Greens and parliament
The Queensland Greens' decision to direct preferences to the Coalition parties in the recent state election has generated a lot of debate among environment and left activists. While it is sickening to watch the mass media gloat over and inflame these differences as part of their constant efforts to divide and weaken the green movement, a thorough discussion of why and how progressive parties and movements intervene in parliamentary elections is an important and long overdue one for the Australian left.
The Queensland Greens' unwillingness to "simply be a patsy for the Labor Party" is totally consistent with the increasing disillusionment and mistrust of the ALP, not just among environmentalists, but among the majority of the population. State and federal Labor governments' onslaught on ordinary people and the environment, carried out in the interests of big business profitability, has left their image as the "people's party" in tatters.
Appealing to and reflecting the widespread hatred of Labor by presenting a principled and independent alternative which (unlike peak environment bodies such as the Australian Conservation Foundation and the Wilderness Society) is not tied to the ALP, is the correct course. The ALP has held the progressive movements hostage for too long.
But doing so while maintaining a narrow electoralist perspective, and in the context of the two-party monopoly on parliamentary politics, is another matter entirely.
Both Labor and the Coalition are capitalist parties. They represent and implement the interests of big business — interests which are antithetical to those of working people and the environment. Asserting independence from the ALP by supporting the Coalition — parties which have a consistently worse record on just about every environment and social justice issue — is to jump from the frying pan into the fire. It is suicide for the Queensland Greens.
More importantly, in so far as this tactic means Green parties are seen to provide "green cover" for the most reactionary forces, it makes more difficult the building of a broader green, left alternative which can seriously challenge the status quo, from both within and outside parliament.
The Green parties and the wider green movement formed and developed on the basis that they represented a genuine alternative to "politics as usual" — a new type of politics which was more democratic, environmentally sustainable and socially just. However, a green movement trapped in the framework of parliamentarism cannot create this "new" politics.
Neither perpetual (and loyal) lobbying of the Labor Party for a few concessions, as the movement peak bodies do, nor playing the preference game and aspiring to hold the balance of power in parliament will save the environment or result in a more just society.
On the contrary, an important task for a genuinely independent green movement and its parties is to expose the rottenness of the old politics — the capitalist parties and their parliamentary system. In Australia, this means exposing the ALP for the anti-people, anti-environment party that it is — but not by creating illusions that any other major party is better.
"New" politics has to be grassroots politics. It must concentrate on building the real opposition — the opposition in the streets, in the community, in the workplace.
Intervening in parliamentary elections is only a part of that process. Parliament is only one platform which can be used to help build a broad, independent movement which organises, mobilises and empowers masses of people to fight for their interests by every means available.
A few parliamentary positions or a little influence on the major parties are useless without such a movement. A strong mass movement, free of the illusions and shackles of parliamentarism, can not only stop tollway developments in Queensland (regardless of which major party is in government), but can change the world.