10 Aug 2015

The great distractions; Corbyn, the Left or Right debate and the anti-capitalist question

Corbynmania has struck the country and it has certainly pierced hard in to the conscious of all groups on the political left. The prospect of having a leader of the Labour Party with apparently true socialist ideals is very interesting and exciting.

Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign to become Labour leader makes a striding and refreshing change to mainstream politics. With his anti-austerity focus, calls for nuclear disarmament and commentary on peace, among other things, Corbyn seems almost so good he could be Green Party!

From what I can see, the excitement around Corbyn has sown confusion in to the ranks of the Green Party and other non-right wing parties. After years of it being abundantly clear that Labour are no longer left wing, socialist or a party for working people there appears to be a chance to restore the Labour Party to what it once was.

In a previous piece I wrote about ‘progressives must work together’ and this is something I still believe to be true. I think all parties and political groups that want to see real change in the very limited democratic system that we have need to find common ground and make a true opposition to the awful Tory government. I would much rather see Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party than any of the other candidates and would be far happier with Corbyn as Prime Minister than Cameron.
But I for one will not be rushing out joining Labour and paying £3 in the hope that I can help Corbyn to victory.

As good as Corbyn may seem now, he is not green; Corbyn is not a member of the Green Party. Instead Corbyn has remained glued to party that has been increasingly centre-right and playing catch-up with the Tories. Labour, like the Tories, have a very poor record when it comes to the environment. This I believe is precisely because the Labour Party are not green; they are not informed from an ecological perspective.

I don’t want to discourage anyone who feels galvanised by the Corbyn sensation and it is a great thing that the prevalent discourse that the ‘country is apathetic towards politics’ is being challenged. Of course it has been challenged for a long time by a lot of quarters but in our very limited democracy the media is only really interested in a couple of players.

So if you feel inspired by Corbyn to take any kind of political action get out there and do it! And damn well good for you.

Left wing, right wing and anti-capitalism

There have been other debates floating around within in green circles that I would like to take a quit look at. The first of those is the debate about whether or not the Green Party is ‘left wing’.

To be ‘green’ is to put the environment first. As well as being a practical political option, the concept of being ‘green’ also means to share in a philosophy.

While the Labour Party have been drifting up the political stream, so that they are sailing very comfortably just behind the Conservative Party, there are questions among greens about whether we can take up Labour’s space in the race. Unfortunately, everyone participating in that particular race is heading in the same direction. It is an end goal where the environment will never be the first consideration; a destination in which the environment will only be considered if it does not distract from the endless march of business and industry.

This is simply not an option that can coincide with a green philosophy.

The domination of the ‘left wing vs right wing’ in political commentary has created a false dichotomy. That there is only left or right to choose from. It would be silly to say that greens do not share common ground with the left and that they would not often be allies with the left over the right.

For a long time I believed  that I was left wing and anti-capitalist. Nothing on the right has ever attracted me. I searched for an answer from the examples of left wing societies that we have seen come in to being but found for me that there was no answer there. Communist and socialist regimes that we have seen have been tyrannical, oppressive, dictatorial, grey and unrelentingly industrial.

Both left and right as we know them have been contained within ‘industrialism’; it’s devouring of resources and it’s constant expansion and growth.  As Jonathon Poritt explained in his book ‘Seeing Green’ “industrialism and sustainability are mutually exclusive”. Simply you cannot be involved in the constant expansion of industry and be sustainable at the same time. Porritt explained;

“Socialisation of the means of production makes little difference; what are vices under capitalism do not become virtues under communism. A filthy smokestack is still a filthy smoke stack whether or not it is owned by the state or by a private corporation”

This would lead many greens to say that ‘capitalism’ is the problem. That capitalism and the consumer culture are driving this swallowing up of finite resources. That capitalist societies will never put the needs o the environment first. Capitalism is the problem and so we should be anti-capitalist.

But I think this is too simplistic.

What does ‘capitalism’ mean?

an economic, political, and social system in which property,business, and industry are privately owned, directed towards making the greatest possible profits for successful organisations and people”

Cambridge Dictionary

The above definition does not include what most anti-capitalists despise about the capitalism that we have. I think for most anti-capitalists our capitalism would actually be defined like this;

Capitalism (as we know it) ; an economic, political, and social system in which property,business, and industry are privately owned, directed towards making the greatest possible profits for successful organisations and people, where profits are put first at the expense of society, it’s people and without recognition of the undeniable truth that all wealth is ultimately drawn from the finite resources of the planet.

Perhaps the elite that are responsible for the Cambridge Dictionary have their own reason for not carrying my extended definition of capitalism, but either way it is not in there.

But if you think about it we all know that capitalism can fit the Cambridge definition and does not have to fall in to my extended definition; we can think about our own local situation and consider the Stroud famer’s market. Here is capitalism in full swing as local organisations and people benefit from directing the greatest possible profits for their wares from our pockets. We love our Stroud farmer’s market; the smells, the interesting items, the warm characters. What a pleasure.

The important thing here is that, to my knowledge, the local businesses that operate from the Stroud farmer’s market are not generating their profits at anyone else’s, or the environment’s, expense.

We can be green

We need to put to one side the discussions of being anti-capitalist, left wing or right wing; we can be altogether different. We can be green. To be green is to put the environment first because there is no other option; all other things that might be important to you depend on this planet we call home.

There is another incredibly important reason to put down the argument of left vs right and anti-capitalism; because most people don’t care. Greens have had a difficult time reaching out to the type of people who live on the council estate where I grew up. All of this academic debate about ideology ultimately gets nowhere when you are facing the practicalities of everyday living on the breadline. This is where the ideology of the right dangerously dominates with ease because the lies are well spread if not actually made material; the wealth of the richest will trickle down, we need a strong economy, watch out for those migrants they are taking your job, that sick person isn’t working as hard as you are, we need to free up trade (and step on your rights)…

We greens need talk of the real things that greens strive for in power and how our policies make a real difference to people’s lives.

  • ·         Creating a fair economy; ending austerity, restoring the public sector, paying a real living wage, a Robin Hood tax on banks and increasing the minimum wage to £10ph by 2020
  • ·         A public NHS; Fighting  for a publicly funded, publicly provided health service free at the point of use. Ending the creeping privatisation of the NHS and repeal the Health and Social Care Act 2012. Making mental health a much higher priority with resources to match this
  • ·         Affordable energy and a safe climate; Taking urgent action on climate change and working with other countries to hold the increase in global temperature to below 2 degrees. Banning fracking, phase out coal power stations and say no to new nuclear. Investing in a public programme of renewable generation, flood defences and building insulation.
  • ·         Free education; Scrapping university tuition fees, reversing cuts and investing in further education. Promote a comprehensive system of local schools offering mixed ability teaching staffed by qualified teachers. Bring Academies and Free Schools into the Local Authority system.
  • ·         Decent homes; Abolishing the cruel and unfair bedroom tax. Provide 500,000 social rented homes by 2020 and bring empty homes back into use to ensure everyone has access to an affordable place to live. Cap rent, introduce longer tenancies and licence landlords to provide greater protection for renters.

·         Better transport; Returning the railways to public hands, saving money and improving services. Introduce an immediate cut in fares of 10% to give passengers a much-needed financial break. Promote walking and cycling to help reduce pollution and improve people’s health.

Taken from the Green Party England and Wales 2015 mini manifesto

Not left. Not right. Just busy being green and ignoring these great distractions.


Simon Pickering said...

Excellent study Alex cheers Simon

Russ said...

One think I would really like to see on the Green list of things to do is, more money poured into renewable energy research. Why is it not there? Are too many Greens a bit suspicious of science?

Philip Booth said...

Hi Russ - poss could be said of some of policies prior to 2011 but don't believe that is true now - see blog piece: http://brightgreenscotland.org/index.php/2011/03/another-step-forward-in-green-party-science-policy/

Greens are also spelling out very clearly the need for more research and development - in election earlier this year they gave a costed budget to increase this nationally.