Bob Gould, 2008
Source: Leftwrites, May 2, 2008
Proofreading, editing, mark-up: Steve Painter
A bit of a discussion is taking place about the the relationship of small socialist groups to the Greens. Apart from the International Socialists-Solidarity, who these days are pretty sane, the rest of the far left seem to be pissing in the wind.
They don’t appear to have a clue about the class forces at work in Australian politics. There are two mass organisations on the left of Australian society, which between them get more than 50 per cent of the vote, pretty well all the votes available to progressive forces.
The mass Labor Party, which is interlocked with the trade unions, gets 40 per cent of the vote. Most blue-collar industrial workers, most recent migrants, 90 per cent of indigenous Australians and a large part of what I describe as the new social layers (mostly workers with tertiary education), vote Labor. The Greens get about 10 per cent of the vote, mostly drawn from the new social layers.
The Labor Party and trade unions are still the major mass organisations of the working class in Australia, viewed sociologically and objectively, and they have the broad political allegiance of about 50,000 Labor Party members and trade union activists. Labor, with union support, is a genuine plebian mass organisation that still has a substantial left wing, as shown by the so-far successful upsurge against the NSW Labor government’s attempt to privatise electricity.
The Greens are smaller but in general nationally they have perhaps 10,000 members and maybe another 10,000 active supporters, drawn mainly from the new social layers. They also are a genuine mass political formation.
Between them, Labor and the Greens occupy almost all the political space on the left side of Australian society, and the two mass formations usually exchange preferences in elections, despite sometimes intense competition for votes.
That set of circumstances is the objective reality about the working class and the progressive side of Australian society, and anyone who can’t see that is, politically speaking, just nuts.
The ideological behaviour of leaders and activists in both formations can’t even be tackled unless the objective sociological facts are recognised.
All the socialist groups except IS-Solidarity fly in the face of reality by trying to counterpose their own scrawny outfits as a serious mass political alternative to Labor and the Greens. That strategic approach is pure sectarianism.
Socialists who don’t relate in a strategic way to these two mass formations in the struggles that unfold have no way out of their strategic isolation.
No amount of point-scoring by Steve Jolly, Duroyan Fertl or Dave Riley touting their own outfits as a serious strategic alternative has the slightest bit of practical effect.
They all say, “all socialists should join us, pronto, or they’re committing a great sin”. The problem is the masses aren’t listening to that advice, and most of the small socialist-oriented minority don’t listen either. They’ve been hearing this sort of bullshit for a very long time.
Duroyan Fertl elevates the rules of the Greens as a serious obstacle to socialists being active in that organisation, and if pressed he’d probably say the same thing about the Labor Party, but in practice there are large numbers of socialists active in both mass formations — far more than are active in the small groups.
Fertl repeats in another form the Norm Dixon-Dave Riley mantra denying that socialists in the Greens and the Labor Party can achieve anything. He can’t have been examining the battle over electricity privatisation in NSW very carefully.
Relatively small numbers of socialists have played a fairly important part in this battle in the Labor Party. Socialists in the Greens have also played an outstanding role in this battle, and one only has to point to the activity of the Greens socialist fantominja, John Kaye, MLC, against the electricity privatisation to see what I mean.
It seems now a distinct possibility that the combined agitation of the unions, right and left, the ranks of the Labor Party and the Greens, may well be successful in stopping electricity privatisation. Socialist activity in real struggles such as this, expressed in the mass organisations, particularly if they are successful, are of far more importance than mouthings of sects scoring points off each other.
In this respect, the IS-Solidarity group is the only one on the far left that appears to have even the beginnings of wisdom. The rest should wake up to themselves and study questions of the strategic united front.
By Anthony Main, on behalf of the Socialist Party (Originally posted on Leftwrites, April 28, 2008)
The following letter may be of interest to readers of Leftwrites as it follows on from a debate that occurred on this forum last year during the federal election campaign.
Dear Solidarity comrades,
During last year’s federal election campaign the Socialist Party challenged the Australian section of the International Socialist Tendency, 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 the Socialist Party 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 Socialist Worker, the newspaper of Solidarity“s sister organisation in Britain. The article actually echoes many of the points that the Socialist Party made to the ISO during last year’s election campaign.
Can the Greens be a radical alternative to the mainstream?
By Anindya Bhattacharyya (From the online version of Socialist Worker, issue 2097, 19 April 19, 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 antiwar 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.
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.
That radical political alternative must be built from below, by activists who campaign in trade unions and the mass movements against privatisation and war.
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: “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 neoliberalism 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, leaving aside our difference with the British IST over tactics in the upcoming elections, we think the British IST comrades’ analysis of 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 socialists should 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?
Dave Riley, April 28, 2008 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 in the London City Council election. So the SWP has an electoral vehicle (let’s not judge its merits and genesis here), while the local franchise has not (leastways not since they exited the Socialist Alliance).
My view is that the British far left is 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 are the social democratic currents we have to deal with.
I think the Solidarity comrades (along with Socialist Alternative) 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 organisations were so poorly represented at the recent Climate Change, Social Change conference held in Sydney on April 11-13. This proved to be a forum that housed a major discussion that considered much more than who you call your magazine readership to vote for.
The tragedy is that while Socialist Alternative 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 beg.
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 besides 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? The default answer is yes, because nothing else is on offer.
An irony is that the British SWP is suffering as the SP has during the present electiosn 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.
Will, April 28, 2008 Anthony Main and Dave Riley both make valid distinctions between the British and Australian electoral scenes. The Green Party is not as much of a force in Britain at any level as they are in Australia — there isn’t even a single Green Party in Britain at all. The two most successful left-wing parties in Britain, Respect and the Scottish Socialists, have both suffered internal meltdowns in the last couple of years. I hope the Left List does well in London, and they might, but the fact that the two parties split at the moment they were starting to attain real power does not bode well for alliances with any other party — it is a recipe for further fragmentation. It’s banal to say it, but if you vote Green, you’re a Greens supporter, vote Socialist Party and you support SP. I don’t think you can make people admit they’re wrong! A debate might be fruitful, but it is more likely to harden opinions than to change them.
Chav, April 29, 2008 Although I don“t agree with ISO-Solidarity’s position of handing out how-to-vote cards for the Greens here in Australia, surely it’s clear that they are doing it not because they agree with the Greens’ politics but because they believe they have identified a layer of activists within the Greens that would be amenable to either being drawn closer to (their idea of) revolutionary politics or recruited outright.
Handing out how-to-vote cards would seem to be step in the direction of entryism into the Greens, not something I would agree with but hardly something the Socialist Party can be indignant about given their organisational predecessor Militant was, I believe, deeply embedded in the British Labour Party for many years.
Duroyan Fertl April 29, 2008 Without going into great detail in this post (I promise to do so in a future one), it is worth raising the point that any “entryism” in the Greens is severely hindered by the exclusive membership requirements of the Greens, prohibiting joint political membership.
Now, if the IS-Solidarity were to engage in entryism in the Greens, they would really have to go under-cover. Do people think that is really a viable option?
Frankly, the question of red-green collaboration is at the heart of the impasse we face on the left in Australia, and this is obviously a discussion that not only needs to be had, but is being had.
Even before the Socialist Alliance, the DSP-SWP was pretty clued-in to this point, and the period since has proved at least the broader orientation correct.
One challenge the left as a whole faces is how to relate to both the Greens and the growing green sentiment (which is not necessarily Greens party political).
Another, related, question is how to win a left space in that envirnmental movement and consciousness. The approaches are multiple:
Join the Greens and organise there (some people have put themselves down for this task, but we’re all still waiting on the results).
Keep our own outfits going but cheer-lead for the Greens as a way of building links with the Greens and/or their members — and ride to a certain extent on the Green vote (the IS approach).
Campaign on the issues the Greens should be campaigning on, and in a non-sectarian manner (invite the Greens along) while exposing the limitations of the Greens’ (or any non-socialist) “solutions” to the climate crisis.
The last approach is that of the DSP and the Socialist Alliance (as seen in the recent conference).
The problem, regardless of which approach we take, is that the left (taken as a collective, effective, grouping) is too small to have the kind of effect we need to make the most of this very good work.
Left disunity is still holding us all back, and piggy-backing the Greens is no substitute (unless, or until they change their membership policy).
So, generally speaking, the SP is right (if in miniature).
Ablokeimet April 30, 2008 There’s a big difference between entering the Greens and entering the Labor Party. One is part of the labour movement & the other isn’t. I don’t advocate doing either, but I only call one of them a crime for someone who considers themselves a working-class revolutionary.
Yes, the Greens have policies which, for the most part, are more formally to the left of the ALP. It is the ALP, however, which needs to have its working class base broken from it. Most workers no longer join it ’ since Hawke and Keating rewrote the rules to remove the effective voice of the rank and file, there hasn’t been a lot of point. The bulk of the working class, however, and particularly its conscious section, still remains politically committed to the Labor Party.
It is for this reason that the prime task of revolutionaries in Australia is to work at breaking the political grip of the Labor bureaucracy (both its parliamentary and union wings) on the labour movement. For all their wrong-headedness in putting together a strategy, revolutionaries who orient to the Labor Party are still asking the the right question. The Greens, however, are a petit-bourgeois formation and are extremely unlikely ever to cease being so. They are, thus, a distraction from the class struggle.
Tristan Ewins April 30, 2008 I can understand that the Greens leadership may be concerned about dual membership of political parties.
On the other hand, much of the Left does not qualify as a political party — for instance the new Solidarity formation and Socialist Alternative … I don’t think that members of such organisations would be barred, especially if they’re committed to doing the hard yards to support the Greens during election campaigns. There is no contradiction because such people are not part of any electoral formation.
The Socialist Alliance is a different matter. Not that I have much against them, but it seems fair that people ought only be committed to one or another electoral formation.
As for the Greens being petit-bourgeois, I don’t think it’s right to generalise here. Members from all manner of backgrounds are being drawn to the Greens. The ETU and AMWU have gone so far as to provide material support to the Greens for election campaigns. The Greens may have a significant middle-class support base, but in this sense it is no different than today’s ALP.
Whatever their faults, I think (if my memory serves me righte) it’s worth remembering that the Greens supported pattern bargaining and the right to political strike action.
The Greens are in the political mainstream. They have a host of policies held dear by the left. And should they one day hold the balance of power, thus holding leverage over the ALP, it is realistic to suppose they may be in position to see such policies implemented.
Therefore they need to be taken seriously in all their complexity.
And ultimately we need to develop a mutli-pronged counter-hegemonic strategy — an electoral bloc of varied electoral and activist formations on the left.
Already we see in Europe how Green parties, parties of the left, and mainstream social democratic parties hold the potential of sharing power as an electoral bloc.
Co-operation between the Greens, the ALP, and a new party of the Left could open the way for a dialogue and a dynamic that could shift the relative centre to the left.
And between them, the Greens and a new party of the Left could hold strong leverage over an ALP government, so long as they did not try to go too far too fast and endanger the capacity of the electoral bloc to hold together and maintain power.
Importantly, this means we need activists in the Greens, the ALP, and potentially in a new party of the left to fostert dialogue and co-operation. With co-operation and dialogue we all potentially can make a difference.
Chav, April 30, 2008 “Already we see in Europe how Green parties, parties of the left, and mainstream social democratic parties hold the potential of sharing power as an electoral bloc.”
Tristan, what I’ve seen of reports of how the Greens have acted when in power in Europe, in Germany in particular, is not encouraging.
The black-green coalition in Hamburg marks a further turn to the right on the part of the Greens. When the party was founded at the end of the 1970s, it was regarded by many as a left-wing alternative to the SPD. When it joined a government led by the SPD in 1998, however, the party assumed a position to the right of its coalition partner, particularly with regard to social and economic policy. While some opposition emerged within the ranks of the SPD to the anti-welfare Agenda 2010 policy implemented by Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, the Greens gave the measure their unconditional support.
Now they are coalition with the German version of the Liberal Party in Hamburg!
“The Greens are in the political mainstream. They have a host of policies held dear by the left. And should they one day hold the balance of power, thus holding leverage over the ALP, it is realistic to suppose they may be in a position to see such policies implemented.”
I don“t think it is realistic at all. Gough Whitlam could tell you that. I really don’t understand this focus on electoralism. I’m not saying abstain from elections in terms of not taking them seriously as a period when politics is in the fore of most people’s minds and constantly being discussed, so that we can have discussions with them as well and hopefully attract them towards revolutionary politics, but actual participation in them by the far left (particularily on a state or federal level) is I think, a dead end. The experience of the Socialist Alliance in Oz demonstrates that quite clearly.
In regards to entryism, I was probably going a bit far when I said this might be a first step by the ISO-Solidarity in entering the Greens. What I meant was that activity like handing out how-to-vote cards, and which stops short of actually joining the Greens, is an attempt to connect with a layer of activists in the Greens who are open to moving in a socialist direction.
And whether there is that layer open to moving to the left, I have no idea. I have to say it is kind of weird that when you are at demos, aside from perhaps really big environmental ones, you rarely if ever see organised cadre of Greens, usually just a few Green triangle placards bobbing up and down.
Slightly related to this has been the Greens’ seeming non-participation in the anti-dredging campaign in Melbourne. It seemed The Age newspaper was doing more to promote the anti-dredge cause than the Greens! Perhaps they are just not an activist party.
Mark Goudkamp, May 1, 2008 It’s pretty simple really, the Greens in Australia have cohered a left wing vote around them ever since the capitulation of Labor in 2001 to the anti-refugee, gung-ho war on terror. Indeed, in that election, the Greens doubled their vote (I’ve heard anecdotes from union organisers and ALP stalwarts who were handing out for Beazley outside polling booths, but then went inside and registered a Green vote.
At the time, the ISO (as we were then) was part of the Socialist Alliance (which the SP never joined for their own reasons). However, the reality of the Greens gaining the two audiences that the Alliance had hoped for (disillusioned Labor and anti-globilisation activists) led many of us in the ISO to doubt the worth of the Alliance project and the derisory votes it got and continues to get.
In the pre-merger Solidarity, we decided to support the Greens at election time by handing out for them from around 2004. In 2005, we had an internal debate about entering the Greens. The majority were against it, but we lost a couple of valuable members who are now very much a part of the Greens. The bulk of our energies go into building the social movements, but the Greens are clearly a left-wing layer in Australian society, with white-collar workers particularly supporting them. It’s a pretty elementary application of Trotsky’s united front to want to work with and form ongoing political relationships with these people, even if we don’t expect to recruit them.
As other contributors have pointed out, the Greens in Britain have always been more peripheral to politics. I’d add that there has also been a bigger audience for revolutionary socialist politics in the UK (although I fear the Left List won’t do too well).
It“s a bit disingenuous for the SP to seize on an article in the British Socialist Worker and say that we should necessarily follow what is being argued by the SWP.
Finally, the difference between what the three organisations who formed Solidarity did last federal election and what Socialist Alternative did was that we got involved in the Greens campaign, whereas SAlt basically called for a Green vote on the cover of their magazine.
Chav, May 1, 2008 “It’s a bit ingenuous for the SP to seize on an article in the British Socialist Worker and say that we should necessarily follow what is being argued by the SWP.”
SP member, May 1, 2008 Where does SP say that Solidarity should follow what is being argued by the SWP? Why on earth we would expect any consistency from the IST!
SP have merely asked some very specific questions. They are as follows:
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?
Are the characterisations that the British IST comrades have of the Greens sectarian and wrong?
Will you accept our challenge to a debate on the question of how socialists should relate to the Greens?
Will the Solidarity comrades be supporting the Greens in the Yarra City Council election against a sitting socialist councillor and other SP members who will be standing?
Mark Goudkamp May 1, 2008 Here are some brief answers to the questions posed by “SP member“.
I think I answered the question about the difference between the Greens Britain and Australia. Suffice to say there are substantial differences, both in terms of the Greens and the relative influence of the revolutionary socialist left.
Are they so different that a different approach to them is required? Yes.
Is the situation in Britain so vastly different to that in Australia? In relation to the Greens, yes.
Are the characterisations that the British IST comrades have of the Greens sectarian and wrong? No, although if the Greens pull off a left-of-Livingstone vote (unlikely when most of the left will cohere around him given the real threat of the Tories winning London Council) the SWP would do well to consider taking this vote seriously.
Will you accept our challenge to a debate on the question of how socialists should relate to the Greens? I can’t speak for my organisation on this.
Will the Solidarity comrades be supporting the Greens in the Yarra City Council election against a sitting socialist councillor and other SP members who will be standing?
I doubt it, but what will the SP be recommending in the vast majority of councils where you don’t have candidates?
SP member, May 2, 2008 As if is wasn’t going bad enough for Solidarity, now they have the death kiss from Bob Gould!
Bob likes to talk about having a clue about ’the class forces currently at work in Australian politics“ but he fails to address the concrete situation that SP are talking about in the upcoming Yarra Council elections.
Should Solidarity campaign against socialist candidates and in support of the Greens (as they did in the federal election) or should they change their position and call for a vote for socialist candidates?
Would it not be a setback for the forces of socialism in Australia if the position of SP in Yarra was weakened? The irony is that many Labor lefts and lefts in the Greens support SP because we help push their own party to the left!
Perhaps the question of how socialists should relate to the ALP should be debated in another thread but to say that the ALP is “a genuine plebian mass organisation that still has a substantial left wing” is a bit of a stretch.
What has this substantial left wing been doing for the past 30 years? They have been asleep it seems while the bosses have fully taken over the party. To think they will ever give it back now is a a dream that Bob Gould and only a few other have had.
The ALP was long ago emptied of the best rank and file workers and youth. It is now filled almost totally with bureaucrats and opportunists and is more so infulenced by the bosses than the workers movement.
This is seen by the fact that it carries out neoliberal policies at every level of government (including in NSW with the electricity privatisation).
Obviously socialists have played a good role in campaign against this privatisation, as socialists are ideologically opposed to privatisation. There are many who are involved in the campaign though that are only interested in opposing privatisation because if it goes through they will lose their livelihoods.
For example, comrades in the ETU in Victoria have told us that unlike in Victoria the membership of the ETU in NSW is largely based in power generation and not electrical contracting. If privatisation went through they would lose members hand over fist and as such lose many officals.
Why is it that we havent heard a squeak from these anti-privatisation fighters about any other neoliberal counter-reform that the NSW ALP have pushed through?
Nowhere in any document does SP “counterpose their own scrawny outfits as a serious mass political alternative to these two mass formations“ or say that “all socialists should join us, pronto, or they’re committing great sin”. SP is a small organisation that in a small but important part of the country is making some ground to the left of the Greens.
This has been through a principled approach of working together where we can alonside sharp critisisms of their policies. The same goes for the ALP by the way.
It is also ridiculous for Bob to say that SP does not “relate in a strategic way to these two mass formations in the struggles that unfold” He knows better than this and in the past has commented on our principled united front work.
It is not us that are pissing in the wind! It is the socialists in the ALP who are pissing into a hurricane!
Chav May 2, 2008 “All the socialist groups, with the exception of IS-Solidarity, fly in the face of reality by trying to counterpose their own scrawny outfits as a serious mass political alternative to these two mass formations. That strategic approach is pure sectarianism.”
It would be, Bob, it it were true.
Mark Goudkamp, May 3, 2008 I think it’s incredibly rude of SP member to describe positive comments from Bob Gould as a kiss of death. While I wouldn’t trade places and try ALP entry work, I think all of us on the Trotskyist left should recognise Gould’s stamina and perseverance that has contributed much to the Australian non-Stalinist left for decades. I hope, “SP member”, that you retain the same reservoirs of energy in the years to come.
Another annoying thing is that despite me saying in a previous post that I thought it doubtful that Solidarity would campaign against Steve Jolly in Yarra, you continue to harp on about the issue. Yet you didn’t answer my question about who you would be supporting outside of Yarra. Would I be crazy in suggesting that you’d probably be calling for a Green 1, Labor 2 vote?
Turning to Britain, Labour has been smashed. Lib Dems second to the Tories in the national vote, according to the BBC. In London, Livingstone has lost to the Tories, whilst the fascist BNP got nearly 4 per cent, the Greens around 7 per cent, while the Left List got less than 1 per cent. Hindsight is always best, but methinks the SWP should have considered withdrawing and giving critical support to the Greens or Livingstone and building a united front to stop the Tories (please note, “SP member” before you hurry back an excited message, that I’m not speaking on behalf on my organisation here).
I thought I’d share two interesting comments from the BBC’s coverage of the London results:
Liberal Democrat mayoral candidate Brian Paddick tells the BBC he voted for the Left List’s Lindsey German with his second preference vote —: “I looked at which candidate was most in tune with the sort of policies that I wanted, who was the most in favour of having better, more affordable housing in London — in terms of council housing and so forth. And I voted for the Left List.“
Former Labour cabinet minister Tony Benn says the results are a “verdict on Blairism”. “For ten years we’ve been told: ‘leave everything to the market. Borrow on the value of your house. You’ll be all right. Don’t worry, privatisation will solve the problem.’ And I think the credit crunch has been a sort of economic nine-eleven. It has changed everything. And a lot of people are really frightened now … think that’s really what we ought to understand, because when people are frightened they always move to the right.”
Dave Latham May 3, 2008 There’s no doubt that Steve Jolly is the key to SP’s success in the city of Yarra, but should that be the foundation of a general political orientation at election time for the left?
If Jolly wasn’t part of the SP, the vote for SP would be derisory at the very best and I defy anyone from SP to state otherwise. On second thoughts you don’t need to — the fact is borne out by the election results of SP members in other electorates.
Clearly, it isn’t the SP as such that is behind the success of SP in Yarra but Jolly’s individual charisma and activism. Is SP Member seriously proposing that Solidarity and the left generally should orient their approach to elections upon an abberation — a unique personality — or upon a set of broader politics?
Steve Jolly might well win the election from his profile and activism but that will be in spite of his party’s politics.
I think Bob’s logic here is unassailable, even if it conflicts with the moralism of other sections of the left. There exists no electoral space on the left which isn’t gobbled up by Labor and the Greens. The left must relate to these formations in some fashion.
How that relationship manifests itself is a question of judgment and strategy but let’s not pretend that SP or any other left electoral sect has the definitive answer and particularly let’s not imagine electoralism to be overly important to a renewal of the Australian left.
Let’s also not conflate the leadership of the Labor Party and Greens with their membership and support base ’ slagging them both off because the leadership fails to reach a standard. The important fact is that both parties are broad churches attracting left-wing activists to the main game in town.
To be sure, the Labor Party has an historic record of class collaboration and betrayal of working class people, but that has neither stopped workers voting for them nor stopped left-wing people from joining them. The Greens have become the party of action for a new social layer. Labor’s electoral support is rock-steady amongst working class people, the Greens for inner suburbans keen for social change — let’s face facts.
The important question is how do we relate to the undoubtable fact that in electoral terms people look to Labor or more recently the Greens. Labor and Greens activism in any case exists not just as passive electoral support but as grassroots organising. These are the people whom the left needs to relate to and that relationship is not well served by fetishing electoralism and drawing sectarian divides.
As I’ve stated in earlier posts, I’m not sure how the IS position makes much difference to the electoral results of SP or any other socialist candidates. I can only assume that it is a shabby little exercise in sectarian point-scoring masquerading as principle.
While I wish Jolly good luck in the Yarra elections I don’t think the strategic position of the rest of the hard left makes a pinch of shit difference in terms of its result. Instead of wetting our pants over council elections and making a fuss over what divides us, I’d prefer to hear how SP Member and co would propose ways for the left to work together.
SP member May 3, 2008 Mark, the comments about Bob were made in jest. Get serious, nobody is questioning his stamina.
As for who SP will be supporting outside of Yarra, I would suggest we will be taking the same position we have had for some time. That is we call for a vote for socialist candidates where they are standing and then for people to preference or vote for the Greens. This is the principled position for socialists to take.
As for Dave Latham’s comments, he is just plain wrong on many counts. It was in fact Denise Dudley who has received the highest vote of any SP candidate, not Steve Jolly. Denise received over 30 per cent of the vote in the 2001 Yarra by-election, only missing out on the seat by a couple of hundred votes. Other SP candidates have also received decent votes in recent times. The facts are on the Victorian Electoral Commission website for Dave to see.
The argument that SP’s success in Yarra purely comes down to Steve Jolly’s charisma and personality is typical of the attacks made on us by right-wingers. Unfortunately, sometimes we get these same right-wing arguments from burnt-out revolutionaries who have given up on struggle. The fact is that this argument is not an attack on SP but an attack on the idea that socialism can be made popular.
We are proud that our organisation has produced such a good public representative in the traditions of Joe Higgins and Dave Nellist. We make no apologies for the fact that Steve is a very good representative of the ideas of both the SP and the Committee for a Workers International.
This is not to take anything away from Steve’s personal role. He is a good activist and an extremely hard worker. But it has been more than just his charm that has led to SP winning the council seat in Yarra. It has been 15 years of patient work involving ourselves in community campaigns that has led Yarra residents to trust us enough to have Steve as their rep.
Our election work is directly linked to our real work, which has been participating in many community campaigns. This work mainly involves working with people who are not in any party but we also work with members of the ALP and Greens when we can. This is coupled with taking up their weaknesses very sharply. Grassroots work in this principled fashion should be how the left works together.
Unfortunately this approach is foreign to many on the left. Some choose to ignore this work others while others prefer to just cheer-lead the Greens, hence this current discussion.
Mark Lockett May 4, 2008 Steve Jolly’s open letter is based upon a certain amount of mistruth.
“ … that part of the political foundation of the merger that took place was ongoing support for the Greens in elections.”
Comrade Jolly does not understand correctly. Ongoing support for the Greens in elections was in no way a core issue in the merger of the three groups last year. Although we do plan to relate to the Greens in a useful, non-sectarian way.
Imagine if the then ISO had debated the SP over who to support in the seat of Melbourne, as they demanded. Would anyone have come to the debate? Outside the SP and Solidarity the only people interested in this issue are small number of sectarian currents and former members of various small marxist groups. Hardly a mass audience.
The support or otherwise of Solidarity will not be the deciding factor in getting Steve Jolly re-elected. If Solidarity were in the position that we had enough mass support that by calling for votes for a certain candidate we would be able to get them in, we wouldn’t be wasting our time with the Greens or Jolly, we would be standing our own candidates.
The central theme running through the merger of the three groups is a desire to intervene in the class struggle in a meaningful way. On this basis we supported the Greens because they were clearly seen by the overwhelming majority of activists and the left-leaning public as being the alternative to neoliberal Labor. This can be clearly seen from the election result.
The SP polled a derisory 0.6 per cent for the seat of Melbourne in the federal election, or 539 votes. From a cursory glance at the booth figures it appears that about 240 of those votes came from within Steve Jolly’s ward. But in the local council election where Jolly was elected he got 1162 votes. Therefore one can draw the conclusion that the overwhelming majority of Jolly’s former voters did not vote for the SP in the federal election.
The SP should thank their lucky stars that Steve Jolly was not the SP’s candidate for Melbourne, if Steve Jolly had run for Melbourne and not retained his deposit that would have been an absolute disaster for his council re-election campaign. Given the SP vote, he would almost certainly have failed to retain his deposit. Even without Jolly as the candidate the very low vote for the SP in the federal election made his re-election harder.
The vote that Steve Jolly got on his election to the Yarra Council was not the earth-shattering event the SP sometimes try to make out, nor are they the only group on the left able to produce such results. On the same day as Jolly was elected in 2004 the then still functioning Socialist Alliance managed to get similar results in three other wards in two other councils in Melbourne. Last year I ran in a council election and was able to get a similar vote to Jolly’s. But for the vagarities of preference flows and electoral systems any of them could have been elected.
In each case it was possible for the left to get a good score in local elections by relating to local developments, being involved in local campaigns, putting forward good candidates (if I do say so myself) and putting forward sensible policies.
In a nutshell, Solidarity’s position on elections is to treat them as a tactical question. The question of whether or not Solidarity will support Jolly is also tactical. Solidarity could pass a motion calling for a vote for Steve Jolly and other SP candidates but this would be completely useless for the task of getting him re-elected, despite the fact that it would comply with the SP’s demand that we support them. I expect that the Melbourne-based comrades will simply make a tactical decision as to what is the best use of their time and energy when the local elections roll around.
This open letter is certainly a strange document, the SP are indignantly demanding Solidarity support them but they haven’t actually asked us to support them. If they really wanted us to help them in the election the best way would be to give us a call, contact numbers are listed in the magazine. I suspect that this open letter has been published because some SP members have looked at the new merged Solidarity organisation and been impressed that someone on the Australian left is finally putting forward a sensible perspective. The open letter has all the attributes of an atrocity story with the real purpose of corralling the SP’s membership behind their leadership in spite of their obvious errors and on the basis of a completely fictional account of how Solidarity has an opportunistic position on the Greens.
PS: On the rules of the Greens It is true that the rules of the Green prohibit full members from being members of other parties, however in some states at least other party members can become “lesser” members of the Greens.
Because the Greens are an electoralist party this prohibition is in every case couched in terms of other parties being electoral parties. Solidarity doesn’t contest elections and therefore is not specifically excluded.
However, in reality if we were to enter the Greens we would have to give up all the trappings of an independent organisation, including our publication, or alternatively pretend to do so and form a secret organisation inside the Greens (like the old Militant inside British Labour). We don’t think those costs would be worth the benefits.
Stephen Jolly, May 17, 2008 I have just read this thread and noticed the following point in the previous post: “Steve Jolly’s open letter is based upon a certain amount of mistruth. ‘ — that part of the political foundation of the merger that took place was ongoing support for the Greens in elections’. Comrade Jolly does not understand correctly — #8221;
I want to make clear that I have not contributed to this debate so far and I didn“t write SP’s Open Letter, although I agree with its contents. I always use my real name when making a political contribution.
Dave Latham, May 20, 2008 “The argument that SP’s success in Yarra purely comes down to Steve Jolly’s charisma and personality is typical of the attacks made on us by right-wingers. Unfortunately sometimes we get these same right-wing arguments from burnt-out revolutionaries who have given up on struggle. The fact is that this argument is not an attack on SP but an attack on the idea that socialism can be made popular.”
Let’s assume that the Socialist Party’s success has nothing to do with Steve Jolly or the fact that Yarra is an atypical left-wing ghetto, and it’s all to do with SP’s policies. Why then does SP perform poorly outside of Yarra?
If you aren’t standing in other seats, why not? Presumably SP policy is sufficient for you to stand and do well, in Broadmeadows, say. If you win there I might get a little bit excited and come on board.
You assume the most fantastical position for the SP on the political landscape if you imagine that Steve Jolly’s success represents a victory for the SP and a vindication of its policies in the broad.
More power to Jolly if he can win over the people of Yarra to socialism, but I suspect he might have made socialism as “popular” to the people of Yarra as I have made “popular” socialism to Telstra workers as a union delegate. That is to say I’m sure they appreciate his activism, but let’s not go overboard.
The final point: “this argument is not an attack on SP but an attack on the idea that socialism can be made popular” is the most fantastical concoction imaginable. That not voting for SP is a blow against the popularity of socialism is the height of self-aggrandisement.
If SP is enormously “popular” why are you so bent on capturing the vote of a tiny organisation that doesn’t even have a presence in the suburbs of Yarra? I could take seriously the argument of making socialism popular if you contested and won seats in Cragieburn. You’ll forgive me if I don’t get excited by your victories in Yarra.
Robin Hood’s lovechild, May 25, 2008 A fair amount of conjecture and some confident assertions have been made on this thread and the earlier related one about the success of Steve Jolly and the SP in Yarra compared to the performance of other Socialists in Melbourne. Maybe it all comes down to one part charisma and nine parts hard work! It doesn’t really surprise me that SP weren’t able to translate this into a really good victory at the federal election, most likely due to scant resources.
So, in the face of 10 years of Howard tyranny, why are no other local socialists able to capture the public imagination? Are they too idealistic to have a shot at local government, too busy bickering amongst themselves, unable or unwilling to put in the hours and consult widely with a diverse array of community groups and local citizens (god, you might have to talk to inner-city yuppies), too embedded in historical dogma to develop persuasive policy positions on the plethora of issues faced by anyone wishing to occupy public office these days, or perhaps lacking interpersonal skills?
The above are just my inner thoughts offered up for debate, no wish to be deliberately combative.
But take, for example, my primary issue of concern: public housing. I am aware of Steve’s significant contribution, have heard and read the Anarchists’ position, but am not aware of a public position or any relevant actions from any of the other socialist permutations.
Likewise, on the theme of hard work, the inner-city Greens on the south side of the river really only pop up at election time, with dismal results. They’re not a collective, vocal force in Port Phillip in spite of the build-up of abject failings of this council.
I’d also like to draw a synergy between this debate and the one on Clive Hamilton’s Overland article. While Hamilton is regarded by the thoughtful contributors at Leftwrites as kind of lukewarm critic of corporate capitalism, nevertheless his output critiquing the current social, commercial and political spheres and his commensurate influence on the public debate has been impressive. Growth Fetish, Affluenza, Silencing Dissent, seems like he’s a bloody hard worker.
Most of us do work hard but don’t have the good fortune to apply our political or issue-based expertise in the workplace. Having just left a non-unionised, Orwellian call-centre boot camp job, I can also imagine that persuading Telstra employees to hold the union line would take a lot of courage, diligence and some persuasive eloquence.
I just wonder if some of us are spending our energies down the pub talking up the revolution (don’t hold your breath) but inwardly are burnt out, apathetic creatures of habit.