Australia shifts left – Labor dead; Greens revitalised
Jack Waterford (‘Don’t blame the messengers, Julia’) points out in the Canberra Times of 23 August that Labor lost ‘even more [votes] to its left’. The swing to the Greens of 3.8 percent was more than double that to the Conservatives.
But I disagree with Jack that this means what Labor needs is a makeover of Julia Gillard as leader or a new ALP leader. Putting make up on a cadaver doesn’t bring it back to life.
The problem is that Labor’s right wing policies have opened the door for the reactionary Tony Abbott. As Labor moves further and further to the right the electorate, as the almost 4 percent swing to the Greens shows, is moving to the left.
The nature of the ALP today, its personnel, its embrace of neoliberalism, its capitalist world view all mean Labor won’t be able to respond to this shift to the Left. It is unreformable.
We are witnessing the long slow death agonies of Labor as a party of the left (broadly understood) and progressive reform.
May it rest in peace.
One important message from the election is the shift to the left.
The Greens’ policies are to the left of the ALP on the war in Afghanistan, the Northern Territory intervention, the Australian building and Construction Commission, climate change, renewable energy, green jobs, refugees, equal pay for equal work… The list is very long and is one of the reasons I voted for the Greens before I voted for the ALP (and put the Liberals last).
However we shouldn’t get too enamoured of the Greens’ leadership and its ‘beyond left and right’ rhetoric. It is a political party with left wing policies and conservative pro-capitalist analysis and solutions, at least publicly.
That contradiction will play out over time as the Greens assume the balance of power in the Senate from 1 July.
The Left needs to be careful here. We want to relate to those 3.7 percent of the 5.4 percent swing against Labor who are shifting to the left by consciously voting for the Greens.
At the same time we want to warn of the inevitable pressures the Greens will come under to compromise, to be reasonable and to provide stability. Of course this is bourgeois compromise, bourgeois reasonableness and bourgeois stability.
On the other hand we don’t want to confuse our critique of the Greens and their parliamentary cretinism with the shift to the left of those voting for them. In doing that we run the risk of sectarian irrelevance.
How to relate to this shift to the left?
Push the positives – the left wing policies of the Greens on climate change, withdrawing from Afghanistan, refugees (without the fudging), same sex marriage, more taxes on the polluters, big business and the rich, more spending on public education and public hospitals etc etc.
Push them beyond what the Greens can or will deliver.
It would be the height of stupidity for us to jump up and down on the sidelines brandishing the bible of revolution and ridiculing the unbelievers. This swing to the left presents us with opportunities and challenges.
We socialists can relate to Greens’ supporters moving Left on the Greens’ left-wing policies by building struggles around them and working with the Greens to build those struggles.
But that means the Greens actually shifting their sole focus from parliament to extra-parliamentary activity and mobilising their members and over one million supporters to take action on the issues – demonstrating for action on climate change, renewable energy and green jobs, taking to the streets for same sex marriage, for an end to our participation in the Afghan war and supporting strikes, for example against the possible jailing of Ark Tribe and for higher wages.
The revolutionary left is too small usually to organise these on its own. The Greens have the prestige and the capacity to do so, if they shift their eyes away from the political prison of Parliament.