20 March 1997 Edition

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Green Movement at a crossroads

Robert Allen urges environmentalists to look at a socialist agenda

The global green movement is now dominated by individuals with hardly any ability to understand why corporate capitalism is a threat to the survival of all species on this planet. Even in the US, with its high profile green movement, the major environmental groups do not appear to understand the problem. In September 1995, 173 US community activists involved in struggles for environmental justice and democracy responded to a joint letter from the country's top green groups.

``We want to talk about something your letter did not mention: the source of these problems,'' their response said. ``You have not identified our real adversaries in the struggle to save our communities and the natural world: the leaders of today's giant corporations, and the powerful corporations they direct. We believe the Earth has never before faced such large-scale devastations as are being inflicted by handfuls of executives running the largest 1000 or so industrial, financial, health, information, agricultural and other corporations...

``We believe it is too late to counter corporate power environmental-law-by-environmental-law, regulatory-struggle-by-regulatory-struggle. We don't have sufficient time or resources to organise chemical-by-chemical, forest-by-forest, river-by-river, permit-by-permit, technology-by-technology, product-by-product, corporate-disaster-by-corporate-disaster. But if we cut off corporate power at its sources, all our work will become easier.''

Although the message is global it also applies to the 32 Counties which relies on foreign transnationals to boost its economic performance.

Without an understanding of corporate politics, the green movement has lost its way and become subsumed into the mainstream political and economic culture. Instead of helping to empower communities in their challenges against polluting industry the mainstream green movement has attempted to usurp what little power communities have, placing themselves in the vanguard of the campaigns, seeking the power and the glory. This has suited state and industry which in turn has picked off members of the mainstream green movement one by one with offers of power and glory.

Communities, by their very nature, tend to project their opposition through planning appeals and court action, using scientific expertise to present thier objections - at each step doing what the state wants. This negates their self-empowerment, which was social ecology Murray Bookchin's argument more than a decade ago: ``The problem they face is the need to discover the sweeping implications of the issues they raise; the achievement of a totally new, non-hierarchial society in which the domination of nature by man, of woman by man, and of society by the state is completely abolished''.

This may sound like an awful lot for an Irish community fighting a chemical factory or a toxic dump to absorb, but not for the organised green movement it isn't.

Community environmental groups have only fared well because they have been dogged and persistent and because their non-violent direct actions challenge government and industry in a manner that reflects the seriousness of their concerns. Because they do not have a global agenda and are largely apolitical, community environmental groups will continue to oppose proposals for toxic development with an increased mandate from their communities. Whether they will continue to be successful will be determined by industry's attitude to future protest and by the community response. It will also depend on the ability of reds and greens to establish some area of common ground.

Despite the growth elsewhere in this realigned Europe of ours of the (largely middle-class) non-violent direct action movement - which has shifted the entire debate about corporate capitalism onto a dimension state and industry cannot deal with - we have failed to open the debate out into the wider environment, to embrace feminism, socialism and ecology.

That the eco-feminists, deep ecologists, social ecologists, green anarchists and neo-socialists are beginning to listen to and debate on each other's agendas to reach agreement about the real issues is an indication that social and political structures are beginning to change globally, but when are we here in the 32 Counties going to realise this?

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1