Many people who are sick of austerity rightly want to use May’s general election to boot out the Tories. To some the Green Party seems an attractive alternative.
Some 2,000 people joined the party in 24 hours on Thursday of last week. In September last year the Green Party had fewer than 20,000 members. That has more than doubled to over 47,000—that’s more than either Ukip or the Lib Dems.
And opinion polls show rising support for the party, especially among young voters. The growth of the Greens shows widespread disillusionment with the main parties.
A recent poll by Lord Ashcroft found that 20 percent of Green Party supporters voted Lib Dem in 2010. Many of those were students attracted by a promise of scrapping tuition fees.
Now some look to the Greens for something more principled. Others, who’ve been inspired by the left parties Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain, even see the Greens as a British equivalent.
The exclusion of the Green Party from the televised leaders’ debates will reinforce the impression that it represents a radical alternative kept out by the establishment. Support for the Labour Party has also been in long-term decline and many ordinary people don’t see it offering an alternative to the Tories.
Labour shadow chancellor Ed Balls has repeatedly said he is committed to Tory spending plans. And while Labour leader Ed Miliband often talks about the “cost of living crisis”, he refuses to back health workers striking against low pay.
It’s true that many of the Green Party’s policies are well to the left of Labour’s. They include scrapping university tuition fees and renationalising the rail industry.
The Greens have pledged to turn the minimum wage into the living wage and cap bankers’ bonuses. They say they are against austerity and the scapegoating of migrants.
The Greens supported the London bus strike earlier this month and were part of the Yes campaign during the Scottish independence referendum. So it would seem that the Greens share many of the demands and aspirations of those who want to fight for a better world.
But the party’s record in office undermines these radical credentials. The Green Party has controlled Brighton and Hove council since 2011. But rather than resisting austerity, it has implemented cuts.
Refuse workers in Brighton held a series of strikes in 2013 and 2014 against an attack on their wages. The council wanted to force through pay cuts of up to £4,000. And in 2004 the Greens even formed a coalition with the Tories and Lib Dems to run Leeds City Council.
For two years, the party propped up the Tories while they cut funding for services such as libraries, day centres for the elderly and hostels for homeless people. Their national election agent at the time, Chris Rose, justified this by saying, “None of the mainstream parties are worth anything.
“It doesn’t really matter which one we work with, just what the outcome is. We can’t stay on the sidelines forever.”
The experiences of Green governments elsewhere provide similar examples. In Germany, the Green Party formed a “Red-Green” coalition government with the Labour-type Social Democrats.
As part of that coalition it attacked pensions and welfare, and pushed for privatisation of public services. It also abandoned its pacifist and anti-nuclear principles by backing the war in Afghanistan and the continuation of nuclear power.
In Ireland the Greens joined a coalition with the right wing Fianna Fáil, which launched a brutal assault on working class living standards. The party was wiped out in the 2011 Irish general election as a result, losing all of their MPs.
This raises an important question—what could a genuine radical left alternative look like, and how can we build it? The major problem with the Green Party is that it tries to unite people across class divisions behind its own particular vision for capitalism.
This ignores the real conflict at the heart of capitalist society. This is between the capitalist ruling class—the bosses, the big business owners and the bankers—and the working class, whom they exploit for profit.
The interests of the capitalists and the workers are in direct contradiction with each other. They cannot be united behind a utopian vision of a fairer, greener capitalism. But because the Greens are committed to this, they will only act within the limits of what is considered to be “rational” within capitalism.
If elected they try to balance between classes—and usually come down on the side of the bosses. Of course, the Labour Party also tries to reconcile the interests of workers and bosses.
But there is an important difference. The Labour Party is organically linked to the working class. It was formed a century ago following a series of defeats for the “new unions”.
Trade union leaders were looking for a way to defend their interests by mediating between capital and workers through parliament, rather than organising strikes. But the Labour Party still represented a step forward in the sense that workers were organised together politically for the first time.
Today, Labour offers little in the way of an alternative to the Tories. Yet it retains a weakened relationship with the working class. Trade unions remain the main source of funding for the Labour Party. And the unions, which organise around six million workers, are represented at the Labour Party conference and vote in its leadership elections.
The Green Party has no such link to the working class. It was formed as the People Party in the early 1970s by a group of small business owners, property agents and solicitors. One of its founders was former Tory councillor.
Today the Green Party has many activists who will be on protests, visit picket lines and attend public meetings. But the party does not focus on building a fightback among the working class—instead its primarily focuses on elections. This means relying on the relative passivity of most of its supporters and simply asking them to vote for its candidates.
In this sense, it can act as a barrier to building a genuine radical left alternative. This is not to say that socialists should adopt a hostile attitude to supporters of the Green Party. We want to work with all those who resist austerity and fight to build a better world.
We will support left Green MP Caroline Lucas who will be standing for re-election in Brighton. And we think it’s wrong that the Green Party has been excluded from the televised leadership debates. But it is important that we also work to build an alternative to capitalism based on working class self-activity.
The left has to get its act together. Electorally, this means fighting for a more united left that can challenge both Labour and the Greens. The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) is a step towards this. Socialist Worker will be supporting TUSC candidates and use their campaigns to build resistance in the workplaces and on the streets.
And more generally, it means working inside trade unions and other campaigns to strengthen workers ability to fight back. Only the working class has the power to get rid of capitalism. By organising together, workers can use their collective economic strength to bring the system to its knees and take control of society.
Left reformism, the state and the problem of socialist politics today
by Paul Blackledge, International Socialism 139 isj.org.uk/?id=903
Britain and the crisis of the neoliberal state
by Alex Callinicos, International Socialism 145 bit.ly/1sGmXtq
The State and Revolution
by Vladimir Lenin, £6.95
Available at Bookmarks, the socialist bookshop. Phone 020 7637 1848. or go to bookmarksbookshop.co.uk