Thursday 23 August 2012

“Our allies”: Green zombies on the warpath?

Tony Harris

This blog began its life with, and has largely focused on, the Australian Greens slide away from being an anti-imperialist and genuinely antiwar party, particularly the party’s gradual acceptance of the “reality” of the Australia-US alliance.  This blogger rejoined the Greens around 2007/08 after a prolonged absence - I had pulled out of Green party politics at the beginning of the 1990s, having been involved in the early foundation of the Greens in NSW.

My involvement in the Greens from the early 1980s was very much motivated by and anti-imperialist stance – opposition to traditional imperialism through antiwar politics and opposition to the ecological imperialism of a capitalism colonising and depleting the natural environment. For Greens around the world in the 1980s this was linked through the nuclear question – the threat of   nuclear Armageddon coupled with the ecological threat from nuclear power. With the end of the Cold War and the post-Chernobyl dampener on nuclear power this anti-imperialist stance of Green parties waned. This was coupled with a shift of Green parties to more mainstream politics, preoccupation with electoralism and a move to neo-liberalism, reflected ultimately in market based solutions to the problems of global warming (see Elizabeth Humphrys’ recent Left-Flank contribution to this debate).

This shift to the right appears to have occurred a little later in Australia than elsewhere but is proceeding apace. Hall Greenland in a recent post on this blog raised his concerns about the shift to neo-liberalism in economic policy (see below) at the Adelaide national Greens policy conference, and more is promised at the follow-up conference in November, particularly over funding for private education.

But the Adelaide conference also confirmed the drift away from a genuine antiwar politics for the Greens particularly as regards the Australia-US alliance. The previous Peace and Security policy nominally committed the Greens to withdraw from ANZUS. This has been replaced with a statement that the Greens will seek a “renegotiated defence relationship with our allies that promotes Australia's independent role in our region”.

With those two words, “our allies”, the Greens have signed on to military alliances, something that makes it impossible for them to honestly represent themselves as a party of “Peace and Non Violence”. Alliances exist to make, and prepare for, war and to mobilise vast armaments expenditure. They are fundamentally inconsistent with antiwar principles. In other words one of the “four principles” that motivated the Greens at their foundation globally in the 1980s has been quietly, and with little discussion, jettisoned. “Our allies” of course means principally the United States, and through that relationship privileges other alliance connections such as those with NATO and Israel.

Of course there are other creditable policies in the Peace and Security platform that technically undermine this – such as the commitments to opposition to foreign military bases and nuclear ship visits. This reflects the something-for-everybody, nature of the Greens policy program reflecting both the need to obtain consensus, and to offset the political shift to the right with gestures to left-wing rhetoric. The Greens are moving to the right but are still in transition.

But the move to the right in terms of written policy is only part of the story. The main one is the way in which general, vague, and often contradictory, policies are actually interpreted by the federal party caucus. Indeed it is the caucus that is driving the current policy review and it is difficult not to conclude that it is essentially a cynical process aimed at coming up with policies that give maximum scope for them to call the shots.

This was already happening in the foreign policy/antiwar field – the subject of many of the earlier blogs below. The move to play down opposition to the Australia-US alliance began with the 2010 Afghan war debate where criticism of the war was contained to war policy, and the war-committing, decision-making processes in parliament, not the alliance itself – bizarre given that the alliance is the whole reason Australia is in Afghanistan. This carried through to the obsequious performance of federal Green MPs at the time of the Obama visit and the failure to take him to task over the development of the new US war machine based on drone strikes, and special and covert operations. This has continued by excising the role of the “joint” intelligence facilities from any implementation of the Greens policy (then and in its new form) of opposing foreign military bases. The intelligence facilities at Pine Gap and Kojarena (WA) are directly involved in Obama’s drone wars and covert programs and as such embroil the Australian government (and by their silence, their Green parliamentary supporters) in the commission of war crimes - see my article in the recent Winter edition of NSW Greens, Greenvoice.

Senator Scott Ludlam has in the past probed the function of these bases, and he and other Green MPs continue to raise important questions about war and alliance policy.  But a paper put out by Ludlam’s office earlier this year entitled “The Impact of Military Bases”, which made many good points, contained passing reference to Pine Gap, and no reference linking intelligence facilities to the drone wars. An earlier statement in March criticised the possible use of the Cocos Islands as a drone base, commenting on the civilian deaths involved, but making no connection to the intelligence facilities.

The reluctance to criticise these intelligence facilitates relates to the fact that they are the jewels in the crown of the US-Australia alliance and no sustained critique of their function could be undertaken without calling the whole alliance into question. In other words, the recent behaviour of the Green MPs and the latest changes to written policy constrain criticism within an acceptance of the alliance paradigm, depriving the Greens of a critique of imperialism in general, US imperialism in particular, and the existential racial fears that hold the Australia-US alliance together.  Thus the Greens are depriving themselves of a critique of the causes of war and accept an approach that puts them very firmly on the warpath.

It will be interesting to see how far the Greens can continue to play this game. A decision to locate a major US naval base in Western Australia, for example, could see a reenergising of a local antiwar movement, putting pressure on the WA Greens and their Senators to take up more strident positions in opposition to the alliance.

To a certain extent this is what has happened in the asylum seeker debate. The horrific nature of the Government-Coalition stance, and the Greens policy and genuine advocacy of asylum seeker interests has seen the Green politicians taking a lead in parliamentary resistance (albeit within the limitations of the existing policy paradigm of “managing” the “problem” – see the recent Tad Tietze Left-Flank post on asylum seekers and open borders). What is likely to be a reenergised asylum-seeker support and protest movement will keep the pressure up. And of course a downturn in the mining boom, exposing Australia to the fury of the GFC may see the Greens newfound love of market-based solutions start to fray.

All this reflects the fact that the Greens are still in the process of transition from a party of (at least partially) an oppositional leftism to one of “sensible” and “moderate” centrism aimed at winning more seats and presenting the party as a partner in government. But the transition is quickening.

Underlying all this (and specifically underlying the national policy review) is the drive by the federal party caucus to arrogate to itself more power and authority in making and interpreting policy. In this regard the Greens are duplicating the errors of the Labor Party, developing a federal party structure dominated by an increasingly non-transparent and unaccountable caucus, sustained by a growing caste of careerist parliamentary and party staffers, and characterised by a “consensus” caucus authoritarianism as potent as the “majoritarian” caucus authoritarianism of Labor. Labor Senator Doug Cameron in 2010 lamented how the authoritarian caucus system was creating a party of “zombies”. He of course recently joined the undead on the asylum-seeker “compromise”. In many ways the Greens are stumbling off down the same road.

Electorally the Greens are being driven by the hubris and fantasy that they are going to keep on winning more seats and growing their vote. The Green vote for the foreseeable future is likely to remain at or below the 10-12 percent range, with minimal opportunities to draw further votes away from a Labor party unlikely, at this time, to lose its rock-bottom, rusted on, working class base. Liberal voters are unlikely to shift support to the Greens no matter how much the party moderates its policies. The Greens may find themselves in the parliamentary world of the undead centre: the political life drained out of them by abandoning harder edged left-oppositional approaches that characterised the Greens rise from the 1980s, yet unloved (if occasionally necessary) as a presence in a parliamentary and government culture that prizes the “stability” of the two-party system.

The Greens have been fond of repeating Bob Brown’s line that unlike the Democrats before them, they are not there to “keep the bastard honest” but to “replace them”. Unless they change course, the fate that awaits the Greens is that the only bastards they are likely to replace are the Democrats themselves.


  1. Wot? No mention of the carbon tax in unholy partnership with Labor? I would have thought that was more -- and more significant --grist for the mill.If anything registered a qualitative shift rightward, that was it.

  2. Certainly a principled stand. Not unlike Jean Curthoys' stand with the oppressed in her book, Feminist Amnesia. She argues that the amnesiac feminists have sold out since they're in positions of power and so they are oppressors and Marx showed scientifically that the oppressors oppress the oppressed. And anyhow she has specific arguments to show it. But I say if there are perhaps more ordinary people who do good in simpler ways and take pleasure in each others' company and don't take too much notice of the word from on high that's no argument for breaking free from the oppressor vs oppressed opposition.


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