Friday, 23 March 2007

'Catastrophe and Resistance'

Green Party Principal Speaker, Derek Wall's rousing speech to to-day's Green Party Conference:

What do we expect from politicians' conference speeches, from Blair, Brown, Campbell and Cameron? We expect comforting lies. I believe we must break with conventions in many ways. I am going to try and give you some disturbing truths.
It is not enough to say we are right and they are wrong. We have to get political in a deeper sense than self congratulation.I am going to talk about catastrophe and resistance, about the differences between new green and real radical green politics, about the two contrasting pathways we can take in the Green Party.My 27 years in the Green Party has been about fighting catastrophe. The late Mike Woodin fought against catastrophe; the great historian EP Thompson, who I listened to in my first party conference in Malvern in 1980, fought against catastrophe. Green politics is about avoiding catastrophe on this planet and moving towards an ecological sound, socially-just, peaceful and democratic society.Catastrophe is the title of a play by Samuel Beckett. He is not seen as political playwright, but he worked for the resistance in Nazi occupied France. His most political play written in 1982 is Catastrophe, about totalitarianism, the destruction of nature and resistance. I am going to talk about the catastrophe on this planet and how we resist, through ideas, through culture, through winning elections, through direct action.
The catastrophe is about war and imperialism. Four years ago Britain and America invaded Iraq;. War in Iraq has killed 650,000 according to Lancet, with the destruction of cities like Fallujah, with the human rights abuse of Abu Grahib. Now they are saying that Iran is developing WMDs and contemplating my bloodshed. In Iraq privatisation of oil revenues are going to divide the spoils between the oil companies. Billions of profits are made from weapons and the corporations recycle them back to political parties. In Britain BAE may be going green by producing lead free bullets but their weapons and planes kill on a frightening scale. The bribery scandal, with investigations of alleged BAE payments to Saudi Arabia, was halted by the Blair government, and reveals the truth. They stand from top to toe in blood, shattered bones and entrails.
And in this week's budget, an additional £400 million of public money was set aside to fund 'defence', a euphemistic way to describe spreading more on death and destruction in our name. Trident will cost as much as £70bn on mega death, this destructive, waste on an instrument of terror could have instead been used to abolish student fees and fund public services, with money left over to meaningfully tackle climate change.
The US has intervened over 40 times since 1945. It is said that Iraq would never have been invaded if it had grown carrots instead of oil but in 1954 the CIA removed the government in Guatemala because they stood up to the US based United Fruit Company who were concerned with bananas. In 1973 the communications company ITT had Allende murdered in a coup in Chile.The catastrophe is ecological.
We have the highest level of co2 in the atmosphere for 600,000 years, the warmest winter since 1834. The risk of runway greenhouse effect is terrifying. As the ice melts, more heat is absorbed by the earth, as the permafrost melts millions of tonnes of methane will be released, accelerating the warming. Mass extinctions will occur, sea levels will rise, the climate scientists James Hansen argues we have 10 years to take radical action. At the same time, even if we halt global warming, commercial fish stocks are likely to be gone by 2040,the great apes by 2050. Indonesia has the fastest deforestation rate in the world, with palm oil plantations crowing out the habitat of orang utangs. Palm oil its in everything from margarine to biofuel. There are dozens of other ecological cycles that are under threat and thousands of species. The natural sinks of carbon in the forests and the seas are being absorbed by the economy and made useless. Whaling is on the agenda. Non human species mean nothing.
Green politics is about respect for all creation and creation is being battered by a highly organised system of greed..The catastrophe is economic. The more we produce, the more we consume, the more we waste, the longer we commute...the more the economy grows. Profit and growth are everything. Human life and nature are nothing. Capitalism is a secular religion, a fundamentalist religion....its priest, obsessed with a puritanical desire to get its all working harder for the economy is Gordon Brown. Education is about preparing us for work, the Olympics is about boosting the profits of McDonalds, Tescos are going to be running doctors surgeries. Accumulat, accumulate is the Moses and prophets. But how can our economy grow for ever, we consume 52 million barrels of oil a day, we cannot keep consuming, Americans Gordon Browns model of commercially responsible humanity are profligate, producing 20 times the co2 of the worlds average citizen.
The mathematics behind western civilisation simply don't add up. But tell an addict to cut their habit and they get angry, everyday politicians are tightening the tourniquet and mainlining on petroleum. They can't see the truth blinded as they are by corrupt desires.Corporate globalisation means companies outsource to the parts of the globe with the lowest wages and the poorest environmental standards. Cutting corporation tax is another step towards reducing the tax burden on big business - a step in the wrong direction from Brown. Even if we could ignore the ecological realities we face global economic catastrophe. The highest wages in the US, the most developed nation on Earth, are 400 times higher than the lowest wages. The share wages as a percentage of GDP is falling globally. Wealth creates poverty. In the USA African-Americans, have lower life expectancy than many in the developing world. Corporations are legally required to maximise profit, they do so even if it kills.Tobacco kills more than 400,000 Americans each year, the first convincing link between smoking and cancer was established in clinical and epidemiological studies in the 1950s.The Tobacco companies knew they were killing more people than many many thousands of serial killers, did they care. They cared about dividends, investments and bottom lines. Phillip Morris funded think tanks like the Competitive Enterprise institute to muddy the water about tobacco, CEI have now done the same for Exxon, spreading lies about climate change.
The catastrophe is political. We have new green, the painted on environmentalism of Cameron, Campbell and Brown, united yes by ecotaxes but also by support for nuclear weapons and the insanity of ever increasing economic growth. They use accountancy to pretend they are doing something, its more like pushing the food around the plate than eating up the problem. We have carbon off Brown's anti-carbon legislation, where we pay others to pollute less so we can pollute more. Can you imagine nicotine offset, where you smoke 40 a day and pay someone else to give up, where you pay for nicotine education and awareness programmes in China rather than giving up. Carbon offset in both! Brazil and Uganda, involves enclosing land and oppressing local people. You fly feel less guilty and buy a tree on stolen land, that does nothing to prevent climate change.
Given war, inequality and ecological disaster, civil liberties are threatened and politics has become more and more about control. A managed democracy where we have less and less say, where personality games are used to lull us to sleep. Where our every movement is watched. Where are every movement is watched. I predict micro chipping for foetuses, I predict like George Orwell that televisions will be watching us soon not the other way around. Who would have believed that we would be watched hundreds of times a day by secret cameras, that the CIA would fly prisoners out of Scotland to torture chambers. Every day John Reid is looking for new excuses to send asylum seekers back to repressive regimes....I guess we are moving towards a repressive regime in Britain with ID cards, even the oyster is used to track our movements.
Resistance is essential but how do we resist? Resistance is about ideas, we have to think hard about strategy, about getting there. My time in politics has been an almost continuous meditation on strategy, on what works. I have a phd in political sociology, a phd in trouble making.
I think sometimes we are so worried by the threats to our planet by the multiple catastrophes, that we don't think about how we change things.

Politics is the art of the possible. I won't tell you anything but I will try to provoke, to fight the war against sleep, we must think ever more deeply if we are to succeed.
Guess what I don't think have a leader will deliver success.Resistance has to be about culture. When they are most successful, movements take new ideas, new social codes and put them into the mainstream. We have to make respect for the planet part of the political consensus and change our lifestyles. To change culture we need to make it easy for people to be green. Congestion charges going up, rail firms like SW trains 16 million passengers face 20% rise in fares, while their owners are on the rich list with £395 million. Cheap public transport and local services are essential.

Lead by example, teach our kids to cook, grow where we can, enjoy being green. Positive cultural change, not sacrifice. One thing that angers people rightly is when environmentalists lecture them about flying less and then rush off to green conferences by plane. As principal speaker I no longer fly, it cannot be justified.
Resistance is about direct action. It's in the manifesto, it's essential. Non violent direct action is a way of dealing with imbalances of power, companies, the wealth, elites have huge power but direct action can slow, stop and reverse the wheels of the juggernaut. Direct action by greens halted the roads programmed, by Gandhi freed India, with your help on April 5th at Exxon's headquarters at Leatherhead will help fight global warming.
Resistance must be based on winning elections. We have to bring in the policies, from renewables to ending arms sales to promoting a democratic economy. 2046 is too late; already we are winning. Kirklees produces carbon budget amendments, Green GLA members green jet setter Ken Livingstone. First to predict NI assembly gains, this year I predict are sister parties in Ireland and Scotland will make gains and participate in government. Rhodri Griffths with your help will be a member of the Welsh Assembly.
Green politics is about taking political power and introducing a new green economy based on meeting need instead of corporate greed. We have to change the structures, we can do that by electoral success. We have come a long way from the 1970s but we must not rest.
Its never, ever, easy. Anyone who promises you easy success is wrong. But we do have a choice we can embrace our own form of 'new green' politics which is shallow, falsely pragmatic and market friendly. Or we can deepen our green, stick to our principles and change the world so we have a world.
I believe that choosing a leader will be a step on the way to irrelevence, to new green. You may disagree but I don't think being called leader makes anyone more persuasive or more articulate, wiser or more intelligent. I do think being called a leader has the potential to corrupt. I look forward to being replaced as Principal Speaker by someone better but I will mourn if speakers make way for old style ego led political figures.
I have no easy answers, I won't tell you any comforting lies but I know my history and I can recognise a trap however well disguised.The fact that we are not organized like a ‘proper’ party, when the big parties are increasingly seen as bunches of liars, hypocrites and suits on the make, can be (if we handle it right) a positive benefit to us. As George Monbiot wrote: “I think much of the Green Party's refreshing distinctiveness rests on the absence of a single leader. It's one of the only parties which really looks like a party, rather than simply an apparatus of power designed to sustain those at the top.”Virtually every radical movement in history has been sucked in and domesticated. Socialism led to Stalin and Tony Blair. The Romans deposed their kings, built a republic and replaced it with Empire. Jesus preached humility but under Constantine was used to christen an autocracy. The history of struggle is one of repetition, with radicals bought off, killed off or brain washed into submission. John Prescott used to be a union man, Gordon Brown used to be socialist. Politics can be like a gerbil cage you go up and up and up to the top slot but with compromises to get their you crash back like the fallen radicals.

Green politics cannot fail - we have a world to save. If we win power but at the cost of our ideals, that really would be a catastrophe.

I would like to introduce two people who inspire me. The first is Rhodri Griffiths, our lead candidate for the Welsh Assembly, he is going win, he is going be in the Assembly, pumping funds into renewables, fighting job cuts in the valley, working for animal rights, promoting trade unions and justice.
My second hero is Benny Wenda, who has seen his homeland West Papua invaded by Indonesia, a country armed by Britain. The Free West Papua movement has opposed the destruction of their forests, the invasion by corporations stealing land for cheap minerals, the imprisonment and execution of 100,000s West Papuans, often for simply raising their flag the Morning Star. The people who do the most to preserve our planet, like Benny have the hardest fight, they wont get any support for Tony Blair and David Cameron. They need our solidarity and we need their inspiration.

I give you real green politics, I give you Benny and Rhodri...we all have to struggle to save our beautiful planet, to free humanity from the burden of history, and to enjoy life instead of being enslaved by economic forces.

Always struggle until victory.

1 comment:

Neil said...

Great, rousing stuff - should put a bit of spirit into the troops. I'm looking forward to getting down there myself tomorrow morning.