Alan Boylan argues why campaigning on environmental issues must be a priority for the Scottish Socialist Party.
For millions of people across the globe the relationship between humankind, the animal world and our environment is a question, which has brought much heated debate. Humanity’s increasing separateness from nature, and the corporations’ promotion of the technological fix as the answer to everything, is propelling us headlong into an epoch making disaster which previous generations could not even begin to contemplate. Major features of current capitalist society, from the stock-building of nuclear weapons to wholesale toxic dumping, have brought nature to the tottering brink of irreversible collapse.
The capitalist drive for profit means that capitalism is now inflicting genetically modified organisms (GMO), under its
feed the world lie. The Rockefeller Institute is promoting Golden Rice which it claims will solve Vitamin A deficiency.
It is going to be harder for the environmentalists to say they are battling for the poor if they are fighting something that benefits the poor (Red Pepper 2002). The companies that own the patents want to get trial sites up and running around the world. The undue haste for profit has led to the misuse of knowledge gained by scientific research. The means that every shortcut taken has increased the danger to humans and non-humans alike. Any claims about the safety of any GMO and its supposed benefits are based on flawed science. In Scotland we have had to suffer from incompetent government field tests (run by the GM companies themselves). These have clearly proved to be scientifically flawed. Any data gathered from these tests is virtually useless. All we have to show for these trials is cross-over species contamination of the natural habitat. Clearly the GM genie has definitely been let out of the bottle.
Environmental issues: A priority
A whole range of environmental issues, such as global warming and climate change, have now clearly become mainstream news items. There is a greater awareness among ordinary members of the public, and that is why we must start to push our party’s policies on the environment more to the forefront. I firmly believe that, in the next ten years and onwards, these issues will grow to dominate mainstream politics. This is illustrated by the growth of membership of Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the myriad of other single issue environmental protest groups. The SSP must be positioned to take forward the argument that
communist and socialist opposition to capitalism provides the key to the kind of politics and struggles which can solve the environmental crisis, therefore the true green is a red (Red Pepper, 2000). If this argument is prioritised we should see a rise in our membership and supporters from people who have been drawn into the single-issue protest groups. If a major battlefield over the next ten or twenty years is going to be the environment, are we, as a party, positioned correctly, or will the Green Party sideline us?
Let us look at our policies on the environment. We argue,
the SSP is an environmentalist party which fights for the right of people to live in a clean, safe and healthy environment. We will link up with other socialists and environmentalists internationally to campaign for worldwide action to protect the planet and its natural resources (SSP General Election Manifesto). We then go on to list our international obligation to remove nuclear weapons and Trident and end all nuclear dumping. We then briefly speak about other issues such as ownership of energy reserves and our wish to seek alternatives such as wave and wind power – all very commendable. It sounds and looks excellent in our manifesto. Many comrades have done excellent work for the SSP on environmental issues. Rosie Kane’s articles and column in the Scottish Socialist Voice have been superb and the SSV is the only left wing publication that has a weekly feature on environmental issues. Those SSP members at the forefront of fighting GM crops with direct action add to our party’s stature. I take my hat off to you all.
We are not just seen as the shock troops of direct action or a mobile crowd to bolster demonstrations. The SSP is leading many of these actions on a principled basis. We can not be accused of being like any of the other political parties who merely add on bits and pieces of policies, when it suits their need to show a greener face. We need an open and frank debate on our party’s policies and tactics over the long duration. Our manifesto cannot mention every danger and concern we have over the environment. It would run to several hundred pages if that was the case. I wish to explore five approaches to our policies on the environment.
Science: Friend or foe?
First, we must enter the debate as to whether science is friend or foe. Secondly, we must examine each major technological development and see whether it should be utilised or, if necessary, controlled. Third we need to seriously think about the notion of a conserver society. Only when we have done this can we, fourthly, win the argument that the best green is a red. Then, finally we should produce an enhanced statement of intent to act as a benchmark for best practice, which could also be applied to a wider range of issues.
Is science a friend or foe? We need science to sustain the lives of humanity. Enquiry is part of being human. Yet scientists developed the atom bomb and are now on the brink of creating human life outside the traditional reproductive process. The contradictory nature of science currently under capitalism worries people deeply. We can not be against science as it has impacted positively on everybody’s lives in many different ways. Yet we must end the secretive nature of science. We have to instil openness in this community, including the results of their testing and the monitoring of scientific enquiry and institutions. No longer must companies self-test and self-monitor with impunity. The major misuse of science should be treated as a crime against humanity. Those responsible should be brought to justice, as would any war criminal. But we need to go beyond this and think about the difference in approach a socialist society would bring to scientific enquiry? Should we and can we control science? What moral values would we bring to bear? The discussion has begun but has not been satisfactorily resolved.
Once a particular technology is invented it can not be un-invented. Technology nowadays has consequences that are dangerous enough to warrant close watch. Who controls society and for what purpose they choose to develop a technology is what matters. No doubt, even those scientists who invented GM foods thought they were going to feed the world. However it is Monsanto which has largely developed this technology, buying up 2/3 of the planet’s grain suppliers and forcing developing world farmers to grow their GM crops. This is a perversion of the original dream. To emphasise our opposition to corporate control of technology we should indicate that we will disregard patent laws. People should get whatever benefit science brings on the basis of need. South Africa tried to do this by providing generic anti-AIDS drugs in the face of the giant pharmaceutical corporations’ opposition.
We need to consider the idea of a conserver society. This goes against the grain of much of traditional socialist belief. Stalin’s USSR promoted the notion of a producer society which could triumph over nature, not a fully human society which worked with nature. The resulting environmental disaster has disastrously affected the lives of millions of
Soviet workers. These are also arguments our political enemies trot out and we have to offer a different vision if we wish to be treated seriously. One feature of an alternative conserver society would be to ensure that each generation maintains or, better still, enhances the environment for the next generation. We mustn’t be afraid to do what is necessary for the environment in the long run against what appears to be a short term popular gain. This requires bravery and an education of the public which may take many years, if not generations. We will need to engage with the argument about large scale bureaucratic versus small scale democratic organisation. How can we bring about global control of our environment and give people effective control over their local communities? One thing about a conserver society is that it needs everyone to play their part and it needs individual awareness, so that good practice is engrained in people’s consciousness.
At present most people associate defence of the environment with the Greens. If we do not further clarify our intent, we could find the SSP losing votes to the Greens and independent environmentalists in the coming years. The independent candidate is already starting to become a reality. Let us harden our environmental answers and bring them more to the fore. Let us not only answer any criticism of our intent, but proudly proclaim that being a red is being a true green. If we examine the Greens more closely there are socialists amongst their ranks. Yet they thin out remarkably whenever it comes to their upper echelons! If the carrot of office is ever dangled, the Greens, like Labour and the SNP, will sell out to big business. The German Green Party, in the current government coalition, states in its manifesto that
collaborative working with business is the only way to save the environment. The Green Party will do all it can to make sure it is included with business in partnership for the benefit of all. In 1991 their Ministers supported the war with Iraq, which left behind massive contamination from destroyed oil wells and uranium-enriched shells. They supported the war against Afghanistan. Robin Harper, the Green MSP, refused to support the SSP stance of no war in Afghanistan.
End the drive for profit
The only way to save the planet is for producers to control society and the environment in order to meet our wider needs – material, social, individual and spiritual. The ending of the profit drive as the determining feature of our society would end poverty amidst plenty, starvation in a world of food surplus and many major killing diseases in the face of pharmaceutical corporation monopolies. The Greens don’t fundamentally challenge these evils. Indeed many corporations employ
greens to put a cosmetic face of environmental caring on their companies’ activities and products. Over the last two years Shell adverts have been promoting a
green image to make the public believe they are developing greener fuels. This is the same company that has heaped environmental damage on Third World countries as they robbed them of their wealth and resources and devastated their people and environments. Big business knows how to change their image to suit the current
fashions; they recognise the rise in environmentalism and are acting accordingly. At every stage of capitalism the bosses have stayed a step ahead.
So finally, let us look to how our statement of intent could be improved and how we could attract more environmental activists as well as the wider public. Taking one issue as an example, I believe we should seriously consider supporting the use of organic farming throughout Scotland. This would benefit the natural environment by improving animal habitats with a return to hedgerows around fields. It would also mean a greater use of human labour. Much technological innovation has been highly destructive of the environment, damaging natural organic circuit sat the same time as leading to massive job loss in rural areas, which in turn has killed-off many local communities. Relax comrades, I’m not asking for a return to the fields for all workers. What I am saying is that job creation in the country is necessary if the growing urban/rural divide is to be narrowed. Already the reactionary Countryside Alliance is trying to exploit this imbalance.
What our enhanced environmental statement must do is to balance the needs of the working class, its need for employment and material goods with conserving the environment in an understandable way. I would suggest adding,
We need to conserve and sustain the planet; to work to harmonise the needs of humankind and nature’s circuits of life. All our policies seek to create a conserver society for the benefit of future generations.