openDemocracyUK

Suzanne Moore is wrong about the Greens - they are plainly left wing

A quick examination of their policies shows a Green party hard to reconcile with Moore's description.

Alex J Wood
31 January 2015
lucas.jpg

The Green's Caroline Lucas. Flickr/Global Justice Now. Some rights reserved.

In a recent Guardian commentary Suzanne Moore claims that if the UK wants a leftwing party it needs to forget Greens and a grow its own. She argues that if the ‘Greens are the protest vote for the left, then the left has become a fairly meaningless term.’ My surprise at this claim spurred me to investigate whether it was true, are the Greens really not leftwing?

It is not really clear how Moore conceptualises ‘leftwing.’ At various points she suggests the Greens can’t be considered leftwing as they want to ban too many things, at others it is because the Greens lack a theory of class analysis and this means they don’t understand the mechanics of redistribution. It seems then that what Moore equates leftwing with is social democracy i.e. the redistribution of some wealth from the rich to poor while leaving capitalist class structures in place. This is a surprisingly mild definition of leftwing for an article invoking Syriza (which ironically the Greek Greens are part of). If we really want to know if the Greens are leftwing why limit ourselves to Moore’s social democratic conception? Instead we should investigate whether their policies are socialist or not.

Doing so requires a fairly uncontroversial and narrowly economic definition of a socialist policy. Such as 'a policy which would significantly socialise production, finance or social reproduction'. In other words a socialist policy is one which promotes significant social ownership, principally through state ownership or worker co-ops. After considering the policies individually, we can evaluate how much they add up to socialism - that is the socialisation of the entire economy. As Moore rests her claims on the fact that Greens supposedly lack a class analysis, I have also classified the non-socialist policies according to their working class bias - whether they would benefit this class at the expense of others.

Socialisation of Production

According to the Greens policies they would grant all employees the right to vote to turn their company into a worker co-op - financed through a National Pension and Investment Fund, Green National Investment Bank and State Golden Shares. A cooperative development fund, operating mainly through local authorities, would also be set up to provide initial capital on a matched funding basis for new cooperatives, meaning that, depending on the level of funding, a significant proportion of new businesses would also be co-ops.

If workers did not want their company to become a co-op they could still, on the basis of 80% vote, be granted equal representation with managers at all levels of decision making, elect certain key managers and have representatives on a 'Board of Direction.' Any remaining medium and large-sized private companies would also have to include employee-elected directors and independent directors on their boards

A more traditional socialist policy is the nationalisation of the water industry, railways and gas and electricity supply industries (with the exception of small-scale renewable energy initiatives).

Nationalisation would not be limited to these traditional industries, knowledge is central to the modern economy and this too would be socialised. The patenting of software and cultural ideas and living material would be ended. When deemed in the public interest patents would be nationalised. ‘Fair use’ policies would be extended to operate outside of academia and peer-to-peer copying, where it is not done as a business, would be legalised and copyright reduced to 14 years.

The macro-level would also be socialised through the implementation of import and export controls which would reduce the markets power over production. 

Socialisation of finance

The Greens say that they would develop democratically accountable Community Banks. The state ownership of nationalised banks would be maintained and a permanent national Green Investment Bank created and the state would provide support to credit unions. Pensions funds would be democratised which would socialise a large sphere of investment. The creation of money would be fully taken over by the state. Finally, at the international level an International Reserve Bank would aim to balance trade between countries. 

Socialisation of social reproduction

Free-schools and academies would be integrated into the Local Authority school system and private schools taxed as businesses. Foundation status would be abolished and existing foundation hospitals fully reintegrated into the NHS system. All newly set up General Practices would be patient-owned co-operatives. Local authorities would be allowed to build or buy houses, financial support to housing associations would be increased and Community Banks would be tasked with increasing funding for housing co-operatives. Finally, Local Authorities would be empowered to take control of empty properties and put them to social use.

Pro-working class policy bias

The wealth of the rich would be redistributed through higher rates of Income Tax, the use of Wealth Taxes, new Council Tax bands above H and eventually by its replacement with a Land Value Tax and the ending of Capital Gains Tax exemptions and thresholds. The income of workers would be increased through the replacement of the minimum wage with a higher living wage and housing benefit would also be expanded.

A Citizen's Income would be implemented, something which Moore derides, presumably because she prefers the means testing of the poor. She argues this would leave the poor less well-off but unfortunately Moore obviously hasn’t bothered to read the policy. The policy states that no one will receive less than they currently do from benefits. It seems beyond Moore’s lauded class analysis to contemplate that this would simply require increased redistribution of wealth through taxation. Ironically, Moore also fails to understand the impact of this policy on class. Relational conceptions of class (Moore seems to prefer a liberal gradational one) are based upon the idea that workers are exploited as the only way they can survive is to agree to work for capital. Therefore, although a Citizen Income would be received by all classes, it would radically strengthen the bargaining position of workers as their survival would be delinked from employment.

This increased bargaining position of workers would also be enhanced by the legal right to be represented by unions. Additionally unions would have their rights to secondary action and picketing on public highways returned. One final significant policy with a clear working class bias is the abolishing of Grammar schools

This is what leftwing looks like!

Would these policies result in socialism? It seems likely that Green Party policy would transform nearly all companies into worker co-ops. The few companies where workers voted against using state finance to do so would likely have equal worker/manager representation at many levels of decision making. At the very least all remaining medium or large employers would have worker and independent representation at board level. New businesses would either be started up as co-ops in order to take advantage of the available funding, or as soon as they started employing workers would likely transform into co-ops. Moreover, the water industry, railways, gas and electricity supply industries, foundation hospitals, free-schools and academy schools would all be added to the public sector. The private control of knowledge through patents and copyright would also be massively reduced.

A large amount of finance would be socialised through the creation of Community Banks, a Green Investment Bank and the democratisation of pension funds while creation of money itself would be controlled by the state. There would also be a dramatic increase in socialised housing as local authorities, housing associations and housing co-ops built new housing stock. An international clearing union, state control of money supply and export and import controls would also significantly socialise the economy at the macro-level by taking control out of the hands of the market. Finally, the Green Party's non-socialist policies also show a clear bias in favour of the working class, redistributing wealth from the rich to the working class and expanding their rights and power in the workplace.      

I have made no effort to demonstrate the feasibility of these policies, nor do I necessarily support them. I aim only to conclusively demonstrate that Suzanne Moore is wrong: the Green Party's policies prove that it must be considered leftwing. The Green Party’s policies also seem to be based upon a significantly more coherent class analysis then her own article. However, this is not to blame Moore, if media commentators are unaware of the Greens' socialist policies. It suggests that the Greens’ leaders are failing to articulate them strongly enough. The Citizens Income is a case in point, where the fact that it requires the increased taxation of the 1% was not emphasised.   


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