Money can’t buy you love – the sad ballad of InternetMana

Posted: March 3, 2015 by Admin in Commodification, Economics, Labour Party NZ, Maori, New Zealand history, New Zealand politics, Political & economic power, Protest, Revolutionary organisation

images (1)

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: redlinemarxists@gmail.com

Further reading:

An international balance-sheet of the ‘broad party’ strategy

When is it time for revolutionary politics?

Advertisements
Comments
  1. gsays says:

    hi phil, good post, i found myself ranging from wtf!, (i am a fan of hone and manas vision, having drifted left from labour via greens from the last coupla three election cycles. and to be honest am a great fan of peer to peer file sharing, coming from the early days of making tapes of my records to share with mates. hey what can i say, one mans “capatilist pirate” is another mans hero.(although i have not used kdcs services)), to right on bro “The need for a working class-oriented socialism-from-below movement has never been greater”

    i am perhaps one of the folk serious about marxism (perhaps a little to the left of that. anarchist is how i would describe myself. but that would involve an evolution to anarchy where the heart is developed to a point where you love all as yourself therefore do not govern nor need to be governed.

    i am currently a wage slave, with a good life/work balance and i see my duty to educate the 20 somethings at the jobsite ( a small rural cafe), while plotting to smash the state in my own time.

    part of what i see as my own duties is to prepare or build resilience in the communities around me. to that end i am involved in a shared garden initiative and as a leader in scouts.

    as i said before, good post.

  2. Thomas R says:

    While a lot of this is damning and on point just for clarities sake:

    -ISO have left MANA
    -Socialist Aotearoa, by almost all accounts, is effectively an email list

    Painting Tino Rangatiratanga as ‘Maori Nationalism’ seems simplistic, I’d query how much you’ve engaged with the topic.. any transformation of NZ will have to involve ideas from decolonisation, TR is an iteration of that.

    The TPPA protest organisers seem pretty drenched in nationalism.. it’s unpleasant but I’m not sure if non-engagement is a good plan? I admit to some bias cause I know too many people who will be thrown into extremely dire financial situations if Pharmac is, in fact, undermined in these negotiations.

    Anyway, that breakdown of spending does make me more confident in my decision to distance myself from much of the radical left in NZ. Good to see some redline writing with a wee bit more optimism of building a revolutionary left anyway – I’d worried that too many contributors had read and bought into that “Passionless People” idea about NZ 😉

    -Thomas

  3. Phil says:

    Cheers, Thomas.

    When I wrote the piece there was no sign on the ISO site that they had left Mana but I see that a piece went up on March 3 assessing their involvement in Mana and stating that their recent conference had decided that they would leave. So their piece went up the same day as mine.

    Their piece makes a lot of good points about Mana, but it also contains what I see as quite important weaknesses. For instance, they say: “In the context of 2011 we were right to dream, and to take a risk that a radical parliamentary party could be a catalyst for a movement in the workplaces and in the streets.” But, for Marxists, it was – or should have been – clear from the start that Mana was not a vehicle for any movement in the workplaces and streets. We certainly said this at the time – and, of course, there is no acknowledgement whatsoever from them that this was the case.

    We all make mistakes and being Marxist doesn’t prevent that. But there’s also no point in *only* ever being wise *after the event*. Marxism should allow us to recognise cul-de-sacs *most of the time*, when we’re looking right at them. It should allow us to avoid pretty obvious mistakes and fiascos. Otherwise, why bother with Marxism?

    The ISO statement, written by Josh O’Sullivan and Andrew Tait, is also a bit disingenuous. It says they argued against the Dotcom hook-up within Mana. I assume this is true. But their statement doesn’t own up to the fact that when the hook-up was a done deal, they ran a piece by Andrew, probably their longest-serving leading activist, in which he suggested the following about the Mana-Dotcom hook-up: “A sugar hit is not a bad way of describing the deal. But a sugar hit isn’t necessarily fatal if you don’t make it a habit.”

    Andrew also wrote “This is parliamentary politics. Mana has the right to make deals with other parties to improve chances in an election” and that the deal “has given Mana a much-needed boost before the election” and “The deal reflects the strength of Mana’s support as against the Internet Party, and strengthens Mana in this election.”

    It’s a bit disappointing to see a bit of history being somewhat rewritten, especially when those of us who made these points right at the beginning are simply painted out of the picture.

    To their credit, however, they conducted a debate about their position on InternetMana and they did so pretty publicly. Also, the ISO national committee in a statement just after the election acknowledged: “Opposing the alliance when it happened, we argued that a ‘sugar hit’ of this kind would not necessarily be fatal if it didn’t become a habit. This, it turns out, was massively to understate the damage of the kind of cross-class mixing the mash-up represented.”

    Further to their credit is that their site linked to an article on Redline about their internal debate. That was a welcome move from their old petty sectarianism.

    If they really do take the lessons of the Mana project to heart then, while I think Marxists should have been able to see the trainwreck coming, at least some progress will have been made.

    Then they can move on to rethinking their position on the capitalist Labour Party and maybe argue for workers in affiliated unions to start fighting to disaffiliate rather than advising them to vote in Labour leadership elections for folks like David Cunliffe.

    I’m hoping that they harden up their politics and become more like Socialist Alternative politically *in practice* and less like SW or the Australian Socialist Alliance.

    In terms of optimism about building a revolutionary left, I’d say we have always had some optimism in the sense of the long-term. But the main problem remains – what can be built in the absence of motion within the working class? What we try to provide is a pole of attraction for people serious about Marxism and the self-emancipation of the working class and a degree of Marxist education.

    We’ve no axe to grind against groups like ISO. In fact, it would be great if ISO kept improving (and also adopted a more partyist attitude, like Socialist Alternative) and critical comments about them and their politics should be seen in that light.

    Phil

    • Phil says:

      In terms of how much we’ve engaged with TR, a number of people involved in different capacities at Redline have engaged with TR for 40 years or more. We were engaged with it before it was called TR, too. Some of us even go back to when the slogan was “The Treaty is a Fraud”, a period when Maori nationalism was far more radical and progressive than it is today.

      Phil

    • Thomas R says:

      Ah that explains it, I had a physical copy of the mag quite a bit earlier than it went up on their website so thought it must have been read more widely by now. I’ve quite a different assessment of SAlt but it’s a fairly lonely world when you’re not a Trotskyist and generally on an ambivalent-and-sometimes-anti Leninism kind of trajectory haha. I think the sort of ‘interventions’ SAlt get into have been quite damaging, talking to non-member activists on the ground in some cities. That there’s quite a different interpretation of them between already-Marxists, compared to other activists on the ground is a bit of a problem.

      Personally I don’t think there’s significant enough differences in the NZ Marxist orgs to not just merge and go from there. Being a bit younger, though, I suspect some of the tedious elements of mergers are a lot of historical arguments between folks with axes to grind from decades of activism.

  4. Phil says:

    One of the strange things is that there are not really a lot of historical arguments between folks with axes to grind in terms of the core of Fightback, ISO and Socialist Aotearoa.

    Moreover, across the ditch SA (Socialist Alternative) and the RSP merged and their older cadre would’ve been political opponents for the best part of 40 years. But SA adopted what I’d call a fairly partyist attitude and was a big part of making that merger possible.

    SocAll (the Socialist Alliance) seems to have rather withered on the vine; deciding not to be a specifically Marxist organisation hasn’t helped them at all.

    Phil

    • Thomas R says:

      The merger is being proposed anyway, can be read on the Fightback discussion blog (separate from the main one). Though I’m not in either group at this stage I think it’s a good idea. The difficulty is when smaller orgs propose these things they often don’t go as smoothly. The ISO can point to a theoretical unity that Fightback doesn’t have (though I’d say that close theoretical unity is not really as tight knit and homogenous in reality, knowing a few of the members hold quite different views. I’d consider that a strength though as agreeing on every minutiae of history sounds like a dull organisation to me).

      But even if it doesn’t happen, at least it might put to bed some of the rather spurious accusations of one group being ‘Stalinists’ (which still goes on, though a tad more ‘behind closed doors’ than it used to from what I gather).

      • Phil F says:

        Everyone agreeing on every aspect of history would be a nightmare organisation. It would be a monolith of automatons.

        When the original WP and Revo groups merged, we had all kinds of differences on historical questions. Revo had a fairly pro-Trotsky background and the original WP had a pro-Mao background. So you can imagine the differences in terms of interpretations of historical questions.

        But, on the ground, we were doing similar things and I can’t think of any significant differences we had in terms of NZ politics and internationalist stuff.

        So we formed the Anti-Capitalist Alliance, which ISO refused to come into despite our best efforts. (I do tend to be a wee bit cynical towards them, as they wouldn’t join a coalition of Marxists but they joined Mana and, initially, endorsed InternetMana; but in my view they’re the best of the groups that identify as Marxist. Personally, the people I get on best with politically are the AWSM folks, although I’m never quite certain what the exact label is they attach to themselves.)

        Within the ACA, the original WP and Revo groups actually merged into a single organisation, the RWL, although the RWL didn’t really function very long because practically everyone who was active in the ACA joined it; it became the same as the ACA, and the ACA ended up changing its name to the Workers Party.

        The quite different historical pasts and trajectories of the initial cadre of the organisation made for an interesting mix and I think enriched the organisation a great deal. We wanted to build a revolutionary party, not a sect.

        Unfortunately, we were either too late or too early, but in any case the times were against us. The extraordinary passivity of the working class just ruled out building a party and, in fact, even a serious cadre organisation beyond a relatively small size. It wasn’t hard for us to grow quickly into the biggest far left group, and do so on a very hard-left basis, but we couldn’t get to the next stage, and degeneration set in. Then objective conditions reasserted themselves very, very strongly and punished us for our hubris (our imagining that we could build more than was really objectively possible).

        Those of us who walked away from the organisation as the degeneration took hold now have much more modest goals, ones better-suited to the wider objective conditions. That is to perform a primarily educational role, advancing Marxist analysis and politics and trying to act as a pole of attraction for people serious about marxism, as opposed to people who just want to run around doing ‘activism’ that is essentially uninformed by Marxist theory and principles.

        We seem to be doing Ok; the blog has consistently grown in readership and there are a small number of supporters who now write stuff, plus we have some good relations with a range of people abroad, and feedback from serious-minded people is overwhelmingly positive.

        We’re discussing a few new ideas and possible plans for the next year or two, so things are progressing, albeit very, very slowly.

        Phil

  5. […] Given that Northland includes a lot of the territory covered by the Te Tai Tokerau constituency, Hone Harawira and Mana’s major base, and that a significant chunk of Northland voters are Maori – 28,000 Maori live in the electorate – and also poor pakeha, the vote for Mana was abysmal.  (In the general election InternetMana had taken 601 party votes, while not running a candidate.)   The by-election result must throw into question the viability of the Mana project, as it is predominantly a parliamentarist one, despite what some of its more naive left members may believe.  (For an analysis of the InternetMana fiasco, see here.) […]