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The future’s red not Green

By Dave Stockton

If the Scottish National Party is touted to cause the electoral upset of the century and maybe lose Labour the Westminster election, then the ballooning support and membership of the Green Party is the big story south of the border. Greens are regularly leading the Lib Dems in opinion polls, with recent results as high as 9 per cent.

The party’s membership has more than doubled since September to 43,829 members, passing UKIP’s last reported membership of 41,943, and pressing hard on the heels of the Lib Dems (44,576).

The Greens are clearly attracting a substantial number of younger voters, looking for a radical “party of the left”: one with policies that stress not just the mounting threats to the environment but also issues of social justice and opposition to the austerity mania of the main parties.

Its recently amended Philosophical Basis (PB) document talks of “making social justice central” and asserts that “Green politics and social justice are fundamentally dependent – without environmentalism, the planet will become uninhabitable; without social justice, the planet isn’t worth living on.”

It goes on:

A system based on inequality and exploitation is threatening the future of the planet on which we depend, and encouraging reckless and environmentally damaging consumerism. A world based on cooperation and democracy would prioritise the many, not the few, and would not risk the planet’s future with environmental destruction and unsustainable consumption.”

Its new leader Natalie Bennett, in her acceptance speech to conference, also proclaimed, “the trade union movement plays a vital role in defending the interests of working people” and urged “all the party’s members to be active trade unionists”.

Its immediate slogans include raising in the minimum wage to £10 per hour, a change from austerity and welfare cuts to investment in decent jobs, and moving “from privatisation for the benefit of the 1 per cent to public management of essential services not driven by corporate greed”.

The party’s most prominent spokespersons tend to belong to the left of the party, people who openly call themselves socialists like Caroline Lucas, the party’s only MP and prominent in the antiwar movement, who regularly speaks at anticuts rallies, visits picket lines and supports strikes.

A Green future?

It is widely reported that there is a haemorrhage of supporters from the left of Labour to the Greens. Even Left Unity reports losses in that direction.

In Labour’s case the reasons are obvious. In practice it has long abandoned its priority of serious measures of social justice, by accepting the straightjacket of Tory-Lib Dem priorities of balancing the budget and paying off the bankers’ debt. It is unable to offer serious change for the better, either on welfare or the environment.

As for Left Unity it is of course is much smaller (2,000 members) and cannot field more than a handful of candidates in May, whereas the Greens are intending to stand in 75 per cent of constituencies. But there could be another reason. Given Left Unity’s determination thus far to limit its policies to a left reformist framework, and given the Greens’ (like the SNP’s) robbing the Labour Party of its discarded left clothes, this trend might continue, especially among young people, 19 per cent of whom are recording an intention to vote Green in opinion polls.

A genuine party of the left must be one for whom elections are only a means to an end, creating a party of activists rooted in the struggles waged by the unions in the workplaces and by campaigners in the communities, and with an open and unashamedly anticapitalist programme.

So why not vote Green? Quite simply because it is neither a socialist nor a working class party, either in the goals and methods of its programme or in its historical and contemporary links to the labour movement.

It still talks of being “neither right nor left”, and whatever individual leaders may say it is not openly socialist or anticapitalist. It wants to reform the behaviour of property owners, making them live up to their social responsibilities rather than take their property and put it under the ownership and control of working people. Without this, all talk of supporting “community self-government over corporate rights” is just that: talk.

The best you get is waffle such as the following in the Philosophical Basis:

Property laws should permit neither states nor individuals to treat their property in whatever way they choose. Instead they should aim to ensure that all people, where they wish it, have their needs met through access to the land and its resources, while maintaining its quality for future generations. Property laws should therefore impose duties on owners as well as granting rights.”

Opportunist, populist and petty bourgeois

he Green Party is plainly a party heavily based on the intelligentsia. According to its 2013 Equality and Diversity membership survey the proportion of members with a university degree was 57 per cent, more than double the national figure of 26 per cent, and within this figure 37 per cent had a Masters, PhD or other higher degree. And 56 per cent of members described themselves as “lower middle class”; under a quarter (23 per cent) identified themselves as “working class” in any form.

So the Green Party is unsurprisingly a petit-bourgeois party – with no historic links to the working class movement and, despite Bennett’s overtures to the union leaders, no real identification with it. In these circumstances its pledges to desirable pro-working class reforms and the “leftness” of its spokespersons are not decisive.

It also retains all the electoral opportunism of a reformist party like Labour – but without its links to the unions and its traditional mass working class electorate. The test of this is what they do when they are in office.

This can be seen in its stronghold of Brighton, where a council led by them took the decision two years running to implement austerity measures, which slashed millions of pounds from adult social care and children’s services. Their council leader Jason Kitcat was almost proud of this stating, “Our budget showed up the opposition’s favourite lie, that Greens aren’t up to the job of governing.”

Nevertheless the Party Conference voted by two-thirds majority to support these decisions.

So the Greens – even if they are party “of the left” with policies to the left of Labour – have neither the organisational nor the historic roots of the latter, let alone the mass support of millions of workers. These features make it possible, and indeed necessary for revolutionary socialists to work with these Labour supporters to reveal in practice their party’s inability to address their burning needs, in the process winning them to the project of a radically different kind of working class party.

Of course its is a legitimate tactic to unite with the Greens in supporting strikes, opposing cuts, fighting wars and racism, and of course environmental destruction. This is a united front – marching separately, striking together. But voting for the Greens, let alone joining them, means building neither a party with an anticapitalist programme, nor an activist party based on the working class and its struggles. It is to endorse them and their programme for power, however unlikely they are to attain it. It is in effect deserting the working class movement for petit-bourgeois radicalism and populism.

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