Union movement gathers for Fairness at Work; Labour gathers missionaries

Posted: October 30, 2013 by Admin in Capitalist ideology, Class Matters, Economics, Labour Party NZ, New Zealand politics, Workers' rights

by Don Franks

“The Labour Party is composed of workers, petty bourgeois and bourgeois elements.

“It has a number of trade unions affiliated to it. In the past it has drawn on the more class conscious sections of the working class for electoral support. Even today, many militant members of the working class look to the Labour party as the salvation of the working class. It is committed to a vague kind of “democratic socialism ” which has nothing to do with socialism.

“Despite its working class base, the Labour party is not a workers party. Whether or not a political party is really a workers’ party is not determined by its membership or by the social origins of its leaders; it is determined by the people who lead it, the contents of its actions and its political tactics. When viewed from this correct viewpoint it is clear that the Labour Party is a thoroughly bourgeois party which is used by the bourgeoisie to systematically dupe the workers.

“Wedded to reformist ideas from its inception, the Labour Party has been the single most important instrument for organising working class support for the capitalist system. It has been supported in this work by social democrats and revisionists in the trade union movement, particularly at the upper levels. Through its electoral activities the Labour Party works to dampen down class struggle, to provide personnel for the state organs and to consolidate the capitalist system.

“Successive Labour governments have introduced and used anti-worker legislation (such as deregistration of unions and wage freezing), opposed strike action, advocated reliance on arbitration and conciliation, sought to harmonize the interests of the working class and the bourgeoisie, attacked Polynesian workers in dawn raids, extended the powers of the SIS, made strident anti communist attacks on working people, and abjectly served foreign imperialism.

“The Labour Party introduced peacetime conscription, actively worked to create the ANZUS Pact and loyally supports the American Alliance. It supported US aggression in Korea.

“Labour’s economic policies are essentially no different from those of the National Government, nor can they be any different.”

That characterisation of the New Zealand Labour Party was published in July 1979.

It’s an excerpt from the Wellington Marxist-Leninist Organisation’s programme.

I think this political assessment of the Labour Party is still basically valid, although obviously some details have changed over the last thirty-four years.

Today it would be even less true to say that “many militant members of the working class look to the Labour Party as the salvation of the working class”. Some, but not very many.

It was probably an exaggeration for the WMLO to cast 1979 Labour as “committed to a vague kind of ‘democratic socialism’.”

When asked in a radio interview for his definition of socialism, Labour leader Bill Rowling responded: “lending your neighbour your lawn mower”.  It was also some time in the late seventies that Rowling floated the idea of changing the party name, to distance itself from the then strike-prone union movement.

Today, in face of a considerably-weakened working class and shrunken union movement, Labour needs make no pretence of commitment to any kind of socialism. Labour today presents as what it is, a liberal capitalist  party with some residual connection to a few rather desperate union offices.

However, the main difference between now and 1979 is the experience of the 4th Labour government. The Rogernomics years  of massive job destruction and wealth redistribution upwards spelled out in block capital letters that Labour was a defender of the capitalist system no matter what the social consequences.

Unpleasantly hard evidence that Labour was “a thoroughly bourgeois party”.

Such was the reaction to Rogernomics that a horrified Labour party left faction decamped, to form NewLabour, forerunner of the Alliance. Other demoralised party members just quit political activism altogether.

After the 1984 ambush, could such a party ever again be used by the bourgeoisie to systematically dupe the workers?

The bourgeoisie need not bother themselves with this question, because, inexplicably, since 1984, there has been a supply of left activists to do the duping for them.

To various degrees, virtually every left grouplet has, in practice, and often in theory, treated the Labour party is if it was something other than it is – an instrument of the capitalist ruling class.

For a short period, the Workers Party held the line on this issue, regularly exposing Labour’s capitalist nature in The Spark, and in the extended Marxist pamphlet The Truth about Labour.

Former Workers Party members maintained that tradition until the posting of  this article on Fightback’s blog:

“Union movement gathers for Fairness at work”.

 “Adapted from an article for Kai Tiaki Nursing NZ. By Grant Brookes, delegate for the New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) and Fightback member.

“132 delegates, representing nearly 300,000 union members, met in Wellington on 9-10 October.

“The Council of Trade Unions Biennial Conference 2013 examined the issues facing working people in New Zealand since the last gathering in 2011, and debated how to promote ‘Fairness at Work’ as we face a fork in the road over the next two years.

“Down one possible path, our future will see the end of guaranteed meal breaks, a loss of bargaining power, rising inequality and growing insecurity at work.

“But the good news, conveyed in a speech to the Conference by Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei, is that we are heading towards election year with the momentum to create a different future.”

We can do with some good news. What makes up this momentum – a new radical current?

On further reading, Grant’s “momentum” is revealed to be a series of  promises from Labour leader David Cunliffe: “The Labour Government I lead will turn back the tide of anti-worker legislation that has been flowing from the Key Government for the last five years.”

Having quoted Cunliffe, Grant continues, “Both Cunliffe and Metiria Turei signaled support for an overhaul of employment laws, tying into CTU efforts to move beyond the Employment Relations Act and further strengthen unions, collective bargaining and security at work.”

Note that Grant not only takes this rhetoric at face value, he buys into the weasel wording: “CTU efforts to move beyond the Employment Relations Act”.

Not scrapping National’s Act – as if Labour ever would, having when last in office tightened up its strike restrictions – just “move beyond it” somehow, transcend the unpleasantness. Nice sounding. In terms of  real workers’ rights – utterly meaningless.

Grant does sound a sort of warning amidst his pro-Cunliffe enthusiasm:

“But it also appeared that Cunliffe is straddling a contradiction. ‘These changes are not a one-off,’ he said. ‘They need to be an enduring part of a New Zealand that finds common ground between productive workers and good employers.'”

What happens when there is no “common ground”?”

A Marxist replies that all workers are productive, “good employers” may only be found in the cemetery, there is never “common ground” between classes, “what happens” is open or hidden class struggle and, for goodness sake, why on earth waste valuable time with such a dopey question?

Grant proceeds:

“Cunliffe plugged his appointment of unionists Andrew Little, Darien Fenton and Carol Beaumont to industrial relations positions. But his speech to the Conference was silent about his appointment of neo-liberal hardliner David Parker to the finance portfolio.”

So right-wing ideologues are a worry but their ossified former union bureaucrat colleagues are fine.

Little, Fenton and Beaumont are well-oiled cogs in Labour’s party machine. In Grant’s lexicon they become comrades in the general movement.

Grant concludes:

“How Cunliffe’s contradiction would play out in practice in a Labour-led government will depend on how unions respond.

“Helen Kelly called on us to “continue the local activism to get workers on the roll and out in the election campaign – not just to vote – connecting all the campaigns to make wages and work a key election issue”  “We need to use events like the asset sale referendum to maximum advantage”, said Helen Kelly.  “Delegates in workplaces can facilitate the voting in the asset sale referendum – get people who do not get a paper to get on the roll, and check that those with a paper cast their vote.

“We then need to keep the momentum going into next year.  We can make the difference.”

In other words, Labour can be held to its promises by union activism.

In various formulations, this theory has been around for donkeys years.

It used to be described as “pushing Labour to the left”. A variant was the notion of “raising workers’ expectations of Labour”. If the promises were not kept, the workers would supposedly be radicalised and fall into the arms of the left.

Today those sorts of expressions are a bit too crude. The theory remains the same but is now voiced as “momentum”. “Momentum” here is activism confined to a pointless referendum and the election of Labour MPs. Union money and energy is expended, in the name of workers’ interest,s for the actual benefit of a few sleek political careerists.

It is worth noting too, that Cunliffe’s latest promises, even at face value, are pretty small change reforms.

When he was on his way upwards in the union movement, union villain Ken Douglas was fond of declaiming “We don’t want the crumbs, we want to take over the bakery!”

Today’s left gaze upon Cunliffe’s handful of crumbs as if they were gold dust.

During the years since I joined WMLO and got some Marxist understanding of the Labour party’s anti-worker nature, I often raised my views in union forums.

I didn’t get far.

At best I was “not being realistic”, more frequently I was “dreaming”, “on pot” or “away with the fairies”.

Over decades, views like mine got little traction in union circles, while Labour’s missionaries resoundingly prevailed.

All around us, we may see and taste their bitter fruit.

After years of  activists preaching faith in Labour governments, the union movement has withered, while inequality and dire poverty have massively increased. Being disarmed by Labour has rendered our class much worse off today.

There are historical reasons for the endurance of social democracy and the weakness of Marxism in New Zealand.

In the current climate of low class struggle it’s very difficult to advance revolutionary ideas. But not impossible.

Buried as it may be, the truth is on our side.

So why do left activists keep blinking away facts in pursuit of the unrealistic?

Further reading:                                                                                                                                   Labour – a bosses party                                                                                                                            Labour’s leadership contest and left illusions and confusions

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Comments
  1. rogerthesurf says:

    Hi there,

    I have just started a new blog about New Zealand.
    Whats special about this blog is that it will look at news items (particularly the Christchurch Press) where economic issues (which are usually associated with social welfare issues) are printed.
    Usually the reporter will list a number of government agencies who are negligent or suggest that the “Government does something”.
    Maybe these articles contain sound advice or maybe not, and that’s what my new blog is all about. Why do we have these issues and most important of all – Why does a naturally wealthy country like New Zealand have so many of what are essentially THIRD WORLD problems?
    There are only a few posts so far, but if you have an issue, please comment and I will very likely post for your issue for discussion.
    And discussion is what we are after here. You may not agree with my view point, but I am always open to opinions and ideas.
    At any rate, expect and give a reasoned courteous discussion.

    Cheers

    Roger
    http://rogerthesurf.wordpress.com

    • PhilF says:

      Many on the (admittedly minuscule) far left seem determined to repeat history rather than learn from it.

      The approach to Labour represented in Grant B’s article was tried for decades by left groups like the old Socialist Action League. It was them that got destroyed, not Labour.

      What hasn’t been tried is unrelenting opposition to and exposure of Labour over a similar protracted period of time. In the Workers Party we made some progress with just that stand but it looks like that stance is being abandoned in the section of the WP that has become the Fightback group.

      We are back, apparently, to Year Zero where lessons that should have been learned long ago have to be re-learned and re-established. The result is that the Marxist left makes very little progress in theory, in organisation, in practice, in this country. Instead of being able to stand on the shoulders of the last generation, each new generation is condemned to making the old mistakes.

      Will the circle be unbroken?

      Apparently, depressingly, it appears it won’t be.

      Well, not unless a new layer of leftists emerges which is able to take total opposition to the Labour Party, *as an institution*, for granted and can carve out a new territory for itself. While the emergence of such a layer is unlikely without a resurgence of class struggle, a small number of radicalising workers and youth may still be able to transcend the muddled politics of the existing ostensibly Marxist left in relation to Labour. But that probably requires the pre-existence of a consistent revolutionary-Marxist pole of attraction; something which this blog does what it can to promote.

      Phil

  2. Don Franks says:

    Thanks Roger, I will have a look with a view to participation.

    What is your take on the argument in my article above?

    • rogerthesurf says:

      Don,

      Some good reading that addresses some of the issues you raise can be found in Dr Michael Basset’s speech which is linked to the “about” page on my blog.
      Basset did start out by being a very devoted and well meaning figure over two Labour governments.
      You don’t have to agree with what he says, but at least it is an opinion from someone who was at the “coal face”.

      Cheers

      Roger
      http://rogerthesurf.wordpress.com

  3. Don Franks says:

    Roger, Dr Michael Basset was never within rifle shot of the coal face.

    He is an America educated academic who moved seamlessly from university halls into politics, to become one of the most rabid anti worker attack dogs of the 4th Labour government.

    In the wake of public disgust with them, some members of that government contrived a few shamefaced noises to distance themselves from the carnage they’d caused.

    Not Basset.

    He had, at least, the virtue of consistency, leaving Labour altogether and going on to privately advise extreme right wingers like Don Brash.

    I saw Basset up close once, when I was cleaning the History department building at Victoria university. He swept into the room with the air of expecting everyone else to fall back reverently before him, I never saw any person so completely up himself.

    We will have to agree to disagree about Dr Michael Basset.

  4. PhilF says:

    I agree that Bassett was never at the coal face. He went from one pampered profession to another.

    However, in the early 1970s he was one of Labour’s lefties (as so many of them were). I remember that when visitors from the US SWP, like George Novack and Evelyn Reed, would do speakling tours of NZ, the SAL would take them to parliament to meet leftie Labour MPs and Bassett was one – that would have been in 1973 or 1974.

    Of course, like all the other Young Turk lefties of Labour – Phil Goff, Helen Clark, et al – he turned out to be an asshole.

    There was quite a considerable milieu of young left Labourites back in the early 1970s, far, far more of them than is the case today and they were far more left as well. Every single one of them that I can think of put their loyalty to Labour ahead of their supposed commitment to ‘socialism’; every single one of them took to managing capitalism like flies to shite.

    That’s yet another reason why the nonsense about Cunliffe that some people on the left have been spouting recently – people who really should know better – is so appalling. We’ve seen it all before. The first time round was tragedy; in 2013 it’s simply utterly farcical.

    Phil

  5. rogerthesurf says:

    Don and Phil,

    Whatever your personal opinions of Michael Basset, you surely agree that he both formulated and supported policies and legislation that were intended to benefit the poor and downtrodden.
    Yes he did go to the right later on, and if you read the article I referred you to, you may understand why.
    Once again, please understand that I neither subscribe to the right or left. As an economist, I am only interested in what works. The fact that we have child poverty in our naturally rich country says to us all that something is terribly wrong. I am encouraging you to explore what may be wrong. Lets not get caught up in personalities.

    Cheers

    Roger

    htp://www.rogerthesurf.wordpress.com

    • PhilF says:

      Hi Roger,

      I don’t think either Don or I are especially interested in personalities *as personalities*. It’s more that Bassett is a *type*, he’s reflective of an *entire layer* within the Labour Party of that era. And the problem there is Labour as *an institution* and that any institution which is dedicated to managing capitalism is not going to solve inequality or poverty, because these are *essential features* of capitalism.

      In the early 1960s, when the long post-war boom was at its height, and the American economy dominated global capitalism, about 20-25% of the US population was under the official poverty line. So if capitalism in its period of dynamic growth can’t solve poverty, it’s not likely to solve it in its period of senile decay, which is the state of the system today,

      So “what works” requires, of necessity, thinking outside of capitalism. Labour politicians don’t and can’t. That’s the key problem in relation to Bassett, although I totally agree with Don that personally he was pretty revolting too. His smugness was evident when he was ‘left’, but every awful personal feature positively bloomed when he became an ardent right-winger.

      In any case, the third Labour government, which he was part of, was utterly committed to keeping the working class in its place. That’s why they gave employers the right to injunct unions and locked up Bill Andersen when his union (the Northern Drivers Union) broke a court injunction. I’ve been intending to write something about this for some time, because that Labour government sparked off what was almost a general strike in 1974.

      Take a look at our pamphlet on the Labour Party: https://rdln.wordpress.com/2011/12/02/the-truth-about-labour-a-bosses-party/

      Phil

  6. rogerthesurf says:

    Phil and Don,

    I understand the problems you have with successive Labour Government and I share many of them as well.
    However you do not need to like Basset in order to learn from what he experienced.
    I, for instance, am quite happy to read anything in order to gain understanding. In fact if I read only things I agree with or things written only by people I like, I would not have a balanced view of things at all.

    I also interested in hearing what sort of government that you think would work in New Zealand. You might read the reply to Don’s comment currently on my blog and perhaps discuss how you could do better than that.
    Perhaps you think the Greens may have a few answers?

    Cheers

    Roger
    http://www.rogerthesurf.wordpress.com

  7. Don Franks says:

    Hi Roger

    Reading views one disagrees with is a part of every literate persons life. I read the Dominion Post nearly every morning despite my disagreement with its crudely presented capitalist political line.

    My interest in government, or, rather humans organisation of their society extends beyond New Zealand. What is important to me is the destiny of the international working class. This is a huge subject. The articles on Redline give some indication of how we see social organisation at the moment and how we would prefer to see it. Or, better, how working people internationally are carrying out class struggle in pursuit of a more equitable world.

    In my experience the Green party are exploiting the efforts of many sincere hard working conservationists to build a minor capitalist party which will trade off anything in exchange for cabinet positions. In the days before I got to know them I once voted for the Green party, I would never do that again.

  8. Thomas r says:

    I imagine this is well known to all involved but everything published by fightback is not fightback doctrine but rather a platform to disagree and debate these issues, including orientation towards labour. Id also not conflate tactics with a deeply held belief on the nature of labour. Whether its a good tactic is obviously up for debate too. I just get a bit tired of the endless “look at the swamp left” stuff on here. Constructive is good, systematic collection of every minor disagreement presented as fightbacks most recent failure is tedious

  9. Don Franks says:

    Thomas, Grant Brookes article “Union movement gathers for fairness at work” is not, to me, the stuff of a “minor disagreement”.

    The political content of Grant’s piece is abject capitulation to the Labour party and the top trade union bureaucracy. Tell me how to be “constructive” about that.

    Over many years, aspiring marxists in New Zealand have struggled to build some alternative to Labour party and union office abuse of workers.

    As far as I am concerned Grants article has shit all over that work.

  10. Don Franks says:

    take two

    Thomas, now that I have had my bitter little emotional rant, how about we have an exchange of political ideas here.

    What is your orientation towards the Labour party?

    • Thomas R says:

      Effectively, I think the Labour Party haven’t been a progressive force for the working class in a very long time. I think faith in Cunliffe is misplaced, the best these sorts of parties have done is provide some Keynsian style reforms in periods of booms – it’s unlikely NZ is about to enter another boom so I don’t think a capitalist party is capable of doing what’s necessary to deliver progressive reforms for workers and the poor. There is a mixed orientation going on on the left and I think rather than it coming from an actual belief in Labour, it’s a tactical decision in terms of working within the Union movement where you do meet a lot of pretty staunch Labour supporters.This seems flawed to me, isn’t there value in seeking out the most radical/advanced consciousness of the working class and going from there – plenty of the working class despise Labour as much as National, maybe they aren’t in the Unions, but they clearly have a higher consciousness and understanding of where Labour’s loyalties lie.

      The important point is to keep talking about the alternatives, or even in cases where leftists do want to advise that Labour is a better choice than National – its really necessary to tag on that we need to be looking at much much further horizons than that. Offer some radical imagination when it comes to alternatives. Taking a very critical stance against Labour makes sense – but I sooner pair it with optimism of creating alternatives and social movements necessary to improve society, rather than the air of radical pessimism I interpret from Redline. New Zealand starts as a pretty cynical society, I don’t know if adding to that is necessarily the best idea (obviously the inverse, blind optimism, is also wrong)

      If people want to be involved in lesser evils, Mana is a lesser evil than Labour (and perhaps not an evil, hard to tell when it’s very early on, but again – I’m relatively optimistic).

      • Thomas R says:

        That being said, I’m very very new to the Union situation in New Zealand so I don’t offer a full critique of what Grant said – I’ve very little experience with this stuff to counter anything that makes me a bit skeptical (anything that says Labour as a progressive option).

        I will say that I think it is meaningful with the kind of rhetoric Labour has bothered using. Obviously they were never going to deliver – but to have anything along those lines mentioned in the mainstream is a bit of a surprise for me, I’d come to expect TINA.. then again next crash if Australia goes I can imagine a Labour government having no qualms bringing in crushing austerity

      • rogerthesurf says:

        Thomas,

        “progressive reforms for workers and the poor.”

        Could you please give me an example of one of these and how it would work?

        Cheers

        Roger
        http://rogerthesurf.wordpress.com

      • Thomas r says:

        Not quite sure what you mean? Reforms that are good for the working class but aren’t outright revolutionary.. Right to strike, universal wage, etc. but I think something I forgot to mention is that labour is also set up in such a way that any policies are top down, radicalism is crushed by the labour party apparatus so yeah, there’s that too in the way

  11. Don Franks says:

    I can find agreement with some of what you say Thomas.

    Where we part company at the moment is here:

    “The important point is to keep talking about the alternatives, or even in cases where leftists do want to advise that Labour is a better choice than National – its really necessary to tag on that we need to be looking at much much further horizons than that.”

    That is a very good description of New Zealand left’s failed strategy over the last several decades.

    Once it’s conceded that “Labour is a better choice than National” its game over. Tagging on vague possibilities of golden far horrizons has no reality in terms of practical politics. You can’t build a left alternative on that strategy – the awful proof of that is the continual splitting and shrinking of the New Zealand socialist movement.

    What is needed is two things.

    First, an analysis of the Labour party as an institution which is dedicated to managing capitalism. An institution which can’t end inequality or poverty, because these are *essential features* of capitalism.

    Secondly, a working class political movement which consistently operates on the basis of that analysis, irrespective of Labour party rhetoric.

    We are in possession of the first requirement.

    Opportunism as displayed in Grant Brookes sorry little article is holding back development of the second.

    • Thomas R says:

      Hi Don,

      While I largely agree, I wonder if that tactic is necessarily the best course. Is it factually true that Labour can’t end poverty and are in the business of managing capitalism? Absolutely (even the worst labour party hacks would probably agree).

      Is it true that a government led by labour delivers literally no improvements to the working class? Im not so sure. Yes they are shitty improvements, largely illusory, but if it is more about providing strong rhetoric against labour – won’t people just shrug it off as inaccurate? What resonates with people might be a worthwhile question?

  12. Don Franks says:

    “Is it true that a government led by labour delivers literally no improvements to the working class?”

    The delivery of improvements to the working class occurs because of pressure from the working class and because of the needs of the capitalist system. This takes place under both Labour and National governments. Today, we observe the National party leader defending superannuation at 65 against Labour, who seek to increase it to 67. Such an increase would particularly penalise low paid manual workers. Increasingly it is hard to make a case for Labour as the more worker friendly capitalist party.

    “Yes they are shitty improvements, largely illusory, but if it is more about providing strong rhetoric against labour – won’t people just shrug it off as inaccurate?”

    “What resonates with people might be a worthwhile question?”

    What is required is not “strong rhetoric against labour” but consistent factual analysis of their anti working class capitalist behaviour.

    Yes, very many people will shrug this off, for various reasons. Many union leaders have a stake in the myth that Labour is on the workers side. In many cases these people seek a career in the Labour party machine. For others, it is an easy answer to avoid the uncomfortable question of where to go if not to Labour.
    A lot of ordinary people will shrug off radical ideas because they appear unrelated to their perceived reality. I can recall doing that myself when I was first introduced to radical politics.

    Why not just go with what resonates with people?

    As Marx saw and pointed out, the prevailing ideas of any society are the ideas of its ruling class.
    It is always easier to get a hearing if you go with what people are familiar with. Easier, but not progressively productive.
    All the great social movements, such as those for women’s rights and against racism began as the heroic efforts of very unpopular minorities.

    In the struggle for socialist revolution we should begin with and stick to the truth, however unpleasant it looks and sounds. At first the unvarnished truth may not resonate with many people. But if we do not take the truth as our compass we will be forever lost.

  13. PhilF says:

    Hi Thomas,

    good to see you popping up again. The points you raise are all very pertinent ones.

    But first off, a small disagreement. You said earlier on “I just get a bit tired of the endless ‘look at the swamp left’ stuff on here.” Well, it might be endless in the sense that the ostensibly Marxist left keeps producing fairly awful positions, but it’s not like our critiques of them dominate on this blog.

    Very few of our articles are on that subject. However, when we do produce such articles, they seem to be fairly well-read, so there is clearly an audience that is grappling with these questions and which reads what we write, although it seems people are often more inclined to email us off-list and tell us we’re right, or that they think we’re on the right track, than post comments on the list!

    You raise the issue of pointing to alternatives. I think whenever we can, we do. For instance, we ran several articles on a factory occupation in Thessalonika in Greece, and I even interviewed a spokesperson for the factory occupation. Although that stuff got an OK number of hits, the hits on the workers taking over the factory and running it and the interview got about half the number of hits that the thing I wrote on left political practice in NZ got! What can we do about that?

    I agree with Don about the left’s failed political strategy in relation to Labour over the decades. I think I mentioned to you before the Socialist Action League, the folks who pioneered the strategy towards Labour that is still predominant on the ostensibly Marxist left. You probably haven’t heard of them. That’s because their strategy killed them, not Labour. And they were far, far larger, and much more based in the blue-collar working class (after a late 1970s ‘turn to industry’) than any of the far-left groups of today. The Labour Party is the destroyer of left groups in this country. Getting the “Labour Party question” right is a life or death issue in terms of the revolutionary left.

    It would be better for us all if the Marxist groups didn’t repeat the failed strategy of so many decades. It’s not like we take satisfaction from the fact that they are. It just produces more confusion, demoralisation and decay in their own currents.

    I think Redline is engaged in a very constructive exercise. It is about analysing NZ capitalist society *as it is now*, who rules it and how they rule it, how the political parties fit in, the crucial role of Labour in managing capitalism and so on. I think we’ve done a reasonable job so far in developing such an analysis, based not only on our understanding of Marxism but also on what we’ve seen and experienced on the left for a long, long time.

    Don pointed to two things we need. And he said that we have the first, but we don’t have the second, because the second can’t be conjured up. Until the working class moves, we can’t have a new workers movement, the kind of movement we need. But we can at least keep working on the kind of ideas that movement will need to be armed with and that a new left is needed here that fights for those ideas.

    I’m not sure to what extent even a core of that new left is possible in the short-term. But the more I see of the existing Marxist groups, the more sure I am that it’s not going to come from them or even involve many of them. As I’ve said before, these days I tend to find myself more at home politically with class-struggle anarchists than with supposedly Marxist groups, precisely because they understand stuff like Labour better.

    Lastly, one of the things I hope that we’ll be able to do at Redline, as we continue, is to develop in one place, maybe an extended article or maybe some sort of platform piece or maybe a draft document that we put ‘out there’, an outline (not a blueprint) of the political basis for a new revolutionary left in this country.

    However, as I’m sure you’re aware, you can’t develop a perspective of what is needed without a critique of what is. Which brings us back to the fact that critiques of the *practices* of the existing ostensibly Marxist groups, while only a small part of what we do, are nevertheless essential.

    I look forward to further discussions with you here and in person.

    Cheers,
    Phil

  14. PhilF says:

    A short(ish) ps:

    Thomas wrote: “I imagine this is well known to all involved but everything published by fightback is not fightback doctrine but rather a platform to disagree and debate these issues, including orientation towards Labour.”

    Fair point.

    But where is the alternative viewpoint? It appears that it is *here* rather than *there*!

    I recall also that there was a piece by Grant B on the current state of workers’ struggles and it was announced when it was published that this was one view but that a different view would also be published. That was several months ago. Was a different view published, though?

    I say this not to score easy points but because the putting forward of different viewpoints is a good thing. Indeed, in the old Workers Party we pioneered it, in terms of the Marxist left here. But what tends to happen, from what I can see, is that some rather mushy article appears in Fightback or some other left publication, and no-one in whatever organisation writes a public counter-view.

    I hope you’ll continue to discuss issues like Labour here, but I also hope you (and others) within Fightback will write stuff in that publication and on that blog which discusses and puts forward counter views on these types of issues.

    Cheers,
    Phil

  15. rogerthesurf says:

    I’m still intrigued by Thomas’s

    “progressive reforms for workers and the poor.”

    Its a good phrase because it gives me hope that he can see through the rhetoric and explain to me how these very people can actually be helped.

    In fact, this is what a good government is all about. A government that knows how to attain goals like these.
    I mean isn’t this the aim of all these things you are talking about?

    Could anyone please give me an example of at least one of these and how it would work?

    Cheers

    Roger
    http://rogerthesurf.wordpress.com

    • Thomas R says:

      Roger – largely through the demands of those people themselves. Socialism doesn’t look to dictate from on high what is good for the working class, but empower them to determine what is good for them together

      • rogerthesurf says:

        Thomas,

        Great stuff, so the government delegates “progressive reforms for workers and the poor.”?

        So what would the working class do to help the workers and the poor then?

        Cheers

        Roger

      • Thomas r says:

        Im not sure what point you’re trying to make, do you want a blueprint of a progressive reform.. A compete guide to socialist praxis?

  16. rogerthesurf says:

    Thomas,

    “progressive reforms for workers and the poor” is your phrase.

    If you have visited my website, you will realise that I subscribe to no political class. I am only interested in things that could or should be done to eliminate poverty in our naturally rich and well endowed country.

    Therefore I am very interested in your desire to have “progressive reforms for workers and the poor”, which is absolutely a great thing and I am equally interested in exactly what you have in mind.

    What is a progressive reform? Well maybe I can give you a few examples, including some instituted in the past, although they may not and some definitely do not in my view, meet the criteria of “progressive”.

    “Employment for all – administrated by the government”
    “Three day week with 5 days pay”
    “Universal fixed wage”
    “Benefits for unmarried mothers”
    “Re-education for convicts instead of imprisonment”
    “100% taxation and government pays everyone an allowance”
    “Government builds a house for everyone in NZ under a certain income limit”
    “Government tops up everyone’s income so there is no one under a certain income.”
    “We limit high incomes and pay the balance to low income earners.”

    These are coal face things which most definitely do or would have some effect on our society.
    Surely you must have something like the above in mind, perhaps far more innovative, when you so confidently mention “progressive reforms for workers and the poor.”.

    Cheers

    Roger

    http://www.rogerthesurf.wordpress.com

    • rogerthesurf says:

      Come on guys,

      If you cant make comments on the practicalities of easing the burden on the workers and poor, (which is what leftist politics is all about isn’t it?) then all your philosophising is in vain.

      I am trying to stir up discussion in New Zealand about what government policies would be appropriate for eliminating poverty in New Zealand which is practically the same as “progressive reforms for workers and the poor” and in spite of all your rhetoric, neither of you can make any suggestions.

      I would have thought that any red/marxist movement member would be full of them!

      Cheers

      Roger

      http://www.rogerthesur.wordpress.com

  17. Don Franks says:

    “I am trying to stir up discussion in New Zealand about what government policies would be appropriate for eliminating poverty in New Zealand which is practically the same as “progressive reforms for workers and the poor”

    Roger, I am right with you in concern to eliminate poverty.

    Where I part with you is having faith that government policy effect that outcome.

    Governments are not neutral, they have vested interests which they act on consistently.

    Governments in this country are committed to serving capitalism, a system of which poverty is an inevitable by product.

    Once in a while capitalist governments will enact small reforms beneficial to the working class.

    This happens for one of two reasons, one reason is mass pressure on the government form below.

    More frequently, a reform will be enacted to ensure social stability, to make sure that capitalism can continue its profit making.

    To eliminate poverty we should concentrate on building up the ideological and political strength of the working class, with the end goal of ending the present cancerous capitalist system.

    That is obviously not a quick fix answer, but I believe it is the only serious way to fight poverty.

  18. Don Franks says:

    ps – just to be clear – I’m not against campaigning for reforms, a huge part of my life has been spent doing just that.
    What I’m arguing is that it’s not possible to just go along to the government with a nice idea and expect it to be legislated.
    If we wanted, say, swimming pools and free swimming instruction in every school, it might possibly happen. But only after a extraordinary massive nationwide campaign involving thousands of activated people. In the meantime, schools of the rich will get most of the water safety funding and the government will spend millions funding the America cup team, because that’s a direct benefit to capitalist business.
    Because the working class does not have the time, money or energy to campaign for reforms 24/ 7 we will always be lacking important things needed for a decent life.
    Another point is, reforms may be and often are taken away by capitalism . Trade union recognition by the state took a vast effort by the working class. Then, over just a few years, most union rights have been removed.
    To win a stable, civilized equitable society there is no alternative to removing capitalism.

    • rogerthesurf says:

      Don,

      Who said I think a government could or would solve NZ’s poverty problem? I am completely neutral on where policies come from or what the solution may be.
      OK you state that getting rid of capitalism would be a solution, but at the end of the day, even a Marxist government or regime has to do something practical to solve these problems. In detail then what would a Marxist regime do to address the property issue or how would it address the problem? I am interested in this.
      Cheers
      Roger http://www.rogerthesurf.wordpress.com

  19. Don Franks says:

    Roger, that’s a perfectly fair question.

    Here’s my best shot at a brief on line answer.

    The establishment of a marxist – or working class dominated – society could only be the product of a huge revolutionary upheaval, causing social dislocation as we have never experienced here.
    It is impossible to envisage the details of such a future struggle and its immediate aftermath.
    However some things can be imagined.
    The production and distribution of daily necessities would need to be organised. This would need to be centrally planned and carried out according to social need. Hungry people would be fed, and homeless people sheltered even if they could not pay for it.
    Basic infrastructure would be re assembled. Transport, schools, hospitals, rest homes, electricity and the other stuff of modern day life. This would be based from top to bottom on workers control, through delegated committees of elected workers representatives. These representatives would be subject to recall if they did not perform.
    Armed workers groups would be required to enforce security of the new order and to prevent sabotage from those seeking to restore private property. The intervention of foreign imperialist powers hostile to the revolution might well occur and need to be resisted.
    Such things have happened before in history.
    There is a book by John Reed called “Ten days that shook the world” , which I recommend if you have not yet read it.
    Reed’s book gives a vivid account of the revolution in Russia. That revolution was eventually subverted, but I think its inspiration endures.

  20. Don Franks says:

    ps – I will be making a detailed presentation of these ideas at the up coming Christchurch WEA meeting on December 5th,
    My presentation will be printed on this site.

    • rogerthesurf says:

      Don,

      It all sounds very impressive, but before I answer I need to draw your attention to a typo in my question.

      “In detail then what would a Marxist regime do to address the property issue or how would it address the problem? ”

      I meant to say :- “In detail then what would a Marxist regime do to address the poverty issue or how would it address the problem?

      Does that change your answer at all?

      Sorry about the error.

      Cheers

      Roger http://www.thedemiseofchristchurch.com

  21. Don Franks says:

    No Roger, in my book that typo is not a big player in the scheme of things, as I see it the goal is about striving to get a better happier life for all aboard this planet.

    Anyway I will spend a couple of weeks working on my view of stuff and run it past all you folks,

    Cheers,

    Don

    • rogerthesurf says:

      Don,

      I await your presentation.
      I will be interested to see how you intend to avoid the effects on the general populace that occurred in both Russia and China.
      Unless you come up with some good answers, I honestly I cannot see any way that poverty of normal people can be possibly mitigated.
      i.e. If you are advocating a social and economic disruption, you will need to feed everyone – previously rich or previously poor during that time. Also I agree that you would need armed guards to compel people to work the land etc. (it is unlikely a dispossessed farmer would help out very much in that situation), but it is unlikely that you will get sufficient production to feed the populace anyway- therefore I can see no mitigation of poverty that way either – even after the initial disruption had died down.

      Cheers

      Roger

      Interested to see your presentation though.