Australian Greens MPs and federal Labor Party leaders sign the agreement to back the ALP in government.
By Ben Hillier
October 23, 2010 -- In a recent article (“A Marxist critique of the Australian Greens”, available at marxistleftreview.org) I argue that the Greens cannot be regarded as a left alternative to the Australian Labor Party. My conclusions are based on the following considerations:
1. The Australian Greens is a pro-capitalist party with no organic links to the working class – either ideologically or organisationally.
2. The Greens is an organisation 9000 strong that has several thousand unionists as members. Yet they have no activist base in the union movement. There is no union/workers’ fraction in the organisation; no Greens unionist conference; and it has no rank-and-file groups. The organisation has made no serious attempt to intervene into the workers’ movement at all. It has a number of officers from the union movement as members, but no organised current in the bureaucracy.
3. On university campuses the party has no significant activist base, and is outnumbered at least four to one by the socialist left, which has organisational claim to less than 5 per cent of the Greens’ total membership. Where the party does have a presence it is not unusual for the Greens to contest student union elections on a platform to the right of the Labor left – and sometimes to the right of the Labor right.
4. Ideologically, the party is dominated by progressive-liberal individualism and lifestyle politics. Its active membership seems heavily drawn from the middle classes. Up to 40 per cent hold Masters or PhD qualifications, 60 per cent are professionals and the average age is around 50 – indicating that they are not a bunch of entry-level white-collar workers.
5. The Greens is not an activist party. Some individual members are activists and most members have attended protest rallies. But with the exception of some of its leading members, the majority are in attendance to bear moral witness as individuals rather than to build the campaigns or build political organisation.
6. There is no organised left-wing current within the party. A class-struggle platform, an anti-capitalist platform, a socialist platform, or anything resembling such is not to be found. There has been no group that has attempted to unite opposition to the dominant parliamentary orientation of the party or that has even publicly criticised the attempts to collaborate with the Liberals (see next paragraph).
7. At state level, the Greens supported the Liberals (the Liberal Party of Australia is the conservative party) in minority government in the past and attempted to form coalition with them in the state of Tasmania this year. Overtures to the Liberals are continually made at the federal level; and in the state of Victoria the party does not rule out supporting a Liberal minority government if the opportunity arises after the state election in November. Bob Brown, the party [federal] leader, holds up the deal between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats in Britain as something to emulate in Australia.
8. Over the last decade the party has become the third force in parliamentary politics by positioning itself to the left of the Labor Party in policy terms and through its outspoken opposition to war, mistreatment of refugees and equal rights among other things. However, its positioning to the left is mainly due to Labor’s shift to the right over decades. The Greens party is to the right of where Labor was in the 1970s; today it is significantly to the right of formations such as Die Linke in Europe.
9. Over the last three to four years the party has become more integrated into the management of the state through its electoral success at local, state and federal levels. The Greens have more and more emphasised their credentials as responsible and reliable managers/overseers of government rather than campaigners for social justice.
Nick Fredman, in his critique of my article (“A response to Socialist Alternative on the Greens and class”, available at links.org.au/node/1938), doesn’t actually contest any of this (with the exception of sentence 2 in paragraph 4). He simply ignores these realities and concludes: “The Greens should be recognised as a partial alternative to the Labor Party towards which Marxists should adopt a careful, nuanced, united front approach…” Nick seems to base this conclusion on several claims, which even if they are true, do not support his argument.
First, Nick calculates that the voter composition of the Greens is around 50 per cent working class. If Nick is right (he probably is: but more on this and my alleged confusion over the nature of the middle class below), this means concretely that at the recently held federal election, the Greens received about 750,000 working-class votes as opposed to 500,000 using my estimate of the composition. What is the political significance of this in relation to my article? It has very little. Not one of my substantive conclusions regarding the nature of the party is threatened by such a revision.
Second, Nick claims that those voting for the Greens are generally (on average) both more progressive than those voting for the Liberal or Labor parties and see the Greens as to the left of Labor. No disagreement there, in fact my article clearly states that the Greens’ vote is “more progressive” – although I make important qualifications. In terms of analysing the nature of the party, however, are these voter dispositions/attitudes the most relevant thing?
A cursory glance at the Democratic Party vote in the United States shows that (similar to the Australian Greens) highly educated progressives and young people overwhelmingly vote Democrat. Unlike the Greens, union members overwhelmingly vote Democrat. In fact, the portion of unionists that vote for the Democrats looks to be similar to that of the ALP. Does this have ramifications for the nature of the Democratic Party? No: it is a bourgeois party, regardless of what people think of its progressive credentials and regardless of how many unionists vote for it. The same can be said of the Australian Greens (it can be debated whether to characterise the Greens as a “bourgeois party” or a “middle-class party”, but that is beside the point here).
(In a related claim Nick writes that Greens voters are just as class conscious as ALP voters. Proportionally far fewer Greens’ voters self-identify as working class. But let’s say that Nick’s attitudinal gauge is more accurate. Presumably, working-class members of the Greens would be more class conscious than those who simply vote for the party. How then to explain the party’s lack of any activist base in the union movement?)
Nick rebukes me for:
[a] churlish formulation that the Greens are “perceived to be to the left of the ALP”. Given that Ben states that the Greens are “no alternative” to the ALP, presumably he thinks they are not really to the left of the ALP. A whole lot of perceptions must be wrong then.
The Greens’ policies are to the left of the ALP in many respects, no question (to a lesser extent, so were the Australian Democrats over the last decade; that party was definitively no left alternative to Labor). But Nick fails to mention that the party itself often doesn’t claim to be left wing. Leading figures – though by no means all – characterise the party as neither left, nor right, but forward. The Greens previously supported the conservatives; the leadership have made it clear that they are prepared to govern with them if given the opportunity. If there were a serious backlash within the party against those who are completely comfortable sitting with the Tories, the situation might be more complex. This is not the case today.
As Corey Oakley recently wrote in Socialist Alternative:
That there is even the possibility of the Greens backing a Liberal government…is an indication of how different the Greens are from other organisations around the world that have emerged in the context of growing disillusionment with social-democratic parties like the ALP.
In Europe, the debate in groups like the German Die Linke (Left Party) is whether or not they should be willing to form governmental coalitions with the social democrats. The argument put by the left in Die Linke is that they should not – as to do so would tie the left in to supporting the neoliberal policies that the social democrats are determined to implement.
But here that important question is not even raised, as the Greens will not even rule out working with the conservatives. Instead of debating how we can build a fighting left-wing alternative to Labor, we are stuck arguing about what should be self-evident to anyone on the left: you shouldn’t cooperate with the Liberals!
The basic conception [of the united front, as outline by Lenin and Trotsky] was that a revolutionary party should propose to both the leaders and members of reformist organisations joint struggle around concrete demands in defence of living standards and democratic rights. If the reformist leaders agreed to participate in such united activity there was a greater chance of these struggles being successful and in the course of struggle revolutionaries would have an opportunity to demonstrate to the supporters of the reformist organisations the superiority of revolutionary politics in practice. 
Given the reality outlined in paragraphs 1, 2, 3, 5 and 7 above, how exactly is the united front to be applied? Nick doesn’t say – probably because in any meaningful sense it can’t. Where there are Greens members involved in campaigns, they are invariably involved as individuals – not as an organised current. The Greens as an organisation effectively ignore the class struggle and do not orient to grassroots campaigning, despite their rhetoric. This makes it impossible to engage in a united front in the classic sense outlined above. Many of us believe that it would be positive if the party organised their several thousand union members into rank and file groups to challenge the existing union bureaucracies and attempt a fight-back against the ALP’s anti-worker industrial agenda. They won’t.
At the base of the party, there is no evidence that there is a significant audience within the membership for such an orientation. At the top of the party, there have been no attempts at such a strategy. Further, the Greens’ leadership recently signed a deal guaranteeing support for a minority Labor government at the federal level. Despite the Greens’ policy on industrial relations (which Nick mentions) being better than the ALP’s, and despite their occasional claim come election time to “defend your rights at work”, you will not find – either in the principles of the agreement, or in the measures contained within it – any reference to changing Labor’s industrial laws. This is a clear indication that it is not a party priority. In fact, it seems to have been considered less important than establishing a Leaders’ Debate Commission.
Nick doesn’t seem to believe any of this is important. Apparently the united front is possible, because there are socially progressive workers who vote Green. The vistas of united front collaboration, by this logic are truly expansive. Perhaps Nick simply means the method of the united front in relation to the individual Greens activists that do exist, such that where there are individual Greens involved in a campaign/workplace or on a campus Marxists should work alongside them. This is the case already. Marxists should and do also attempt to, as Nick writes, draw in Greens members “into joint activity and discussion wherever possible”. There is nothing new about that.
But the opportunities for collaborating with Greens members are relatively limited. Nick wants to suggest that it is sectarian to admit to this, as it is a “barrier to the critical dialogue and interaction needed between the socialist left and the Greens”. The real barrier is the lack of Greens who are involved in the campaigns. It is not a problem of my creation, but a reality of the Greens as an organisation. It is significant that Nick regales readers with a Tom Mann story from the nineteenth century. Possibly he cannot name a Greens union organiser from the twenty-first century. His relaying of the story shows only that which is uncontested – that individuals from the middle class and those influenced by middle-class ideology can become part of the workers movement.
The politics of distraction
Nick suggests that I am “quite muddled about white-collar labour, and [seem] to exaggerate the extent to which skilled and educated sectors of this form of labour should be understood as middle class.” Nick doesn’t take issue with my [incomplete] list of categories composing the middles classes: “sections of the state bureaucracy, lawyers, doctors, middle/high-grade professionals, professors and senior academic staff, middle managers and small business owners.” I think I’m fairly clear here – in fact I am literally categorical. He goes on to write that “in regard to the very relevant area of white-collar labour, [we can] make much clearer (if not entirely sharp) distinctions between workers and the middle class than Ben allows…” In fact, I clearly state:
[T]he Greens have a substantial working-class vote. There is a significant correlation between a high Greens vote and areas with a greater concentration of service industries such as arts, education, media and IT. Employees in these industries all generally require bachelor degrees, but most – teachers being a case in point – are workers.
You wouldn’t know it from reading Nick’s criticisms, but the section in my article on the Greens vote was in part an argument against the generally made assertion that Greens voters are simply “middle-class progressives”. I welcome Nick’s statistical corrective, but he has overplayed his hand. His response to my article suggests that a small section on voter composition is the proverbial spoonful of oil that ruins the barrel of honey. It is not. It simply proves a distraction from dealing with the nature of the party itself. When this is interrogated, Nick’s conclusion that the Greens represent a “partial alternative” does not stand up to scrutiny.
[Ben Hillier is a member of Socialist Alternative, Australia.]
 America Votes 2004, Exit Polls, CNN, http://edition.cnn.com/ELECTION/2004/pages/results/states/US/P/00/epolls.0.html; America Votes 2006, Exit Polls, CNN, http://edition.cnn.com/ELECTION/2006/pages/results/states/US/H/00/epolls.0.html.
 See Andrew Leigh, “How Do Unionists Vote? Estimating the Causal Impact of Union Membership on Voting Behaviour from 1966 to 2004”, Centre for Economic Policy Research, discussion paper no. 516, March 2006, http://econrsss.anu.edu.au/pdf/DP516.pdf.
 Corey Oakley, “Victorian Greens must reject any deal with the Liberals”, Socialist Alternative, October 22, 2010, http://www.sa.org.au/australian-politics/2958-victorian-greens-must-reject-any-deal-with-liberals.
 See Mick Armstrong “The origins of Socialist Alternative: summing up the debate”, Marxist Left Review, no. 1, p. 128.
I agree that the Greens are weak at the grassroots. I have personally tried to get them involved with union activities- meetings, rallies, committees and councils of unions. They had a union committee run by union people who would not do anything much. They lack the vision and assertiveness to see that this workers support is the path to real major party status.
The other problem is that the union hierachy is so wedded to the ALP, and intimidates the Greens from being involved in union matters, with a few exceptions.
But of course, the real problem is in the fact that Australian workers are so disconnected from their unions- if they were more involved, they would push to support the best policy option, which at the moment is the Greens.
The sad fact is that the reason that there are so few entry level workers in the Greens is probably that such workers are probably not involved in politics at all- and not encouraged to do so.
I find Ben Hillier's perspective on the Greens to be very schematic while being protective of an attitude to the ALP -- ie: as the party of the Australian working class -- that is also untenable.
The core complication is the self evident fact -- to anyone bar Hillier it seems -- that the Greens are to the left of the ALP. Of course they are not an activist party but neither is the ALP...and some left groups aren't very activist at all despite their Marxist pretensions as are many registered Marxists.
All these straw men arguments serve to obscure the key dynamic that Hillier misses: that the Greens reflect a historical process. For now the Greens are the main electoral expression of a leftward yearning and shift among working people who seek an alternative to the corporatism of the ALP. This is a major political development that the Marxist left must find ways to relate to.
It is true that the vehicle that registers this shift has attributes not of our choosing and preference, but that does not negate the core dynamic that is unfolding. That's history's way of doing things.
Politics does not move forward in pure form. The transit vehicles are going to be contradictory phenomena. But that doesn't determine their significance. What matters is how each step forward can be ushered further still.
Unfortunately, Hillier's approach advices us to abstain from that challenge rather that to seek ways we can engage with it.
I think the Greens are pretty varied from branch to branch in their levels of activity and their "class composition". Certainly in my experience a lot of experienced activists, from environment campaigns in particular, are also active Greens members. Of course the Greens don't direct their members' activity like little troopers, as much of the Socialist left have tended to do, but there is a fair bit of activism in my local Greens and other Greens branches that I've observed. It's just reflected in a different way (and I'm not suggesting it's better, nor that it is totally inferior either).
I think the flaw in Ben Hillier's argument is given away a bit by his comment that the socialist left on campus outnumbers the Greens by 4 to 1. Not all the world is at campus! And Hillier's Socialist Alternative group are almost totally absent from climate campaigning too, other than selling their magazine at rallies. So they wouldn't see all the Greens members quietly working in this movement (quietly, that is, not declaring I'M FROM THE GREENS at every meeting as a lot of socialists tend to do).
Further, while the Greens do not direct and organise their members' activity in the movements, they do play a very active role in one undeniably important part of Australian politics, elections. In my rusted-on-Labor electorate (Gellibrand), I travelled around many booths on the recent Federal election polling day (I was the Socialist Alliance candidate). I noticed that the Greens had a huge number of supporters of all ages out canvassing, quite likely more than the Labor Party - and this was not even the priority seat that the Greens expected to win!
Socialist Alternative holed themselves up in Trades Hall for a seminar on polling day so they may have missed what was going on here, unfortunately for them.
No wonder Ben sees the Greens as a passive force that can't be worked with on a grassroots level. It's a sectarian view of elections (in practice, perhaps not deliberately); and a product of a campus-centric organisaton that does not actively orient to many social movements and campaigns.
There are many valid criticisms that could be made of the Greens. But if anyone is going to break up the 2-party con job that Australian capitalism perpetrates at the ballot box, the Greens are the only viable option right now. [Note that I do not think the ALP are in some way linked to the working class, other than as a very sophisticated social force for systematically duping the workers. Whether or not they (or the Greens) have links to unions. but that's not the main discussion of this article.]
That's not to say we should all just rush in and support them uncritically.
Their policy on an emissions trading scheme, for example, needs thorough criticism. We need to build movements in the streets not just in elections, which the Greens are pretty patchy on. But shaking the credibility of public bourgeois politics is incrediblyl important and parliament is the key arena for this. The Greens may or may not do it but we should support the good things they do and put pressure on them when they get it wrong. That's the substance of the "united front" socialists need to seek with the Greens.
Two fundamental questions and two minor points
Only two fundamental questions are posed in this discussion.
1. Do the Greens in any sense represent an alternative to the ALP?
This refers to the nature of the Greens as a party.
No one in this discussion has stated that the Greens are the left alternative to the ALP that they want.
Hillier, on the other hand, in his original article, stated that the Greens “do not in any sense represent an alternative to the ALP”.
Yet, in point 8 of Hillier’s summation of his original argument in his rejoinder, he shows that the Greens are in at least one sense an alternative to the ALP – not to the ALP of the 1970s, but at least to the ALP as it is today. For him, this is not sufficient, however, to regard the Greens as a left alternative to the ALP.
Many disagree with Hillier, however, and, moreover, many of those who think the Greens are at least a left alternative to the ALP support the Greens because of that. This last point is a political fact that demands the attention of those who think the Greens are not the left alternative they want
2. Is the support for the Greens primarily middle-class?
Something that is suprising in the discussion is that for both Fredman and Hillier, workers/the working class are about 50 per cent (for Hillier, less) of the workforce/the population.
Such sociological definitions of class have little to do with historical materialist conceptions of class. In the latter, the working class in a developed capitalist country is all the gradations through time in real life between the potential movement of the proletarian majority in revolutionary times and the actuality of the activity of relatively small numbers of workers that makes the class, as much as it does, most of the time. It has little to do with one or another income level, or union membership, and still less to do with surveyed views about income redistribution and, especially, whether or not institutions like unions have too much power (after all, do we know what power the respondents believe these institutions ought to have?) and class self-identification (since we are not told what concept of class respondent employs to make their identification).
Thus, a substantial majority of the voters for both the ALP and the Greens are proletarians, but the working-class vote for either is nowadays relatively small.
That, among Greens voters, the more privileged workers – once thought of as “respectable”, later as “middle class” (and today?) – are well-represented is hardly suprising. Their conditions of struggle are better (in particular, more secure employment), so they are more likely to be among the smaller number of workers who are the active element of the class undertaking political action. Indeed, such action will tend to accelerate when those better conditions of struggle are threatened, as they have been for public sector professional workers and others through the last three decades
This strata of relatively privileged worker are certainly not middle class, however, whether we are talking about metalworkers of yesteryear such as Tom Mann or teachers in the post-war years. What is certain is that such workers can exert among workers either a bourgeois political influence, including trade union politics -- so links to trade unions are no guarantee for workers of class political consciousness -- or a proletarian one.
Two minor points:
A. Hillier states “the socialist left … has organisational claim to less than 5 per cent of the Greens’ total membership [ of 9000]”. This figure would be 450. This is simply not true, unless Hillier excludes some socialist groups from “the socialist left”. He should state his comparison or the basis for it more exactly.
B. Hillier states “there is no organised left-wing current within the” Greens. This is not entirely true either now or historically. An important part of the story is surely how such currents have emerged and for the most part been suppressed.
"Something that is suprising in the discussion is that for both Fredman and Hillier, workers/the working class are about 50 per cent (for Hillier, less) of the workforce/the population... this strata of relatively privileged worker are certainly not middle class, however, whether we are talking about metalworkers of yesteryear such as Tom Mann or teachers in the post-war years."
Whoah there Jon, I for one have said no such things. You should correctly refer to the content of my article Ben is replying to here http://links.org.au/node/1938, before accusing me of following Ben's confusion's about the working and middle classes. 50% is my estimate of the proportion of Greens voters who are working class (as opposed to Ben's "about a third"), as the proportion of Greens voters in the workforce in the 2007 Australian Election Study who were non-managerial employees. The total proportion of such for all voters is about 70%, a reasonable estimate of the size of the working class. My points about *attitudes* towards unions, wealth distribution, anti-union policies etc were that these were better indicators of *class consciousness* than Ben's points about union membership or class self-identification, and not at all to do with class membership (questionnaires are of course imperfect for measuring class consciousness or any complex and contradictory social phenomenon but it's wrong to reject such evidence which is the only way really to determine the extent of particular attitudes). My example of from Paul Mason of Tom Mann, as a highly skilled and educated (by the standards of the 1880s) vegetarian, was to show up the wrong conceptions of class Ben was falling into, by suggesting someone famous who I thought was self-evidently working class regardless of secondary questions such as skill, education and lifestyle, was an example of the type of relatively privileged worker who have for some time been mis-understood as "middle class" (or respectable). The fact than Ben apparently thinks Tom Mann's background is in some ways middle class again shows his confusion.
I went into some detail on this in my response, as it is important in and of itself, but Ben is correct that sociology is not the main thing. He and Socialist Alternative are confused and wrong enough about the Greens even disregarding misunderstandings about divisions within the working class. I'll hopefully reply to him in more detail within a week.
Ben H says:
"5. The Greens is not an activist party. Some individual members are activists and most members have attended protest rallies. But with the exception of some of its leading members, the majority are in attendance to bear moral witness as individuals rather than to build the campaigns or build political organisation."
So the majority aren't activists. Isn't that also true of the ALP? And perhaps even socialist alternative? Is every member an activist, selling papers and badges at every event? do they attend every meeting?
I would have thought it makes good sense for a party or in fact any activist organisation to include in its ranks "supporters" or "periphery" who may not mobilise to every single event but will show up to the key rallies. From this pool will emerge more committed activists who get into it on a more intensive basis.
I reckon its respectful to let people dip their toe in the water before they take a swim. I like the idea of a 'periphery' layer of people who are coming around to activism- people can check it out and see if they really want to get involved, and with what organisation- rather than being coerced from the get go.
I reckon its respectful to let people dip their toe in the water before they take the plunge.
As for activist greens, I think if Ben Hillier participated in the climate movement he would come to realise that there are actually alot of grassroots climate activists who are greens members- not just "some of its leading members". But then again- do we consider grassroots climate activism to be a "working class" movement? I know i do - but maybe Ben H does not..?
It would be good if someone from the greens could comment on how the party relates to trade unions and if it is true as Ben says that the party does not organise any sort of united campaigning by green unionists.
If that is true- and it certainly seems to be the case to a large extent- then that is clearly something the greens should address as a matter of urgence IMHO. For the greens to avoid having an organised prescence in the union movement for some reason amounts to to ceding that important space to the ALP.
I've certainly spoken to a couple of disaffected former ALP members who have specifically said that the Greens' lack of an organised orientation to the union movement is a major obstacle to those people seeing the greens as an alternative to the ALP that they could 'jump ship' to.
But by golly i get the vibe there are a good many that are sick to death of trying to 'fix the ALP' who are uber keen to jump ship...
I wonder if Ben H thinks the unionist element in the Greens- which by his own sums seems to be significant in number- could successfully seek to improve this aspect of the party (i.e. its organised prescence in the union movement)?
Could the socialist left perhaps have a frank discussion with rank and file greens about this aspect of how their party organises itself- without seeming patronising and 'holier than thou', which can be a barrier to actual meaningful dialog?
Dave Riley: The Greens have been around for almost 20 years. It is disengenuous to suddenly start wondering about their 'nature, as though it is suddenly a novel feature of the political landscape. Similarly, the decline of the ALP's credentials has been long standing, indeed Hansonism was in part a protest against that - although a rightist split in the working class electorate. The complication with One Nation was that its platform was pulled from under it and stolen by both the two major parties.
Is that going to happen with the Greens? No, for the simple reason that capitalism doesn't often steal left unless convergence and opportunity dictate it-- eg: post war economic boom welfare state. Nonethless, the trajectory of green parties tends toward accommodation with the captalist state. That's not a rule but since the Greens do not challenge capitalism that dynamic tends to rule them. So the key question is how much space is there for a reform style social democratic capitalism?
Personally I think that's a very narrow option without a major crisis onset. At stake is the present illusory attitude to parliament and reform possibilities which holds sway over the population in the situation of a dampening of protest and radicalization. In that sense green politics is in sync with a broad sentiment that yearns for something better than what the ALP offers thru parliamentary means.
So the green phenomenon will surely prosper and can only begin to falter when tested and found wanting. The fact is that in most instances of shared government and local administration the Greens tend to defer to the main economic rationalist agenda. So the key question is whether currents in the Greens can hold out against that while building links with other sectors. We know the ALP lefts could not do that...so you have to wonder about the Greens capacity to withstand that pressure to conform. The complication of the trade unions leaving the ALP is where are they likely to go .. And the Greens are seemingly disinterested in that issue as they don't have a working class perspective. The Greens in fact project an ethical fantasy rather than a political strategy and share the liberal illusion of harmony between the classes. Nonethless, this phenomenon presents us a major break from the past and presents a key opening for all of us -- one we need to find ways to engage withand support.
We have to develop green left and left green partnerships both electorally and in the movements. For the moment, the complication with any trade union exit from the ALP is that most of the present layer of union leaders would prefer a top down party they can rule -- similar to the present ALP.if you don't get democracy in the trade unions you won't be offered it by preference in any trade union led party.
Maybe in that regard the Greens are appealing...as the Greens right rules thru consensus to cripple left outbreaks.so the related key question isn't just about the Greens platform but how democratic is their internal life. That said it is a bit late to start slagging off against the Greens for being inner city middle class yuppies when their electoral percentiles are climbing extremely fast across the whole electorate. That's what being 'an alternative ' and 'left break' is all about. It doesn't matter if the greens spirit seems to reside in an expresso or group hug, real dynamic and change is being invested in their rise, despite, in fact, the Greens themselves...and their mixed bag CV.
My experience as a Greens member is that to think of the Greens Party as having any relationship to socialism is a misunderstanding. It is far closer to the mark to see them as a better articulated development of the radical strain of the Australian Democrats. We have finally got rid of the "keep the bastards honest" thing, and can unashamedly pursue the development of a more optimistic vision of the how the world could be. Simplistically, that encompasses notions of kindness, fairness, democracy, justice, freedom, peace, nurturing of the environment and protection of the vulnerable. This implies an optimism about the possibilities of human nature. But I haven't met a single green who is in the least interested in socialism, class theory or any of that. In fact, I have met very few greens who would identify as working class, and those that do tend to be extremely well educated. Our voters are even less interested in socialism than our members. In fact, in order to build towards having a substantial toe-hold in parliament (ie 20% of the vote) we need to be more pragmatic and less scary to ordinary people.
I think this article is worth a read, as it well outlines some of the Australian left's blinkered analysis of the rise of the Greens and what it means. It's from http://bccwords.blogspot.com/2010/11/have-your-thoughts-been-inoculated.html Go there to see the links to the articles mentioned... SW
One of the insidious methods of unprincipled politics is that of inoculating one’s supporters against even listening to alternative points of view.
I suspect that may have been the effect, even if we can't ascertain exact intent, of the Labor spinsters who launched a botched smear campaign against Brian Walters, the Greens candidate for the seat of Melbourne in the state election.
The campaign sought to discredit Walters for taking a role, as a barrister, representing Konrad Kalejs, who was accused of being a Nazi war criminal. Further, the smear campaign drew attention to Walters’ work as barrister for Downer EDI over the death of one of their maintenance workers at the Yallourn coal mine and power station.
The campaign backfired, because Walters was clearly taking the jobs that he was allocated in the "cab-rank" system of case allocation, a system which is designed to allow equitable access to legal representation.
One wonders what the Labor spinsters were thinking. Are they just out of touch? Or does this frenzied attack on the Greens serve a purpose? They are unlikely to win back any supporters that have deserted them to the Greens but they may shore up their remaining supporters. Effective smears call into question the integrity of the target in such a way that those fooled by them will not even consider getting the other side of the story.
Surely the left wouldn't stoop so low?
This kind of gutter politics may well be expected of ALP hacks. What use would the left have for it?
I was struck by an article from Socialist Alternative member Ben Hillier that also criticises Walters over the same issues.
As a friend opined, “Hillier actually manages to construct half an argument, then throws it away in a fit of sectarianism. He manages to play both the ball and the man - equally badly.”
This attack on the Greens came on the heels of Socialist Alternative casting their support behind socialist candidate Stephen Jolly’s campaign in the state election. Jolly is highly critical of the Greens, based on his experience as a councillor in the City of Yarra which has had a Green mayor (who is his opponent in the current state election).
Socialist Alternative had previously declared critical support to the Greens in the Federal election, but emphasised the “criticism” and did little practical in the way of support. Previous to supporting the Greens, they supported the Labor Party at elections. Socialist Alliance campaigners even reported a leading member of Socialist Alternative smugly declaring he was going to vote for “the workers’ party” at polling day, not the Alliance.
Of course I don't object to Socialist Alternative finally supporting socialist candidates; I wonder why it took so long. I do wonder about the way this turn in their tactics is being motivated. Hillier finishes his attack on Walters with the following comments:
Walters has consciously positioned himself as the moderate, respectable, middle-class wing of the Greens. His disdain for the labour movement is evidenced by the fact that he has openly suggested the Greens will consider forming government with the Liberals.
The reality is that for all the Greens posturing as the party of genuine progressives they, like the ALP, routinely pre-select dubious candidates. Walters is one of them – a wealthy upper middle-class shark that sells his skills to the rich and powerful while protesting that he has no choice.
He represents the worst of the Greens party.
I suspect Walters isn't the hard left wing of the Greens, but calling him unprincipled is pretty silly. This kind of ham-fisted attack strikes me as be a bit like the ALP’s attack on Walters. Not in the degree of dishonesty, but in its effect: a crudely exaggerated (or badly misjudged) attack that serves a purpose of mobilising supporters for a change of allegiance.
Stalinists, murderers, and other people you wouldn’t want to talk to…
A recent comment on my blog threw in the comment that “defenders of the USSR and Cuba, like the DSP/Socialist Alliance, have entirely worse record on the question of fighting oppression or understanding ecology.” This was irrelevant to the discussion that was being had, a kind of “and by the way when did you stop beating your wife” intervention. It’s not just false (among other things, the DSP was a pioneer of socialist ecology in the 1980s and 1990s); it uses the bogey of Stalinism to poison the well. Poisoning the well is a common method of inoculation, and the accusation of Stalinism is pretty commonly used by some of the Trotskyist left (including, in the past, members of the DSP to be fair).
“Stalinist” is a code word that conceals more than it reveals. It is applied equally, but unfairly, to defenders of Cuba and of North Korea, to say nothing of Joseph Stalin himself. In fact to use the term to describe a political current like the DSP which supported the Trotskyist critique of the USSR and China renders the term meaningless.
In the 1990s, the socialist left was so factionalised that discussion of the differences between groups got little further than epithets like this. New recruits most of all had to be inoculated fast less they should be poached by members of another group: one of the first lessons for a new member was what was wrong with the competition. If a member was seen talking to the opposition, an experienced cadre (or three) would be rapidly despatched to intervene, in a kind of herding exercise.
It should not need pointing out that this looks more like the behaviour of a cult than an organisation serious about (and confident in) its ideas. In a breath of fresh air, I have recently seen Resistance activists happy for new members to also join “rival” groups like Socialist Alternative. Resistance is affiliated to the Socialist Alliance, and we are for unity, after all. Socialist Alternative take the herding approach, and dual members, on seeing the contrast in approach, frequently choose Resistance if only for not being so pushy.
A more constructive conversation could be had around the use of the term “socialism from below” (although I think it’s an awkward phrase). It means that only the masses can liberate themselves, by their own actions. The problem is, no-one disagrees with that, in theory, these days. So then the discussion becomes whether Cuban or Venezuelan revolutionary processes are compatible with the self-liberation of their people or not, or at least the debate would become that, if we could get past the abuse about “Stalinism” and so on.
My net-friend John Passant, from Socialist Alternative, recently came up with a clever modification of the “stalinist” label which allows all parties to have it our own way. He called people from the pro-Cuba background of the DSP “Castroites”. It has the advantage that it is literally accurate – we do generally admire Fidel (and Raul) Castro! Yet for his organisation, it still signifies (essentially) Stalinism by another name. A witty compromise, I think, although I don’t know if it will untangle the webs of suspicion already created by past poisoning of the well.
This method of inoculation and poisoning the well obscures the real basis (or, perhaps, lack thereof) for unity on the left. It keeps the competing groups in a fragile isolation from each other. Even if we never unite in one organisation, there is no need to keep this artificial hostility. It discredits the left overall. Look at the success story of the Greens: I have heard one Greens member describe the internal workings of the Greens as “a maze of cliques”, yet they manage to present a united face to the world. If the left is to ever grow we have to find the ways to do this. Otherwise, we will simply be left on the sidelines watching the Greens taking on the ALP. I am not confident they will win that battle, without a strong, active left current (inside or outside their party) to join the fray.