by Phil Duncan
Mid-March saw yet another outburst of anti-Chinese racism by the leadership of the ‘Labour’ Party. National Party prime minister John Key wittily retorted, “Last year they wanted to stop people with ‘Chinese-sounding surnames’ buying houses in Auckland, now they want to stop them cooking your chicken chop-suey”, as Labour’s latest racist outburst targeted migrant workers working in ‘ethnic’ – essentially Asian, especially Chinese – restaurants.
Indeed, on more and more issues Labour is revealed as being to the right of National. They’re to the right of National on social welfare, to the right of National on the retirement age, and to the right of National on immigration. Key was even a lot more reluctant to send NZ troops to Iraq last year than Helen Clark was to send them to Afghanistan in 2001. Moreover, all the National MPs voted for legislation to end zero-hours contracts, and so even on workplace issues Labour can hardly be said to be much to the left of National. Indeed, if one was to adopt the ‘lesser-evil’ argument seriously, you could make a reasonable case that National is a lesser-evil than Labour.
Anti-National is not anti-capitalist
Unfortunately, the left in this country is essentially an anti-National left, rather than an anti-capitalist, a nationalist left rather than an internationalist left – look at how most of them have been more than happy to be foot-soldiers in the Little New Zealand Inc campaign against the TPPA. Now, imagine if Labour was in power and the leader of the National Party started a dog-whistle campaign against people in possession of ‘Chinese-sounding surnames’ buying houses in Auckland or getting jobs in Chinese restaurants. The left would be up in arms against the ‘National Party racists’, there would be pickets on their offices and more than dildos would be flung at them. Yet Labour does this and the response on the left is that some are uncomfortable, some are embarrassed, a lot are supportive and there are certainly no pickets on Labour headquarters or MPs’ offices.
Why do so many on the ostensible left think that these sorts of double standards are acceptable?
Racist Labour’s left enablers
A few weeks back I happened to walk past an anti-TPPA protest in Dunedin. I actually witnessed members of an ostensibly ‘Marxist’ organisation politely clap the two local Labour MPs, both of whom had the cheek to speak and tell lies about the Labour position on the TPPA. (Labour are actually for these kinds of agreements; indeed it was a Labour government that initiated not only NZ’s participation in the TPPA but the Agreement itself.)
Why do left groups seek to have this racist, capitalist party involved in the campaigns they bury themselves in like the anti-TPPA campaign? Why do they welcome, and applaud, MPs from this awful party, enabling and facilitating such capitalist politicians in their lies? Moreover, one of the things that encourages Labour’s anti-Chinese outbursts is that they know their liberal supporters and various sections of the left will continue to make them welcome. Frankly, most of the left in NZ historically have an appalling record on racism when it comes to the Chinese and they seem determined to keep it that way.
Is there no crime that Labour couldn’t commit and members of the ostensibly revolutionary left wouldn’t welcome their participation in campaigns and politely applaud them, saving all their revolutionary venom for National alone? Apparently not.
What we need
We need a new left. A revolutionary left, an internationalist left, a working class left. One that has both a gut and theoretical understanding that Labour is an instrument of the class enemy. One that understands that instead of being immersed in campaigns that back one capitalist option against another – which is what the anti-TPPA campaign is about – poses an anti-capitalist perspective. A left that starts from the independent class interests of workers rather than the interests of this or that faction of capitalists. A left that works to detach the working class, politically as well as organisationally, from the ideas and institutions of capital – including the Labour Party! – and encourages the development of a new working class movement. A left that works out what the working class needs to know in order to become a class for itself and then organises its political campaigning around that rather than always going for the easy option, jumping on the bandwagon of nationalist campaigns.
For instance, the NZ working class will never develop class political consciousness while it fails to see itself as part of a global class. This means understanding their common interests with the workers of the rest of the world.
Campaigning for open borders is vital for developing that consciousness. Campaigning against the TPPA retards the possibilities for developing that consciousness and points, logically and inevitably, in the direction of economic and political Little New Zealand nationalism. Yet ostensibly Marxist groups refrain from launching a campaign for open borders and instead throw themselves into a nationalist campaign, a campaign whose nationalism is not optional or an add-on, but completely logical by the very nature of the issue.
Instead of trying to take workers forward politically, this left joins in the lowest common denominator existing liberal and nationalist campaigns because that is what is politically easiest. Everything is tactical for them; there are, in practice, no real principles. The only place they argue for their politics are in their own publications and meetings; in the actual campaigns, they simply fall in behind.
At Redline we’ve just begun some discussions with other revolutionary anti-capitalists about having a national gathering later this year to discuss the way forward. This gathering is for people who don’t act as Labour enablers, who don’t whinge and moan about how Labour should be more effective and who don’t do foot-soldier work for kiwi-nationalist campaigns around issues like the TPPA. It’s for people who understand Labour is an enemy institution and who understand the importance of campaigning around working class solidarity and internationalism through prioritising questions like open borders and anti-imperialist solidarity. It’s a by-invitation gathering, so that people who are serious about anti-capitalism rather than mere anti-National Party politics, can discuss the current social, political and economic conditions in this country and what to do about them.
Further reading: What are anti-capitalist politics?