Environmentalism and the So-Called “Green Scare”: An Ideological Critique

The Idea of the Perpetual Forest, 1923

Will Potter, the self-styled alternative journalist and author of the blog Green is the New Red, has recently taken issue with the presentation of environmental activist criminals alongside neo-Nazis and anti-abortion activists.  The blog, whose content usually amounts to little more than accusations of hypocrisy and appeals to common sense, suggests that the reason for this invidious association is corporate interests “polluting” the spirit of democracy through lobbying groups operating in Washington.

It actually shouldn’t come as so much of a surprise, however, that environmentalists should be listed alongside neo-Nazis as prisoners, in terms of their ideology (that is, if they are not grouped according to the crimes they committed).  After all, Nazism and fascism in general promoted a number of policies and philosophical outlooks that are today considered “progressive” by the soft left and mainstream environmentalism.  They introduced the concept of environmental sustainability and often advocated a sort of vitalistic respect for Nature considered in itself, as some sort of untouched wilderness paradise or Dauerwald.  They saw natural sites like the Black Forest as the Ursprung of the Teutonic spirit, uncorrupted by modern society and its economic form of capitalism, which they associated with cosmopolitanism, decadent urbanism, and Jewry.  Of course, a lot of this Germanic naturalist horseshit has been unwittingly “recycled” and reprocessed by the present-day environmentalist movement, which still fancies itself to be extremely forward-thinking and anti-establishment.

It actually makes much less sense that an anti-abortion terrorist would be mentioned in the same breath as a neo-Nazi, ideologically speaking.  Fascism, especially in its NSDAP strain, supported forced sterilization and mandatory abortion procedures as part of its eugenicist program of racial hygiene.  Anti-abortion extremists may be religious lunatics, but they wouldn’t be caught dead with a neo-Nazi.  “Radical” environmentalism is far more compatible with Nazism than the pro-life fringe.

So it would seem that the only legitimate basis for Will Potter’s objection is that the environmentalists are being associated with murderers, not specifically anti-abortion or anti-semitic murderers.  McGowan and the SHAC 7 have been imprisoned for the destruction of property, not the destruction of life, as with Furrow and Waagner.  But the ideologies involved would seem to be irrelevant, since at an ideological level environmentalists would have far more in common with neo-Nazis than anti-abortion fanatics.  I’m not sure why Potter feels it’s even necessary to mention them.

I suspect the point he is trying to get at is that apparently “left-wing” anti-corporate/anti-capitalist activists are being unfairly equated with right-wing terrorists who are guilty of far worse crimes.  The nature of their crimes notwithstanding, however, this takes for granted the idea that animal rights advocates and environmentalists are actually part of the political Left.  From an historical perspective, on the contrary, it would be seen that environmentalism is politically ambiguous and that a great deal of its ideology has been inherited from romantic nationalist currents in the 19th century and more recently from mass right-wing movements like fascism.  A leftist position that was less politically confused would see the goal of society and humanity in general as the self-conscious global mastery of nature, not the dangerously haphazard and chaotic hyperexploitation of the environment, as things currently stand.  But not the flimsy and shallow anti-corporate rhetoric that’s peddled today by most environmentalists.

To close with a reflection on the site’s premise, a few words might be said.  Potter’s main contention on the site is that the Green environmentalist and animal rights movement is suffering persecution akin to that experienced by Communists during the famous “Red Scares” of the 1920s and 1950s.  Besides the obvious point that the parallels Potter sees are exaggerated and overblown, it strikes me as exceptionally ironic that a website whose mission statement insists that “Together, we can stop they cycle of history repeating itself” can be so oblivious of its own movement’s history.

For now, however, we might even grant Potter that this so-called “Green Scare” does constitute a repetition of sorts.  But for this sort of repetition, no observation is more apt than Marx’s when he recalls in his Eighteenth Brumaire that

Hegel remarks somewherethat all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.

The Red Scares of the ’20s and ’50s possess a tragic aspect, particularly the former.  By contrast, the “Green Scare” of recent years appears farcical.  The Animal Liberation Front for the Bolsheviks, Daniel McGowan for Leon Trotskii, the Green for the Red.

20 thoughts on “Environmentalism and the So-Called “Green Scare”: An Ideological Critique

  1. You seem to slide from exposing some of the history of environmentalism as fascist (or vice versa) and that environmentalism is ‘politically ambiguous’ to saying that environmentalism is not ambiguous at all, that it in fact has nothing to do with the Left, and I’m not sure how that step is warranted.

    • I appreciate your comment and feel it is my duty to clarify some of the things I said. By pointing out the romantic nationalist and fascist right-wing heritage of much of the present-day environmentalist movement, I only meant to show that it is not necessarily part of the Left. Environmentalist thought can equally be part of some broader leftist program of social change. Hence its ambiguity, or perhaps, to phrase it better, its political ambivalence.

      My approach is clearly one deriving from a Marxist background, and so I would say that an undeniable element of any postcapitalist society would be the reconciliation of man with nature. As Marx famously pointed out, humanity has been progressively alienated from nature as society has become more complex. However, this does not imply that a postcapitalist society should entail some sort of “return to nature” in the Rousseauian sense. That is, it should not be viewed as the renaturalization of humanity, but rather as the humanization of nature, where it becomes a conscious extension of our will, reshaped for the betterment of all society.

  2. This document separates the IMT from both the rightist climate change deniers and radical environmentalists.

    Socialism is based on plentifulness, not scarcity. These problems can be solved with a democratically administered planned economy.

    We reject lifestyle sacrifices. It doesn’t start with you, as celebs say.

    Another thing is that the problems of the enviroment, can’t be solved on a national basis.

    • Yes, lifestyle politics in general is bollocks.

      Later, I intend to write a more substantial critique of the ideology of “Green” taking this quote from Trotskii in Literature and Revolutionas its point of departure:

      The Socialist man will rule all nature by the machine, with its grouse and its sturgeons. He will point out places for mountains and for passes. He will change the course of the rivers, and he will lay down rules for the oceans. The idealist simpletons may say that this will be a bore, but that is why they are simpletons. Of course this does not mean that the entire globe will be marked off into boxes, that the forests will be turned into parks and gardens. Most likely, thickets and forests and grouse and tigers will remain, but only where man commands them to remain. And man will do it so well that the tiger won’t even notice the machine, or feel the change, but will live as he lived in primeval times. The machine is not in opposition to the earth. The machine is the instrument of modern man in every field of life.

      I modified the translation toward the beginning just a bit. But yeah, when I read this I envision vast terraforming projects and weather machines, bending all of nature to the will and whim of society, but in such a way that it could be healthily maintained. And should humanity finally achieve a global transition to a postcapitalist social formation, the goal would be to gain a greater level of self-conscious mastery over nature.

  3. Thank you for the Trotsky quote.

    In reply to your comment on my blog: You can’t build something, out of nothing. You can’t with success, have a socialist regroup with just socialist scholars.

    The communist movement came out of social democratic parties. If you are outside the worker’s traditional groups, you are in no man’s land. In the UK they belong to the Labour Party, Pakistan the PPP, Spain the Communist and Socialist Partyih, Venezuela the PSUV etc. My group is a tendency within these groups.

    That is not entryism. We were in the Labour Party for 50 years. That’s not entryism.

    In Pakistan we have over 200 chapters, because we’re the Marxists in Bhutto’s party.

    People are asking about your architecture of the Bolshevik era. Make it as long as you want. It could run in two parts.

  4. “However, this does not imply that a postcapitalist society should entail some sort of “return to nature” in the Rousseauian sense. That is, it should not be viewed as the renaturalization of humanity, but rather as the humanization of nature, where it becomes a conscious extension of our will, reshaped for the betterment of all society.”

    Those are some scary words. I sure as hell don’t want to live in an authoritarian society like one you are describing. A conscious extension of our will? Imposing our will onto the rest of the non-humans isn’t fascist? What world are you living in?

    • I don’t see where I ever implied that it would be an “authoritarian” society. If anything, structures of authority and domination would wither away along with the state, as society would begin to govern itself freely of its own accord.

      Regarding will: Civilization itself is based on the premise of adapting non-human biological organisms to the will of mankind. We have chopped down trees so that we can build shelter, we have trained and domesticated animals in order to till the land, etc. Luckily, most of these animals can now be spared such labor because they have been rendered obsolete by mechanized vehicles, and much wood construction has been replaced by ferro-concrete. Nevertheless, if nature can be radically reshaped to the benefit of society in a way that is sustainable and does not endanger future prosperity, I do not see how that could be undesirable.

      Secondly, all biological organisms exploit the environment to the extent that they can. It is part of their survival and the perpetuation of their species. Humans just happen to be exceptionally skilled at it. We are self-reflective and are able to think systematically and process higher-order conceptual ideas.

      Thirdly, it should be clear from my entry that the idea of leaving an untouched wilderness paradise and a sustainable environment was a major part of NSDAP fascist ideology. Therefore, it’s odd that you would suggest that “imposing our will onto the rest of the non-humans” is “fascist.” Just the opposite is the case.

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  6. I substantially agree with your assessment of nature in post-capitalist society. However, I am a bit dismayed by your outlook on what could be called “animal rights anarchism” or some such.

    While these ideologies (represented by, let’s say, Crimethinc most notably) could use a vast heaping dose of critique, let’s not forget that historically, anarchists have been some of the most charged and dedicated militants around. Even if they are often misguided, and I think Daniel McGowan is perhaps a little misguided, don’t forget this: he is in jail, and you are not. And whatever the ideological shortcomings of anarchism, of animal rights, of environmentalism, it is absurd and insulting to imply that Daniel McGowan is a closer to fascism than to the Left. As far as I can tell, he sincerely wants a better world, as do folks like Jeff Leurs and Eric McDavid. Maybe they haven’t read Adorno, maybe they are bit confused, but they aren’t fascists.

    Personally, I am something of a “former anarchist”, and I was, for a long time, involved in anarchist activism. I got out precisely because I was dismayed by the machismo and, yes, crypto-fascism implicit in a great deal of anarchist ideology. But there is a very, very proud history of anarchist militancy that is, for me, beyond question in its sincerity and courage, even if it is highly questionable in other respects. Anarchism has little to teach us ideologically, but they have shown us how to fight, and how to keep fighting. This is something I think you should keep in mind.

    I know a comrade when I see one – and they are rarely folks who have read Adorno.

  7. Hitler has a mustache; Tom Selleck has a mustache; Selleck is a nazi!

    Haha! This would be laughable if you didn’t take this so seriously. It’s all well and good to hide behind ivory tower Marxism, so long as you know you’re an intellectual fraud, who hasn’t helped anyone, let alone the proletariat. No doubt the only proles you come in contact with are those emptying the trash can in the grad school study lounge.

    Come the veggie revolution, you’re first against the wall!

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  9. The analogy produced by Will Potter, etc., is simple enough. It sticks because “like” Communists in the McCarthy era, ELF and ALFers have been stripped of their rights to a fair trial, and have been unjustly branded with rapists and murderers rather than simple arsonists and thiefs. But the extension of this propaganda is also the AETA, an act that makes the extremely successful SHAC campaign illegal. So “like” the supporters of the Communists, the supporters of the ALF have been sentenced to jail for doing what you may ask? Having a Website, and running HLS ink wells dry. In the case of Eric McDavid, the consequences of repression are even worse: He was sentenced to 20 years for reacting to a “set up” to conspire to destroy state property. The sad thing is that he didn’t even produce a working bomb! Some terrorist! Another point that needs to be made here is that there has been a shift in the extension of the term terrorist, a shift that has put property destruction at the same level of random murdering, and even conspiring to destroy property.

    Now, in order to argue against an analogy, one would have to produce an argument that there are too many considerations that weight in opposition. You have in no way ‘argued’ for this point of view, although you have used rhetoric; yet, I wonder how guilt by association functions here. Animal rights history/ Environmental history seems to be fascist because, as you say, the NAZI party sensibly held some anti-civ views. Maybe you think that an idea is only as good as the rest of the ideas that are generated by the same site, since, perhaps you might say, all of them function together. There has to be an argument here somewhere. Maybe a supporting premise? On the other hand, maybe you want to argue that every form of anti-humynism (even the form that considers animals (interests, generally) as having as much a right to the world as humyns) as fascism. What is fascist about an anti-humynism is not the very idea, but rather, the desire to see an end to the humyn species. But that view isn’t really nazi either.

    It seems to me that the general question raised above is whether the terms ‘Oppression’, ‘fascism’ ‘hierarchy’ and ‘Authoritarianism’ are already codified. If they are, then what you mean by them will by definition not allow opposition–you’ll be an authoritarian, so to speak, about terms. We hear this all the time in anarchist assemblies: “We don’t need to deal with Specieism”. The reason is that ‘Oppression’ stops at the ‘imaginary’ (conveniently Hegelian) line between humyns and animals. In order to yield an understanding here, it would seem that we have to admit that you and I would talk at cross purposes. But even if there could be a resolution to this oppostion, the real question is whether my views lump me on the right side or on the left.

    The real trouble is that anarchists have considered themselves to be radical leftists, and have thereby followed Kropotkin and Bakunin in improving Marx; yet these pseudo-Marxists have failed to acknowledge the difference between Anarchy and Anarchism. Anarchy is neither left nor right; it rejects categories of political representation. But any suggestion from outside of leftism, indeed, any criticism from leftism’s complement, doesn’t necessarily presuppose a right-wing perspective because the political spectrum is already an abstraction from a field of differentiating differences.

    • All anarchiy being equal, then, I suppose you would see no “political” difference (in terms of Right or Left) between the anarchy of a National Anarchist (widely considered by other anarchists to be fascist) and that of a syndicalist (usually considered leftist).

  10. A leftist position that was less politically confused would see the goal of society and humanity in general as the self-conscious global mastery of nature…

    Leftist or not, a lot of environmentalists would reject this completely. The notion of ‘mastery’ is not in favor. In this, they are, as you point out, deeply indebted to romanticism, as well as to currently fashionable zen pabulum.

    I say this as a great admirer of Zen Buddhism and a strong environmentalist, but I often cringe at the arguments made by eco-advocates, even as I share their specific goals and some of their values.

  11. Wow, so it took me about a year to read this, my apology for that. But here’s my take.

    First of all, it should be stunningly clear that anarchism is diametrically opposed ot fascism. I will leave that at face value. Some in the anti-civilization movement, such as Derrick Jensen and his authoritarian DGR campaign, have apparently missed this point, but it remains true none the less throughout the entire history of anarchism.

    Secondly, the vision of nature for fascists seems to be a romantic, symbolic idealization of an uncorrupted world. They may have seen nature as a tabula rasa of sorts on which to paint their ideology, whereas primitivists see it as a guiding force which should shape us, not the other way around (something the Reds and fascists have in common). To some the natural world represents freedom in that it offers little resistance to their projections (or rather only silent resistance to their projects, to which they are deaf), and it has no system of violence to keep anyone from doing what they will in its folds. To others the freedom is more tangible, as the natural world offers a way of life where systemic violence is unnecessary, and life is free for the taking, to be plucked delightfully from the trees; not so in any industrial setup, no matter how liberal. To use another example, the fact that Nazis used the swastika, a sacred symbol of Tibet (the Aryans as they would have it) and the Navajos, does not mean that Tibetans and Navajos unwittingly harbored fascist beliefs.

    As for the line quoted in the comment above me, “A leftist position that was less politically confused would see the goal of society and humanity in general as the self-conscious global mastery of nature,” we can see the crisis which this philosophy has brought about every single day, written in the pain of the oppressed, the clearcut forests, the devastated ecosystems, the demolished indigenous populations, and even apparent sickness of the seasons themslves, all because of the assumed superiority of humanity. If we were so much god damn smarter than the wilderness, why has our system come to a catastrophic, apocalyptic tipping point after only 150 years of industrial development? This thinking has resulted in none other than the systematic destruction of the living planet and the corrosion of liberty for all people, not to mention all other living beings. The technological paradigm can not function without widespread ecological genocide (read as “resource extraction”), and the mass repression of human dissent, physical, psychological and spiritual. It isn’t a question of whether the system will fail in its totality (it will), it is a question of what side we will be standing on when it does, and whether we will allow it to crumble painfully in on its own logic or take an active role in the healing of the world.

  12. So long as you acknowledge that you’re calling for the liquidation of all indigenous communities who remain tied to the land. Because you are. As someone who respects your intellect and writing, and as a Marxist who’s active in solidarity work with indigenous communities in Canada,I choose to find this piece silly and adolescent rather than offensive.

    More interesting than suggesting green liberals have an ideological affinity with Nazism, meanwhile, would be an attempt to bring your critique to bear on the actual eco-socalist left of Green Left Weekly (Australia), Monthly Review, and Climate and Capitalism.

    And you might have a gander at this (as its critique of the stadial tendency in Marxism, in terms of indigenous peoples, implicates you directly):


    Given your total remove from indigenous communities and your ignorance of the forms and dynamics of their contemporary struggles, I don’t expect any of the above to intervene much in your fundamentally academic purview, but hey. You endorse unreconstructed settler-colonialism and full industrial assimilation with no looking back, which is a historically (ie demonstrably) repugnant and racially supremacist position, but there it is. Due keep calling milquetoast liberals Nazis at the same time though, if it pleases you.

    • Hey Andrew. Your concerns are legitimate, as are those raised in the critique from Upping the Anti that you link to here. I read the piece several months back, but it’s good as a refresher to review it. The viewpoint they are arguing against is extremely vulgar, but I can see why you’d see my own position as being somewhat similar to Widdowson and Howard’s.

      I’ve always felt somewhat uncomfortable about the idea of indigenism or the idea that people have an “organic” connection to the land. It always strikes me as bordering on nativism, in the worst possible sense: almost like the ultra-Zionists who want to reinstate the “historic” boundaries of the Jewish state to those specified in the Bible. Their claim to “having been there first” is, of course, absurd; the territories that became the kingdom of Israel were taken from the Canaanites, whom they slaughtered to a man.

      Nearly all people living today are the descendants of people who historically displaced — killed, subjugated, exiled, assimilated — other peoples. This is true not only in Europe, the Middle East, and East Asia, where periodic invasions and massive land empires were a fairly routine occurrence (the Persians, Macedonians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Merovingian Franks, Mongolians, Russians, Ottomans, British, etc.), but throughout the world. This is why I have a problem with the notion of a “people” having some sort of inherent or sempiternal claim over a land. It seems to deny history.

      Also, I often find the romanticization of indigenous peoples, treating them all as some sort of monolithic entity called “Native American” who lived in harmony with one another and with Nature, just as racist as the crude developmentalist positions. These were extremely diverse tribes, nations even, with their own distinct customs, religions, traditions, and languages. Many of them were not particularly fond of each other, and some tribes were not at all wise stewards of their environment. And it does not at all excuse the barbarism and brutality of Cortés and his conquistadors to point out that they received a huge amount of support from native populations who joined them in their war against the Aztecs. This is simply an historic fact. No matter what the technological superiority of Western military implements, this would have been impossibly outnumbered against Aztec forces. Cortés was shrewd and scheming enough to know to enlist the aid of local populations who despised the Aztecs.

      Of course, hardly any of the native tribes of the Americas were able to wreak as systematic and inexorable damage to their surroundings as Western industrialism has been the last 200-250 years. Nor did any of these tribes in their internecine conflicts enact anything approaching the brutality and scale of the systematic campaigns of genocide waged against them in North America in the 19th century, or against the Armenians in Turkey, the Jews, Slavs, Gypsies, and countless others by the Nazis, etc. I think that genocide, as a cold, self-conscious, and methodical process of extermination, is a peculiarly modern in this sense (though not peculiarly Western).

      For example, the European colonists and colonial governments at least made gestures at diplomacy, however disingenuously, with indigenous tribes prior to 1850, treating them as participants in negotiation and powerbroking. After 1850 it just became a blatant and unapologetic process of wiping out what remained of native populations in North America. This corresponds, I would argue, to the onset of modernity. I think that Cesare Beccaria, the famous friend of Rousseau and Diderot and relentless critic of colonialism, had it right when he wrote that “Savages may sometimes act barbarically. But with the ‘civilized’ it is far more terrifying: they reason barbarically.”

      I don’t see technology or advanced production techniques to be innately Western, male, or white. For most of its existence following the collapse of the Roman Empire, Europe was a fairly backwater and miserable hellhole. Modern capitalism developed in Europe through a number of geographic, historic, and accidental factors, but had nothing to do with skin color or phallogocentric rationality or anything like that. Compared with the cosmopolitan and enlightened Arab Empire of the same period, feudal Europe was just a haven for ignorance, plague, and superstition. I don’t blame the Moors for stopping their expansion from Africa into Europe in Iberia. If I’d caught a glimpse of the Gallic and Teutonic barbarians of Christendom (i.e. Northern Europe) I wouldn’t want any part of it either.

      The racist European notion that the “fairer” peoples were simply more enterprising, industrious, and ingenious is a complete myth. The peasants of medieval Europe were famously lazy and shiftless. The Chinese possessed gunpowder long before the West. The fact that they didn’t weaponize it speaks only to their more civilized sensibilities as compared with the barbarians of Europe.

      All this said, I’m not in favor of forcing any population to adopt the modes and methods of industrialization. These become more or less inevitable on their own, not as stagism, but in terms of survival. I consider “indigenous” peoples more broadly as participating in the universal history of humanity, the recipient of untold cruelties and brutalities, but who have an equal interest as all other peoples in achieving real freedom and equality for all.

  13. Also, if you’re going to continue pontificating on green politics from a Marxist perspective you should at least read Foster’s Marx’s Ecology, which it seems fairly clear you haven’t.

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