Monday, 28 April 2008

Socialist Party - "Greens: Open letter to Solidarity"

With good reason - given our advocacy of greater left unity in Australia - the wombats tend to keep a close eye on the (often small) far-left groups that are around, and what moves they make in the right (or wrong) direction.

The latest such example is the open letter (republished below) from the Socialist Party (a small, Melbourne-based organisation with the curious honour of having Australia's only elected socialist - Yarra councillor Steve Jolly) to the group now known as Solidarity (formed after the reunification of 3 of Australia's 4 IST groups - Solidarity, the International Socialist Organisation, and Socialist Action Group).

There is nothing new about the SP's approach (the wombats have covered it - and related news -before - here, here, here, and here - and Socialist Alliance has written similar letters), but it provides a good example of what's wrong with Solidarity's (and Socialist Alternative's for that matter) approach. In place of building a dignified and potentially quite robust socialist space on the left of Australian politics, both groups substitute riding on the coat-tails of the Greens (to be fair to SAlt, they are so dismissive of electoral politics as to be almost anarchoid, and the "coat-tails" reference probably doesn't explain their approach at all).

Of course, the SP might have more weight to their arguments if they were part of a larger left, that wasn't focused to such an excessive degree on Yarra and Jolly's re-election. The Socialist Alliance and Socialist Party collaborated to a very limited, but fruitful, degree in the elections last year. Although this was not much more than keeping off each other's "turf", it oughtto be a hint to the SP that they can, and should, think strongly about greater left collaboration.

The wombats rather doubt that CWI/ IST collaboration in Australia is going to take place anytime soon without a rather large unity project in-between, and the only one of those with any legs at the moment is the Socialist Alliance.

The original of this letter can be found here.


Dear Solidarity comrades,
During last years federal election campaign the Socialist Party challenged the Australian section of the International Socialist Tendency (IST), then called the International Socialist Organisation (ISO), to a debate around the topic of ‘How should socialists relate to the Greens?’

The ISO declined to debate us and proceeded to support the Greens in the election. Their support was not limited to cheer leading from the columns of their newspaper but included handing out ‘how to vote’ cards for the Greens in the seat of Melbourne where SP stood a candidate!

Since then the ISO has merged with Solidarity and the Socialist Action Group and has been renamed Solidarity. From all reports Solidarity is now the official section of the IST in Australia.

We understand that both the Socialist Action Group and Solidarity also supported the Greens in the 2007 federal election campaign and that part of the political foundation of the merger that took place was ongoing support for the Greens in elections.

It was somewhat surprising then for us when we read the following article in the paper of Solidarity’s sister organisation in Britain called Socialist Worker. The article actually echoes many of the points that we made to the ISO during last years election campaign. Read it for yourself.

Can the Greens be a radical alternative to the mainstream?
By Anindya Bhattacharyya
Taken from the online version of Socialist Worker issue 2097 dated 19 April 2008

Many people are frustrated with the three mainstream political parties and would like to see a left wing alternative to their pro-business agenda. The Green Party is widely touted as an organisation that could fill this role.

It is certainly true that the Green Party includes many individual activists on the left. The Green MEP Caroline Lucas, for instance, has played a solid role in the anti-war movement.

Yet despite this, the Greens do not present themselves as a left wing party, nor do they as an organisation play any kind of systematic role in left wing movements against war, racism and neoliberalism.

This distancing is quite deliberate. “If we positioned ourselves as explicitly left it would be dangerous, with no guarantee of success,” says Chris Rose, the Green Party’s national election agent.

And however “left” they may appear on paper, in power the Greens can act very differently. Jenny Jones, a Green member of the London assembly, strongly backed Metropolitan police chief Ian Blair over the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes.

Sian Berry, the Green candidate for London mayor, echoes the mainstream parties in calling for more police officers (albeit of the “community” variety).

In Leeds the Greens even went into coalition with the Tories and the Liberal Democrats on the city’s council for two years.

This was justified by Chris Rose as follows: “We say none of the mainstream parties are worth anything. So, if the situation demands it, it doesn’t really matter which one we work with, just what the outcome is.”

Elsewhere in Europe, where Green parties are more established, their record is similarly chequered. In France the Green Party lined up with the establishment in supporting the neoliberal European Union constitution.

In Germany, Green MPs have given unstinting support to the war in Afghanistan – despite a party congress decision to oppose German troops being sent to join Nato forces there.

The tendency of Green parties to drift to the right and their penchant for remaining aloof from mass movements have a common foundation.

They reflect the fact that the Greens are essentially a middle class party with some left wing opinions, rather than being a political organisation rooted in the working class.
This means that while Greens may hold “progressive” views on many issues, they have little to say about the class struggle between the majority of people who work for a living and the minority that rules the world.

It means that the Greens look to individualist solutions to issues such as climate change and world poverty, such as adopting a “green lifestyle” or promoting “ethical consumerism”.

Ultimately it means that while individual Greens can play a left wing role on certain issues, the party as a whole will never become a serious working class alternative to the pro-business parties.

They cannot connect with the swathes of ordinary people who are hit by low pay, poor housing and cuts to public services – and who want to fight back.

That radical political alternative must be built from below, by activists who campaign in trade unions and the mass movements against privatisation and war – and who look to the power of workers to transform society.

Read the article online here

The question we would have for the Solidarity comrades is if you are in fact maintaining your electoral support for the Greens what is the difference between the Greens in Britain and the Greens in Australia? Are they so different that a different approach to them is required? Is the situation in Britain so vastly different to that in Australia?

You told us last year that “Unfortunately, we found some of your characterisations of the Greens as sectarian and wrong”. Does this mean the characterisations that your British comrades have of the Greens are also sectarian and wrong?

You said “We support the Greens because they represent a very important layer of people that firmly rejects the Labor Party’s political sell-outs. Most Greens supporters reject Labor’s capitulation to neo-liberalism and support the kind of social democratic policies that were once expected from the Labor Party. But you don’t seem to have recognised this significant point.” It seems your British comrades have also failed ‘to recognise this significant point’!

The truth is that, leaving aside our difference with the British IST over tactics in the upcoming elections, we think the analysis put by the British IST comrades in relation to the Greens is far more in tune with reality than the oppurtunistic position that you have put here in Australia.

If we are wrong and you have in fact changed your position we would welcome that shift. But if you are in fact planning on supporting the Greens in the upcoming council elections in Victoria we would like to renew our challenge for you to debate us on the question of ‘How should socialists relate to the Greens’.

It is not the case that the socialist vote in these council elections will be negligible. In fact we will be defending our position on Yarra Council. We would be interested to know if the comrades from Solidarity will be supporting fellow socialists or if they will again be campaigning against us in support (as your British comrades put it) of the middle class Greens? We look forward to your reply.


Anthony Main
On behalf of the Socialist Party

1 comment:

Dave Riley said...

The SP may have a point --albeit a laboured one -- but it fails to review all the reasons why a left org may call for a vote for the Greens. In the case of the British SWP -- it is not mentioned here that they have been running with the Respect project and later, since their enforced exit from the official wing of that, with the Left List at the London City Council Elections. So the SWP have a electoral vehicle (let's not judge its merits and genesis here) when the local franchise has not (leastways not since they exited the Socialist Alliance).

My view is that the British far left are generally (although not exclusively)sectarian towards the Greens and they also suffer, in my estimation, from the same analysis shared here by both the SP and , I'd assume, Solidarity.

The Greens are merely explained away as a succesful election exercise rooted in middle class aspirations. There is no attempt to deal with the ideology that green politics crudely attempts to patent -- nor, most importantly, that this political niche is considered as the second "left" option to joining or supporting either the British or Australian Labour Parties.

That the Green parties are this and that is self evident but so too are the social democratic currents we have to deal with.

I think the Solidarity comrades (along with SAlt ) are trying to deal with that challenge the only way they know how. It's hardly a sophisticated or considered position-- nor it is a position they've argued well for, but its logic is self evident. And of course the SP knows that.

It then becomes something of a tragedy that Australia's far left orgs were so poorly represented at the recent Climate Change Social Change conference held in Sydney April 11-13th. This proved to be a forum that housed a major discussion that considered much more than who you call you mag readership to vote for.(Read conference statement.)

The tragedy is that while SAlt and Solidarity may play a tactical game in regard to polling day -- they aren't following that up with the sort of red/green dialogue and alliance building their electoral preferences seem to suggest.

Our core problem is not so much that the Greens hold sway over the left of Labor vote but that voting (rather than good old struggle) is being promoted as the strategic way forward.

While whom you call a vote for on polling day may indicate a penchant for some very crude politics * , the real game relative to the environment and the Greens and their periphery lies between polling days. And while the preference may be to back anyone beside the Socialist Alliance (or the Socialist Party) any time the country votes, the main challenge is how are we going to construct the sort of red green alliance -- a green left and a left green coming together -- that we need to engineer urgently.

The problem is, as Bhattacharyya asks -- Can the Greens be a radical alternative to the mainstream? -- that the default answer is yes because nothing else is on offer.

The irony is that the SWP is suffering as the SP has during the present elections in London as so much of the left is ignoring the Left List in a rush to support Livingstone or the Green Party mayoral candidate.