Origins - the Movement for Survival

The Movement for Survival, which was launched in the January 1972 edition of the Ecologist magazine, can claim to be the first green party in the world. Although Movement (as it was known) didn’t call itself a ‘party’ it nonetheless had a clear intention to contest elections and for most people at that time, like with PEOPLE a year later, that meant they were, de facto, a political party.

Movement was not the first to contest national elections - that distinction belongs to the New Zealand Values Party - but it was the first green organisation that intended to contest them. Movement groups and individuals may have contested local elections but there is no record of this.

Movement was created as a political and electoral vehicle, to promote and implement the programme outlined in Blueprint for Survival, the seminal document published in the January 1972 edition of the Ecologist.

The preface to Blueprint announcing Movement’s launch, boldly stated that:-

"The situation...must now give rise to a national movement to act at a national level, and if need be to assume political status and contest the next general election. It is hoped that such an example will be emulated in other countries , thereby giving rise to an international movement, complementing the invaluable work of the Club of Rome.

Such a movement cannot hope to succeed unless it has previously formulated a new philosophy of life, whose goals can be achieved without destroying the environment, and a precise and comprehensive programme for bringing about the sort of society in which it can be implemented.

This we have tried to do, and our Blueprint for Survival heralds the formation of the MOVEMENT FOR SURVIVAL (see p.23) and, it is hoped, the dawn of a new age in which Man will learn to live with the rest of Nature rather than against it."

The proclamation was signed ‘The Ecologist’, with the following names listed as signatories underneath; Edward Goldsmith, Robert Allen, Michael Allaby, John Davoll, Sam Lawrence. Although these five are listed it was Goldsmith who was the main originator of Movement.

Page 23 had the official announcement. It stated that:-

“We need a Movement for Survival whose aim would be to influence governments, and in particular that of Britain, into taking measures most likely to lead to stabilisation and hence the survival of our society.”

Movement was:-

“envisaged as a coalition of organisations concerned with environmental issues, each of which would remain autonomous but support the framework of Blueprint for Survival “

Six major environmental NGOs declared their support at the launch; the Conservation Society, Friends of the Earth, the Henry Doubleday Research Association (later renamed Garden Organic), the Soil Association and Survival International (now called just Survival).

‘Survival’ was very much the buzzword, the zeitgeist of the era. The magazine ‘Towards Survival’, published by Keith Hudson, was launched in 1972. Then in 1975 Ecotopia was published. In the book a ‘Survivalist Party’ leads the western states of the USA to secede from the union. From 1975-77 the BBC ran a cult drama series entitled ‘the Survivors’ and in 1975 PEOPLE very nearly changed its name to the Survival Party, opting in the end for the Ecology Party, seen as a more positive approach...

As Lesley Whittaker, Green party co-founder and author of PEOPLE’s first manifesto, in June 1974, ‘Manifesto for Survival’, says: “By the 1970s... ‘Survival’ was beginning to be more of broad based challenge than just avoiding the danger of a madman with a finger hovering over a big red button. It was a different threat, but harder to handle because it was much wider than simply reducing or abolishing a specific armament. ‘Survival’ was becoming the word proponents of the need to take action were using

It is not clear who worked on the Movement idea other that Edward Goldsmith himself. Robert Allen and Michael Allaby both have no memory of any involvement. John Davoll and Sam Lawrence have both since died. The launch announcement refers an Acting Secretary, which will most likely have been a member of the Ecologist staff, possibly Jean Leidloff

What we do know is that the initiative failed to take off. This was not due to any lack of support. On the contrary the Ecologist office found itself flooded with enquiries. Instead of organisations signing up, however, the editors were faced with many thousands of individuals writing in to declare their support.

Allaby : “After the Blueprint appeared things were pretty chaotic for a time. It’s no wonder letters received no replies - there was no one to write them!

Whittaker: “We were very enthused by the idea of the Movement for Survival and sent off a response. We awaited being contacted with names of other local people interested. Of course, nothing happened. The lack of response from MfS and the urgency of the Erlichs’ proposed dedication of two years to doing something active made us decide to take action.

Whittaker:  “Teddy told us when we eventually met to take over Movement for Survival that the Ecologist staff had not even looked at any of the replies. They were just in open cardboard boxes with the torn-out back pages dumped in. The move of the Ecologist and its people to Cornwall ... was a major distraction, and there was barely enough of an organisation to run the growing Ecologist, let alone handle the huge swell of interest the announcement of MfS had generated. I think they were all amazed and rather scared by the scale of the success.

Movement’s failure as a separate organisation was simply that it lacked the organisational capacity to respond to all these enquirers and turn the initial enthusiasm into a national organisation.

It would appear, however, that many initiatives were begun and local groups formed from the general enthusiasm. Robert Allen recalls “helping a group in Teeside which may well have been part of Movement for Survival. It must have been early 1972. The group was organised by a very nice woman, salt of the earth, whose name I’ve completely forgotten.” Sara Parkin also recalled being part of a Movement group, in Leeds.

Whittaker herself says of the Club of Thirteen, PEOPLE’s direct forerunner “We would in one sense, have been one of these groups, our discussion group in some degree sparked by MfS though not part of it”.

Given the state of Movement’s national organisation it is likely that very few, if any, of the groups or initiatives set up at that time were part of Movement for Survival in any official sense. This was a movement of autonomous groups created spontaneously in towns and cities around the country.

Martin Stott, a member of the Political Ecology Research Group in the seventies and now chair of Garden Organic, recalls that “When I arrived at Oxford Uni in Oct 1973 a Survival Society - which was like the Movement for Survival a kind of forerunner of PEOPLE/ Ecology/Green party- was in existence. I was heavily involved, though I didn’t care for the name which I thought far too apocalyptic. It was pretty active and did nurture a fair few people - including Stephen Joseph, later of Transport 2000/the Campaign for Better Transport which was also formed in 1972 - who went on into the green movement generally.

I got actively involved, but became disillusioned by an overly academic approach and, having volunteered for the then very new Friends of the Earth during part of my gap year, set up a FoE group at Ox Uni which was involved in more practical issues including loft insulation, paper recycling and transport campaigning.

I have a series of letters from various other members during 1974 talking about a 'Survival Week' in autumn term 1974, apparently 27 Oct 74 for a week. This includes a forum 'Britain and the world food situation' with a panel with a Prof Hunt from the Institute of Agricultural Economics, and someone called John Baldwin as well as 'a FoE man' . Also a meeting with the UNYSA on population and the Science Society in the Clarendon Labs and various films in places like the Zoology Dept.

There was also a Survival Society magazine. - I was asked to write on transport issues for it as their 'transport specialist'(!) and links with various other organisations including the Conservation Society ( I recall John Davoll) and something called 'Alternative Society'  whose chair Stan Windass lived near Oxford."

Dennis Nightingale-Smith remembers attending a conference at Conway Hall in Red Lion Square in September 1972 which he believed had been organised by Movement for Survival. It was attended by some three hundred people including Shirley Williams and the Anti-Fluoridation Campaign. Edward (Teddy) Goldsmith gave a keynote speech about Movement.

It was around October 1972 that three of Movement’s founder signatories, including Goldsmith, moved down to Cornwall. It is likely that work on the project stalled during the move.

Although many got involved sooner, the official merger between Movement and PEOPLE, under the name PEOPLE, did not occur until February 1974, as recorded in a leaflet at the time. PEOPLE subsequently became the Ecology Party and then the UK Green Party.

In practical terms the merger consisted of the Whittakers (PEOPLE’s founders)  visiting Goldsmith, and collecting boxes full of unanswered enquirers and, as recorded in Andy Beckett’s ‘Get Out of the City’ book about the 70s, a copy of Movement’s mailing list.

Whittaker: “My hazy recollection now (and sadly there is no one left to check it with) is that Tony and I were in London, it may have been for a legal business meeting, a Conference with Counsel or some such. Afterwards we went on to where Teddy was based in London, in a flat in St.Johns Wood. That is when we picked up these unruly boxes of MfS replies. It was ages after the January 1972 issue of Blueprint, that much I do know, because we commented that lots of the addresses might not still be relevant. I have a firm recollection that collecting the MfS paperwork was an errand being completed after doing something else.

I don’t believe there was anyone in the group at the Ecologist who had a clue about how to set up or run a political campaign. That is why Teddy was so relieved to be in touch with PEOPLE.”

Although young at the time I can recall Goldsmith telling me, with great satisfaction, that he had found these very efficient people who had taken over running Movement He was clearly impressed by the fact that the Whittakers were both lawyers, and thought they were perfect for the role."

Although the Movement for Survival can be seen to have failed organisationally it nonetheless succeeded in generating a grassroots movement for survival and in giving birth to PEOPLE. There was a massive response to the Ecologist’s call for action in January 1972. This movement lacked co-ordination but nonetheless created the momentum, and served as a catalyst, for much of what came later.

Whittaker herself was motivated to set PEOPLE up because, as she saw it, Movement had failed, but the job still needed doing.

We in Coventry eventually turned our discussion group into a political party in December 1972,when Tony and I and Michael Benfield, Freda Sanders and one or two others, decided that the Ecologist was never going to get their Movement for Survival off the ground and something was urgently needed to be done politically.”

It is also clear that some of the people who responded to Movement, and had been motivated by it, simply transferred to PEOPLE when it started.

Whittaker: “When we advertised our first meeting to expand PEOPLE, in February 1973, I suspect some of the people who came were from similar groups, which had risen up as part of the Movement for Survival wave."

We did eventually have a London Meeting and I think it might have arisen from the MfS boxes.

Movement’s merger with PEOPLE was no doubt made possible because of the similar approaches of the two organisations. Both were envisaged as coalitions of the wider environmental movement, both were called a ‘movement’, as opposed to a ‘party’, both had electoral intentions and both were started by a small group of middle class intellectuals motivated by the survival imperative.

Whittaker had “had various conversations with Teddy” before February 1974. There had therefore, presumably, been a meeting of minds which made the eventual merger a relatively seamless process.

Goldsmith himself was enthusiastic about PEOPLE and stood for them as a General Election candidate - in Eye, Suffolk - in February 1974. He also spent much time abroad, especially in France, helping start up ecology parties.

Although Movement failed in its intention to pull together a broad green coalition, it did fulfil its’ founders’ electoral intention, in its later Ecology and Green party incarnations, and in the creation of ‘green’ parties around the world, to present a new challenge to the political status quo.

In that way Teddy Goldsmith can be regarded as the visionary behind, and the original founder of, today’s global movement of green parties.

David Taylor,  March 2017
DT in 1976
photo of DT in 1979

 

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