Over the past three decades the environmental crisis has had a deeply destabilising impact on politics-as-normal, especially in the advanced capitalist countries. Even when movements against this or that environmental outrage are not in the street, the "background" environmental crisis poses a permanent challenge to the legitimacy of the system, constantly draining its ideological, political and material resources.
Most unnerving for the powers-that-be is the possibility that "red" and "green" political formations will link up to form a political force of such critical mass as to pose the alternative of environmental and social justice as a real possibility. However, an important precondition for reaching such a threshhold is to understand how the environmental question has affected all political trends to date.
1. The Green parties
The emergence of the West German Greens in the early 1980s introduced a new dimension to the environmental movement in developed capitalist countries. The new party was based on the activism of the large anti-nuclear movement that had swept through Europe in response to the deployment of new, advanced US nuclear missiles — Cruise and Pershing II. Because it attracted activists from the women's movement and other social movements and from various socialist currents, its political program reflected attempts to draw links between environmental and social issues. This synthesis was reflected in the four basic principles of the German Greens that have subsequently gained worldwide currency. These principles are: ecological sustainability; grassroots democracy; economic and social justice; and disarmament and non-violence. Politically, this represented a significant advance over the limited environmentalism of the 1970s. It challenged many of the simplistic and false solutions referred to earlier and broadened discussion beyond defensive campaigns aimed at conserving wilderness areas.
The theoretical foundation of Green politics was the idea that they represented a new political perspective, one that was "neither left nor right but out in front". Generalising from the fact that, in the 1970s, the most dynamic social movements formed mostly around cross-class issues, Green theorists argued that "capitalism has not rendered the working class a class-for-itself, let alone a class that tends to mobilise itself on behalf of universal human interests". Instead, according to US Green theorist Howard Hawkins, "working people are mobilising around other identities in the new social movements" which tend to challenge capitalism in "universal democratic terms" rather than the "simplistic two-class struggle of old left theory".
Former anarchist, now Queensland Greens leader, Drew Hutton argued in 1987 in Green Politics in Australia that "Green politics does not accept the philosophical dualism which underpins modern industrial society (mind/body, humanity/nature, boss/worker, male/female) nor that of the traditional left (class struggle and class war leading to a classless society)."
By emphasising "harmony with nature" and "a sense of wholeness and oneness", while simultaneously caricaturing socialism, such Greens "theorising" attempts to render class divisions and class struggle (left and right) irrelevant. But no amount of philosophical rejection of "old dualisms" or the culture of violence in capitalist society will make them any less real.
From the very beginning the German Greens represented a coalition of differing green opinion. On the right the "realos" sought to advance "green" politics through pursuing coalition with the Social Democratic Party (SDP). On the left of the party were "fundis" and others who placed emphasis on the independence of the party, on the need to build a "green" movement outside the parliamentary system. The debate within the German Greens continued throughout the 1980s, with the party making consistent moves to the right in its attempts to attract the SDP into coalition. For example, the Green parliamentary deputies refused to support German steelworkers in their campaign for nationalisation and export of steel at cost-price to the Third World, because this would spread the vice of "industrialism".
The Green parties' inability to develop a coherent strategy for change which went "beyond class politics" has been manifested most clearly in the constant struggle over the relationship between parliamentary and extraparliamentary activity, and over how the Greens should relate to the major capitalist parties.
Throughout the 1980s, for example, the German Greens' program attempted to compromise. On one side were the proponents of Realpolitik (realos), who argued for an ecological transformation of capitalism by means of political compromise, and the ecolibertarians who wanted to promote ecological change through market mechanisms.
On the other side were the fundamentalists (fundis), who argued that the efforts to create for ourselves a different life by opting out would have such a drawing power that the ruling class would be forced to subsidise socioeconomic reconstruction. They were allied with ecosocialists, who started from a principled opposition to the capitalist order and placed their emphasis on extraparliamentary activity in the social movements.
Until the mid-1980s, the German Greens had a clear policy and practice in solidarity with trade union and Third World liberation struggles, against the rearmament of Europe, in defence of democratic rights and so on. With the decline of the social movements and growing electoral success, which put Green MPs onto opposition benches alongside the Social Democratic Party (SPD), the policy and practice of the Greens moved rapidly to the right.
By 1990, nearly half of the fundis and ecosocialists had left or been thrown out, and the party was taking positions of support for NATO, almost unqualified support for coalition with the SPD in government and a much less clear opposition to nuclear armament. At their December 1995 annual congress, 38 per cent of party delegates and most of the parliamentarians supported the sending of German troops as part of imperialism's "peacekeeping" force to Bosnia.
Green parties had formed both to better organise mass action and to represent in parliament a green-thinking constituency. However, as the Greens won electoral success, and simultaneously the social movements declined, the balance between these two goals shifted. The parties became increasingly separated from their extraparliamentary campaigning base, and today the majority of Green parties are purely parliamentarist.
From the beginning, right-wing Greens theorised that the "movement phase of politics is over"; now the struggle has to take place in parliaments. They argue that parliament is where the power is, and the Greens have to be included. In the words of former British Greens leader Sarah Parkin, "The only pressure that is really respected by governments is the ballot box".
These leaders think that as the ecological and social crises deepen, support for environmental and social justice parties will grow exponentially, until the Greens will win majority support at the polls, take government and implement their policies. But this belief has proved an illusion in the more developed Green parties. Despite escalating ecological and social crises, nowhere in the world have Green voting patterns at the national level increased significantly.
The early German Greens took the position that the parliamentary party was an extension of the mass movements. They tried to institutionalise this by developing a party organisation in which the fundamental idea was "continuous control over all officials and elected representatives in parliament and their recallability". In addition to allowing different political currents to organise, fundraise and publish their ideas inside the party, the following practices were adopted:
- All elected members were rotated after two terms or six years;
- No person could hold a political office and be a party functionary at the same time;
- MPs received only the average pay of a factory worker, the remainder of their salary being returned to the party; and
- Party meetings and election slates were open to non-party members from the social movements.
As their parliamentary aspirations and representation increased, however, the Greens' attention to extraparliamentary mobilisation declined. In the words of Jutta Ditfurth, a fundi who led a walkout from the party's April 1991 congress: "We once said that the Green Party had a 'standing leg' — its centre of gravity — outside parliament, and that this leg was more important than the 'play leg' inside parliament. But then the leg in parliament became the 'standing leg' and the movement leg was being cut off."
Green electoral success has always been accompanied by a shift in the decision-making weight in favour of the parliamentary group. The parliamentarians and their staff, by virtue of their positions, are usually better organised and have more resources than the rest of the party. Engaging on a daily basis in political discussion and decisions, parliamentarians also end up making party policy on the run — democratic policy making at the grassroots would take more time than the structures and rhythm of capitalist parliament allow.
The increasing weight of the MPs in Green parties has consistently led to priority being given to the (illusory) attainment of reforms within the system, at the expense of mass action, participation and rank and file control. The underlying perspective of reforming the system through parliament has meant that respect for and accommodation to parliamentary procedures, expectations and other parties has been inevitable.
At the time of the 1990 federal election, the German Greens had 48 MPs. In that election, their vote dropped below the five per cent cut-off, and they lost all 48 positions. The realo parliamentarians blamed the diminishing left in the party for the loss and moved quickly to "reform" the Greens.
There was to be no more collective structure or responsibility, the "obstacle" of rotation was abolished, the party was to have only one party president, and the rule preventing MPs from being on the party executive was abolished.
In Australia, the development of Green parties began in 1984 with the emergence of the Nuclear Disarmament Party and its unprecedented success in having a candidate, Jo Vallentine, elected to the Senate. Subsequently the repeated election of Green Independents to the Tasmanian parliament encouraged environmental activists in other states to form Green electoral parties. In 1987 a second NDP candidate, Robert Wood, was elected to the Senate on the basis of preferences from a Green Senate ticket and in the 1990 elections a wide range of Green candidates stood. The election also saw the re-election of Jo Vallentine for the Greens (WA).
The Greens (WA) were formed in 1990 out of an amalgamation of a number of smaller Western Australian green political organisations. The success of the Greens (WA) in electing one member to the Senate in 1990 was repeated by the election of a further senator in 1993.166
The experience of Green parties in Australia has been highly varied. The two most significant experiments have been those of the Green-Labor accord in Tasmania between 1989 and 1991 and that of the Western Australian Green Party — The Greens (WA) — in federal parliament. In these cases and in others the politics of the Greens has oscillated wildly.
On the one hand, during the 1990s, the WA Greens, in the persons of senators Christabel Chamarette and Dee Margetts refused to rubber-stamp Labor government budgets, to the extent that establishment media editorials reached a crescendo of vitriol against the Greens. "Greens or Gangrenes?" asked the Age of Melbourne on September 13, 1993, attributing the fall in the dollar to them. The Sydney Morning Herald of the same day accused the Greens of "holding the government to ransom" with "some very bizarre demands". The Green senators' crime was to propose changes which would have reduced the impact of the budget on low income earners.
After four years in the Senate, Chamarette gave a mixed but generally positive assessment of her and Dee Margetts' role in the upper house. "I'm not sure the community at large is aware of how much of a political monoculture dominates the parliament. The most common vote in the Senate is 66-10, with Labor and the Coalition versus the real opposition made up of Democrats, Greens and independents."
At the other extreme Greens in Australia have also made a fetish of ensuring "stable" and "responsible" government. The Greens in the Australian Capital Territory voted to allow the formation of a Liberal government which launched into the usual austerity program; the Greens in Queensland gave their preference votes to the reactionary National Party to prove to Labor that they couldn't be taken for granted.
The Green-Labor accord was signed by the Tasmanian parliamentary Labor Party and five Green Independents who held the balance of power in parliament in May 1989. The agreement promised independent support for an ALP minority government in any no-confidence motion in return for specific concessions on environmental concerns. However, while securing certain environmental reforms the accord had the effect of tying the environment movement in Tasmania to the ALP's business agenda. The accord finally collapsed in early 1992. New elections saw a return of the Liberal Party to power and a fall in the vote achieved by the Green Independents from 17.1 per cent in 1989 to 12.8 per cent in 1992.
The Green Independents suffered a voter backlash for keeping Labor in power while it slashed funding of government services and retrenched 2100 public servants. In the final analysis the accord must be judged as a negative experience for the Greens. Many of the environmental gains made were reversed by the incoming Liberal government while the long term credibility of the Green political project was setback by the Green MPs' failure to differentiate themselves from the ALP and big business demands.
These contrasting approaches reveal the existence of different tactical shades within Australian Green parties. In contrast to the Australian Greens, the WA Greens have managed to walk the tightrope between parliamentary work and maintaining a link to the social movement activity from which they emerged in the 1980s. The WA Greens' appeal to community action and self-empowerment has been consistent enough to ring warning bells among ruling circles. The WA Greens senators' refusal to "do deals over different issues" — unlike the Tasmanian Greens for example — has made them a thorn in the side of establishment politics.
However, despite standing by these principles, the WA Greens' lack of strategic vision and guidelines has left them rather disarmed in the face of ruling-class attacks. This is for the obvious reason that greens who take their principles seriously are sooner or later going to face the following challenge: dissolve their principles into a strategy aimed at minor alterations to the neo-liberal agenda, or elaborate a program of action to mobilise and organise the opposition to this agenda. To avoid the shift to the right, greens have to engage in a serious and honest discussion around questions of political orientation, strategy and forms of organisation.
Dissolving strategy into abstract principles only leads to phrase-mongering, usually dominated by the gurus who can "talk the talk". In the struggle for reforms, principles are crucial, but they are always subject to the principle that some reform is better than none, the Tasmanian Greens' justification for their accord with Labor. The problem is that capital can turn reforms back and the only guarantee against this is to be found, not in the hearts of "honest" parliamentarians, but in the mass organisation of people struggling to better their conditions of life.
At the same time many greens confuse localised "community action" with mass social movement action and organisation. While local community action can bring change, its strength is precisely in its ability to extend beyond the purely local and generalise the issue for other local communities and among others in struggle. If greens want to remain a force on the "radical" (anti-systemic) side of politics, they will need to be far more than the "community's voice".
Capital is increasingly monopolised and centralised, and the great majority of humanity is defined by its lack of access to the centres of economic and political power. The object of class analysis is not to reduce struggle to economic issues but to unite this great majority as not only a "class in itself" but also a "class for itself", fighting on every front against every aspect of this class-divided society. If greens are going to play a role in any such political mobilisation of those oppressed and exploited by the system, they must also face the issue of how best to organise themselves to achieve this goal.167
2. Impact of the environment movement on the labour movement
While the environment movement initially developed outside the framework of the organised labour movement, by the mid-1970s trade unionists also began to mobilise in defence of the environment.
The movement against uranium mining in Australia, which began to gain momentum in the late 1970s, was actively supported by trade unionists involved in the mining or export of uranium. In 1975, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) voted at its congress to ban all mining of uranium except for biomedical use. Acting on that decision, the Australian Railways Union (ARU) forced the stoppage of mining by banning the rail transport of uranium ore. As the support for the movement against uranium mining increased during the 1970s with street demonstrations of increasing size, union activity also increased in scope. In 1978 ten major unions were represented at the consultation of the Movement Against Uranium Mining, while in a ballot of major ports waterside workers voted 3486 to nil to ban the handling of uranium exports. Labour movement involvement in the struggle reached a high point in 1979 with the campaign to prevent the establishment of two new mines in the Northern Territory. Trade union opposition to the uranium mining industry continued until the 1983 election of the Hawke Labor government, on an official policy of "phasing out" the industry altogether.
The green bans movement was an environmental mobilisation initiated by the NSW Builders Labourers Federation (BLF) in the early 1970s aimed at the preservation of urban environment and architectural heritage and in defence of working class housing areas. Initiated in the fight to preserve bush land at Hunters Hill near Sydney, the bans expanded to become a mass movement in defence of important heritage areas of Sydney against plans for redevelopment.
The green bans movement was, and remains, an inspiring example of how the environment can best be defended and why working people and unionists should see the environmental struggle not as a luxury addition to "bread-and-butter" union issues. It confirms that the organised working class, working in alliance with affected communities, is the most formidable defender of natural heritage against the greed of developers and other capitalists.
This movement was also linked to the rise of campaigns around workers' health and against deadly industries such as asbestos mining. In many cases, however, the unions were dragged into action by small groups of activists rather than being the initiating force. Indeed, despite the pivotal role played by the trade union movement in the early formation of the environment movement, the part played by the official trade union leadership has very often been a negative one.
As a group, the trade union officialdom seeks to maintain their positions and whatever privileges go with them by attempting to reconcile the interests of the workers with those of their capitalist employers. This bureaucracy is imbued with the liberal illusion that the problems confronting working people can always be solved within the framework of the capitalist system, through gradual, piecemeal reforms achieved through negotiations with the capitalists and their governments. This bureaucracy therefore accepts the fundamental logic of capitalist profitability, attempting to limit the demands and methods of struggle of the working class to conform to its imperatives.
In Australia this state of affairs became even more explicit with the signing of the Prices and Incomes Accord with the Hawke ALP government in 1983. Here the ACTU tied itself to the notion that increases in capitalist profits were the best way to ensure rising workers' living standards. Such was the general context in which the labour bureaucracy responded to the challenge of the environmental movement in the 1980s and early 1990s. Seeing environmental protection measures as a threat to profits, union leaderships drew the conclusion that workers' jobs were threatened by such measures. In a number of instances, this meant the trade union bureaucracy siding with major industrial capitalists (for instance the timber industry) in defence of resource "rights" as opposed to "green and black tape" which was claimed to slow development of new projects unnecessarily.
It was with arguments such as these that the ACTU supported proposed Resource Security Legislation (RSL) in 1992. The legislation was largely framed to guarantee pulp and paper corporations access to vast sections of native forest. Yet the interests of long term employment in the industry would have been better served by the insistence on a switch to plantation logging. However, the ACTU and the timber companies argued for the defence of short term profitability of the industry as the only guarantee of jobs (that were in any case doomed to disappear when the resource was exhausted).
In October 1993, the ACTU officially supported the large-scale woodchipping of old growth forest in the East Gippsland area, against the protests of environmentalists. Claiming the move would preserve jobs in the timber industry, the ACTU ignored the fact that any jobs created would be highly unstable and very short term. The key motivation of timber companies in seeking extensions to wood chipping licences over recent years has been the desire to deplete as much of the remaining resource before internationally competitive plantations are ready to harvest elsewhere. The ACTU has been a consistent ally in this short-sighted goal.
Overall the labour bureaucracy has consistently presented the interests of workers as being inimical to those of environmentalists. The maintenance of this false dichotomy has consistently hampered the development of the environmental movement, and inhibited its effectiveness.
In effect, the stand taken by the trade union bureaucracy has benefitted only the capitalist owners of logging and mining interests. Playing on the division between the labour movement and the ecological movement they have been able to present themselves as valuable investors in "the nation's future" at the expense of a "minority" of marginalised "greenies".
It is true that at times divisions have appeared within the trade union movement on specific environmental issues, such as uranium mining. In its desire for members at any cost the Australian Workers Union has sought coverage of miners at uranium mines, against the opposition of many unions to uranium mining per se. However, this opposition rarely issues in serious action (like the 1976 ARU ban) because in a period of declining unionisation all unions know that one day they may want to seek coverage of workers, no matter what the industry.
3. Environmental record of the ALP
The two mainstream parties of Australian capital are the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and the Liberal Party, both fundamentally committed to upholding the interests of Australian big business. However, as a social-democratic liberal bourgeois party the ALP differs from the Liberal Party in its relation to the progressive social movements. The ALP's political practice is to attempt to defuse and channel the social impact of movements through the cooption of their leaderships.
By cultivating a direct relationship with the ecological movement the ALP attempts to draw it into a parliamentary framework of support for Labor as a substitute for independent political activity, a strategy that has been very successful. It is for this reason that environment activists need to be thoroughly aware of the nature and role of the ALP in the environment movement.
The environmental policy of the ALP, as adopted at national conference in August 1994, demands the ALP in government comply with strict environmental criteria. Among its many sections are commitments to preserving the habitats of endangered species, biodiversity, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, environmentally sustainable forestry, wilderness protection and the phasing out of ozone destructive substances. However, the environmental record of the ALP in government, both at a federal and state level, has been very mixed at best. While the party has administered a number of environmental reforms, it has universally failed to deal with the most serious threats.
The ALP came to power federally in March 1983 after a little over seven years out of office. One of the key promises it used to win the environment vote in that election was its commitment to prevent the construction of the Gordon below Franklin hydroelectric scheme in South West Tasmania (the damming of the Franklin River).
However, ALP commitment to the unique wilderness of the area came slowly, and in contradiction to the stated policy of the Tasmanian branch of the party. Indeed federal ALP action on the issue was determined by the loss of power by Labor in Tasmania and the emergence of a broad-based mass movement in defence of the wilderness area. Upon being elected to power, the Hawke ALP government enacted legislation using its constitutional foreign affairs power to protect the area as a World Heritage listed property.
The federal ALP government was less forthcoming in carrying out its policy obligations to protect environmentally sensitive areas in other instances. Action to protect the Daintree rainforest area was one key example. The Daintree rainforest (in north Queensland) was threatened as early as 1983 by the decision of the Queensland government to force a road through the area. Despite calls for the preservation of the area at this time, the Hawke Labor government refused to nominate the area for protective World Heritage listing. The road through the rainforest went ahead causing irreparable damage.
Only in 1987, when facing a further federal election did the ALP belatedly nominate the area for World Heritage listing as the Greater Daintree National Park. In an election marked by Labor's courting of the environment movement, the Daintree decision was a cynical (and largely successful) ploy aimed at garnering environmental votes.
In over 13 years in office, the ALP also failed seriously to act in defense of old growth forest, an important habitat of a range of endangered species. From the South East forests of NSW to Fraser Island in Queensland, Labor continued to issue and promote export woodchipping licences, despite the enormous environmental cost.
The ALP's environmental cynicism was further displayed at its 1994 national conference. At this conference the ALP adopted policy permitting exploration for minerals in National Parks as a step toward the granting of full mining rights. The credibility of the ALP's "commitment" to the preservation of National Estate forests and sensitive habitats was further undermined by its proposal to introduce Resource Security Legislation (RSL) in March 1991. The intent of the RSL legislation was to guarantee long term access to forest reserves for industry willing to invest a minimum of A$100 million in resource development (for example, pulp mills). In essence the proposal translated into the lifting of many environmental restrictions on logging and woodchipping interests considered of significant economic importance.
While strenuously opposed by all major conservation groups, RSL was finally withdrawn only after losing industry support, subsequent to being watered-down. While never formally introduced, the general principles of the legislation (guaranteeing ready access to forestry and mineral resources for industry) have never been removed from Labor's agenda.
Throughout its period in opposition in the 1970s, the ALP held a position of shutting down the environmentally hazardous uranium mining industry. In its first national conference after winning the 1983 election, party policy was changed, with the adoption by the 1984 national conference of the compromise "three mines" policy. Under this policy, the three existing uranium mines at Ranger (Northern Territory), Roxby Downs (South Australia) and Narbalek (Northern Territory) were to be allowed to produce until exhausted, but were not to be replaced with new mines. At the 1994 national conference, a proposal to further compromise the policy to permit the opening of new mines was narrowly defeated. The fact the issue was (yet again) raised, shows that it has not been definitively removed from the minds of some Labor leaders.
ALP policy notes "concern that increasing and increased atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases will enhance the natural greenhouse effect, resulting in climate change that is highly likely to alter natural and human environments adversely". Action taken by the ALP to carry out this policy has been minimal and largely ineffectual. Indeed, although a signatory to the Rio Earth Summit convention to stabilise greenhouse gas emissions at their 1990 levels by 2000, Australia under the ALP never looked like reaching the target, with both Hawke and Keating governments consistently rejecting any measures that would endanger Australia's perceived economic and trade interests. What commitment given was qualified by undertakings not to enforce changes to industry practice if this should make industry less competitive.
Given a real lack of commitment to improve public transport or develop alternative energy sources, the ALP's real actions on the greenhouse threat were token. Despite the ALP's rhetoric in government, Australian industry is considerably in arrears of some European nations in reducing environmentally harmful greenhouse emissions. Wherever the interests of the business sector conflict with those of the environment, the ALP has consistently watered down commitments, or delayed implementation of necessary measures, so as not to reduce profitability.
The ALP in government made great use of close links with particular sections of the environment movement. A range of agreements between the ALP and the environment peak councils helped Labor defuse environmental opposition, and worked to ensure Labor's reelection in the 1987 and 1990 federal elections. In particular, the close working relationship between the ALP and the ACF provided an important base of support with which the ALP was able to defend its environmental credentials.
A key part of Labor's cooption strategy was the Environmentally Sustainable Development (ESD) task force. The task force was established in 1989, and comprised government, industry and environmental organisations. Its stated purpose was to map out environmentally sustainable development for government and industry.
The ESD process was wholeheartedly embraced by the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) and some other environmental organisations as a way for environmentalists to intervene in the processes of environmental policy formation. However, according to the Wilderness Society, which declined participation in the process, the ESD task force was mere window dressing, allowing the ALP government "green" cover for its numerous environmental policy compromises. After two years deliberation, the task force report failed to contain many of the positions of the environmental groups. The report also failed to recommend compulsory standards, calling into question the effectiveness of the project as a whole.
Throughout the 1980s the collaboration between the ALP and the peak environmental organisations was very close. The extent of incorporation of the peak councils in Labor's project became increasingly evident after details of confidential deals between ACF executive director Philip Toyne and Prime Minister Bob Hawke became public in 1991. Prior to the 1990 federal election assurances on mining and forestry issues were given by Hawke in return for ACF support. However, with the election won, the ALP government reneged on its guarantees by introducing its Resource Security Legislation. Public exposure of the deal in the media was very embarrassing for the ACF, which nevertheless continued its support for Labor. Despite the ALP's betrayal of trust, the ACF continued to participate in the ESD process until the end and publicly supported the ALP in the 1993 federal election.
The role of ALP "left" factions has also been instrumental in winning support for the Labor Party among environmental activists. By being more involved at the campaign committee level, the "left" is able to pose itself as a voice for the environment movement within the ALP as a whole. In practice, the loyalty of the "left" to the ALP is greater than their commitment to the issues they espouse. While the "left" may argue for the positions of environmental activists, they refuse to take such arguments beyond the party room, thus continually delimiting their impact. Not having the numbers against the "right" becomes a justification for political compromise.
In effect, the "left" becomes reduced to a useful foil for the party leadership, providing political cover and acting as a safety valve which registers when the pressure of movement discontent is getting too great and appeasement through small concessions is called for.
The ALP's electoral strategy has involved consistent environmental fakery. Hiding its real pro-business agenda behind a facade of environmentally sensitive policies, the ALP has been aided in its (successful) attempts to portray itself as an environmentalist party by the active support of certain sections of the environment movement.
The wooing of the peak environmental organisations by the ALP in the run-up to elections was a constant factor in Labor's election strategy through the 1980s and 1990s. While it has served the ALP particularly well, the gains for the environment as a whole were minimal. In parallel fashion, the peak councils' incorporation in the Labor project compromised their effectiveness as campaign organisations.
4. The DSP and the environmental movement
Since its founding in 1972 the Democratic Socialist Party (formerly the Socialist Workers Party) has consistently publicised environmental problems and been actively involved in campaigns against environmental destruction. We recognise that the preservation of a habitable environment is vital to humanity's survival and therefore is crucial to its ability to create a socialist society.
In solidarity with, and as members of environmental movements, we emphasise two points above all. Firstly, that even relatively small attempts at defending and bettering the environment can come into conflict with capitalist property relations. Secondly, that to succeed in achieving its objectives the environment movement needs to orient itself toward the mobilisation of the working class, the only social class that has the social power to liberate society from environmental destruction.
While the environment crisis threatens the survival of all humanity, the survival of the capitalists as a class is dependent on the maintenance of a social system that is by its very nature environmentally destructive. By contrast, the working class has no objective stake in the preservation of the capitalist private profit system, which is the root source of its own oppression. Furthermore, wage workers are usually the chief victims of environmental destruction, being forced to live in the most polluted suburbs and work with dangerous substances.
The DSP's goal is not only to lead the environmental movement in a revolutionary direction, but also to convince the working class and its organisations to champion the fight for environmental protection. Convincing the organised workers' movement to fight against environmental destruction is an indispensable part of the politicisation of the working class, of the process of transforming the trade unions into instruments of revolutionary struggle, and of the construction of a mass revolutionary workers' party.
Protection of the environment and of workers' health on the job are closely related matters. Working people are entitled to full information about, and control over, the environmental conditions that affect their health and survival where they work and live. Environmental and health standards must be established by working people and communities with full access to technical information and based on consultation with experts of their own choice.
Elected community committees must be empowered to decide directly on projects to establish factories or use industrial processes that may adversely affect the local environment. Such committees must be equipped to gather full and accurate information about the relevant ecological and health issues, and to make their decisions on the basis of this information, without concern for corporate profits.
Just as they must reject the false dilemma of having to choose between employment or cuts in wages, working people must reject arguments that they cannot afford to take the measures needed to clean up and protect the environment, or that workers' jobs will be threatened by environmental protection measures. Working people cannot afford bosses who put profits before the health of their employees and the community in general. Such companies should be nationalised without compensation (except for small stockholders) and placed under the control of workers' committees with complete access to the government funding and all the technical information required for meeting the requisite health and environmental protection standards.
Where environmental protection can be achieved only by the closure of an industry, as in the case of uranium mining and the nuclear power industry, governments and employers must be forced to provide alternative work, training and retraining, and where appropriate, compensation to employees and communities affected by such closures.
The poisoning and destruction of the environment is a crime that threatens human survival, and should be treated as such. Corporations that violate environmental standards should be forced to pay the full cost of cleaning up the damage they have caused and fully compensating all whose health has suffered as a result of such violations.
While partial victories along these lines can slow the slide to environmental catastrophe, ultimately the survival of humanity will require the replacement of the capitalist system with a worldwide system of democratic socialist planning whose aim is the satisfaction of the rational needs of each individual and humanity as a whole. Mass campaigns aimed at winning concessions from the capitalist ruling class can play a crucial role in raising mass consciousness of the need for such a radical social transformation, and in organising the social forces that can carry it through.
In building such campaigns, the DSP seeks to draw the broadest numbers of people into struggle, whatever their current level of consciousness. Our goal is to teach the masses to rely on their own united power. We counterpose extraparliamentary mobilisations and mass actions — street marches, rallies, public meetings, strikes, pickets — to reliance on parliamentary elections, legislatures and capitalist politicians. We know that what weighs most with capitalist politicians is mass sentiment and mass consciousness and the more this is aroused through mass action the more long-lasting and deep-rooted any eventual reforms are likely to be. Hence, we fight to build an environmental movement that is independent of the needs and concerns of capitalist politics, driven by parliamentary shadow-boxing and electoral manoeuvring.
The party's perspective of trying to mobilise the broadest numbers of people around environmental issues can best be done through broad action coalitions based on concrete pro-environment demands. It is through such united-front-type actions that we can bring the greatest force to bear against the capitalist rulers and their governments, educate working people concerning their own strength, and win them to an understanding that, whatever the gains made around this or that issue, the environmental crisis cannot be solved without the replacement of the institutions of capitalist rule by a working people's government.