A plea to recapture the original idea re: “Alternative: the Greens”

Steven Welzer
4 min readOct 14, 2023

Four pillars: Ecological Wisdom, Social Justice, Grassroots Democracy, Nonviolence.

The concepts implied by “Ecological Wisdom” are so new, so alternative that it has been challenging to figure out how to convey them, especially in the electoral arena. As a result the Green Party has tended to fall back toward the common leftist “social justice warrior” political orientation.

It’s righteous and necessary to stand for social justice, but it’s not especially distinctive. If we simply espoused a greenish form of socialism it would actually be sectarian to promote a whole new party. After all, one could join one of the existing socialist parties and advocate for eco-socialism.

But our ideology is distinctive. In the early days of the movement, when we wore a button: “Alternative: the Greens,” there was a sense that Green politics would be based on ideas that constituted an alternative to all the old ideologies.

* * * *

1970. Something was in the air: greening.

A book with a green cover was on the bestseller list for 36 weeks. It eventually sold 2 million copies. The Greening of America. The New Yorker magazine ran an excerpt of nearly 70 pages — the longest book excerpt in its history — in their Sept. 26, 1970, issue. The magazine received more letters about it than they had for any other article. Kitchen-table “buzz” and media interest was intense. Within a year a book was published about the book!

The truth is that The Greening of America was a little dense and a little flakey. I knew quite a few people who bought it but read little more than the excerpt in the magazine. Its ideological perspective was, at best, inchoate. Nonetheless, there was something very significant about it: a general impression that out of the ferment of “the Sixties” would come something truly new, truly alternative. Something special about … “greening” …

There is a revolution coming. It will not be like revolutions of the past. It will not require violence to succeed, and it cannot be successfully resisted by violence. It promises a higher reason, a more human-scale community, and a liberated individual. Its ultimate creation will be a renewed relationship to the Self, to society, to nature, and to the land.

* * * *

1972. Something was in the air: ecology.

In England Edward Goldsmith had just started up a new magazine, The Ecologist. The January 1972 issue contained: “A Blueprint for Survival.” It was signed by over thirty of the leading scientists of the day. Here is the Preface:

This document has been drawn up by a small team of people, all of whom, in different capacities, are professionally involved in the study of global environmental problems. Four considerations have prompted us to do this:

1. An examination of the relevant information available has impressed upon us the extreme gravity of the global situation today. For, if current trends are allowed to persist, the breakdown of society and the irreversible disruption of the life-support systems of this planet are inevitable.

2. Governments are either refusing to face the relevant facts or are briefing their scientists in such a way that their seriousness is played down. Whatever the reasons, no corrective measures of any consequence are being undertaken.

3. The situation has prompted the formation of the Club of Rome, which is currently trying to persuade governments, industrial leaders, and trade unions throughout the world to face these facts and to take appropriate action while there is yet time. It must now give rise to a national movement to act at a national level, and if need be to assume political status and contest the next general election. It is hoped that such an example will be emulated in all countries, thereby giving rise to an international movement.

4. Such a movement cannot hope to succeed unless it has previously formulated a new philosophy of life, whose goals can be achieved without destroying the environment, and a precise and comprehensive program for bringing about the sort of society in which it can be implemented.

This we have tried to do, and our Blueprint for Survival hopefully will herald the formation of a movement for survival and the dawn of a new age in which humanity will learn to live with the rest of nature rather than against it.

In the next general election Goldsmith ran for office under the banner of a new party. It was at first called the Ecology Party but would soon change its name to the Green Party. And its members often wore a button: “Alternative: the Greens.”

The new ideology was then explicated in a series of books:

. Seeing Green (Jonathan Porritt, 1984)
. Building the Green Movement (Rudolf Bahro, 1986)
. The Great U-Turn (Edward Goldsmith, 1988)
. The Green Reader (Andrew Dobson, 1991)
. The Green Revolution (Kirkpatrick Sale, 1993)
. Thinking Green! Essays on Environmentalism, Feminism, and Nonviolence (Petra Kelly, 1994)

No socialist party had advocated nonviolence as a bedrock principle. No socialist party had recognized the imperative of what the Greens express in our key value: Decentralization. In regard to the latter, the Sixties movements had talked about a participatory form of democracy. The Greens rendered that as “Grassroots Democracy.” It implies devolution of power, a critique of statism, and the decentralist concept of bioregionalism. This is all notably distinctive. In fact, it’s a rationale for the establishment of a whole new movement: the Green politics movement.

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Steven Welzer

The editor of Green Horizon Magazine, Steve has been a movement activist for many years (he was an original co-editor of DSA’s “Ecosocialist Review”).