It’s not easy being the Green Party, but it’s better than voting Democrat
The strengths and weaknesses of the Green Party platform
For those who can’t see themselves voting for a candidate from the Party of Slavery, Jim Crow Segregation and War — no matter how ‘progressive’ or ‘socialist’ that candidate might market himself — an alternative might be The Green Party. The Green Party has an advantage for the Left that it has already made the effort to break with the Party of the KKK, Lynch Mobs and Obama Drones.
The problem, as I will show, is that the Green Party’s break with the Democratic Party hasn’t yet advanced beyond organization. The Green Party signals the limitations of its break with the Party of the Cold War by adopting much of its political program. The limitation of the Green Party’s break with the Democratic Party is telegraphed by its platform which it unironically calls, “A Green New Deal”. This is a not so subtle reference to the Roosevelt administration’s own New Deal legislation during the Great Depression.
Is a new New Deal possible?
Although it may be argued the Green Party simply wants to link its own program with the struggles and worker militancy of the 1930s, the actual planks of this campaign platform suggests the Greens don’t so much want to link to the militancy of the 1930s as much as they want to reproduce its results: state management of the economy. The Greens have thus set themselves against the neoliberal policies that have dominated politics in the United States since the 1970s.
But history moves on and seldom reverses. The aims of the Green Party is trying to return to the so-called golden age may be as unrealistic in the United States as it was in Greece after SYRIZA took power.
The ‘Green New Deal’ calls for government to be aggressive on a number of fronts within the economy. Among the most important are promises to create millions of new ‘living wage’ jobs, guarantee access to basic commodities (including health care and college education), support worker-owned cooperatives, turn banks and utilities into democratically run institutions, negotiate ‘fair trade agreements’, halt climate change, bring the national security and military apparatus under control, and remove corporations from the public arena.
An incoherent platform”
What strikes me about this list is that although the party makes an attempt to give its platform coherence by breaking its program into separate topics, it has not thought through how each of its planks relate to the others.
To give an example: does the promise to create millions of new jobs conflict with the promise to halt global warming? The Green Party promises us these millions of new jobs will be created through investment in renewable energy, public transit, etc. But I think it is important to ask if the climate impact of creating industries will ever be recovered by the new allegedly environmentally friendly products they will produce.
Another promise that causes me some concern is the promise to negotiate fair trade agreements — what does this look like? How do you tell a fair trade agreement from an agreement that is not fair?
Here is a third problem: how does creating democratically run banks and utilities conflict with workplace democracy? Who has the final say on how a bank or utility operates? The workers of the firm or the community? The same problem exists in the defense industrial sector. Do the workers creating nuclear weapons get to democratically choose how their industries are run? Do the workers at the FBI and NSA get to democratically decide who they will spy on?
These are just a few examples of the fundamental incoherence of the Green Party program. In my opinion, this incoherence arises from the fact that the Green Party has no real coherence in its approach to power. It has no idea what it wants to do with power, except “do good”, or as Googlers used to say, “Don’t be evil”. Its political program is the result of an eclectic mix of radical heterodox economic policies that seem to have been chosen because they sound ‘progressive’.
What do the Green Party hope to achieve?
Coherence in your approach to power means that you have some vision of what will be achieved by gaining the support of working people who put you in power. When you gain political support, you can form a government and get control of the economy, but this achievement can be meaningless, as SYRIZA proved in Greece. If gaining control of the existing state is all you intend to do with power, you are finished as a political force the moment this has been achieved.
You have the power and you have the economic control. Now, realistically, what do you intend to do with it? Is this why the Left wants power? Just for the sake of holding office?
To put this another way: In Venezuela, who has the power now? Yesterday it was the Venezuelan socialists; today it’s the Venezuelan capitalists. What real changes did the socialists make while they were in power that were permanent no matter what party was in power? And what changes did they make that were effective only as long as they were in power?
There are few promises made in the Green Party program that will outlast a Green Party government. Jobs exist only to be cut, inflation eats away at the cost of food, clothing, housing, education and medical insurance. A new enemy can always be manufactured by neocons. Which means, should the Democrats and the GOP win the following election, or even impeach President Jill Stein, the party will have accomplished nothing permanent and real.
And this is true even if the Greens fulfill every promise on their Green New Deal platform.
Making change permanent
All is not lost with this program, however. Since the social ills the Green Party promises to eradicate all stem from the same causes — production for profit — there is an inner logic to many of the planks of the Green program that make them far more coherent than they might appear at first glance. In particular, let me single out the promises to create new jobs, increase wages, halt climate change, end the wars, domestic spying, and limit corporate influences in politics.
The key to making good on all of the promises is to be found in an obscure paper written by the green economists Kallis, Kalush, O’Flynn, Rossiter and Ashford. These are five European economists working in the area of environmental sustainability. The paper, “‘Friday off’: Reducing Working Hours in Europe”, argues the same measure that reduces unemployment may also reduce climate change. According to the authors,
“There are reasons to believe that reducing working hours may absorb some unemployment, especially in the short-run, even if less than what is advocated by proponents of the proposal. Further, there may well be strong benefits for the quality of peoples’ lives. Environmental benefits are likely but depend crucially on complementary policies or social conditions that will ensure that the time liberated will not be directed to resource-intensive or environmentally harmful consumption.”
Kallis, et al make the surprising argument that a simple and straightforward reduction of hours of labor not only can cut unemployment and increase wages, it can reduce, perhaps even halt, climate change if it is combined with the right policies. Surprisingly, the Green Party has made no use of this argument in formulating their platform for 2016, although it was written in 2013.
I should add that the five authors actually understate their case because they rely on bourgeois economic theory to make their argument. Had they combined their environmental science with labor theory, their case would have been conclusive. This is because a reduction of hours of labor has the same effect as a reduction in the size of the work force.
Labor hour reduction and the Green platform
To understand the impact a reduction of hours will have not just on employment but also wages consider this: In the short run, the lost output resulting from a reduction in hours of labor can only be made up by increasing total employment — meaning capitalist firms must hire more workers to compensate for shorter hours of labor. This means capitalist firms are now at the disadvantage of competing among themselves for a labor pool that has dramatically shrunk owing to less hours of work. Under these conditions it is reasonable to expact not only would wages rise, but the potential for union organization would be greatly enhanced as well by a reduction in competition between workers over jobs.
In theory at least, reducing hours of labor should dramatically shift the class struggle in favor of the working class and away from capital.
But the impact is not limited to just the class struggle between capital and labor. As the authors show, depending on the complementary policies a Green government put in place, reducing hours will make good on its promise to bring climate change to a halt.
This especially would be the case if defense/security sector production was reduced along with hours of labor. The defense/security sector of the economy produces large amounts of environmentally harmful output, while adding nothing to the material satisfaction of human need. It is almost pure waste. Reducing defense expenditures gets rid of a huge amount of waste in the economy and goes a long way toward halting climate change.
As an added bonus, reducing the defense/security industry can also reduce the influence the so-called military-industrial complex has in politics, which is every bit as pernicious and corrupting as that of Wall Street banks. Think of all those military contracts spread over every congressional districts.
I would suggest that in the short run a reduction in hours of labor of sufficient size would not just solve the employment problem and halt global warming, it would allow most, if not all of the US military and domestic spying programs to be dismantled. And it would do it in a way that is very difficult to reverse: by converting much of the waste in the economy into free time away from labor for everyone.