A dangerous game

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Enthusiasm for the Greens is reaching fever pitch within the Socialist Alliance (SA). Green Left is now editorialising in favour of still more collaboration with Australia's third largest parliamentary party. SA pronounces with ebullience that SA has confirmed it “seeks the greatest possible political collaboration with the Greens”. (1) Greens MLC David Shoebridge's visit to Socialist Alliance's 8th National Conference is hailed with almost messianic fervour. The rush towards genuflection before the Greens leaves little room for those SA members who appear perplexed about this apparent turn.

This strategy is only perplexing, however, if we remain within the framework of a mindset which says that the Socialist Alliance seeks to advance the working class towards socialism. This goal, still proclaimed by SA, in effect plays second fiddle to the overall strategy — building a larger and broader left, to the exclusion of any “narrow” agenda — including that of socialism. That we have reached a stage where we consider arguing for socialism, to say nothing of Marxism, to be akin to advancing a sectarian cause, speaks volumes about the current trajectory of SA. The latching onto and over-promotion of the Greens is just one example of the misapplication of the broad party tactic as we experience it within the modern SA.

We all agree that we need to build a larger left. This is a perennial problem facing socialists, especially in the conditions of a relatively wealthy first world country. We can agree too, that in order to build a larger left, some compromises on politics will have to be made. Whichever socialist claims that the building of the mass, revolutionary workers party in this country can be achieved without any sections of the left making compromises on their long held political positions is waiting for a day which will never come. However, this does not mean that we can make compromises so large and so sweeping that we end up sacrificing the very reason we entered politics in the first place — the struggle for socialism.

Let's get this straight — the Greens represent a break from the two party system. But in no way and in no form do they represent a break from parliamentarism, a break from electoralism or, a break from capitalism. We need to distinguish between the Greens as a whole, and individual Greens members. There are some very nice individual Greens members, of this there is no doubt. There are some left leaning activists within the Greens — there is no doubt about this either. It's not about nice people though — these can be found in any party. It is about politics — and for this we can only refer to the Greens as a whole.

The Greens as a whole are an electoralist, parliamentarist, pro-capitalist and anti-communist outfit. The Greens as a whole are so anti-communist that they adopt irrational positions against China, hysterically claiming that China is a communist state. The Greens as a whole are quite happily ensconced in the gravy train of the federal, state and council legislatures. This is their element, this is their essence, this is where they see the beginning and end of the struggle. The Greens will talk all day and all night about the need for change, and attempt to pass the most wonderful legislation. But the minute anything poses as a potential threat to parliament, or even their own current positions in parliament, they leap into action like a jaguar. Witness Bob Brown's defence of Julia Gillard after the press rightly criticised Gillard for being cold and wooden in her dealings with the press, amongst other things. Bob Brown pleaded for the press to lay off, saying “people are incredibly impressed with her ability to deal with what is chucked at her, and so am I” (2) Here is the leader of the Greens defending his parliamentary position, and the position of the parliamentary alliance with the ALP in government, at the expense of the entire Australian electorate, and even the entire planet.

The quintessential fruit of the parliamentary alliance between the ALP and the Greens is the carbon tax. The carbon tax, which will become an emissions trading scheme, is quite simply the most anti-environment, anti-worker and pro-big business measure ever put in place. There is no way to dress this up. The Greens defend and justify the carbon tax, which has had the effect of virtually derailing the movement against global warming in this country. Let us be honest about this — the carbon tax, and Julia Gillard's lies in relation to it and other things, is one reason why this federal government is the most despised and loathed in history. And yet the Greens are proud to say they are a part of this government, and boast about having put the carbon tax in place. Millions of working class Australians, and small farmers, are furious about this, yet the Greens are openly dismissive of these people. The opposition to the carbon tax is not by any means restricted to the right wing organised opposition, as we should be well aware.

What is SA's response to this? Very little. SA has offered some muted misgivings, but in the same way that the Greens do not wish to sever their current parliamentary alliance with the ALP, the Socialist Alliance does not wish to sever its current alliance with the Greens. The workers of Australia suffer the increased power bills, small farmers suffer the increased costs of running their farms, unemployed people will suffer even more by undergoing even more trouble making ends meet, yet SA still defends its embrace of the Greens. For us to be associated in any way with the carbon tax, and the Greens' implementation of it, spells potential disaster and ignominy for SA. SA, however, lured by some crumbs dropped from the table of the Greens, seemingly cannot see the suffering of those it claims to fight for.

With regard to foreign policy, the Greens as a whole openly locate themselves within the pro-NATO, pro-imperialist camp. The Greens openly backed NATO's war on Libya, yet ironically they did call for fair treatment for Gaddafi loyalists, albeit in conjunction with the International Criminal Court. (3) Not even SA could call for fair treatment for Gaddafi loyalists, as it had supported the right wing coup against them. The Greens openly support the Australia/US war alliance, and presumably support the US's recent moves against China in our region. What is the response of SA to all of this? Very little. Due to the alliance with the Greens, criticism of the Greens' foreign policy cannot be too noisy, even if the masses of working people in the Asia Pacific are under direct threat from the US/AUS war machine.

SA's broad party advocates would counter, but we do criticise the Greens. To some extent, this is true. SA did criticise the Greens over the passing of the austerity budget recently in Tasmania. (4) Note, however, the nature of the criticism. The criticism is not that in passing the austerity budget, the Greens have shown themselves to be a part of the elite political and economic capitalist establishment it sometimes claims to oppose. The criticism from SA is merely that the Greens should not have formed government with the ALP. This gives the impression that if the Greens were governing in their own right, they would not have introduced an austerity budget, slashing health and education funding, and a whole host of other anti-society measures. In fact, the Greens were itching to do just that, to prove to big business that they can govern “responsibly”. We must recognise that in the era of the global financial crisis — a crisis of world capitalism — a parliamentary capitalist party can only launch attacks on the working class — the Greens no less than the ALP or the LNP. Yet SA is desperate to prove that somehow the Greens are composed of different particle matter to the ALP and the LNP, because this in turn justifies SA's contorted over-orientation to the Greens.

SA's broad party advocates don't deny that the Greens as a whole often take conservative, and even pro-capitalist, political positions. Yet they still maintain that there is a layer of left leaning, even socialist minded, activists within the Greens. Hence, they claim, this is who we are relating to by making overtures towards the Greens. It is the grassroots Greens we want to influence, you see. This layer seems to be more and more mythical every time it is mentioned. One senior SA member even claimed that there are “thousands of radical activists” within the Greens. This has got to be stretching the outer limits of credibility, unless we want to redefine “radical activist” to mean someone who hands out how to vote cards for the Greens once every three years. For argument's sake though, let's assume this is the case.

It is difficult from the outside to determine what is happening inside the Greens, and certainly, it is a matter for them. Yet what we hear anecdotally from inside the Greens is certainly not heartening. Apparently in Queensland some members of Catholic Worker, who we have worked alongside in the past on issues such as East Timor, have virtually been hounded out of the party, precisely for being “radical activists”. Moreover, we have heard that if Greens members wish to take part in social movements, they are welcome to do so. But — and here comes the clincher — they are not permitted to identify as Greens members or as representing the Greens while they do so. So Greens members can be “radical activists” if they choose, in their own spare time — but while doing this they are not permitted to wear a Greens badge or hold a Greens triangle. This would explain why it is extremely rare, if not impossible, to find a publicly identifying Greens member in the social movements. The sacrosanct chambers of parliament cannot be sullied with association with the great unwashed struggling on the streets for a better world. And this is the outfit SA seeks “the greatest possible political collaboration with”?

Is it true that “red-green unity is an objective necessity”, as claimed by our recent SA column in Green Left? It seems that SA has overinflated the politics connected with the environmental movement, and as a consequence, overinflated the politics of the Greens themselves. While we could make a case that the environmental movement at this point in history has more importance for the survival of humanity than say, the movement to remove GST on books, it does not necessarily follow that the politics of the environmental movement is up to that standard. Let us be honest — the politics of the environmental movement leaves a lot to be desired, to say the least. By extension, the politics of the Greens leaves a lot to be desired as well. The politics of the environmental movement, and the politics of the Greens, are in reality no further advanced than the politics of other social movements. The trade union movement, the anti-nuclear movement, the equal marriage rights movement, the anti-coal seam gas movement, and a whole host of others, have varying markers denoting their politics. What the politics of all of these movements have in common, though, is a conscious or unconscious refusal to see capitalism as the source of these problems, and socialism as the only viable alternative.

Yes, there are socialists working within these movements, trying to influence them, just as there are more conservative elements trying to influence them as well — the trade union bureaucrats being one obvious example. As a whole, the politics of these movements have definite limits. The environmental movement is no different — it's politics can only reach the level of lobbying government for change, pressing for real changes when it is strong enough and so on. In this respect, it is no different to other social movements. Yes, we know that the environmental movement mobilises around global warming — a vital issue for the future of humanity. But this still does not improve the politics of the movement. It is still restricted to demanding what the capitalist system cannot deliver. The socialist movement, on the other hand, is altogether a different kettle of fish. The socialist movement has the politics, and has the solutions to resolve the issue of every other social movement in existence. This is not about pompously claiming that we know everything and we are always right — far from it. It is merely recognising the forward motion of history.

In his address to the 8th National Conference of the Socialist Alliance, David Shoebridge played to the crowd, giving as much as he could within the limits of Green politics. It was enough, however, for broad party advocates to go into raptures. Did it not occur to them that Mr Shoebridge might just be doing this for his own benefit? We provide a platform, he comes and speaks, gains left cred and at the same time boosts the standings of the Greens in his electorate? They may have calculated as well that there were a few votes in it, if they were able to win over a few attendees at the conference. In return, we agree to not mention the very serious disagreements that we have with the Greens as a whole including the carbon tax, the BDS movement, the bombing of Libya, the austerity budget in Tasmania and many other things besides.

Speaking of Tasmania, would it be an advantage for our Tasmanian comrades to have Nick McKim, the Greens architect of the savage neoliberal budget cuts, on the platform at a Tasmanian state SA conference? Such a move would seriously undermine SA's ability to continue in politics there, and possibly contribute to SA being the third most politically disliked party in the state — after the ALP and the Greens. There might be a basis for a super broad party in that case — Greens, ALP and SA. How, in the Tasmanian context, are our SA comrades to carry out the line of seeking “the greatest possible political collaboration with the Greens” ? To carry out this aspect of the current SA line is a path of disaster, from which recovery would be extremely difficult, or take many years to overcome. The working class collectively has a long memory. It doesn't forgive betrayals easily.

It is unfortunate to note, that SA's current overcooked orientation to the Greens is another example of the effects of the steady erosion of Marxist influence. SA appears firmly set on the course of building a broad left, reach out coalition on an exclusive basis, without being concerned about maintaining or building Marxist politics. One result is that any politics which is somewhere on the left but not socialist is promoted, and given a huge amount of air time. So it is with SA's current assessment of the Greens. The Greens are full of nice people, of this there is no doubt. But we have to make an assessment of their politics as a whole. Alas, it is becoming clear that the SA's current party building strategy means that pure pragmatism is the means that is prioritised. It is not only theory and ideology that are downplayed and downgraded in the broad party-with-no-internal-Marxist-currents format. Politics too, is disregarded, to validate the broad coalition.

The RET, where possible, will be seeking the repeal of the section of SA's resolution demanding political collaboration with the Greens. The RET says that we should work with the Greens in the same manner in which we work with other parliamentary parties and forces within the social movements. The RET does not agree that we should allow a strategy where the Greens can play us for fools. We do not agree that SA should supply cannon fodder for their further parliamentary ambitions. We need a rational approach to working with the Greens, not an over-estimation of the reach and impact of Green politics. The working class needs allies, but seeking those allies amongst those who are well accustomed to warming parliamentary benches is a dangerous game. We play this game at our peril.