Monday, 29 March 2010

Kemptown, TUSC and the Greens

A few days ago,  a Green Party activist, Sven Rufus, posted a comment to an earlier article about the TUSC election campaign in Kemptown.  Sven questioned why TUSC was standing when its policies are the same as the Greens'.  Here, Dave Bangs, a TUSC and Respect activist, offers a response to further the debate........

Hi Sven

You raise important points. Here’s a personal response to your piece from a local Respect member and strong TUSC supporter.

You say that TUSC policies merely replicate Green Party policies and imply that we should stand aside in Kemp Town for your candidate.

The Labour Party, too, though, had exemplary socialist policies written into its constitution (“for the nationalisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange…”etc) and sometimes into its manifestos (such as in 1983). In practice, though, it was a party that red-baited, broke strikes and attacked trade union power, imposed austerity cuts, abstained from key struggles (like the miners’ strike), and supported wars and imperialism world-wide at all the crucial turning points in the class struggle.

I feel pretty strongly about that because I was a Labour Party activist for twenty years.

There are other even better examples of the difference between words and deeds on the anti-capitalist left. The old communist parties had paper positions of detailed support for formal democracy where they ruled in the Stalinist states, and a propaganda of democracy around the world, yet their practice was as different from their policies as chalk is from cheese.

My own experience of the Green Party is very much coloured by my involvement in the last two years of the exhausting five year local campaign against council housing privatization. During this struggle the Green Party position was one of total abstention from the Defend Council Housing campaign, mixed with low level hostility. (I well remember local Green Party leadership accusations that DCH was an SWP front, for instance). Your Party, indeed, supported the ‘ALMO’ option, which is a half way step towards full privatisation via the privatization of council housing management.

The Greens took this position whilst describing themselves as the anti-privatisation party…
If it hadn’t been for the praiseworthy participation by Rachel Fryer in one of our final leafletting sessions leading up to the tenants ballot I would have given the Greens zero out of 100 for their efforts. To be sure, the Party did produce a pre-ballot mass leaflet calling for a ‘no’ vote, but the leaflet was so ambivalent and confused that DCH had to veto participating in its distribution.

I think that many progressive Green (and Labour) councillors never read the small print of the deal (so to speak) when they agreed to stand for their councils. The deal plainly says that if you want to be an effective class leader and tribune as a councillor you have to be prepared to take illegal action on behalf of your people, such as voting for deficit budgets, supporting illegal strike actions, risking surcharge and disqualification from office, prison, and sustained abuse from the mass media.
The times we live in mean that we will not be able to defend our people and advance green solutions to the crisis of nature and its systems UNLESS we are prepared to go to those lengths.

The Poplar councillors stood up to all those attacks in the early 1920’s. So did the Clay Cross councillors after the 1973 Housing Act, and so did the Militant leadership of Liverpool Council in 1984/5. And actually, at that time, Dave Hill (the Brighton Kemptown TUSC candidate in the 2010 general election) led the East Sussex Labour councillors in joining the Labour Groups in Liverpool and Lambeth in their `deficit budget' stategy, refusing to accept the Thatcher cuts. If only every Labour council and group of councillors had! If only Labour had councillors like that now!

Lansbury and his fellow Labour and communist councillors in Poplar in the 1920’s were driven off to Pentonville and Holloway, where they continued to run their council from their prison cells, whilst a brass band of tenants and workers from Poplar serenaded them from below the prison walls… They won most of their demands.

Many of the Clay Cross councillors and their supporters in other areas were surcharged. Frank Dobson (my old MP for Kings Cross) was still paying his surcharge years later.

Derek Hatton was villified and slandered and abandoned by many in the Labour Party and on the rest of the left for his leadership of Liverpool Council, but none of the charges directed at him stuck.
George Galloway was slandered repeatedly after his anti-war and pro-Palestine break from the Labour Party, and the slanders were believed by many on the left, and may be still, though there is not a shred of evidence for them.

I don’t see those kinds of principled stances in the Green Party. I see local Parties participating in coalitions with the main neo-liberal parties and voting for privatisations and service cuts. Abroad, I see Green Parties which are no different from other pro-capitalist parties, and which support imperialist wars and austerity.
Locally I see this opportunism in the local Party, which (to use an example close to my heart) just voted for a version of the Core Strategy which contained contingency policies for building on urban fringe downland that should have been included in the National Park, and for park and ride options which environmentalists have denounced.

Pete West, I am told, was the only Green councillor who voted against this opportunism and warned the rest of the Green Group that their vote would come back and haunt them.

I hope it does.

I don’t believe that the Green Party has earned the right to assume the hegemonic leadership of the Brighton left which your stance, Sven, implies. I am an ecosocialist and my own organization (Socialist Resistance) is an ecosocialist organization. I feel that both TUSC and Respect better represent our views than the Green Party, even in their present local left stance.

We are going through a period of political recomposition of the left, with a number of initiatives having local support around the country. In the Green Party I can see that the Green Left of Derek Wall and Sean Thompson and its local members are doing grand work.

It will take time for these different strands to come together in a new party of the working class, but it is very important that none of these initiatives assume that they have a right to a monopoly of left representation.
It is only very recently, with the deals between Manchester and Birmingham Respect and Green Parties, that the Greens have shifted a little bit from their head-banging refusal to negotiate appropriate representation for other left initiatives with local credibility at the head of the bill in local elections, but the Greens are still standing against Respect candidates such as George Galloway and Abjol Miah who have a realistic chance of being elected. Hardly non-sectarian!

Your piece seems too close for comfort to those old Green politics of ‘we will stand against you whoever you are if you are not in our Party’…

Dave Bangs

1 comment:

Sven Rufus said...

Thanks Dave/Andy for a very thoughtful, thought provoking and detailed response to my questions. I am genuinely grateful for that. I haven't had time to digest the while thing and come to any conclusions or offer response to the general thesis, but I just wanted to come back to you early on one point, to assure you I was not suggesting that the Greens have any divine right to the votes you are going courting. I was genuinely confused as to why such a similar platform was being proposed, and specifically highlighted the value I place on having a wide range of views to choose from on the ballot paper. Below is an extract of my original comments that I think make that clear

"its great to have a diverse ballot paper that reflects all views, even if they are ones I disagree with. But TUSC seems to add nothing, it's platform is already there, called the Green Party. I genuinely don't get it, help me out here. I really would like to know what is distinctive about TUSC."

I can see where you are coming from with your response, and while I might not agree with your analysis, I do respect your views, and am grateul for the clarification. I'll give this some thought and may come back with more comments and questions later. Part of my problem is that some of the examples cited are from before my own time in the Green Party so can't comment on them from direct experience or with any sense of ownership. I'm not sure that referencing actions of Greens from overseas is particulalry helpful, but I'll certainly consider the issues you raise domestically.

Thanks again.
Sven