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The Green Party, the Left and moving beyond electoralism 09.07.12

An article in the latest issue of New Internationalist (by Richard Swift ) on the conundrum of why the left has failed, and is failing, to prosper even in these apparently auspicious times of systemic capitalist crisis, highlights the split between “a kind of tame Centre Left mainstream” and “an extra parliamentary movement that rallies around single issues and identity politics”These two “lefts” “exist, by and large, in separate universes” writes the Green Left’s Peter Allen

The extra parliamentary “anti globalisation” left “has evolved as a kind of ghetto politics cut off from the mainstream of the societies from which it arises” although he does credit it with “keeping the dream alive .... its activists have been able to sustain the idea that there is a coherent alternative to the global market and its winner-takes–all ethos.” However their “culture of opposition too easily slips into a disdain for the mainstream that belittles people’s everyday problems as irrelevant to the big issues of species survival”. Crucially they often fail to address the understandable desire for some security felt by most people in these threatening and insecure times.

On the other hand the “mainstream left no longer believes in such an alternative and restricts itself to humanizing the worst ravages of the system” . Rather it has accepted the “basic premises of the neoliberal order, not least in relation to the current crisis-supporting unconditional bail out of banks, the need to reduce the cost of social provision, allowing free rein to the “coercive apparatus” in the face of street resistance. In doing so the “left of professional politicians” as Swift describes them has become, in public perception, simply part of the establishment. Crucially “it has ceased trying to lay out the groundwork for any notion of a different society based on different values”.

The politics of personality and celebrity increasingly hold sway, party membership has less and less say over party policy, replaced by an inner circle of professional advisers. The appeal is to the middle ground rather than to the radical and disaffected, competing with more right wing parties to capture this vote, compounded in the UK by the inequities of the electoral system.

Swift asks how to bridge the gap between the “anti globalizationists” and the “respectable left “. How also to make a common appeal to their different constituencies ? He suggests as a start “ some simple programmatic ideas that have some chance of gaining popular traction” focussing in particular on The Basic Income Guarantee (BIG idea)as propounded by the late Andrew Glyn, a prominent Marxist economist. BIG involves guaranteeing everyone a basic income regardless of contribution or capacity, not means tested, and is essentially the Green Party’s Citizen Income policy.

In my opinion the GPEW has the potential, capacity and opportunity to bridge the gap that Swift refers to , since it has “a foot in both camps”, both being involved in electoral politics and in grassroots campaigning over a number of issues- save our NHS, Troops out of Afghanistan, No to Nuclear Power. In order to do so it needs to decide what it is- i.e. what it is trying to achieve. In particular it needs to resolve or at least reconcile the apparent contradiction between

1. Being primarily a gradualist electoralist party, with a medium to long term perspective of increasing electoral representation at all levels (hopefully assisted by the introduction of electoral reform) and ultimately achieving “power” (or at least a share of “power”)

2. Its fairly apocalyptic analysis of the immediate (or at least fairly imminent) prospects facing Britain and the world and its therefore necessarily radical proposals. An electoral strategy based on target to win has a perspective of ... well who can tell? We have been at it for at least five years now.. have a couple of hundred local councillors and a single MP...50 years ... 100 years until we have enough MPs to form a government or (more likely) be involved in a coalition government.... by which time public services will have been destroyed and irreversible and calamitous climate change and other ecological disasters will have taken place. What is it to be? gradual advance or radical street preaching in the hope of mass and dramatic conversion of the population at large ? The Green Party surely needs to do both.

Green Left, at its recent AGM, agreed some principles that it wished leadership candidates to adhere to:

We recognise that the Green Party is merely one part of a much larger, though inchoate, movement of ordinary people who share our fundamental goal of a just and equal society. We believe that the Green Party can play a crucial role in helping to mobilise and focus that movement and bring to it valuable insights into the ecological aspects of the crisis humanity faces - but we cannot substitute ourselves for it.

The Party should aim to be the natural home for all on the left, and for all excluded and oppressed groups, as the Labour Party was for almost a century. In particular, we should be aiming to build our base in working class neighbourhoods and within ethnic minority communities, but on the basis of the real and immediate problems experienced by those communities rather than trying to impose our own programmatic priorities.

Without in any way trimming or concealing our own politics, our first priority should be aiming to be the most reliable and robust allies of every group under attack rather than merely proselytisers of our own policies. The party must move out of its comfort zones and get involved in the often undramatic concrete day-to-day struggles in local neighbourhoods and workplaces, with the primary aim, not of ‘building the Party’ but of raising the general level of consciousness and contributing towards building a mass movement for fundamental social change.

A key function of the Party should be to develop the political awareness of its members. It must provide the opportunity for members to both learn from others’ experience and teach the lessons from their own. Political education must become a central priority for the party and debate and discussion recognised as its lifeblood. Therefore, much more emphasis should be given to the organisation of local, regional and national party schools, the publication of policy papers from the various viewpoints within the party, and the regular inclusion of organised policy discussion in all local party meetings. These principles provide a good basis for moving beyond electoralism, or at least developing the campaigning strategy that the party needs to adopt in order to complement it. In doing so it might hope to become the unifying movement that Swift, and many of us, think is required.

Source: The Green Leftwebsite

Peter Shield

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