Bob Gould, 2008

Mystifying the Brisbane city council vote

Source: Ozleft, March 21, 2008
Proofreading, editing, mark-up: Steve Painter

Dave (Ratbag Radio) Riley has posted some strange comments about the Brisbane local government elections on the Green Left discussion list, and Greg Adler has responded. Riley lives up to his self-chosen soubriquet and just tells bald untruths about the Greens vote.

He doesn’t measure the Greens vote against the Labor vote, which is considerably higher, and he doesn’t test the Greens vote against the tiny vote for the single Socialist Alliance candidate in Brisbane, which was aided by the donkey vote.

He tests the Green vote against what might be called the might-have-been vote — the vote the Greens should have got in Riley’s universe, not the pedestrian universe the rest of us inhabit.

A certain utopianism has at certain times in the socialist movement had some value to inspire people, but it has never had much to do with Marxism, and presented as an alternative to a socialist strategy based on a sober appreciation of all the social forces at work, it’s a political abomination.

You see, says Riley, if the Greens had campaigned the way he says they should have, and implicitly if they had got together with the Socialist Alliance, they would have been able to challenge Labor.

Riley and the Socialist Alliance leadership have been saying this kind of thing for five or six years, and in that time their influence and political footprint has steadily got smaller.

Riley also fails to tell the reader the vital piece of information that voters in municipal elections in Brisbane elect one councilor per ward, through optional preference voting.

The Green vote in Brisbane is actually, judged against previous Green votes, and votes in other states, very substantial.

In other states, where proportional representation for multi-councilor wards prevails in municipal elections, that Greens vote in Brisbane would have elected several councilors, which is not the case with the ridiculous Socialist Alliance vote.

The Greens apparently only directed preferences in two wards, to Labor in Holland Party and the Liberals in Morningside, and in doing so probably contributed to the election of a few Liberals, which is pretty reactionary behaviour, and more left-wing Greens should stand up to the Greens leadership over this question if that’s the case.

What the Brisbane vote clearly indicates, and what every vote in Australia for the past 10 years or so indicates, is that the bulk of the working class and recent migrants vote Labor and a considerably smaller minority vote Green.

For socialists this sociology dictates a central orientation to the Labor Party and the union milieu around it, and a secondary strategic orientation towards the small Greens mass party. What also flows from this is the need for an electoral united front between these two substantial mass organisations on the left side of society.

Serious socialists should place a considerable emphasis on achieving this electoral united front, which has a very direct implication for mass popular struggles, such as the struggle against electricity privatisation in NSW, which involves three aspects: popular mobilisation outside party structures, agitation in the Greens, and most importantly agitation in the Labor Party, as the outcome of the coming Labor Party conference will have a big influence on the outcome of the whole struggle.

Instead of planting himself squarely in the material world we inhabit, Riley carries on with his usual bootstrap-lifting metaphysics, lecturing the masses and the material world that things would be better in his ideal world, in which the masses as a matter of duty, would carry out the whole program of the Socialist Alliance.

In serious working class politics, Marxism is a combination of adherence to principle, with a realistic and concrete appraisal of all the social forces at work, and tactics based on that approach rather than Riley’s repetitive metaphysics, which presume a kind of linear progression for his Socialist Alliance.

There has, in fact, been a bit of linear movement for the Socialist Alliance over the past four or five years, but unfortunately for Riley it has all been downwards.