Tuesday 4 August 2015

The Green Party Needs a Joined Up Political Philosophy – Ecosocialism

Green politics comes in many forms, from the far right Malthusian tendency, through deep ecology, ‘localism’ and green liberalism and green social democracy to ecoanarchism and full blown ecosocialism. There are many sub variants of these philosophies, but essentially this is the spectrum.

So, how to describe the political philosophy of the Green Party of England and Wales? Well, according to some at The Guardian newspaper it is ecosocialist, but this displays a woeful misunderstanding of ecosocialism, whether wilful or otherwise. The Green Party’s policies are similar to ‘old’ Labour social democratic ones without the over centralisation of power and with obviously, a concern for environmental matters. What is sometimes termed policies for ‘environmental and social justice’.

This can be viewed as a sensible approach, given that Labour has largely abandoned social democracy (not withstanding Jeremy Corbyn’s current campaign for the leadership of the party) long ago, and there is clearly a huge amount of electoral space to Labour’s left. But does this stack up as a credible platform for fulfilling the goal of a fair and sustainable society?

To some extent I suppose it does, on the social side it could improve the chronic inequality that has remorselessly advanced over the last 35 or so years in the UK. Although, it can be argued that social democracy failed in the end, allowing neo-liberalism the room to supersede it in the 1980s. Social democracy in essence is pro capitalist, but attempts to smooth off the rough edges of market driven outcomes. To save capitalism from itself, you could say. Social democrats would no doubt say something like ‘making the market the servant rather than the master of the people’. Which ever way you choose to view it, it is fundamentally wedded to the capitalist system, which inherently leads to inequality. 

But how about the ecological justice side of this description? ‘One million climate jobs’ is no bad thing, helping the unemployed find jobs whilst at the same time contributing to reducing our carbon emissions. In the end though, capitalism’s voracious appetite for ever increasing ‘growth’ is surely incompatible with ecological concerns. The term ‘sustainable growth’ just papers over the cracks in this argument, as never ending growth is impossible with finite resources. Sustainable growth is only possible for a limited amount of time, and should be viewed more as a transitional demand, not an end in itself.

Caroline Lucas, the Green Party’s only MP, says that the Green Party is socialist in an interview with Owen Jones here, although interestingly she does not use the prefix ‘eco’. Is this intentional? I don’t know, but I think what Caroline terms as socialism (as she alludes to in the interview) is really a form of social democracy.

Because the ‘force field’ of capitalism is so strong, and because first epoch socialism (USSR etc) is such a negative concept, the Green Party (which on occasion will describe itself as ‘anti-capitalist’) has taken the easy route by failing to embrace ecosocialism as the obvious political and philosophical vehicle to realise the party’s radical agenda. Don’t scare the horses type of thing, and it doesn’t help that the party is inhabited by so many lifestyle greens and eco-liberals.

I have even heard Green Party people say they prefer terms like ‘egalitarian’ to ‘socialist’, but I think we should call a spade, a spade, and anything else is vague or even dishonest.

All of this leads to a well intentioned shopping list of policies, renationalision of public services, Green Deal climate jobs, a living wage, cuts in carbon emissions and social housing building, but no overall joined up ideology to fall back on when times are tough and is unconvincing to the public at large. 

The fact of the matter is, if we really do want to stand for social and ecological justice, then the only way to achieve this is through ecosocialist policies and eventually there comes a point when capitalism will have to go. We should be open about this and explain what this means to people. It is a truly inconvenient truth.    

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