The current issue of Green Socialist is the 100th since the journal began publication a quarter of a century ago. It is a significant milestone perhaps but also gives us pause for thought because what it signifies in many ways is how little progress has actually been made in the intervening period towards achieving the goals of social and environmental justice that lie at the heart of the green socialist agenda. The birth of the journal coincided with the triumph (and triumphalism) of New Labour under Tony Blair, whose neoliberal project inflated the property market and financial sector, entrenched inequality and privatised the public sphere.
There was some talk of an ‘ethical foreign policy’ but that was beached long before the Iraq war. The so-called ‘third way’ in economics, with its loose regulation, quasi-markets and private funding initiatives, paved the way for the financial crash a decade later. Its aftermath was exploited by the Tories, at first in coalition with the Liberal Democrats, to usher in a period of austerity from which the country has never recovered. It decimated public services which are especially important for the most disadvantaged in Britain’s poorest areas because they rely on them most. And then there was Brexit and covid and the cost of living crisis.
In the meantime the rich continue to get richer while the rest of the population pays a high price for living in a grotesquely unequal society.
There have been some advances, of course. The urgency of the climate crisis is now widely understood, even if world governments have failed to act decisively to reduce global warming. In other ways, we seem to have gone backwards since the first issue of Green Socialist came off the press. In May, the rate of annual inflation in Britain reached 10%, the biggest such increase in 40 years, and it’s not only energy bills that are rising sharply. Price increases are happening across the board. The result will be a 3% fall in living standards over the coming year, a drop not seen since records began in the 1950s.
Just as rising prices did away with Keynesianism in the 1970s, so today they are killing off neoliberalism. The National Institute for Economic and Social Research predicted that, without government intervention, about 250,000 more households will slide into destitution this year while approximately another 500,000 households face the choice between eating and heating.
A year after Green Socialist first appeared, there was armed conflict in Europe – and the same is happening again today. Yet, as was not the case in Kosovo perhaps, the impact of war is now hitting home. Since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in February, oil and gas prices have spiked dramatically upwards. That means household utility bills are also spiralling. The price cap imposed on energy suppliers jumped by 54% in April, to an average charge of around £2,000 a year. People who drive cars are paying approximately 30% more to fill up with petrol and diesel than they did 12 months ago – which may be a useful disincentive to pollute the atmosphere but also makes it more expensive for those without good transport links to get to their jobs. In May, food was 8% more expensive. There are shortages of workers in agriculture and industry, as well as of specific commodities – over 70% of sunflower oil, for example, comes from Russia and Ukraine. The price of fertiliser has also soared.
Yet the disgrace of the ‘partygate’ scandal is as nothing compared to the government’s apparent disregard for tackling the cost of living crisis. There is no sign of any systematic thinking from the Tories. The first act of Blair’s government was to give the Bank of England freedom to set interest rates but since then the neoliberal doctrine on inflation control has gone up in smoke, even if the government has failed to notice. Nowadays there isn’t much that central bankers will achieve by fiddling with interest rates, though they may prolong an inevitable recession. Today’s inflation is the result of environmental and political shocks way beyond their control..
The recent Queen’s Speech demonstrated that Boris Johnson is badly out of touch and bereft of ideas to combat the most serious cost of living crisis in decades. Instead of urgent intervention to ease the pain for those struggling to afford food or to heat their homes, we got promises of government legislation focusing on the wrong things at the wrong time. There was no bill to boost workers’ rights and no proper plans for social care or ‘levelling-up’.
Nevertheless the 100th issue of Green Socialist is still something to celebrate. Rome wasn’t built in a day. The global capitalist system has existed for centuries. Air temperatures on Earth have been rising since the Industrial Revolution. For 25 years, the Alliance for Green Socialism has used these pages to make the case for a radical transformation of society in favour of social and environmental justice. Historically, the ecology and socialist movements arose from different beginnings and may even have clashed over priorities at times. Yet if humanity is to stand any chance of living sustainably on this planet, then environmentalism and international socialism must now work closely together. Neither will succeed without the other, as we will continue to argue in the next hundred issues of this journal.