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A need to go further

The Rise of the Green Left, by Derek Wall (Pluto Press), reviewed by Peter McColl

November 30, 2010
2 min read

The Rise of the Green Left is a timely and useful account of the interaction between still-coalescing schools of green thinking and the much older canon of socialist thought. Derek Wall gives us his unique take on what a green left could look like in a wide-ranging account of struggles around the world. In doing so, he embraces indigenous social movements in particular, a welcome approach that helps redefine greens’ relationship with the global south for the better.

 Closer to home there is some reference to the excellent campaigning work that Caroline Lucas has led since becoming the UK’s first Green MP, though it is unfortunate that the left-leaning campaigns run by Sian Berry for London mayor and Adrian Ramsay in Norwich get less attention. These have grounded green politics in support for local public services and other social justice issues, practically creating the kind of green left that could have real resonance.

 In fact, the challenge that Wall leaves relatively untouched is to define a green left strategy that can make a material difference to people’s lives in Europe. In the UK, the government’s austerity package is removing the velvet glove of consumerism from the iron fist of late capitalism. For the first time the links between social and environmental injustice are becoming clear to people in Britain.

While most of the elements of the coherent radical green ideology that is needed in this context are present in Wall’s book, they are not sufficiently drawn together. This makes for a somewhat disjointed theoretical underpinning, which is matched by a rather disjointed writing style. Surely the hyperlinks and email addresses scattered throughout the text could have been presented as footnotes, for instance?

Wall also dismisses far too lightly the vital work of Chantal Mouffe and Ernesto Laclau. Their conceptualisation of ‘prefigurative acts’ – those that create the conditions for social change and develop social movements to come – will be vital in creating a green ideology with the analytical strength to deliver real, material changes.

 So while it’s welcome that Derek Wall has made a sustained attempt to synthesise a green left approach, those of us on the green left must go further and create the inspiring texts and foundational arguments to sustain a real challenge to neoliberal hegemony.

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