The Greens need to embrace an anti-capitalist green new deal

Greens national leader Adam Bandt. Photo: The Greens Victoria

Greens MP Adam Bandt is clearly the most progressive federal leader the Australian Greens have ever had, more so than Bob Brown, Christine Milne and particularly Richard Di Natale.

Furthermore, he is probably the most progressive as well as intellectual politician in parliament in his role as MP from the electorate of Melbourne (although Lee Rhiannon, a former Greens Senator from New South Wales, has probably rivaled him for this distinction during her time in parliament).

As Margaret Simons’ article, “This personable hardliner: Where will Adam Bandt take the Greens?” in the May issue of The Monthly reveals, Bandt has certainly grappled with Marxism and socialism over the course of his life.

As an undergraduate at Murdoch University, Bandt reportedly rose to the leadership of the Left Alliance, a student group aligned with the Communist Party of Australia. Bandt has read both Hegel and Marx in German and did a PhD thesis on the foundations of law under the supervision of Andrew Milner at Monash University, who insisted that his student was a Marxist, at least in the theoretical sense.

When Bandt launched Climate Politics and the Climate Movement in Australia, a book by Verity Burgmann and myself, in 2012 at Victorian Trades Hall, he referred to our afterword — in which we make a case that Australia needs to be part of a global push for “democratic eco-socialism” as part of a strategy of creating a safe climate and climate justice — as a “real corker”. He did not specify what he meant by this, however, we took his comment as a compliment.

Since Bandt’s accession to the Greens’ leadership, he has joined United States Democratic Congresspersons Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ed Markey in calling for a green new deal.

The Greens entertained the concept in their Green New Deal conference on October 24–25, 2009, at the University of Melbourne, but the notion seemed to have lost traction over the following decade.

In the opening plenary of that conference, Brown hosted a teleconference with Tim Jackson, the economics commissioner of the Sustainable Development Commission in Britain, and author of Prosperity Without Growth.  A green Keynesian economist, Jackson appears to assume that global capitalism can function as a steady-state, or net zero-growth economy. But, as Fred Magdoff and John Bellamy Foster argue in What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know about Capitalism, the “notion of a capitalist no-growth utopia violates the basic motive force of capitalism”. Companies that do not grow inevitably collapse or are taken over by more productive firms.

In the wake of that 2009 conference, the Greens turned their attention to a “Renew Australia” plan to create a green economy, which called for energy generation that would: rely on 90% renewables by 2030, establish a Renew Australia government authority to drive the clean energy transition; create a Clean Energy Transition Fund that would assist coal workers and communities with the transition to the new clean energy economy; and create an energy market that would blend private, public and community operations.

Leaving aside whether Bandt ever was a socialist or a Marxist, these days his critique focuses more on neoliberalism or late capitalism rather than capitalism over the long run.

By and large, the Greens can be characterised as a green social democratic party, clearly more progressive than the Coalition and the Labor Party, but seeking to create a green capitalism that will be supposedly more socially just and environmentally sustainable than actually existing capitalism.

Conversely, the Greens’ membership includes ecosocialists and ecoanarchists who are clearly anti-capitalist, but — as participants in the Left Renewal contingent in the Greens NSW discovered a few years ago — they have their work cut out for them.

The original New Deal, as conceptualised by United States President Franklin Roosevelt's administration during the throes of the Great Depression, was an effort to resurrect US capitalism. Roosevelt, a member of the capitalist class, was not the originator of the idea and didn’t initially embrace it. He only came to terms with it due to the economic severity of the Depression and under mass social pressure.

Ultimately, World War II got the US out of the Depression and transformed its economy into a war economy, which it unfortunately remains today.

However, it is still important for ecosocialists to engage in dialogue with various proponents of a green new deal, just as it is important for ecosocialists to work within the bowels of the climate movement in Australia and globally.

In her The Case for the Green New Deal, Ann Pettifor calls for a “revolution in international financial relationships, in the globalised economy, and in humanity’s relationship to nature” that would entail an “end to the toxic ideology and institutions of capitalism”.

The Greens argue that humanity is in a climate emergency and needs to move to a “zero carbon society,” one that phases out the mining, burning and export of coal, petroleum and gas. They have called on their membership to suggest the dimensions of a green new deal for Australia.

Perhaps, rather than merely call for a post-carbon or zero-carbon society, the Greens, along with others, need to call for a post-growth and even post-capitalist society.

How about it, Adam? In your new leadership role, why not push the Greens to stop being soft on capitalism and return to an earlier critique that you appeared to have of it?

[Hans Baer is author of Democratic Eco-Socialism as a Real Utopia: Transitioning to an Alternative World System.]

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