Who cares if the Greens are socialist or ecologist? I want to solve people’s problems
Recently, following Natalie Bennet’s announcement that she’s stepping down as leader of the Green Party in England and Wales, there has been an exchange of articles about whether the Greens should be socialist or ecologist. Honestly, that feels like approaching the People’s Front of Judea to ask about the Judean People’s Front.
A few years ago, I was an avowed socialist. I was also fifteen or sixteen. I guess I grew up. Since then, I’ve stopped calling myself that, and now settle for the nebulous term post-socialist because it makes people ask ”what the hell is that?” and I can explain it like I’ll try to do in this post.
I dislike being steered into a set of dogmas that I find unconvincing, and I dislike the rhetoric surrounding socialism about ’class this or that’. If something doesn’t work, I don’t want to cling to that something just because it’s a part of the fabric of an ideology.
I prefer to achieve the goals of socialism with workable, practical solutions. I also want to be able to argue, forcefully, against stupid ideas like rent controls. I don’t want to ever be in a situation where social considerations about the group prevent me from offering critique that’s not grounded in a particular ideological outlook.
This is what I like about the Green party. We’re uncommitted ideologically, but strive for the same things as other left-wing parties. Since we’re not wed to a dogma, we can ditch what doesn’t work, and find good solutions that does. This without worrying about whether Karl Marx wrote about it in an essay a hundred years ago, or whether Gramsci predicted some form of hegemony that would rise out of it.
I have no interest in contributing to a movement that just inverts the demographics pyramid and puts another class on the top of the pile. I have no faith that many socialists, and I know a fair few, would be interested in a classless society. I feel they’re working toward that inversion of the demographic pyramid. They don’t want to remove class as a social construct — they just want the working class to be on top, and they will try define what is working class.
This is why an argument about whether we Greens should be socialist or ecologist is just silly. We should take advantage of our ideological promiscuity, seek practical and sensible solutions to specific problems, and we should be ruthless in in axing bad ideas even if they come from a tradition many of us like and respect.
During the independence referendum, I volunteered at a food bank. That gave me one of the most profound illustrations of this. Two of us was manning the desk, giving out food and talking to the people who came. This woman’s turn came up, and my co-volunteer, a fine socialist, started to talk about how the woman suffered from “modes of capitalist exploitation”. Or some thing like that. It’s a few years ago now.
The woman had a simple problem. She was hungry after having been sanctioned. She stood there, in front of us, ashamed and upset because she had to come to us and beg for something to eat. This idiot next to me started to lecture her in jargon-filled ways instead of just filling a box for her. Actually, he kind of talked past her. That was the worst bit. He talked to me, to the room, to the sky. She stood there as if she was a ghost. As if she wasn’t there. As if she was just a prop for his ideological demonstration.
To me, how to deal with her was simple. Reach up on the shelves, and start to fill a bag or a box of food. Solve her problem. Minimize her discomfort. Ensure that she could leave as quickly as possible with her shame, and with food to eat. Then, once she had eaten, we could talk. And we could talk about solving the problem of why she came to us.
There’s no need for big words for that. There’s no need to further expose her to the shame of begging for food by holding her up as an example of what’s wrong with the world. This is one of the main reasons why I chose the label post-socialist. This is one of the reasons I chose the Green Party. This is one of the reasons why I think that debating whether we should be socialists or ecologists is like debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.
I’m interested in solving that woman’s problem. I’m interested in what works, what is practical, and what is sensible. I’m interested in ending the modes of capitalist exploitation of workers and poor people in Scotland. What I’m not interested in is to limit the options and steer down a narrow ideological path.