by Phil Duncan

Earlier this month the National Party received a $150,000 donation from a company which exports racehorses to Inner Mongolia (that’s the Mongolian region of China).  Later in the month, Labour received a hefty $100,000 donation from retired High Court judge and QC Robert Smellie.

Note how the rate at which the rich were getting richer speeded up under the fifth Labour government, led by Helen Clark; it was only stunted by the global financial sector partial meltdown

Heads of companies and high court judges are both part of the ruling class.

The ruling class in New Zealand is a very clever ruling class.  They don’t just have one party; they have two main parties to do their bidding – National and Labour – so that when one is looking a bit mangy and falling out of favour with electors, the other, more refreshed one can take over.

The mechanism for the replacement is an election, thus providing the veneer that this is a democracy.  The ruling class rarely cares about which party is in power, because they – unlike much of the left – understand that both are essentially their servants.

Sometimes, however, they do have a preference.  In 1949, Labour was exhausted and the ruling class plumbed for National, as they did again in 1951.  In 1984, the bulk of the ruling class swung behind Labour.  When that Labour government was exhausted by waging the biggest attack on workers’ rights and living standards since the Depression, the ruling class swung behind National in 1990.  When that National government was looking bedraggled, they swung behind Labour again in 1999.

Currently, they’re happy enough with National, but certainly not hostile to a Labour victory.

And, for their part, the people who run Labour are perfectly aware that they are not a left-wing party, not socialist, not even vaguely so.  They know that the party they preside over is essentially a capitalist management team, one which vies with the other main capitalist management team, National, for the right to make some political decisions to help the system of exploitation run smoothly.

Thus Labour Party president Nigel Haworth spends a good part of his week soliciting donations from business interests and other ruling class sectors.  In relation to the Smellie donation, therefore, Haworth declared,  “I know he is impressed with where we are sitting in terms of policy.”


But Labour isn’t about to rest on its laurels in terms of money from the ruling class; Haworth has launched a President’s Club which has bronze, silver, gold and platinum donors, its categories being based on what these folks give each year.

As if Labour and National didn’t represent the interests of the bourgeoisie enough as it is, they have these special conduits for rich supporters.

National has a thing called the Cabinet Club.  Supporters buy expensive tickets to swish functions attended by cabinet ministers whom they are guaranteed to be able to speak to.  In other words, to lobby for their particular hobby-horse.

Labour has the President’s Club.  Haworth admits, “It’s about access into the party to talk to the party about policy as we develop it within the party.”  At the same time, he claims it’s not about buying influence, just giving money!

Haworth also claims the President’s Club is “not remotely exclusive”.  Yes, anybody – that is anybody with a thousand dollars to spare – can be a member of the bronze tier.

If you have a bit more – $3,000 upwards – you can join the silver tier.

With $5,000 upwards you can join the gold tier.

And with $10,000 or more, you get to qualify as a platinum President’s Club member.

Sure, Nigel.  Nothing exclusive about any of that.

And, I guess, for many Labourites these days, since they belong to the middle class upwards, these are probably not large sums of money.  But all this tells us clearly that Labour is not a party of downtrodden workers, but of the well-off.  Of, by and for the well-off.

On top of these sorts of donations, come donations from corporates.  In the early 2000s, National was complaining they couldn’t raise much from corporates as Labour was garnering most of that money.  And this was true.

In the last few elections, with Labour in the doldrums, corporate money has tended more to go to National.

At the same time, the overall tendency of business donations has been fairly even-handed.  As Labour general secretary Rob Allen noted in an interview with Bryce Edwards in 1999, “90 percent of the corporates that give to politics give in an even-handed fashion as corporate citizens… And 5-10 percent, not even 10 percent, probably 2-5 percent choose to give hugely to one side of politics.”

However, where these parties get most of their funding from is another source entirely.  One that tells us a great deal about these parties and their political role in society.

In his submission to, the Justice and Electoral Select Committee on the Electoral Finance Bill, Bryce stated, “For most parties, state resources are now their principal source of material support.  Most other financial resources are relatively insignificant.  . . . the income that the New Zealand parties derive from civil society is very small.” (The submission can be read here.)

The vast majority of funding for both National and Labour comes from the state.  Although Bryce Edwards’ PhD which showed this is now almost 14 years old, this fact hasn’t really sunk into the skulls of much of the left.

The simple reality is that Labour and National, and the other parliamentary parties, are primarily linked to the state, not to class-based constituencies which was to some extent true in, say, the very early days of the Labour Party.

Moreover, the state represents the interests of capital in general.  It ensures stable conditions for the exploitation of the working class to take place and it creates whatever institutions, laws, special bodies etc that are necessary for this.

So, as well as all the other intricate threads which bind Labour and National to the capitalists – business donations, personal friendships, common membership of boards of directors, shared class membership and aspirations and, especially importantly, the ideological belief that capitalism is the only possible system – we have both parties being creatures of the capitalist state.

The parliamentary parties are para-statal bodies; they operate as part of the overall machinery by which the ruling class rules.

And this aspect has become truer and larger with time.

Instead of copping itself on, much of the left has wasted a lot of energy running around childishly trying to demonise the National Party as uniquely evil and pretend Labour is somehow different.  This nonsense reach its nadir with the long, tragi-comic attempt to portray Key-English as intending to pursue, and then actually pursuing, a fiendish neo-liberal agenda when, back on Planet Earth, Key-English clearly rejected neo-liberal economics and pursued a middle-of-the-road course which often put them to the left of the Labour Party!

What we need in this country is a real anti-capitalist left.

After all, the problem is the capitalist system and all the parties and institutions which help keep the show on the road.

Further reading: For a campaign of positive abstention in the 2017 elections


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