"We may be, as Chris Trotter said on the recent Assignment programme, the most RED Green Party in the world, but we value the individual as much as society. We are communitarian, internationalist and libertarian all at the same time!", said Rod Donald, Green Party MP, in his Co-Leader’s address to the Green Party Annual General Meeting on the 1st of June 2002. In fact, Donald’s words said more about a certain political commentator's lack of left-wing credentials than they did about the inherent contradictions that are a feature of social democratic politics. Like Labour and the Alliance, the Greens are no revolutionaries – they do not want to overthrow capitalism and free workers from the bonds of wage slavery. Unlike Labour and the Alliance, though, the Greens make no claim to represent workers. In this article we look at the class roots of the Greens and show that for workers they are part of the problem not the solution.
Green policy is anti-worker and pro-business, despite the fact that it substitutes the small business for the large company or corporation. The Green Charter on social responsibility calls for "just distribution of social and natural resources", but calling an economy green, non-big business or communal doesn't hide the fact that resources are going to be utilised according to market demand, not human need. Competition always lurks beneath the co-operative façade the Greens like to give themselves. The Green social vision of eco-Nirvana is the ideology of the petty bourgeois that rejects the reality of its historic class position between capitalists and workers and tries to create policy of classless social harmony.
The Greens’ "Thinking Beyond Tomorrow" economic policy is saturated with trendy phrases like ‘eco nation’, but all it offers is a ‘middle class’ ideology generated in a vacuum away from the forces that touch the daily lives of the vast majority of workers who are urbanised and under the clutches of bosses no different from the petit-bourgeois small business persons of the sort of economy the Greens favour. Talk of "employer-employee partnerships", just about sums up the Greens industrial relations policy in three words. Like the Employment Contracts Act of old, the Greens’ industrial relations policy makes no mention of unions or workers’ organisations. For the Greens we are all members of a ‘community’, not a class, and ‘Partnership’ is the magic word for work relations. A worrying sign, considering that their demand for "doing more with less for longer" sounds like the antidote to a progressive workers demand for a shorter working week.
As part of their policy, the Greens want to encourage small businesses to show ‘social responsibility’ by providing unpaid and voluntary work to the ‘community’. They don’t seem to think about the workers who would remain tied to their employers outside of normal working time so that the boss could earn good social PR and a healthy eco-tax rebate at the same time. The Universal Basic Income, which was adopted by the Values Party before it evolved into the Greens, has not become official Green policy simply because the low level of productivity expected from an eco-economy is unable to sustain its viability. It is for this reason alone that the Greens with their euphemistic terms push the importance of unpaid work.
Green Economic nationalism
"Re-nationalisation" of public assets sold to private companies fails to get a satisfactory mention from the Greens. All they would renationalise are components of the rail network, and they would do this principally for environmental freight /cost reasons. With the demand for fast door to door transfer of goods, which is favourable to road transport, it is difficult to see the cost benefits to consumers if handling from road to rail to road is undertaken without a fully socialised, renationalised economy.
The Greens like to condemn the 1989 bargain $660million sell off of Air NZ, but they have never called for the re-nationalisation of the airline, only for the keeping of an equity stake majority share. When Brierley investments 30% share holding in Air NZ came up for sale in 2001, the response by the Greens was to push the government to buy out those shares to stop them going overseas, instead of taking over the remaining shares and thus nationalising the airline for the benefit of all New Zealanders. Later in 2001, after years of private mismanagement brought the airline close to collapse, the Labour government rescued the airline resulting in an equity stake of 80% ownership. Pleasing to the Greens, but not the same as 100% nationalisation. It's not good enough to take the economic nationalist line that New Zealanders should own Air NZ if that relationship is not spelled out clearly. Private NZ ownership is no different to overseas ownership with profits going to the few and not those who produce the wealth.
In the electricity market the Greens have shown a similar attitude toward privatisation. In 1999, Green co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons criticised the National government’s decision to introduce regulations to prevent electricity companies speculating on inflated values, the purchase and selling of lines to one another. She justified her stand on the grounds that the consumer would suffer price increases because lines companies would need to re-coup their expected losses before regulations were enforced. That was scare-mongering at the least, and a sell out to the deregulated market where price rises have become the norm anyway. No criticism was made by the Greens of the sell off and fragmentation of the taxpayer owned electricity network. The Greens do not support a return to nationalised electricity - they see competition as being the best regulator of pricing.
The Greens’ only input into any form of electricity market regulation is their demand that the market be made to be more transparent by the introduction of variable charges on lines and by the ending of the practice of including lines and retail charges on the same bill. Though not a socialist demand, re-nationalising of the power network would bring more transparency and accountability than anything being demanded by the Greens. Pricing would be directly a function of the ability to supply [production] and distribute and not retail.
Renationalisation of course goes against the Green philosophy of fragmented and localised services, which it regards as essential to re-empowering communities. Communities are valued over the wider society, which is perceived as being centralised and impersonal. The "communitarian" and kowtowing to individualism that Rod Donald speaks of is clear, and clearly opposed to the natural justice that would see public assets built by workers run by workers.
Opposition to ‘free trade’ has the same petty bourgeois class roots as other Green policies. The obsession with protecting the local market to the exclusion of others weakens any pretence of being internationalist by denying efficiencies that could be achieved by other producers in other countries. Rod Donald’s condemnation of the Singapore/NZ Free Trade Agreement is based on the belief that Indonesian workers should stay in their villages rather than work in ‘free trade’ zones. Donald ignores that the history of class struggle is one of workers forced out of rural poverty into jobs where they fight to get better wages and conditions. Local protection also hits the NZ worker, who is forced to spend beyond what is necessary to preserve the profits of local bosses.
The inference is quite clear. Green internationalism only exists in paying lip service to international agencies coming to the rescue of ‘exploited’ Third World workers. It refuses to back the workers’ solidarity uniting workers of all countries that expresses true internationalism. Socialist economics requires centralised planning totally under workers control and ownership on all levels between local and international. Green co-op economics goes nowhere near that basic demand. Indeed it strives to maintain a state of exchange differential between communities so that profit still remains a basis by which commodities are converted to capital.Greens cannot defend 'nature'
If the Green objective is to present capitalism with a human face by turning the "class" issue into an ecological one, by which humanity is seen as a subordinate component of nature, similar to its subjugation by a ruling class, then it raises an interesting question about the boundaries of human intellectual potential and creativity. Whilst we are mere specks of dust in the cosmos and understanding our place in it is important, it should not be used as an argument to justify the need to defend capitalism in order to express our relationship to nature. Labour, the measure of value, is after all part of nature. But capitalism has gone well beyond its use-by date and is busy destroying nature. The Greens’ apology for capitalism hides the reality that capitalism has already prepared the conditions for socialism where ‘value’ is created directly from nature and does not have to be turned into capital. The task for us as workers, is to selflessly share that value out to all in all of its manifestations. This is the basic socialist demand.
The issue of GE more than any other has shown how closely the Greens’ environmentalism is tied to their pro-capitalist economic agenda. In opposing GE, the Greens focus almost exclusively on the threat it poses to the organics industry, without ever noticing the fact that "organic" means expensive and out of reach for ordinary workers and the poor. Like luxury yachts, organics is the domain of the elite who can afford it, a high value commodity targeted at a particular niche market.
The Greens may have no confidence in commercial exploitation of GE, but they rely on the capitalist state (with a Green party in government of course) to regulate GE. There is no understanding that only under workers’ control (initially scientists and technicians who are knowledge workers) does GE become subordinated to the needs of society and not profits. It should be up to workers not green capitalists to decide whether GE is safe.Greens Personality lineup
When the Values Party was launched in 1972, it became the worlds first Green Party, and was composed of people who cut their political teeth during the anti-Vietnam war demonstrations of the 60's. Unfortunately, anti-imperialism did not manifest itself in Values Party policy - the Values Party never thought of itself as a workers’ party and never opposed capitalism. Tony Kunowsky, who led Values between 1975-1979, even went on to become a financial high flyer in the New Zealand corporate scene.
Many prominent members of today’s Green Party are wealthy, with many like Jeneatte Fitzsimmons having holdings in large properties. Bankers and entrepreneurs seem more common than trade unionists. Figures such as Keith Locke and Sue Bradford, who are a part of the Green front-line, bring with them experiences and views that are common to many on the NZ left, but come from backgrounds more associated with union bureaucracy and semi-reformist rather than revolutionary politics.
Locke's long association with the Socialist Action League (a forerunner of today’s Communist League) is loudly omitted from his Green Party official profile, as if to make himself more acceptable to his new comrades. His initiatives in Parliament against repressive anti-terrorism legislation (see our article War, Terror and Democratic Rights) have endeared him to many who perceive the Greens as being more representative of the left than the corpse-like Alliance.
Locke’s credibility rates high among many who know his long years of involvement in anti-war and human rights issues. Unfortunately, Locke’s support for the United Nations and phony international courts as an instrument for global peace and justice too often puts him on the wrong side of the class divide. In the last decade the UN has been the world’s deadliest killing machine, taking millions of lives with its sanctions on Iraq and its bombing of small nations like Yugoslavia. Locke knows full well that the UN is a mere tool of the US and other imperialist powers, so his capitulation to Green acceptance of the UN as a benevolent force destroys his credibility among true anti-imperialists.SWP Opportunism
The left should be concerned that progressive workers who have become for good reasons disillusioned with Labour and the Alliance might turn to the Greens, when the Greens offer no positive alternative.
The opportunistic call by the Socialist Workers Organisation for a vote for the Greens during the recent snap elections is indicative of the marked deterioration of supposedly left elements in NZ. How can a party that stands for workers’ power support a party that neither has nor wants a working class base? As unpalatable as it was, critical support for Labour during the elections only was necessary because many workers still felt that Labour best represented their interests. Such illusions will be smashed only by putting Labour into power and proving that Labour is against their interests. Throwing a vote away to the Greens merely fragmented any potential Labour support by reducing its ability to carry out its full neo-liberal agenda unimpeded and thus expose itself.
The important question to be asked is, does the Green agenda support the re-empowerment of workers without the spectre of bosses hanging over them? The short and unequivocal answer is, no! The challenge for the Left is not to allow itself to be sucked in by Green rhetoric about a "co-operative". Such a future is actively opposed to "workers collective solidarity."