by Phil Duncan
There are at present some discussions going on around the country about developing new left initiatives. And by ‘left’ I mean the actual left, ie anti-capitalist left not those strange folks who want to manage capitalism and yet think they’re ‘socialists’ when they’re really just Labour-liberals.
The new initiatives, which are interlinked and seem to involve the same key people, include a think tank (already underway), a serious journal (already underway) and a Marxist party (still in the stage of being suggested). The think tank, whose best-known figure is Sue Bradford, is Economic and Social Research Aotearoa; the journal is Counterfutures and is edited by Victoria University sociologist Dylan Taylor, with an editorial board drawn from around the country. Dylan and Sue have been speaking, together and separately, at meetings around the country on the themes of an anti-capitalist agenda for Aotearoa in the 21st century and a new party. In late May, speaking at a meeting at Otago University, sponsored by the Division of the Humanities, Dylan put forward a case for a new party, arguing very clearly that it would need to be a communist party.
Redline is keen to promote this discussion, drawing on our own experiences and those of party-building projects around the world, as well as dealing with the issue of whether a basis exists for a Marxist party-building project in the current conditions that prevail here; if so, what politics it needs to put forward; if not, what is to be done by anti-capitalists here and now.
The fact that there are such discussions going on is encouraging. The NZ left has been something of a wasteland for several decades now. Since the defeat (or betrayal) of the fight against the Employment Contracts Act of 1991, the working class has been in retreat. Indeed, the confusion and demoralisation inflicted on the class by the fourth Labour government then the fourth National government, along with wider economic processes such as the shifting of chunks of production from First World countries like New Zealand to the Third World, and the massive decline of old industries around which working class communities were physically organised and politically cohered have dealt massive blows not simply to the organisation of the class but, more importantly, to its consciousness of itself as a class.
Class consciousness was far stronger 100 years and more ago than it is now. At the same time, the ideology of the ruling class has shifted notably over the past three decades, essentially since 1984. The liberal market reforms were accompanied by increasingly liberal ruling class attitudes in relation to ‘race’, gender and sexuality. These days, the ruling class simply doesn’t care what gender, ethnicity or sexuality people are – all who accept the limits of capitalism as ‘natural’ limits are welcome on the inside of the system.
The retreat of the working class and the embrace of social-liberalism by the ruling class – essentially, the capitalists and the key figures in the state apparatus – have been accompanied by the retreat of the left. Various forms of identity politics are accepted as ‘alternative politics’ by many people who see themselves as left-wing and even most of the far left continually support projects that point away from, rather than towards, the overthrow of capitalism. The InternetMana fiasco was symptomatic of left swamp politics. While the swamp left are happy enough to make nice with rogue capitalists like Kim Dotcom and his fortune, they regard revolutionary politics as innately sectarian and ultraleft. The time for revolutionary politics is never today, always tomorrow.
Moreover, much of the ostensibly revolutionary and anti-capitalist left are soft on state capitalism and NZ nationalism. This was obvious in the way most of the far left rallied in support of the state-capitalist profit-oriented companies that Roger Douglas and his pals set up. In the 1980s, the left opposed the establishment of the SOEs (state-owned enterprises); 30 years later, most of the left were advocating in support of them, calling them ‘our assets’ and so on! The same left forces continually compromise with NZ nationalism, the ideology of the ruling class and NZ imperialism. This includes sections of the ostensibly anti-nationalist left. After all, you can’t really denounce NZ nationalism and then throw yourself into things like the anti-TPPA campaign, which is not only nationalist through and through politically, but inevitably so. Its nationalism isn’t an optional add-on!
While giving a helping hand to kiwi nationalism, something which serves to reinforce the national divisions among workers as a global class, this left fails to champion, in practice, slogans like Open Borders, slogans that can actually serve to unite workers as a global class. Open Borders is for left conference posturing and a few articles in a group’s publication, not for active campaigning around. The left prefers the much softer options.
If a genuinely revolutionary party is to be built the starting points have to be championing the interests of workers as a global class, knowing who the enemy is – the NZ ruling class, including its state, its ideology (kiwi nationalism in all its forms, including economic nationalism) and its political parties (Labour as much as National) – and fighting for revolutionary ideas today, not postponing them for some indefinite time in the future.
We don’t see much basis for a revolutionary party in this country today because there is almost no motion in the working class – a fact that doesn’t prevent some of the more easily excitable elements of the left talking up little struggles, claiming big victories, or acting as if students and rather louche youth are a substitute for working class activists.
What there is a base for, however, is trying to bring together serious left activists who understand the nature of the beast in this country, who grasp the need for class politics – including the championing of the rights of the oppressed globally – who understand questions like the state and the Labour Party and don’t exchange revolutionary politics for whatever little bandwagon happens to be passing by.