What is wrong with Green Populism?

There is an excellent article in the GREEN EUROPEAN JOURNEY that I think is worthy of close examination and discussion

It seeks to look at the lessons to be learned from the struggles experienced by the Greens across Europe in the last European elections, and the spectre of a UKIP surge in the uK in 2015, and the scary thought of Le pen becoming French President in 2017.

It starts from this position:
Greens must stop dismissing populism as the generic fountainhead of political irrationality and evil, and try to learn from this formidable antagonist. So far, they have been more busy calling populism the enemy than knowing their enemy. Doing so, they are also wasting the opportunity to know themselves better.

It progresses through a long look at what Greens can learn from the ‘populists’, and the urgency of re-assessing our understanding of liberty and democracy, along with getting a true understanding of the appeal of populist nationalism, so evident across the UK. It concludes thus:

Summing up: Greens should take populist nationalism seriously, rather than reject it out of hand (excluding some fascistic groups). We must recognize its inner variety, its political appeal, its democratic roots and its staying power. We should also recognize its proximity to some of our own ideals and concerns, and the need to re-examine them in the light of this challenge. Our own political story is suboptimal, and we need the populists as ‘best enemies’ to improve it. The core challenge lies in the insecurity felt by those (often lower-educated) citizens who crave for a minimum of respect, and the resultant attraction of free-of-charge, effortless identities such as the national one (machismo and religious fundamentalism function in the same way). Birthright in a particular nation offers a gratuitous form of pride: if you are nothing, you are at least something as a Frenchman, Dutchman, etc.

Or, of course, as a Welsh person!

A key point for me, regarding who we work with, is this:

Let us distinguish more carefully between those we can learn from and should talk to, and those who we must not talk to but simply fight.

We are prone to being aloof and arrogant, assuming that we have all the right answers, and take the stance that our beliefs and principles cannot be diluted. The end result is that we fail to connect even with people that share our values and beliefs and get left on the margins.

Dick Pels, former director of the Green Left Scientific Bureau in the Netherlands, points out:

Green Left politics is nothing if it does not itself become an intelligent ‘politics of the heart’


5 thoughts on “What is wrong with Green Populism?

  1. andrewjinks

    I agree that the people who are voting UKIP or thinking of voting for them, even some of the members of UKIP are not the enemy, and we (Greens, Plaid Cymru, the left in the broad sense of the term), should be seeking to engage with them, talking, genuine dialogue. But not the organisations themselves, they need to be exposed for what they are, divisive and without answers to the problems they are exploiting politically.

    Hope Not Hate (http://www.hopenothate.org.uk) had a huge impact in the political defeat of the BNP, and is playing a major rôle in the struggle against UKIP by taking this attitude. And I think Leanne Wood’s article written after the European elections is a very good analysis of these questions: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/leanne-wood/european-elections-plaid-cymru_b_5419277.html


  2. Rangjan

    A good example is the question of Europe. The Greens often seem to end up defending Europe. But the EU is largely an undemocratic institution which acts on behalf of vested interests. We need to mobilise support from those who are antagonistic to Europe and articulate a clear vision for them about what a democratic Europe will look like. We need to therefore see the EU as a site of struggle, and stop making weak arguments in favour of something which is actually not defensible.


    1. Bridgend or Swansea Green Party - South Wales West Post author

      Thank you Rangjan. GPEW takes the view, which I fully support, and I think you do too if I am not mistaken, that the EU is indeed in need of drastic reform, but that gievn this reform it is still a concept very much worth pursuing and working towards. We would welcome the challenge of a referendum in order to lay out the case for reform and staying in to help achieve that reform.


      1. Phil

        It should be noted here that, as it stands, renationalisation of UK utilities COULD NOT take place under EU Law. I’m generally pro-European, but I think if that single thing cannot be changed we should leave Europe (only under a left wing government though).


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