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Synthesis/Regeneration 39   (Winter 2006)

Thinking Politically

Why I Left the Greens

by Arnaud Hervé

This article is intended as a warning to those Greens in developed Anglophone countries who live in a bipartite regime and, consequently, look to the successes of European Greens and sigh: “If only we had proportional elections too...” Yes, it is true; we had a lot of elected members. So what? Do you think it is a fairy tale now? On the contrary, please walk the children out; I am going to tell you the awful truth.

The presence of a high proportion of elected members in a relatively small party creates two social classes internally. I mean social classes, not just social groups. The differences in income, social contacts, job opportunities, access to information, travel expenses, paid assistants, and a host of other privileges, become incompatible with a really equalitarian mentality.

Elected members don’t impose your ecologist agenda in assemblies. On the contrary, they get swallowed by the system and, through a lot of devious procedures and technocratic obstacles, they end up implementing, with the members of other parties, the dominant policy of the moment. In the 70s, the dominant policy was ecology, but now it is neoconservative globalization. This means that, if some Green gets elected, you might as well consider him/her lost to ecology.

When we say that Greens have electoral successes in continental Europe, we generally mean around 10%. Let’s face it, 10% politicians never wield power, even in a left-wing alliance. They just enjoy the benefits of their seats and give a bad opinion of politicians as parasites. These 10% politicians are happy enough with a ghetto of a few interest groups. Ecology, however, is so important that it should be accepted by a strong majority of the population. It deserves better than a mere social group attitude. It deserves majority.

Greens appear more and more as just a generation, not as a lasting political trend.

The electoral successes of the Greens in Europe have meant a higher income and social status for a few thousand lucky individuals, but if we take into account all environmental reforms implemented by local, national and European governments during the last 30 years, it is not certain that the Greens had anything to do with that. Those reforms have occurred regardless of the electoral results of Greens in different countries. The influence of grassroots organizations, the attitude of the general population, plus the general capacity to implement the law were the real factors.

Furthermore, I came to perceive the Greens as plagued by three trends which make their future uncertain.

The Greens in Europe are turning right-wing. By doing so, they will be perceived as more unfriendly than traditional right-wing parties—people are wondering if jobless families are not going to be labeled pollution in high income, trendy house-owners’ districts. Ecology plus neo-conservatism is a bitter recipe; it won’t work, or will make ecology highly repulsive.

Greens take gender parity seriously, which would be great but for lack of female candidates. Available seats plus a lack of candidates means that any woman who joins will get elected. The result is not the promotion of incompetent women but rather the arrival of many women with non-Green political opinions who consider the party as a temporary promotion tool and leave it when elected or, more conveniently, rally in practice around the main party while keeping the “Green” candidacy guarantee. These women always come from the intellectual bourgeoisie, never from the working class. On the whole, they ruin the morale of both males and dedicated women in the party.

Greens appear more and more as just a generation, not as a lasting political trend. Their concepts belong to the 70s. As time passes, this is beginning to show more and more. For instance, most industry reforms they propose assume a context of general prosperity and social safety, like in the 70s, when it was easy to find a new job. Of course, telling people bluntly in the years 2000 that they must quit their jobs is quite another matter. Their attitude to drugs is outdated; drugs are a medical concern, not the liberation of individuals. They still believe multiculturalism is granted to be compatible with basic Western female rights in any community. They still believe local politics is the key, whereas WTO decisions are not local and are the real key nowadays. They still believe talking about sexual pleasure is politically relevant.

To cut it short, what I did is join another party, which I chose on the basis of four considerations:

Social protection is disappearing. Ecological reforms necessarily mean less growth, less production. Therefore, we have to assert a political ecological grammar, in which social protection is implemented first, and if people feel socially secure, then they will accept activity reductions. Most real environmental reforms in Europe came through public authorities. We must protect public authorities from total market globalization. A 5% fair-trade responsible consumer global market is not the future of the world.

The essence of political ecology is in the grassroots, not in representatives. Ecologists must participate in citizens’ education groups like Attac and its equivalents in other countries.

Ecologists must face new problems: the dwindling prestige of scientific education, consumption vices like obesity, the respect of foreign countries in Anglophone populations, and the reform of the United Nations. Ecology must lose any cultural ghetto flavor. The average family father must accept ecology as a universal common sense necessity, open to everybody and neutral like nurseries or libraries, and not as the extremist attitude of a few teenagers who go to techno music parties.

Therefore, I advise any Green member in the world to seriously consider what I did, and to take an interest in what is happening in the German Green party—perhaps the most eloquent example of present trends. Mind you, even the German center-left party, still a highly pro-globalization party, found it necessary to separate from the Greens because Greens are now widely perceived as a high-income, socially dangerous party.

Of course I could have gone on for years in my little French local group, believing that there would be a return to common sense, but my experience has taught me otherwise.

What I did, basically, is join the anti-globalization forces in their local, non-libertarian form. I insist on this non-libertarian aspect because what most Greens will do is join unorganized, more or less anarchist, local groups. Recent history, however, shows us that ecology needs public authorities. I suppose this depends on whether you consider ecology as a personal attitude or as a project for the planet. Personally, I fight for the possibility of having political debates and thereafter implementing decisions, even if that hurts the global market.

People want to keep their jobs, and they are rightly doing so. Ecology must adapt to their social protection needs. I don’t care about posh green architects in high-income city centers any more. I can even tell you, I am now more available to keep in touch with new environmentally safe technologies than I was within the Green organization. The Greens have become “act locally, think locally,” but technologies are not local, globalization is not local, interesting personal contacts are not local, resistance movements are not local. The truth is not local. Only the careers of a few politicians are local.

[23 feb 06]

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