‘If there was any reason why he preferred liberal views rather than the conservative direction which many of his circle followed, it was not because he found a liberal tendency more rational, but because he found it better suited to his mode of life. Thus the liberal tendency had become a habit with Stepan Arkadyevitch, and he liked his liberal paper, just as he liked his cigar after dinner, because of the slight haziness which it caused in his brain.’
– Anna Karenina – Tolstoy
If you were to ask any of my inner Melbourne living, well educated friends, one would think that The Greens are the only party to vote for. Why? Because they are the only party who care about the people and the environment I am told. The Greens have escaped much criticism except for from the extreme right fringe of Bolt, Alberchtson and co., and many sectors of the left have automatically and worryingly cosied up to them. While I hesitate to call them a ‘feel good’ party, and as someone who was a former member, because undoubtedly they are much more than that, there are some miscomings to this new party of the left.
The Greens have been excellent at appealing the cultural problems as seen by the left, but when it comes to economic and class questions they are found to be lacking, and many Greens are hostile to a class analysis of society, preferring to use vague terms such as ’social justice’ and ‘social democracy’, accepting that neo-liberal capitalism has all but won. It is as Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek has exclaimed it is like ‘we are all Fukyamists now!’
In an admittedly anecdotal survey, I asked my peers why they are voting Greens (and I live in inner city Melbourne, the Green hot bed if there was one) and was given a range of replies, but mostly focussed on gay marriage, refugees, the vague idea of equality and the lack of connection with the two major parties. This confirms my ideas that the Greens ‘post-ideology’ message of petit bourgeois living and planetary survival have taken precedence over any other analysis of society. All in all, trying to create a ‘capitalism with a human face.’
This appeal by the Greens is to a voting base that is white collar, well educated and that have a living situation that allows them to consider these post-material questions over their immediate greater good. As tad Teitze previously has shown, what most Greens voters are are post-materialist ALP voters. That is, more ‘left’ on cultural issues such as drugs, abortions, refugee intake, but have a less lenient attitude to more traditional left class issues.
The Green’s appeal to the decidedly inner city petit bourgeois, and ex-labor voters means that their voting base is ever changing, and volatile. Much of it is stolen from the ALPs voter base, and those who would never vote liberal. It pushes away from the idea of the two major parties, with ridiculous slogans such as Real Change For A Change, but at the same time during the Gillard years was seen to cozy up Labor, producing a confusing dichotomous message.
Therefore, the problem that is presented to the Greens is not what the right have criticised them as being, as extremists or even communists, but their continual pushing of the post-material over the material. They do not resonate with the working class or even trade unionists and therefore have no chance of fulfilling the role of being the party of the left.
But it is not only the Greens who are suffering this problem. It is becoming a problem for the left world wide, as the ideas of the ‘new left’ have hit an impasse and we see more and more of them falling off into support for neo-liberal capitalism, or God help us, returning to the more material analysis of Marx as the world shifted to a more post-materialist valued based society after World War two. Global capitalism has since become naturalised as the unquestioned background against which all other forms of social, cultural, and political debate can occur, provided that the economic realm is cordoned off from political critique. Notwithstanding the ‘revolutionary’ rhetoric of the neo- conservatives and neo-liberals alike, the critique of political economy outside of academia in its fully critical sense, has been all but silenced.
We might mention here, for example, Bernard Henri-Levy’s critique of the ‘totalitarian’ complicities of the master thinkers of the 1960s, their condoning of the excesses of state power and political violence (in Stalinism and Maoism). For Henri-Levy and a host of contemporary liberal critics, erstwhile leftists should renounce their fascination with Marxist ‘totalitarian’ politics and the spectre of political violence, and return instead to defending human rights, holding liberal democracies to account through moral critique .
But this in itself creates a barrier, as it makes it the furthest one can go. It suggests that there are no viable alternatives to what is essentially enlightened conservative liberalism. This creates a strong ideological background and a scepticism about the left/right ideological divide. Meaning that the symbolic trust in markets and institutions remains wholly in tact, in fact they are seen as all the better to manage the alienating effects of economic liberalisation.
As Zizek goes on to highlight, the current solution to modern issues are not seen as radical liberalism, nor crude conservatism or even the old fashioned welfare state capitalism, but a ‘blend of economic liberalism with a minimally authoritarian spirit of community.’ And when viewed in this manner, many of the political parties start to look quite similar. This can take the familiar form of neo-conservative brand neo-liberalism in the style of Howard or Bush junior, or also through the more ‘socially progressive tenor followed by the Greens. Both these positions have mutated into following the prevailing neo-liberal economic model combined with a multi-cultural liberal democracy, while taking the capitalist system in itself for granted, as naturalised.
This is not to say the Greens are not a serious party, and in themselves have brought a good many issues to the political table and have effected real change in some of their key policy areas such as climate change, asylum seekers and even industrial relations. However with the continued focus on the cultural questions that suit the inner city petit- bourgeois, they are neglecting to look at the cause of these issues they so dearly fight for, which are deeply economic issues ingrained in capitalism itself. Their continual defence of capitalism – maybe through fear of being labelled communists – continues, and in this make sure that any serious class based party of the left is blocked. As research has shown that Green parties enhance the uptake of post-materialist values and speed the decline of materialist ones, particularly among younger generations, by promoting a political discourse and agenda that contributes to the formative experiences underpinning value change shifting the discourse on the left away from the pressing material issues and critiques of capitalism.
Admittedly I don’t have any simple solutions for this impasse, and calling for a new socialist style party in Australia, or for the Greens or even Labor to evolve to represent the needs of the working class in the face of an ever more brutal capitalism seems nigh on impossible. However one thing that I do know is that if the Greens continue down this path of appealing only the post-material and deliberately hiding a materialist critique of society their voting base and support will remain low and even dwindle.
As former Greens leader Bob Brown said about the writings of Karl Marx ‘I’ve never really read them . . . We’re in a different world. And we have to move on from that.’ Maybe if Bob had spent some time reading the author who has made a stunning comeback in recent times, the Greens could have developed into the party of the left in Australia. But if they continue on their current path, I’m not so sure.