The Greens and a rational united front approach


Bob Gould

A bit of a discussion is taking place on Leftwrites about the the relationship of small socialist groups to the Greens. Apart from the IS-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 currently at work in Australian politics. There are now 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 in Australian society at the moment.

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 Labor government’s attempt to privatise electricity in NSW.

The Greens are smaller but in general nationally they have maybe 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 some sectarianism arising from competition between them 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 you recognise the objective sociological facts that you’re dealing with.

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.

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 or Duroyan 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 great sin”. The problem is the masses aren’t listening to that advice, and most of the small socialist-oriented minority in society don’t listen either. They’ve been hearing this sort of bullshit for a very long time.

Duroyan elevates the rules of the Greens as some great 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.

Duroyan 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, many 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.


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