Saturday, July 01, 2017

Greens and Gonski 2

There has been open warfare between the right and left in the Greens in NSW for some time. Early in June, four Greens State parliamentarians from the right wing of the party, including Tamara Smith, decided to boycott the Parliamentary liaison committee (PLC), a democratic body that could technically bind NSW politicians on issues on which the party room cannot reach consensus. After calling the democratic body a "politburo", the four then backed down from the boycott threat after their complaints about the PLC being unconstitutional were rejected at a State and national level.

This a battle for the soul of the Greens. Is it to be a democratic grassroots party or one driven from the top down? Is it to move left or stay firmly on course in its gallop to the right, mistakenly called the centre? Could this move against Rhiannon spark a Corbyn moment?

It is pretty clear what answers the Federal leadership and politicians have to the first two questions.

Bob Brown is the former leader and one of the founders of the Greens in Australia. His activist and political actions helped kickstart a global Greens movement. His standing among Greens and many in the public is very high.

In late July last year, he called on Rhiannon to quit the Senate, less than a month after the 2 July Federal Election, where Rhiannon won re-election as a Greens Senator. Brown was no doubt echoing the views of the current Greens leadership. He has now endorsed the complaint against Rhiannon, saying it could lead to her expulsion. So, it is pretty clear what view establishment Greens have of this leftwing "rabble" in NSW and elsewhere. They are trying to purge the left.

In January this year, Brown called Rhiannon a wrecker — comparing her to Tony Abbott. She could prove to be Jeremy Corbyn rather than Tony Abbott. This could save the Greens, or destroy them.

Rhiannon has no chance of rising to the leadership of her party like Corbyn did in the UK. The Greens' "democratic" leadership election system, which excludes the membership, would never deliver that result. The current political trajectory of the Greens, could, without a Corbyn turn, destroy them in the long term.  

Rhiannon could leave the Greens and set up, echoing the language of Bernie Sanders, a democratic socialist group. In doing that, she would attract many of the younger, enthusiastic and activist Greens members and young people (and perhaps old socialists) who are not members of the party. Certainly, the experience of Sanders in the U.S. and Jeremy Corbyn in the UK suggests that basic social democratic ideas can appeal to a wide audience and reinvigorate dying parties.

Young people are not benefitting from 30 years of neoliberalism and many are angry and disillusioned. Corbyn and Sanders are dispelling disillusionment by giving focus to that anger.

These left-right battles are common in most green parties across the globe, with some splitting, some remaining politically irrelevant in part due to the infighting and some joining or supporting austerity governments. "Realos" versus "fundis", green greens versus red greens, watermelons versus neoliberals on bikes, eastern bloc versus tree Tories … the wording changes but the differences are the same and they are stark.

The fight has not been one-sided. In NSW, a left renewal faction formed, arguing for an end to capitalism.

On a more socially democratic note, Rhiannon told Fairfax media in January this year:

'The Greens are at a crossroads, with Labor appearing to move left on some issues and minor parties also pulling our votes away. We need to be able to inspire people and demonstrate that the Greens can challenge ruling elites, and end the obscene and growing inequality both at home and abroad. The Bernie Sanders experience in the U.S. shows that people with radical and anti-establishment policies can win mass support. How the Greens inspire people to join with us and vote for us is our challenge in 2017.'

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