Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 22, 2006


Filed under: Ecology — louisproyect @ 10:48 pm

Posted to www.marxmail.org on April 22, 2006

I have been following with some interest a series of articles by Jack Conrad on Marxism and ecology in the pages of the Weekly Worker, the organ of the Communist Party of Great Britain. Despite its name, this group was never the official party recognized by the Kremlin but a new group launched by young people trying to "go back to Lenin", it would appear. The party has both good and some not so good aspects, in my opinion. While it makes frequent calls for unity on the left, it has engaged in strident attacks on its opponents–especially the SWP. Whatever else that may be said about it, the newspaper makes for a lively read.

I may have something more to say about his articles after they are concluded, but want to immediately respond to the latest installment which is titled "Darker Shades of Green" and has the following lead: "Jack Conrad questions the romantic images presented by green primitives and cautions against the seductive lures of ecofascism." Whenever I hear a reference to the term "ecofascism," I fully expect to read something about Nazi ecology somewhere along the line. Conrad did not disappoint.

As somebody who has been reading and writing about Green issues for the past 15 years or so from a Marxist perspective, I tend to think of growing ties between "deep ecologists" and skinheads as unlikely at best. Let me explain why.

Conrad begins his analysis with a discussion of the role of anarchist John Zerzan, who achieved some notoriety for refusing to condemn the Unabomber. This current certainly has a misanthropic character but can it really be said that nostalgia for the pre-industrial world is tantamount to fascism? Conrad describes Zerzan and his co-thinkers' program in the following terms: "Their promised land is the endless wilderness. A suitably humbled, repentant humanity must return to the Palaeolithic ways of the ancestors and live in perfect harmony with nature."

Whatever else one might say about such ideology, it is inconsistent with the futuristic aspirations of 20th century fascism. It rather evokes the "back to nature" leanings of many 19th century Utopian Socialist experiments, including the one that is the subject of Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Blithedale Romance" or even these sentiments:

The nation itself, with all its so-called internal improvements, which, by the way are all external and superficial, is just such an unwieldy and overgrown establishment, cluttered with furniture and tripped up by its own traps, ruined by luxury and heedless expense, by want of calculation and a worthy aim, as the million households in the land; and the only cure for it, as for them, is in a rigid economy, a stern and more than Spartan simplicity of life and elevation of purpose. It lives too fast. Men think that it is essential that the Nation have commerce, and export ice, and talk through a telegraph, and ride thirty miles an hour, without a doubt, whether they do or not; but whether we should live like baboons or like men, is a little uncertain.

–Henry David Thoreau, "On Walden Pond"

After he is done with the deep ecologists, Conrad shifts his attention to a historical survey of rightwing appropriation of ecological themes. While the erudition is impressive, the logic is less so. He writes:

The Soil Association in Britain counted Jorian Jenks amongst it founding members. He edited its journal Mother Earth till his death in 1963. In the 1930s he was the agricultural advisor to the British Union of Fascists and remained throughout his life a close associate and disciple of Oswald Mosley.

Now Jorian Jenks did oppose the use of chemical fertilizers and urged organic farming. This makes perfect sense, of course. The fact that he hooked up with Mosley should not serve as a warning, however. Agronomists with exactly the same sort of outlook have worked with left parties as well. Indeed, the Mosley website states:

His "Green" views were not all fully shared by all his old comrades, understandably perhaps, at a time after the war when the pressing need was for food in greater quantities. The Editor of "Union" and Secretary of Union Movement once told him wittily "people can forgive one eccentricity, but not two."

Conrad next turns his attention to Germany, which in the eyes of anti-environmentalists like Anna Bramwell and Luc Ferry, is the spawning ground of ecofascism. Indeed, I was somewhat dismayed to discover a reference to Bramwell in Conrad's footnotes. Her work and Ferry's has had a disorienting effect on some very well-intentioned Marxists besides Jack Conrad, not the least of whom is David Harvey. Fortunately, Harvey has pulled back from hunting non-existent ecofascists in recent years.

Conrad makes much of the "Wandervögel" movement of the late 19th century which was a revolt of sorts against industrialization and called for a return to nature. There was also, according to Conrad, "a strong undercurrent of homoeroticism." For Conrad, this might lead to fascism in the same way that marijuana leads to heroin. You start off on nature walks, graduate to gay sex and the next thing you know, you are beating up pawnbrokers.

German "Wandervögel" youth: incipient fascists?

Finally, Conrad gets around to the question of "Nazi Greens", a subject that has been of long-standing interest to me after first hearing it raised by Frank Furedi's posse over ten years ago. Somehow this never sat right with me, when I thought about the mad rush to development that characterized the Nazi regime with its uniquely anti-environmental autobahns, its feverish war preparations and its slave labor production. I guess the fact that Hitler was a vegetarian matters more.

I have addressed these questions in some detail in the past and would urge those who are interested to check:




  1. The Weekly Worker is the National Inquirer of the socialist press, best read for its gossip.

    Comment by Martin Wisse — April 23, 2006 @ 12:56 pm

  2. It’s also not true that CPGB was launched by young people. It’s history and roots lie very much in the old CP, being part of a faction called the Leninist I believe. Their current membership is in the order of a dozen or so, most of them aged ex-CPers. The newspaper engages in polemic for the sake of polemic and is considered, as the previous poster pointed out, to be little more than an annoying gossip-sheet.

    Comment by resolutereader — April 24, 2006 @ 5:23 pm

  3. I know neo-fascists movements better than i know ecologists movements, but i feeling is that there are many ecologists within the ranks of neo-fascists (and some fringe of neo-nazis too) but that there are few fascists or nazis within the ranks of ecologists. We should probably speak of fascist ecologist instead of eco-fascism !

    Comment by bertrand — May 8, 2008 @ 4:53 pm

  4. Ecofascism is relatively rare but exists, Conrad draws pretty extensively on some of my work.


    looks at one actually existing ecofascist…but yes I would agree with Louis they are not organised and around in large numbers.

    Comment by Derek Wall — November 19, 2008 @ 9:23 pm

  5. The comment quoted above that Jorian Jenks was a ‘close associate and disciple of Oswald Mosley’ isn’t really accurate. Jenks obviously knew Mosley and met him a number of times, on at least one occasion privately, when he visited Mosley’s farm. Whether this is sufficient to make him a ‘close associate’ is perhaps open to question. As to the ‘disciple’ aspect, that suggests that Jenks was imitative of Mosley’s thinking, whereas his thinking was quite distinct, based on his own experiences and the writings of men like Montague Fordham and Arthur Penty.

    I’m puzzled why Anna Bramwell is described as an ‘anti-environmentalist’ – I’ve read two of her books and received the impression that she has a deep sympathy for ecology and for those close to nature, especially the peasant.

    Comment by Philip Coupland — October 11, 2013 @ 1:26 pm

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