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Paradoxically, while Greens argue for social justice and other left themes, environmentalism is often linked to the right. Hitler believed in a politics of hatred ordained by iron ‘laws of nature’. Former Green Party speaker David Icke advocates a convoluted anti-semitic conspiracy arguing ‘that a Jewish clique’ caused the Russian Revolution, two world wars and now runs the world. US Earth First!er Chris Manes praised the Ethiopian famine and AIDS for reducing population. In the 1930s, the grandfather of post-modernism, Heidegger, attacked the alienation of industrial society and supported the Nazis as an antidote.
Far-right attempts to influence the British Green movement take three forms. Firstly, an authoritarian strain in the environmental movement has proclaimed the need for a centralised and strongly ‘eco’-policed state, since the publication of Garrett Hardin’s 1968 essay ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’. Immigration, seen as threatening the ecological carrying capacity of a country, should cease. Population must be cut, by coercion if necessary. Social issues such as homelessness and poverty are seen as a distraction from the essential job of tackling the environmental crisis. In Britain, this strain dominant in the environmental movement of the early 1970s has waned considerably. It is represented by the Campaign for Real Ecology and eco groups disillusioned with the Green Party, with an ideology rooted in the pessimistic conservatism of Malthus. Far from overtly racist, despite some frankly repellent views – neither can this conservative environmentalism be seen as a fascist movement – it is clearly positioned on the statist right.
Its main ideologue, Sandy Irvine, a former International Socialist organiser, criticises those who in ecological destruction from individuals to wider social forces such as the multinationals and financial institutions. Ecological salvation is rooted in personal lifestyle choice. Empowerment (a buzz word of radical greens) is part of the problem. He even condemns the fact that ‘women working at night are glad to see lights wastefully left on in empty corridors, simply because they feel safer.’ [Irvine 1996]
Secondly, in contrast with the Malthusians are groups with neo-Nazi pedigree who claim to advocate ‘social justice’ and decentralization. In the 1980s, the National Front’s Joe Pearce described ‘Social Justice, Ecology and Racial Purity’ as the three pillars of ‘nationalism’. Ruralism, spiritual values, social credit and even animal rights are themes that both appeal to greens but are also given a far-right spin by these groups. Social Credit is a 1930s theory devised by anti-semite Major Douglas, which advocates community take-over of banks, that places the blame for ecological destruction on the banking system rather than capitalism/industrialism. And from here it is a short step to the NF’s shrilling about a global Jewish banking conspiracy and ‘Alien Bankers Destroying British Countryside’ (see Nationalism Today, March 1980). Their espousal of animal rights focuses on ritual slaughter, with the right forgetting that kosher and halal practices are intended to reduce the suffering of animals.
The Naalso advocates of decentralisation. The most sophisticated group, Trans-Europa, publishes Perspectives, a cultural magazine advocating a Europe of the regions. The slogan ‘Europe of a Hundred Flags’ sounds appealing but hides the racial separatism assumed in Fascist decentralization. A model for these variants of the far right is contemporary Croatia. The small-scale racial state is utilised to challenge internationalism and the formation of ‘One World’ government. Richard Hunt – former editor of Green Anarchist, who regularly publishes material from Perspectives, Patrick Harrington and others on the far right – speaks of the ‘unspoken, illegal, iron law “Our side, right or wrong”. This loyalty to the family, then to the group – the clan – the nation, is the glue which holds the small community together’ (in Alternative Green no.2).
Finally, we have those like David Icke who explicitly advocate the anti-semitic conspiracy. The far right have long argued for the existence of a Jewish-Masonic conspiracy, which manipulates the world. For example, funding the Russian Revolution and, confusingly, Hitler’s rise to power. The conspiracy provides an explanatory framework to describe the origins of almost any popular fear, from progressive concerns to irrational prejudice. Icke now argues that environmental problems have been manufactured by the conspirators as yet another excuse to introduce ‘Onwhich is far younger, larger and socially active, than any that the likes of John Tyndall or other far-right leaders are likely to attract.
Eco-fascism also has a lengthy lineage in Britain. The Soil Association, Britain’s organic lobbyists, counted amongst their earliest members Jorian Jenks, former agriculture advisor to the British Union of Fascists. AK Chesterton, first Chairman of the National Front, was closely linked to far-right environmentalism of the 1930s. His uncle GK, Catholic apologist and purveyor of the Father Brown stories, invented the ideology of Distributism with Hillaire Belloc. Distributism, proclaiming the principle of ‘three acres and a cow’, seen as a ‘third way’ between capitalism and communism, drifted into the anti-semitic sphere before becoming the inspiration behind the modern remnants of the Front. Issues of Distributist newsletters in the 1950s advertised support for car free cities, decentralisation, the racist League of British Loyalists and Rudolf Hess.
To an extent all of this is unsurprising. The far right in Britain have tried to gain legitimacy by appealing to green sentiments, while ignoring manifestations of environmental concern that they find unpalatably egalitarian, anti-sexist and multi-cultural. Equally, opponents and especially the State have an interest in labelling greens as ‘Nazis’. What better way, after all, of destroying a radical movement than by connecting surrogate body to suggest that infiltration by the far right has occurred and that names/addresses should be handed over for prudent disinfection?
Greens have, to their credit, fought back. Earth First! now prioritises anti-racist campaigning, proclaiming the slogan ‘Monkey Wrench a Fascist’ and work with the predominantly black radical ecology group MOVE. After research by veteran anti-fascist and state watcher Larry O’Hara, the Green Party banned Icke. Green Anarchist threw out both their former rapidly-moving-right editor Richard Hunt and apparent agent provacateur/BNP member Tim Hepple. The Third Positionists have remained a tiny, divided and whole uninfluential force. Yet often Greens argue that their politics is ‘new’ and beyond, as they see it, the essentially trivial ‘old’ arguments of left and right. Without engaging with such ‘old’ politics, Greens can place themselves in a position were appropriation by both the State and the far-right becomes all too easy. Ironically, Herbert Gruhl – who coined the phrase that Green ‘is neither Left not Right but ahead’ – promptly left the German Greens to form his own far-right Ecological Democratic Party in the 1980s, complete with neo-Nazi sympathisers.
Ignorance is far from bliss. Fascism/Nazism is a surprisingly plastic fundamentalism, willing to change ideological clothes to gain support and win power for a core philosophy. The far-right, briefly, inhistorically recruited radical Greens and successfully presented their own arguments as part of an environmental agenda. Unless Greens clearly define how they differ from the far-right, they will continue to be ripe for reappropriation by softly-spoken Nazis who articulate a rhetoric of decentralisation, justice, and the rural, while seeking to build insular authoritarian communities based on atavistic notions of blood-and-soil and anti-semitic hatred.
The Green movement, often better at providing a description of crisis and utopian prescription, seems to lack a firm and convincing explanation of why we live in a world of injustice and ecological destruction. Yet without an analysis of power and a much clearer debate around the issue of agency, the world merely appears to be a confusing and depressing place, where Conspiracy can become a way of explaining apparent injustices and irrationalities. Far-right ideologies, although relatively isolated, are dangerous because they provide an explanatory framework within which any problem can be placed, and presented to groups who feel disempowered and under threat. The authoritarian environmentalists can be seen as substituting social explanation for biological myth, seeing destruction of the Earth as a function of diffuse human nature. Without an account of how capitalism fuels ecological destructive growth and feeds from human exploitation, Green politics is prey to righ
But Green concerns are spectacularly multi-cultural. They are to be found in Jamaican society, amongst African-American deep ecologists such as MOVE in Philadelphia, amongst the emerging West African Green Parties, within Muslim and Jewish traditions. The opportunity for learning and mutual criticism is almost infinite but relatively unexplored.
Global environmental destruction and poverty are products of racist colonialism and neo-colonialism. Without a culturally informed self-critical and anti-imperialist analysis, today’s youthful environmental protester could, via the explanations of the far right, become tomorrow’s embittered anti-semite.
Derek Wall is a member of the Green Party’s Anti-Fascist and Anti-Racist Network, author of Green History (Routledge 1994) and co-founder of the multi-cultural green group Friends of Move with Jamaican poet Brian Wilson in 1995. He teaches at the University of the West of England.
Further reading: Alan Roberts, The Self-managing Environment (Allison and Busby, 1979). David Icke: Time for the Hard Truth by Larry O’Hara in Greenline, Winter 1995. Stan Taylor, The National Front in English Politics (Macmillan, 1982). Open Eye magazine, issues two and three (send £1.50 for each copy to Open Eye, BM Open Eye, London WC1N 3XX); D.Gasman, The Scientific Origins of National Socialism