ISO debates whether socialists should support the Internet Mana Party

Posted: July 4, 2014 by Admin in At the coalface, Capitalist ideology, Class Matters, Labour Party NZ, Maori, New Zealand politics, Workers' rights
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A hongi too far?  What about class lines in politics?

The following article appeared on the site of the International Socialist Organisation yesterday.  It is a critique of ISO’s involvement in the Mana Party and, even more so, a critique of its support to the Mana Internet Party lash-up.  Interestingly, it makes many of the same points that we have been making on Redline; indeed a Redline contributor was already thinking of writing something taking up the article that appeared in Andrew Tait’s name, the article that Martin Gregory begins his examination with.  Since reading Martin’s article, our contributor has decided he needn’t bother as Martin’s article makes the salient points!

We have some rather large disagreements with ISO, however we strongly commend them for running Martin’s article.  The revolutionary left can only benefit by having organisations that are prepared to conduct their political debates in public.  When the original Workers Party and revolution group merged, part of our merger was the decision that members could express their views publicly, rather than enforcing the standard bureaucratic-centralist nonsense that people with minority views had to pretend publicly that they agreed with majority positions.  We always felt this was simply lying to the working class and had no place in a serious revolutionary organisation.

We’re running Martin’s article here for several reasons.  Obviously, we politically agree with most of it; moreover, Martin is a veteran Marxist and trade union activist.  His views carry some weight.  However, we’re also running it because there’s simply no other facility for having a discussion about it.  For instance, there’s no comments section on the ISO site.  As important as this issue may be to ISO itself, it is also a clear dividing line for revolutionaries as a whole.  Simply put, we believe support for the Mana Internet Party lash-up means crossing a class line.  Some on the left recognise a class line when it takes the form of something rather obvious like a picket, but have a great deal of difficulty recognising that there is a class line in politics that is just as important (if not more so).  Mana Internet Party is, whether it lasts three months or three minutes, a cross-class alliance in an imperialist country.  There is no way that it can be justified in terms of fundamental class politics.

We do not believe, obviously, that it is some kind of life-and-death question.  In the overall scheme of things, the lash-up is a relatively small affair.  However, it is important because it does mean people who support the lash-up are crossing class lines and history shows us that crossing class lines almost always begins with something small, something that is accepted on the grounds of being small and for short-term tactical reasons.  This, of course, has a certain logic; it means that the next step in crossing class lines becomes a bit easier, and the one after that easier still.

We hope that people, including ISO members, will respond to Martin’s article here.  While we disagree strongly with some of ISO’s practice, we have no particular axe to grind against them.  We’re not trying to build a rival organisation (and, indeed, when a number of us were leaders of the Workers Party we went out of our way to try to establish a positive working relationship with ISO and get them to join the merger process that we led); we would much rather see ISO adopting consistent revolutionary politics than see it fall apart.  Moreover, we frequently run excellent material produced by ISO’s Australian co-thinkers, Socialist Alternative.     P.F.

Below is what was published July 3 on the ISO site:

[The ISO recently published an article ‘Should Socialists Support the Internet-Mana Alliance?‘, the product of discussion within our organisation. This is a response and a contribution to the debate from Martin Gregory, a member of our Poneke branch.]

The publication of ‘Should socialists support the Internet-Mana alliance?’ on 18 June on this website marks, in my opinion, a new low-point in the trajectory of the International Socialist Organisation. The article was sanctioned by the ISO’s national committee. A continuation along this track will spell the end of the organisation’s prospects of becoming the nucleus of a revolutionary workers party. Theoretical clarity is essential, and we are losing it.

The developments of the last few months have given the ISO ample opportunities to re-assess its affiliation to Mana and return to principled socialist politics. We have had the prospect of the alliance with Dotcom prior to Mana’s April AGM, the AGM decision to seek alliance, the interval for negotiations, and the announcement of Internet Mana. Unfortunately but a change of direction has not been taken.

So where does the ISO stand on the Internet-Mana alliance? Although not baldly stated, it is clear from ‘Should socialists support the Internet-Mana alliance?’ that the ISO’s publicly declared position is for an Internet Mana party vote. Whether the ISO will support Internet Party candidates in electorates is not discussed. The article is equivocal, although overall it is an apologia for the alliance and the ISO’s continued support for Mana.

One of the contradictions of the article is that it states that the ISO was against the alliance and would have preferred a straight Mana campaign for the Te Tai Tokerau and and Waiariki electorates. On the other hand the article runs through a load of excuses and reasons for the link up with Dotcom.

If the ISO was against the Dotcom alliance its opposition has been less than forthright. The website posting on 28 March was against allying with Dotcom but concessions were made to opportunism:

“And that’s my first point in defence of Hone and Gerard [Hone Harawira and Gerard Hehir]: it’s news. The Mega Mana story has been on every news bulletin since the beginning of the week. National Radio on Thursday played a quote from Annette Sykes every hour saying “Mana is against National and for the poor”. We may be less than happy with the way it spins in the media, but it is getting some basic messages out.”

and:

“In Gerard’s defence, Dotcom is a millionaire, but not every boss is the same. Gerard is a union organiser, and part of that job is playing off one boss against another. Dotcom’s company, Megaupload, makes money by undermining the monopoly model of movie and music companies. That’s why he is wanted by the FBI. There are constant battles within the ruling class – in this case involving old media vs new media. There is nothing wrong in principle with using them to our advantage, so long as we don’t end up being casualties for someone else’s cause.”

Poneke/Wellington ISO branch had a verbal report back on Mana’s April AGM. The branch was told that the ISO’s spokesperson spoke neutrally on the proposed alliance.

It has yet to be explained by the ISO majority how the anti-alliance position was so thoroughly defeated at the Mana AGM. This majority claims that Mana is a far left party. In my opinion this assessment is ludicrous. If Mana is far left how can it be that it has made an alliance with an ACT-donating capitalist? Why did it invite Gareth Morgan to address its AGM?

To reach their position on Mana the national committee has had to sacrifice socialist principles. One of these is that Marxist socialists oppose parliamentary opportunism; i.e., the dropping of principles in order to get seats. The principles dropped in this case are around the acceptance of Dotcom’s money at the price of Mana giving a leg-up to a new bourgeois parliamentary party. This party, a plaything of Dotcom, depends on Hone Harawira winning Te Tai Tokerau.

Instead of attacking parliamentary opportunism the national committee supports it. They welcome the “excitement” that the alliance brings to the general election. The article says that Mana has the right to make such deals to improve its chances. What right? Is this an admission that Mana is not far left after all and has the “right” to behave just like any bourgeois party? We are told “There is nothing wrong with wheeling and dealing in itself.” In my book it is wrong. For generations revolutionary socialists have condemned reformist social democrats for their parliamentary opportunism.

The second trampled Marxist socialist principle is to warn the working class against false friends. Socialists do not sow illusions in tendencies that claim the way forward is through Parliament, but instead criticise them sharply. Marxists are against giving “communist colouration” to people who do not stand for workers taking power into their own hands and destroying the capitalist state machine. On this principle the NC again excels in its wrongness. Laila Harre is described as a trade unionist. She has only ever been a paid appointed union official, and that is history. Her more recent career has been on the other side as head of human resources at the Auckland Transition Agency where she oversaw the cut of 1200 jobs. She is a small-business owner, an exploiter. The NC tells us that John Key’s estimation that the Internet Party is far left is probably correct. This is beyond the pale. We have the ISO chiming in with the bourgeois media’s efforts to play up the Internet Party’s threadbare leftwing credentials. We are told a party vote for Harawira, Harre, Sykes and Minto is for a strong team. If National is re-elected that illusion may be sustained. None of them are revolutionary socialists. If Internet Mana are incorporated into a Labour-led government they will be a strong team on behalf of capitalism, all the better for their leftwing credentials to deceive the working class.

Mana is a progressive Maori-nationalist party and should be respected as such. The struggle for Maori liberation contributes to the workers’ side in the struggle between the classes. However, Mana only challenges the status quo on a partial basis. It stands for reform, not a revolutionary overthrow of capitalism. Mana is focused on change through MPs in Parliament, as opposed to change through mass action from below. Socialists can work together with the Mana Party on specific issues, but they must do so from the independent standpoint of the international working-class. The socialist programme is more far-reaching and more radical than Mana’s programme of nationalism and reformism. The ISO should be explaining the limitations of Mana’s politics. Instead the ISO pretends that these politics are “far left” and in doing so it negates its own programme.

If the current policy of the ISO continues it will go into the general election period supporting a Dotcom-financed campaign to lever the Internet Party into Parliament. This is in the hope that Mana can get one, two or three MPs elected in the process.

As a revolutionary socialist, a Marxist, I do not believe that unprincipled manoeuvres to get MPs elected is a strategy that the ISO should support. I consider that the ISO’s policy of affiliation and uncritical attitude to Mana over the last two years has caused damage to the organisation by leading its members away from Marxism.

If you read the blurbs on their candidates on the Internet Party website you will discover a bourgeois, middle-class party drawn from small businesses and academia. Typically the candidates are left-liberal, but in no way anti-capitalist. Candidate Gil Ho’s blurb says “Gil believes that entrepreneurship, science and technology are important focus areas for New Zealand to create more jobs and compete globally. The Internet Party agrees.” Do we want to be in alliance with this crowd?

Further reading: Labour leadership contest:illusions and confusions on the left

 

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Comments
  1. PhilF says:

    Martin’s article is excellent. Always good to see clear class politics being expressed.

    Phil

  2. garagecollective says:

    The fact that such a debate even exists illustrates the sad state of class struggle in Aotearoa, and collective movements to that end. Phil and others know where I stand politically, yet I still have solidarity with revolutionary Marxists who call a spade a spade. But to even debate the merits of a political party operating within the framework of the capitalist state seems a far cry from what is really needed to push forward our class interests.

    Thanks for sharing this nonetheless; for someone out of the loop it is certainly interesting to hear. Hopefully the sham that is parliamentary elections will pass and allow the ISO and other comrades to focus on pushing forward the class struggle where it counts: in everyday life, in the workplace, in our communities – where capital makes us and where it can be undone.

    Jared

  3. PhilF says:

    Jared, I agree absolutely with you when you say “The fact that such a debate even exists illustrates the sad state of class struggle in Aotearoa, and collective movements to that end”.

    I tend to think ISO is the least worst of the ostensibly Marxist groups, but their position in relation to Mana Internet is just awful, as was their call for workers in unions affiliated to Labour to vote for Cunliffe for Labour leader. A real socialism-from-below approach would have been to argue that workers in such unions should fight to get their unions disaffiliated from Labour as part of a wider argument to build new organisations of the working class, ones fit for purpose.

    The article above has been getting quite a few hits, so hopefully ISO members, including Martin himself, will join in the discussion here. One of the functions of Redline – and our contributors range from Marxist-Leninists to anti-Leninist Marxists to anarcho-communists – is to encourage comradely discussion and debate among serious anti-capitalists about the current state of affairs and the way forward.

    Unfortunately, the number of serious anti-capitalists is very, very small indeed. That is, the people who know what a class line is, are able to draw the class line in politics, and know not to cross it.

    As I’ve said before, these days I tend to find I have more in common politically with class-struggle anarchists than with a lot of ostensible Marxists, although I remain very much a Marxist.

    Phil

  4. Somebody says:

    Very good article.

    I am disgusted about the alliance. Why many socialists are supporting Labour Party? Why now they support Internet Party?

    Socialists are anti-capitalists. Labour Party is anti-migrant and it wants to raise the retirement age. Should I vote for that?

    Dotcom is a racist capitalist. Internet Party is his political party.

    I am disgusted to see that socialist organizations support IP.

  5. Interesting debate. If this debate can in anyway help to house the homeless feed the kids and pay the dentist bill for people getting blood poisoning please let others and me know a.s.a.p.

  6. Peter says:

    As a member of the Mana Movement and a Marxist, I obviously take great interest in discussions of this nature. I genuinely believe that Mana offers an opportunity for empowering an anti-capitalist social revolution, through the coordination of left-wing individuals and groups, and the promotion of alternate governance structures. That said, I recognise the inherent weakness of Mana, in that it is at best a reluctant socialist party, and more probably social-democratic (i.e. capitalist) and statist. As such, my support for Mana is based on maximising the good this movement can do, while recognising its limitations and agitating beyond these.

    The alliance with the Internet Party (IP) makes me nervous, for many of the same reasons articulated in the article above and on this blog generally. I fear it has already degraded the left-wing values of Mana, with Hone himself noting ‘I’m not left-wing, I’m a Maori radical’, though this in fact reveals his position from the very beginning of his parliamentary excursion. Mana has become altogether too focused on parliamentary representation, which should be viewed as an exercise in profile-building rather than the final goal itself. A revolution from above is (faintly) possible, but it will not be the one we want.

    IP, at its core, speaks to the capitalist entrepreneurism of youthful anti-authoritarians (quite the mouthful), though it has confused itself with the appointment of a thoroughly bourgeois trade unionist as leader. It cannot be a force for socialist change, regardless of the potential emancipatory mechanisms of the online world (which need not be monopolised by a suitably-named party).

    To conclude this wayward rant, my lukewarm support of Mana is being very seriously challenged by this alliance with IP. This unintuitive coupling stems from Mana’s very foundation, in which it was not clearly established what the party stood for, and what goals it had, beyond the broad statements of ‘the poor and dispossessed’. A wishlist of State-delivered goodies is not a manifesto for radical social change, and this vague agenda has permitted thhe hijacking of the party by bourgeois opportunists.

    Will I vote for Internet Mana? Yes, because it is the lesser of many evils and might at least alleviate, in a small way, the terrible harm being inflicting upon the aforemention poor and dispossessed today. But I will do so reluctantly, and will not devote further energies to the party’s political development, given the leadership seem set on their current path of capitalist reform.

  7. Don Franks says:

    “A wishlist of State-delivered goodies is not a manifesto for radical social change”

    I must remember to leave enough money for someone to write that on my tombstone

  8. Dean Parker says:

    >> Dotcom’s company, Megaupload, makes money by undermining the monopoly model of movie and music companies. <<

    And unions. The last big stoushes between the movie & TV companies and the writing & acting unions in the States was over DVD percentages. I presume similar contract fights take place between the Musicians Union and the recording companies. Part of the dough that paid for the vast Helensville mansion came from union members’ pockets – writers, actors and musicians. With one lot of bosses — the movie and music companies — the workers have fought for and won a tiny share of the cake. Tiny, but it’s a living. With the other bosses — like Megaupload — there’s nothing.

    • Daphna says:

      Thanks for this dose of sanity Dean. It was rather awful reading Mike Treen’s defence of Kim Dotcom as if he was merely a successful businessman providing a platform for people to share stuff. (see Daily Blog http://thedailyblog.co.nz/2014/06/12/why-the-mana-internet-alliance-is-a-potential-game-breaker/#sthash.O7x0ZrLq.dpuf) Mike notes Megaupload “had over 150 employees, US$175 million revenues, and 50 million daily visitors. At its peak Megaupload was estimated to be the 13th most popular site on the internet and responsible for 4% of all internet traffic.” That Dotcom was pocketing millions while the artists got nothing speaks volumes about the guy’s outlook.

  9. PhilF says:

    One of the historical political strengths of Trotskyism, including the IST tradition within it, has been opposition to popular frontism (political alliances across the class divide in the imperialist world). Yet one of the most stark elements of ISO’s endorsement of Internet-Mana is that it is a mini popular front. If ISO maintains its current position, I don’t think it will be credible for them to oppose/critique the popular frontism – past, present and future – of others.
    Phil

  10. […] super-rich pirate capitalist Kim Dotcom and his Internet Party (for Martin’s critique, see here).  While Martin’s critique contained much that we would agree with, its weaker side was that […]