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The Poverty of the Greens

The Green Party has recently made significant strides forward—attaining its first seat in a UK Parliament in Scotland, winning numerous seats at local levels, and getting two MEPs in June's Euro elections, and is currently choosing its candidate for the Mayor of London. But their policies for making things better are doomed to fail to make things better.

The Greens form a part of the rising "left alternative", political groups moving in to fill in the gaps left by Labour's lurch rightwards. Indeed, they present a potent radical package, eschewing the political institutional demands for a leader, instead having two "Principal Speakers"; and presenting a platform replete with sweeping reforms to improve society.

That's just it though. They are reformists, and for all their alleged radicalism, that's all they will ever be; endlessly promoting their brand of radical Liberalism warmed-up; attempts to breath life into the mummified remains of the two hundred year old political corpse our current political system is built upon. Their campaigning is not based on changing minds, but on appealing to the values of those who feel abandoned by the traditional parties—promising this time they will get it to work.

A simple examination of their policies suffices to show their misguided muddleheadedness, and the doomed, inevitable failure of their programme. For example, their industrial relations policy:

We know that most collective organisation is in trade unions, and value that. (Manifesto for a Sustainable Society, WR104).

This is hardly a ringing endorsement of workers' militancy, support for workers in their union struggles. It is simply recognition from afar, a nice idea to be viewed from a distance, and valued like an old pet dog. Then again, however, at least it makes a change from the rabid anti-unionism of the "grey parties" (as the Greens call them). It remains though, a very passive support.

Is there, then, a more radical element to it? Of course there is, our Green friends would tell us:

The Green Party is committed to workplace democracy . . . whereby undertakings shall be managed co-operatively through the involvement of those who work in them and the communities they serve (WR105).

This is excellent, they must mean socialising the production process, handing the reigns of power to the people—we socialists should support them! Well, no, actually:

Worker participation improves the industrial process, increases personal satisfaction and gives the community a bigger stake. Workers' Councils should be set up along the lines of the successful German model (IN617).

Then we must institutionalise yet more corporatist policies in order to be even and fair about removing people's right to strike.

But, despite their bureaucratic wishy-washiness, surely the Greens have some truly momentous social policies? Erm . . .

A Citizens' Income scheme, eventually sufficient to cover basic needs, will be introduced in stages as an integrated taxation and benefit system to replace most present social benefits and tax allowances (EC705).

A basic income for every citizen! Of course, how this is to be squared with the wages system is anyone's guess. As the 18th century agricultural Speenhamland system showed, when people can get a better income without having to work, they (quite sensibly) take it. The policy would be brought in within the lifetime of one Parliament, and over that time there would be a mass exodus of people from shite jobs (the Greens may like that, but I doubt the employers would enjoy it).

Sustainable industrial activity tends to be more labour intensive . . . the introduction of Citizens' Income would reduce the cost of labour to industry without pushing people into poverty (IN605).

That's more like it—it's a pay-off. With this scheme employers could cut wages, and thus industry would be able to become more profitable. Exactly how, then, this would leave workers better off, is up for debate since at most the basic income could only cover the basic cost of living (or less), their real wage wouldn't actually change.

This agenda continues:

Land Value Taxation. A system of land taxation, to be known as Land Value Taxation (LVT), will be introduced, this will be a tax on the annual value of land (i.e. excluding buildings, machinery etc.). An initial levy of LVT will be made at a fraction of the annual value as determined by preliminary assessment, according to permitted use. Ultimately the full annual value of land will accrue to the community (EC725).

The hobby-horse of the followers of the 19th century American economist Henry George, and an idea that has an old pedigree (back to the 18th century artisan radical Thomas Spence in his journal Pig's Meat): profit from land is unearned and so is taxable, leaving the true and "fair" earnings duly accrued to Capital and Labour untouched.

Of course, such radicals as Thomas Spence were around at the birth of the idea of the small-holder market economy, which lives on in the minds of the Greens:

Smaller and more democratically structured enterprises are more open to community regulation, ensuring that greater care is taken both of the people who work in them, and of the concerns and needs of the local community and the environment.

There is the myth of Mom & Pop businesses, as if being small makes a business any less dominated by the overriding imperative for profits. With small companies we are to return to the dream of fair economics, freed from the distortions caused by big-business. the one true market redeemed from its despoilers.

Of course, the real enemy of the small capitalist, the banks, will get theirs too:

Under the current banking system, money is created predominantly as interest-bearing debt by commercial banks and the financial institutions. This will gradually be replaced by one in which money is created interest-free for the benefit of the community. The place of the commercial banks in financing enterprise will gradually be taken by mediating, non-profit local community banks providing low-cost finance, both at district and regional levels (EC512).

Pardon me, pray, please, do excuse me, it's so very hard to type while laughing this hard. So the Greens believe that when a bank wants to make a loan it just creates the money by magicking it out of thin air! And a Green government is going to take over this magical power and use it to make loans free from that evil interest! Actually, to return from the world of Paul Daniels for a moment, only the central government not banks can create money; banks are already what the Greens say they want them to become—"mediating" institutions between lenders and borrowers, making a profit (if only to offset losses from bad loans) out of the difference between the rate of interest they pay to those who lend them money and the rate they charge borrowers.

The Greens have strong convictions, a sense of justice, and a need to care for the environment and the future. However, their policies fail to live up to their values—or even begin to meet the necessary conditions for bringing them about. So long as they remain committed to a generalised community and humanity, neglecting and ignoring class interests in favour of consensus, then effectively they are propping up the capitalist order. Without backing the liberation of the working class, they are continuing our routine enslavement.

The Greens in Germany show us that these reformers will go the way of all reformers, forced by the electoral system, and the dictates of staying in power, to turn their backs on the Party's pacifism, and support the NATO Balkans war.

The Greens are just the new face of an old Liberalism ("Whigs Astray" as William Morris called it in the 1880s), lost in a wilderness of trying to finally making the market work, failing to meet the real needs of the community, so long as they fail to address ownership of property and the abolition of class.