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Proletarian issue 6 (June 2005)
Analysis: The Green Party
Capitalism with a smile
Despite decades of official rubbishing of environmental science, there is now a growing awareness worldwide of the threat posed to humanity by climate change and other environmental pressures. Many people are rightly concerned about rising levels of pollution, the emission of greenhouse gases, the effect of intensive farming methods on the food chain, the deforestation of the planet and the generally unsustainable level of rapacious and wasteful consumption demanded by monopoly capitalism.

In our last issue, we showed that these problems have been created by capitalism and accelerated by imperialism; and that the imperialist ruling class is powerless to avert the impending environmental catastrophe, despite the fact that, if it does not, not only imperialism but the whole of humanity could be destroyed.

Thus, the only way out of this crisis is to overthrow imperialism - the decadent, parasitic, bloodthirsty, irrational system that wreaks havoc all over the globe in its unending quest for maximum profit.

This unpalatable truth, however, is very difficult for the relatively privileged workers and professionals in the rich imperialist heartlands to swallow. A century of imperialist bribery and anti-communist propaganda have served to imbue these workers with a belief in the inevitability and invincibility of imperialism, which is portrayed by the bourgeois ideologues as the ultimate expression of 'human nature', the logical and natural way for production to be organised.

The growing green movement is an attempt by the petty bourgeois intellectuals of the imperialist countries to deal with this dichotomy and answer the unanswerable: given the apparent inevitability of capitalism, how can modern, rapacious, monopolistic, profit-hungry imperialism be brought to carry out the tasks that are urgently facing humanity?

The Green Party in Britain

The Green Party's election manifesto for England and Wales reads like every sensible middle class person's wish list for a civilised and decent society. It is a template for how capitalism ought to behave, if only it could be brought under the guidance of reasonable people and given a hearty injection of good, old-fashioned common sense.

The manifesto correctly points out many failings of the system:

-    There is ever-widening inequality between rich and poor, both in Britain and internationally.

-    An "inequitable" distribution of wealth leads to mass migration, war, 'terrorism' etc, and this inequality also means that poor countries suffer disproportionately from the consequences of climate change such as rising sea levels and changing weather patterns, despite playing almost no role in creating the problem in the first place.

-    Its "dependent" (ie, parasitic) economy makes Britain extremely vulnerable to fluctuations in the global markets (ie, to the world imperialist crisis of overproduction).

-    Despite Britain's wealth, the system fails to provide a decent level of existence for all. Quite the reverse: services and rights are being eroded and increasing numbers of people are falling into poverty.

There is nothing new in these observations. In the early decades of the 19th century, utopian socialists such as Charles Fourier and Robert Owen were railing against the poverty and destitution that inevitably accompanied the creation of vast riches under capitalism, and for more than a hundred years now quite respectable bourgeois commentators have been pointing out the weaknesses inherent in imperialism, the highest, most developed form of capitalism.

Even environmental problems are nothing new. What is new is our understanding of the effect our modern productive forces have been having on the planet for the last 150 years - and what the result will be for us if we don't do something about it pretty soon!

The Green Party has a laudable list of ambitions for addressing the problem of climate change:

-    Ninety percent reduction in fossil fuel use by 2050.

-    Increase the use of renewable energy to 40 percent by 2020.

-    Reduction of demand for energy by making homes and businesses energy efficient.

-    Creation of a sustainable transport system and localisation of the economy, thus reducing the demand for transport.

Since it does not plan to change the capitalist basis of production, however, the Green Party's only suggestion for how all this might actually be achieved seems to be through taxes. Higher taxes for big business, tax breaks for 'green' businesses, a carbon tax to make environmentally unfriendly goods more expensive etc, etc. There is no recognition of the fact that the only way actually to implement such major changes in so short a space of time is through central control and planning. If industry is not nationalised, the monopolies can simply up sticks and move to somewhere with less regulation and lower taxes!

Interestingly, although the Green Party proposes diverting the R&D funding currently granted to the nuclear industry into research and development of renewable energy sources, it says nothing about the massive R&D budgets of the oil multinationals. Having taken up the popular pacifist position whereby anything nuclear=evil , the greens refuse to even consider the option of continuing research into an area that may well prove to be part of the solution to humanity's future energy problems. The possibility that both nuclear and renewable research could prove useful is never even considered. This inability to separate the science itself from the way that science is utilised by any individual or class has a tendency to blind people to objective reality. The fact that nuclear science can be utilised for the creation of nuclear weapons; the fact that the science is in its infancy and therefore poses many problems of waste, leakage etc; the fact that under capitalism the health and safety of the population at large will never be the first priority - none of these things mean that nuclear science itself is somehow 'wrong' or that the problems of safety, waste disposal etc could never be solved if solving them were made a priority.

The Green Party also supports the system of emissions trading, whereby countries that exceed their set quota for emissions can purchase the unused quota of countries that are emitting below their allocated level - a system that has been widely condemned as letting the main emitting nations (ie, the imperialist countries) off the hook and subverting the whole purpose of setting emissions targets in the first place!

The heart of the matter

According to green philosophy, the urgent need to tackle the environmental crisis before humanity is wiped out is justification for shelving all difficult debate about capitalism vs communism as something outdated and irrelevant. This capitulation to bourgeois ideology and the bourgeois system stems from a deep-seated and pessimistic belief in the inevitability of capitalism, coupled with an overwhelming fear of the might and apparent invincibility of the imperialist ruling class. It represents a total lack of faith in the collective strength and revolutionary potential of the working class and an inability to imagine a future without capitalist production relations; an inability to conceive of a society where production is planned according to people's needs instead of being a mere speculative venture for the generation of profit, and where the working people own the means of production in common and organise them for the good of society instead of being exploited by the owners of capital.

This capitulation also means that the green movement in its current form is totally incapable of delivering what it has set out to achieve, for without understanding and tackling the root cause of the problems it has identified, it is powerless to do anything about them.

It is imperialism itself, not bad management by executives, that has created not only the environmental problems but all evils of the modern world - war, racism, poverty and destitution, crime, economic crisis, polarisation of wealth both nationally and internationally, pollution, global warming, the criminal squandering of human and material resources etc. These problems spring from the basic contradiction at the heart of capitalist society, where production is carried on socially (by the labour of many people in cooperation) but the products are appropriated and disposed of privately (by the owners of the means of production, who get steadily richer off the backs of the workers they employ, while the workers themselves become gradually more impoverished).

Much of the absurdity and waste of capitalist society stems from this contradiction; from the fact that capitalist production is carried out not to satisfy human need but only to generate maximum profit through the exploitation of wage labourers. This fundamental contradiction between social production and private appropriation is the root cause of such strangely modern phenomena as mass starvation in the midst of plenty; economic crisis as a result of a huge increase in riches; workers and peasants going hungry because they have produced too much food.

From this first contradiction springs the other main contradictions of imperialism: the contradiction between exploiters and exploited within capitalist society; the contradiction between oppressor and oppressing countries internationally; the contradiction between the imperialists themselves, whose struggles over control of markets, raw materials and avenues of investment erupt in times of crisis into trade wars that inevitably escalate into shooting wars.

The petty bourgeoisie - that shrinking section of the population engaged in small-scale business and farming - has long railed against the iniquities of large-scale capital. Every day, owners of small businesses, the self-employed and smallholders are put out of business, unable to compete against the obvious advantages of scale available to the big monopolies and agribusinesses. Every day, the numbers of the petty bourgeoisie shrinks as its members are squeezed out of business by big capital, thrust into the ranks of the proletariat and forced to sell their labour power to the capitalists as best they can.

The instinctive answer of the petty bourgeoisie to this ever-present threat of extinction at the hands of developed monopoly capitalism has always been to hark back to the 'halcyon' days of early, small-scale, local manufacture, fondly imagining that in those days capitalism was somehow 'fairer' and more manageable. They wilfully ignore the fact that then, as now, capitalism thrived by ruining small and middle peasants, small artisans and craftsmen. More importantly, they ignore the fact that, since the prime motivating force of all capitalism, big or small, is the maximisation of profit, capital inevitably attracts more capital, becoming concentrated in larger and larger sums the more efficiently to extract ever larger profits from the unpaid (surplus) labour of the workforce through improvements in machinery, application of science and economies of scale etc. To be precise, small-scale capitalism inevitably develops into large-scale, monopoly capitalism. Even if it were possible to turn back the clock; even if the days of 'fair' and 'equitable' capitalism that the petty bourgeois radicals dwell on so fondly had ever really existed, to go back to those days would sooner or later bring us back to where we are now.

Voodoo economics

The Green Party has its roots in just such petty bourgeois philosophy as has been outlined above. Being petty bourgeois, it resents the 'unfairness' of monopoly capital, rails against its worst excesses and wishes to curb them, but being petty bourgeois it is also in awe of the power of the ruling class and ultimately pessimistic about the chances of ever actually defeating monopoly capitalism. This leaves it attempting the same task that reformers have been failing at for centuries: tinkering around the edges of the system in an attempt to make capitalist exploitation more palatable and 'civilised'. At best, this reformism is naïve; at worst, it serves not only to divert the just anger of working people against a system that has long outlived its usefulness but also as a handy prop to bourgeois 'democracy'. The Green Party today is doing quite a good job of keeping disillusioned middle-class voters on board by persuading them that it is possible to effect the necessary transformation of society without causing too much upheaval and, crucially, without resorting to extra-parliamentary means.

At its most radical, green politics are simply a rehash of the old 19th century anarcho-syndicalism of Proudhon, whose misconceived idealist (as opposed to materialist) plans were exposed in theory by Marx (The Poverty of Philosophy) and were an abject failure in practice. Even the old anarchist ideas about community banks and local currencies have been resuscitated by the Green Party as something new and innovative. In opposition to global monopoly capital, the Green Party proposes small, local capital: curbs and taxes on big business; incentives and boosts for small-scale local businesses; 'fair trade' (as if relations between such unequal powers could ever be 'fair' under capitalism!) in place of imperialist plunder.

The guiding principle in all this is a simple, superstitious belief that everything big is evil and everything small must therefore be good. But this is really throwing the baby out with the bathwater, for capitalism has performed one great service to humanity, and that is to expand the productive forces exponentially, thereby creating the material basis for a classless society where everyone's needs can be met and there is no longer a need for the division of society into rulers and ruled, exploiters and exploited.

The Green Party, imagining capitalist production to be the only kind possible, and seeing the problems caused by anarchic large-scale industry, can only imagine that it is the scale that is the problem and so, instead of urging the working class to take hold of these modern productive forces and wield them for the benefit of society as a whole, they advocate a return to less productive, more labour-intensive working methods, on the basis that these will be kinder to the environment. But there is no reason at all why large-scale industry and farming may not be made more energy efficient and environmentally friendly. The science is available; all that is lacking is the planning and implementation. Why should the working class be condemned to a life of heavy toil when machines can be and have been made that will do the work quicker, better and more efficiently?

Correctly pointing out that a world as rich as ours ought to be able to provide a minimum decent standard of life for everyone, the Green Party's manifesto calls for a "citizen's income" - guaranteed to pensioners, students, the unemployed etc. It also calls for more and better pre-school childcare (to aid "social mobility", despite the fact that, under capitalism, only the very few get to be upwardly mobile, no matter how well educated the workforce is), more and better public housing (but no end to the 'right to buy'), and an NHS that is returned "to its founding principles of comprehensive and universal care, which is available to all on the basis of need, not ability to pay".

Of course, demands for a decent life, childcare, education, healthcare etc are perfectly just and reasonable. But under conditions of capitalist production, wages are generally brought to the lowest possible level in order to maximise profits. How, then, in the cutthroat world of capitalist competition, is money to be found for paying for what, in the capitalists' eyes at least, are decidedly 'optional extras'? There is only one way: through the continued and intensified oppression and exploitation of masses of workers and peasants abroad; through the extraction and 'repatriation' of imperialist superprofits so large that a small percentage can indeed be spared for buying social peace at home. It was on the basis of just such intensified exploitation of colonial slaves in India, Kenya, Malaya, Zimbabwe etc that the British welfare state was founded, under pressure from the revolutionary upsurge in western Europe, the revolutions in Eastern Europe and the shining example set to workers everywhere by the achievements of the first workers' state, the Soviet Union, in building socialism and smashing fascism. When the Green Party calls for a bigger and better welfare state under conditions of capitalism, what it is actually asking for is a return to the fast-disappearing post-war era when British monopoly capitalism found it expedient to spare a few crumbs, not just for the privileged workers, but for the entire British working class out of its global plunder. No other kind of welfare state is possible under capitalism.

And yet, in the very same pages, the Green Party calls for 'fair trade' and an end to the unfettered plunder and exploitation of the oppressed countries. At one point it talks about diverting funds from the military to pay for the NHS. But without its military machine, the British imperialists would have no way of safeguarding the tribute that flows in to their coffers from superexploitation of the workers and peasants of the world, and so the funds that ultimately go to paying for relatively high wages and social provision in this country would dry up.

Whilst rightly denouncing the euro as a "tool of economic globalisation", the Green Party proposes, not the abolition of the imperialistic EU that wants to utilise this tool, but its "reformation", along with the reformation of the World Trade Organisation, World Bank, International Monetary Fund etc. One is put in mind of a sheep demanding that a pack of wolves 'reform' their meat-eating habits! The whole purpose of the EU is to unify European imperialists into a single imperialist power with the economic and military might to compete with US imperialism - it can no more be used for purposes of social justice and peace than the wolf can be used as a sheepdog!

The Green Party wants to have its cake and eat it - it wants things that cannot be reconciled in the real world. It wants freedom for small businesses to exploit wage labour alongside "security" for ordinary workers. It wants long-term planning within the confines of a system whose defining characteristic is anarchy of production. It wants an equitable distribution of wealth under a system whose every moment is spent impoverishing the masses whilst concentrating wealth into larger and larger amounts controlled by fewer and fewer hands. It wants an end to war without having to overthrow the imperialists that are ransacking the globe in their quest for maximum profit!

Bourgeois pacifism

One other vital ingredient is left out of the mix when the Green Party paints its lovely pictures of a future where rational, sensible, 'civilised' capitalism holds sway. So infected are the green ideologues with a belief in the 'justice' and 'impartiality' of bourgeois institutions; so duped are they by the charade of our 'democratic' bourgeois parliament, that they seem genuinely to believe that, if a Green Party government managed to get itself elected tomorrow, it would be quite free to carry out its programme and make decisions affecting the profits of the big financiers, monopolists and oil barons without intervention.

Having made no proper analysis of the bourgeois state machine, the Green Party can only perpetuate illusions in British democracy. It fails to understand that the ruling class has almost total control of election results, since the whole system has been set up with the ultimate objective of keeping the bourgeoisie in power. Not only is the electoral system heavily biased towards establishment figures, but, even if it were not, the ruling class controls almost all the information and popular culture on which the electorate bases its decisions, from academic syllabuses to films, books, music, TV and radio stations, newspapers and magazines. Any party that seriously threatens the foundations of the system is either vilified or ignored.

More than that, the ruling class has control of all the organs of the state, of which parliament is only one. It has control of the army, the police, the judiciary, the prisons, the education system etc. If, by some miracle, a Green Party government were elected with a radical programme to overhaul society and bring the monopolists to heel, the bourgeoisie would simply instruct the Queen to announce the election result null and void, close parliament and mobilise the army until such time as the electorate could be brought under proper control. And, given the Green Party's pacifist stance, they would be unlikely to meet any opposition!

Greens in government

So far, the British people have not had much chance to find out for themselves what the Green Party would do if it actually got close to power. The smattering of Green councillors, MSPs and MEPs have merely acted as a pressure group against introduction of GM crops, for more cycle lanes and congestion charging, and for better recycling facilities.

In all their literature, however, the Green Parties of England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are keen to point out that they are not just small local bodies, but are part of an international movement with unified goals and close cooperation at all levels.

So what have green politicians in office achieved in other parts of the world? Have they been successful in changing the face of capitalism for the better? One does not have to look to far for an answer. Europe's first green prime minister, Indulis Emsis of Latvia, headed up a right-wing nationalist coalition government and spent his eight months in power preparing the formerly proud socialist state for entry into two thoroughly militaristic and imperialistic projects, namely NATO and the EU. In Germany, the green politician Joschka Fischer caused a stir by wearing trainers and a sweatshirt to his inauguration as an MP in 1983. Unfortunately, this show of defiance didn't spread to Fischer's politics, for he was soon transformed into a pillar of the establishment. As vice chancellor and foreign minister in Germany since 1998, Fischer has lent a fig-leaf of 'environmentalism' to Schröder's imperialist government despite the fact that he actively participated in the planning and execution of the criminal war against Yugoslavia, during which that tiny country was pounded with more bombs than were dropped during the whole of the second world war and was thoroughly contaminated by the use of radioactive depleted uranium-tipped missiles.

This is where the logic of green politics is leading. From radicalism on the fringes to loyal service to imperialism at the centre. Reformists in Britain regularly point to the smaller west European states such as Belgium, Holland, Sweden and Denmark as proof that it is possible to be caring towards people and the environment under capitalism, but these countries' altruism is a myth. They may have better levels of social security (although these are fast diminishing) and more cycle lanes, but they are no less willing to do the dirty work of imperialism. Even Australia has better recycling facilities than Britain, but that is hardly compensation for the imperialistic policies being implemented all over Asia under the shadow of Australian guns!

The greenest colour is red

The truth is that, without the threat of a strong working class movement and imminent social revolution, the imperialists simply aren't going to deliver a better welfare system. They won't because the global economy is in crisis and, in the cutthroat struggle for survival, every possible penny must be channelled into profits. Likewise, if it were possible for monopoly capitalists to make the necessary changes to save our environment and remain in business, they would already be doing so. It is not the bad character or intentions of the executives but the logic of the system that prevents these things from taking place.

The Green Party, by denying the class struggle and the necessity of first overthrowing imperialism, is headed straight into the warm embrace of the imperialists, spreading confusion instead of clarity among the wider population and is incapable of actually achieving any of its lofty ambitions.

Imperialism is not a policy as the greens seem to imagine; it is the inevitable expression of developed, monopoly capitalism. Ultimately, whether the greens recognise it or not, there are only two options open to humanity: to follow imperialism into the abyss of barbarism and environmental catastrophe or to overthrow imperialism, break the bonds that are currently holding back progress, and establish communism. There is no third way forward and no way to turn back the clock.

Save humanity, overthrow imperialism!

You've got to be red to be green!
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