by Phil Duncan
Money can’t buy me love, went the old Beatles song. Perhaps Mana and the left currents within it should’ve taken the Beatles’ point to heart.
Although the sections of the left that supported Mana and the InternetMana attempted rort of the electoral system tried to make out that Hone Harawira was the underdog in Te Tai Tokerau because Labour, National and NZ First ganged up together to make sure he lost the seat, this doesn’t quite square with the fact that he was the best-funded of any candidate in any seat in the entire 2014 general election. Pirate capitalist Kim Dotcom and the Internet Party lavished $105,000 on him to ensure he retained the Te Tai Tokerau seat. Kelvin Davis, the successful Labour candidate, received only $9,000 in donations. Moroever, Harawira spent over $4,000 on radio and TV advertising, while Davis spent nothing. Indeed, in every form of publicity, the Harawira campaign substantially outspent Davis.
Nationally, InternetMana received a war chest of $3.5 million from Dotcom, although they seem to have only spent a little over a million between their three incarnations (Internet Party, Internet Mana, Mana). Laila Harre was paid $66,000 when the InternetMana presidency was outsourced; she served about six months in the job. A nice little earner.
InternetMana got 34,000 votes for their million dollars of election expenditure and their $3.5 million of Kim Dotcom’s money. That’s $30 a vote, or well over $100 a vote if you use the total Dotcom donation figure. The Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party spent a paltry $1,169 and got 11,000 votes. That’s about 10 cents a vote! NZ First spent $268,500 – about a quarter of InternetMana’s spend-up – and got 208,000 votes, close to one vote per dollar.
The InternetMana experiment was a fiasco from start to finish.
One of the ironies is that the far left ended up getting involved in one of the most top-down and professionalised, indeed positively commodified, political campaigns around. So the lefts preach – correctly – the need for democratic organising from the bottom up, but the InternetMana project was all about extreme professionalisation of politics and hiring professionals, which is another dead-end for genuinely progressive, not to mention anti-capitalist, politics. At least the NLP and Alliance had some sort of genuine participatory element at the core of the project; in their heyday they had very little money but thousands of enthused activists. For InternetMana, however, it was all about contracting out democracy and politics to the career professionals. Spending $122,000 on a banal YouTube parody, for instance, must surely be the opposite of what socialist activists believe in for political activity, as was hiring Leila Harre for six months for $60,000.
Yet a sizeable chunk of the far-left supported this project. This included groups like Socialist Aotearoa, the International Socialist Organisation and Fightback and prominent independent leftists like Unite union president Mike Treen and veteran activist John Minto. John threw his considerable moral authority behind the Internet Party/Mana Movement lash-up that created InternetMana although, to his credit, he didn’t take any funding from Kim Dotcom for his own electorate candidature.
All these folks – the far-left groups and individuals – remain within Mana.
Nothing really has been learnt from the fiasco by most of the far-left elements involved. Their interminable search for shortcuts continues, along with the illusions in Maori nationalism and top-down political projects.
The need for a working class-oriented socialism-from-below movement has never been greater. Wherever it comes from, the evidence suggests it won’t come from the Mana left groups.
While the need for such new politics is huge, unfortunately the apathy of the working class has also never been greater, and this provides real limits to what can be done. We continue to live in a period so ably described eight or nine decades ago by the Italian revolutionary Antonio Gramsci: “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.” We might add that InternetMana was such a symptom.
The reason the new cannot be born in New Zealand is the political retreat and disengagement of the working class, a product of defeats and lowered horizons inflicted in no small measure by the Labour Party. This too is an outfit in which many of the far left entertain what can, in the second decade of the twenty-first century and almost 100 years of Labour, only be described as pathetic illusions.
So, what is to be done?
Well, it may not induce the rush-to-the-head excitement occasioned by InternetMana; in fact it may be rather dull. But the task right now is to regroup whoever is serious about Marxism and the politics of socialism-from-below and the self-emancipation of the working class – as opposed to a left which will jump on any bandwagon from the NZ nationalism of the anti-TPPA campaign to InternetMana to even Labour. We need a left that understands in practice that principles and theory guide activity and activity enriches theory, rather than a left that takes principled stands in talks to its own faithful but abandons principle at the first hurdle when it comes to practice.
Redline is not an organisation, we’re just a blog. But we are dedicated to the birth of a new working class revolutionary left. Other people interested in discussing such a long-term project should contact us: email@example.com