Archive article from The Socialist Issue 337
European Greens Unite - But Are They A Radical Alternative?
Die GRÜNEN, Les Verts, the Green Party - the German, French and UK Green Parties, along with 29 other European Green parties, are now one party standing on one platform. This move comes ahead of the European Parliament elections in June, in which the Greens hope to make gains.
Tim Lessells, Leicester
The unification of the Greens into a continental fighting force will not be straightforward. Whilst they now have one party hymn (by film music composer Ennio Morricone) there are significant differences between the various national components, not least on the question of the EU itself and its forthcoming enlargement.
In the UK, the Green Party are still a relatively radical party. For example, they were opposed to the recent invasion of Iraq and they put forward a number of progressive reforms that as socialists we would critically support. They are easily to the left of the Liberal Democrats and New Labour - although all three support the continuation of the capitalist system.
The two Green MEPs (one for London and one for the South East) were both active in the anti-war movement. However, they failed to draw the necessary conclusions.
Firstly, that war is inherent in the nature of capitalism due to the continual drive for profits and resources and the failure of the system to overcome national divisions. Secondly, that to actually stop the war would have required a movement that put the continued rule of the capitalist class in Britain in danger. Thirdly, that to stop future wars the capitalist system must be overthrown and replaced by a democratic socialist society internationally.
However, their consistent anti-war stance is markedly to the left of Die Grünen, the German Greens who prop up the Social Democratic government. While it is true that they opposed the last war in Iraq (along with practically the whole of Germany), they supported the NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999.
Because of this, their capitulation on nuclear transportation and their propping up of the SDP government carrying out Thatcherite anti-working class reforms, Die Grünen have been exposed. This rightward shift is not accidental and it is not an isolated example. In a number of other European countries the Greens have also propped up Social Democratic governments.
There are a number of reasons why the Greens start out as 'radical' but then rapidly drift to the right once they get an ounce of governmental influence or a few ministerial positions.
Fundamentally, these reasons all come back to their lack of a clear programme to change society. They propose the impossible - that capitalism becomes an environmentally sound system. Capitalism exploits labour and the environment for profit. This is an unalterable fact they refuse to accept.
Whilst in opposition the Greens propose a number of good reforms that socialists would most likely support whilst pointing out their limitations. However, because they accept the constraints of the system they are forced to adopt more 'practical', less radical politics when in power. In other words, they abandon their principles.
In order to justify this they argue that "baby steps are best". Of course it is true, access to political power can force through some minor changes. However, in order to protect the environment and ensure the future existence of humanity what are needed are fundamental changes.
Only by bringing the important sectors of the economy into public ownership, under democratic control, can a serious start be made at protecting the environment. Whilst they remain in private hands they will be run in the interests of private profit.
In the game of Monopoly, players do not volunteer to miss a turn in order to conserve energy by not moving their counter round the board. Nor do they all agree to not throw the dice and only move along one space at a time!
For the time being, the UK Greens remain far more radical than their European friends. Once they get any measure of power however, their capitulation is almost guaranteed - unless of course they break with capitalism.
Because of the lack of a mass working class socialist party to the left of Labour, some people will continue to look towards the Greens as a radical alternative.
The question of the environment necessitates fundamental and far reaching answers. The Greens have no such answers. When the Greens capitulate to the constraints of the system and adopt a more 'realpolitik' approach however, it is possible that more radical elements will be won over to the struggle for a socialist society.