Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Greens and lost opportunities?

Very interesting and eminently sensible piece here by Tad Tietze from the web site Left Flank on the impact of the resignation of Senator Bob Brown as Leader of the Australian Greens and the resultant changes in leadership.

Tieze writes:
"What does the change in leadership of the Australian Greens mean for Left politics? At one level it would be easy to write off the shift as largely irrelevant, proof that there is an essential continuity in the party’s drift into the mainstream. Given Christine Milne’s apparent track record as a tough negotiator but more politically orthodox than Bob Brown, it seems like it’s full steam ahead towards the Greens being just a slightly greener-tinged and more progressive version of the ALP".
But like Tieze I hope that the new leadership may bring a stronger left focus to the Greens nationally:
"Alternatively, one could look at headlines like that in today’s AFR (“Greens to veer Left under Milne”), note recent party-room frustrations that Brown had steered the Greens too close to a disastrous ALP government, recognise that Adam Bandt — on the party’s Left and closely aligned with the union movement — is now deputy leader, and think that the party will now shift Left with the new balance of forces in operation in the party room.
Both these narratives contain elements of truth, yet both fail to capture either the depth of contradictions faced by the Greens or the political opportunities that something as apparently distant as a Canberra leadership transition can present for building an independent Left. This is because the Greens have been (and remain) a contradictory formation, rising to unprecedented success in an unusual political period".
Tieze points out the Greens have played a positive role in providing a political voice for social movements in areas such as anti-war and peace, environment, refugee rights, social policy, union rights, Aboriginal rights, anti- nuclear, and challenging corporate power.

However, the Greens have become an essential part of the mainstream political class  and have actively supported market fundamentalist (neo-liberal) policy agendas at both State and Federal levels:
"But the Greens’ rise was also made possible by the party’s ability to provide a national political focus to issues raised by a series of important social movements in the first half of the 2000s, including protests against corporate globalisation, the refugee rights movement and the anti-war movement. While these social movements were relatively weak and transient when compared with the cycle of resistance of the 1960s and 1970s, they nevertheless posited an alternative to the deadening political consensus of the major parties. This was the tentative beginning of a new Left after the defeats of the 1980s and 90s, and the Greens played both a positive role in providing an explicitly political shape to the social resistance but also — once they became increasingly electorally successful — a negative role in demobilising protest in favour of the logic of parliament."
I very much concur with Tieze's point that the rise of the Greens has had contradictory effects. They have provided a political voice and focus for many leftist social movements but the Greens have also had the effect of "demobilizing" civil society activism and protest in favor of the logic of parliament and electoral politics.

That contradictory effect is particularly evident here in WA politics where  the Greens have not used their growing Parliamentary and electoral power to seriously hold the Barnett Government to account or to build and support social movements that challenge political and corporate power in WA.  They have been content to work within the parliamentary system to shape their policy agendas around what is pragmatically possible (small wins) within the constraints set by Parliamentary politics in WA..

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