Middle-class basis of the Greens’ politics
It will be noted below that a significant layer of Greens voters are tertiary-educated white-collar workers. This notwithstanding, Green politics has a middle-class ideological basis
The middle class is particularly fragmented as it has several distinct relationships to the means of production. As such it is more accurate to talk of the middle classes
: sections of the state bureaucracy, lawyers, doctors, middle/high-grade professionals, professors and senior academic staff, middle managers and small business owners. The middle classes shade into both the capitalist class at one end and the working class at the other. In the middle classes “the interests of the two [other] classes are simultaneously mutually blunted.” The middle classes therefore imagine themselves “elevated above class antagonism generally.”
Because they don’t enjoy a class unity, the social position and lifestyle of the middle classes appears not to be determined by the outcome of social struggle. The greater levels of autonomy in their work, the intellectual nature of their labour (lawyers and university staff), their contradictory position of owner/worker (small business owners) or their often ambiguous relationship to the means of production within the capitalist economy (white-collar professionals and middle management) are factors that lean towards an outlook which views reward as a result of individual talent or plain hard work. In the view of the middle classes, the working class is a lower class because it lacks ability or drive, while the ruling class exists only by fortune of birth or unbridled lust for power and wealth. The middle classes view themselves as a higher class because they believe they have achieved through merit what others obtain via cunning, crude exertion of power or luck.
At a base level, the class struggle is an economic struggle. The working class has power because of its role in social production. The ruling class has power because of its control of industry. As a result of their lack of cohesion, their ambiguous relationship to the productive apparatus of society or their exclusion from key centres of industry, the middle classes have little economic leverage. They view themselves as somewhat above the struggle, but can be politically impacted by it more than other classes. The middle classes are far more able to assert themselves through political institutions. Their lack of social power means that it is primarily through the state that they can flex their muscles (in this sense they really are
above the other classes).
The middle classes see themselves as more fit to rule because they are more educated, more determined to succeed. They are the class of experts. But because of their social position – squeezed and buffeted between the dominant classes – they are more open to idealist political ideas than are class-conscious workers or capitalists. Many have the luxury of abstention from struggle and retreat into lifestyle issues, but they also have the nous and the resources to vie for political office. To the extent that their influence is not felt in the political institutions of the moment, they want democratic reform; but where education has failed to lift the masses out of their primitive aspirations, then the spectre of dictatorship raises its ugly head. Clive Hamilton, noted middle-class intellectual and unsuccessful Greens candidate for the federal seat of Higgins, has openly broached the possibility of suspending democratic processes. For Hamilton, “the people remain part of the problem rather than the solution.”
Greens politics clearly fits with this picture. They rail against the destruction of the world, but their solutions are based on enlightened individualism. They reject the idea of class struggle, which they counterpose to being concerned for the whole planet. For all the competing strains of thought, and the fact that there are a number of socialists and ex-communists in the organisation, the two fundamental features of capitalist society – class domination and the accumulation of capital – are nowhere seriously criticised. In fact, for the dominant founding current within the Greens, capitalism is not the problem:
[T]he threats to our planet do not…come simply from the particular dynamic of the capitalist system… Instead, these threats to the planet are the logical outcome of a worldview.
For the Greens, the transformation of society requires both a “greening” of education with the aim of decreasing society’s materialistic outlook, and legislation to reduce human interference in the “natural world”. The Greens found the secret to alienation, social decay and environmental destruction – it lay not (according to them) in the reality of capitalist exploitation and accumulation, but in mistaken ideas: demands for more material comfort will ultimately be self-defeating because their realisation undermines the basis for future human society.
The Greens’ solution therefore is not to end the system
of class oppression, but to do away with materialist demands
and to change our values. This was the starting point for those who founded Green politics in Australia. The contradictions in the organisation’s political outlook and between the different sections of the party have, however, played out in different ways over time. The unifying elements – rejection of class struggle and, in their later years, a more overt orientation to parliament – have given the Greens cohesion enough to create a fairly stable organisation, which has enjoyed electoral success. Today it is much rarer to find comments denouncing society’s general greed. Rather, there is a populist emphasis on “the people”; progressive liberalism dominates.