Over the past few weeks a position has crystallised at Redline in terms of not voting in the 2014 election and advocating that others make a positive decision not to vote. This position is shared by a layer of comrades in AWSM (Aotearoa Workers Solidarity Movement) and a layer of independent left and liberal people such as Richard Jackson of the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at Otago University.
The alternative put forward by the ostensibly far left groups seems to be getting involved in reformist parties, like Mana / InternetMana, although gratifyingly there seems to be a serious debate within one of these three groups, namely the International Socialist Organisation, about the contradiction between espousing class politics and endorsing the Internet/Mana lash-up.
A big problem with far left endorsement of reformist parties is that it virtually always leads to prettifying the politics of such parties as if they are somehow on the same road as us. To give two recent instances. There is an interview with Miriam Pierard in the latest issue of Fightback, which is largely liberal, personalised gush – one Redline contributor described it as being like a “puff piece in an in-flight magazine” – and there is no challenge by the interviewer to the views Ms Pierard puts forward. For instance, about how supposedly awesome a Labour/Greens/InternetMana government would be or a comment such as “how special New Zealand is and how important it is to take back our proud history of leading the world in progressive change”.
Ms Pierard also talks about how Laila Harre is a particular hero of hers, citing Harre’s role in extending paid parental leave and fighting against NZ military intervention in Afghanistan. But John Key’s government has also extended paid parental leave and Laila, as an Alliance MP, voted for the government motion supporting the invasion of Afghanistan. It was the revolt by the rank-and-file that forced Alliance MPs to change their minds on that one.
Another article in the same issue refers to “veteran unionist Laila Harre”. But this, too, is at best misleading and at worst a disingenuous cover. Laila was head of the nurses’ union for a few years, but she was never a rank-and-file member let alone a delegate; she walked into the position from her parliamentary career after she lost her seat. Later, she was for four years leader of the National Distribution Union, a position which she stood for in an election but without ever having been in the ranks or having been a delegate or even organiser in the union. By no stretch of the imagination is she a “veteran unionist”; she was an MP, and has been a businesswoman, at least as long as being a top union figure.
And, of course, before being hired by Kim Dotcom to become leader of the Internet Party (Laila doesn’t do rank-and-file), she went off to take a management job at the Auckland Transition Authority, where she oversaw mass redundancies and was extremely well-rewarded financially for doing so. This management role no doubt helped her build her CV for a job at the ILO in Fiji – she could show she had been an advocate for workers and held a management job overseeing hundreds upon hundreds of workers being made redundant. Why is Harre’s political record being airbrushed?
Once upon a time, young radicals used to have as heroes people like Che Guevara, Leila Khaled, Bernadette Devlin, Amilcar Cabral and so on – people who were real fighters for the emancipation of humanity and who put their lives on the line, people who would never vote in bourgeois parliaments for imperialist invasions or go for jobs in which they helped oversee massive redundancies. Social-democratic princesses certainly had no appeal to radicalising young activists of the sixties and early seventies.
Another article in the same issue of Fightback obscures the fact that Mana/Internet Mana are clearly not supportive of Open Borders and tries to make out they have a position approximating Open Borders when this is patently not true. Indeed, the point at which I knew for sure I wouldn’t be voting Mana was the sorry spectacle of John Minto, someone I admire, declaring on a TV3 The Nation debate that immigrants were at least partly to blame for housing problems in Auckland.
This kind of approach by Fightback – prettifying the politics of reformist parties – is not new. It has been repeated over and over again, here and internationally, without any lessons being learned by many of those who participated in this kind of political work. When one such project collapses they simply move on to the next next one. Most recently it has been pursued in relation to left-reformist currents emerging out of the collapse of the old CPs and social democracy in Europe. (See, for instance, the critical review article by veteran Australian Marxist John Percy on the ‘broad party’ strategy, here.)
As Rosa Luxemburg noted over 100 years ago, the thing about reformism is not that it shares ideas with revolutionary politics but just has a different view of how to get from here to socialism; the thing about reformism is that it is traveling in a different direction to a different destination.
One of the single comments that has most struck me in the past month is one made by Richard Jackson in the debate at Otago University over voting and not voting. He made the point that parliament is “not fit for purpose” in terms of any issues of real significance in the world today. Don Franks’ article about parliament (see here) also made me think a lot about the historical specificity of parliament and just how much wider social and political conditions have changed since a more-or-less full bourgeois democracy was established (ie with adult suffrage).
As a Marxist, I’ve never supported the parliamentary road to socialism but I have probably been slow in recognising just how useless parliament is for virtually any progressive purpose. We need to analyse this in more depth and show just how narrow bourgeois democracy, exemplified by the parliamentary circus, is now in the twenty-first century. And, while the lack of motion in the working class inevitably gives a certain utopian colouring to any alternatives the genuinely anti-capitalist left may suggest, we still need to discuss and promote alternatives and look for ways of experimenting with them.