indexby Philip Ferguson

Don Franks’ critique of Mana’s anti-poverty campaign touched on the contradiction between what seasoned activists in Mana know and what they put forward in practice.  Don noted, “But MANA’s veteran activists understand the basic nature of capitalism. Why do they wilfully misrepresent it?”

This is at the very heart of far-left involvement in Mana/Internet Mana.  Sections of the far left continually make out that radical-reformist politics are better than revolutionary politics most of the time in practice.  So when are revolutionary politics to be argued and fought for, and put before workers?  Apparently, not today.  Maybe tomorrow?  But then tomorrow becomes today, and so, once again, the time is not right for advancing revolutionary politics.

This self-limiting stance taken by the left groups involved in Mana/Internet Mana – although at least ISO is engaged in some reconsidering and useful open debate – means, in effect, that the time is never right for advancing revolutionary politics.

Instead the far left groups, despite the subjective intentions of their more radical members, play the role of gate-keeper, helping inhibit the field of political discussion.  The way forward is not through discussion and action around the expropriation of the capitalist class, but around what tax rates should be and how state capitalist enterprise is supposedly better than a mixed private-state ownership model.

The radicals become part of the policing of the consensus whose importance has been noted by Chomsky: “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum. . .”

Yet revolutionary politics are essential for working towards a revolutionary situation and the overthrow of capitalism.

So the “let’s just all get in behind” stance of groups like Socialist Aotearoa and Fightback preclude revolutionary Marxist politics ever being put forward.  Instead this layer of the far left become foot soldiers for other politics – reformist and populist politics.  People are then recruited to these groups on this basis, so the rot becomes the dominant politics.

The fact that this approach killed promising organisations like the Socialist Action League and Workers Communist League, and eventually the CPNZ/SW too, simply doesn’t register with the advocates of this approach today.  It’s Year Zero, every day is Groundhog Day.

We clearly need a new left, one which is based on an independent political project rather than being a subordinate part of the project of reformists, populists, radical liberals, single-issue campaigners and so on.  A new left that is also committed to learning the lessons of the past, breaking with the dominant left politics of the past and charting some new territory.

In the absence of any serious motion in the working class such a project is highly limited.  But a loose regroupment of people committed to revolutionary and independent working class politics would, at least, be a small step forward.

The discussions around Not Voting in 2014 tend to indicate that there is a small layer of anti-capitalists who are able to conceptualise something more than what exists politically at present.  Being able to conceptualise something beyond tinkering with the system is, at least, the first step.

Further reading:
What are anti-capitalist politics?

Realism versus reformism
Burying or reviving the corpse of social democracy


  1. aindriu says:

    Some ‘socialist ‘ groups throw you out because you don’t go to enough meetings. Even when you don’t live in the city where the meetings are. Some groups have an intersectional approach which over rules the priority of overthrowing capitalism. This might sound personal but it is deeply political. It is not the communist way to have a top down decision making process in any revolutionary group. These are two examples of the same old, same old left at work. Organisations that are fighting the fight and do sterling work in the community, but who make politically disasterous mistakes. It is a small step ideologically from arbitrarily dismissing comrades from a group to gulags. It is a small step from refusing criminals a platform to state censorship. No-one wants this future and people can smell it a mile away.
    And these are the questions. What is to be done and why do it? Who should do it? I believe these questions are tied closely to your question ‘when is it time for revolutionary politics?’ First we may have to revisit what revolutionary politics look like in our present situation. Backward as it sounds, we all need to talk about this. Not in ‘socialist’ groups who already think they have the answer, but as committed human beings who are looking to find a way out of capitalism and who don’t dismiss the different other, but are prepared to be inclusive and broad in their thinking and acceptance of others ideas. Making revolution in Aotearoa may take time but it has started already. Speed is a capitalist imperative. No more bosses. And that includes ‘socialist’ bosses. “A new left that is also committed to learning the lessons of the past, breaking with the dominant left politics of the past and charting some new territory” sounds good to me. Let’s explore what communism might look like today in this country. How would we like it to operate? What would a non capital world be like? Personally I volunteer to drive public transport a couple of days a week for my contribution. The rest of my time I would like to write and make art.

  2. Thomas R says:

    Aside from jabs at the organisation I’m in which don’t match up to my experiences with that organisation, I do like a lot of this post. The dire need for revolutionary imagination, for breaking with tired politics, for actually presenting possible alternatives to capitalism and a reason WHY we would want them to begin with, this is all imperative absolutely. And as Aindriu says (though the allusion to Assange I still disagree with – but we’ve talked about that one on one before) some level of basic humanity, compassion, a sense of genuine feeling about an emancipatory politics. To me, that is lacking across the left in it’s entirety, and perhaps ties into the ways that NZ can really over emphasise stoicism as a virtue. So, having that revolutionary imagination – daring to dream of utopias, and tying that to work in the here and now to achieve it – that’s what we need. Perhaps that’s a bit romantic of me.

  3. PhilF says:

    But the “jabs” are all in relation to stuff that actually appears in your newspaper. It’s not like I made up anything. Anyone can go and check the articles I referred to. Aren’t you on the editorial group, so you would be aware of the contents of things like the interview with Miriam Pierard.

    Moreover, the “jabs” are not really *at* your organisation; they are criticisms of a certain kind of politics. I could’ve used Socialist Aotearoa as an example, but that’s even more like shooting fish in a barrel. They actually had a wee ultra-nationalist campaign against the change to the All Blacks shirt because it involved adding the logo of an American company, AIG!

    The problem is the tail-ending one and not having an independent political project. I’m not interested in trying to win over, or cajole or berate, Fightback members – a pointless exercise – but it is worth polemicising against a certain kind of politics, in fact it’s necessary to do so, to help develop a new kind of politics which is very different indeed.

    It will take a new layer of people, folks not committed to remaking the errors of the past 30-40 years, to develop the new, necessary politics. But even that can’t go very far in the absence of real motion within the working class.


  4. Jordan Adams says:

    The political kernel of these untimely thoughts desperately needs to be preserved from reactive, factional criticism.

    I agree with Thomas on passion. But perhaps not in the lame humanist/existentialist sense of valorising individual absurdity. We probably need something more like what, funnily enough, Foucault called a ‘the passion of the concept’.

    • Thomas R says:

      I’m curious to hear what that means – Foucault’s concept. The most I’ve had to do with him is the debate with Chomsky, and the introduction to Anti-Oedipus

  5. Pat O'Dea says:

    “So when are revolutionary politics to be argued and fought for, and put before workers? Apparently, not today. Maybe tomorrow? But then tomorrow becomes today, and so, once again, the time is not right for advancing revolutionary politics.”

    Don’t you get it. There is no tomorrow

    • PhilF says:

      That was precisely my point. So the sections of the far-left that are tail-ending Mana are deciding that revolutionary politics are never on the agenda. They might be discussed a little in private and/or in educational hui, but they are not to be fought for *in practice*.

      Pat, you used to stand for revolutionary politics. Why abandon them?