How red can the greens be?

Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything and Paul Mason’s Post-capitalism capture the growing consensus capitalism will not solve the looming climate change crisis. Serious intellectual opinion is increasingly unanimous in this view. Even the world’s wealthiest capitalist, Bill Gates, admits if we leave green investment to private enterprise the planet is destined to burn. The problem is that mainstream, short-term-oriented politicians haven’t caught up with these obvious conclusions about the planet’s future and capitalism’s disastrous impact upon it.

It seems clear that green and socialist parties, sharing a common enemy and a longer term perspective on politics, should eventually seek a permanent alliance. Indeed, in some countries, Green-Left coalitions are long-established, and Greens are cheerily anti-capitalist. However, in other countries – usually, those where the Greens have come closest to power – they have become openly pro-establishment, even right-wing and pro-war, and have turned on their members and supporters. Generally, this happens because the temptations of ‘pragmatic’ coalition government become overwhelming. There are also sociological reasons for this – many green parties are very middle class – and ideological reasons – many greens share a small business outlook or even a ‘deep Green’ misanthropic view on progress.

So far, the Scottish party has been a consistent ally of the radical left. However, Scotland’s green party – unlike, for example, Germany’s – has been moulded by a long period on the margins. 2016’s election could see it moving to the centre: it’s not ridiculous to imagine it being offered the chance of coalition with the SNP. That would really test its long-term view on political alliances.

Thus, it was revealing that when Patrick Harvie was asked at a BBC leaders’ debate whether ‘capitalism’ would be a red-line for the Greens in coalition, his answer, as well as in subsequent articles, was ambiguous. This raises a question: how do the Greens foresee political change? Will it emerge from below, by an anti-establishment alliance of social movements and the organised working class, or from above, by entering coalitions as a minority? Is parliamentary influence a means or an ends?

I believe in making pragmatic reforms in the present where capitalism is overwhelmingly dominant. Socialists have achieved some of the most important of these in the Scottish Parliament, like free school meals and ending prescription charges. But if you’re a serious Green or a serious socialist, you also need a strategy for the coming decades, not just the next parliamentary term.

On so many issues, we do agree, but on some strategic questions there are lingering doubts. Socialists aren’t just anti-capitalist because they are worried about over-using the planet’s resources. They are anti-capitalist because most of humanity is subordinated to capitalist work and exploitation for large parts of the day; we are anti-capitalist because of the class system. For that reason, socialists have seen the union movement as a central part of changing society.

Labour’s grip over the unions and over working class communities explains a great deal about the historical failings of the socialist movement in Britain. In Scotland, happily, its traditional heartlands are not now no-go territories. But for the sake of the independence movement, and the health of progressive movements in general, we must now end Labour’s grasp on the Scottish unions’ resources and, more importantly, their imaginations.

That’s why a radical strategy for Scotland must address worklessness and bad jobs, not as afterthoughts, but as primary aims. Clean jobs, absolutely. But working class needs must be immediate priorities, and that does means full employment, which the SNP can’t provide due to its pro-business outlook.

That’s also why I favour economic planning. But I favour planning for a second reason: because it’s the only way to solve the climate crisis. Cooperatives are great, but our social movements must seek a clear mandate to impose strict controls on business activities, or, given current trends, the future is unthinkable.

Sooner or later, circumstances will force socialists and greens together. We need a permanent eco-socialist coalition in society, and yes, it must seek power. What it shouldn’t do is become subservient to the power of capitalism – and that can happen to the best coalitions, as Syriza proves. For the twenty-first century to end more successfully than the last one, capitalism must be a red line.

Cat Boyd is a RISE (Respect, Independence, Socialism and Environmentalism) and union movement activist. She was also a co-founder of the Radical Independence Campaign.