Ports of Auckland workers fought battle when this (local)state-owned enterprise tried to slash their conditions. As the placard notes, these workers create profits for this (state-owned) company. But most of the left tells workers these profit-driven companies are “ours”!

In the current referendum on the sale of up to 49% of the shares in a number of state-owned power companies and Air New Zealand, the bulk of the left have come out in support of state capitalism.

This position undermines the possibility of developing independent working class politics.  Instead it chooses between types of capitalism, both of which exploit workers through paying workers less than the value of the goods and services their labour-power produces.

The state-owned enterprises (SOEs) are not the same as the old government departments.  They are capitalist enterprises and were set up to, and even legislatively required to, maximise profit.

The capitalist state is not ‘ours’, so the assets aren’t ‘our assets’ either.  Not only are the SOEs capitalist companies dedicated to maximising profit, they also operate primarily in the interests of the capitalist class as a whole.  That is the function of the state, after all.

Whichever way the vote goes, workers in these enterprises, and all the other SOEs, will continue to be exploited as wage-labour.  Until the left learns to work along the lines of developing an independent working class position on these types of questions, it is acting as a kind of left-wing of capitalism rather than principled opponents of capitalism per se.  And round and round in circles we will continue to go.

Read our analyses:

State companies, capitalism and the left: a Marxist view
Asset sales rallies and left misconceptions
Asset sales rallies: if rain was champagne we could all get pissed
“Keep our Assets”: the unfortunate decline of class hatred
State intervention: a handout to capital
Capital and the State: a Marxist view

Further reading:

Capital, the working class and Marx’s critique of political economy
How capitalism works  – and doesn’t work


  1. Andy says:

    Reformism basically amounts to telling the landowner how to run his slave plantation – they just don’t need the advice.

    Whether we’re owned and exploited by NZ capitalists or foreign – the same circumstances prevail.
    Private ownership and SOEs. Generating capacity designed, built and operated to maximise profit.

    An undemocratic (non-binding) vote on an issue which shouldn’t take priority on the left. It’s hardly a sign of healthy critical socialist thinking.

  2. Al. says:

    some good analysis and a position tend to agree with. Thanks for articulating.

  3. Thomas R says:

    perhaps I’m not reading far enough into the reasoning for opposition to asset sales but I kind of figure that it’s easier to fight bosses and organise workers when they exist here. Will it be easier to seize control of state assets or privately held assets? Though even while typing this I think there is a bit of danger in the vague idea of ~local ownership~ being a good thing so perhaps I’ll come back to this later.

    While I agree with redline on certain issues, I don’t think every single piece every leftist org puts out can actually have the space and time to be a complete diatribe on everything Labour has ever done, and also a full manifesto on how to achieve communism, without people simply drifting off.

    Perhaps I also misunderstood how the left interpreted the idea of “our” assets. My own position was that those assets were built by the working class and only through exploitative labour do those assets have any value, so in any kind of just world they should be ~ours~ – not that they are ours right now via state ownership. Maybe the campaign could have done with a better slogan than “keep our assets” as when I take the view of the previous sentence it seems like we’re just telling the capitalist class, “yes, yes. you keep them!” haha.

    I am all for being principled opponents of capitalism, I also think it’s worth engaging with people at the level they are at now and develop from there? Perhaps that’s part of the whole vanguard question though, and my discomfort with a lot of Leninism, but that’s a different question

    Anyway, busy times at the moment but will see some of you next week. Should be an interesting talk.
    -Thomas Roud

    • Thomas R says:

      Just to expand on that – my understanding with what would separate a Socialist org from a drooling muppet like Martyn *Bomber* Bradbury is he engages with the lowest common denominator of knee-jerk consciousness, and doesn’t attempt to expand it at all. We should obviously seek out where consciousness is most developed, but does that necessarily mean neglecting the less radical of the working class *until later*? (not sure that’s been implied here, just thinking around the question of how to engage with fairly large demonstrations in a possibly productive way… im not convinced that a political rally of a few thousand people is ever completely worthless – even if we engage one person who may become interested in the revolutionary left)

  4. Don Franks says:

    “I am all for being principled opponents of capitalism, I also think it’s worth engaging with people at the level they are at now and develop from there? ”

    Of course you have to try and communicate with unconverted people.

    Too many times in recent years though “engaging with people at the level they are at now” has meant radicals softening their politics to unrecognisable mush, concealing what they really think, so as not to “put people off”

    ( not accusing you of that)

    The first movement I was in – anti Vietnam war – required confrontation with folks who thought the Vietnamese were building boats to cross the Pacific and steal New Zealanders jobs. Many of these folks were friends, family and workmates. To take a principled position was a long hard road , often socially unpleasant, at first winning only a very few. However, the movement grew, and it grew on a rock hard basis of firm political understanding and commitment.

    I still think that’s the only serious and productive way to undertake political struggle.

    As Sommerset Maughn once said: If you ask for what you really want its surprising how often you can actually get it.

  5. PhilF says:

    Thomas wrote:
    “While I agree with Redline on certain issues, I don’t think every single piece every leftist org puts out can actually have the space and time to be a complete diatribe on everything Labour has ever done, and also a full manifesto on how to achieve communism, without people simply drifting off.”

    I agree totally. That’s why we don’t put out such leaflets. And on the blog, we have a lot of pieces that are fairly immediate and don’t go into every nook and cranny of Marxism and how communism can and should be achieved.

    But the other extreme, which *quite a lot* of the left does, is put out leaflets and put up blog pieces telling people things they already know. Often engagement with people is based on fairly lowest common denominator politics. Sometimes this even boils down to leftists telling workers how to network better, as if workers can’t figure that out for themselves.

    Moreover, there is a difference between propaganda and agitation. Almost all that is done by *most* of the left is agitation. There’s very little in the way of serious propaganda. In the current period of protracted passivity on the part of workers, we at Redline are much more propaganda-oriented, although most of us are involved in some minimal kind of campaign work and we still do newsy pieces and the odd humorous bit on the blog (see, for instance, Lenardo of Auckland, which proved very popular).

    Essentially, however, what we are doing is propagandistic – and inevitably so, given the material conditions around us.

    Yes, hopefully next week’s meeting will be good. We’re trying to advertise it within local unions and get organisers and delegates along, but such advertising is really difficult. I can send you a flyer that you could email around anyone you think might be interested.


  6. PhilF says:

    PS: I should have also mentioned that we try to have a few *good news* stories or positive examples of things that can be done. For instance, we stuck up a video and some other articles on a factory occupation in Thessaloniki and did an interview with a spokesperson for the workers.

    The interview with Tommy McKearney that went up the other day shows there is some possibiity of building a class-struggle union. It’s interesting how the leadership of the IWU speak in very sharp class terms in a way that is almost never heard in New Zealand these days. That leadership partly comes out of the left of the Provos and partly out of the more left and republican section of the CPI. While political conditions and consciousness in NZ is quite a long way behind Ireland, I still think the IWU is a positive example for anti-capitalists here.

    The IWU is not in ICTU (the Irish equivalent of the CTU) and that raises questions about the poltical cost of being in, or not in, the major trade union federation. In the past, the generally agreed leftist position was that it was much better to be in even a fairly right-wing dominated union federation. I would have agreed with that view too. But these days, when right-dominated union federations don’t really have much hold over the working class, I think the issue is much more open. Not being in ICTU has *helped* more than hindered the development of the IWU. And building the IWU as a radical union alternative has probably helped the working class more than if it was in the ICTU and constantly arguing against a brick wall.


  7. oshay says:

    I think there is a false logic on the left in regard to the state assets. The logic being that these assets contribute to the governments budget, allowing it to spend more on social programs etc without having to rely on taxes alone. Starting from the position of taxes any well informed Marxist will tell you that taxes are simply a deduction of wages and Surplus-value and that higher taxes on the wealthy will not only increase class antagonisms (fightback from the capitalists), it will also reduce profitability, placing the economy itself into trouble, when this happens you can place your bets that government policy will be reserved to protect Capitalism. In other words such reformist ideas are bound to fail sooner or later because under Capitalism the capitalists always win. In regards to state assets and State Capitalism in general what they offer is no different from any other commodity, the government is only interested in maximising the exchange-value that it receives, obviously they’re still providing a use-value, but the governments focus on profit maximisation means not only are the workers who produce these commodities receiving less in wages then the value that they produce, the consumer ends up paying more compared to if they were just paying for the costs of production. In this regard state assets are no different then taxes, they’re simply just a deduction of wages and profits.

    • oshay says:

      However while being similar to taxes they do differ in that they add to the expansion of capital compared to conventional taxes. By doing so they reinforce the process of capital accumulation even further.

  8. PhilF says:

    Yes, the attachment of a lot of the left to state capitalism is extraordinary. It reveals the low political level of much of the left. You just want to pick them up and take them along to Marxism 101.

    I said somewhere else that the people in NZ most hostile to Marxism are the ostensibly Marxist left. If you actually apply Marx’s tools in relation to the political economy of state-owned enterprises, *most* of the left get really pissed off. They’d much rather use some leftish version of Keynesianism and get in behind whatever is moving at the time, than go to people with a clear Marxist analysis.

    So we have an endless cycle of nationalisation, privatisation, some of the privatisation going belly up, so back to some more nationalisation, things get working again, so back to some more privatisation. Round and round, with the right and most of the left kind of mirroring each other. The right advocating private capitalism (or those not so deluded on the right advocating a mixed economy) and the left advocating state capitalism (or, in the case of the liberal left, a mixed economy).

    Then you’ve got a minuscule few Marxists and class-struggle anarchists arguing neither private nor state capitalism, but workers’ power.


    • oshay says:

      They do say that repetition is the mother of learning. Unfortunately enough this repetition doesn’t necessarily mean that people will realise that they’ve been choosing between two wrong choices and will eventually make the right choice. If anything this repetition is a reflection of capitalist ideology and the concept that ideology is more then what people believe, but is in its essence what people do. By continually performing this repetition of swinging back and forward from labour to national the ideology of parliamentary politics and the belief that system can be changed in this manner, becomes ingrained into people almost on an unconscious level. By this I mean that people still perform this act of repetition even when they’re consciously aware of the pointlessness of the act.