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John Passant

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August 2010
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My interview Razor Sharp 18 February
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp on Tuesday 18 February. (0)

My interview Razor Sharp 11 February 2014
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Razor Sharp 4 February 2014
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Me on Razor Sharp this morning
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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.



Comment from Shane H
Time August 23, 2010 at 10:04 pm

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves and fall back on what we wish were happening. There was a swing away from the ALP – 3% went left (in inner city electorates) and 2% went right (particularly in rural areas). There’s powerful institutional processes which are being challenged but they are far from dead and buried. We need to think about what left-thinking unionists who are typically oriented to the ALP might be thinking. Some flicked some money to the Greens for the Senate. There will be opportunities to raise people’s awareness as this plays out but talk about Greens (inevitable?) sell out are of little use as is talk about the need for ‘real’ union leadership.

Comment from John
Time August 24, 2010 at 6:39 am

Shane. I don’t think I am getting ahead of myself. A 3.7% swing to the Greens and 1.7% to the Coalition looks like a swing to the left to me. The almost 12% vote for the Greens present opportunities and threats for the Greens and to a much lesser degree the revolutionary left.

Of course Labor as a party isn’t dead. As a party whom people have illusions in about reform – well maybe that party is dead. The mantle of reformism has passed to the Greens.

Yet the degeneration of Labor coincides with the decline of the profit rate over the last 4 decades. The Greens too will have the same issues – how to provide progressive economic reforms as the well of money to do so dries up.

I look at climate change and think the underlying issues – can the market solve this, even with massive state intervention (ie keynesian neoliberlaism a la the Greens) and will the polluters and the rest of the bourgeoisie bear the cost or will it be workers?

Given the nature of capitalism I know the answer to the latter question and suspect the answer the the former is No.

On top of that the Greens will be under all sorts of pressures to compromise their position to get a workable solution, ie a solution acceptable to capital. I am not saying they will sell out like labor; I am saying their pro-capitalist grundnorm will see them either introduce a scheme or schemes that don’t address the real issue – the profit motive as the drive for and cause of greenhouse gas emissions or they will be sidelined.

Let’s see what happens but I would have thought the left would try to relate to those almost 12% supporting the Greens for reasons like addressing climate change and at the same time point out the problems with the Greens’ approach. In doing that we may win an audience and a few people to the revolutionary cause.

In addition I would see the Greens coming under pressure as the parliamentary process yields obstruction, obfuscation and perhaps rejection of the Greens’ agenda, to actually start to take extra-parliamentary action on issues like climate change, refugees, education, hospitals, same sex marriage and the like.
The left can work with the Greens if that happens. If not we can criticise them. I guess this is a sort of baby united front analysis.

Comment from John
Time August 24, 2010 at 6:40 am

Arjay, I accidently deleted your comment. I thought I had hit the approve button but obviously not. Sorry. If you have a copy please re-post.

Comment from Shane H
Time August 24, 2010 at 8:15 am

Its a protest vote at the moment about 3% went left, 2% went right and 3% (more than usual) voted informal. Its led to a situation in which there is a slight opening in the 2 party system. Certainly they will be under pressure – in a revolutionary situation you’d call people into the streets to show your strength but at the moment it would mobilise many at all.

We understand that its a question of ‘who pays’ but I think ‘keynesian neoliberalism’ is probably a contradiction in terms rather than a description of Green policy. In some areas they are keynesians in others their position on the ‘left’ esp. on environmental issues means they support genuine market solutions (not ones that are backhanded subsidies to polluters).

If they put class politics front and centre they would be marginalised anyway and return to sub 1% votes.

The whole approach is wrong – after telling me the vote to the left is more significant than I think you suggest that the right orientation may will a ‘few people’ to the revolutionary left – which is what the Greens will sell out – come join us line is about – sect building.

We need to focus on the institutions which people have illusions in. We need to put forward reasonable (in the eyes of that 12%) alternatives – and put out the ways in which these institutions block them. Its a transitional program (which needs updating).

Comment from Marco
Time August 25, 2010 at 6:02 pm

Well, this election does seem to have been rather unusual.

At one hand, we had a large number of votes shifting to the Greens (which may be considered the “generic” leftist alternative available to the voting public) and at the other hand, we saw an unusual number of informal votes.

I agree with the analysis here of what may be behind the shifting votes; but I believe more thought is needed in relation to the informal votes.

From anecdotal evidence, I would suspect that some of it may be indeed a form of dissatisfaction with all the alternatives available. As there is no “none of the above” choice, people might have decided to simply spoil their ballots. Some have called it the “Latham factor”.

The Latham factor? Informal vote spike sparks AEC probe

Another thing I believe we should focus on is in the fact that the Parliament is hung. Just like in Britain, where the LibDems (a third party) also increased their numbers in Parliament.

In Germany, in the recent state elections of the Rhineland, there was also a shift against the ruling CDU and FDP coalition.

And I believe we are approaching the midterm elections in the home of the free, as well.

For all the talk that the recession is over, it seems that the voters aren’t too happy with those that managed their national economies.