imagesby Don Franks

A popular bumper sticker argues, “If you skip voting it’s not rebellion – it’s surrender”.

I don’t think it’s either of those things.

This election I won’t be voting, because, after considering all the options, none of them do it for me.

Although this time round I did consider the possibility of voting for the lesser evil.

That would have meant voting for the National Party. As a tired older worker with many hours toilet cleaning behind me I was very pleased to pass go at 65 and get my pension.

Labour vows to raise the pension age, which will hurt low-paid manual workers and Maori.

National has pledged not to raise the pension age. Sure, political promises mean little, but John Key has staked his reputation on this one, saying he would resign if he broke his word.  So, I was tempted to vote National on this issue of great importance to me.

I won’t though.

Parties of privilege

National is a party of privilege who openly hold the working class in contempt.

In my experience, the Labour Party also hold the working class in contempt.

Over many years I’ve been on various union delegations to parliament, asking this or that Labour MP for help. The formulae never changed. Some MP deigned to see us for a few minutes, and heard our submission, often visibly impatient for us to finish. Then we’d get a perfunctory platitude before being  shown the door, after which nothing would ever change.

On basic workers’ issues, Labour has  shown no essential difference to National. In many cases they have been worse.

I did vote for Labour, once, in 1984. Like many thousands of other New Zealand workers I hated Muldoon and thought nothing else could possibly be worse. Then Rogernomics smote us.

The Greens are another capitalist party, who have amply demonstrated lack of principle. They preferred cabinet seats to opposing genetic modification. Now, I am ok with some of the genetic modification, but the issue showed what can be expected from Greens wanting seats at all cost. I believe that if the price of their inclusion was coastal drilling the Green MPs would pay up.

Mana I was going to vote for until they were bought by a flakey rape-joke twittering huckster.

The Maori Party buddy up with National, so I won’t vote for them either.

Charade

However, it’s not so much the individual parties that I am weary of, it’s the parliamentary charade itself. I have taken some interest in all elections since 1972 and have seen too many of them. I now know how the movie will finish, who did the murder, who gets the girl, who loses the farm. I am now only bored and irritated by this old movie. I want a new one.

Parliament used to be a radical idea. Before the idea had fully formed, we used to be ruled by Kings and Queens, who could, and would, kill you on the spot, if you crossed them. When writing his plays, Shakespeare frequently had to contort history, so as to show his rulers in a favorable light. Otherwise he risked execution.

One-person rule being a drag, people rebelled against it and, in stages, by violent means, secured broader representation, for men of property, for all men, and eventually for all women.

During this process another royal house assembled itself.

Where we once had the House of the Tudors, we now have the House of Capital. This house rules today as absolutely as Henry VIII.

All economic matters of consequence are decided upon by capitalists, very often with no reference to parliament. Big worksites close, ruining peoples lives. Such closures need no permission from parliament. At present dairy farming despoils large areas of the country; if a Labour-led government is elected agricultural vandalism will continue. Private profit will continue to dictate people’s lives.

It’s the system!

If working people want a happy, secure future in a peaceful, clean environment they will have to get rid of the capitalist system. Achieving that requires understanding how the real levers of our society operate beneath the Beehive sideshow. I must admit that parliament is more entertaining than studying economics. Parliament is a soft soap with characters we are used to. Real life politics is harder.

This election day I  won’t  vote.  Instead of walking down to the Aro St hall and ticking a paper, I’lll use that time, and a bit more, reading an economic marxist book, to try and improve my ability at arguing for a socialist  future.

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Comments
  1. PhilF says:

    It’s interesting how Mana has been the vehicle for a lot of leftists to fall in behind Labour. Rather than the left interventionists helping shift Mana left, Mana has shifted them to the right.

    A good example is that few people on the ‘hard left’ will openly call for a vote for Labour. But most of them favour Mana, or Internet Mana, supporting a ‘Labour-led government’ into power. In other words, same outcome. So participation in Mana has become, chiefly, the mechanism for reconciling once-staunch opponents of Labour to backing Labour.

    Just as leftists in Mana reconciled themselves to the appalling lash-up with Kim Dotcom, and have therefore had to prettify the pirate capitalist and his party, the next step is pretending there are some significant differences in substance between Labour and National, the twin parties of NZ capital.

    This is a step backwards from the situation ten years ago when there was more hostility to Labour and a greater level of understanding of the complementary roles played by National and Labour in capital’s circus of two acts. It now seems that understanding was actually very shallow and has evaporated quite easily since the emergence of Mana.

    Back then there was talk of a workers’ list in the national elections, one of class fighters running against the twin parties of capital and their lesser offspring. Now, much of the left lowers its horizons to the Internet Mana lash-up and the promotion of “lesser-evil politics” in relation to Labour, the party which wants to extend workers’ working lives, putting it somewhat to the right of John Key.

    Phil

  2. Jordan Adams says:

    I’m pretty much in your camp. I’m not absolutely against voting in our electoral oligarchy. But I don’t think any of the present parties deserve anything but absolute contempt. Mana on its own, as a backward-looking welfarist stop gap, or “Keynesianism-in-one-country”, at least had something going for it.

    The Internet Party represents I think a kind of electoral adventurism from the centre-right, which has managed to deck itself out in the panoply of “progressive capitalism” to grab the vote of the social justice oriented technocratic bourgeoisie, whose depressing “entrepreneurialism” should not be patronised or tolerated.

  3. Daphna says:

    I too was going to vote Mana out of respect and support for John Minto. Once it coalesced with the Internet Party the negative outweighed the postive for me.
    The Internet Party epitomises a form of vacuous politics with candidates who don’t stand for anything solid “Just get out and vote, I don’t care who for” one of their candidates said. “The Prime Minister is holding the country back with his ignorance of the digital age” says Laila Harre. Laila’s solid left social democratic beliefs are now covered up in this other fluff.
    Then there’s the Internet Party’s Central Auckland candidate who thinks Norman Kirk was a hero and wants people to vote for the Labour candidate in Auckland central.
    The Internet Party exists for the interests of Kim Dotcom and an assortment of people who would desperately love to be parliamentarians propping up a Labour government.

  4. Don Franks says:

    “The Prime Minister is holding the country back with his ignorance of the digital age”
    says Laila Harre.

    HA HA

    fuck.

    Holding the country back is he?

    The wee bugger.

    I say let John Key get on with that – if is what he’s really up to.

    What I don’t want him to hold back is the power of the working class.

    Ok, not on full alert right now, but one day all you silly politocos, grab your arse and hold on tight

  5. Don Franks says:

    There was no need for me to use that sort of language, it adds nothing to the argument.

    I do get a bit frustrated by the political games which go on and on,
    in place of progress.

  6. Jordan Adams says:

    This election is interesting as a case study in left populism, a socialist strategy that can be critiqued or defended thereby. However left populism is not by any means new in NZ.

    I see the election like this: Particular party forces (National etc) masquerade as representing the will of the people while in effect only representing the will of particular classes on the hand, in the old liberal style of Parliamentary Democracy; and on the other hand, they masquerade as forces whose policies can be consumed like any other consumer product on the market, in the new neo-liberal style. The ‘Internet’ Party, who are literally tying themselves to a network and system of communication technological commodities(the internet is not public), take the neoliberal logic to a higher stage.

    I think Leftists should begin to think about the problems of building working class power outside of the electoral game where they have to date only met with embarrassing failures and setbacks.

    As far as the electoral level of struggle goes, the left is indulging more in diplomacy than politics: the re-arranging of the already existing factors on the board (Mana, Greens, Labour) — with any new factor that emerges as a fait accompli (Internet Party) — to alleviate slightly and temporarily the enormous strain on the working class. It is a obviously myopic strategy. You can even confirm the myopia by looking to the socialists involved utter inability to articulate concretely a strategic discourse of navigating from Internet-Mana to the socialisation of the means of production, in fact they would probably laugh at the idea and consider it utopian, despite the fact that this very ‘scientificity’, the authority of science, is what Marx strove for, contra the utopian idealism of anarchists like Bakunin and his Alliance. Who wants to follow these new pied pipers and their unscientific, basically incredible and unconvincing socialism, whose germ is apparently embodied in a party aligned with Kim Dotcom?

  7. oshay says:

    This could be an excellent opportunity for us to reach out to anarchists and find ways together to convince workers and other leftists who are unsure about Mana mania that voting is simply ritual and like rituals any changes it can make are only superficial.

  8. Don Franks says:

    “Who wants to follow these new pied pipers and their unscientific, basically incredible and unconvincing socialism, whose germ is apparently embodied in a party aligned with Kim Dotcom?”

    not many tired people cleaning too many toilets in too few hours for too little dosh.

  9. Jordan Adams says:

    I hope my comment above is not taken as a dig at anarchism. I was thinking more in terms of the events of the first international. Bakunin was himself forthright about his idealism — he thought the first international needed the idealism of his elite vanguard — and contempt for wissenschaft. Many things have happened since to draw anarchists further apart and closer together, in different parts of the world and for different reasons.

  10. PhilF says:

    The first instance I knew I wouldn’t be voting Mana in 2014 was when John Minto was on a panel with folks like Jamie Whyte, Winston Peters and other ‘minor party’ reps – it was either on ‘The Nation’ or ‘Q and A’ (I assume ‘The Nation’) – and he started channeling Winston Peters, saying that it was unquestionable that immigrants had pushed up house prices in Auckland and talking about ‘our country’. It was funny, because Jamie Whyte actually corrected him; the ACT head honcho had a less NZ nationalist/chauvinist position than John. But that performance just made me shake my head; there was no way I would vote Mana after that.

    And that’s one of the problems with the parliamentary circus and Mana itself. Mana hasn’t been a vehicle for pakeha leftists to make contact with working class Maori and help develop things towards anything socialist. Instead, Mana has been a vehicle to shift folks like John, and the various small ostensibly Marxist groups, to the right. In terms of the Marxist groups this is most clear in relation to the Labour Party question.

    Mana wants a Labour-led government, and none of the ostensibly Marxist groups within Mana are opposing this whole outlook/approach. The whole thing is about getting rid of Key and National as some kind of transformative process that can then be deepened by the left. In other words, it’s the same old softness in relation to Labour that played such a large part in destroying some of the major left groups of the 1970s and 1980s, like the Socialist Action League.

    Moreover, in terms of the single most important question in relation to working life right at this point int time – the retirement age – Key is to the left of Labour anyway. One of the first things Labour in power would do is start to move on raising the retirement age – and this is the mob that the left is recommend as leaders of an ‘alternative’ government to Key.

    Being in Mana has taken the left groups backwards politically, rather than taking Mana forwards politically.

    And that was before Kim Dotcom’s revenge/vanity project started and hooked up with Mana, with a few million bucks being pumped into it. Internet Mana has nothing in common with anti-capitalist politics.

    Moreover, there is now a small, positive non-voting trend emerging (ie not people just not being bothered, but people arguing there are good reasons to shun voting in 2014). About a fortnight ago there was a fair-sized public debate in Dunedin with politics lecturer and political commentator Bryce Edwards and Otago University professor Richard Jackson arguing the case for not voting, while former Labour cabinet minister Marion Hobbs and current Labour MP David Clark argued in favour of voting. The pro-voting side definitely had the weaker case.

    There’s also a bit of discussion in the mainstream media emerging where the positive case for not voting in 2014 is starting to be featured.

    Phil

  11. Barrie says:

    Having been an anarchist for 30 years in what is clearly not an anarchist society, its sometimes tough to ‘hold the line’. Given the way things are it would be easy to fall into the trap of saying “Ah to hell with it, I give up, time to vote” but in fact ive never voted in my life and I think part of what inoculates me against it is actually meeting mainstream politicians or their representatives. I try to play devils advocate and imagine that the problem is I just haven’t given them a fair go, that maybe they aren’t really as shallow or self-seeking or as plain wrong as I thought. Then I meet them face-to-face and they turn out to be every bit as bad as I originally thought.

    Recently I met both the local MP (a high ranking Nat) and attended the Mana-Internet Roadtrip. In the case of the former I was minding my own business at a market. Its one ive been to every week for 4 years and ive never seen him there before (amazing how he suddenly made an appearance now isn’t it?!). He approached me with his well groomed, nice tan, smilely face, ironed shirt etc and just spoke at me in clichés, after a while he realised he wasn’t getting my vote and parted with “Its a good country…its a good country”. I wanted to ask if he was asking me or telling me, but he had already moved on.

    In the case of the Mana roadtrip, my attendance was based on the choice of going to the new ice skating rink at one end of town or the Mana-internet show at the other. I decided it was better to watch other people fall on their faces than to fall over myself, so I ended going to the warm hotel. The sense I got from it was that I was watching a 3rd rate wedding reception where the participants were pretending to smile for the cameras and each pulling their own way, knowing damn well that they were in it as a marriage of convenience and a post-election divorce on the cards if things don’t go well. The other thing that occurred to me is that if you stop and look at their policies, apart from the technology update, theres nothing particularly new or radical about them. They would’ve fitted in as fairly mainstream in the Labour Party of 45 years ago. Its only because the consensus within mainstream politics has shifted so far to the Right, that they appear slightly naughty. Its really quite sad and lacking in a long term historical perspective for some on the Left to herald this tiny shift of a few millimetres as somehow a return to something radical and worth backing.

    Everyone recognises the success of neo-liberalism in imposing its economic agenda on this country. True there’s always been some contestation and the ideological drive has slowed down or been reversed in recent times. However, one of its often unacknowledged successes is in the super-structural rather than material arena, in that an entire generation has grown up encouraged to be a-political. The system doesn’t necessarily need that many ideologues to run it, just a large number of apathetic folks who think being selfish is as natural as snow. I know that could be another reason to throw in the towel but ive been thinking recently this tabula rasa could be something to build on, that a negative can be turned into a positive. For example with an entire generation having grown up without unionisation, we can present militant grass-roots unionism (im not an anarcho-syndicalist so I have my own criticisms of unions) as actual unionism and expect to get a reasonable hearing. That wouldve been impossible during their grandparents days when we had compulsory unionism. Or we can take back the discourse on the meaning of ‘traditional values’. It doesn’t have to embody a reactionary agenda. My Grandmother grew up in a mining town and not scabbing was a traditional value she taught me. Time to bring that back.

    So I reckon: 1) meeting politicians can be a healthy corrective to falling for their bullshit 2) offering positive alternatives especially to younger people is likely to steer them away from the outright apathy that 1) might induce. Its a start anyway.

  12. PhilF says:

    Hi Barrie, I pretty much agree with all of what you’ve written here.

    For instance, the weakening of those powerful traditional institutions (the old class-collaborationist unions) opens up possibilities for arguing for something new/alternative and the substantial weakening of the old Labour Party hold over large sections of the working class means the possibility of arguing for an alternative society too. One way I’d describe it is that the old institutions that used to mediate between the interests of workers and capital have been partly dispensed with, or just rendered obsolete by the ‘new right’ economic reforms of the late 1980s/early 1990s.

    Unfortunately, however, a chunk of the left, is stuck in that old-time period, trying to revive social democratic politics through vehicles like Mana, rather than posing the need for out-and-out anti-capitalist politics.

    As I’ve said quite often in recent years, I think genuine Marxists and genuine class-struggle anarchists have quite a bit of common ground and a dialogue about what an alternative political project might look like in the concrete conditions of this country in 2014, ie in the absence of much motion within the working class, is potentially quite fruitful.

    I’ve already mentioned to an AWSM comrade the idea of a joint meeting promoting the positive alternative of *not voting* in 2014.

    Phil

  13. Barrie says:

    Being in AWSM myself, I look forward to hearing what becomes of your suggestion.

    • Phil F says:

      A public meeting is being organised in Dunedin; details should be up on the blog in the next few days.

      Phil

  14. I like the disucssion between Barrie and Phil here. It links into my approach of a new living dialectics.

    Here in Britain, a very similar process of the complete bourgeoisification of ‘democracy’ (as seems to have happended in NZ) has meant it’s impossible since the Thatcher/Reagan days of the late 80’s defeat of the USSR, for any pretence of democracy to exist, or for grassroots activity within. It is all about the rich controlling ‘democracy’ nowadays. There is no room for the left to advance here – even whilst most of the left still behaves like a rabbit in its headlights. We need to learn how to build united fronts of direct action locally and regionally.

    We need to focus on grassroots and participatory and inclusive learning processes. We need to work more with the unionised, part-time, casual workers. If the left reformists and pretence revolutionaries want to join in, that’s fine, as long as we firmly block their attempts to impose their reformist electoralism.

    I’m really enjoying this discussion on Redline and I’m learning: wish we had something like this over here – steve

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