With the climate emergency rising in public consciousness across the world and a shift towards anti-capitalist politics among younger people, we might think the Green Parties would be presenting themselves as radical anti-capitalist forces to win people from Labour or Social Democratic parties which have become wedded to neoliberalism and dwindled into bureaucratic husks. However, in practice the opposite is happening.
The German Greens were founded in 1980. The designation “green” was drawn from Australian building workers’ “green bans” of the mid-70s, and the party drew into many would-be radicals who had been in or around Germany’s large Maoist movements of the 1970s.
However, they have a long history of accommodating to the politics of the centre and centre right. Earlier this year polls showed the Greens on an unprecedented high vote, with a chance of leading the next German government. That high has faded over the summer, with a partial recovery of the Social Democrats (SPD), but the Green are still likely to do well in the election on 26 September.
Their pitch is to hoover up the centrist and centre-right voters who supported Angela Merkel but are uneasy about the CDU-CSU’s new leader Armin Laschet.
The Greens were in the 1998-2005 government, headed by Gerhard Schröder of the SPD, which enacted the neoliberal Hartz reforms cutting back welfare provision. Across Germany at a state level, they are now in coalitions with the liberal-conservative FDP and the conservative CDU-CSU. They have blocked further inquiries into the NSU murders in Hesse and boosted the automotive industry in Baden-Wurttemberg.
At a federal level, under the leadership of Annalena Baerbock and Robert Habeck, they talk of “radical realism”, “pragmatism”, and fiscal responsibility. Their environmental pledges are meek and focused on the market in carbon. They do support a €12 minimum wage and the gradual implementation of the 30-hour work week and universal basic income. How much of that agenda will survive coalition talks is another question.
The Scottish Greens have now gone into government coalition with the Scottish National Party (SNP), with few concessions on environmental or social policy beyond a vague commitment to rent controls. They won no concessions over North Sea oil and gas, and the new Scottish government looks likely to grant licenses to expand drilling to new fields.
The Greens’ “green new deal” is reduced to tinkering with extra subsidies. Right-wing Scottish Labour Party leader Anas Sarwar felt comfortable to attack the Greens from the left for selling out environmental and social justice principles for a promise of a second referendum, and becoming a nationalist B team for whom any other principle whether green or social democratic is secondary.
In England and Wales, the Greens have no prospect of government posts. With the shift of the Labour party to the right under Starmer you would think that even on the most opportunist calculation it would be a no-brainer for the Green Party to flex its social democratic and radical muscles. Not so.
During the Brexit impasse of 2018-2019 it stood back from a fight for a Corbyn-led minority government, which would have been the only real route to have stopped the Hard Brexit or get a second referendum. It went along with fantasies about a grand coalition with Change UK and pro-European Tories without Corbyn.
The Greens had been quite good on issues like trans rights, but over the last few years there has been backsliding: a growing alignment between elements in the Green leadership and “Gender Critical feminists”. The Greens are now attempting to appeal to people leaving the Labour Party over its support for reform of the Gender Recognition Act.
When joint leaders Siân Berry and Jonathan Bartley stepped down, Berry cited the party’s “mixed messages” over trans rights as a factor. The Green’s Executive has promoted an anti trans rights spokesperson, Shahrar Ali.
In the leadership race now on, the favourites are the self described moderates Carla Denyer and Adrian Ramsay. On the ground Green Party councillors are often quite conservative. In 16 councils the Greens are part of the ruling group. They are not against coalitions with Tories and Lib-Dems against Labour.
Denyer’s and Ramsay’s main opponents in the leadership race, Amelia Womack and Tamsin Omond, are more oriented to protests and movements like Extinction Rebellion, but their official candidate statement doesn’t mention trade unions or workers’ rights, or make any explicit criticism of what Greens have been doing in local councils.
There are many good activists and committed trade unionists who either are in Green Parties or vote Green. But these parties are not an answer to the climate emergency or to the need for a workers’ party.
Generally, left Green Party activists do not aim at transforming the Green Parties into left parties. Coalition deals and cross-class rainbow politics are in these parties’ DNA; so instead aim at convincing left-wingers and trade unionists that rainbow coalition are a nicer home than the faction fights in Labour or being involved in extra-parliamentary protest movements.