Greenman's Occasional Organ

Ecosocialist. Syndicalist. Critical Techno-Progressive.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

National Shop Stewards' Conference

Reading: Some pages of Finnegans Wake, Sunday papers.
Listening: BBC Radio 5.
Viewing: Alan Partridge DVD.

The British RMT transport union were mandated by their conference to organise two meetings recently. One, on working class representation, was held in early 2006. The meeting was addressed by various political figures on the left including the Green Party's Jean Lambert MEP. The second conference is to be held in October and is a National Shop Stewards' Conference. This follows on from the quite legitimate view of leading figures in the RMT that working class political representation and a renewed culture of organisation and struggle are mutually dependent. The debate over whether a national shop stewards movement is a core element in this renewal is one thing that needs discussing on the left and in the progressive and labour movements. Another is what else is required. Of course, the RMT cannot conjure a new movement out of thin air, (any more than can Respect with their similar conference initiative in November - though Respect have considerably less credibility in this field than the RMT) but the RMT are due our thanks for at least providing the space and opportunity to make connections and debate the issues. The RMT-organised conference has an immediate focus of support for the Campaign for a Trade Union Freedom Bill. This is something that the Green Party Trade Union Group (GPTU) are also working around and presenting motions to Green conferences.

National Shop Stewards' Conference
12-3pm, Saturday October 28th 2006
Camden Centre
Bidborough Street
London WC1

All trade unionists welcome

The problem at the moment appears to be that there are at least three initiatives going on here - the Respect union thing, the RMT's working class representation and shop stewards initiative and the Socialist Party's Campaign for a New Workers Party.

It would of course be better if these things were seen as complimentary, along the lines of a broad united front strategy of organising politically, at work and in the community. However, perhaps this is too much to hope for given the notoriously sectarian British left, particularly some of the Trotskyist elements. The urge to try and control and dominate projects, even to the point of their stillbirth or extinction, is always a hard one for some of our vanguardist comrades to resist. Suffice it to say that Green Left and GPTU activists will continue arguing for a broad and plural left with co-operation at electoral level where possible, and unity in workplace and community campaigns and organisations. Pluralism and diversity of approach offer the best opportunities for drawing into united struggle a broad and diverse section of the population - and, as the poet Shelley said in terms better than I can put it - 'Ye are many, they are few' - our strength is in numbers.

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Friday, July 28, 2006

Voices for Lebanon and Palestine Rally

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign is holding a rally in Trafalgar Square in London from 1-3pm on Sunday afternoon, July 30th, entitled Voices for Lebanon and Palestine and demanding that "Britain must demand an unconditional ceasefire now!". Lots of celebrity supporters will be in attendance including Alexei Sayle, Bruce Kent, Maxine Peake, Bill Paterson, Tony Benn, Kika Markham, Corin Redgrave, Sam West, Andy de la Tour, Murad Qureshi AM and John Austin MP. There are to be "Words by Harold Pinter, Robert Fisk, Terry Jones,Lebanese artist Zena el Khalil and Palestine's leading poet Mahmoud Darwish"

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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Tuesday links

Reading: Some pages of 'The Golden Bough', some pages of Finnegans Wake, Morning Star, BBC News and Guardian News and Comment is Free websites, Urban 75 politics boards, e-mails.
Listening: Moby.
Viewing: Saxondale, Lost.

The demo in London went well on Saturday, as reported on Derek Wall's blog
Ken McLeod reflects on the concept of 'civilised warfare' in an article in the Morning Star today, similar to observations on his blog last week. This was a much better article than the account of an interview with a very politically confused Nicky Wire of the Manic Street Preachers in the same edition.

The cost of a 10 year UK passport is due to rise by 29% from October due to the expansion of the national security state with the planned biometric/database/ID cards system. Nevertheless, implementation of that system is in trouble and opposition is growing according to NO2ID.

Meanwhile there has been further action on the proposed New Labour welfare 'reforms' that I have blogged on previously - a protest statement was delivered to Downing Street by a number of disabled organisations. The statement was supported by various groups and organisations including the Trade Union Disability Alliance and the British Council of Disabled People

Friday, July 21, 2006

March with the Greens against the war

Stop press - there will be a Green contingent on the London march against the war in Lebanon on Saturday, meeting at Cleopatra's Needle on the Embankment at 11.30am.

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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

War and Peace

Reading: Finished Derek Wall's 'Babylon and Beyond', Morning Star, Guardian and BBC News websites, various blogs, Urban 75 boards.
Listening: CD of 'Eats, Shoots & Leaves' by Lynne Truss
Viewing: BBC News

The escalating violence in the Middle East is occupying many bloggers and news sources.
The Green Party male principal speaker Keith Taylor has spoken out about the disproportionate Israeli response. The Stop The War Coalition is arranging emergency demonstrations in London, Manchester, Edinburgh and Glasgow this weekend.
Meanwhile my fellow Green Left supporter Jim Jay, of the Socialist Unity bloggers has been attending the Radical Activist Network conference, while another SUN blogger attended the Tolpuddle Rally. Radical Sci-Fi writer Ken McLeod is back blogging after a break and reports on attending the SWP's 'Marxism 2006' event in London, an event also reported on from a different angle by a Socialist Unity blogger.
Finally a plethora of comment across the British political blogosphere on the declaration of a challenge for the labour leadership (when Blair steps down) from the leading figure in the Campaign Group of left-wing Labour MPs, John McDonnell.

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Saturday, July 15, 2006

A busy week

Reading: Some pages of 'Babylon and Beyond' by Derek Wall, Morning Star, local paper, Guardian and BBC news websites.
Listening: Stone Roses, Pink Floyd, Maroon 5.
Viewing: BBC News.

What a week! Violence erupts in Gaza, Israel and Lebanon, a challenge to the Brown/Blair axis emerges on the labour left a and the UK energy review comes out in favour of new nuclear power.
Greg Palast had an interesting article in the Morning Star where he stated that he believed that the US Iraq adventure was partly motivated by the desire to control and depress Iraqi oil production rather than to own and profit from it. In turn, Palast has been criticised this week for suggesting that 'Peak Oil' ideas are part of a campaign by the oil industry to ramp up prices.
Meanwhile there are signs in Scotland, that particularly in view of current difficulties in the SSP, the Green Party could be in the frame to hold the balance of power after the next elections.
The curse of living in interesting times!

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Reflecting on the German Green Experience

Reading: Some pages of Derek Wall's 'Babylon and Beyond', some pages of Joyce's Finnegans Wake, some pages of Anya Seton's novel about the Jacobite Radcliffes, 'Devil Water', Sunday Telegraph.
Viewing: France v. Italy in the World Cup Final.
Listening: BBC Radio Five.

Interesting debate is going on on the English and Welsh Green Party's Green Left grouping's Discussion Lists about the orientation of the new group. It is worthwhile looking at some of the experience of past green left currents to try and avoid some of their mistakes. Frieder Otto Wolf who was a leading left German Green in the nineties had an interesting article published in Red Pepper (the excellent green/left magazine linked in my links column) in 2003, which I offer to you below.

Whatever happened to the German Greens?

By Frieder Otto Wolf

August 2003

Back in the early 1980s the West German Greens were a bastion of radicalism, challenging US imperialism, advocating pacifism and describing their own position as one of 'ecological socialism'. By the late 1990s the party seemed to have changed beyond all recognition: as a member of Gerhard Schroeder's 'third way' coalition, the Greens were defending radically neoliberal policies and staunchly supporting military interventions for humanitarian purposes.

So, what happened? There have been a number of more general developments that non-German readers will understand from developments in their own societies. The entrenchment of the neo-liberal hegemony has been accompanied by the hijacking of a whole series of social movement demands. For example, the demand for individual (and social) 'autonomy' from the overweening state has been used to justify privatisation and deregulation.

Yet there are more specific things to say about the recent history of the German Greens. This history contains important lessons for the wider debate about the relevance of political parties in struggles for progressive social change and the role of governments in the process of transforming societies.

The 20-year history of the German Greens inevitably raises questions asked throughout the 20th century. What form should left parties take in parliamentary democracies? And should these parties participate in governments that are, at least in part, committed to managing the existing, capitalist economy? The case of the German Greens is especially interesting because they achieved their role in government as a result of success in elections - rather than through deals with other parties.

The German Greens were always highly conscious of their role - mainly because many of the party's founders had been part of the 1968 generation that strove to reconstruct the historical and theoretical memory of the left that was destroyed by the Nazis.

One key debate was about how far social emancipation could be a matter of party politics as they had been in the 1920s. This debate involved addressing questions of internal party democracy and challenging political scientist Robert Michels's 'iron law of oligarchy'.

Michels argued that parties are always doomed to degenerate into apparatuses by which the leadership dominates the mass membership. To counter this effect, the Greens devised the principle of 'grassroots democracy'. The party developed a strong set of institutional rules to prevent the development of a permanent party elite and to ensure that power spread constantly out to the membership. This would renew the leadership with fresh energies and experience.

If the fate of the German Greens simply vindicates Michels (even when a party consciously works to counter the inevitability of elite domination), then the history of the party would be of little interest. But the failure of the Green left in Germany to maintain its early influence within the wider Green movement and party is far more worthy of attention. It points to key strategic mistakes from which all green and radical activists can learn.

There has always been an electoral aspect to the Greens' politics. This has been the case at all three levels (federal, regional and city) of the German state. But in itself this cannot explain why the leading Greens eventually allowed themselves to become acquiescent coalition partners with the Social Democrats (SPD) on the federal level. After all, green-left radicalism continued to dominate the party - even (for some time) within its parliamentary group -long after its entry into the federal parliament. It was, after all, a left-influenced proposal of a new social contract bringing ecological, feminist and trade union demands into one radical agenda for reform that helped revive the party's federal fortunes in 1994.

But it was also at this time that the party's 'realists' gained control of the parliamentary group. They used this control – along with the media presence of their leaders - to extend their ideological influence within the party as a whole. In this way, and by offering career prospects to their followers and allies, the 'realists' developed a rather authoritarian culture of subservience to their leaders. They propelled Joschka Fischer into a position of supreme informal authority, which further enhanced their position in the media.

The party's left wing, in contrast, had few clear ideas about how to use the party's parliamentary position other than for reinforcing extra-parliamentary mobilisation. Moreover, in terms of policies it had stood still - simply holding fast to ideas that had been developed to counter cold-war 'extremism' and which were not applicable to the neo-liberal and neo-conservative policies that dominated The 1990s.

The pressure of the neo-liberal offensive against workers and trade unions undermined the immediate possibility of uniting a large majority of the workforce around the green and feminist policies of less work for everybody. And middle-class green voters were attracted to eco-tax mechanisms as an alternative to more complicated forms of ecological controls on production or consumption. Moreover, the myth that the welfare state was somehow responsible for mass unemployment began to gain a foothold among new generations of greens.

And yet, even in the run-up to the 1998 federal elections that brought the 'red-green' coalition into government the Greens ran on a programme that still bore the imprint of the party's left wing, though the electoral slate and, therefore, the people who would drive the programme did not reflect this political balance.

The original coalition agreement gave some grounds for hope that the new government would introduce real social and ecological reforms. This was helped by the presence of the SPD's former leader and finance minister Oscar Lafontaine, who had been a main architect of German reform coalition-building efforts in the late 1980s.

The realists soon won a strategic victory, however. They polarised party members against an 'old-party left wing' that failed to provide answers to the new challenges of the mono-polar world order under the reinforced power of the US. The spectacular decision of the Greens to support German participation in the Nato war against the Serbs over Kosovo was the symbolic climax of this development.

Other important milestones have been the Green parliamentary group's distancing of itself from those NGOs and grassroots movements that challenge corporate globalisation, the vanishing of the proposal to reduce working time from Green economic policy, and the abandonment of proposals for political control of ecological transformations in favour of 'economic instruments'. The party has also replaced radical feminist demands with a policy of 'gender mainstreaming' for a minority of career women. Similarly indicative is the compromise the Green Party has made on the slow phasing-out of nuclear energy. This last betrayal led to the breaking away of the anti-nuclear movements from the party.

By 1999 the Greens' left wing had lost its grip on party congresses and its coordinating structures began to disintegrate. Many activists have left the party, mostly individually. Many have thrown themselves into new organisations like the anti-globalisation initiative Attac or the new protest movement against the war in Iraq. In Germany these new transnational movements have developed without any party political support. Yet again activists are faced with the problem of trying to build real political pressure without having reliable party political counterparts. The same has become true for the trade unions, which have had to look for a new capacity for strategic action without their traditional allies in the SPD.

The Green party's left wing has not vanished entirely, however. In June grassroots Greens were able to force an extraordinary congress upon the party because of its parliamentary leadership's attempts to be more neoliberal than Schroeder. The left is still a force to be reckoned with at grassroots level.

When, in 2006, the German Greens come to grips with electoral defeat, voices will be present within the party that will be able to explain how and why the opportunism of Fischer and Schroeder led to defeat for all sorts of demands for social, democratic, feminist and ecological goals. The 'realist' strategic idea that the Greens would take the political space of the liberals, while giving it a new ecological and anti-discriminatory edge, has failed.

Hopefully, this will not be the end of the German Greens or Germany's more radical left-wing forces (who are also in the SDP). But if these left green forces do not develop a new political project that is capable of forming the basis for a broader alliance of social and political forces than the 'new social movements' of the 1970s and 1980s, then they will be defeated again. The subsequent emergence of a 'realist' hegemony on the left would be grim indeed - and not just for Germany.

Green Party member Frieder Otto Wolf is an ex-MEP and teaches political philosophy at the Freie Universitat Berlin

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Thursday, July 06, 2006

Random ramblings

Reading: BBC News and Guardian Unlimited websites, Comment is Free Blogs, Urban 75 politics boards, Green Left e-mails, Morning Star, local paper.
Listening: Travis, Keane, local radio.
Viewing: Sky News, ITN news.
This blog appears to be more in line with its title these days, but personal life and a major local planning battle looming tend to reduce blogging time at the moment.

Plenty to comment on in the News.

New Labour publishing their badly thought out, neo-liberal incapacity benefit "reforms".

A report flagging up the likely next assault on the UK's planning arrangements (apparently Britain can't get nuclear power stations, incinerators and motorways built quick enough for the 'demands of the globalised marketplace' according to the report commissioned by our Nulabour overlords)

The Tommy Sheridan character assassination continues in a feeding frenzy for the gutter press in Scotland - the right wing press cannot believe their luck at that case as an excuse to attack the SSP. A case in point methinks (if more were needed post Icke and Galloway) of the dangers for progressives in allowing the glamourous appeal of high profile leading lights to overshadow the real purpose and policies of their organisations.

Abroad the casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq continue and the situation in Israel and Palestine deteriorates further. The right appear to have been involved in dodgy dealings over the Mexican election (interference from Uncle Sam? Surely not!)