Introduction

Millions of people internationally have been involved in protests against environmental degradation: French nuclear tests in the Pacific; the activities of oil companies in the North Sea and Nigeria; ill health caused by air pollution or the adulteration of our food.

This book discusses what the fundamental causes of the environmental problems we face are and how the movement for a sustainable future can be most effective.

It points to the organization of production for profit, the fashionable ‘market’, as the main force behind environmental damage. The book argues that there is no basic conflict between those who fight for a sustainable environment and those workers employed in ‘polluting’ industries or services.

The authors, two socialist activists, argue that radical action is urgently needed and that socialism offers the way out of impending environmental disaster. Arguing that a new ‘Red-Green’ alliance is needed, they point the way to such a possibility.

Essential reading both for environmentalists who want a better understanding of the socialist viewpoint and socialist activists who need an introduction to environmental issues.

Preface and Acknowledgements

In May 1995, a national meeting of Militant Labour members to discuss the environment commissioned both of us to write a pamphlet on socialism and the environmental crisis. Nearly 18 months, several drafts, numerous computer disks (including one virus) traveling between Tynside, Kent and London and several meetings later, we have a book.

It was only when the two of us went away to start to write a draft of what we wanted to say that we began to realize the enormous scope of the task we had undertaken. We soon realized that there were, effectively, two pamphlets which needed writing – one to introduce the basic environmental problems facing the planet to readers to the subject and another to provide a socialist response to some of the controversies within the already-existing environmental movement. We hope that the final work does both jobs, at least as far as is possible within the confines of space.

This book is the result of genuine co-operation and it would not exist if only one of us had tried to write it. Co-operation, as we explain later on, is better than competition! We do not pretend that this is the final word on any of the subjects we raise. Rather, we hope that it will act as a spur for further discussion, reading and debate on the areas of common agreement between socialists and environmentalists and as a means of bringing the traditions closer together.

The style and tone of this book is meant to appeal to a wide range of readers. We hope that the newest socialist activist with no background in environmental issues will find it relatively easy to read and will learn enough for them to be sufficiently confident of ‘the basics’ both to participate in environmental campaigns and to want to go away and find out more. At the same time, we hope that the book will give an insight into Marxist thinking to existing activists in environmental campaigns.

In dealing with both the issues and the politics of the environment, we hope that we don’t fall between two stools. The biggest problem we had was with the two chapters on the broad philosophy that we are applying, which have ended up as chapters 2 and 3. We agonized for a long time before deciding to put these chapters near the front of the book, for fear of putting off newer readers. In the end, though, we felt there was no alternative but to put down the foundations near the beginning, in order to build a case throughout the rest of the work. We hope that those readers new to the subject will persevere with anything they find difficult.

Nothing makes a book more difficult to read than dozens of foot-notes and cross-references. However, we are aware that many readers will want sources for some of our material. We have tried to reach a happy compromise, by sourcing, at the end of chapters, a few of what could be the most controversial or incredible facts. All other sources are listed in the ‘sources and further reading’ list at the back.

The choice of words to describe the division of the world’s countries into rich and poor has caused us much discussion. The rich can be described as ‘the West’, ‘developed world’, ‘core countries’ or ‘advanced capitalist countries’. We decided on the ‘advanced capitalist countries’ which, although longer, is the most accurate description of Western Europe, USA, Canada, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. The use of the phrase ‘neo-colonial’ is explained in chapter 4. Any classification has somewhat arbitrary boundaries – there are differences within these groupings and some countries, such as Taiwan, are in between – but we hope the general language makes the rest of the text clearer.

The length of time this book has taken to complete is because, firstly, we have fitted it in with other political activity – from demonstrations to local election campaigns and, secondly, that we kept constantly coming up with new material that needed including. Because of the nature of the subject and the welter of new scientific reports, scarcely a day has gone by where one of us has not read some report or other in the press or a book which we have not thought ‘that should go in the book’. Before the pamphlet which became a book became an encyclopedia, we had to call a halt at a certain stage to any more amendments and information.

All this has meant that we needed an editor and inspirer – someone who has both helped with the text and encouraged us to keep going. The ‘woman with the red pen’ was Margaret Crear, Militant Labour’s national education organizer. Margaret also wrote the majority of the chapter on the British food industry. Without her, this book would never have seen the light of day.

Pete Dickenson, Alison Hopwood, Vic Hopwood, Martin Milne, Geoff Stokle, Ken Smith and Mike Waddington all read early drafts and suggested amendments and improvements. Some early source material was provided by Tim Heaton, Caroline Hughes, Andy Patterson and David Turner. Rose Kane of RAM 74 is Glasgow sent material for chapter 11 in the middle of her local election campaign. Roger Shrives did the final proof-read and spotted mistakes remaining after all the re-drafts. Dennis Rudd did the layout and cover, Alan Hardman the cartoons and photographs were provided by Craig MacLean, Martin Milne, Jeff Smith, Vivien Seal, Dave Sinclair and Dave Whyles. Many thanks go to all of these – and to all others who helped in other ways, to those we tried out the latest new fact we’d found or rehearsed a line of explanation to and those we turned down when they asked us to do other things “because we’ve got to get on with the book”.

Our final Thanks go to all members of Militant Labour in Kent and on Tyneside who allowed us the time and space to get on with the job of writing this. In reading and researching this book, we have both been more convinced than ever before of the link between environmentalism and socialism. Our commitment to building a movement to change the way the world is run has been reaffirmed.

We hope that this book will be a small contribution to building a new society which both guarantees all people a good life and safeguards the future of the planet’s environment. We would like to dedicate it to our respective daughters, Ellen Cock, 3, and Sarah Hopwood, 10.

Martin Cock and Bill Hopwood, August 1996

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