A comparative model

Four factors seem to be consistently relevant to explanations of how the green movement developed in Germany and France. These are:

• the institutional characteristics of the political system

• the strategic choices made by the new EMOs

• the nature of the major parties of the Left

• and the nature of the alternative milieu.

These factors also explain many of the differences between green movements in different countries. Moreover, these factors interact and cannot be easily separated. For instance, the greater openness of the PS to new social movement themes and the barriers to new parties posed by the electoral system as well as the ideological commitments to biodegradable forms of organisation all contributed to the reluctance to form a green party in France. Also, these factors need to be seen as dynamic, since the strategies of movement activists and their allies or opponents alter as a result of experience. Thus the resistance to forming a green party in France was reduced after the disappointment of the experience of socialist government and as a result of the demobilisation of anti-nuclear protest in the early 1980s.

Space does not allow for more than a brief discussion of how this model might apply to green movements in other countries. Moreover, green groups are affected differently by these factors. Among the institutional features of the system, electoral systems and the structure of government are most relevant for green parties, policing strategies and levels of welfare benefits are most relevant for direct action networks. These represent the most important political opportunities and constraints on movements. Similarly, the nature of the major party of the left affects the whole movement, but in different ways. Greens have at times been tempted to rally behind what seem to be the greater chances of progressive change represented by left parties, as in France in the late 1970s, and green parties have formed alliances almost exclusively with parties of the left. However, the weaknesses of the major party of the left also provoke much criticism and push greens to develop a separate political identity, as occurred relatively early in Germany. The Green presidential candidature of Ralph Nader was much criticised by supporters of the unsuccessful Democrat Al Gore, including many representatives of US EMOs. The latter argued that Gore had a strong record on environmental issues and Nader had stolen votes from Gore. Nader's reponse was to emphasise the failure of Gore to address the central issues in the green programme, including US over-consumption. Essentially, this was an argument between greens committed to a wide-ranging radical agenda, and environmentalists, stressing incremental reforms.

Socialist and Labour parties have made little move towards the more radical anti-productivist position of greens and are also often seen by greens as weak in practice on egalitarianism and democratisation. In Britain the alternative milieu had largely ignored the Labour Party in the 1970s, particularly when it was in government but during the 1980s the Labour Party underwent a short-term radicalisation in which it appeared open to influence from social movement activists. Activists from the women's movements, anti-racist movements, peace movements and radical community politics joined the party or worked with it, particularly in progressive initiatives by Labour-led local governments (Wainwright 1987). It was only in the late 1980s and 1990s as Labour gradually retreated from radical commitments that there was a reaction against the party. By then, however, a new generation of green activists had emerged, committed to direct action.

In Australia the openness of the Labor Party to moderate environmentalism, more oriented towards wilderness protection, than structural changes in the social or economic order, made it harder for a more autonomous ecological radicalism to develop. In Italy, political violence polarised politics in the 1970s and meant that ecological politics was subordinated to the historic conflict between Marxism and Christian Democracy. It was principally activists from the New Left, disillusioned with the suffocating character of this polarisation, who saw in political ecology a means of developing a new kind of progressive and egalitarian politics (Diani 1990). But, this could only develop when the crisis of political violence abated in the 1980s. Moreover, the greens were unable to develop a strong electoral base. Their emphasis on a new politics in which party organisations were to be weak and on opposition to political corruption, became less distinctive after the political crisis of the early 1990s that led to the demise of the Christian Democrats and the Socialist Party and the ideological transformation of the Communist Party into a social democratic party. The greens were therefore absorbed into the coalition of the left, which, under the new electoral system, provided their only realistic prospect of electoral representation. The reduction of ideological polarisation meant that there was also more space for issue politics, leading to greater attention by EMOs to policy and expertise, and a rise of local environmental campaigns in which, in contrast to past traditions, parties played little part (della Porta and Andretta, 2000; 2001).

In the US, it is the weakness of the left that has most influenced the greens. Although the alternative milieu has fed progressive campaigns such as the antinuclear direct action of the 1970s and Earth First! it was only in the late 1990s that networks across parts of the US left, including greens, were formed in order to protest against neo-liberal forms of gobalisation. This in turn gave impetus to the green presidential campaign of Ralph Nader. Prior to this the greens and the left remained largely separate networks, with the US left dominated by social democrats and orthodox Marxists with little interest in green concerns (Ely 1997: 204). Nevertheless, the institutional barriers to green electoral breakthroughs remain major. US EMOs remain split between non-radical professionalised groups oriented to legal action and lobbying in Washington and more grassroots-oriented anti-toxics and environmental justice networks.

The strategic choices made by new EMOs in the 1970s were important in shaping the character of green movements nationally. One important factor in this was the responsiveness of political elites to the new environmentalism. In some countries, such as Sweden (Jamison, Eyerman and Cramer 1990) and Norway (Hunold and Dryzek 2001) radical environmentalism was effectively forestalled as governments provided more opportunities to influence policy and funding in exchange for a co-operative relationship with the new environmental movement. This was conditional on the latter remaining moderate and led to quiescent environmentalism and only a weak green movement. While the logic of these choices can be explained by the degree of inclusiveness of state structures, they were also influenced by discursive considerations in which the ideological traditions of the left and the alternative milieu played a role. For instance, in Denmark EMOs such as NOAH and OOA favoured grassroots democracy and protest, and linked ecological themes to questions of democracy and social justice, much more so than new environmental groups in Sweden. Denmark had a strong new left, and other radical traditions such as in the education system, which differentiated it from Sweden. The leader of the smaller Swedish New Left criticised the Danish as 'petty bourgeois' because they were interested in practical experiments in building an alternative society. To the Swedes, these seemed a diversion from the major structural issues (Jamison, Eyerman and Cramer 1990). Thus we need to add the cultural push of existing traditions of radicalism to the pull of state structures in explaining the choices of environmentalists. Where the alternative milieu was strong and had broken with the major socialist party, alternative green radicalism was stronger, as in Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands.

The concept of an alternative milieu is intended to link some of the strengths of Alberto Melucci's theory of social movement identity with the analysis of the cultural and institutional practices that mark out alternative culture from the mainstream. Melucci concentrates on the cultural and expressive dimension of social movements. For Melucci social movements challenge dominant cultural codes by asking critical questions and suggesting alternatives. By doing so they make forms of power 'visible' (Melucci 1989: 70). Public events and protest may be a part of what a movement does, but equally important are attempts to live differently which may not produce formal organisations. Movements are therefore as much identified through cultural symbols and latent networks as through formal organisations and protests. 'Political activity is but one of a range of practices which question the rationality of states, markets and subjectivity in diverse ways' (Jowers et al. 1999: 100).

Using the term milieu helps to bring out the importance of a certain kind of semi-institutionalised community for the development of the green movement. Melucci stresses the cultural importance of alternative lifestyles as a means of opposition in everyday life to the dominant values in society. Yet, such lifestyles also have an institutional basis which he barely acknowledges. The 'institutions' of the alternative sphere are the co-ops, LETS, community gardens and arts centres, self-help projects, communes, cafes, bookshops, alternative health projects, analysts and other personal services and in particular its media. These exist in most northern European countries and Australia and North America.

They form a milieu because as institutions they share similar cultural assumptions and collectively they have persisted over several decades.

In research on social movements the alternative milieu is much less researched than the overtly political and public activity of movements. One reason for this is its diffuseness and lack of clear boundaries. Since it is a politics based on alternative cultural practices it exists mainly in local activist communities, which themselves may be sub-divided socially and politically. For instance, research on local activist communities in Britain shows that green activism overlaps significantly with a wider alternative milieu, in which feminism, animal rights and radical forms of spirituality such as paganism, and a non-doctrinaire form of anarchism co-exist (Doherty, Plows and Wall 2001). Epstein noted a similar broad range of traditions in the US non-violent direct action movement (1991). The specificity of the green movement is less clear within the alternative milieu than it is when analysing formal organisations.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment