Greens discuss 'communal luxury'

Greens candidate Max Chandler-Mather at a rally in 2018. Photo: Alex Bainbridge

The South Brisbane Greens held a forum on "Communal Luxury: how to create a future for all of us" on February 28.

Speakers included Greens' Griffith candidate Max Chandler-Mather, Natalie Osborne from Griffith University and Gabba ward Councillor Jonathan Sri.

Chairperson Amy McMahon said this was a topic the Greens had wanted to address for a long time. She said it was part of developing the Greens' platform and a way of emphasising that the Greens want to make sure everyone has access to essentials of living such as housing, healthcare and education.

She said that private ownership and the private market had failed the public good over and over again.

"Privatisation has let us down across the board," she said, advocatingpublic alternatives instead. "On the flipside, is the promise and opportunity of public ownership, of collective and democratic ownership of production." Referencing George Monbiot, she said it was a case of "public luxury for all or private luxury for some".

Osborne emphasised that there is a tension about having a discussion about visions for the future on stolen land. She said it is important not to "reinscribe settler visions".

Her talk focused on "recommoning" cities, as society finds ways to live collectively and discover "communal luxury" in urban space.

She said that cities have been built by collective effort and that we therefore have a right to reapproriate the commons.

In addressing the "uncomfortable tension" of discussing luxury in the context of environmental destruction, Osborne said that the problem with consumerism is not that it results in "too much pleasure" but "not enough pleasure". She also emphasised that one of the important aspects of luxury is to ensure people have enough time.

Sri said that one of the reasons for organising this sort of discussion was to undermine the trope that Greens just want people to "go back and live in caves". He said the Green vision is to find ways for everyone to have access to "the nice things in life", not for people to live in poverty. "Many of the things that we rely on can be provided by public services" or other collective solutions, he said.

He showed aerial maps of South Brisbane to demonstrate that the land area taken by just three or four privately owned mansions is equivalent to the land area of the "fun bit of Southbank". The latter refers to the swimming pool and artificial beach area used by tens of thousands of people from all over Brisbane.

The implied conclusion is that there are resources to improve people's lives when we collectivise, and most people would be better off if we did.

Sri concluded his presentation arguing for collective ownership in the hands of local communities not a bureaucratic state.

Chandler-Mather counterposed "communal luxury" as the alternative to alienation. Citing Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, he said this can also be understood as a struggle of people versus money.

He discussed different forms of alienation and how collective solutions could be found for these. One example is a four day work week that would give people more time and a universal basic income to "decouple work from income".

Chandler-Mather concluded advocating that the Greens' Griffith campaign could be the starting point for more far-reaching change. He said the campaign was developing an inspiring activist base and that a victory on the basis of a radical platform would have a national impact.

At a time when the Greens, nationally, are debating the party's political direction, the South Brisbane Greens' vision for social change, with explicitly anti-capitalist politics, is an important one to watch.