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Marx and Environmentalism

TROTSKY in the 1920s and 1930s did not advocate an environmental agenda – equally, many environmentalists in the 1920s and 1930s such as Rolf Gardiner supported fascism and the far right.

It is correct to criticise Trotsky and the ignorance of many on the left (and right and centre) of ecological issues (Sandy Irvine, ‘The Prophet Misarmed: Trotsky, Ecology and Sustainability’, What Next? No.31).

However, ecological crises are a product of human society and demand we are serious about solving them through an analysis of social institutions – certainly capitalism is major part of the problem.

Both those hostile to the left, like Sandy, who as a Green Party activist was concerned that we spent too much time looking at workers’ rights and other issues that for him detracted from the purity of ecological concern, and those on the left concerned with ecology, would do well to re-read Marx.

Marx, as Sandy now admits, was interested in the environment. John Bellamy Foster’s Marx’s Ecology is well worth a read, and of course Joel Kovel’s book The Enemy of Nature.

Marx wrote, in a passage which critiques the misanthropy of Garret Hardin, the following words that I feel all later environmentalists might learn from:

"From the standpoint of a higher economic form of society, private ownership of the globe by single individuals will appear quite absurd as private ownership of one man by another. Even a whole society, a nation, or even all simultaneously existing societies taken together, are not the owners of the globe. They are only its possessors, its usufructuries, and like boni patres familias, they must hand it down to succeeding generations in an improved condition" (Marx quoted in Kovel, p.238).

Marx’s distinction between use values and exchange values is also a useful starting point for thinking about how to provide prosperity without wasting resources.

Derek Wall

The Split in the Scottish Socialist Party

GREGOR Gall’s ‘Socialism in Scotland’ makes depressing reading. He doesn’t shrink from pointing out that his party managed to gather far fewer votes than Solidarity while standing on very similar platforms ("the two components of the pre-2006 SSP which fought on almost identical political platforms") but his anti-sectarian "new left unity party" needs to be built on a basic policy of excluding the many SSP and Solidarity members he disapproves of. Those leftists who do not share Gall’s outlook are, self-evidently, not "sensible".

Those to be excluded include Tommy Sheridan who, we might conclude from Gall’s article, was the cause of the newly established break-away Solidarity movement doing far better than the SSP "left-behinds" (we mustn’t call them a "rump" because Gall says we mustn’t, so that’s cleared that up). The election was a disaster for the left in Scotland (and therefore for people in Scotland) and Gall is right that anyone in Solidarity or the SSP saying their performance was a victory is deluded – but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we should not consider the relative failures of the two groups. Scottish voters turned their back on what passed for the representatives of socialism whatever their label but those voters who remained true knew where they stood when it came to a fight between Sheridan on the one hand and the SSP leadership and the News of the World on the other – that linkage may be unsubtle, even unfair, but the fact of SSP leaders giving evidence in support of the NoW’s defence  would seem to have provoked a visceral instinctive reaction and the hard-core left-voters seem to have been unable to stomach the sight of socialists appearing to line up with the Murdoch press.

But then we get SSP leader Pam Currie’s reply to Gall (‘Why the SSP is Worth Fighting For’). Phewee! This piece should be required reading not just in the UK but internationally. No doubt many who have been through splits in socialist movements will recognise and shudder at Currie "style". It seems Tommy Sheridan is a "Bad Man" (could this be made into a theory of history, anyone?) – a "Bad Man" who, for the left-behinds in the SSP, both is, and, in a groovy sort of post-modern way, isn’t the main story. If the SSP was more than just Tommy Sheridan’s party then how could the behaviour of one "Bad Man" cause so much destruction?

Currie is right, I am sure, that "the SSP’s percentage of the vote did not reflect the broader support for policies such as free school meals, scrapping the council tax and prescription charges, and free public transport" but that is an indictment of the SSP leadership, not something on which to build a future. To plead the mishandling of "spoiled" ballot papers is more than a little suspect – most commentators think that it was so-called spoiled papers in the Glasgow count that kept Sheridan out of the Parliament this time round though it is impossible to be sure; the idea that a recount would bring Colin Fox and Rosie Kane back to Holyrood is just too bizarre.

In the first session of the Scottish Parliament the SSP was remarkably effective and made a real difference – and I am certainly not referring only to Sheridan but also to some who would subsequently find themselves splitting from him. In the second session they turned into a very bad joke. I know there were some decent people involved but there were also some quite astonishing idiots playing to the gallery. How did they come to such prominence in the party that they were selected to stand for Parliament? The damage has been done – the old slogan "Vote Labour: Labour will betray" needs to be replaced with "Vote self-identified socialist: Self-identified socialist will betray".

One good thing that might be salvaged from this mess would be a better understanding of the court case in an international and historical context. Can it be right for socialists to raise civil actions for defamation (as opposed, for example, to actions for damages for injury in police custody)? What would have been the correct thing to do in the face of threats of convictions for contempt of court? Is telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth to a capitalist court really a socialist principle?

Brian Dempsey