This article is in part an exploration of the tension between environmentalism, human rights, equality and social justice. This is an important issue, because how political ideologies are translated into policy often has profound and far-reaching social consequences. I also challenge assumptions and criticise the Green Party for a lack of clarity regarding policy and intent – there’s a lack of connection – integrity – beneath some of their key policies. There are no explicit connections made in the Green Party manifesto between ideas, policy, context and consequences.
I explore the environmentalism and “blood and soil” philosophy underpinning the Volk and Nazi movements, the Nazis being an exemplar of the problematic issues I raised. I also examine Malthus’s ideas on population growth and the finite nature of resources. I link some of the Green philosophy and policies with Malthus’s ideas.
The important point here is that it is not the ideas in themselves that are problematic: it is the context, the application, the way those ideas are translated via policy and the subsequent social consequences that warrants some discussion.
Malthus’s ideas both informed and were informed by a context of Social Darwinism, eugenics, laissez faire capitalism, competitive individualism, all of which were the basis of a dominant paradigm at that point in our history. One consequence of that was the terrible Poor Law Amendment Act in 1834, which saw the introduction of the dreadful, punitive workhouses.
Just to clarify further, I do not at any point claim “the Greens are Nazis,” or “are like Nazis” as some have tried to claim. The discussion of Nazism and environmentalism is used to highlight the problematic tension between green ideas, human rights and to challenge assumptions made about social equality.
There is a strand of Green Party narrative with philosophical roots that may be traced back to the thinking of the Reverend Thomas Malthus. He was a political economist who believed that the decline of living conditions in nineteenth century England was because of three elements: the overproduction of children; the inability of resources to keep up with the rising human population; and the irresponsibility of the lower classes. Malthus’s narrative in the nineteenth century fueled the rise of Social Darwinism; the eugenics movement and resulted in the extremely punitive Poor Law Reform Act of 1834, which included the introduction of workhouses for the poor.
The Green Party have the following listed amongst their aims regarding population:
In the short-term, to promote debate on sustainable population levels for the UK. In the long-term, to achieve consumption and population levels that are globally sustainable and respect carrying capacity – the term used to describe the population that can, according to the Green Party, be sustainably supported in any given region. In theory it varies, depending on consumption patterns.
However, during times of greater social equality and prosperity, rather than the population growth predicted by Malthus, families actually reduced the numbers of children they had, with the emergence of the small nuclear family unit. Families and households got smaller throughout the 20th century. Women in the late nineteenth century gave birth, on average, to 4.6 children during their lifetime. Having ten or more children was not uncommon. By the 1950s the average had fallen to 2.19 children.
Data released by the government in the General Lifestyle Survey shows that the number of children in the average household has become smaller. In 1971, there were 2.91 persons in the average family whereas in 2011, this number has shrunk to 2.35 persons.This means that almost half of families in the UK have just one child. Malthus was wrong. Prosperity, equality, social development and growth contribute to population reduction and greater resources.
Environmentalism is widely seen as a caring, strictly left-wing concern, and it’s been linked with what are now fairly tacit assumptions about the Green Party’s credentials regarding equality, rights and political partisanship. The Green Party have tried to position themselves as “the new party of the left”, and have invested heavily in an aggressively negative campaign strategy that has involved outright lies about the Labour Party’s proposed policy intentions.
But the claims made by the Party and assumptions drawn from grassroots supporters have no historical verification whatsoever. In fact history refutes the claims.
Just because people have environmentalist concerns, we cannot infer from that – it does not automatically follow – that the same people will have concerns about inequality, social justice and human rights.
The German Volk and Nazi movements marched beneath the banners of “Nature” and the “organic.” Environmentalist ideology was a fundamental part of National Socialism (which wasn’t socialism at all, on the same basis, we wouldn’t say that the German Democratic Republic was a flourishing democracy, either), Green ideas were at the core of Nazi thinking. The Germans idealised Nature.
Whilst the Holocaust took place, German army comrades were also busy establishing bird sanctuaries, nature walks and planting trees. The Nazis conducted horrific experiments on men, women and children but at the same time, they banned medical experiments on animals. The Nazi perpetrators of crimes of unimaginable brutality and horror against fellow human beings also advocated conservation, vegetarianism, homeopathic healthcare, organic agriculture and forest preservation. It’s a myth that environmentalism and ecological concern go hand in hand with a concomitant respect and concern for the well-being of all people, too.
In The Destruction of Reason, written in 1952, the marxist Georg Lukács proposed that the idealisation of “nature” and the “organic” was, from the very beginning a political narrative. It was an attempt to defend “natural” feudal privileges. He said:
“Biologism in philosophy and sociology has always been a basis for reactionary philosophical tendencies … it cannot permit of any essential change, let alone progress …. Oppression, inequality, exploitation and so forth were presented as “facts of nature” or “laws of nature” which, as such, could not be avoided or revoked.”
This is an essentially right-wing perspective: that society is naturally hierarchical – a pseudo-biological defence of class privileges.
The Green Party, with their uncritical embrace of environmentalism, have focused on the idea of a scarcity of natural resources. They promote the idea that there are natural limits on how many people may live on the planet and constraints on how much we can produce and consume. That is essentially a Malthusian position.
And we tend to think of fascism strictly in terms of its oppression, so that we lost sight of the fact that Nazism began as a movement by appealing to the working classes and campaigning against capitalism.
One famous National Socialist election poster shows a social-democratic winged “angel” walking hand in hand with a stereotyped banker, with the curious slogan: “Marxism is the Guardian Angel of Capitalism.”
The Left and the Labour Movement grew from of an overwhelming social need to challenge the idea of a “natural order”, limits and the idea that human potential and aspirations must be constrained to preserve some kind of natural order. Karl Marx condemned the ideas of the miserabilist Thomas Malthus and the Social Darwinists, he would condemn the Green Party for the same reasons. Marx described Malthus’s ideas as a “libel on the human race” because they promoted the idea that human beings “cannot abolish poverty, because poverty has its base in nature.”
Nature is truly a many-splendoured thing, but three essential socialist principles will not be found anywhere in nature: democracy, rights and equality. This is an example of the is/ought distinction: regardless of what we may think “human nature” is, our moral decisions regarding how we ought to organise as a society are distinct- there’s a difference between what we are and who we are.
Sylvia Pankhurst summed up socialism as follows: “It means plenty for all. We do not preach a gospel of want and scarcity, but of abundance … We do not call for limitation of births, for penurious thrift, and self-denial. We call for a great production that will supply all, and more than all the people can consume.”
The Greens are proposing exactly the opposite of what Pankhurst and most socialists have called for, historically. The Greens call for scarcity, not abundance. They propose a limitation on births, always insisting that the world is overpopulated and resources are being diminished.
The Green party’s manifesto argues for zero, or even negative growth and falling levels of personal consumption. This would lead to recession; families would become materially poorer each year. After centuries of growing global connectivity, the Greens want to see greater national self-reliance. And whilst Labour prioritise job creation, the Greens argue that government policy should make paid work “less necessary”, with people making their living from the home-based “informal economy”. That is anti-progressive.
The Left is progressive and has an expansive, generous view of humanity, faith in our potential and holds a vision of a plentiful future. The Greens, by contrast, are in favour of adapting to austerity – incorporating a social philosophy of thrift, parsimony and self-denial.
The Left aim to liberate humankind from poverty , the Greens aim to encourage us to accommodate it.
In Brighton where the Greens have power in the council, they have been cutting services, disastrously, for the least well-off and caused a refuse collection strike when they clashed with the GMB union over pay – as chronicled by Labour Peer Lord Bassam.
Earlier this year the Green Party leadership in Brighton and Hove was defeated in its efforts to impose council tax increase of five per cent by a coalition of opposition parties, including Labour. The increase will affect the poorest the most.
After losing a vote of no confidence in the leadership, the Council was threatened with Whitehall humiliatingly stepping in if a budget could not be agreed. This is not the sort of responsible leadership that households in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis deserve.
As my friend Neil Schofield informs us, for a second year running, the Greens are proposing a substantial increase in Council Tax – next year of 5.9% – that would require the approval of a referendum. And the arguments are largely the same; that an increase of this magnitude is needed to offset the effects of austerity. He says:
“And the same arguments against such a rise apply this year too: that it is an entrenchment of austerity, using legislation designed to reduce the power of local authorities and to reduce them to hollowed-out commissioning bodies of a skeleton level of local services, provided by the lowest bidder; that it avoids the responsibilities that Councillors are elected to take; that it will make no real difference to the cuts faced by the city; it will hit hardest those who on low incomes who have seen their real incomes fall dramatically, in a city with some of the highest living costs in Europe; and that it is more about gesture politics than about effecting real change. “
The Green Party do not have an underpinning ideology that can be described as left-wing at all. Some of the historical and ideological links with far-right and fascist ideology are very worrying, because the links highlight a tension that needs to be addressed between environmentalism, social equality and justice.
This doesn’t imply the Green Party are fascists, but rather, it indicates a need to examine underpinning philosophies and explore how they may translate into social policies, and what the implications of those policies may be. It cannot be assumed that caring for the environment is automatically equated with caring for all human beings, as history has taught us.
The fact that the Greens have themselves chosen to regard the Labour Party as their “enemy” means that they don’t see a potential ally, yet they manage very well in coalition councils, working amicably side-by-side and cooperatively with Tory and Liberal Democrats.
If they did see the Left as a natural ally, they would join us and lobby for green policies through SERA, Labour’s green affiliate. Instead, the Green Party have chosen to aggressively campaign using a negative strategy, shamefully lying about Labour’s policies and proposals, all of which are costed and evidenced, in an attempt to bolster their own credibility. That in itself is a right-wing tactic, which ought to be raising alarm amongst supporters. The deeper implications of policies are also cause for concern.
Another worry is that one of the Green party’s key policy proposals – the universal basic income (or “citizen’s income”) – will adversely affect the poorest, and would in fact create more, not less, inequality and poverty.
The Citizen’s Income Trust (CIT), which has given advice to the Green party and been repeatedly cited by the Greens, has modelled its scheme and discovered it would mean 35.15% of households would be losers, with many of the biggest losers among the poorest households.
The trust’s research shows that for the two lowest disposable income deciles, more than one-fifth would suffer income losses of more than 10%, something one of the most left-wing parties in the election is unlikely to want to advocate.
The Green Party have already failed the people of Brighton and Hove. Don’t let them fail the people of Britain by voting Green next year and allowing the Tories to remain in government another five years. People are suffering and dying as a consequence of Tory austerity, we need to ensure that ends.
The Green Party’s women problem – Neil Schofield
A few words about respect – Mike Sivier
Green Fascism and the Greening of Hate – Derek Wall
“Paradoxically, while Greens argue for social justice and other left themes, environmentalism is often linked to the right. Hitler believed in a politics of hatred ordained by iron ‘laws of nature'”– Darker shades of green. Derek Wall traces the thread of ecofascism through the Green movement’s history. Derek is a member of the Green Party’s Anti-Fascist and Anti-Racist Network, author of Green History (Routledge 1994).
He notes the same tension as I do, between environmentalism and social justice/human rights. He discusses the environmentalism of the Nazis and the influence of Malthus’s ideas.