Earth's Last Champion: The history of the twenty-first century will be shaped by an increasingly bitter struggle between the two great remaining “metanarratives” – Neoliberalism and Ecologism. If the Greens did not exist as a political option we would have been forced to invent them.
IT’S NOT EASY being Green. But, then, if it was easy, the Green’s wouldn’t need to exist. If all the other political parties grasped the sheer size of the paradigm shift needed to deal with global warming, resource depletion and the unrelenting despoliation of the natural environment, then a political movement dedicated to the practical application of ecological wisdom would be unnecessary.
The great tragedy of our times is that the politics of ecological denial boasts some extremely powerful backers. This should not surprise us. The history of the twenty-first century will be shaped by an increasingly bitter struggle between the two great remaining “metanarratives” – Neoliberalism and Ecologism. The fundamental logic of the former repudiates the inter-relatedness of all living things in the name of the sovereign individual. Ecologism’s fundamental insight rejects entirely the logic of individualism in the name of the interdependent whole. In short: “I” gives way to “We”.
New Zealand is still very much in the grip of Neoliberal ideology. Indeed, all of our political parties – with the exception of the Greens – are dedicated in one way or another to strengthening and/or repairing the core market mechanisms that make individualism a practical social proposition.
National and Act are committed to purifying and intensifying the competitiveness of our market system. NZ First and the Conservatives favour a measured restoration of social cohesion by means of a slight relaxation in market rigor. Labour’s self-contradictory remit combines an improvement in the efficiency of the market mechanism with an attenuation of its worst socially disintegrative effects.
Only the Greens have grasped the need to turn the mechanisms of the market to new, environmentally sustainable and socially integrative purposes. In the spirit of Isaiah, their mission is to beat the market’s swords into ploughshares and its spears into pruning hooks.
That being the case we should not be surprised at the constant and increasingly aggressive misrepresentation of the Greens’ political project. Wittingly or unwittingly, the existing order’s guardians are positioning the Greens at the centre of a narrative of exclusion.
To Act and National, Ecologism is merely the most recent mask of their oldest foe, Communism. To NZ First and the Conservatives, not only are the Greens leftists, they are loony-leftists – an unfathomable eruption from beyond the borders of order and reason. To Labour, the Greens are more readily understood and, therefore, more feared. Deep within Labour’s historical memory the Green message calls forth echoes of a time when Labour, too, was about the transition from “I” to “We”. It’s a recollection they’d rather forget.
There is a growing awareness, among politicians and journalists alike, that the only person standing between the Greens and truly effective political power is the NZ First Party’s leader, Winston Peters. This will likely see the old campaigner restored to his role as “Kingmaker”. Labour’s decision to reject the Greens’ offer to campaign jointly under the banner of a “Labour/Greens Government” makes this even more probable. The Neoliberal Establishment may not care for NZ First and its eccentric boss but, if he is ready to bar the Cabinet Room door to Russel Norman and Metira Turei, they will tolerate him.
The pundits are confident that Mr Peters’ presence at the centre of the current political equation has the Greens beaten. Regardless of which major party he decides to back, the Greens will play no part in the resulting coalition government. Yes, they may end up wielding an indispensable number of votes, but these will avail them nothing because, in the end, they will not dare use them to force a new election.
Will they not? At some point the Greens are going to have to step away from the adjunct status they have, for far too long now, been willing to accept. If they are, indeed, the sole standard-bearer for the only coherent alternative to the planet-consuming greed of financial capitalism, then a day must come when the voters are presented with a clear and unequivocal choice between Neoliberalism and Ecologism.
If Labour is unwilling to fight alongside the Greens, then they will have no choice but to position Labour alongside the defenders of Neoliberalism. They may not emerge victorious from this first stark encounter but, be assured, Labour will be destroyed by it. Just as Labour supplanted the discredited Liberal Party, the Greens will consign Labour to the dustbin of history. In the grim, dualistic struggle between Neoliberalism and Ecologism there is no “Third Way”.
In their hearts, Labour’s members and supporters know this. That’s why, when polled, close to two-thirds of them indicate a preference for a Labour/Green coalition. The Greens need not shrink from a new election. Labour’s leadership really need to believe that.
It’s not easy being the Greens. But if they did not exist, then the twenty-first century’s voters would be forced to invent them.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 22 April 2014.