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John Passant

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November 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
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp this morning. The Royal Commission, car industry and age of entitlement get a lot of the coverage. (0)

Razor Sharp 4 February 2014
Me on 4 February 2014 on Razor Sharp with Sharon Firebrace. (0)

Time for a House Un-Australian Activities Committee?
Tony Abbott thinks the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is Un-Australian. I am looking forward to his government setting up the House Un-Australian Activities Committee. (1)

Make Gina Rinehart work for her dole

Sick kids and paying upfront


Save Medicare

Demonstrate in defence of Medicare at Sydney Town Hall 1 pm Saturday 4 January (0)

Me on Razor Sharp this morning
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace this morning for Razor Sharp. It happens every Tuesday. (0)

I am not surprised
I think we are being unfair to this Abbott ‘no surprises’ Government. I am not surprised. (0)

Send Barnaby to Indonesia
It is a pity that Barnaby Joyce, a man of tact, diplomacy, nuance and subtlety, isn’t going to Indonesia to fix things up. I know I am disappointed that Barnaby is missing out on this great opportunity, and I am sure the Indonesians feel the same way. [Sarcasm alert.] (0)



Victorian Liberals preference Labor above the Greens

The Victorian Liberals’ decision to preference Labor ahead of the Greens gives the ALP a good chance to retain Government. It also shows how similar the Liberals and Labor are and that their common enemy on the Left is the Greens.

I am using the word left very generously here since in reality the Greens are not from or of the working class and their market based solutions to global warming are environmental neoliberalism.

Nevertheless many people, including workers and some union leaders, see the Greens as left wing and we need to relate to that shift in perception. Carping on the sidelines won’t do that. Patiently explaining will.

The shift to the left of supporters is occurring when the party ranks of the Greens contain people who want to deal with the Tory devils, something that is anathema to many of those potential leftward moving voters. 

More importantly the Liberals’ decision shows the similarity between them and Labor. They are united in their fear of the Greens, and the Liberals at least see them as a bigger threat to capitalist stability and the unchallenged rule of capital than their traditional rival, Labor.

Labor of course is trying to staunch the bleeding of its erstwhile supporters to the Greens, much as a dying man puts his hand to his severed carotid artery.

But it cannot escape its past and is trapped in the lead role in the play of keynesian cover for neoliberal policies.

Three decades of reformism’s failure to introduce progressive reforms is seeing the Greens, with their socially progressive policies and  history of environmental awareness and action, pick up support from those looking for a real Labor Party and real labor policies.

They won’t get them, but that is a story for another day.

It is the hope eternal for progressive change within capitalism that is the beguiling point. The cycle of illusion continues, but is fragile and could break decisively if for example the economy rapidly worsens and the union or social movements moves to the left and take action to defend their interests or change the right wing agenda that pervades all aspects of Australian society today.

I doubt the Greens have a unified and coherent enough pro-capitalist set of polices to develop anything capable of addressing the next economic crisis.

And all the while the Bobbsey twins of conservatism fight like dogs over the bone of managerial power.  The main thing that distinguishes them is their competition to run the system for the bosses more efficiently.

Labor and the Liberals are like two drug cartels competing for the right to rule the streets for a while. The new boys and girls on the street might break up the cartel but not the trade.

The way to break out of the cycle of hope and disillusion is to build a socialist alternative, an organisation committed to a new society in which the cartels of capital no longer rule.



Comment from Geoff
Time November 16, 2010 at 9:07 pm

left unity – is that why you never joined the socialist alliance?
U cannot even unite with other IST tendencies – what a joke –
the liberals recognise the greens as left – the splintered sectarian left fails to – guess who has a problem recognising reality….
Dissolve and join the Greens …
for once strengthen REAL left forces rather than weaken them

Comment from Geoff
Time November 16, 2010 at 9:13 pm

You should try building your socialist alternative within the Greens … at least there you would have a sizeable relatively sympathetic audience to left values

Comment from Shane H
Time November 16, 2010 at 9:23 pm

Greens are not ‘of’ or ‘from’ the working class – how do you suppose the 5000 or so members of the Greens make a living? I am an academic (like yourself) – and my parents were working class. So what does that make me ‘petit bourgeois because I earn an academic salary. The Greens I know are nurses, teachers, doctors, council workers – and the coal miners I know (the ‘real’ working class! right?) aren’t very left wing at all and earn double what I do.

Comment from dave riley
Time November 16, 2010 at 10:13 pm

Crappy piece of commentary. John. Shows how shallow and constrained is the logic of your thinking on the Greens. Schemata driven stuff simplistically packaged with shrill rhetoric.I’d be embarrassed to put my name to fluff like this…

I think this Greens issue suggests that you and your comrades have a major ideological handicap which is obscuring your political vision and warping your ability to advance a tactical perspective.I really don’t think it is sustainable as it amounts to a gross misreading of contemporary politics and only encourages isolationism and (even more) sectarianism.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you…

Comment from John
Time November 17, 2010 at 4:24 am

Unlike Dean Mighell now running a mile from the Greens you mean Dave?

Comment from John
Time November 17, 2010 at 4:35 am

Or maybe we should have used our incredible analytical powers Dave to support Obama in the run up to November 2008.
And Shane, the ALP has workers in it too. So? Maybe the point is the leadership and its polices plus its formal and informal links to the organised sections of the working class.

Comment from David E
Time November 17, 2010 at 6:11 am

Dave Riley – the socialist analysis of the Green cannot be dismissed as “Schemata driven stuff simplistically packaged with shrill rhetoric” – it is based on actual observations of the Greens behaviour and performance.

In both Tasmania and the ACT, the Greens have sold out their ideals to enter into coalition with neoliberal governments. They have implemented cuts and supported a pro-business (and anti-everyone else) agenda. My own group, Socialist Party, has watched Greens councillors in the City of Yarra day-by-day pushing through right-wing policies at the expense of working class residents, at the expense of aboriginal rights (with local law 8), and at the expense of our community.

We’ve seen the beginning of this in the Victorian State elections as well, with the Greens talking about coalition deals with both Labor and – yes, on the front page of The Age, from Bob Brown himself – the Liberals.

Even looking internationally, at parties which have the exact same politics as the Australian Greens as a party (and usually the same name as well), in Ireland and Germany, shows the same patterns turning up.

For socialists, at least, this behaviour makes sense, and was predicted in advance based on the dominant Greens’ politics. For those who dismiss this analysis as “shallow schemata”, I can only imagine such developments are utterly perplexing.

The tragedy of it is that the Greens genuinely do attract really excellent people, first-rate activists and people who may well be outraged by what their party has done/is doing/plans to do.

Comment from Shane H
Time November 17, 2010 at 3:09 pm

So the ALP links to the organised working class makes it a working class organisation even tho it opposes refugees, gay marriage, abolition of ABCC, supports war, NT intervention – all of which the Greens oppose.

@David – so you expect the “inevitable” sellout will result in the excellent activists joining the SP? The problem is rhetoric like this doesn’t achieve this aim. The question is why after 40 years when Greens have grown from zero to 5000+ members has the far-left remained tiny?

Comment from David E
Time November 17, 2010 at 4:21 pm

Shane H – you’re putting words into my mouth. I was acknowledging that the Greens attract decent people, I cannot see why you would choose to interpret that acknowledgement as some sort of recruitment appeal. It was a statement of fact.

The Greens ‘sellout’ isn’t “inevitable”, just “likely” – on the basis of their politics. Those politics are to reform capitalism primarily through electoral work, something that has been tried many, many, many times before, in many countries. One of the problems, to put it crudely, is that a capitalist economy tends to demand tax cuts for the rich and service cuts for everyone else, so reforms slide backwards in times of crisis, and times of crisis will always recur. That’s theory, borne out by direct observation of the world around us.

I object to your characterisation of this as “rhetoric” – it’s as empty as Dave’s characterisation of John’s words as pure “schemata”. I was not speaking rhetorically at all, I was speaking factually, with reference to real-world events. I was also speaking quite politely. I’m sorry if I engendered any discomfort, but it wasnt in my words.

It isn’t ‘inevitable’ – for example, in theory, you could imagine left-wing elements in the Greens agitating to change the parties policies, orient them towards class issues, provide a political economic analysis, institute a more *comprehensive* internal democracy (with open and frank discussion of both successes and failures), and demand an end to the primary focus on electoral work (and thus the preoccupation with appearing to be an unthreatening (“realistic” is a word commonly used) capitalist alternative). In that case, a sellout wouldn’t be “inevitable”, because the party would not *necessarily* have a reformist/capitalist outlook.

But that hasn’t happened. The Greens are what they are.

Shane, I’m not sure why you bring up the Greens growth rate. Yes, it’s good to get people involved in politics if you’re really raising their political level, but if all you do is sign people up with memberships, I don’t see what that achieves.

SP has far fewer members, and we grow through activist and community work that attempts to demonstrate the strength of our politics in practise. It’s necessarily slow, patient work, because people do not need to be convinced by pure “rhetoric” (as you described my comment), they need to observe the impact of economic processes in the real world. Conrete reality doesn’t care what your dogma is.

The Greens have far more members, attracted by good policies on paper, but not supported by good politics in practise (and I’ve cited key examples of this above).

What concerns me is whether Greens members who are upset at their parties actions in practice will recognise what was systematically wrong, or simply chalk it up to some vague and unhelpful notion of people at the top “selling out”. Will they become demoralised? Will they throw their hands up at politics? Will they choose to overlook Greens parliamentary practise and just go along for the ride? People in similar parties have taken all these routes in the past. I’m sure there will be a range of reactions.

All we’re saying is,
*this “selling out” has happened before,
*plenty of people have successfully analysed why this happens,
*these analyses have led to predictions that have been borne out.

This is *not* some incomprehensible phenomenon, and that is why I objected to Dave Riley’s dismissal of what socialists have to say on the topic, and your dismissal of my words as “rhetoric”.

Comment from Geoff
Time November 17, 2010 at 7:41 pm

Real working class people with left views are turning to the Greens en masse .. if socalled leftis groups do not assist this response to 30 years of neo liberal reaction then they are sabotaging their own stated objectives ,,, the Liberals recognise the most effective poltical representative of their class enemy .. will self procalimed socialists recognise that the Greens are doing what they in their perpetually divided and sectarian status have failed to do … put left perspectives back on the public agenda ???
Join the real movement of progressive opinion ..and seek to shape it … or consign yourself to political irrelevance

Comment from Auntie Rhoberta
Time November 17, 2010 at 9:04 pm

Shane, the far left tries to deal with reality and not illusions. Many people presumably want a return to the ‘old labour’ policies which prevailed when western capitalism was riding high.The Greens promise something like that but can’t deliver, so their popularity may be as evanescent as Barack Obama’s.

Comment from Shane H
Time November 17, 2010 at 9:53 pm

Hi David

It’s very hard to have meaningful discussions on a blog I think. One is constrained to fairly brief statements on the assumption that we all sort of ‘know’ it other. Of course my comments were polemical as tends to be the style of the far left. I objected to John’s characterisation of Green as not of/from working class (when I think he means they are not blue collars – which would apply just as much to the far left. John has since claimed that it was not the class position of the membership but the leadership/policies and links to working class that matters). I read your comments as being of the type I heard dozens of times when I was in the far left so I was ‘putting words in your mouth’ so let me elaborate. I read your comment that the Greens attract ‘good people’ who will be appalled at the sell out. As implying 2 things I have heard on far-left. 1. That there will be an inevitable sell out and 2. That as a result these ‘good people’ will realise their error and join the far-left. Perhaps I was wrong in assuming that (but the view was common in the far left when I was a member). My apologies if I misrepresented your views. As you say the question is how the rank and file will react if this occurs – and that notions like the leadership “selling out” aren’t terribly useful (so why does the Far Left use them?)
Why do I raise the question of numbers? I think politics is about classes and mass movements. I have differences with Dave R (who, unlike you I would say is a socialist) but I agree with him that you are being schematic. The biggest change in the last 40 years in Australian politics (aside from feminism) is the rise of the Green movement. So here was a movement that emerged as a grassroots response to the environmental crisis. A large movement emerged and from this there emerged a small mass party of 5000 members whose politics were well to the left of labour, anti-neoliberal and so on. Of course they are not revolutionaries or anti-capitalists – they are left liberals – which is the objective feature of the mass of Australians. The question the far-left needs to ask is why when a movement emerged to the left of labour which could attract 5000 members and win seats in parliament did the far-left not grow AT ALL (except by division). That’s the concrete reality. I don’t raise this question to say ‘suck eggs’ but to suggest you need to ask the question about mass politics of this change. Why was the far-left unable to get a hearing outside of university or within the ranks of this new formation on the Left when clearly there was an opportunity to do so?
The SP is doing good work in Melbourne (as far as I can tell from here in Mackay) around Steve Jolly – so what is the key to his success? Ditto for Sam in Freo?

Comment from Dr_Tad
Time November 18, 2010 at 7:04 am

For over 100 years, the ALP has been the main obstacle to building a mass revolutionary socialist workers’ party in Australia, the key plank of bourgeois hegemony inside the workers’ movement tying their political strategies to the state and reformism. The revolutionary Left (distorted from within and without by the impact of Stalinism, but also for other reasons more apparent now that Stalinism has fallen apart) failed to build a proletarian hegemonic apparatus, a party of a new type, in that time.

Today the ALP no longer faces us as a monolithic force on the reformist Left. Its base has eroded and now splintered. The opportunity to build a party of a new type is objectively greater. Yet reformism (whether of an ALP or Greens variety) remains hegemonic and, as Shane has pointed out, the Greens have been able to build a small mass party (of about 9000 financial members nationally on the last reliable figures I saw) by harnessing a mixture of reformist impulses, many clearly to the Left of the ALP.

I disagree with the vituperative attacks that John, SA and others make on the Greens is not because I think the Greens are radical, or that they have the potential to “become the revolutionary party”. Rather, it is the recognition that mass reformist organisations will need to be split in periods of crisis in order to build proletarian counter-hegemony to become a mass force. But for revolutionaries to have any hope of affecting that process they must study, understand and interact with the bourgeois hegemonic apparatus represented in parties like the ALP and the Greens. Hegemony is not a series of impersonal structures but an ensemble of social relationships and human institutions. There is no “outside” to them any more than there is an “outside” to capitalist society. Yet the SA approach (to both the ALP and the Greens) has been characterised by an attempt to construct a false “outside”, to refuse to seriously engage with the debates created by these mechanisms of bourgeois consent-creation and instead write off the whole enterprise as “no alternative”. This may help innoculate SA’s membership against the pull of the Greens (the ALP having much less pull on the Left these days) but such condemnations from without contrast sharply with the difficulties the revolutionary Left has had in building itself beyond small groups of a few hundred members, let alone seriously implanting itself inside the working class or social movements.

I’m not pretending to have solutions here, and I certainly don’t accept the willingness of other far Left groups (e.g. the former DSP) to be uncritical towards the Greens (another sign of fear of genuine engagement), but I think the parlous state of the revolutionary Left *when compared with the fact that the ALP’s base has split* should force us all to rethink things a bit more rather than repeat stale denunciations that are formally true but strategically hollow.

Comment from Dr_Tad
Time November 18, 2010 at 7:05 am

PS Here’s my piece on ABC’s The Drum about the Greens – Liberal shenanigans:

Comment from Dr_Tad
Time November 18, 2010 at 7:10 am

John, my previous comment (before the PS) seems to have vanished when I pressed submit. Is there a problem with your blog?

Comment from Shane H
Time November 18, 2010 at 7:44 am

@Auntie. Someone made a similar comment on FB. So let me make a similar reply here. The ‘reality’ is that marxist groups amount to a few hundred students and ex-students with no political influence at all but who continue to multiply by division and this has been the case for 40 years. This is the ‘reality’ to which you are connected. If ‘being determines consciousness’ then its not surprising that the strategy of the far left is simply a rationalisation of that practice. is it?

The Greens may be transitory (as with all things) but they have build a political alternative to the left of the ALP over 40 years while the far-left has remained isolated.

Comment from David E
Time November 18, 2010 at 9:20 am

Shane H – thank-you for clarifying.

A minor point: SP isn’t dominated by university students. In my branch, I would say there is an even number of students (who work to support themselves), and those who work in building and construction, but we have people from a range of other fields.

You said of Steve “so what is the key to his success?” – I did give an answer to this in a brief paragraph above, but i’ll add these points: We have a single councilor in Yarra, outvoted by Greens & Labor people (who generally vote the same way). Yet SP has still managed to achieve victories in this area because we don’t confine ourselves to actions in council, and we don’t see electoral work as the road to socialism.

You say you think that I am being “schematic”. How? I’m inferring that you think I don’t acknowledge the size/rise of the Greens relative to socialist groups, as immediately after this you say: “The biggest change in the last 40 years in Australian politics (aside from feminism) is the rise of the Green movement.” But I do acknowledge the rise of the Greens.

I would question whether this is “the biggest change in Australian politics” – the last 40 years began with the downfall of Whitlam, and saw the deregistration of the (Marxist-led, and hardly student-dominated) BLF, a continued assault on unions through the ACTU-Labor Accord, waves of privatisation and the dismantling of aspects of the “welfare state”, the end of free tertiary education, a steady fall in the share of GDP given over to wages (and corresponding rise in the share of profits), and a sustained ideological attack on left-wing ideas through the spread of neoliberal orthodoxy.

But your point is: “The question the far-left needs to ask is why when a movement emerged to the left of labour which could attract 5000 members and win seats in parliament did the far-left not grow AT ALL (except by division).”

Part of the answer is that we live in a time and place where the systematic problems with capitalism are not staring most people in the face. But you haven’t responded to my earlier comment on this matter, which addresses your question from a different angle – “Yes, it’s good to get people involved in politics if you’re really raising their political level, but if all you do is sign people up with memberships, I don’t see what that achieves.”

In other words, what does it actually mean for the Greens to have 5000 members?

And for that matter, they’re not a far-left organisation, as you say, they’re left-liberal, so why make the comparison with the far left? Are you making the implication that socialist groups need to transform themselves into left-liberal groups? Why would we want to hide our politics? Just to boost membership numbers on paper?

They have 5,000 members – okay, good. Have these members found their consciousness and experience raised by participation with the Greens (except unintentionally)? Are they generally mobilised, except around election time? Is their party used as a central organ through which to build larger interventions (e.g. into union work), or are they just told to hold placards at rallies? My impression is that the more politically conscious Greens members generally participate in political work on their own initiative, rather than with the force of the party backing them up. Even with electoral work, we’ve seen very little mobilisation of Greens supporters, in comparison with their size on paper. Are these members respected and given a voice within the party? I have not heard good things from Greens supporters on this score. Numbers are only part of the story.

The Greens have a handful of members on Yarra Council, and SP only has one. So why is it that the Greens have achieved very little in terms of left-wing policy (their achievements on the right-wing are far more impressive), and we have achieved so much more? Again, numbers are only part of the story.

In truth, my main reaction to the reminder that the Greens have a larger membership base than other left groups is: “Wow, if we had those numbers, imagine what we could achieve! Why aren’t the Greens able to do anything?”

Sure, they’re outvoted. But so are we, on local council – that doesn’t stop us from achieving victories. Sure, they’ve “put climate change on the agenda” – though I think the IPCC might have something to say about that. But if i told you that there was a party which:
* Consistently voted for service cuts in local council (Yarra),
* Consistently voted for rate rises (Yarra), and attempted to push through higher rate rises than even the ALP,
* Voted for increases to their own salary packages (Yarra),
* Voted to ban public drinking in a context which clearly targeted a specific group of local Aboriginal men, and drove them into a far more dangerous situation (Yarra),
* Spent public money on business consultants, advisors, and dodgy contractors (Yarra),
* Opposed strike actions (teachers, in Tasmania),
* Had their spending committments audited by the Chamber of Commerce (Tas),
* Entered into a coalition that promotes tax cuts for the rich and service cuts in general (Tas, ACT),
* Sought to enter into coalition with not just a right-wing ALP, but with the Liberal Party (Federally, Victoria, Tas, ACT…)
* Had the enthusiastic endorsement of parts of the capitalist press,

… would you be excited if i then told you that this party had 5,000 members?

Comment from Chav
Time November 18, 2010 at 11:20 am

“The Greens may be transitory (as with all things) but they have build a political alternative to the left of the ALP over 40 years while the far-left has remained isolated.”

Building a revolutionary alternative to capitalism is a lot harder and may take a lot longer than signing a membership card, staffing a polling booth once every few years and voting.

Comment from Chav
Time November 18, 2010 at 11:24 am

“The question the far-left needs to ask is why when a movement emerged to the left of labour which could attract 5000 members and win seats in parliament did the far-left not grow AT ALL (except by division).”

Why? See above, but with the addition of the Greens not having to struggle against the legacy of Stalinism.

Comment from John
Time November 18, 2010 at 5:46 pm

Sometimes articles get held up because my system identifies them as possible spam, Dr-Tad.

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