Per Gahrton outlines two possible visions of the 21st Century – a xenophobic nightmare and a Green future.
While xenophobic right-wing parties have been progressing in elections and polls in a large number of European countries, partly triggered by the huge flood of refugees seeking asylum from wars and terror regimes, the traditional liberal, conservative and social democratic parties are losing voters and seem unable to cope with the situation. Even in the assumed stable and deep-rooted democracies of Scandinavia, xenophobic parties now are parts of the government, as coalition partners in Norway and Finland, as parliamentary support in Denmark. And in the UK, UKIP, with a proportional election system, would have been major player in Westminster; in France it is now considered a serious possibility that the next president will be Marine le Pen of the National Front. Are we doomed to a xenophobic 21st century?
No, certainly not. As a matter of fact the xenophobic right is not the only new political current of the late 20th century on the band-wagon to take over from the political heirs of the 19th century. As I have shown in my book Green Parties, Green Future, the radical opposite of the xenophobic right – the Green parties – are progressing, and not only in Europe, but all over the world. The huge electoral success of the UK Green party in the latest election would have resulted in a considerable Green group in Westminster, maybe – as in Sweden since October 2014 – Green ministers, had the British Greens worked under the same electoral system as most of their sister parties.
It is problematic that the mainstream media too often describe the ongoing political development as a one-dimensional swing towards the xenophobic right, while in reality we are witnessing a deep-going polarization and renewal of the total political system – where the xenophobic reaction to the new global realities is only one trend. There are several others, not the least the Green one. In Sweden the xenophobic party – progressing in polls, but still outside governmental influence – has publicly named the Green party (Miljöpartiet) as their main ideological enemy. That is one of the very few points where the xenophobes are completely right! While xenophobes exploit the egoistic short-sightedness, that is one part of the human reality, the Green effort is to mobilise the altruistic responsibility for the future of all living creatures – a feeling that is just as real.
This is why the major political struggle during the coming decades will not take place between representatives of the 19th century ideologies, which still rule most countries, but between the two newcomers, which may seem marginal to traditional political commentators, but which are both growing rapidly.
One aim of my book is to show why a future where Greens play a major role is quite likely. The book contains an overview of the growing global Green political movement; its thinking, ideology, world view, basic values, organisational structure and political strength.
I have chosen two types of approach. One is reporting as a participant observer, using my extensive notes and diaries from more than four decades as a Green activist and politician. Another is drawing on my experience as a sociologist but also as a reporting journalist, trying to act as an external and critical observer, using documents from Green parties and organisations, media reports, election results, interviews with Green actors and politicians, as well as research reports, memoirs of Green politicians and other relevant literature.
A basic notion is that we are living at a breaking-point in the history of human beings. This and similar expressions have, of course, been used and abused over and over again by all types of politicians and writers, but I believe that now the switch from Holocene to Anthropocene is a fact that gives the great and somewhat apocalyptic expression “breaking-point” an objective and scientific basis. The ongoing change is so fundamental that the need for completely new ideas about human activity appears as more urgent that ever. That same people get scared and become easy victims for simplistic, populist and xenophobic temptations is no surprise. That all the parties, that had a path-breaking historic influence during the previous century and secured liberal basic human rights and built welfare states in large parts of the world, are now worn out and incapable of responding to the new demands of the 21st century, may be a pity, but is also no surprise. My book claims that the Green political movement is the major and most developed carrier of the necessary new ideas, of Green thinking or ecologism.
Today there are about one hundred political parties (representing around ninety countries) affiliated to the Global Greens structure. There are Green parties in about 80% of the states of Europe, about 50% of the states of Africa and the Americas and about 20% of the states of the Asia-Pacific region. The trend is upwards. Some fifty years after the establishment of the first Green parties, in UK and New Zealand, Green parties are entering parliaments and governments and taking part directly in the ruling of countries, regions and local assemblies; the number of Green parties is growing and spreading all over the world.
That the next decades will be more Green than Brown is of course no law of nature. Just as liberal basic human rights and socialist or social democratic welfare and justice were results of tough political battles, this will be the case with the Greening of our politics. One major question is of course how the still influential, but worn-out and degrading, traditional parties will act. Will they, as in too many cases, like in Germany in the 1930s, try to accommodate the xenophobic right in order to be free of something they consider worse (then communism, now ecologism) – like in, among others, Denmark, Finland, Norway? Or will they prefer to cooperate with the Greens in order to create a bulwark against the xenophobic right – like, still, in Sweden, Germany, the UK and others?
One thing is clear: the major crises of today, like the crisis of global warming and the global refugee crisis, cannot be solved without a holistic world view. Partial, national, sectarian solutions will unavoidably end in terror, walls and barbed wires between humans, wars for environmental space and oppression of dissidents. No political current is more based in holistic thinking than Green thinking, in no movement are the members more inclined to look upon the Earth, Gaia, as the most relevant geographic entity.
That’s why I have written a book to remind everybody that, in these depressing times, not only evil and selfish forces are on the move, but also the most altruistic and long-sighted alternative – the Green movement – that is growing on all continents. If this were not the case, there would be little hope.
Per Gahrton is a Swedish sociologist and politician, former MP and MEP of the Swedish Greens and (until 2014) and chair of the Green think tank Cogito. He was the 1985-89 co-secretary of the Coordination of European Greens. He has participated at all congresses of the Global Greens. His previous books include Georgia: Pawn in the New Great Game (Pluto, 2010).
Green Parties, Green Future is available to buy from Pluto Press here.