Interface articles on the far right: Part two — ecology and localism

Three Way Fight


[This is second of two posts about articles on the far right in the November 2013 issue of Interface. The first post discussed an article about Autonomous Nationalists in Germany.]

For years, the anti-globalization and ecology movements have brought together people from both the left and the right. Some leftists are fine with this, but others regard it as a serious problem, a dynamic that both legitimizes rightist ideology and organizations and also bolsters anti-liberatory tendencies within the left itself. The 2001 book My Enemy’s Enemy: essay on globalization, fascism and the struggle against capitalism, was one of the first works to address the issue. With contributions from activists in Europe and North America, My Enemy’s Enemy criticized far right involvement in the campaign against the World Trade Organization, eco-theorist Edward Goldsmith’s neo-fascist connections, and the anti-globalist collaboration between hard rightist Pat Buchanan and left-liberal activist Ralph Nader.

Since then, there have been a number of other critiques of far-right tendencies within the ecology and antiglobalization movements, such as Regina Cochrane’s excellent “Rural poverty and impoverished theory: Cultural populism, ecofeminism, and global justice.” (Unfortunately, this article is now hidden behind a pay wall, but part of its argument is summarized in Michael Barker’s “Questioning Vandana Shiva.”

Now, sociologist Mi Park offers a helpful introduction to this discussion in the November 2013 issue of Interface, a journal “for and about social movements.” Her article, “The trouble with eco-politics of localism: too close to the far right? Debates on ecology and globalization,” addresses left-right intersections in various countries of the Global North. Although Park doesn’t break any new ground here, she offers a good analysis and many useful details.

Park organizes her discussion around three themes: “Cultural diversity should be preserved,” “the environment must be protected,” [and] “localism is a desirable alternative to globalization” (319). She points out that, although these ideas are often thought of as progressive, many far rightists now use them to promote ethnic chauvinism and inequality. European New Right ideologists and others use the concept of cultural diversity to mask racial bigotry and claim that ethnic exclusion is needed to protect “indigenous” European cultures. Anti-immigrant lobby groups draw on the work of environmental Malthusians such as Edward Goldsmith, who argue, in Park’s words, that “to build an ecologically sustainable society,… we must first control our population by reducing birth rates and maintaining zero-net immigration” (326). And right-wing nationalists in wealthy countries use localist rhetoric to fuel xenophobia and “benefit their own business communities against others” (331).

On the left, Park argues, the situation is more complex. As a general rule, left-wing ecologist and anti-globalization groups aim to reduce inequality, not increase it, and advocate inclusiveness and solidarity between ethnic groups, not exclusion and segregation. But Park highlights many “troubling signs” (337). Some left-leaning groups do advocate immigration control, and some have helped to lead localist initiatives that fuel national chauvinism, such as “Buy American” or “Buy Canadian” campaigns. Some ecology groups have promoted “fair trade” agreements that include labor and environmental standards, yet such measures “are either rarely enforced or used very selectively, against economic rivals for geo-political reasons” (336).

Park is especially critical of localist politics on the left. She faults many leftist critics of globalization for framing the issue as a struggle between good local communities and bad multinational corporations and banks. Park rejects “the myth of [the] innocent, harmonious community of small community producers and farmers” (336) and notes that “in the absence of social justice activism, the local can be the arena where xenophobic groups proliferate and thrive.” Thus “political localism, contrary to the wishes of some left-wing groups, can undermine the ability of the state to redistribute resources to benefit economically marginalized and poor regions” (333). At the same time, blaming the ills of globalization on greedy bankers or speculators — rather than capitalism as a system — dangerously evokes right-wing populist and specifically antisemitic themes.

While there are many problems with relying on centralized state action to benefit oppressed communities, the basic point still holds that political decentralization can bolster inequality and oppression. That’s why “states rights,” for example, has been a rallying cry for white supremacists against federal civil rights laws and court decisions. Overall, the analytic tools Park offers for assessing ecology and anti-globalist politics are a lot more useful than the tools Raphael Schlembach provides for understanding far right politics in the same issue of Interface. (See my previous post.)

Park’s article features examples from a number of countries, mainly English-speaking ones. The recent “New Zealand Not for Sale” campaign brought together the Labour Party, Greens, and other left groups — along with right-wing nationalists — against Chinese purchase of New Zealand farms. The NZ Greens also opposed an electronics contract with the Chinese firm Huawei, claiming it was part of a Chinese government strategy “to buy up land and infrastructure” in New Zealand and elsewhere. Park notes that these campaigns have been criticized for fomenting anti-Chinese nationalism, especially given that there has been no such opposition to U.S. or Australian direct investment in New Zealand, both of which are greater than Chinese investment.

The article also includes a substantial bibliography. Park doesn’t cite My Enemy’s Enemy or Regina Cochrane’s work, but she does point readers to other interesting contributions, such as Derek Wall, Social Credit: The Ecosocialism of Fools, and John Moore, “Leftwing Xenophobia in New Zealand.”
I was intrigued by several quotes from a work cited as “Bonefeld 2006,” which is somehow missing from the bibliography but with some digging turns out to be Werner Bonefeld’s “Anti-globalization and the Question of Socialism.”

Coupled with Raphael Schlembach’s article on autonomous nationalism, Mi Park’s article is a new departure for Interface. (Judging by the tables of contents, almost none of the articles in previous issues have addressed right-wing movements or rightist tendencies within left movements.) I hope the journal will feature more writings in this area, by both scholars and activists, and from a variety of analytical perspectives.

Leave a Comment