Today the first men on the Moon met America’s first black President at the White House.
Monthly Archives: July 2009
Contrary to how it may seem at the moment this blog was not created to attack the Greens, though there have been a number of articles critical of them on it recently.
We will be posting other material, but this one just popped up in the Morning Star today, and just couldn’t be ignored: The Irish Green Party have decided to back the Lisbon Treaty in the second referndum on it in the autumn.
It is bad enough that they are backing a treaty that will enshrine a whole series of neo-libearal measures into law.
What is worse is that thsi is the second time that this has been put to the voters as they didn’t vote the right way the first time.
You can read the Morning Star article here.
Or you can get the news from the horse’s mouth at the Irish Greens’ website here.
Whilst checking activity on the blog over the weekend I came across a comment that was just a link. Feeling a bit tired and snippy my first thought was to delete it thinking that if people want to say something they could at least type rather than just copying and pasting.
However I wasn’t feeling that snippy and decided to click on it first and see what it was. The link I found was to another blog which carried on it an article containing news that was both shocking and predictable.
It told me that Joschka Fischer, former leader of the German Green Party, and Foreign Minister, had signed up for a “six digit salary” as an adviser on the Nabucco Consortium which is to build a pipeline form the Caspian Sea region to the EU via Turkey.
Anyway the the link takes you to the article on the Dear Kitty blog is here (the first part of the post is about the Irish Greens).
Whilst looking for a picture for this article I also discovered that in 2008 Joschka Fischer became a “senior strategic counsel” at the Albright Group, an international strategy consultancy firm based in Washington.
It was founded in 2001 by Madeleine Albright. Madeleine Albright remember her? She wa Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State. So many of the crimes of the last Demcratic adminstration were eclipsed by the Bush presidency that they seemed to have faded from memory.
But it was she who, when in 1996, was asked whether the deaths of a million children under the sanctions regime then being pursued by the Clinton adminstarion agaisnt Iraq replied:
“I think this is a very hard choice, but the price — we think the price is worth it.”
Among the Albright Group’s clients have been Coca Cola and the Merck pharmaceutical corporation. Also affliliated to the firm is Albright Capital Management.
Below is the text for a talk that Ian Donovan gave at a meeting in Birmingham and for Southwark Respect.
Originally when I was asked to do this presentation, I was planning to speak about the history of the Iranian revolution and the Islamic republic, where it came from, to help people understand where it is going. I was not planning to address immediate issues quite so up-front, but the current upheaval has obviously forced me to address them. Later in my talk, I will deal with the origins of the regime, and hopefully give people something to think about concerning the history of Iran in a longer time-frame.
What should our attitude be to the current upheaval? What we appear to be seeing is a split in the theocratic regime. The supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, now appears as Ahmedinejad’s protector. His opponent, Mousavi also has a senior protector, Hashemi Rafsanjani, a very senior cleric, former president and the key figure in the regime who favours a neo-liberal policy of rapprochement with the West. How effective a protector Rafsanjani actually is is now unclear, however, as Khamenei has the stronger hand through his position as the symbol of the regime. Whether there is a serious possibility of Rafsanjani unseating Khamenei in the future is not clear.
However, what is also not clear is the character of the upheaval, where it is going. Large numbers of people have been mobilised behind Mousavi claiming that the Presidential election was stolen.
I don’t think it is possible to prove either way who won the election. It is clear that there is mass support for Ahmedinejad’s sometime left-talking, sometimes right- talking populism among the poor who provided the social base for his unexpected victory in the Presidential election in 2005. Ahmedinejad is not a cleric, and has been able to demagogically attack the privileges and corruption of the clergy. And while apparently handing over more economic clout and assets to associates in the Revolutionary Guard corps, he has at the same time distributed income gained from oil revenue to the very poorest, to war veterans’ families, through increasing pensions and other social benefits.
There is also obviously mass support for Mousavi, as the demonstrations show. It looks as though the opposition movement has two components – a socially more liberal, but also to some extent ‘yuppie’ movement that wants to get rid of many of the austerities of the Islamic republic, join the West and get rich like their counterparts in China and other emerging powers. And most likely, a component with more sincerely democratic aims, that really do want to democratise the revolution, that take Mousavi’s rhetoric about more openness seriously. This may include sections of organised workers, there have been some reports of workers organising collectively and demonstrating – though how effectively is not clear.
It is also worth bearing in mind that Obama’s recent change in rhetoric towards Iran notwithstanding, the US still has the project of ‘regime change’ in Iran and installing a pliable client regime to replace the massive, strategic loss that the overthrow of the Shah represented. It is possible that there is some level of collusion between elements of the regime that want to improve relations with Washington, and Washington itself. American organisations such as the National Endowment for Democracy have been very active in the last few years in destabilising states such as Ukraine, Lebanon and Georgia, fomenting ‘colour-coded revolutions’ in these countries to help friendly elites oust ‘unfriendly’ regimes and install US-backed ones. If the latter were true, then the advent of Mousavi could be the prelude to something considerably worse than the Islamic Republic, likely another dictatorship, perhaps thinly disguised.
It should be remembered that Mousavi’s movment, no less than that behind Ahmeninejad, is a form of political Islam. Political Islam is a radical middle class ideology, and that can take many forms. There have been forms of political Islam that have been pro-Western, there have been radical forms of it which have been actutely hostile to Western or Israel interests. But that reflects the political mood and outlook of the middle class layers that provide the backbone of the movement at a particular time – and sometimes, pressure from below, from the working class and plebeian poor. Religion, as an ideology, can be tailored to fit almost any mood.
It has to be said that there is evidence that US ruling circles have been planning some kind of destabilisation of Iran for a long time. A recent article in Counterpunch – American radical muckraking magazine – quoted several sources on this including Seymour Hersh, the journalist who broke the news of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, among other things. The evidence is circumstantial, but after the ‘red’ revolution, the ‘yellow’ revolution, the ‘cedar’ revolution, it is not really far-fetched that a ‘green revolution’ could be prepared in the same way in Iran.
I think we on the left should be concerned to defend democratic rights, to oppose repression and killing of the Iranian people; that is obvious. In that sense, we should be for solidarity with the masses. This may well become even more crucial in times to come in order for the left not to be seen as apologists for the regime – in order to prevent pro-imperialists from hegemonising protest and opposition. But we cannot take sides between the factions of the regime – we should certainly not be calling for Mousavi to be installed as president. Re-running the poll might be a useful demand – but also the lifting of restrictions on who can stand, so that a genuine free choice can take place – including candidates of the left. We don’t want to be seen to be calling for a pro-American regime in Iran.
In any case, one point I would make is that Iran is probably at present the country most under threat from imperialism on the globe. It has been threatened with nuclear attack by Israel very recently, and though there has been a shift in US rhetoric by Obama, the threat level against Iran is still high. As a socialist and anti-imperialist, though I do not approve of the current regime at all in Iran, I am opposed to any ‘regime change’ that would put it back into the hands of imperialist powers. Hence the caution in my analysis. I now want to turn to the historical background to all this.
* * *
The Islamic Republic of Iran is both a product of, and a reaction against, imperialist domination of the Middle East region. By imperialist domination I mean in particular oil imperialism. I am talking about something highly specific to the Middle East at this point in time. This is, I would argue, the region of the world at this point where the developed capitalist countries are most obviously carrying out, in an unreconstructed fashion, key aspects of the imperialism of Lenin’s time. That is, the division of the world into spheres of influence, and the export of capital – aimed at appropriating the natural resources of whole countries and using them for the benefit of huge monopoly capitalist enterprises in the advanced countries.
In much of the world, colonial rule no longer exists. Formal political independence has been granted to numerous former colonies, in many of them, there is at least a semblance of democracy … or at least where there is not democracy, at least some control by native capital over their polities and natural resources. This is not generally true in the Middle East. Because its main natural resources, oil and gas, are so strategic for Western capital, particularly the US, that wars for those natural resources are on the agenda the moment this control is threatened, as Saddam Hussein found to out in 1990-91.
One only has to look at the Persian Gulf, easily the most oil-rich geographical feature in the world, and the regimes that surround it. A gaggle of emirates and sheikdoms, whose hereditary absolutism still maintains itself unlike virtually anywhere else on earth. From Saudi Arabia to Kuwait to Dubai and Bahrain, to the former monarchies of Iran and Iraq, this encirclement strategy has had its problems with democracy. Notably in Iran in 1953 – where democracy was crushed by the Shah, the CIA – and the British. It had even more problems when the intervention of the masses, firstly in 1958 with the Iraqi revolution, then the overthrow of the Shah in 1979, blew away the northern part of the encirclement. A key aim of imperialism since these two revolutionary events – separated by 20 years – has been to re-establish what they see as ‘stability’ – pliable puppet regimes. We have seen how that has been done in Iraq, though it is very unstable. But that has proved even more difficult with Iran.
That is all background to an analysis of the Iranian regime, and how the movement that gave birth to it came to lead the Iranian people in one of the great mass actions in history. One has to look at the demonstrable incapacity of secular, ‘democratic’ capitalist politics, in Iran meaning the National Front, the party of Mohammad Mossadeq, which came to power constitutionally in 1953 and was then brutally overthrown by the Shah and CIA, to achieve tangible progress towards realising the national and democratic aspirations of their people.
The movement behind Ayatollah Khomeni in 1979 was an Islamist movement. Its ideology is a modified form of pan-Islamic, or in some ways pan-Middle Eastern nationalism, and a product of the destruction of the earlier secular forms of pan-Arabism and its Iranian relative around Mossadeq. Incidentally, I tend to refer to Iran as broadly within the Arab cultural orbit, even though it is a Persian-speaking country. I know that Iran also has a considerable non-Islamic history, referring to Zoroastrianism, but would point out that Islam became dominant within Iran very early in Islamic history, and Shi’a Islam for around five hundred years. Shi’a Islam, although Iran is the strongest Shi’a state in history, was originally an Arab religious movement, and indeed, the three most important specifically Shi’a shrines are in Arab Iraq.
Conventional wisdom in the West is that movements like the Iranian revolution are designated as ‘Islamic fundamentalism’. This is equated by some with European fascism. Also, since 9/11 and the beginning of the so-called ‘war on terrorism’ we have seen an attempt to bracket together entities like the Iranian regime, with Al Qaeda. This notwithstanding the fact that the Iranian regime is regarded, due to its Shi’ism, with contempt by Al Qaeda, as heretics and apostates, and that the Iranian regime, partly due to this enmity, has aided the West in Afghanistan – indeed Iranian intelligence was crucial in the overthrow of the Taliban after 9/11. This policy is now being modified by Obama, but nevertheless it is still very influential in America.
The equation of the Iranian regime, and other Islamist movements with European fascism is completely wrong. Which is not to say that they are often not extremely reactionary and repressive, but they have a very different origin and attract support for different reasons. In terms of confronting national oppression, these movements can be very radical and attract many of the most determined fighters. But they are also deeply socially conservative. Particularly regarding women, gays, sexuality etc.
However, the fact that these are, insofar as they have a mass character, movements directed against oppression, can give rise to some interesting contradictions. For instance, since the 1979 revolution there has been a massive expansion of the education of Iranian women and youth. Even as the headscarf and even the chador became ubiquitous in Iran in the 1980s, this was happening. This has had paradoxical results for the regime, with the rise of more liberal women’s and youth movements, and their mobilisation behind Khatami during the late 90s early 00s period of reform – which has echoes in today’s movement. Whatever the contradictions and conflicts that have resulted, this is hardly analogous to European fascism.
The involvement of a nationalist clergy in mass struggles for democratic and social reform or even revolution in Iran did not begin in the 1970s. The constitutional revolution of 1905-7, which was very much influenced by events to its north in Russia, used a demand for democratisation – for a ‘House of Justice’ that came from an interpretation of the Sharia – to force the then Shah (of the Qajar dynasty) to concede the first parliament (Majlis) . In the heyday of more secular kinds of nationalism – e.g. Mossadeq – this clerical activism tended to be less obvious, but reasserted itself in the 1970s.
Some on the left say that the involvement of the clergy means that the Iranian revolution represented a reactionary development. I think we should reject that idea.
Iran, for instance, is far from a fascist dictatorship. It is a highly contradictory society, where elements of theocratic autocracy (wilayet-e-faqih, or guardianship of god’s representatives) exist and mutually interact with a restricted but strongly contested bourgeois democracy. Highly favoured incumbents and establishment candidates can and do lose Iranian elections. Both Khatami (from the liberal left) and Ahmadinejad (from the populist right) defeated candidates favoured by the clerical establishment for the presidency. It is that fact that again, leads to some scepticism about the current claim of outrageous election rigging.
Yet the Iranian regime is highly repressive towards the left and some oppressed groups – gays, some national minorities, etc, and the working class is highly repressed. It is necessary to oppose those things firmly – but at the same time keep in mind the understanding that part of the political basis of the regime’s mass base is a response to past (and threatened future) national oppression. This has to be taken into account when dealing with many questions that arise these days – we need to be firm in opposing demonisation of the regime while effectively fighting for something better. We need to win mass support for the working class acting as the real liberator from national oppression – and recognise that the mass base of the Islamist movements will be a key part of such a development.
I think this is the key in orienting ourselves when dealing with movements like the Iranian revolution and the Islamic republic that grew out of it, as well as other Islamist movements such as Hamas, Hizbollah. We have to recognise that, conjuncturally, socialism as a movement has appeared to be discredited from the experience of the Soviet Union. It is worth noting that the authority of the USSR was far greater in the Middle East than in any of the advanced capitalist countries. This had contradictory results – it meant betrayals at various points – probably the most notorious being the Kremlin’s support for the creation of Israel.
But earlier than that, great authority had accrued to the USSR in the Middle East by such actions as the Bolsheviks exposure of imperialist machinations by publishing the Sikes-Picot agreements for the partition of the former Ottoman Arab provinces between France and Britain. The USSR’s coming to the aid of Nasser in the 1950s also increased the authority of official communism – and led not merely to the growth of official Communist Parties – but also a infusion of Stalinist concepts such as two-stage revolution into the more radical nationalist movements against oppression. The decline and eventual collapse of the USSR conversely had a great disintegrating and demoralising effect on what was left by then of secular nationalism in the Middle East, Arab and indeed Persian, and laid the basis for radical Islam to appear as the only force still intact that could take the lead in the struggle against oppression.
However much we socialists would like things to be different, the fact is that this is the world we live in. We cannot escape the consequences of this, we must deal with reality as it is. And the fact is that the consciousness of many in the Middle East region, which I would reiterate is the most strategic contested areas of the world today, the consciousness of many who genuinely want to fight against national oppression, which quite credibly appears to many to completely block social progress in the region, is an Islamic consciousness. This something socialists have to grapple with and deal with the contradictions in the situation through real engagement, struggle, solidarity and political argument.
The success of the Greens in the Euro elections poses some important questions for the left on how to deal with them. Here is a contribution to this discussion from Alastair Stevens.
The failure of the left in England and Wales to create a viable electoral force, and the relative success of the Greens has given the question of the left’s relations with the Green Party a new importance.
The disintegration of the Labour government, the undermining of the whole British party system and the consequent growth of the BNP has also given it a sudden urgency.
The Green Party in action
The Green Party in Britain is often described as the most left wing in Europe. The policies of the party have tended to put them on the left in British politics, but then the yawning void on the left since the advent of New Labour has meant that even the Lib Dems have tried to fish for votes there.
The Greens have also been able to comfortably occupy this space due to their relative distance from power. Other European Green parties have been thrust fairly quickly into power. The electoral system here has meant that they have been mostly excluded from office and the pressures to move right that come with that.
However when they have had electoral success their record has been patchy. The closer they have got to power the less principled they have seemed.
The Green Party has gone into coalition with the Tories in Leeds. In Lewisham they have a base, it is one of their strongest areas in the capital. Yet their councillors there voted for the occupied Lewisham Bridge School to be turned into an academy.
On the London Assembly the Greens played second fiddle to Ken Livingstone’s neo-liberal administration giving it left cover. In reality they did nothing much really against the agenda of turning the city the playground of the rich. Its representatives have been almost invisible, Darren Johnson only popping up in the media to for example join in the attacks on Al-Qaradawi.
As they have become closer to power they have rapidly lost many of their democratic structures. The party that prided itself for its open democratic working has transformed itself quite quickly into a centralised political machine that has tended to revolve around big personalities. This has been seen in the way it moved to having a single leader and in its method of election which over rode the old internal workings of the party.
Darren Johnson, is a case in point. He has accumulated places on bodies at a rate that even Lord Mandelson would be impressed at: “as an Assembly member, Johnson is or has been a member of numerous committees, including the Health and Public Services Committee, the Environment Committee (of which he is the Deputy Chair after chairing for the previous five years), the Transport Committee, the Planning and Spatial Development Committee, the Commission on London Governance, the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA), the Elections Review Committee and the 7th July Review (London Resilience) Committee. He has also chaired an inquiry on nuclear waste trains for the GLA. He is or has been a member of Lewisham Council’s Council Urgency Committee, Elections Committee, Licensing (Supplementary) Committee, Licensing Committee, Overview and Scrutiny Committee and Marsha Phoenix Memorial Trust. He has represented Lewisham Council on the Local Government Association General Assembly.”
So much for a party that prided itself on its grass roots nature.
His fellow GLA member is Jenny Jones, who is also a councillor in Southwark, a role she has been virtually invisible in.
The Green Parties in Europe
The future for the Green Party may be seen in the behavior of its European partners. They have now been in government in all the major European countries and their record has been patchy tending towards downright awful.
In Germany, whose Green Party is still the most important in the movement, they have been in government in coalition at a national level with the SPD (the German equivalent of Labour) twice. They have been in regional governments since the mid eighties.
Hardly had they got into power in 1999 than they were supporting the war in Kosovo. The front man for this was the new Foreign Minister, and former anarchist street fighter, the Greens’ leader Joschka Fischer. This wasn’t the end of their war-mongering, though, as they also supported the deployment of German troops in Afghanistan.
They supported Agenda 2010 and most of the other neo-liberal attacks from the SPD government on the German working class. In April 2008 in local government they joined coalitions with the main right wing party, the CDU, in Hamburg and Cologne.
Elsewhere the record has not been much different.
In Italy much of the ire about the disastrous debacle the left suffered in the last elections has been directed at the performance in government of Rifondazione Comunista. The “Rainbow” alliance of which it was part along with the other smaller communist party the PCd’I was wiped out and won no seats at all.
Yet the Greens took an identical line in government to Rifondazione, voting for the continued occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq and the rest of the neo-liberal reform pushed by Prodi’s government.
The Greens in France entered a similar coalition with Jospin, and followed the same neo-liberal path.
Closer to home in Ireland the Greens entered a coalition government with Fianna Fail, one of the two main parties of Irish capitalism. In the process they managed to put a road through the historically important Hill of Tara.
The Green Party in Ireland is still in government there despite the absolutely vicious round of cuts now being made. This year’s Irish budget has meant an income cut of up to 8% for workers, a 2% cut in welfare payments, and reduced housing benefits for newly unemployed workers aged under 20.
The nature of the Green Party
The Green Party is a middle class party. This is also true of Green parties throughout Europe.
Its origins lie in the early environmental movement of the 1970s. In Britain this actually also means people like Teddy Goldsmith founder of the Ecologist magazine, and the holder like many Greens of some quite reactionary Malthusian ideas.
The growth of the Green Parties came in the eighties as many who had been on the left moved away socialist politics and any class based understanding of society. In fact the growth of these parties marked a decisive rejection of the concept of class. Even today in the British Green Party’s materials you will not find the word class. True to the radical (and often utopian) liberalism that is the philosophical basis of these parties they condemn “wealth inequality”, and various other elliptical constructions, but they don’t call it class.
The middle class nature of the party is obvious to any who come across the party. Recent a recent poll by Yougov shows this up quite explicitly.
By social grade Green voters were shown to have the highest percentage in the ABC1 category, 64%, closest to the Lib Dems’ 61% and Tories’ 60% (Labour voters 53% and BNP 39%.
Green voters had the second highest median income after the Tories, 32k and 33k respectively, ahead of the Lib Dems 29k. Labour and BNP voters had the lowest on 27k.
Green voters were the most likely to have a professional or higher technical job (doctor, account, teacher, lecturer, social worker) on 32% (Lib Dems 26%, Lab 20%, Con 20, BNP 11).
Green voters were the least likely to be a manual worker (skilled, semi-skilled or unskilled) at 12% (the next least likely being the Lib Dems and Tories, 14% each, then Lab 21%, UKIP 23%, BNP voters proving the most likely on 36%).
It would be possible to go but the picture emerging is one that we know well. The middle class focus of the party is reflected in the party’s policies.
These at root look very similar to most radical petit-bourgeois movements which have appeared over the last two hundred years from the sans culottes of the French revolution onwards. This class, caught between the working class on the one hand and the ruling capitalist class on the other tend to fear both. They fear the domination of the bosses and fear being dragged down into the working class. They are usually against both “big business” and “big labour”.
There is an obsession with making everything smaller and more local. The problem with the big banks were, that they were too big for instance.
Something the Greens were proud of during the London elections last year were was the endorsement by the Federation of Small businesses as the party with policies most friendly to small business. This is something that left wing fans of the Greens, tend not to mention, nor for they tend to point out the Green Party’s Greens Mean Business website.
The lamentable statement by Jenny Jones in the London Assembly is indicative of this attitude (see here for the text of her speech).
Faced with the across the board criticism of the RMT’s tube strike, rather than take the opportunity to forthrightly defend the country’s most militant union, and one that has improved immensely the pay and conditions of tube workers, she merely said that she said that she had “a slight sympathy for trade unions”.
She went on to add that she would have voted for the Tories motion condemning the strike if it had been worded slightly differently.
That is not to say that the Greens are the same as the Tories. They support improvements in workers rights. They adopt progressive positions on many economic issues. They are against poverty and exploitation.
The single greatest thing that would improve the lot of working people would be to repeal the anti-union laws so that workers and the unions can fight for themselves for these improvements. Yet this is a commitment you will not find them making.
A defence of workers’ and trade union rights is not central to their politics. They are rather mixed up with the rights of the self-employed and small business in a manner that appears to put both on the same level. In their voluminous programmatic document, the Manifesto for a Sustainable Society, trade unions appear after self- employed workers.
Though there are proposals to tinker with the law and improve the legal position of trade unions, with such changes as “a limited scope to ‘secondary’ industrial action”, and a range of proposals for ‘industrial democracy’ – albeit mixed in with ideas of ‘partnership’ reminiscent of the rhetoric of New Labour, there is no clear call for a wholesale abolition of the Tory anti-union laws. Though this is formally Green Party policy, it does not seem to find its place in their main public policy manifesto.
The appeal of the Greens is in the main limited to its target audience, the educated middle classes. That is their base, and that is the core of the party. Its appeal to the working class is limited. To the poor it has virtually none. This has been shown quite clearly in the recent elections. In the North West for instance, where much of the left did unite behind the Greens they were unable to undercut the BNP’s vote.
The Left and Greens
Dealing with the Greens is difficult. They often position themselves as a party of the left. They can also be as fanatically sectarian as many on the left.
They have a policy of always standing. They stood against George Galloway and Salma Yaqoob in 2004. They refused to deal with Respect when it was formed. They always stand against the Socialist Party’s councillors in Lewisham. Deals with them that work are almost unheard of.
They have carved out an electoral niche for themselves in some of the new bodies that have been created under Labour such s the GLA. It is one they are willing to defend against all comers. This was shown most obviously by the reaction to No2EU.
This important initiative by the RMT and others was greeted in a most hostile fashion. Even the Green Left “condemned” it (the words of a their leading members who also went on to describe it as a “Stalinist inspired political disaster”, showing the Greens can be adept as anyone in the dark art of political invective).
The reaction of another leading member of the Green left was little different calling for the RMT to stand down in case it loses Jean Lambert her seat.
The fact that the Greens have managed to capture the bottom seats in a number of elected bodies under proportional representation voting systems seems to be giving rise to an assumed right of veto by the Greens over any force standing to the left of them. The argument that standing will lose Green X the seat will be the argument at every election.
A section of the left, most notably in Germany and Scandinavia joined the Greens in the 1980s as part of a retreat from class politics. The result was the propelling into power of the Green Party in Germany and elsewhere and rapid accommodation to the system and its priorities.
There is a threat of that happening here. You can already hear those siren voices inside Respect and on the left. The attraction is understandable, both if you take into the consideration the retreat of class politics and the relative success of the Greens compared to the rest of the left.
When fascists are winning seats in the European Parliament and the GLA the temptation to try short cuts and stop them can be overwhelming.
But to really face this challenge what we need is a party that can address the working class with class politics. The nature of the British electoral system, even when using some type of PR (the d’Hondt method used still tends to discriminate against smaller parties) and the political culture of this country means the electoral space on the left of the Labour Party can appear limited.
Yet the Green Party is not that party, and nor can it be. Its hostility to initiatives towards such a party has also shown that cohabitation and cooperation with the Greens is difficult to say the least.
Lessons of history
There is like a hundred years ago a large amount of churn going on in politics throughout Europe, and for once Britain is not an exception (even if it has started later and is happening more slowly). The two party system, with the two parties being that of the bourgeoisie and the trade unions is weakening considerably.
One hundred years ago in both Britain and America the end of a long period of economic growth and stability resulted in numerous challenges to the status quo. There was a fluorescence of movements from female suffrage to anti-colonialism and demands for social and economic reform. In the US it was the era of “progressivism”.
In Britain one of the most important changes that occurred was the creation of the Labour Party by the trade unions and the solidifying of a form of class consciousness (albeit reformist) that would be the bedrock of the workers’ movement for the next 80 years.
The “social democratic” party created was one of the most conservative in Europe, a symptom not of the innate conservatism of British society (in these years Britain and Ireland were amongst the most turbulent of European countries), but of the failure of the left to break more completely with the ideas of well-meaning liberal reform. The fact that so much of the ideology of the new party was formulated by those with elitist attitudes (such as the Webbs with their utterly disdainful view of the abilities of the working class) is indicative of this.
In the US the situation was different. The trade unions failed to form their own party, and the momentarily successful Socialist Party drifted apart and disappeared into a politically abstentionist syndicalism on the left whilst the “right” of the party were outflanked and absorbed by the middle class progressives from whom they had failed to differentiate themselves in any meaningful way.
Rather than moving to class politics, the putative forces of change were swept into broad ‘progressive’ alliances, which fed back into the Tweedledee and Tweedledum of the American capitalist parties, the Republicans and Democrats.
Unity and independence
The project of the Green Party is a different one from ours. We believe that the working class needs a party that is based on class politics.
The Green Party is a middle class party of social reform that espouses a liberal cross class philosophy. It seeks to convince our rulers that it is in their own interest to change.
That is why we will not be joining the Greens, no matter how much more successful at the ballot box they may seem.
Nor should we should we be forming an unequal “alliance” with them, for in the future the left will probably have to fight against things they do, just as has happened in Europe.
But when it come to fighting for the things that working class people need, if the Greens fight we will unite to fight with them for a better world.
This is a contribution to the debate about the results of the European and local elections by Ian Donovan.
The analysis of the Euro Elections by Salma Yaqoob (Statement on the euro-election results, 8th June), makes a number of pertinent observations about the reasons for the disaster of the BNP’s winning two seats in the European Parliament.
One point she gets right is that “Labour is wholly to blame for its own crisis and has to take a large share of the responsibility for creating the conditions in which the far right is growing.” Many of the other things she says about the impact of the recession on working class people, about the attacks of the Labour government, the demoralisation which these are inflicting, and the danger that this can drive people into the arms of the far right, are correct.
Yet the political perspective she puts forward as a solution to this situation is badly flawed. Salma is advocating an alliance of ‘progressive’ forces to block the advance of the far right, centred on the Green Party and soft-left elements in Compass. This block assembles forces that are incapable of putting forward, or hostile to, the kind of working class politics that is needed to roll back the encroachment of the fascists in traditionally strong centres of the labour movement such as Yorkshire and the North West. The alliance of liberal, middle class forces she advocates will not stop the BNP; their aims and ideologies will not be attractive in the main to working class people alienated by New Labour whose alientation is fundamentally driven by economic hardship and class anger, which the BNP aims to exploit and misdirect against scapegoats such as immigrants and refugees.
Salma writes: “The broad left must work together, irrespective of party affiliation, to maximise the impact of the progressive vote at the next General Election.” This is wrong, and will not undermine the BNP because the question of a new party, separate from New Labour that will stand up for workers against the Labour government and all its neo-liberal attacks, is central to politically cutting the ground from under the BNP. We do not need a ‘broad left … irrespective of party affiliation’, we need a new broad party of the working-class left that puts class politics at the centre of its perspective. The alliance she is proposing is a cross-class alliance of Respect with the Green Party, and Compass and other soft-lefts.
The Green Party does not, in its ideology, appeal to workers as a class. It does have paper policies on a number of questions that are progressive and would benefit workers, such as opposition to privatisation and anti-union laws, but its central appeal is to people of all classes who want to stop climate change and save the planet for future generations. It has people in it who are sympathetic to workers struggles, but there is also a significant element who see the growth of the human population, and hence mainly of the working class and the poor, as one of the central causes of environmental degradation.
A recent YouGov survey taken between 29th May and 4th June – just before the European Elections took place – is very revealing about the class character of the Green Party’s support. The survey showed that in terms of social grade or occupation, the Green Party’s intended voters had the highest percentage – 64% – of those with a high income (grade ABC1) of all the major parties. That is, of professional people and the like. It also had the lowest percentage of those surveyed in social grade C2DE (36%) – which is predominantly composed of unskilled manual workers.
Conversely, the BNP has the lowest percentage of those in social grade ABC1 – 39%, and the highest percentage in social grade C2DE – 61% of all the major parties.
This is fairly indicative of the reason why it is an illusory idea that the Green Party can be the vehicle for undermining the potential appeal of the BNP to disillusioned working class voters. The Green Party, ‘progressive’ policies notwithstanding, appeals in the main to a middle class, not a working class, constituency, and because of that there is a real social gulf between its base of support and the kinds of alienated working class people, impoverished by the recession, that are in some cases being driven towards the BNP. It will take a completely different kind of politics, which centres its appeal on defending working class interests, to undercut the demagogy of the BNP and undermine this potential base of support.
Compass also is a middle class force. It is the loyal opposition within New Labour, and its left-wing criticisms of Blair and Gordon Brown do not go very far at all. As an example of this, on one key question of importance to working class people above all it showed its true colours. On the question of the housing crisis at its conference on 13 June, it failed to invite a speaker from Defend Council Housing – a campaign that does exactly what it says on the tin – in favour of a speaker from Shelter, the homelessness charity, which is fairly close to the government and places much store in promoting home ownership and first time buyers, and working with Housing Associations and other ‘social landlords’ who are in fact thinly-disguised private-sector organisations. Council Housing is not high on its ‘realistic’ agenda.
At the conference those attending were regaled by the likes of Harriet Harman and Liberal Democrat MPs, as well as the more hesitant, softer left trade union leaders like Billy Hayes. Also speaking was Caroline Lucas, the Green MEP who herself previously made clear her own middle class politics by saying that she equally opposes politics being at the behest of big business or the trade unions. Salma thus gives her credibility as an anti-war activist and Respect councillor to this gathering whose whole thrust is all-inclusive, classless politics hostile to independent working class political activity. This is seriously mistaken.
Compass itself has proved spineless in the face of pressure from the Labour leadership, including on issues that are close to Salma’s heart such as the Iraq War and the ‘war on terror’. Its main figures, most notably Jon Cruddas, supported the Iraq war and only belatedly decided they had been mistaken on this when the allies got bogged down and Bush/Blair’s political justifications were completely discredited. And then there is Gordon Brown and Jacqui Smith’s ill-fated proposals for 42 days detention without charge. Jon Cruddas and co showed their true colours by voting for that in parliament. Most recently, Cruddas was seen denouncing those supporters of Unite Against Fascism who chucked eggs at BNP leader and fascist MEP Nick Griffin outside Parliament and disrupted his press conference.
Salma writes that “The challenge for the left is to renew itself and reassert some basic socialist critiques and solutions into mainstream political debate.” It is certainly positive to see a call for socialist politics as a road forward. But the vehicle for socialist politics is the working class; the perspective of Compass, Ken Livingstone’s Progressive London, the Greens etc is not to found a new party to fight for the independent interests of our class but rather to construct multi-class alliances, either for elections or for pressure politics between elections.
The prime example of this kind of politics in practice was Ken Livingstone’s London Mayorality from 2000 to 2008, which came to include Liberals and Greens as part of a ‘progressive’ administration. Which as everyone knows, notwithstanding the Mayor’s refusal to buckle to Islamophobia, involved systematic concessions to the City, and such disgraceful actions as the Mayor calling on workers to scab on tube strikes. These incompatible and often treacherous political forces will never be a vehicle for socialism or anything like it – the best they will ever produce is something like Ken Livingstone’s administration.
This is totally ineffective as a perspective to combat BNP influence on working class people … the concessions Livingstone made to business, and even more the left cover he gave to New Labour, also helped undermine the left and in fact played an important role in paving the way for the BNP’s previous election gain of a representative on the GLA. It was correct to support Livingstone when he broke from Labour in 2000 to campaign against tube privatisation, and correct to defend his idiosyncratic left-talking administration against the Tory challenge of Boris Johnson in 2008 – though the difference between Livingstone and Johnson has not so far been as marked as predicted – but to put forward Livingstone’s London as a model of ‘socialist’ solutions, as this perspective implies, undermines and demobilises the radical potential to advance working class politics that Respect originally had in it.
Finally, Salma’s criticism of No2EU and the SLP cannot go unanswered. She implies that simply by standing and refusing to unite behind the Green candidate in North West England, they allowed the BNP to win a seat for Nick Griffin. It is a conceit of the Greens’ that in this area at least, they were the barrier to the BNP gaining a seat. Yet the figures don’t add up. Salma points at the fact that the Greens fell behind Griffin by around 5000 votes, and laments that if only a small fraction of the combined No2EU and SLP vote of around 50,000 had gone to the Greens, Peter Cranie and not Griffin would have been in the European Parliament. Yet hundreds of thousands of votes were lost to the main parties in the same region – particularly to Labour.
The Green challenge was well known and long prepared. Why focus on the relatively few votes of the two working class campaigns, which were in a weak position in this election for well-known reasons, and yet fail to explain why the Greens did not have the ability to win over the necessary votes from among these many more thousands of disillusioned Labour supporters particularly? This, I think, says something about the class nature of the Greens as explored above. The allegation that simply by standing, the weak working class groupings were responsible for the BNP advance sounds like making an excuse for the inability of the long-established Greens to attract those many more from Labour they might have been expected to.
Salma’s statement, while aiming to promote what she sees as left unity, is in fact promoting something that is non-working-class in its content, and really involves middle class forces lording it over the workers. The shrill tone of various ‘left’ Greens in ‘condemning’ a workers organisation, the RMT, for initiating a left-wing ticket for the Euro elections, reflected sheer middle class arrogance and hardly a democratic spirit either. No wonder the Greens failed to win over disillusioned working class support from Labour – many of whom detest the BNP but failed to vote at all. To mobilise these people politically, a working class party and clearly working class politics are necessary. That is the only kind of ‘progressive’ politics that can be effective on this political terrain. We need unity of the working class left, and that is what leading Respect figures like Salma should be putting their energy into building, not promoting a form of cross-class politics that for all its pretensions, can never be truly socially progressive.