The Fall 1985 third edition of Harbinger (The Journal of Social Ecology) carried a long article: "Green Sprouts, Rootlets, Runners and Rhizomes: The Growing Ecology Movement in Europe"by John Ely.

"Harbinger" was the journal published in paper form during the 1980s by the Institute for Social Ecology based in the USA.  The ISE was founded in 1974 and still exists today. Although this article was not published until late 1985 the article was actually written in early 1984. Below is an extract from the whole article which reviewed the state of the green political movement all across Europe - the full article is available in the Document Library as an offprint as an offprint, and the complete issue of Harbinger #3 will follow as it contains much interesting material.

This extract is the opening and the section covering the Greens in the UK. We have added some commentary below, but first read at least the extract to get a view of how the Ecology Party was seen from outside in 1984.

Green Sprouts, Rootlets, Runners and Rhizomes:

The Growing Ecology Movement in Europe

by John Ely

"The eighties have been called the 'last chance decade.‘ Unless current trends in the arms race, resource depletion, food distribution and environmental destruction are reversed, it will probably be too late to avoid national end global catastrophes of unimaginable horror.
The Chinese word for 'crisis' consists of two parts: 'danger' and 'opportunity'. We know the danger, let us now recognise the opportunity and, together, claim the future."
-—Richard Oldfield and David Taylor in  "Green Breakthrough?" Undercurrents, November 1982

The last few years (certainly no earlier than the mid-1970s) have seen the emergence in the developed world of an exciting new constellation of movements for radical social change. In various languages they are known as Greens, and they are identified with the unifying theme of ecology. This is ecological not merely in the scientific sense but rather in the broad social context that presents a critique of many of the most basic aspects of modernised industrial nation-states. These new Green movements are of profound import: they are quite literally the most substantial expression of liberatory values and liberatory potential to have developed in the industrialised world since the collapse of the revolutionary socialist movements in the early part of the twentieth century.

The scope of these new Green movements is very easy to misjudge. It is important to note that in the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) -- where Die Grünen represent the largest and most articulate of the new Greens -- there were five times as many demonstrations in 1982 as there were in any given year in Germany during the 1960s. In less than four years, since Die Grünen first began achieving electoral successes, they have grown from a loose electoral list of anti-nuclear, peace and citizen's action groups into a political party that almost did, and may very well yet, hold the balance of political power in several regions and at several levels in West Germany.

--------- [the article then proceeds to discuss the state of the greens around Europe starting with Germany] ---------

Green Politics in England and France

In France and England, though distinct ecological movements have existed for a longer time than in many other European nations, they have not been as successful in recent years. This is mostly because of the electoral structure which, as in the U.S., elects people by individual campaign rather than through a percentage list of candidates. Hence small parties are always excluded by virtue of the fact that they can field only a small percentage of the vote.

------------- [the French greens are then discussed in detail] --------------

The British Ecology Party, though equally stymied by British electoral laws, shows many interesting parallels which are instructive to the situation for Green possibilities in the U.S. The recent expansion of the peace movement in Britain has also brought the Green idea into the limelight, which presents more possibilities for a real breakthrough than many folks might have predicted two years ago.

The Ecology Party has been around now for ten years. It started, like the U.S. Citizens‘ Party, not as extra-parliamentary opposition, but as a purely electoral party, and it has remained so since. The split between the electoral sector and the actual movement -- in which many people believe that changes can only be won by direct action and protest -- has hurt the party's performance at the polls. In past elections, it has averaged only about 2 percent of the vote. In the last elections, they fielded only 1.6 percent of the vote. Despite a few good results in local elections -- they held a seat in Cornwall and in a modest assortment of district and parish councils -- their vote has not held up well. The Ecology Party is being targeted by legislation intended to marginalise it even further. Recently, the House of Commons Select Committee on Home Affairs in the British Parliament recommended passing an increase from £150 to £1000 in parliamentary election deposits. Tactics such as these are only some of numerous ways the large corporate parties try to marginalise new political formations. Without a system of proportional representation such as that in West Germany, there is no hope of making major electoral inroads. "Until you can get our election system changed to proportional representation, a British Green Party would be banging its head en a brick wall," according to Des Wilson, one of the present chairs of the British Friends of the Earth, which has ever 20,000 members and is one of the largest extra-parliamentary ecological action groups in England.

Recently connections have been made between the peace and the ecology movements. The women who formed the Greenham Common peace camp, which has caught the eye of the entire world, organised themselves as a group called Women for Life on Earth. They took their name from the American group, which is explicitly an ecologically based group seeking to make direct connections between the universal male monopolisation of violence and militarism and an exploitative attitude towards nonhuman nature that is intrinsic to the structure and ideology of "developed" Western industrial nations. The numerous creative direct actions of the women at Greenham Common have likewise consistently made the ecological—peace connection under the general theme of a respect and affirmation of all life through nonviolence. This initiative has spread to numerous segments of the mainstream British peace movement, which has resulted in the creation of a sizeable caucus known as Green CND {Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) and the reinvigoration and redirection of much of the radical environmentalists, such as Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, towards a more explicit integration of peace politics.

The response of the Ecology Party to these developments, as well as to the great advantage the West German Greens made of the rapidly growing peace movement (largely because of their strong anti-missile, anti-NATO position combined with a clear and vocal rejection of official, Communist "Peace" politics) has been quite interesting. The Ecology Party originally started as a purely electoral party; its original platform was essentially a depoliticised "environmentalist“ one based on the famous Limits to Growth study. The Ecology Party's present co-chair, Jonathon Porritt, has been to Germany to study DieGrünen's campaigning techniques and shared a platform with Petra Kelly at a recent Friends of the Earth conference. Porritt says, "We have learnt a great deal from the Greens and we will be fighting the next election in a very different style of campaign." The Ecology Party has adopted Die Grünen's sunflower burst emblem, but the symbolic change marks equally important substantive changes: the party is now swinging toward a holistic and radical social ecology which involves a more wide-ranging critique of industrial society.

A more holistic concern with all the interconnected problems of Western industrial states is being accompanied by a critique of the entire trajectory of Enlightenment rationalism which Western capitalist and Marxist socioeconomic systems are based upon and by a recognition that it is not just a fixing up of environmental problems with the same kinds of means-end rationality that is called for. As Maurice Ash wrote in a paper for a newly forming British Green Alliance, what is needed is an entire "paradigm shift" or transformation of world view. Not only is this a strident critique of “nature" viewed as "other," as "resources" for scientific-technological progress, but it is also a call for a politics of meaning and community which finds ethical meaning and groundwork in the direction of life's development. This involves both a reinterpretation of the cosmos in which humanity develops a “participatory consciousness" with a natural process directed toward the articulation of life, but also the reworking of community networks -- what Ash calls "re-discovering the polis" -- in which such a consciousness can have meaning. It is also imperative, according to Ash, to "live with nature. . . . If we think we can remain the lords and masters of Nature, then the nuclear bind assuredly has us by the tail. . . . However, to speak of living again with Nature is to imply a radically different relationship to it."

Given similar electoral representation and a very similar constellation of groups, albeit without an historically important labor party, the circumstances under which a broadly supported, radical Green movement could form in England are very similar to the conditions that would support such a movement in the U.S. The Citizens' Party and perhaps even parts of the Democratic Socialists (particularly the newly formed communitarian caucus) could form the electoral wing. The concentration would remain on local action and citizens' action groups, the anarchist-pacifist left, the anti-nuclear groups, and radical environmentalists; even perhaps some elements of the sectarian Marxist left could become involved in the formation of some sort of "list."

The task of developing a coherent movement consisting of a true plurality of elements -- and yet with an actual identity such as Die Grünen -- and of uniting the electoral and movement wings must become a priority for the democratic, ecological, socialist, and anarchist elements.


The author, John Ely, was an American academic and writer who was at the time researching a book on the West German Greens. This was eventually published in 1998 with Margit Mayer as "The German Greens: Paradox between Movement and Party". The article was probably drafted in mid 1984 based on research in 1983-4 - the addendum, which was inserted "because of the time lapse between the submission of the article and its publication" refers to the June 1984 European Parliament elections as a most recent event.  In any event he was clearly unaware of the name change from "Ecology" to "Green" in the UK which happened in summer 1985 and was being discussed beforehand.

The perspective that he offers that the UK political party was founded as a purely electoral project is clearly a simplification - in the early stages both PEOPLE and Movement for Survival were concerned with movement building, although it is true that this was in large part about bringing people in to the existing political process as a means to change rather than a radical re-thinking of society and the creation of a genuinely new politics.

Nonetheless there had been extensive debates throughout the late 1970s within the Ecology Party about the priority between purely electoral ambitions and achieving change through direct action and community involvement - movement building. These prefigured the 1980s extremely disruptive debates in Die Grünen between those in favour of "realpolitik" (the "realos") and those opposed to any compromise on fundamental principles for trivial changes (the "fundis").

In West Germany, despite the departure of high profile figures like Rudolph Bahro over the issue, they did manage to work through the problem and remained a strong force with a close connection between elected members with political activity and grass roots community activism with direct action. The two strands continued to complement and enhance each other. In the UK the issue was more brushed under the carpet and a fixation on electoral success eventually emerged.

Ely correctly identifies the electoral system as the fundamental barrier to green political success in the UK (and the US) if approached as a conventional political project. It is interesting that in 1984 he was able to see the party and the movement to some extent coming and working together particularly over peace and feminist issues. Unfortunately events later in the 80s did not continue this tendency, and the late 80s and 90s direct action movements (for example anti-road building) were not effectively linked with or supported by the Green Party - which started to focus on pursing electoral success. The history since 1984 only bears out Ely's analysis; after nearly 50 years of trying "electoral politics first" the UK greens remain a trivial force. It can not be certain that an alternative, more fundamentalist, approach would have succeeded any better - but it could hardly have done worse.  

It remains to be seen whether the grassroots ecological Extinction Rebellion movement in the UK in 2019, which explicitly eschews conventional politics whilst seeking political change, can achieve the sort of breakthrough that green politics in first-past-the-post countries has failed to bring. 

The same issue of Harbinger carried an extensive interview with Bahro in which he explores this issue from his then emerging unique post-marxist eco-spiritual approach. The full issue of Harbinger will be in the document library in due course, in the meantime Green Line magazine through the 80s often covered Bahro and you can find more in particular in the October 1982 edition (Bahro Joins Die Grünen) and the February 1986 edition (Why Bahro Left Die Grünen). A full article on Rudolph Bahro as one of the key green thinkers of the 70s and 80s is in preparation.