John Green reviews Out of the Wreckage by George Monbiot
Out of the Wreckage: A New Politics in the Age of Crisis by George Monbiot (Verso, £14.99)
George Monbiot, vociferous and articulate about the dangers confronting our planet, needs no introduction to many on the left and this book is an attempt to take his previous How Did We Get into This Mess? a stage further.
In it he constructs a densely packed portfolio of ideas for solving the issues facing us.
He argues convincingly that human beings, as distinct from other animals, are generally altruistic, with a strong desire to show solidarity with others. In order to supersede our present individualistic and consumer-orientated world, he says, we need a strong alternative narrative.
Only in this way can we win people over to communal values and co-operative ways of running our societies and Monbiot argues for the (re)creation of vibrant communities and for grassroots political organisations.
Yet while he recognises that our behaviours are largely determined by the societies in which we live, the author ignores the experiences of the former socialist countries, in which — despite centralised and often oppressive governments — forms of social and collective activity were encouraged and promoted, leading to an increased social awareness and social motivation, aspects now sorely missed by many living in the post-communist world.
While Monbiot scrupulously avoids expressing what could be termed an ideological position, he oddly and illogically lumps someone who did offer people a strong narrative as well as hope with right-wing ideologues: “The most grotesque doctrines can look like common sense when embedded in a compelling narrative as Lenin, Hitler and Ayn Rand discovered.”
He devotes a whole chapter to Bernie Sanders’s campaign in the US as an emulative example of people power but dismisses Jeremy Corbyn’s in a sentence, despite the fact that Corbyn was supported and advised by activists from the Sanders campaign.
Extraordinarily, in light of the recent election, he claims that: “Corbyn proved capable neither of harrying the government nor of proposing a new narrative that would capture the imagination of the country.”
Monbiot argues that we can only promote change if we are able to offer people a strong alternative narrative. But offering hope is equally important. Surely Corbyn has given us both?
While calling for more community-based action, looking to our communities and working together as means of overcoming capitalist alienation and social fragmentation, Monbiot avoids the terms capitalism as well as socialism.
He appeals to a nebulous “We” but ignores the huge religious, class, ethnic and social differences that exist in our societies. Nevertheless, his book has rich insights and brims with useful ideas.