Friday, 14 October 1988


Paul Anderson, review of Into the 21st Century: An Agenda for Political Realignment by Felix Dodds (ed) (Greenprint, £4.99), Tribune 14 October 1988

Every British politician these days wants to jump onto the green bandwagon. The reason is simple: the opinion polls show that more and more people from all walks of life are concerned about the state of the environment, and there are votes to be had in that concern.

All the same, green issues are still much less addressed here than elsewhere in Europe, not least because green opinion is so poorly organised. Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace attract substantial support and funds, but are unwilling to provide forums for political discussion.

The Green Party is tiny, with little prospect of parliamentary representation in the foreseeable future. Many who, in West Germany, would find themselves at home in die Grunen are active in the Labour Party, the Social and Liberal Democrats and the various social movements.

This collection of 16 essays brings together contributors from all these backgrounds to debate values and political strategies. It is very much a mixed bag. Some of the contributions are dull and predictable: the most disappointing are those of the SLD greens who dominate the book (seven of them are represented, which is surely over-doing it), most of whom do no more than assert the continuing relevance of traditional Liberalism The collection could also have done with some heavy editing: nearly every contributor starts off by explaining why green issues are important, which results in much unnecessary repetition.

Neverthelese, Into the 21st Century contains some well argued pieces too (I particularly liked those by Peter Hain, Hilary Wainwright and Peter Tatchell) and, as a whole, it gives a good impression of the state of the dqbate. There, is clearly much common ground here. Everyone agrees that the environmental crisis facing humanity is crucially important, and there is broad agreement on the necessity of many measures for example, radical decentralisation of political power, massive redistribution of wealth (both globally and within Britain), and non-nuclear defence and energy policies.

At the same time, however, there are major obstacles that stand in the way of anything, approaching a green realignment in British politics. The most important is the continuing strength of existing party political affiliations: the contributors share a sense of being on the libertarian left and of distrusting the traditional managerialist social democrats now firmly in charge of both Labour and the SLD, but there is no agreement about how to put it into effect.

There are also unresolved differences about how the environmental crisis should be understood and what should be done about it. Is "capitalism" or "industrialism" at the root of the problem? If the former, how can we explain the ecological disaster of "actually existing socialism"? If the latter, do we really believe that a "non-industrial" economic strategy can cope with poverty at home and in the Third World? To what extent can or should a class-based politics mesh with green concerns? And so on.

Into the 21st Century provides no answers to these questions but at least its contributors are not afraid to pose them explicitly. For that, it deseves a wide readership..