Toward a feminist, green socialism: Mary Mellor

May 15, 1991

"We have to understand quite clearly why people sought to conquer nature, how frightening they found its seasons, pests, predators and uncertainties. We must sympathise with why human society felt the need for the control that science and technology offered. One of the benefits of our control of nature is that we feel closer to it ...

"Nature is not 'natural'; it has been constructed by thousands of years of human activity and we can build on that history to create a green and socialist society that is sustainable for future generations."

Mary Mellor, who will be a featured speaker at the Socialist Scholars Conference in Melbourne July 18-21, is an activist as well as a scholar. She is a green socialist feminist: a founder member of the Red-Green Network, a member of the Association of Socialist Greens, Women for Socialism, Socialist Movement, Women's Environmental Network, CND, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, the Socialist Environmental Resources Association, and the Industrial Common Ownership Movement.

Mellor is a senior lecturer in the Department of Applied Social Science, Newcastle Polytechnic. She currently has two books in preparation. Breaking the Boundaries: Towards a Feminist, Green Socialism is due for release by Virago. She is co-author with A. Dordoy of a forthcoming book on a green and feminist perspective on sociological theory. She is a member of the Conference of Socialist Economists and an overseas editor of the US journal Capitalism, Nature, Socialism.

Her activist approach is combined with her research. She is currently undertaking a study of local cooperative development in Portugal based on active models of research. That means involving the people who are being studied in the research process, which aims to achieve change.

Mellor characterises herself as an eco-feminist but distinguishes the problems, particularly the mysticism attached to the vision of many who identify as eco-feminists. She points to the danger that eco-feminism, while prioritising life and caring, may end up making women responsible for saving nature.

"Greens have highlighted issues that no traditional political perspective can ignore", she says. "Firstly that the natural world is finite. Matter cannot be created, but it can be destroyed in the sense that it can be rendered unusable. Secondly, no action is without its reaction. Cutting down trees will reduce the stability of soil. Dredging will alter the shape of estuaries and coasts. Dams will mean the loss of sediment on flood plains downstream ... Very few people now question the importance of the green issue."

But Mellor points out that the questions of political power structures and how to confront them have not been resolved. The green movement has emerged at a time when radical politics is paralysed by a combination of right-wing authoritarian populism, the failure of Social Democracy, the crisis of socialism in the East and the lack of an opposition vision.

Greens must not ignore the economic, and political lessons from the past; in particular they must absorb the analysis and experiences of those anarchists and socialists who have confronted awesome power structures, sometimes successfully. By what means will the rich be divested of their wealth and decent living standards established for all, in particular the Third World?

"In the absence of clear political action on the left, individualised survivalism and eco-fascism are real possibilities."

Any solution has to contain all three elements — green, socialist and feminist. "The eco-feminist aims of preserving the earth and its resources, prioritising life and caring, rejecting materialism as a way of life are all essential, but they cannot be achieved without creating an egalitarian political community, by its nature socialist. Equality cannot be built solely by commandeering the means of production. It must be built by sharing the means of life, nurturance, care and personal development (creativity and spirituality) which must finally break down the divisions between the lives of men and women on which male dominance has for so long been based."

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