Towards a Typology of Green Parties (Introduction)

After Brexit and a string of populist victories in Europe, but especially following Brexit and President Donald Trump’s 2016 election, scholars converged on researching populism. How could brash, illiberal leaders rise in stable democracies with decent economic conditions? What forms could populism take worldwide? Amidst a flurry of academic focus, political scientist John Judis noted importantly that populism isn’t itself an ideology and is not bound by any particular doctrine. Rather, it represents a style of Manichean politics practiced by movements on the left, in the center, and on the right alike. This makes it a squishy concept and one that breeds heterogeneity within its definitional boundaries. However, populism is far from the only form of politics successfully applied to various situations.

Canadian Green Party picnic. The Canadian Greens are a successful liberal-green party.
https://flic.kr/p/4ZZRBE

Over the last few years, as studies of populism have continued, another political movement appears to be on the upswing—the green movement, descended from emergent 1960s and 1970s activism. However, scholarship on these globally growing parties is notably lacking compared to scholarship on other political movements. Most of what exists studies the German Green Party, one of the most prominent examples. In Germany, the Greens have been a true political force since the 1990s, which explains why academics have gravitated towards them.

However, with the ascendency of these parties in countries across the globe, more scholarship is certainly warranted. In the 2019 European Parliamentary elections, Green parties across the continent proved themselves as serious contenders who could transcend the “one issue” stigma and win seats. Broadly speaking, these parties profited from young peoples’ concerns about climate change and dissatisfaction with current political offerings, particularly in urban areas. Most stunningly, in Germany, Alliance ‘90/The Greens (Bündnis 90/Die Grünen) briefly held first place in the polls, and now runs a close second behind the governing CDU/CSU. It’s not just Germany, though. From the 2012 general election to the 2017 general election, the Dutch Green Left (GroenLinks) party more than tripled its vote share. In Finland, the Green League (Vihreä Liitto) is just 5% behind 1st place in the polls. Across the ocean, in Canada, the Green Party registers 11% in the polls, projected to obtain anywhere from 3 to 11 seat. This is just 2.7% behind the New Democratic Party, which formed the Official Opposition from 2011-2015. This explosion in support merits further analysis.

As the climate warms and ice caps melt, the hottest issue on many voters’ minds is the environment, which translates into political support for parties who emphasize the issue. However, amidst the rise of Green parties and the lack of corresponding research, it’s important to note that “green politics” is, like populism, not an ideology itself but rather a fluid descriptor that can apply to a variety of political movements, united by ecological concerns.

Fundamentally, this stems from the postmaterial nature of ecological concerns. For the most part, discussions revolving around climate change focus on narratives far larger than the old dividing lines of taxes, welfare benefits, and other social safety net issues. Environmentalism in particular, when surveyed worldwide, has less to do with experiences with natural disasters and more to do with the rise of a politics of values. Thus, environmentalism is often seen through a postmaterialistic lens. The realignment of voters behind these births nontraditional political forms — new movements do not fall neatly on the left-right economic axis. Studies of the Brazilian parliament found, for example, that adoption of postmaterialistic values led to eclectic voting patterns, shattering old political assumptions. In the US and Europe, the rise of postmaterialist politics, according to political scientist Ronald Inglehart, weakened voting based on social class as politics reoriented to focus on value issues. Green parties are diverse in no small part thanks to this transcending of the old left and right. According to political scientist Dick Richardson, who has studied green movements, these parties adapt to the democratic context of their home countries, to pressure from other groups, and to economic development, explaining their many different forms (9). Indeed, many of these factors relate to the initial notion of rising postmaterialistic politics. This has resulted in a strange diversity of partisan outfits; from far-leftists to fascists, many claim the environmental mantle. Here and across the next few articles, I seek to demonstrate the diversity of green parties worldwide through this typology of green parties.

Here is my masterpiece. A full typology of green parties around the globe!

A few assumptions must be made with such a typology. First, sectioning political movements into categories like these is difficult due to cultural differences, government structures, and innumerable other factors. Resolving this dilemma is impossible in even a slightly parsimonious approach, so I’ve tried to evaluate partisan positioning within national context, to the extent that I could find translatable material on parties. Second, we must keep in mind that there is a difference between regular parties who employ environmentalist rhetoric and parties who prioritize the environment. This distinction is inherently fuzzy and difficult to measure, but I’m satisfied with the inclusion of the chosen parties and the exclusion of others. Third, the degree of overlap between some categories might be said to weaken the value of such a categorization. I do concede that this introduces a level of difficulty into the analysis, but its nuance is critical, especially when evaluating parties like the Italian Movimento Animalista, a sister party of the center-right Forza Italia party and yet also a partisan animal rights movement. Thus, I’m mostly comfortable with heavily populated sections like the overlap between liberal greens and red greens, although I admittedly struggled with some parties.

In upcoming articles (which will be linked here), I seek to make various points about the categories shown in the diagram. I plan to show how the most successful Green Parties have taken a largely market-friendly center-left approach, allowing them to appeal to a broad middle to upper-middle class strata of society. Additionally, I find that red-green parties remain constrained to their passionate base with an articulation of anti-capitalism often based in the old left; parties in between these two first categories find more success than pure red-greens because of their ability to transcend class conflict. These mixed parties tap into the postmaterial new left strain of thinking.

Another category perhaps challenges expectations. Often, we associate ‘green’ with ‘left’ or ‘center-left’. However, this is erroneous, because ecological conservatism exists worldwide. The conservative right-greens, when they take a philosophically sound approach, are promising as vehicles for ecological messaging to different groups. Unfortunately, some parties and movements in this category disingenuously adopt environmental positions or promote extreme ideologies; both of these prove unhelpful in the struggle against climate change and pollution.

Finally, I examine two smaller categories, one perhaps contestable. Animal rights parties, mostly miniscule outfits, struggle to gain traction where extant liberal greens are successful. However, I explore how they can expand (as in the Iberian context) to fill ecological partisan vacuums. Outside the diagram, anti-establishment greens are united more by what they’re against than what they’re for, which makes them a controversial category. It’s open to interpretation whether Yabloko counts as a real member of this cohort, for example. When we consider how illiberal democracy requires green parties to focus dually on opposition to current regimes, we see how the green message perhaps loses centrality. This contrarian outlook prevents these parties from adequately articulating and implementing an ecological project in government, even inviting government repression. In other cases, parties with an anti-systemic outlook appear loosely moored to ecological principles they campaigned on, like M5S, pre-empting successful implementation. Regardless of form, analyzing why the anti-establishment greens have largely failed reveals the challenges of implementing environmental policy.

A Norwegian activist with the Miljøpartiet De Grønne party.
https://flic.kr/p/eDMFtw

Distinct, sometimes even shocking, movements emerge from the rising global prevalence of green parties, movements that merit categorization and analysis. I hope that this project will elucidate why and how ecological movements around the world differ, displaying that there are perhaps multiple paths towards saving the world, paths that may clash at times.

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