What socialists say
Socialists and the Greens
By Paul Mcgarr
"BRITAIN under Labour is more unequal. The rich have become richer, the poor poorer. We demand higher taxes for top earners. We demand economic justice." The quote is from Mike Woodin, principal speaker of the Green Party, at its recent conference in Chesterfield.
At the election the Greens will be appealing to people disillusioned with New Labour and wanting a far more radical alternative. The party's manifesto echoes many of the themes the Socialist Alliance will be campaigning around.
It has produced an excellent election campaigning briefing titled "Global Justice, Not Globalisation", which echoes the feelings seen in the anti-capitalist protests since Seattle. I spoke to Caroline Lucas, Green MEP and one of the best of the radical figures within the Green Party, at the conference. "People stereotype Greens as only being about the environment," she argued. "Our policies are about sustainable development, and at the heart of that are economic policies, social justice."
When party speakers talk about environmental issues they usually do so in a way that connects them with wider social questions. So Mike Woodin rightly argued, "It's the poor who are more likely to see their child killed on the roads. It's the poor who live near the incinerators and the toxic factories."
But the Green Party is more complex, and contradictory, than its manifesto and statements from key figures suggest. At the conference it struck me that only a minority of people were genuinely enthusiastic about the radical stance embodied in the manifesto. Among these were the Greens who have been actively involved in protests and with groupings such as Globalise Resistance.
But there were other currents obvious at the conference too. Many of the discussions seemed disconnected from many current concerns and struggles. The genuine passion and concern about social injustice sometimes came across as though it was about people and issues that were a little removed from delegates' daily experience.
Some at the conference were also much more focused on "parish council level" local issues rather than wider social questions. Many of these are existing local Green councillors. There was also another important minority at the conference, people who had an almost New Labour style elitism and an obsession with "getting real". In debates some of these, while careful not to challenge many of the radical manifesto themes head on, struck very New Labour style poses-such as defending selection in education for instance.
It felt like given half a chance some of these people would sacrifice radical or left wing policies in order to get elected and work within the existing system. They would rapidly tread the path beaten by people like German Green leader and government minister Joschka Fisher, from radical protester to supporter of NATO bombing and defender of nuclear waste transport. Other activists and some leading figures in the Greens have far better principles, and in private were scathing against people like Joschka Fisher. These divisions can only grow the more successful the party is in elections. What should the attitude of socialists be?
Whenever Greens campaign on the kind of themes and issues highlighted in their manifesto we should enthusiastically work with and alongside them. And in areas where no socialist candidate is standing at the election and Green candidates take up such themes we should vote for them. But the Greens are NOT an alternative to the Socialist Alliance or socialist organisation in general. The contradictions within the Green Party stem from a deep-rooted lack of clarity about the nature of the capitalist society which is the source of the social and environmental problems we face.
The Greens also have no focus on building a mass movement based on ordinary people changing the world from below. Instead the party is deeply elitist in a very specific but important sense. Everyone at the conference, even the best people, focused on elections and winning office as the only way to deliver change.
There was no sense of the working class movement, and little notion of building mass struggle and protest, or even of building a mass Green Party. For a force which looks to both present an electoral challenge to New Labour and also build a mass movement to challenge capitalism, you need not Green but socialist organisation.