Young People, Political and Economic Change, and Important Global Conversations for The Greens
This piece was initially written for and published in GreenMail — the members-only magazine for The Greens NSW — by the co-convenors of the NSW Young Greens, Holly Brooke and Kleon Toffetti. However, despite the relatively inward-facing perspective of the argument presented, we would both like to be able to share this piece more broadly and so are also publishing here.
Globally, we’re seeing the rise of some truly terrifying political trends and groups. In 2010, the wealthiest 388 people in the world held as much wealth as the bottom 50% of the world’s population. By January 2017, 388 had become just 8 . Inequality is growing dangerously fast, and working class people are hurting. This is the world that young people are inheriting, and it’s scary. It’s becoming apparent that the economic system we’re living under is increasingly unstable, inherently unfair, and devastatingly dangerous to humans and to the planet.
Trump, Hanson, Le Pen, Golden Dawn, and many more from the far-right are drawing in huge numbers of disenfranchised people who are angry at the establishment and looking for radical solutions. The false hope these groups offer is dangerously persuasive. They are able to successfully convince struggling people that the enemy is not the top 1% refusing to pay taxes, but migrants; that those seeking refuge are not fleeing wars spurred on by mega oil corporations and the governments that pander to them, but simply greedy dole-bludgers; that the climate catastrophe that is at our doorstep if not already inside our house is an overblown figment of the imaginations of 97% of scientists and not an inevitable result of the growth-or-die capitalist mentality; that the drain on the government purse is people on welfare, on disability, and not companies being given hand-outs, and bankers and CEOs refusing to pay their fair share of taxes.
These messages are wrong, divisive, dangerous and should not be the ones that win. But they are the messages that are reaching people, because they are recognising and speaking to the deep anger and hurt felt by many working class people around the world in this time of rampant inequality and instability; these messages, however wrong and dangerous, are recognising the broadening societal acceptance of the need for a rethink of society and the economy.
On our side of politics, voices pushing a radical left-wing message have also come to the fore. Bernie Sanders ran an undeniably impressive and successful campaign throughout the US presidential primaries, running openly as a socialist. Jeremy Corbyn in the UK has achieved similar success as an unashamed socialist, rising to take on the leadership of UK Labour.
A Harvard University study from early 2016, during the surge of the Sanders campaign for the presidential primaries, found that over half — 51% — of young people aged 18–29 in the US do not support capitalism . An early 2015 Reason-Rupe survey found that a full 58% of people aged 18–24 in the US view socialism positively; greater than the percentage (56%) that view capitalism positively . A YouGov survey conducted early 2016 found that 43% of Americans under 30 view socialism favourably, with 31% unsure, while just 32% view capitalism favourably, with 32% unsure .
Similar statistics are not available in Australia at present — perhaps because Australia has not had Corbyn- and Sanders-esque leaders pushing these types of big-picture conversations about the long-term suitability and sustainability of capitalism and alternative economic systems. However, these populations — young, left-wing people — these are the people that in the Australian context are Greens and Green voters. These are the conversations the Greens in Australia can and should be leading.
In the last week of January 2017, Young Greens from around Australia converged on Canberra for Australian Young Greens Conference 2017 (AYGcon17), the theme of which was ‘ACT Now: Break the 2-Party System’. Among many fantastic workshops and presentations, we heard a compelling argument about the need for a radical economic re-think in order to achieve Just Transitions away from environmentally devastating industries; and we heard from Jill Stein, US Greens presidential candidate, as well as from a Young Green in the US, on breaking the 2-party system.
The US Greens recently amended their platform to recognise the inadequacies of the capitalist economic system, and the need for an economic restructure towards a fairer system. Due to the outdated first-past-the-post US voting system, the US Greens tend to have a lower vote percentage than the Australian Greens. However, on a per-capita basis, according to best available data, the US Greens actually have a higher rate of membership than the Australian Greens ; this is not by any means a tiny, fringe party, any more than the Australian Greens are!
To the November 2016 SDC*, the NSW Young Greens brought a proposal that could kickstart a conversation in The Greens NSW around changing our policies and position to reflect a more anti-Capitalist stance that is more sensible and realistic for the type of climate — politically and literally — the world is moving into. This proposal led to a direction from SDC for GPET** and the NSW Young Greens to co-organise and co-host a full-day workshop called Our Pillars and [anti]Capitalism, which can hopefully help to spur this conversation onwards***.
The idea that we need to be urgently looking for radical economic reform is not, and should not be, a scary proposition. The rise of the far-right and impending climate catastrophe that could feasibly leave humans extinct and the planet burning within this or next century — that is scary. Reasonable, rational and comprehensive conversations need to be had around the role that the global capitalist economic system plays in driving these dangerous trends. These conversations are happening elsewhere in the world, and they must and will happen in Australia, too. The question is, will it be The Greens that takes on some responsibility for our collective, global future and leads these much-needed conversations about transitioning to a different, more socially just, more ecologically sustainable, more peaceful and more democratic economic system — or will we be left behind?
Co-authored by Holly Brooke and Kleon Toffetti.
*SDC: State Delegates Council. This is the decision-making body of The Greens NSW, comprised of delegates from every local group.
**GPET: Greens Political Education Trust. This is the elected body whose function is to coordinate political education for Greens members and supporters.
***Our Pillars and [anti]Capitalism took place on Saturday the 11th of March and did indeed spur on a great many interesting, spirited and fruitful discussions relating to The NSW Greens’ orientation to capitalism. The vast majority of attendees supported a plan to hold a further Our Pillars and [anti]Capitalism event later in the year at which to further expand on this important discussion.
 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_Party_of_the_United_States — see ‘Membership’ in right-hand tab