• Thu. May 25th, 2023

Political parties should be disunited at times

ByGurinderbir Singh

Feb 13, 2023

In 1989 the Berlin Wall fell. The novelist Jenny Erpenbeck, who lived in East Germany, has described her feelings at the time, very far from the orthodox version we have all heard. She was reluctant to go “across”; she felt that the fall of the wall was dragging her and her compatriots into a new world too quickly.

They had, she writes, been given “freedom”, or so they were constantly told – but the high price they had to pay was the lives they had led up to that point. “The majority had defeated the minority and done away with socialism, and the minority, which believed in the continued existence of a socialist system, in improvements, replacements, wasn’t even asked anymore …”

Illustration: Jim Pavlidis

Illustration: Jim PavlidisCredit:

After many years of being alone with themselves, Erpenbeck writes, the East Germans were suddenly measured by the world’s standards. “And suddenly ‘the world’ meant anyplace with a stronger economy.” In one swift moment, a group of people discovered what it was to be in the minority: to have their views ignored, forced to live by a set of values imposed by others.

This captures, I think, something of the brutality of democracy. This is not to say it is a bad tool, only a very blunt one: the majority gets what it wants, the minority misses out. In Erpenbeck’s telling, all this is made clear by the suddenness of the shift. But the same thing happens everywhere, only gradually. It is only time that makes the domination of one group, with its values, invisible, as most of us come to take this state of affairs for granted.

If you are in the minority, with little hope of your values becoming the majority any time soon, what should you do?

The question arose last week when Lidia Thorpe, a senator from Victoria, resigned from the Greens but chose to stick around as a senator. She said she wanted to represent a “strong grassroots Blak Sovereign Movement”. The major criticism that has been made of Thorpe is that she was elected as a Green, and that it is therefore anti-democratic of her not to sit as a Green. If you disagree with Thorpe’s beliefs, this is an easy enough position to arrive at.

Lidia Thorpe left the Greens over disagreement on the Voice to parliament.

Lidia Thorpe left the Greens over disagreement on the Voice to parliament.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen/Graphics

But imagine, for a moment, that Thorpe is correct in everything she believes. Why should she submit to the majority viewpoint, simply because it is the majority? If her cause is the right one, and the changes she wishes to achieve are important, should she really turn her back on the best chance she might ever have to build a movement? Especially given this is a year – and there are not many of them – when Indigenous issues will actually get attention.

Is this so different from the approach taken by more prominent politicians? Critics of Labor make the case that Anthony Albanese’s small-target campaign strategy has been belied by his more activist approach in government.

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