Why the left needs the Green Party
When I talk to left wing friends who aren’t members of the greens about why they should join, there are usually three reasons given for why they would not do so:
1. Political parties are inevitably reactionary, bureaucratic, undemocratic and unnecessary
2. The Green Party is not anti-capitalist
3. The Green Party is not a working class party
The first of these reactions is based upon a misunderstanding of why the left needs a political party, I do not purpose that a radical transformation of capitalism is possible by a certain political party gaining a parliamentary majority. I think history is fairly consistent in showing that social change comes from social movements demanding it. Power corrupts and so political parties will tend to only be as good as the social movements forcing them to act. However, parties are an effective way for putting forward a concrete alternative program. These are important for inspiring people with the idea that there are realisable alternatives, the Alternative Economic Strategy in the 1980’s is a good example. A certain anarchist fetishism has crystallised in activist circles. This seems mainly a reaction against the aberrations of Leninist political parties and organisations. Leninist democratic centralism, elitist vanguardism and dogmatic ‘Marxism‘ inhibits democracy and participation. As a right of passage, it seems that every activist must, at one point or another find themselves inadvertently trapped in a Trotskyist front group. Yet a democratic centralist party is qualitatively different from decentralised parties such as the Greens.
It is unfortunate that the 1917 Bolshevik coup led the left everywhere to follow an organisational form intended for Tsarist Russia not liberal democracies. It is a double shame that Rosa Luxemburg, the leading Marxist after the death of Engels, was murdered by the SPD in 1919. Luxemburg, castigated Lenin‘s lack of democracy as a deviation from Marxism, theorising instead how a mass decentralised socialist party is directly linked into a process of spontaneous revolution. Unfortunately, her untimely death allowed Leninism to come unopposed to pre-eminence amongst the left.
After experiencing Leninism it is understandable why anarchism is appealing, especially as anarcho methods of organising within small to medium sized social movements are beneficial in terms of participation, democracy and identification. And anarchists have of course played an important role in the development social movements such as the global and environmental justice movements. Yet anarcho organisation within social movements is a different matter to fetishising anarchism as an entire program. It is possible to have decentralised organisations and even anarcho organisations as well as a party. From which we can put forward a concrete political program to engage in the battle of ideas; moving beyond single issue protestations and inspire people to action by providing realistic immediate goals combined with a plan for achieving the overall aim of a socialist future. As Trotsky put it, when arguing against the left communists: “generally they have no need of a bridge in the form of transitional demands because they do not intend to cross over to the other shore. They simply dawdle in one place, satisfying themselves with a repetition of the same meager abstractions. Political events are for them an occasion for comment but not for action”.
The second response is based on an inadequate understanding of Green Party polices, the heterogeneous nature of any party and the role of transitional demands. Green Party polices include:
- A large scale increase in taxation of the rich and corporations.
- The weakening of wage labour through a universal Citizens’ Income and Pension covering an individuals basic needs.
- The extension of public ownership over the entire rail, port and energy distribution networks.
- An opening of our borders
- ILO enshrined workers rights established.
A post capitalist society requires common ownership of the means of production and this aim should be enshrined in the Greens constitution as it was in Labour’s. Nevertheless, the above represents a promising number of anti-capital policies. Far more so, then what can be hoped of New Labour. Undoubtedly, New Labour retains much support and this will swell as people reach for an alternative to the cuts. But unfortunately, Ed Milibands‘ father’s work remains even more pertinent then when first published in 1961. Ralph argued even then that Labour’s dogmatic attachment to parliamentarianism means that Labour will always be more concerned with gaining and retaining a parliamentary majority by propping up capitalism then implementing socialism or supporting extra parliamentary actions such as protests and strikes (a good example is Ed ducking attendance of the student demonstrations). The Green Party on the other hand was born out of the protest movement and is bound by a constitution which states that elections are not the best way of achieving social change, while few of its members’ aim is to win a parliamentary majority.
The third response is based upon an incorrect and romanticised view of what constitutes the working class in post industrial societies. Under 10% of the working population is now employed in manufacturing, in contemporary capitalism the working class is made up of the working poor in the service industry along with perpetually insecure temporary white collar workers. Someone is a worker not because they work in factory but because they do not own the means of production and are a wage earner paid to produce a piece of capital. It is true that the Green Party does not have affiliated unions and this needs to be rectified but the idea that socialists should simply follow the lead of union bureaucrats; who are generally not even socialists themselves is ludicrous.
With 15,000 members the Green Party is a promising platform for spring boarding socialist ideas and values.