lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Apr 22 16:43:12 MDT 2006
I have been following with some interest a series of articles by Jack
Conrad on Marxism and ecology in the pages of the Weekly Worker, the organ
of the Communist Party of Great Britain. Despite its name, this group was
never the official party recognized by the Kremlin but a new group launched
by young people trying to "go back to Lenin", it would appear. The party
has both good and some not so good aspects, in my opinion. While it makes
frequent calls for unity on the left, it has engaged in strident attacks on
its opponents--especially the SWP. Whatever else that may be said about it,
the newspaper makes for a lively read.
I may have something more to say about his articles after they are
concluded, but want to immediately respond to the latest installment which
is titled "Darker Shades of Green"
(http://www.cpgb.org.uk/worker/621/ecology.htm) which has the following
lead: "Jack Conrad questions the romantic images presented by green
primitives and cautions against the seductive lures of ecofascism."
Whenever I hear a reference to the term "ecofascism," I fully expect to
read something about Nazi ecology somewhere along the line. Conrad
fulfilled my expectations, needless to say.
As somebody who has been reading and writing about Green issues for the
past 15 years or so from a Marxist perspective, I tend to think of growing
ties between "deep ecologists" and skinheads as unlikely at best. Let me
Conrad begins his analysis with a discussion of the role of anarchist John
Zerzan, who achieved some notoriety for refusing to condemn the Unabomber.
This current certainly has a misanthropic character but can it really be
said that nostalgia for the pre-industrial world is tantamount to fascism?
Conrad describes Zerzan and his co-thinkers' program in the following terms:
"Their promised land is the endless wilderness. A suitably humbled,
repentant humanity must return to the Palaeolithic ways of the ancestors
and live in perfect harmony with nature."
Whatever else one might say about such ideology, it is inconsistent with
the futuristic aspirations of 20th century fascism. It rather evokes the
"back to nature" leanings of many 19th century Utopian Socialist
experiments, including the one that is the subject of Nathaniel Hawthorne's
"Blithedale Romance" or even these sentiments:
"The nation itself, with all its so-called internal improvements, which, by
the way are all external and superficial, is just such an unwieldy and
overgrown establishment, cluttered with furniture and tripped up by its own
traps, ruined by luxury and heedless expense, by want of calculation and a
worthy aim, as the million households in the land; and the only cure for
it, as for them, is in a rigid economy, a stern and more than Spartan
simplicity of life and elevation of purpose. It lives too fast. Men think
that it is essential that the Nation have commerce, and export ice, and
talk through a telegraph, and ride thirty miles an hour, without a doubt,
whether they do or not; but whether we should live like baboons or like
men, is a little uncertain."
--Henry David Thoreau, "On Walden Pond"
After he is done with the deep ecologists, Conrad shifts his attention to a
historical survey of rightwing appropriation of ecological themes. While
the erudition is impressive, the logic is less so. He writes:
"The Soil Association in Britain counted Jorian Jenks amongst it founding
members. He edited its journal Mother Earth till his death in 1963. In the
1930s he was the agricultural advisor to the British Union of Fascists and
remained throughout his life a close associate and disciple of Oswald Mosley."
Now Jorian Jenks did oppose the use of chemical fertilizers and urged
organic farming. This makes perfect sense, of course. The fact that he
hooked up with Mosley should not serve as a warning, however. Agronomists
with exactly the same sort of outlook have worked with left parties as
well. Indeed, the Mosley website states:
"His 'Green' views were not all fully shared by all his old comrades,
understandably perhaps, at a time after the war when the pressing need was
for food in greater quantities. The Editor of 'Union' and Secretary of
Union Movement once told him wittily 'people can forgive one eccentricity,
but not two.'"
Conrad next turns his attention to Germany, which in the eyes of
anti-environmentalists like Anna Bramwell and Luc Ferry, is the spawning
ground of ecofascism. Indeed, I was somewhat dismayed to discover a
reference to Bramwell in Conrad's footnotes. Her work and Ferry's has had a
confusing effect on some very well-meaning Marxists besides Jack Conrad,
not the least of which is David Harvey who in recent years has backed off
from an analysis that Conrad's echoes.
Conrad makes much of the "Wandervögel" movement of the late 19th century
which was a revolt of sorts against industrialization and called for a
return to nature. There was also, according to Conrad, "a strong
undercurrent of homoeroticism." For Conrad, this might lead to fascism in
the same way that marijuana leads to heroin. You start off on nature walks,
graduate to gay sex and the next thing you know, you are beating up
Finally, Conrad gets around to the question of "Nazi Greens", a subject
that has been of long-standing interest to me after first hearing it raised
by Frank Furedi's posse over ten years ago. Somehow this never sat right
with me, when I thought about the mad rush to development that
characterized the Nazi regime with its uniquely anti-environmental
autobahns, its feverish war preparations and its slave labor production. I
guess the fact that Hitler was a vegetarian counts for a lot more.
I have addressed these questions in some detail in the past and would urge
those who are interested to check:
More information about the Marxism