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After CCSC -- Building a Red Green Alliance

by Dave Riley

While it may be urgent that we create a red green alliance to strengthen radical social action to stop climate change, our collective problem is how are we going to do that?

The Climate Change Social Change Conference held in Sydney Australia during April tried to tackle that challenge.This was a bold attempt to bring together left and green activists in order to locate a shared perspective around which we could begin more consciously organize. While this was an Australian event organized by the newspaper, Green Left Weekly, the conference also heard from the Cuban permaculturalist Roberto Perez; the editor of Monthly Review John Bellamy Foster (author of Marx's Ecology); and Patrick Bond director of the Centre for Civil Society, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa; editor of Climate Change, Carbon Trading and Civil Society.

Foster and Perez urged the conference's participants to consider socialism as the only viable solution to the climate emergency. This was a persistent theme discussed throughout the three day event as speakers were drawn from a range of environment movements and organizations (such as the Australian Greens and Friends of the Earth) as well as academic specialists -- who preferred solution packages which were not consciously committed to a socialist transformation of society..

Nonetheless, the plenaries and workshops teased out a lot of agreement over what can concretely be done today.

The final Conference statement tried to articulate that shared perspective. It argued that climate sustainability can be built on five basic elements:
  1. properly resourced public agencies to drive the sustainability effort,
  2. an international framework where the First World pays the vast bulk of the price of reversing global warming,
  3. an end to rampant consumerism,
  4. vastly strengthened campaigns for climate sustainability, and
  5. building a powerful political alliance for climate sustainability with social justice.
This statement is also being distributed as a generic sign on statement world wide that can function as a collective organizer for the sort of alliances that need to be built and the sort of discussions we need to have. As the document concluded:
The signatories to this statement come from a wide range of backgrounds—climate activism, scientific climate research, Green, socialist, Indigenous, feminist and many more. We do not agree on all the issues in play in the great, complex debate about how to confront and defeat global warming, but we do agree on the basic approach outlined in this statement. We understand that ongoing involvement in the struggle for climate sustainability will give us the best chance of further developing policy against global warming and resolving present differences.
You can review the conference deliberations by accessing the digital recordings of most of the conference events and ongoing reports are being published in Green Left Weekly. Audio is also available from Links.

The absence however of wide participation from among the socialist left, outside the sponsoring organizations such as the Socialist Alliance, suggests that a lot more attention has to be invested by reds to turn green. The challenge thrown up not only by the Cuban example of sustainability -- explained by Roberto Perez -- and the ecological relevance of Marxism --as argued by John Bellamy Foster -- gave many greens much food for thought and many lefts a lot of inspiration.

The local --and perhaps unique -- advantage was that Green Left Weekly has been published for 17 years here with a very clear focus on trying to marry left and green politics. Without the respect the paper has earnt it is hard to imagine that this conference could have been pulled off.

As conference featured speaker, Dick Nichols told LeftCast (my podcast program) the challenge now is to find concrete ways to build the red/green alliance that is so urgently needed by going out there and doing it any way we can.

[Dave Riley is a member of the Socialist Alliance and blogs and podcasts at LeftClick ]

1 Com:

Dave Riley | May 03, 2008

Comments on Socialist Unity »


I sadly missed the conference but caught one event of the Roberto Perez tour, which was an extraordinary success reaching over 5000 people http://www.greenleft.org.au/2008/747/38663. It was organised by permaculturalists from my area who are very open to the radical left (our branch of Socialist Alliance has done a couple of film screenings with them) and closely connected to Cuba, and also a significant event in red-green collaboration, although reportedly the rest of the organised left pretty much abstained.

Comment by Nick Fredman — 1 May, 2008 @ 12:54 pm

The URL above has a full stop attached, i.e. should be


Comment by Nick Fredman — 1 May, 2008 @ 12:55 pm

Work with Greens in the Green Party, network with social movements, try to build trade union climate campaign,the Cuba stuff is great and much of the Latin American left are active greenwise…I guess indigenous campaigners are pretty key as well.

In UK there is a bit of interest in ecosocialism in the Green Party, ISG are ecosocialist and many left groups are engaging strongly with Greens…I have debated and had positive experiences with everyone from Permanent Revolution to the Socialist Party to the Weekly Worker

Comment by Derek Wall — 1 May, 2008 @ 1:53 pm

Derek is correct and this conference was an element in a much broader process which will in effect demolish the easy categories we rely on to justify political separatism. This issue is going to massively remake the red and the green.

No one is pretending that they know what to do in any specific detail in way of a political agenda. The fact that there’s this emergency bearing down on humanity and the movement to challenge and combat it is yet to be built anywhere near the scale required is a daunting task.

But as the conference statement suggested, while it is an ideological question ( capitalist versus socialist solutions for instance)it is primarily a tactical challenge for all of us.

It is not simply about convincing greens to turn sharply red and sign on with a patented perspective — but of movement building very quickly. And en route having the arguments and discussions that are pending and which cannot be ignored.

The CCSC fostered an excellent dialogue and when we were editing up the tapes it was often a pity that we published the talks and presentations only. So part of the game now has to be to sustain, deepen and enrich this exchange and move as much of it as we can into the mainstream debate.

So the Red/Green alliance which we have to build has to be a struggle alliance . I think the left sometimes treats environmentalism as a sort of programatic add on — grist for propaganda perhaps — rather that a core area of everyday engagement and activity. We know this too well with our trade union work here dealing with the mining (Australia is a huge coal mine) and forestry unions.

It’s going to be tough. We are going to have to work on any number of fronts. But we do know that electoralism is not a powerful enough strategy to deliver the sort of results we need.

It doesn’t have to be a straight off debate about reform versus revolution; or the ‘green capitalist’ ideal versus Cuba warts and all. But it has to be a campaign for renewable energy and for public ownership. And sitting there like a massive bogey is the spectre of the market. So our issues with neo liberalism are the same issues for us in regard to carbon emissions and whether you formally sign on with the Reds or not this will be objectively an anti-capitalist movement.

Comment by Dave Riley — 1 May, 2008 @ 3:58 pm

Are the SWP going to participate in any future, progressive, productive, and constructive alliance? If they do, what can we do to ensure they don’t wreck it, like they’ve wrecked the previous ones they’ve been in?

Comment by hokey — 1 May, 2008 @ 5:07 pm

hokey firmly puts the discussion back on track.

Comment by johng — 1 May, 2008 @ 5:33 pm

Some of the key audio, video and articles from the conference are also available at Links — International Journal of Socialist Renewal.
Go to http://www.links.org.au/taxonomy/term/138

Comment by Terry Townsend — 2 May, 2008 @ 12:45 am

I don’t think Hokey’s question is the right one. I’m in Australia so I’m not so much talking specifics but the sort of “alliance” pending is not a formally developed one but, no doubt, there will be several committee like coming togethers. So I’m referring to alliances rather than a formalised one. In our case we’re working on a range of coalitions for protests and other events with in each case a range of different participants — from the anti electricity privatization movement in NSW, to coal mining near Newcastle, against wood chipping in Tasmania and soforth. This is still a very undeveloped movement and so far no major aggregation has coalesced around climate change per see. So it would be premature to be schematic about how it supposedly will unfold. And, of course, to some degree we still have the problem of the environment peak bodies — not all but some — who have for years channeled the protest movement into lobbying and trade offs.

Overlay that problem with the penchant for lifestylism and individual solutionizing and you begin to get the measure of the tactical challenges. What we’re finding in the Socialist Alliance is that those environment groups that exist and who aspire to a mass action perspective are valuing our partnership because we bring movement skills, activists and organization to the mix. And aside from the ideological question that’s what we lefties do — we are professional organizers and agitators.

This also suggests that Green Left Weekly’s relevance is heightened as a major movement resource for housing the main polemics we need to advance so that it’s almost like a relaunch of the journal’s relevance. So we have to address “carbon trading” and “clean coal” and nuclear power and greenwashing and the individual blame game…in a way that strengthens the logic and confidence of the movement that is being built.

The situation in New South Wales in the anti privatization campaign is very interesting as while it is not strictly a environment movement the coalition embraces Green Party members and MPs, (what have been right wing) trade unions, Rising Tide climate activists, registered socialists and “consumers”. (ie: the working people of NSW). So theres’ a sharp jelling of people saying we’ve had enough of neo liberalism … and the climate threat.

Tomorrow the unions, as Mayday protest, march on the Labor Party state conference!

And this movement will, I expect, bring down the state Labor Government even if they proceed with the sell off.

Of course our core problem is that since we cannot get troops out of Iraq or Afghanistan how can we expect to prevent capitalist driven climate change? So the sort of discussion we are having and will continue to have will be larger than debating the logistics of committee building. Theres’ much less room to play around with and indulge, if you like, our fancies and an easy demoralization.

In my political experience that’s a brand new prospect — a unique one — and it’s even a little scary because it behooves “us” — we socialist lefts — to deliver the political goods or shut up.

In my estimation — taking a leaf out of Derek Wall’s consistent advocacy — we have to address more actively the example of Cuba and that of Venezuela. To maintain a careless approach to the sustainability achievements of both those revolutions borders on idiocy. Here we have, in Cuba’s case, an example of massive emissions reductions in practice and the question has to be: how could they manage to do that and what was the cost?

And those who have a capitalist POV of Cuba would then have to deal with the conundrum that a “green capitalism” is possible. But if we turn that around and argue that Cuba (and more and more, Venezuela) are doing — alone in the world — what needs to be done to aggressively cap and roll back carbon emmissions: why is it so?

Thats’ a question about socialism as far as I’m concerned and as Roberto Perez toured the country talking to urban organic farmers, permaculturalists, biodynamic farmers, and sundry other greenies…he pulled no punches. And you’d go to these meetings and aside from we Socialist Alliance types not one other card carry lefty was in the room full of hundreds of , in the main, concerned environmentalists. The Brisbane meeting where I lived was chaired by a presenter from the country’s top TV gardening program — Gardening Australia.

But elsewhere — among the protests in NSW some of the coal mining union leaderships are running a rumor campaign in the ranks that the Socialist Alliance wants to take coal miners jobs away from them….

So this is complex mix of elements and demographics that won’t be very easy to coalesce. If we allow to happen what happened in Tasmania in 2004 — when the Forestry Union signed on with a Howard government logging plan then we are in strife.

Comment by Dave Riley — 2 May, 2008 @ 2:36 am

I bet that if we were to take away your starbucks and your Ipods 90% of you would be free market capitalists within the week. There is a name for your Cuban Sustainability Project, it’s called abject poverty. My guess is that 150 years of humanity trying to climb out of poverty via the industrial revolution and people won’t be interested in going back, least ways not without a fight. You ever wonder why all the socialist countries had their revolution and then made sure there was no democracy? Because the average person thinks you are wack-jobs and you couldn’t get elected or stay elected after about, Ummm, day one. While I have your attention, consider your above reference to “consumerism”. Consumerism is basically people using the money they earned to buy the items that they want. Let me slow that down for the people that used to ride the short bus to school. Consumerism is consumers using their freedom. Hate consumerism, hate freedom. Did you guys ever take logic in college. How does one begin to start down the path of having an issue with freedom? I am sure you are a bucket-o-fun at Christmas.

Comment by tim — 2 May, 2008 @ 5:29 am

If a Red/ Green Alliance means the pursuit of socialist ideals in parallel with “Greenness” and it is believed to be possible then I believe history will tell a sad tale. There is already widespread evidence biofuels have already increased food prices and off course it those for whom the Red/Green Aliance would like to help whom have been disadvantaged the most.

What is needed is change within the whole system; businesses, consumers, government reflecting human values throughout society that support the Red/Green Alliance’s objectives.

Comment by Roger Carthew — 2 May, 2008 @ 1:41 pm

I realize that “tim” is a troll (but trolls can be handy sometimes to extend the discussion)– but in regard to the “Cuban Sustainability Project” — that’s something that Australians have had some impact on as the first permaculture teams to Cuba back in 1992 came from Australia.

This interview with Roberto Perez offers some background: Cuban permaculturalist: How Cuba made a ‘green revolution’.

“Tim’s” gross ignorance of Cuba– “abject poverty” — is almost obscene. Cuba alone in the Third World has First World statistics in regard to health, longevity and the like — even being ahead of its brutal imperial neighbour to the north in its ability to deliver these gains to its population.

The related issue is that when the “Special Period” began — what would have been a massive crisis worn by the population (such as is the case in nearby Haiti or any other similar Third World and maybe First World instance you may like to cite)was turned into a collective community driven green revolution the likes of which we have not seen anywhere. The almost cult documentary/video —
The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil logs this shift (Perez is featured in it) and is a must see.

Roger Carthew’s (#10) comment is confusing. He writes:”If a Red/ Green Alliance means the pursuit of socialist ideals in parallel with “Greenness” and it is believed to be possible then I believe history will tell a sad tale.” He of course offers no argument for this homily. The problem he isn’t dealing with is what indeed is the ’solution’ or the way forward?

Shouldn’t energy production be based on sustainability? But how can the market guarantee that?

Shouldn’t we the people democratically control what is produced and how it is produced? Isn’t that a core demand of our advocacy today in regard to climate change? Then let’s nationalize the economy as much as we can so that the main industrial sectors(such as energy production, transport and manufacturing) can be planned and administered to protect the environment. And rather than produce a lot of stuff we don’t need, why don’t we plan how we run the economy so we address real needs and aren’t fetishized by a consumption driven culture?

Whats’ so “sad” about all that? That’s a self evident strategy I’d think. I call it “socialism” but let’s call it something else …Lets’ call it a “sustainable society” because the one we’re got now surely is not.

Roger also raises the hoary old subject of “Greeness” as though its a given and something owned by some people rather than others. My experience in the green movement suggests that there’s this presumption that “greens” own the patent on “Greeness”. (Here in Australia in the early 90s it came down to who owned the electoral registration for that colour adjective –as those self appointed few determined how the Green Party would be created).

But when you get onto the mix and try to tease out the detail “Greeness” can mean anything. To your local capitalist or pollie it’s greenwashing. To your inner urban Yuppie its life stylism — buying and driving hybrid cars for instance. For your aging hippie its mung beans and compost toilets… Roger I guess is presuming that “Redness” doesn’t belong among such “Greeness”.

And that’s true and not true.

The main thing greens need to learn is that the guilt trip and the personal solution driven by pedagogy and lifestyle changes won’t get us very far . And thats’ a major problem with the ready presumptions that underscore “Greeness”. Energy production — making it sustainable — is a social macro economic challenge not something that can be addressed by taking the family home off the grid.

“Greeness” has to come down out of the clouds and deal with real physics and real ecology and real economics and real biochemistry and real climate. It has to deal with the fact that we need to panic — because emissions are still rising and emissions are rising faster than at any time in the past despite all the breast beating. Despite the greenwash and the Kyoto protocol and what have you — we’re on a ship drowning in carbon and on the bridge they don’t care.

When the massive ice melt kicked in late last year in the Arctic, climate change registered its sharpest warning that it’s not playing around. This is not a lineal process. It is not a process that dovetails so neatly with options as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggested only a short time ago.

We have only at most 10 years to address this emergency. Ten years. And if Roger thinks we need “change within the whole system; businesses, consumers, government reflecting human values throughout society” — how are we gonna do that? By what means? And toward what ends?

Comment by Dave Riley — 3 May, 2008 @ 12:12 am

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