Saturday, February 16, 2008

So is the Green Party anti-capitalist?

In short – no – that was the conclusion of a fascinating fringe held yesterday, as nearly 100 people crammed into a windowless basement dressing room, with mirrored walls and weirdly glowing makeup lights. The setting was psychedelic, but the debate was sober and considered.

Jim Jepps, organiser of this blog, was the chair and organiser, and he’d organised two speakers from different perspectives.

First up was Matt Sellwood, city councillor from Oxford

His answer to the topic statement could I think have been fairly classed as a qualified “yes”. He said: “I don’t mean should change fundamentally at the moment. I am an anti-capitalist in a sensible way. I don’t tend to talk about the need for a worker’s dreadnought. We need to be smart about way we get there. Michael Albert talks about non-reformist reforms, open sphere community power, people power, to make it easier to get to the society we want.”

Matt stressed that he was not saying “we won’t do anything until capitalism has been abolished”. We have to know that the end of capitalism it is the end of the line and if don’t get there aren’t going to solve environmental and abolishing poverty. That was because capitalism was fundamentally dependent on growth, and growth is not what sustains environment.

“Sometimes think because we are Greens everything will be nice – it will all happen.”

Darren Johnson, GLA and Lewisham, spoke next.

He said he thought that everyone in the room accepted that the current economic model was unsustainable -- the neoliberal economic agenda, the globalised economy, the power of big business, disparities in wealth, overriding emphasis on growth. “But the labels capitalism/anti are unhelpful.”

What Greens wanted as a healthy mixed economy. “We believe in a much stronger role for the public sector, protecting public services, making sure natural monopolies such as rail and water in public hands and see a much bigger role for the third sector, for smaller not-for-profit enterprises, co-operatives etc. We also do though see a role for private enterprise – want better regulated, more localised, economic welfare and happiness as dominant drivers of policy.

Discussion was wide-ranging, a selection:

• Capitalism is just a four-letter word. If a little bloke gets £5K redundancy and invests in fish van, does quite well, that’s one thing, enormous multinational another – we need more words. We need a regulated economy, mixed economy. The problem is consumerism has been the dominant, since 17th century at least.

• Beware of romanticising small business – are often the people who most brutally antiunion, brutally antisustainability, something that might arise from competition.

• What needs to be tackled are the rights that capital has gathered over 100 or more years: right to limited liability, privacy, rights to legal personhood.

• The party to be inclusive as possible needs to approach people like shareholders – in sorrow rather than in anger – we want these people to vote Green even though we are pooping in their party.

• A major cultural shift needs to be made to see producers competing on quality rather than price – as did medieval guilds

• A potential slogan – what we want are are quality services, quality of goods, quality of life.


Rupert said...

I like the Monbiot line on this, from the end of 'The age of consent': let's try to do things that are actually doable -- and essential -- first, before we try to even LOOK at the question of whether capitalism ought to be abolished.

Matt Sellwood said...

As long as those things are compatible with a longer-term vision, then I have no problem with that quotation. A problem only arises if the short-term, medium-term steps take us in the wrong direction.

Which I don't think the Green Party MFSS does, so all is well!


Jim Jay said...

I thought this was an excellent session (am I allowed to say that about something I organised? oh well, too late) the fact that everyone had something to say and argued in a wqell mannered reason way was great.

For me I don't think I'd be so anti-capitalist if capitalism was not so anti-me

Leftwing Criminologist said...

Sounds like an interesting discussion. However, any sensible anti-capitalist would not wait until the end of capitalism to try to do anything - indeed they would be engaged in campaigns etc. in the here and now - otherwise they'd just be armchair anti-capitalists - and no-one likes them!

Jim Jay said...

I agree LWC - I think this was the source of the sense of consensus despite formally arguing very different positions - because we were all agreed that we should be taking action against the worst excesses of capitalism and fighting for a better world... a large amount of the discussion was really about the role of small businesses and "social entrepreneurs" in capitalism - which I thought was quite interesting.