The Green Party’s policies for making things better are doomed to fail. The Greens have strong convictions, a sense of justice, and a need to care for the environment and the future. However, their policies fail to live up to their values—or even begin to meet the necessary conditions for bringing them about.
Green activists have a tactical choice to make. Either they opt for more regulation and legislation to try to protect the environment or they try for a radical social change to bring about a society in which the environment wouldn't need protecting. It's the same dilemma that the early socialist movement faced: reform or revolution? Trying to patch up present-day society or working to establish a new society as a preliminary to being able to do anything lasting and constructive? Experience has shown reformism is at best running fast to stay still, at worst it is only solving one problem at the expense of creating others. We are up against a well-entrenched economic and social system based on class and property and governed by coercive economic laws. Reforms, however well-meaning or determined, can never solve the environmental crisis - the most they can do is to palliate some aspect of it on a precarious temporary basis. They can certainly never turn capitalism into a democratic, ecological society. Socialists draw the conclusion that if the environment is to be safeguarded then capitalism must go.
The nature of the only social framework within which human beings could live in harmony with, not at the expense of, the rest of nature is easy enough to discern: it would have to be a society based on common ownership not property and a society in which the aim of production was to satisfy human needs, not to make and accumulate profits. Respecting ecological principles does not involve a "return to nature". The point is to establish a sustainable balance between our use of nature as a source, of wealth and nature's ability to keep on supplying us on a self-regulating basis because we allow it to recreate what we take from it. A non-exploitative and non-hierarchical society is a practical goal not an ideal, one which necessitates a social order based on the common ownership of natural resources.
What respecting the environment involves is the recognition that there is a balance of nature which can be upset by the choice of techniques of food, energy and industrial production. It involves choosing techniques in the light of this knowledge, including developed industrial techniques that can be integrated into a sustainable ecosystem. Change, involving upsetting a particular balance, is not at all ruled out nor is it necessarily undesirable in itself but, once again, it must be realised that change can upset the existing balance of nature and that steps must therefore be consciously taken to help a new, different balance to be found. Having said this, however, it is likely that, after an initial increase in food, energy and industrial production to help overcome the problems of world hunger, destitution and disease which socialism is bound to inherit from capitalism, production levels will become stabilised in socialism and be tied to population levels (which will also be stabilised). In other words, socialism will eventually become a society with a stable level of production, integrated into a stable relationship with the rest of nature; a particular balance with nature will be achieved and sustained.
The focus on fossil fuels has lulled us into thinking we can continue with the status quo so long as we switch to clean energy, but this is a dangerously simplistic assumption. If we want to stave off disaster, we need to confront its underlying cause. The only way to green the planet is to first make it the common heritage of all of us. Then we will be freed from the tyranny of market forces and money and in a position to consciously regulate our relationship with the rest of nature in an ecologically acceptable way. The Green Party may not like capitalism in its present form and want to ‘rebalance’ it, but they still see no alternative to capitalism as a system of production for profit based on wage-labour and are resigned to working within it. It is true that the sort of capitalism they envisage would not be dominated by tax-dodging multinationals but one in which the profit-seeking enterprises would be small and eco-friendly. But there is no more chance of an eco-friendly capitalism than there is of going back to small-scale capitalism. Transforming the capitalist economy so that ‘it works for the common good’ is precisely what cannot be done. Capitalism is a class-divided society driven by the imperative for those who own and control the means of wealth production to make a profit. It can only function as a profit system in the interest of those who live off profits.
Derek Wall, once put it rather well:
‘A Green government will be controlled by the economy rather than being in control. On coming to office through coalition or more absolute electoral success, it would be met by an instant collapse of sterling as 'hot money' and entrepreneurial capital went elsewhere. The exchange rate would fall and industrialists would move their factories to countries with more relaxed environmental controls and workplace regulation. Sources of finance would dry up as unemployment rocketed, slashing the revenue from taxation and pushing up the social security bills. The money for ecological reconstruction – the building of railways, the closing of motorways and construction of a proper sewage system – would run out’ (Getting There, 1990).
A sustainable productive system as one that respects the laws of ecology can only be instituted if production for the market is completely abolished through the establishment of the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and replaced by production solely for use. The relations between productive units — and between local communities — then cease to be commercial ones and become simple relations between suppliers and users of useful products without the intervention of money, buying and selling, trade or barter.