Greens, preferences and radical social change

Sam Wainwright (left) with friends at an anti-fracking protest last December. Photo: Simon Stevens

This federal election is taking place at a time when the need for radical social and economic change is palpable: the escalating climate crisis and rampant and growing inequality are two major symptoms of the bankruptcy of capitalism. 

The school climate strike movement is one manifestation of the desire for meaningful change. And there are many others too.

But while radical change is needed, those who campaign for it are still too often derided as extremist or idealist (with the exception of the students who the powers-that-be hope will “grow up” and embrace pragmatism).

There is a strong desire to get rid of the hated Scott Morrison Coalition government. Labor and the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) are trying to capitalise on the widespread alienation from politics by implying, or stating outright, that the only way to get rid of the Coalition is to vote 1 Labor.

This is false.

While the electoral system is aimed at entrenching the power of the major parties, the preference system does make it possible to vote number 1 for progressive candidates and, if your first choice is not elected, have your vote passed on at full value to the next in line. It also makes it possible to send Labor a message that it needs to do better.

Voters choose their own preferences, but party recommendations on a how-to-vote do have an impact. At the very least they give the voter an indication of the politics of the party making the recommendations.

Unprincipled preference deals are often done, sometimes even by parties that purport to do politics differently.

By contrast, the Socialist Alliance has a consistent record of recommending preferences on the basis of policy positions.

It’s not rocket science! Where there’s a socialist or progressive radical candidate — such as from the Socialist Alliance or Victorian Socialists — vote for them first. 

Where there are no socialists, vote 1 for the Greens or other progressive candidates, then preference Labor before the Coalition. Put the far right parties last.

This creates the best chance for progressive candidates, because a high vote for parties with progressive policies will help remove the Morrison government and sends a strong message to the Labor Party. 

Unfortunately, the Victorian Socialists has not taken this approach. It has refused to differentiate between Labor and the Greens, calling instead for preferences to both (in any order) before the Coalition and the far right.

Socialist Alliance members in Victorian Socialists argued that the Greens should be given second preference because its policies are to the left of Labor’s.

Socialist Alternative members in the Victorian Socialists have argued that there is not a clear enough difference between the two to make a distinction. Their position, as stated in Red Flag, exaggerates the Greens’ drift to the right.

While it is true that the Australian Greens have shown a willingness to deal with Labor and the Coalition, their policies on industrial relations, coal, gas and climate change, as well as refugee rights and many others, are clearly to the left of Labor’s.  

Even if the Greens do not organise their members into grassroots campaigns, many are active anyway in various struggles — some of which are strengthened by the Greens’ parliamentary support.

Socialist Alternative makes much of the middle-class nature of the Greens. But what about Labor? It is a capitalist party that specialises in misleading the working class.

While we may wish Labor was different, it remains the capitalist class’ alternative party of government. To pretend otherwise is to ignore history.

As Socialist Alliance councillor Sam Wainwright, who is also standing for the seat of Fremantle, said: “Elections are not adequate vehicles for achieving the type of social and economic change we need. But equally, it would be foolish to ignore the electoral arena for our radical social change project.”

He advances this approach, arguing for an anti-capitalist voice which “draws on the best of the socialist, Green, environmental, labour, community campaign and Indigenous struggle traditions.

“The politics we need, needs to have its primary strength within grassroots struggles in the streets, at the workplace, among students and in our communities”, Wainwright said.

“That’s a work in progress and none of us has all the answers on how to get there. 

“But voting Socialist Alliance in this election is the strongest, loudest and clearest contribution you can make to that process.”

[Alex Bainbridge is a national co-convenor of the Socialist Alliance.]

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