The Green Party’s Market Economy

The Green Party sees the solution to the environmental crisis as lying, correctly, in the achievement of “a system of human activity which is in harmony with the Earth’s life-sustaining systems” (1987 General Election Manifesto), only they imagine that this can be done while retaining production for the market.

The Green Party’s basic policy statement Manifesto for a Sustainable Society looks forward to a society “in which small, relatively self-sufficient, self-governing communities can coexist harmoniously within the framework of a greater nation and the world as a whole”. Each of these self-governing communities would be encouraged to be as self-sufficient as possible in primary products — those taken directly from nature such as food and minerals. But “goods and resources which cannot be obtained or manufactured locally would necessitate trade with other communities” and communities “would need to trade primaries by selling manufactures (e.g. calculators for wheat)”. There would be trade within communities too:

“The self-employed will come into their own. Cobblers, comer shopkeepers, smallholders, small farmers, craftsmen and repairers of all kinds, and anyone to whom independence and the satisfaction of a job well done is more important than high financial return will find that the Green Party National Income Scheme allows them to cut their charges to customers, leading to an increase in demand for their services.”

This is not socialism (not that the Green Party claims to stand for this) but the sort of simple market economy without capitalist profit that was advocated by some critics of capitalism in the 19th century. It was unrealistic then and it is still unrealistic today. The problem is not the decentralised structure based on self-administering local communities — this is one among many possible forms that democratic decision-making could take in socialism — nor even that districts and regions should produce more of their basic foodstuffs but that these communities are seen as exchanging goods with each other, whether this be for money or by barter.

Such a system would not work in the way the Green Party expects because whenever wealth is produced for sale on a market it acquires a commercial exchange-value in addition to its use-value, or capacity to satisfy some human need, and this unleashes economic forces which come to dominate production and orient it away from production for need. The goods, whether primaries or manufactures, that the self-governing communities would be producing for exchange with other communities would be commodities, or goods having an exchange-value, and so would be subject to the same laws of commodity production as apply in any market economy.

The rate of exchange between wheat and calculators — to stick to the example in the Green Party’s pamphlet — would tend to reflect the comparative amounts of labour required on average to produce them from start to finish, an average that would be established by the market, i.e. by the competition (for this is what searching around and bargaining for the best deal would amount to) between communities to buy and sell wheat, calculators and other products to each other. In this competition it would be those communities able to offer their goods at the lowest prices that would tend to do best.

The self-governing communities would therefore have an interest in keeping the labour content of their products to a minimum and, as in a normal capitalist economy, the way to do this would be to employ new, more productive machines. But these cost money, which could be obtained by maximising sales. So the Green Party’s communities would come under exactly the same pressure as are today’s private and state capitalist enterprises to seek to maximise sales and accumulate the money obtained as capital invested in new means of production.

The Green Parry evidently hope that this pressure could be resisted by limiting exchange either to barter or to the exchange of goods simply with a view to obtaining money to buy needed use-values that communities could not produce themselves. The experience of cooperative-type enterprises operating within a market context, such as the kibbutzim in Israel and the cooperative societies in Britain, has shown however that sooner or later, under the pressure of economic circumstances, such enterprises are forced to act in the same way as any more typically capitalist enterprise.

Production for the market, even if at the beginning the purpose was merely to obtain money to buy useful things, inevitably develops into capitalism where production comes to be carried on to obtain money, not to buy goods for use, but to be invested in production with a view to making more money. Wherever there is production for the market on any scale, the economic laws of capitalism inevitably come into operation and impose profit as the aim of production.

A sustainable productive system as one that respects the laws of ecology can only be instituted if production for the market is completely abolished through the establishment of the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and replaced by production solely for use. The relations between productive units — and between local communities — then cease to be commercial ones and become simple relations between suppliers and users of useful products without the intervention of money, buying and selling, trade or barter.

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