Russian environmentalists called 'fascists'


By Irina Glushchenko

MOSCOW — Environmentalism as the fascism of our time? In the west, such charges are heard commonly enough in corporate boardrooms — but not in the pages of "quality" daily newspapers.

In Russia things are different. During March the leading liberal daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta published an article by the literary scholar Mikhail Epstein entitled "Greens and Browns". Epstein argued that environmental movements are a threat to civilisation, a present-day variety of fascism, and that it is necessary to struggle against them using the most resolute methods.

At the beginning of perestroika, when the relaxation of censorship allowed news of environmental disasters to begin penetrating the media, there were widespread protest actions. These were cited by liberal journalists as proof of the bankruptcy of the Communist system, and the environmental movement helped to mobilise people in struggle against Communist Party rule.

Since their victory over the Communist Party, however, the liberal activists have changed their tune. While environmental catastrophes multiply, the new ideologues and the pro-government press have either remained silent or have criticised the environmentalists, whose "irresponsible" protests are said to be hindering economic development.

Epstein's article is the most bluntly stated instance of this liberal "new thinking". The article begins by praising the "greens", whose ideas on the defence of the environment, Epstein considers, helped undermine the principle of the class character of society and thus contributed to the triumph of liberalism over Marxism. But having paid environmentalists this compliment, Epstein makes clear that the environmental movement should now leave the scene.

"After the end of all ideologies", Epstein complains, "a new one is being born — environmentalism". This ideology, he says, is founded in the belief that nature needs to be protected from "the rapacious human species", and that civilisation is responsible for all our woes. Consequently, he states, environmentalists argue: "Let this criminal civilisation decay, since it has brought countless miseries to our planet!"

In the thinking of environmentalists in the west, Epstein writes,

the concept of development is replaced by one of conservation. "Like every scheme for saving the world", he argues, "environmentalism itself is becoming dangerous".

Epstein observes that "in developing countries nature suffers much more than in highly developed ones". From this he concludes, improbably, that the development of humanity is proceeding along a generally correct path; the developing countries simply need to develop more quickly, along the lines of "the more civilisation, the more capitalism". Environmental movements, since they pose a threat to civilisation, represent a present-day variety of fascism, and it is necessary to struggle against them.

To western readers, Epstein's ranting will probably seem laughable. But these ideas are likely to have a strong impact on the Russian liberal intelligentsia, which has little serious knowledge either of economics or of the problems of the environment.

As for the real sources of the fascist danger, history shows that the prime social breeding-ground for fascist ideas is among the ruined middle layers during periods of economic collapse. The meaning of this for the Russian intelligentsia, many of whose members are finding that the transition to capitalism is bringing them poverty and hunger, hardly needs to be spelled out.

Fascism requires a scapegoat against which popular anger at the failures of capitalism can be directed. In Germany in the 1930s, the scapegoat was Jews. In Russia 60 years later, will it be environmentalists?