ISO continue to debate class politics and the InternetMana alliance

Posted: September 29, 2014 by Admin in Class Matters, John Key, Labour Party NZ, National Party NZ, New Zealand economy, New Zealand politics, Unions - NZ, Workers' rights

On July 4, we reprinted an article from the site of the International Socialist Organisation, in which Wellington ISO member and long-time socialist and union activist Martin Gregory wrote a powerful critique of the ISO national committee statement endorsing the Mana Movement’s electoral lash-up with 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 it counterposed ‘critical support’ for Labour, one of NZ capital’s two main parties, to the ISO leadership endorsement of the Mana-Internet Party multi-million dollar lash-up.

The ISO debate continued on facebook, hardly the best place for this to occur.  It would have been better if ISO opened up its site for comments and restricted the comments to serious political discussion among serious political people.  We offered Redline as a site for discussion and some activists took this up although, sadly, no comrades from ISO joined in the discussion there.  

Last month the ISO site put up a further contribution to the discussion, this time by Shomi Yoon, a longtime ISO member who is also a member of the ISO national committee.  We welcome Shomi’s article as it reaffirmed the importance of class politics as opposed to inter-class alliances, thus reinforcing the key element of Martin Gregory’s critique of the NC position. 

Shomi’s article is also welcome because it avoided the weaker side of Martin’s critique, ie it contained nothing about support for Labour. 

On the weaker side, it still presents an ISO view of Key and National which is flawed.  We have argued against the dominant far-left view of Key over and over throughout the period since he became leader of National and, especially, since the 2008 National election victory.  We think our view has been confirmed by the actual record of the Key-English government.  

Below is Shomi’s article; we welcome discussion, including from ISO members.                              

– Philip Ferguson 

We Need Independent Class Politics, Not Cross-class Alliances

by Shomi Yoon (August 21, 2014)

The latest polls show National in a comfortable lead with Labour trailing woefully behind. If the polls remain where they are, we’ll have to brace ourselves for another three years of a National-led government. John Key remains streets ahead of Labour’s David Cunliffe as preferred prime minister. We live in paradoxical times. For many child poverty and inequality remain key issues – issues that the National Party has an appalling record on.

The Government has waged ideological war on families on the benefit, like taking punitive measures against women on the DPB. It has shown scant concern for the growing homeless in Christchurch while pouring billions into a reconstruction plan that will little help those in need. For workers, National’s changes to the employment law leaves vulnerable workers even more vulnerable. And students have had their allowance stripped if they want to continue postgraduate studies in an ever-increasing competitive job market.

Issue after issue National has chipped away at entitlements that people have fought for and won. They have been able to weather significant storms like the selling of state assets, corruption scandals and the ongoing Christchurch rebuild debacle just to name a few. And yet they remain popular. Why this paradox?

We in the International Socialist Organisation have argued that the support for National is surface at best. Behind each issue there is simmering resentment towards National’s policies.

The problem is that there is no real outlet for this resentment. The Labour Party, which should be the opposition, is no opposition at all. Despite myriad issues from the GCSB’s illegal spying to the selling of state assets – they have not been able to take a lead. On several key issues from raising the retirement age to using the race card against foreign ownership, Labour have tried to outdo the National Party from the right.

This time last year, thousands of workers around the country protested against National’s changes to the employment law. This just goes to show that when an organization like the CTU, with real roots in the class takes a lead on an issue, people will mobilize to oppose National’s agenda.

David Cunliffe had the insight to tack left in his leadership bid. He hinted at “socialist” credentials and was backed by the unions and wider membership. But he has not developed this insight into a fighting programme; once leader, he reverted to type. He’s just as out of touch with his constituents as any other politician. He lives in Herne Bay in a $2.5 million dollar mansion, and funnels funds through a trust so that he does not have to disclose donations.

Not to mention that much of the problems around inequality stem from the very neo-liberal policies the Labour Party introduced in the 1980s. The corporatisation of state-owned enterprises to run for profit and the handouts given to the rich were possible under a Labour government precisely because they could cajole unions and its members to toe the line to benefit capitalism. They proved themselves as effective managers of capitalism.

In the 2011 election, it wasn’t so much that the country suddenly swung rightwards. National Party votes went up, but only marginally. More than this, potential Labour voters stayed home. For many, Labour offers no genuine alternative.

Despite this, the election is not a foregone conclusion. And how the parties relate to that ‘missing million’ – the people who didn’t vote, most of them amongst the poor and working class – will be crucial.

We have always argued that elections are not the be-all and end-all. We need to keep mobilizing on the streets against the government. We want to meet people on campuses, at protests, in our workplaces who have had a guts-full of this government’s anti-worker policies. Because that’s where we see genuine change and pressure coming. Not in the halls of parliament.

The Dead End of Parliamentary Politics

That’s why as an organisation we have argued to people who want to see the back of Key that they should not simply settle for Labour but should vote Internet MANA.

Mana was the first party to call for the Israeli embassy to be shut down, to support the right to strike, to feed the kids at school, among other progressive policies.

That said, a few extra Internet MANA politicians in parliament would not make much difference.

We have only to look at the recent past to know this.

In 1991 several groups, disgusted with Labour’s neo-liberal policies, came together to form a new leftwing party, the Alliance. In the 1993 election, the Allinance won a stunning 18% of the vote. So great was the backlash and disillusionment against Labour.

But by 1999, the party was already beginning to disintegrate. Under MMP, the Alliance garnered 8% of the votes, which resulted in 10 seats in the 1999 election. Jim Anderton became Deputy Prime Minister and three other Alliance MPs were awarded cabinet positions. Despite the electoral successes, there was growing tension and division between the MPs subservience to Labour and its membership.

What changed in just six years? Did power corrupt? Did the MPs sell out?

Time and time again we see politicians running for parliament with the best intentions and far from them changing parliament, we see that parliament has changed them. The Marxist understanding of the state goes some way to answer this.

The real decisions that affect our lives are not made in Parliament. The people sitting in boardrooms deciding what gets produced, how and by whom, when and for how much, shape our lives much more than the decisions of parliament. The unelected bosses dictate our society much more than the politicians.

Parliament is a fig leaf for democracy that hides the real organs of power. For the Alliance, being a junior coalition partner in a Labour-led government was signing up to become managers of capitalism.

Kim Dotcom: Capitalist Creep

Even a clear leftwing force like the Alliance disintegrated.

The current murky alliance between Mana and millionaire capitalist Kim Dotcom’s Internet Party makes matters muddier still.

Mana claims to speak for the poorest, a claim that had a lot of credibility when solid activists made it and Maori leaders who founded the party. Now a capitalist is bankrolling the message it seems less convincing.

If Internet MANA gets into a coalition with the Labour Party – and this is what leading members make clear is their aim, from John Minto and Georgina Beyer in Mana to Laila Harre and Miriam Pierard in Internet are stressing – then Internet MANA will meet the same dichotomy as the Alliance in the 90s.

The only way that we can change the outcome is by rebuilding the strengths of the trade unions, getting involved in the social movements, and building a socialist organisation that is absolutely uncompromising in its opposition to capitalism. One that is independent, in other words, from other class’ interests and politics.

One thing is certain: being beholden to a millionaire like Kim Dotcom will not help with this project.

The ISO cannot be part of Internet MANA or pretend that this new vehicle is in any way a ‘movement’. It is an alliance that gives a left colouring to the Internet Party.

For all his “benevolence” Kim Dotcom’s politics are not to be trusted. His first political act was to donate to the far right racist John Banks. He collects WWII paraphernalia and owns a copy of an Adolf Hitler signed copy of Mein Kampf. He makes jokes about violence towards sex workers. He is, in other words, a thoroughly unsavoury character.

And, worst of all from a political point of view: he’s a boss. We want no truck with the bosses or their parties.

What of Laila Harre? Her recent track record and rightward drift is hardly something the Left should be celebrating. Harre has walked down the well-trodden path of the trade union bureaucrat switching to the other side of the bargaining table. In 2009 she worked in HR for the Auckland Transition Agency, during which she axed 1200 jobs.

Not to mention her own business interests. She runs an Italian restaurant, has interests in an organic vineyard / olive grove on Waiheke Island and owns several properties. There’s a reason why Kim Dotcom tapped her for the position of Internet Party leader: They share common class interests.

We Need a Workers’ Party

Our first publication on the question of the alliance ended with some questions. They are worth repeating:

What will encourage our independence from other classes and other classes’ ideas? What will advance the project of working-class self-emancipation?

The alliance between Mana and Internet will not encourage our side to take an independent stance and understand our own class interests. Internet MANA diminishes and hides the real class differences between us and the likes of Kim Dotcom. The fight for genuine working class self emancipation will only come from workers and students organising themselves, and through their own self activity realizing and actualizing the genuine power that we have.

An alliance with Kim Dotcom reinforces the idea that change comes from the top. And that we have to rely on a benevolent multimillionaire to fund political change for us.

If we had a revolutionary organisation with real roots in the workplaces, in trade unions, and on the campuses, we could put the pressure and priorities on a new left party. We would be the ones putting the demands forward on a new party rather than Kim Dotcom.

A vote for Internet MANA sends a message that there is a group who want more than what Labour and the Greens offer. But we should not be involved in papering over the party’s rightward trajectory. And we shouldn’t encourage a fixation on elections.

For us, voting is not the ultimate goal. That is not how fundamental change is achieved.

We still have the task of building a mass revolutionary party that can mobilise workers to stand up to the bosses’ attacks. We need a revolution to overthrow this current system that is run to for profit, to sweep away the bosses’ rule and establish a socialist society.

Whoever wins in September, the same old bosses will still be running our lives. Companies and banks will still be raking in profits while forcing us to make do with less and less. CEOs and politicians will enjoy pay rises while the majority of us have to be content with pay cuts. The rich will still be living in their mansions while we live in substandard rentals.

Israel will still continue its murderous occupation of Palestine. Maori will still be subjected to racism from the state and police. And beneficiaries will still be used as a political scapegoat for all of society’s woes.

To begin to change even one of these things we need to stand up and fight back on the streets and in our workplaces. We need a socialist party that is committed to real change. One that challenges the priorities of the top 1% and one that can mobilise the mass of workers and students to fight for a new society. We deserve a fundamentally different society – one that is based on mass democracy and production that benefits everyone and not just the few.

Further reading:
Why Labour wasn’t worth the workers’ ticks
Labour’s leadership contest: illusions and confusions on the left
When is it time for revolutionary politics?

  1. Malcolm says:

    For the sake of accuracy the Green Party supported the right to strike way before Mana. (Needless to say I’m not endorsing the Green Party.)

  2. Malcolm says:

    Before Mana existed, I should say.

    • Daphna says:

      One of the things that made the Internet Party look like a vanity project was that most of their policies were either replicas of the Greens or very similar. The distinguishing thing – being an “Internet” focused party – didn’t really come off because the leader and the candidates didn’t have a special interest in that at all.

      • PhilF says:

        Yes, it was quite odd watching Laila trying to brand herself as a champion of broadband in order to connect with “the youth”. It clearly didn’t work.


  3. PhilF says:

    I think the Greens also have a right to choose position on abortion, which Mana doesn’t.


  4. Peter says:

    The selection of Laila as head of IP was a dreadful decision, destroying all remaining credibility of the party in an instant. I understand their reasoning – experienced political operator, name recognition, good media training, and strong left-wing credentials to appeal to Mana – but it was hardly consistent with their explicit branding on a ‘new, transformative politics’. I’m not sure why Paul Brislen or Vikram Kumar couldn’t have taken the step up.

    All that said, socialists they ain’t.

  5. PhilF says:

    I agree Peter.

    But I think they miscalculated too with things like name recognition. If they were trying to attract young people, Laila’s name doesn’t mean anything to anyone under about 40. I have a lot to do with a lot of people under 21, and I doubt any of them knew who she was before the election, despite her blurb on the Internet Party site calling her “a national treasure”.

    I also think her role in helping oversee the laying off of 1,200 Auckland council workers, a role she was paid a very substantial amount of money for, undermined her left-wing credentials. There has also been a bit of rewriting of history over the Alliance MPs and Afghanistan. She initially went along with Anderton; it was the rebellion in the ranks that led her and McCarten to finally break with Anderton.

    I have several friends who were very heavily involved in the Alliance at the time, long-time left activists who held positions locally and nationally in the Alliance. One of them told me several years ago that it was touch and go with MPs like Harre and also with McCarten, who were extremely reluctant to break with Anderton over the vote on endorsing the US-led invasion of Afghanistan (and then, of course, joining in).

    Interestingly, before Laila was offered the job, Kim Dotcom was interested in Don Brash and Michael Laws for Internet Party leader.

    In the end the whole thing was a stitch-up, and I suspect it has damaged Laila’s credibility to the extent that anyone much cares one way or the other about the Internet Party. But I can’t imagine she’s popular with the Greens any more, especially since if the Internet Party drew votes from anywhere it would’ve been from them and may have cost them a seat.

    Throughout Redline’s brief history, and before that in the ACA/WP, ‘The Spark’ newspaper and ‘revolution’ magazine, we have argued that there is simply no material basis, and thus no political space, these days for left social democracy. It can certainly exist here and there for a short time, but not in any stable, long-term way. It inevitably has to shift left or right, and overwhelmingly it shifts right into liberal capitalism. I think the unravelling of the Alliance and now Laila’s involvement in the Internet Party and Matt taking up being Cunliffe’s chief-of-staff – a truly vomit-inducing act – indicate that trend in New Zealand.

    We really are back to the primitive accumulation of cadre and the primitive accumulation of political capital in terms of understanding why the left – and I mean the real left, the left that wants the transformation of society not some utopian ‘humanised’ capitalism – is in the dire state it is today.


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