Putting The Blue Into Green: The party’s male co-leader, James Shaw, openly touts for the support of “green” capitalists: as if the profits to be extracted from re-branding corporate greed as an “ecologically sustainable business ethos” will somehow render its actual production less dependent on environmental despoliation and unrelenting human exploitation.
IF IT’S PERMISSABLE to talk about “Red-Greens”, then why not about “Blue-Greens”? Surely an abiding concern for the natural environment is something which transcends narrow ideological considerations? And, if that’s true, doesn’t it make perfect sense for an environmental party to position itself squarely in the middle of the political spectrum – from whence it can reach out to both the Left and the Right?
Certainly, that’s what Vernon Tava believes, and the former Green MP, Kennedy Graham, agrees with him. In fact, Graham goes further, arguing that contemporary politics is driven by the followers of three great quests. The quest for freedom; the quest for equality; and the quest for sustainability. Graham strongly implies that the greatest of these three is sustainability. Without a sustainable environment, the quests for freedom and equality cannot succeed. This was the sort of thinking that prompted the late Rod Donald to declare: “The Greens are not of the Left. The Greens are not of the Right. The Greens are out in front.”
A great soundbite – but is it true?
It all depends what you mean by “out in front”. If it is intended to describe the vanguard role played by environmental activists in the 1970s and 80s, then the quip has some merit. Up until then “development” was the dominant – and largely uncontested – paradigm, embraced alike by the Capitalist West and the Communist Bloc. The power of science and technology was being unleashed against an intransigent natural world. “Progress” was the word used by both the Left and the Right to describe humankind’s heroic mission to bend Nature to its will. Felling forests, damming rivers and levelling mountains were all achievements to celebrate. Humankind was winning!
It took the Astronaut’s photograph of “Spaceship Earth” to jolt humanity into the realisation that this bright blue planet is all we have – a dazzling repository of life and beauty in an otherwise barren universe. Not an enemy to be subdued, but our one and only home. If there was a foe to be fought, then surely it was rampant industrialism and the insatiable consumerist societies it was spawning? Whether these societies were ruled by Capitalists, or Communists, hardly seemed to matter. The damage inflicted on the planet’s fragile ecosystems by both ideologies was equally catastrophic.
So, yes. Those who grasped the full social, economic and ecological consequences of the development paradigm were, indeed, “out in front” politically.
With the benefit of hindsight, however, it is possible to view the Cold War stand-off between the United States and the Soviet Union as a conflict driven less by ideology than straightforward geopolitical rivalry. The Russians’ state-capitalist system, at enormous cost, was able to maintain a rough military parity with its corporate-capitalist competitors, but was completely outclassed in virtually all other aspects of production. The Russians never mastered the problems of distribution, and, crucially, suffered from a crippling shortage of domestically generated investment capital. The wonder is not that the Soviet Union fell, but that it remained upright for so long!
With the collapse of “actually existing socialism” in Russia and Eastern Europe, and the Chinese Communist Party’s embrace of “socialism with Chinese characteristics” (a.k.a Capitalism!) the Greens’ boast that they were “out in front” lost its sting. The imperatives of corporate capitalism were now driving economic activity across the entire planet. Industrialisation and consumerism were being supercharged – and so was their impact on global ecosystems. Those who stood for the planet were now obliged to stand against a capitalist system whose corporate masters refused to acknowledge (and were, in fact, operating beyond) the moral and political claims of the traditional nation state.
But, as more and more of Earth’s burgeoning human population were swallowed up in the capitalist machine, the amount of CO2 spewing forth from its smokestacks and exhaust pipes was increasing exponentially – soaring towards an atmospheric concentration incompatible with the long-term survival of industrial civilisation. Capitalism was facing its final and fatal contradiction: a negation which only its own negation could negate.
The colour of this capitalist death-machine is, and always has been, blue. Calling yourself a “Blue-Green” is, therefore, oxymoronic. You can no more be a “Blue-Green” than you can be a non-violent boxer or a chaste debauchee. Nor is it defensible to describe yourself as a “Green-Green” – as if rescuing the biosphere can be accomplished without confronting directly the economic system responsible for its devastation. In this regard, the subjective sincerity or insincerity of Vernon Tava and Kennedy Graham is completely irrelevant. Objectively, they are serving the interests of the planet’s enemies – not its friends.
The capitalists’ oft-repeated accusation that they are facing “Red-Greens” is, however, entirely justified. If by “red” is meant a force dedicated to overturning the prevailing capitalist system and replacing it with one in which the three great goals of freedom, equality and sustainability will each become the indispensable guarantor of the other.
From their first appearance in the 1980s, Green parties around the world have presented themselves as both the exemplars and advocates of four foundational principles: Ecological Wisdom; Social Justice; Participatory Democracy; and Nonviolence. Each of these principles is antithetical to the founding principles of Capitalism: The Subjugation of Nature; Human Exploitation; Plutocracy; and Coercive Violence. The dilemma confronting Green supporters in New Zealand in 2019 is just how far the Green Party has drifted from the global Green Movement’s original values. There is a widespread and growing feeling that the Greens’ parliamentary representatives are no longer Capitalism’s enemies, but its enablers.
The party’s male co-leader, James Shaw, openly touts for the support of “green” capitalists: as if the profits to be extracted from re-branding corporate greed as an “ecologically sustainable business ethos” will somehow render its actual production less dependent on environmental despoliation and unrelenting human exploitation.
Only if Green voters are willing to subscribe to the fiction of “weightless” capitalist enterprises that leave no “carbon footprint”, can Shaw’s pitch be rendered credible. Except that, the cellphone in his pocket, the lap-top in his shoulder-bag, both argue against his proposition. If Shaw could only see the horrors attendant upon the extraction of the minerals that make them work; the super-exploitative megafactories in which they are assembled; then he would understand just how crushing the planetary burden off-loaded by his new-found “green” capitalist friends truly is.
As for the Greens’ female co-leader, Marama Davidson. Perhaps the best that can be said of her performance is that it has been distinguished by neither wisdom, nor justice. Nor even by a conspicuous quantum to democracy – participatory or otherwise. Most notably absent has been the founding Green principle of Nonviolence. On the contrary, Davidson’s “woke” faction of the party, caught up in the ever-tightening coils of identity politics, have unleashed a level of emotional violence upon those it deems ideological heretics that must surely make the party’s founders weep.
How different is today’s Green caucus from the “magnificent seven” Green MPs who entered the House of Representatives so triumphantly in 1999. The New Zealand establishment recognised those Greens for what they were: enemies of the status-quo and certainly not the sort of people this country’s capitalists (not even those in the Labour Party!) felt the least bit comfortable about doing business with. Red-Greens they were called: a label which MPs Sue Bradford and Keith Locke wore with pride. Today, to be branded a Red is simply embarrassing: proof only of outdated thinking.
Even so, the National Party leader, Simon Bridges’, enthusiasm for Vernon Tava’s “Blue-Green” initiative is misplaced. Such an obvious example of right-wing “astroturfing” would produce little of electoral value. Besides, all of the time, effort and resources required to draw off enough votes to tip the Greens out of Parliament would, ultimately, be politically counter-productive. New Zealand Capitalism is much better served by leaving the existing Green Party exactly where it is.
Sitting comfortably in the boardroom: sporting a pale-green silk tie and wearing a dark blue suit.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 1 February 2019.