Gren Left Launch: Reds, Go Green

The Guardian – Comment Is Free – 22 September 2006

This weekend’s Green Party annual conference in Hove will host the launch of the Green Left, a group of party activists committed to building stronger links with the wider left and the trade union movement. Our aim is a synthesis of red and green, combining anti-capitalism with ecological sustainability.

The Green Party is already well to the left of Labour and the Lib Dems, with its radical agenda for grassroots democracy, social justice, human rights, global equity, environmental protection, peace and internationalism.

The objective of the Green Left is to build on this progressive agenda and nudge the Greens further leftwards.

In our view, green is the new red: an empowering political paradigm for human liberation which offers the most credible alternative to Labour and the best hope for radical left advance.

Recognising the productivist, growth-driven limitations of traditional socialism, we are not a left-wing trojan horse within the Greens. Quality of life and fair shares for all are more important than the left’s often simplistic agenda of spending more on health and education.

The Green Left believes government needs to radically rethink basic premises, like shifting the focus in the NHS from curative medicine to preventative care. Our aim should be policies to help ensure that many fewer people get sick in the first place, rather than merely throwing more money at people once they get ill.

In other words, we are of the left and open to the left, but we also realise the left has to change, in order to meet people’s needs and to ensure the survival of life on this planet. Old style socialist politics need to give way to new style eco-socialism: green anti-capitalism.

This is crunch time for progressive politics. Labour has lost its heart and soul. The party leadership has sacrificed socialist values and policies for short-term political gain. It has pandered to prejudice and irrationality on issues like asylum, drugs, terrorism, Europe and crime. Principles have been abandoned for the sake of a few more sympathetic headlines in the Daily Mail and for another session of tea and sympathy from Rupert Murdoch.

There is no possibility of undoing Blair’s right-wing coup. Internal party democracy has been extinguished. Ordinary Labour members have no say. Everything important is decided by The Dear Leader and his acolytes in 10 Downing Street . This is autocracy, not democracy. Party members have been reduced to cheer-leaders and envelope stuffers at election time. They are neutered by powerless policy forums and by an annual conference that is stage managed to function as a rubber stamp for decisions taken by Blair and his inner circle. Gordon Brown, or any other likely Labour successor, will be no different.

I left Labour in 2000. After 22 years membership, it was a gut-wrenching decision. My reason? Labour has abandoned both socialism and democracy. It is no longer committed to the redistribution of wealth and power. Tony Blair spends more time with millionaire businessmen than trade union leaders. The gap between rich and poor has widened since 1997. Civil liberties have been under ceaseless attack from successive Labour Home Secretaries. In the name of the ‘war on terror,’ our government is curtailing freedom, in order to supposedly defend it.

No political party lasts forever. Even the most progressive party eventually decays or turns reactionary. Labour’s great, historic achievement was the creation of the Welfare State. The current party leadership is in the process of privatising it.

I joined Labour because I wanted social justice and human rights for all. My values and aspirations remain the same. Labour’s have changed fundamentally and irreversibly – rightwards and for the worse. Reclaiming Labour for socialism is a fine aspiration, but about as likely as winning the German SPD back to the Marxism it ditched in the 1950s.

Leaving Labour does not mean giving up the battle for a fair and just society. There is an alternative option. It is not the Liberal Democrats. Like the other two establishment parties, Labour and the Conservatives, the Lib Dems offer no serious challenge to the corporate, free market interests that are destroying our green and pleasant land.

The real radical alternative is now the Greens. After two decades of moving from right to left, the Green Party now occupies the progressive political space once held by left-wing Labour; with the added bonus of a far-sighted agenda to save the planet from ecological catastrophes like climate change. The Greens offer the most credible alternative to Labour’s pro-war, pro-big business and pro-Bush policies.

The Green Party’s Manifesto for a Sustainable Society

incorporates key socialist values. It rejects privatisation, free market economics and globalisation; and includes commitments to public ownership, worker’s rights, economic democracy, progressive taxation, and the redistribution of wealth and power.

Greens put the common good before corporate greed, and the public interest before private profit. This red-green synthesis integrates policies for social justice and human rights with policies for tackling the life-threatening dangers posed by global warming, environmental pollution, resource depletion and species extinction. It sounds like socialism to me.

Unlike the traditional left, with its superficial environmentalism, Greens understand there is no point campaigning for social justice if we don’t have a planet capable of sustaining life. Ecological sustainability is the precondition for a just society.

The Greens also recognise that preventing environmental disaster requires constraints on the power of big corporations. Profiteering and free trade has to be subordinated to policies for the survival of humanity. Can any socialist disagree with that?

Some left-wing critics complain that the Greens are not a pure socialist party and are not working class-based. But look at the implications of what the Greens say. Their goals and policies are often similar to the left’s – without the left-wing jargon. Despite a different way of expressing things, what the Greens advocate is, in essence, socialistic.

The Greens may have few links to organised labour. But that is changing too. Green conferences and public meetings increasingly feature trade union activists. With more pressure from left-wingers inside the party, the Greens are likely to strengthen their ties to the labour movement.

Working with the Greens, the Australian trade unions have enforced ‘green bans’ on environmentally-destructive developments. This shows the potential for workers and greens to cooperate for the betterment of all.

There are now lots of radical socialists who, like me, have joined the Greens and enhanced our left-wing politics with an ecological agenda. We get a sympathetic hearing too. The party is moving left.

Although the Greens are not perfect (is any party perfect?), its implicitly anti-capitalist agenda gives practical expression to socialist ideas. Very importantly, ordinary members are empowered to decide policy. The Greens are a grassroots democratic party, where activism is encouraged and where members with ideals and principles are valued.

Moreover, unlike tiny left parties, such as Respect, Greens have a proven record of success at the ballot box, with candidates elected in the London, Scottish, local and European elections. These elected Greens are a force for social progress, well to the left of Labour and the Lib Dems on all issues. They are also more radical than George Galloway’s left-wing party, Respect, on questions like women’s and gay rights, health care, animal welfare, the environment and justice for the developing world.

Respect is neither grassroots nor democratic. It is run on the same democratic centralist lines as the Blairite Labour party, with an authoritarian, command-style leadership. All major decisions are taken at the top. It is dominated by the Socialist Workers Party, which is notorious for packing meetings and organising secret slates to secure the election of its people to key positions.

Respect is seriously politically compromised. Its leaders have declared it is not a socialist party and they want to retain the monarchy. Compounding this rightward drift, Respect has made opportunistic alliances with reactionary movements like the Muslim Association of Britain. It endorses ‘the resistance’ in Iraq, which is now, in a escalating bloodfest of sectarian terrorism, mostly killing fellow Iraqis – not coalition occupiers.

There is a credible anti-capitalist party – the Greens. They already have seats and could win many more if left-wingers and progressive social movements united together in the Green Party. The Greens have plenty of potential to become an influential electoral force. A substantial Green vote would pressure Labour and the Lib Dems to adopt more left-leaning policies. Perhaps, one day, the Greens might even hold the balance of power. They already punch above their weight in the London Assembly and the Scottish Parliament.

The great virtue of the Green Party is that it is a grassroots democratic party, controlled by the ordinary membership and with no power elite or embedded hierarchy. It is not a top-down, centralist party like Labour. Members are sovereign. The party conference is supreme. This means the Greens are open to further radicalisation in a socialist direction, and this will happen if more left-wingers join.

Thousands of socialists like me have left Labour in disgust. Many have already joined the Greens; helping accelerate the leftward trajectory. If more socialists joined, the Green Party would move even further left.

Unlike Labour, the Greens value idealism and principles. They have a vision of a radically different kind of society, which makes them receptive to left alternatives.

For all these reasons, the most effective way to advance socialism is to join the Greens. Fusing together the best of the red and the green would strengthen progressive politics; offering a powerful, united challenge to neo-liberal orthodoxy.

Unity is strength. I saw the potential for eco-socialist advance when I stood as a independent Green Left candidate for the London Assembly in 2000. Although I did not win, I was encouraged by the poll result in the PR list section: 11% for the Greens and 5% for the various left slates. This total of 16% was 2% more than the Lib Dems, making red-green the third strongest political force in London. The potential is there. Seize it. Now is the time for reds to go green.