'The Future Has to Be Red-Green' An Interview With Derek Wall

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Derek Wall is a writer, an economist, and currently the Principal Male Speaker of the Green Party of England and Wales. He is the author of several books including Earth First! and the Anti-Roads Movement: Radical Environmentalism and Comparative Social Movements and Babylon and Beyond: The Economics of Anti-Capitalist, Anti-Globalist and Radical Green Movements

Republished with permission from Green Left Infoasis August 13, 2007

Green Left Infoasis: Currently, the description at the top of your blog, Another Green World, concludes with the words “Ecosocialism or muerte!” So let me start with this question. Why ecosocialism?

Derek Wall: Capitalism is based on infinite economic growth, that is ecologically impossible and social injust. So if we are to tackle ecological crisis we need socialism, capitalism is totalitarian, everything ends up being based on the need to expand profit, even education is about providing a willing work force. So the future has to be red-green, I have worked hard looking at how to challenge capitalism practically and ideologically.

Green Left Infoasis: You are currently the Principal Male Speaker of the Green Party of England and Wales. Why are you a Green Party member? Why not try to make Labour or another party greener?

Derek Wall: Well, all political parties are imperfect instruments of social change but the Green Party has stuck to its principles of ecology, no nukes, social justice and grassroots democracy through thick and thin. Most political parties see green as shallow environmentalism not as a set of policies and a philosophy for the whole of life. In the Labour Party, the socialist candidate John McDonnell was not even allowed to stand as Party leader, at least in the Greens there is a high degree of internal democracy.

Green politics is about survival and only the Green Party out of the political parties here is serious about the basic facts of life. There are certainly lots of other good things going on here especially the Camp for Climate Action on every newspaper front page, using direct action to challenge Heathrow Airport. However it’s important to contest elections and win them to try and change things on the policy level.

Green Left Infoasis: In August of 2004, a man from my area, here in southern California, tragically died of West Nile Virus infection. His name was Walter Sheasby. In a memorial statement, his friend, the radical author Joel Kovel wrote that there “was a bitter irony to Walt’s death as he succumbed at age 62 to complications of West Nile Virus, one of the rogue pathogens kicked into orbit by the destabilization of the ecological crisis against which he focused his formidable talent in the later years of his life.” You worked with him. Who was Walt Sheasby? How did you know him?

Derek Wall: Walt Sheasby was a member of the Green Party, a pioneering ecosocialist, a writer, a brilliant political organiser and my friend, I miss him so much. He came over to Britain in 2004 to research his work on Marx and ecology, retracing Marx’s visits to Brighton and Ramsgate and meeting up with Green Party members over here. He spoke at the Green Economics conference in Reading organised by the dynamic Miriam Kennett. He mentored me, got me thinking more deeply and his interest not only in Marx and ecology but zen was important to me.

His essays many of which are on the net cover a number of really important topics from peak oil to Nader to ecosocialism and of course the green elements in Marx’s writing.

Unlike a lot of writers he was very politically active in a practical way, helping to build the Green Party in its early stages. When he died it came as a big shock because he was planning another trip to the UK and I was looking forward to seeing him.

‘In the spirit of Walt Sheasby’ is the phrase which describes serious eco politics.

Green Left Infoasis: In a tune called “The Commons”, the radical singer/songwriter David Rovics sings:

“It’s the commons, our right of birth
And you who would enclose the land all around the Earth
Our future is your downfall, when we cut this ball and chain
You who’d sacrifice the public good for your private gain”

How should the idea of “the commons” figure into radical green left politics?

Derek Wall: The market takes resources that are free, builds a fence around them and makes us pay for access. To get the cash we have to fence and sell other resources, so the process goes on. Think of a hill tribe in South East Asia who gather food and fuel, development literally involves fencing the forest so they no longer have access.

Commons provide a way of using resources when we need them, without having to own every thing even if we only use it a little. So as well as providing the basis for grassroots creative economic activity without the alienation of the market or heavy state control commons is an ecological necessity. It means we can have prosperity with less use of resources, think libraries, car pools, good public transport, having far fewer things but getting greater access. The concept squares the circle by meaning we can become wealthier with less growth in GNP.

Commons are based on ecological good use, the principle of usufrucht, where you have free access to a resource (like a lake or a forest or the net) as long as you leave it in a good state.

“From the standpoint of a higher economic form of society, private ownership of the globe by single individuals will appear quite absurd as private ownership of one man by another. Even a whole society, a nation, or even all simultaneously existing societies taken together, are not the owners of the globe. They are only its possessors, its usufructuries, and like boni patres familias, they must hand it down to succeeding generations in an improved condition” (Marx quoted in Kovel, 2002: 238)

Nandor Tanczos the New Zealand Green MP suggests in Babylon:

“We humans think that we can own the planet, as if fleas could own a dog. Our concepts of property ownership are vastly different from traditional practises of recognising use rights over various resources. A right to grow or gather food or other resources in a particular place is about meeting needs. Property ownership is about the ability to live on one side of the world and speculate on resources on the other, possibly without ever seeing it, without regard to need or consequence.”

Commons is brilliant and Benkler with his concept of social sharing describes a similar concept. Economists simply can’t cope with it and write it out of history, I guess they go around burning all the examples like the witches were burnt, so that people don’t find out about the alternative to capitalism.

Green Left Infoasis: You are an advocate of Open Source Software. In your book Babylon and Beyond, you jest that “Marx would have been a Firefox user.” What is Open Source Software and what is so great about it?

Derek Wall: Free or open it’s the commons in cyber space, it illustrates that creative collective effort works better than a corporate product like microsoft, free is quite literally cheaper.

Economists again can’t cope with it but its growing.

Green Left Infoasis: What gives you hope?

Derek Wall: Human beings have huge capacity to be creative and spring back from disaster. Also Hugo Chavez, the diy direct action movement, radical Green Party people from my friend Joel Kovel to Jello Biafra, Sea Shepherd and of course open source/free software. The future is possible but we have to get busy.

And Nick Hildyard and the wonderful people at The Corner House, they fight and win so many of the world’s important battles.