Make your mind up time

Terry Liddle calls for greens to join the Socialist Alliance and help transform it into a unitary revolutionary party

For socialists in the Green Party the forthcoming general election will be 'make your mind up' time. A report adopted by the London Federation of Green Parties at its meeting on February 19, while admitting, "Socialist Alliances appear to be advocating many policies the Green Party would support", states, "membership of the alliances standing candidates in competition with the Green Party ... would be incompatible with membership of the Green Party."

In other words no member of the Green Party in London can be a member of a Socialist Alliance. As more and more alliances are formed and take part in electoral activity, socialists in the Green Party are going to be faced with a hard and fast, 'either-or' choice.

One of those compiling the report was John Morrissey. Comrade Morrissey is not only a former chair of the Green Party's executive. He was also editor of the now defunct The Way Ahead. This described itself as "a network of left greens and green socialists both inside and outside the Green Party", and claimed to have "a cooperative relationship with the Socialists Alliance". Typical of its content is a letter from a West Midlands member which stated, "If the current leadership are successful in diluting further the essential character of the party there will be no future" (October 1999). Now that it has ceased publication socialists in the Green Party have neither a voice nor a focal point. John Morrissey is also listed in The All Red and Green as contact for Nuneaton SA. If it runs candidates will he be expelling himself from the Green Party?

On many issues the Green Party tries to emulate the Roman god and face both ways at once. On the one hand it presents itself as a left reformist party by putting on some of the political garb discarded by the Labour Party. On the other it is desperate for the votes of the ex-Thatcherite burghers of Middle England to whom the s-word is anathema. A typical example is Darren Johnson, the leading figure in the Green group on the Greater London Assembly. Writing in the June 2000 issue of Red Pepper under the headline "Reds and greens must work together", he stated: "I don't rule out the possibility that alliances between greens and pluralist lefts can produce some new political dynamic." Yes, this is the same Darren Johnson who was adamant in his opposition to a motion at an AGM of the London Federation of Green Parties calling for negotiations with the London Socialist Alliance and who will be standing in Deptford against the Socialist Alliance's Ian Page.

The Socialist Workers Party, having in the past been anxious to have greens on the platform at its meetings opposing the bombing of Serbia and globalisation, is calling for a vote for leftwing greens where there is no clear socialist candidate (Socialist Worker March 3). How will they distinguish leftwing greens from rightwing greens and will they be asking the leftwingers to join the Socialist Alliance?

The Green Party likes to depict itself as anti-capitalist, although this will not be found in its election manifestos. In fact, as its support for such ventures as the Local Exchange and Trading Schemes and credit unions shows, the Green Party's answer to capitalist globalisation is local capitalism - an impossible return to petty commodity production. It seems amazing that in nearly 30 years of existence the Green Party has not reached the obvious conclusion that the way to a sustainable economy and social justice is through the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production. While most greens are indifferent to or ignorant of socialism, there is an element which is actively hostile. A prime example is national election agent Chris Rose, who equates the left with the far right, citing JV Stalin as proof of his argument. It is this tendency which is gaining ground in the Green Party, while socialists become increasingly marginalised and isolated.

While brief and mistaken contact with people with far right antecedents sparked an inquiry into my activities which cost dear in time and money, nothing has been said about similar errors on the part of others. Nothing has been said about the Green Party's 'principal male speaker' (spokesperson) Mike Woodin appearing on a platform, along with the Morning Star's editor, at an anti-EMU rally, in which a large number of BNP members took part. Nor has the Green Party economics working group journal Sustainable Economics been told to stop advising its readers they can buy books on social credit from Bloomfield Books - a major seller of anti-semitic publications. Likewise, the Green Party membership of Larry O'Hara had not been questioned. O'Hara is 'security adviser' to the paranoid Green Anarchist and editor and publisher of the infrequent Notes from the borderland, the content of which consists of malicious allegations against all and sundry. When O'Hara was described by Searchlight as an "errand boy" for the Third Way, he complained to the Press Commission. His complaint was rejected (for details of O'Hara's activities see Searchlight January 1997).

In the European parliament, while ignoring the United Left, which includes parties such as the Dutch Green Left, the Green Party works with the Flemish Volksunie. Recently the Volksunie refused to participate in an alliance which included greens and socialists aimed at stopping the far right taking the mayoralty of Antwerp.

Many former Labour Party members, disgusted with Tony Blair, joined the Green Party almost by default. They were attracted by its environmental policies and its stance on such issues as nuclear disarmament. While not overtly socialist, it seemed to have the potential to become socialist. Having suffered at the hands of the Millbank apparatchiks and repelled by the myopic sectarianism and fratricidal strife of the Marxist-Leninist groups, nobody wanted to be in a party where policy was decided by a self-perpetuating bureaucratic elite and rank and file members were required to be little more than paper-sellers. The Green Party seemed the obvious, and only, choice.

Hopes placed in the Greens proved to be illusions. Taking a class-based approach to politics, in office greens have followed social democracy down the road to class collaboration and capitulation to capitalism. In Germany die Grünen have rushed to the right to fill the space opened by the decline of the Free Democrats. In France their biggest success in office has been to close Paris to car traffic for a couple of days. In London the Green GLA members have been Livingstone's most loyal supporters, while in Hackney the Green councillor has sided with management in the struggle over cuts in jobs and services. Another dead end.

While it is true that not all greens are socialists (far from it), is it really true that all socialists are environmentalists? Socialists smoking, eating at McDonalds, supporting nuclear power and vivisection and claiming that a car is essential to a decent standard of living must place a question mark over that claim. Many people are genuinely worried about global warming, the abuse of animals, the possible effects of GM foods, the concreting over of the countryside for motorways. Instead of placing such issues at the bottom of the agenda or sneering at them as petty bourgeois or reactionary, socialists have to seriously address them. If they do not, the field will be dominated by the Green Party who, ignoring or opposing socialism, have no real long-term solutions.

In the past socialists have seen the answer to the problems vexing humanity as expanding the volume of production. However, if the environmental cost of so doing is too high other solutions will have to be found. Serious choices will have to be made. Do we attempt to solve the problems of cold fusion or do we go for solar and wind power? Do we try to make genetic engineering safe in order to expand food production or do we emphasise organic food and changes in diet?

The formation of the Socialist Alliance, while far from problem-free, is the biggest step forward for socialists for half a century and more. If a Socialist Alliance party is to emerge, then there needs to be a very serious discussion on the nature of that party. The contradictory stance of green socialists on this vital question is epitomised in the article 'One no, many yeses' by John Morrissey in Socialist Movement Newsletter No1, 2001. On the one hand he states: "The call for a new mass party of the working class ... is not wrong. It is a mass mobilisation we need, not a few parliamentary seats under proportional representation." On the other: "The days of the single vanguard party, the one big idea and the unique blueprint are over ..." He concludes, "... we have only one enemy, global capitalism, but many alternatives ..."

If there is only one enemy, then what need is there for more than one organisation - a unitary party - to fight it? While having room in its ranks for left reformists fleeing from New Labour and green socialists tinged with anarchism, such a party, if it is to have any reach chance of the overthrow of all existing social conditions, of rapid advance from international socialist revolution to world communism, of necessity can only be a revolutionary party. If such a party is to be democratic centralist then it will have to avoid the pitfalls of the past. There will have to be built-in guarantees of real democracy, and centralism will have to be the reflection of necessity, not the whim of an elite to maintain its own power. Such a party will have to address environmental problems and the question 'Who rules?', as well as day to day bread and butter issues. It will have to be a party of a new type.

Greens count William Morris as a hero. They forget he was a revolutionary Marxist. In 1893 he wrote: "The first real victory of the social revolution will be the establishment not of a complete system of communism ... but of a revolutionary administration whose definite and conscious aim will be to prepare and further ... human life for such a system". The aim of the Socialists Alliance should be winning that victory. If green socialists can be won to participate in that process, then so much the better. Only this way can the planet and its human and animal inhabitants be saved.