Archive article from The Socialist Issue 389
How red are the Greens?
LAST WEEK the Green Party launched their election manifesto. They put forward many policies that socialists also support - on the environment, against nuclear power, against the war in Iraq.
"The Green Party is committed to redistributing wealth so that everyone has more of a fair share," says their manifesto. They propose higher tax bands for high earners, higher corporation tax for companies making more than £1.5 million a year profit, higher inheritance tax and a land value tax (on landowners). They would replace VAT with eco-taxes, according to the damage to the environment.
Socialists support such measures, but they are insufficient to achieve real wealth redistribution. While a tiny minority continue to own the means of producing wealth and to control real power in society, they will find ways to evade tax.
On privatisation, the Greens' national policy is to oppose Private Finance deals that give big business guaranteed profits from public services, although many Green councillors have backed similar privatisation schemes (see Brighton report below). They would "aim to bring all affected facilities back into public ownership as soon as possible." (Why not immediately?)
But they "don't oppose the buying of goods and services from suppliers outside the public service." So the NHS would continue to be fleeced by big pharmaceutical and medical supplies companies. The railways would still be a golden goose for companies like Balfour Beatty.
Such companies should be nationalised so that they could be democratically planned, as part of the public services.
The Green Party does not acknowledge that capitalist society is divided into classes, where the owners of industry (a tiny minority of society) make as much profit as they can by paying their workers as little as possible. The interests of the capitalist and working classes are completely opposed to each other.
Instead, the Greens "want to encourage responsible companies that are rooted in and serve the communities in which they're based." Real economic progress, they say, "involves encouraging more local, smaller businesses - the real backbone of the economy - rather than the multinationals, which wield huge power but provide relatively few jobs."
Socialists too would not argue for public ownership of all small businesses, just the 150 or so companies that dominate the economy. But unless these are nationalised, how are these "responsible" small businesses supposed to survive in competition with the giant corporations?
Yet, the giant corporations that rule the roost in the economy switch production from one country to another in search of even lower wages, looser health and safety laws and pollution controls.
Among the most powerful capitalist institutions are the banks. Rather than call for them to be taken into democratic public ownership, the Greens favour "democratically accountable Community Banks, designed to encourage local people to invest in their own economy." Such banks would be small fish in a shark-infested sea. They would never be able to get the funds required for real investment in jobs and public services while a few big banks dominate.
So what do the Greens say about the small number of monopolies that rule the economy? "Changes in Company Law, taxation, and in monopolies and mergers legislation, will reduce the size of inappropriately large companies."
Would Tesco and Asda sit back and let a Green government reduce their size? Or would they, along with the other 150 or so monopolies that control over 80% of the economy, exert their power to force the government to back down. Unless they were taken into public ownership, they would use every means they could to destroy a threat to their profits.
Recognising opposition from "those committed to material affluence, the accumulation of power and the unsustainable exploitation of the Earth," the Greens say they're "always ready to negotiate with those who oppose us, and reach fair settlements that respect the need for security, self-esteem and freedom of choice."
This outlook has led the German Green Party into a coalition with the pro-big business Social Democratic Party of Schrder, a government that is trying to dismantle the welfare state, that continues to support nuclear power and has supported the US in wars.
The Greens correctly highlight environmental destruction and the threat to continued life on Earth from pollution. Socialists also give this issue the highest priority (see the socialist 386). But the Greens can only fall back on general appeals for a cleaner, sustainable world. Unless the majority of society owns and plans the wealth it produces, life will remain under threat of extinction.
Sucked into the system
IN BRIGHTON the Green Party features fairly large on the political landscape. They have six councillors on Brighton and Hove city council, an MEP for the South East and Brighton Pavilion constituency is the Greens' major hope for an MP in the general election.
Sean Figg, Brighton
One of Brighton & Hove Socialist Party's main campaigns has been working with the local Defend Council Housing (DCH) group to defeat the council's privatisation plans for the 13,500 council homes in Brighton. We have been campaigning for the 'fourth option' - continued public ownership and increased direct investment from central government.
This is privatisation in two stages. Millions are wasted on setting up new offices, consultants and huge salaries for the top managers. The Ashfield ALMO cost £2 million to set up.
ALMOs undermine democratic control by binding the few tenants 'reps' on the board to corporate responsibility (putting the interests of the company over the interests of tenants) and ensuring that they are in a minority, allowing them to be outvoted at every turn.
After two years, the Westminster ALMO ran out of money and tenants were told that their estates would need to be sold off entirely to provide money for repairs. The Hillingdon ALMO sold off 500 empty homes without a ballot. The government knows that tenants won't accept outright privatisation so it softens them up with an ALMO.
The Green Party published a statement saying that tenants had shown a 'clear preference for an ALMO'. I asked Green Party councillor Bill Randall how they'd determined that tenants favoured an ALMO - he told me it was from 'official council surveys'. According to the local government UNISON branch the response rate to this survey was so low as to make it statistically meaningless.
The Socialist Party has been petitioning door-to-door on the estates against housing privatisation and has attended and helped organise meetings where the issues are explained to tenants. Practically every tenant we have spoken to wants to remain with the council.
This shows how easily the Green Party have been sucked into the system. They couldn't think outside the three options put forward by the government and they endorsed the dubious methods by which the council collects information on 'tenants' preference'.
Thanks to the pressure of the campaign and the opposition of council tenants, the council have (along with the Greens) done a complete u-turn. They have agreed to send a letter to John Prescott demanding that the fourth option be made available.
The Socialist Party is standing Phil Clarke in Brighton Kemp Town constituency in the general election, opposing cuts, closures and privatisation of any sort.