Natalie Bennett’s motley crew
While the Green Party as a whole is not supportable, argues Robert Eagleton, a small number of its candidates may be
Green Party conference
Over the weekend of March 6-9, Green Party members gathered in Liverpool’s Area and Convention Centre for their spring conference (a suitable location, given that the Greens have recently become the largest opposition party on Liverpool city council).
There can be little doubt that the Green Party of England and Wales is currently on the up. Despite its out-of-her-depth leader’s horrendous media performances, 2014-15 saw the Greens gain one MEP and 18 councillors, whilst also managing to quadruple its membership, which now stands at over 55,0001 and consequently makes the Greens the third largest party in England and Wales. Kermit the Frog once sang, “It’s not easy being green”2 and, while this may have been true a few years ago, it is most certainly no longer the case: a recent opinion poll shows that the Greens’ sole MP, Caroline Lucas, has a 10-point lead over her Labour rival, for example.3 Unfortunately the party’s good fortunes have seen a number of comrades within Left Unity begin to promote illusions in the Greens - some have even left to join Natalie Bennett’s motley crew. This serves as a stark reminder to the rest of us of just how confused sections of the left are. Indeed, just as comrades north of the border jumped on the Scottish Nationalist Party-led independence bandwagon in the run-up to the September 18 referendum, many down south are collapsing into the politics of Green-style fluffy capitalism.
The Greens have never been against capitalism and their spring conference reminded us of this. Bennett declared that the Green Party aims to create “a society working for all of us” (my emphasis). The Greens want a society where workers, employers and investment bankers are all better off, whereas Marxists know that inherent class antagonisms cannot be reconciled - what a pity that not all on the left recognise that simple truth.
At the conference I attended the panel discussion on ‘Building a green economy’. Rupert Read, the Green general election candidate for Cambridge, argued that the alternative to the current economic model must be based on zero economic growth and “sharing better” - “we already have enough stuff”, after all. According to Read, we need to eradicate our “obsession” with “growthism”, which serves as “an excuse for not redistributing” wealth, because it is generally contended that economic growth will lead to everyone getting better off. This fails to recognise that it is capitalism itself which intrinsically drives towards self-expansion and leads to the increased consumption of finite resources.
The other panel speaker from the party was finance spokesperson Molly Scott Cato MEP. She argued that in a “green economy” rich people might not object too much to the redistribution of their wealth. Once they realise that the satisfaction resulting from an additional million pounds is less than the happiness gained through human relationships, they will be susceptible to the whole idea. I for one won’t hold my breath.
The conference dispelled the common misconception that the Greens are in some way Keynesian. Reinforcing Read’s argument, Cato called for minute economic growth in a subsequent panel discussion on ‘What Syriza’s election victory means for the left in the UK’. Cato also told the audience that, whilst she was pleased to see a fellow anti-austerity party gain power in Europe, she had “some concerns” with the political platform of Syriza.4 Unfortunately for those socialists who peddle illusions in the Greens, these concerns did not include Syriza’s decision to abandon their policy of separating the church and state, nor did they include the coalition deal with the rightwing Anel. Rather, Cato was much more worried about “their commitment to environmental politics”.5 Apparently “it is very tempting, when you have a debt, to try and get out of that debt by growing rapidly and generating income to pay your debtors; but suggestions that the Syriza government might cut fuel duty, or might make cheaper fossil fuel an answer to the economic problems, must be resisted”.6
Another aspect of the Greens which will not sit comfortably with their cheerleaders on the left is their record in local government. In 2011 the party formed a minority administration over Brighton and Hove city council. Every year since then the overwhelming majority of Green councillors have voted through cuts budgets. Any party genuinely orientated towards the interests of the working class would have refused to take office, knowing full well that it would have no alternative to implementing cuts in public services. But the Greens are far more concerned with appearing a respectable party which can be trusted to govern in times of economic difficulty (read: be relied upon to carry out attacks on the working class). The £70 million cuts administered by Brighton since 2011 have been met with resistance from the local GMB union and activist groups.
At the Brighton Green Party’s general meeting in January 2015, a resolution was passed calling for Green councillors to stop voting for budgets that include cuts.7 But, when it came round to setting the budget, a clear majority of Green councillors ignored the party’s instructions and on March 3 only six of the 20 councillors voted against the budget proposed by Labour, which resulted in an additional £25 million worth of cuts on top of what had already come before.8 On the same day the budget was set, ex-Liberal Democrat and Brighton Green group leader Jason Kitcat received an award from the Local Government Information Unit think tank for his “contribution to local government”,9 thanks to his “strong leadership throughout local government in cutting-edge areas”.10 I think LGIU is trying to say, albeit in a roundabout way, ‘Congratulations on ensuring that a supposedly anti-austerity party has voted for £95 million worth of cuts’.
Jack Conrad summed up the Green Party very well when he wrote in a recent article: “While the Greens’ critique of the environmental crisis, social inequality and zero-hours exploitation has some value, the same cannot be said of their plans for the future.”11
The diverse nature of the Greens means that the answer to the question, ‘Should socialists ever consider voting for the Greens?’, is not a simple one. The Greens are not a homogenous grouping and it is my opinion that certain Greens are supportable. Within the Green Party there is a leftist faction, called the Green Left, which has been at the forefront of denouncing the implementation of austerity in local government. Now, I fully accept that upholding the principle of anti-austerity is not a litmus test to discern whether a person, or an organisation for that matter, is working class (Anel and the BNP are against austerity), but there are nonetheless class-conscious Green Party members whom we should seek to support and win over. One such member is the RMT’s president, Peter Pinkney who is standing for the Greens in the constituency of Redcar, and has said he wants to abolish “capitalism and replace it with a socialist system”.12
Peter Manson rightly states: “We need a Communist Party - one that brings together all the best elements from the existing divided left ... on the basis of Marxism”.13 I would argue that the fight to win over the “best elements” needs to be extended to the Greens. If we are prepared to engage with Left Unity, to win them over to explicitly Marxist politics, and if we are prepared to work with Labour Party Marxists to try and win over the 200 members, out of the Party’s 200,000-strong membership, who attended the recent Labour Left Platform roundtable discussion,14 then why can’t we try to engage with those Green members who are susceptible to the ideas of Marxism? A part of the “existing divided left” is currently fighting within the Green Party to try to prevent it carrying out attacks on the working class.
I am not saying that socialists should join the Green Party, which is fundamentally petty bourgeois: that would be fruitless. Nor am I saying that we should call for a Green vote purely on the basis that the Greens are to the left of Labour. What I am saying is that we stick to the Communist Platform’s motion currently being proposed in Left Unity to “support all working class candidates who agree to oppose cuts to services”.15
This means that we should call for a vote for Green candidates like Peter Pinkney because he is an ally of the working class and there is no other working class candidate standing against him. If a Green candidate is not committed to working class politics then they should not be supported. Similarly if there is a candidate standing against the Greens, from an organisation putting forward working class politics - as the Socialist Party of Great Britain will do when it stands in Brighton Pavilion - then they should be supported over the Greens.
Ultimately those who promote illusions in the Green Party are damaging the advancement of principled socialist politics. While certain candidates may be supportable, the party as a whole is not, and to those Left Unity members who have jumped ship to the Greens I say: Comrades, beware. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side!
11. ‘A misjudged Bonapartist initiative’ Weekly Worker February 19 2015.
12. Morning Star June 24 2014.
13. ‘Arguments about Greens’ Weekly Worker February 26 2015 (emphasis added).
14. ‘Wishful thinking rather than hard truth’ Weekly Worker February 12 2015.