I have been reading with great interest a biography of Nikita Khruschev, the man who, despite his many personal failings, tried to turn the Soviet Union in a better direction after Stalin. Khruschev believed in the great Enlightenment values – rational planning, mass education, scientific and technological advance, socialism and Progress (with a capital ‘p’). He promoted these ideas again and again, but the end product was disappointing. The Soviet Union became a by-word for corruption, inefficiency and medocrity. Interestingly, when Khruschev’s schemes faltered, he tended to appeal to human nature. He claimed that everybody, from the government official to the lowliest party member to ‘the people’ themselves, could do better. He was fond of pointing back to the achievements of the Russian Revolution and the defeat of fascism in the Great Patriotic War, but he was constsntly frustrated by the results of his own well-meaning efforts. People just let him down.
Maybe, after all, Khruschev, was right. Many today, in the same way, look out on a world of warfare, poverty, massive displacement, and environmental destruction and then look around for someone to blame. What is the root cause of the ignorance, superstition, rivalry and exploitation – the sheer wickedness we encounter? Well, perhaps it really is human nature. The ideas that stem from the Enlightenment are grand and impressive, and like most ideas can work well enough in a utopian environment, but they are difficult to make work well on Planet Earth, particularly if they do not include a realistic assessment of human capabilities. It is not that I am trying to diminish or downgrade humanity. Quite the reverse. But when ideologies are promoted at the expense of people and those ideologies have within them an unrealistic estimate of human nature, then the trouble begins. Humans are not infinitely anything. They are not infinitely good, or adaptible, or educable, or productive or, for that matter, wicked or useless. They are…humans. We must understand what they are if they are to thrive: people who lead ‘ordinary’ lives, who need the support of others and who look to the future with hope.
What does this mean for the Green Party? We too have some big ideas: more care for the planet, more social justice, more democracy. But good ideas like these will not, on their own, achieve much. We need people more than anything, people who are not heroes, or great thinkers, but who know, despite their limitations, that there is something worthwhile to be done. Come and join us.