Jonno Sriranganathan: ‘Aim for reforms that open up space for deeper radical change’

June 13, 2023
Former Greens Gabba Ward councillor Jonno Sriranganathan addressing a refugee rights rally in 2020. Photo: Alex Bainbridge

The former Greens councillor Jonathan Sriranganathan was elected to the Gabba Ward of the Brisbane City Council in 2016, at a time when most people thought it could not be done.

Since then, he has been part of the South Brisbane Greens project to win greater state and federal representation for the Queensland Greens.

You’d have to say this has been a success, as the Greens have won three federal lower house seats — covering the majority of Brisbane — and two in Queensland’s parliament. The Queensland Greens are expecting to win more seats at next year’s state and local government elections.

Sriranganathan reflected on his time in a wide ranging interview with Green Left just before stepping down.

He said one of the reasons he first got involved with the Greens “was because I saw that the party in Queensland was a little bit weak. It didn’t have the electoral clout it needed to provide useful support to grassroots struggles and movement building”.

This was exemplified by the lack of opposition to the neoliberal attacks of the Campbell Newman Liberal National Party government.

“There was no strong, left-wing, electoral opposition against Newman,” Sriranganathan said. “A lot of what the Labor movement was doing at the time really felt like centrist compromise.”

Sriranganathan said his vision went beyond serving the community as a good local representative to “supporting community groups or projects to connect with each other and to build up autonomous local community capacity”.

He stressed it was important to address the problems of capitalism, particularly the lack of democracy in the electoral system.

“There are a lot of people in the Queensland Greens who would say that the Greens’ policy platform has become increasingly anti-capitalist.” He said that they point to policies such as “massive taxation on the big end of town and the mega wealthy” and using it to fund free education, dental care and housing.

But Sriranganathan described that as a social democratic vision. “That still doesn’t attack the root of capitalism,” he said, adding that a deeper understanding of anti-capitalism requires confronting the state. It is not enough to “simply get more Greens elected so we can bring in a proper social democratic platform”.

A better goal, he suggested, is to aim for “non-reformist reforms that open up more space for deeper radical change [and] that means building up communes and communal capacity and workers’ collectives so the system of government as we know it ceases to exist”.

Sriranganathan resisted pressures to moderate his radical vision. “We’ve been very radical in this office and it has paid off: we’ve won more votes; we’ve won more seats.”

Far from putting off voters, he said “there is no strong evidence that articulating really radical messages, or using less orthodox tactics, to get your message across has backfired or come at an electoral cost.

“In fact, when you look at the Greens who are more moderate, their votes haven’t been growing in the same way.”

Sriranganathan is not afraid to criticise the Greens when he believes it is warranted. His website includes posts calling for a membership election of the party leader, a criticism of the mining royalty’s policy and support for former Greens Senator, now independent, Lidia Thorpe.

When asked about the Greens’ vote for Labor’s amended climate “safeguard mechanism”, Sriranganathan said: “I think the Greens were wrong to support what they did. They got some concessions, but they really oversold the concessions.”

He said publicity from Greens MPs immediately after the deal was “de-escalatory” because many activists would have assumed it was better than it was. Only later did the messaging become “a bit more nuanced”. “I think the party really did the broader movement a bit of a disservice by acting like they’d secured a big win, when actually they’d only secured some minor compromises, and not much has really changed.”

He agreed that the Greens needed to take more of a leadership role in organising struggles on the streets.

Sriranganathan views grassroots democracy — within the Greens and more broadly — as the vehicle to achieve the changes we need.

He paid tribute to the role left media, like Green Left, plays in building movements and he was optimistic about what could be achieved by the Greens having greater parliamentary representation.

Video: Jonathan Sriranganathan: Greens, capitalism and social change - Green Left.

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