morally superior, and at worst rallied the local Anti Nazi League to drive the ‘fascists’ off the streets (something the police had manifestly no stomach for).
Instead I attempted to do a Socialist Worker sale. I will not claim it was a great success, though I had a few interesting discussions. Sullivan is right that ‘most Greens are not interested in socialism’; perhaps not surprising if most of them identify socialism with Stalin and Blair. But if socialists cannot talk to people involved in Reclaim the Streets and similar organisations, then that is our problem at least as much as it is theirs. I am not talking about ‘liquidating our movement into the Greens’, nor about Red-Green Alliances. I am talking about carrying the socialist argument with a group of people who are fighting against what is objectively one of the most serious evils of modern capitalism. If we cannot meet that challenge, then all that is left is the sterile self-satisfaction of the discussion group.