The Greens go into Government
14 June 2007
‘Asking the Green Party to go into office with Fianna Fail really does not take account of the real world,’ Trevor Sargent, Green Party leader, May 22nd
After Green Party TD Ciaran Cuffe described a deal with Fianna Fail as a ‘deal with the devil’ it might be thought shocking that they have just voted to make Bertie Ahern Taoiseach. Nevertheless the decision by the Green Party to support the formation of a Fianna Fail government and enter coalition with it is not surprising. It is however very instructive. In the same week it was revealed that the outgoing FF government was still not be able to provide clean and safe drinking water to the people of Galway, and an Environmental Protection Agency report recorded that across the State water quality has fallen significantly, the Green Party has decided to put back into power the people responsible. In fact Green Party commitment has been procured to ensure that this government lasts a full term.
Policy after policy and commitment after commitment has been ditched in order to get Green Party bums on seats. The scale of their concessions makes the word concession woefully inadequate to convey the scale of the capitulation. All the positions defended up by the Green Party going into negotiations have been surrendered. There will be no ban on corporate donations to political parties, co-location of hospitals – public land provided to subsidise privatisation of health provision - will stay and the top rate of tax will be cut to 38% if Fianna Fail so decides. The M3 motorway through Tara in Meath will go ahead, indeed Transport 21will go ahead in its entirety. The Greens have also accepted the use of Shannon airport by the US military in order to ferry troops to Iraq and transport captives for torture.
In return they get ‘commissions’ on everything from climate change and taxation to electoral reform. The commitment to a carbon tax and greenhouse gas emission reductions were described by the Green’s first ever TD, Roger Garland, as ‘waffle.’ Hardball negotiations appear to have been all about how many posts, and at what level, party leaders will have at the cabinet table. They have gained two cabinet posts and two junior minister posts but there were reports that Fianna Fail were carving up the departments to ensure the Greens weren’t in a position to prevent or initiate initiatives Fianna Fail regarded as important. This scurrying for jobs has been particularly unedifying and badly covered up.
Anyone declaring surprise over this development does not understand the nature of politics. It is not a question primarily of the sincerity of Green Party leaders and therefore of any betrayal of principle by them. The political nature and programme of the Greens is determined by their class nature, by the interests of the class they represent. Fundamentally the Greens represent petty bourgeois interests who do not share the power and wealth of capitalists as a result of the way a profit driven society works in favour of big business, but neither do they share the social aspirations of the working class whose interests can only be advanced through the wage bargain and its ultimate abolition through collective ownership of the wealth producing resources of society. They share ambitions with the rich about individual aggrandisement but they are often relatively well heeled workers who suffer the same insecurities and threats from an unpredictable system faced by their more badly paid colleagues
This class is not therefore content with existing society and is prepared to protest against obvious social injustice, which if it doesn’t affect them directly, has a purely moralistic character, but they have no social and economic alternative to the existing capitalist system. They therefore seek to reform it, to make it better, to make changes that don’t threaten or weaken it, and must therefore necessarily seek to become part of the political machinery of the capitalist State that alone can implement these changes. As one Green delegate to their conference put it: ‘We can’t change things from the outside.’
The weakness and smallness of this instrument in Ireland necessitates corresponding weak and small reformist ambitions. Because people’s interaction with nature is mediated through its interaction with each other failure to change the latter in any revolutionary way leaves them open to simply continuing, perhaps in slightly modified form, the policies that threaten nature and its human component.
The Greens entry into coalition with one of the bigger capitalist parties was therefore inevitable. The paltry nature of their gains in negotiation with Fianna Fail reflects the limited reforms which Irish society can deliver. The gains that workers have made over the last 20 years are the more or less automatic results of a capitalist boom, with all the negatives and drawbacks this necessarily implies, and not of any reforming zeal by political forces. In a period when a working class alternative is conspicuous by its absence such petty bourgeois forces will inevitably fall to the right. We can therefore expect the Greens to lose any veneer of being ‘left’ and to adopt more and more explicitly right wing views and habits now they are in government. In this they will follow the trailblazers of the Green movement in Germany who entered government in 1998 as anti-militarists and then supported German involvement in the NATO war in Yugoslavia and the first real eruption of German militarism since the Second World War.
Richard Boyd Barrett from the Socialist Workers Party lobbied Green Party members going into the meeting that endorsed the leadership’s motion to support a Fianna Fail-led government. He is reported to have cried out that ‘it’s absolutely tragic.’ Unfortunately it is not even tragic that he lacked the good sense to say this. Those like him who included the Greens as part of a possible left alternative movement have witnessed the burial of their project before it even came to life. Unfortunately rather than learn anything this wagon will probably roll on with one wheel missing. The notion that the missing wheel had any substantive left credentials was sunk by the 86 per cent vote of the members to support the leadership motion.
The function of the Green Party has been to channel real and justified concern at environmental degradation and social injustice into moralistic protest politics that have ended in the only place they could have. The task of socialists is not to ignore such issues or many of the people who have looked to the Greens but to explain that only a socialist programme and a socialist movement can address their concerns. This is exactly the opposite of those who have legitimised the failed politics of the Greens through calling for a united electoral alliance with them. At the conference the leadership of the Greens were in tears. This is also how it will end. A left version of such a pathetic debacle is not what we want. That is the real lesson to be learnt from this sorry episode.