The latest round of New Zealand parliamentary elections (2014) have smashed all hopes of a centre left government in New Zealand, with Labour polling it's lowest result in nearly 100 years. Worse, Internet MANA has only very slightly increased it's party vote and is left with no parliamentary representation after the defeat of Hone Harawera at the hands of a "grand coalition of the willing". This defeat throws up some serious questions about why the left was unable to convince the mass of workers to vote, and more importantly for revolutionary socialists, why Internet MANA performed so poorly.
A recurring theme to the defeat of Internet MANA within the mainstream media (MSM) and within many left circles, is that Kim Dotcom was the kiss of death to the nascent MANA. That for all it's good intentions, MANA, courting a sort of political kryptonite, lacked the power or initiative to overcome this theme, and was irredeemably corrupted. This narrative however is just that, a narrative, and one driven by a bourgeois MSM exclusively directed by the morals of the ruling class. It makes no attempt to explain the underlying material conditions which;
1. Drove the working class to vote according to the interest of the bourgeoisie.
2. The historical events which propelled MANA and Dotcom into an unlikely alliance.
I will deal with the second first as it will be most familiar to those who are up to date with current affairs.
Kim Dotcom and MANA.
Kim Dotcom arrived in Aotearoa under the guise of an 'investor', despite the objections of state agencies involved in the vetting of prospective new migrants, his residency was approved.
Immediately after this period Dotcom set about ingratiating himself with the most radical parliamentary representatives of the capitalists, primarily the Act party. However under significant pressure from U.S monopoly capitalists, whom Dotcom threatened through his file sharing business. The New Zealand government launched an illegal raid under the supervision of U.S authorities. Dotcom was arrested and his property confiscated, threatened with extradition and a very long prison sentence in the U.S. Dotcom appealed to his political allies, but they were not interested in launching a struggle for the independence of New Zealand capital from U.S imperialism which had benefited them so well.
As legal proceedings began, to fight the extradition process, Dotcom found that support could be gained from the far left; Progressives, who argue the "rule of law" must be upheld; Maori and other political activists due to the experiences of the Ureweras and; Revolutionary socialists, in opposition to all oppression as 'tribunes of the people' offered Dotcom wary support. Dotcom revelled in the celebrity his money had been unable to buy, even if it was more so notoriety. The various but shared experiences of the factions allowed for a connection between Dotcom's oppression, as well as that endured by the governments political opponents, workers, Maori and beneficiaries; groups heavily associated with MANA.
In due course a more formal alliance was proposed between Dotcom and MANA, one which would couple Dotcom's still significant wealth with MANA's militancy. This was a tumultuous process in itself and caused several prominent activists to depart in protest at the prospect of this alliance. Many socialists including myself were deeply sceptical of the proposed benefits of an alliance. However revolutionaries must not shirk from using the capitalists own tools against them, and once an alliance became obvious, most quickly ditched sectarianism to best aid the struggle, though not without ongoing criticisms. The alliance consisted of two party’s, which in practice continued to develop separate policy and candidates, though with a shared party list. MANA would undertake much of the activism and provide the crucial Te tai tokerau seat, allowing both parties to circumvent the 5% party vote threshold.The Internet party brought a 'broader' appeal as well as significant funding for joint advertising and within Hone's crucial electorate seat.
Initially this alliance proceeded smoothly and Internet MANA's position in the mainstream polls rose. A number of capitalist representatives, notably John Armstrong, began to panic fearing that the significant 5% point may be reached. The bourgeois media rapidly assembled a countercampaign, one which drew on many of the productive villanies of capital, notably whipping up racist anti german sentiment. Dotcom's character was relentlessly assaulted, his political aims were described as driven by nothing more than the basic desire for vengeance. However these were never qualified as stemming from his prior treatment by the government. The media were also careful to conflate at every opportunity Dotcom and the MANA leadership, despite Dotcom holding no position within the MANA movement. Dotcom became in their description, a "puppet master" manipulating parliamentary politics for personal purpose, though what this purpose was other than promoting MANA's policies of full employment and social housing, the media never qualified. When the media's opinion of the parliamentary process is so low, that it believes it able to be manipulated by a wealthy individual is an irony not lost on socialists.
MANA for it's part was denounced as a compromised sellout, having committed the treachery of selling the poor for 30 pieces of silver, to be crucified upon Dotcom's ambition. The facts however remain, MANA changed none of it's policies, and was clear about the nature of it's relationship with Dotcom, which was spoken of in detail at Internet MANA road shows up and down the country. Other political parties hid their donors in the darkness, refusing to discuss them or their influence on party policy. Those who did surface were often revealed to be embroiled in scandal of favouritism and jobism; Judith Collins and Orivida being prime examples. The hypocrisy of this situation was razorsharp, MANA candidate John Minto noted;
'Objecting to big money donations for political parties has never been such an issue until a leftwing party got big money backing with no strings attached. No mention of the critical diet of business donations which keep Labour and National afloat – just outrage that a group prepared to challenge corporate rule might be well funded for an election campaign to do so'.
This is of course true, for the bourgeois media to cast the light into the dark dealings of party donor relations, would have revealed connections between donations and advertising spending as originating from the same sources. The corrupt nature of the political parties would have been revealed to be the same conditions for the corruption of the mainstream media; the buying of opinion and the silencing of scrutiny, bought and sold like any other commodity, profit being the basis for the bankruptcy of the media. Internet MANA's clear relationship with Dotcom threatened the necessity of their own secrecy.
Internet MANA's alliance, despite moral arguments, was one clearly within the material interests of both parties. Just as the donor party relationships of other parties are in their self interest. The intolerance of MANA came from their ability to remain committed to their anticapitalist programme, where other parties, under pressure from wealthy donors, would have "reformed" their policies to oblivion.
Where have all the voters gone?
But why did voters not turnout for Internet MANA or the left in general? This is a most complex question but must be answered in an objective manner. Petty interpersonal relationships though important are adrift on powerful historic forces. The last global financial crisis (GFC, 2008) and it's lasting impacts have had a titanic influence. The recovery from the GFC has been torturous for capitalist society, the normal rapid recovery and restoration of profitability historically experienced by capital, have instead been weak, crisis prone and localised. One of those locations where performance has been stronger than average is New Zealand. The apparent strength of the recovery has lent credence to the ruling National party’s claims to be "the best managers of capital".
However, relative strength of the recovery is also leading to the relative strength of contradictions underlying crisis, which will lead to the next crisis being far more pronounced in New Zealand. This relative stability of New Zealand capitalism has meant that while neoliberalism still reigns supreme, the conditions of austerity imposed elsewhere have been avoided. Largely funded by government borrowing, made possible by a tsunami of quantitative easing in the U.S.A etc, the National party has even increased the minimum wage. Thus they have been able to portray themselves as 'relatively moderate' while pursuing policies of privatisation and environmental degradation. This has also allowed the media and the National party to frame a narrative of looming economic catastrophe if ever their "slightly" left opponents were to come to power. It could be worse, is essentially their argument, even as they help lay the groundwork for a new and larger crisis.
Their primary opponent on the left, Labour, is meanwhile still racked with internal contradictions the GFC brought to maturity. Gordon Campbell pointed out;
http://gordoncampbell.scoop.co.nz/2014/09/22/gordon-campbell-on-labours-very-bad-year/'On first becoming leader Cunliffe had talked of how the GFC had made Third Way economic policy passé – which was a dog whistle that under his leadership, Labour would make a definitive break from the economic policies that have devastated Labour’s core constituencies from 1984 onwards. That change in policy direction didn’t eventuate.'
Labour, now primarily a party serving the interests of a bureaucratic elite competes with National as capitals "best manager". However the GFC has opened up a new awareness and language on the nature of capital within the working class. Labour hoping to harness this and under pressure from a emboldened membership. Elected a more leftwing leader than was the course, but no substantial changes to the actual members of caucus which constitute the party were made. The result has been paralysis and dysfunction, revealing that third way politics have only ever been a fig leaf to disguise the naked slavering horror of capital. Unable to deal with it's own internal contradictions and with a policy platform which reflected this; i.e. raise the minimum wage as well as raise the retirement age, the party was pointed to as an example of the dysfunction of the "Left".
Internet MANA however presented a more unified front, even if they had interpersonal differences, the candidates of both parties interacted well and made few mistakes. The movements rank and file also excelled in both leading and supporting protest action. Notably during the protests against the Israeli attack on Palestine (the biggest in New Zealand history), MANA leadership supported this action and the party appeared unified. The weakest link was Kim Dotcom. Newly exiled from the capitalist class and dipping his toes into the lake of working class politics, he was Internet MANA's Achilles heel. Politically inexperienced and due to his contradictory position between bourgeoisie and proletarian ideas, and engaged in a popularity contest with John Key. Dotcom was prone to mistakes of the same sort evident in Labour. Combined with the other mistakes made in the forming of the internet party, his prominent role, a lack of democracy, etc., this cast doubts on the cohesiveness and resolve of Internet MANA, and conflated them with the dysfunction in Labour.
These problems, although serious, were not the death blow to Internet MANA. This came in the form of a "grand coalition of the willing", in which all political parties cooperated in order to instruct voters not to vote for Internet MANA. It is important to not diminish the importance of this sole act of cooperation amongst the political parties, media and business during the election campaign. This opposition positioned the combined forces of capital against Internet MANA. The warning was clear, Internet MANA in parliament would have to fight the combined forces of the bourgeoisie. The New Zealand Heralds, "The mood of the boardroom" even described Internet MANA as "Dangerous radicals". The proposition to the voting public was clear, voting Internet MANA would be a declaration of war on capital and threatened the relative stability of capitalism in New Zealand. Were voters so sure Internet MANA and it's programme could prove staunch enough to challenge capital in parliament? No, they were not, and Internet MANA's vote collapsed.
This act of cooperation by the major parties cannot be overlooked. You only need to look at the unified mobilisation of the ruling elite in the UK at the threat of scottish independence to understand that when faced with a threat to their economic rule, the ruling capitalist parties will put aside their differences and fight the threat to this rule. But while this act of cooperation unified the different political parties in New Zealand, it was the only act of cooperation the NZ left could muster in the lead up to the election. Blame must be placed at the feet of the main opposition parties, namely Labour and the Greens, for their inability to provide a united alternative to the National Government. Constant bickering and undermining of each others position poisoned the idea of these parties working together post election in the minds of New Zealanders. If they were unable to work together in the lead up to the election, what evidence could they provide that they were ready to form a government. The Key government as an alternative, offered to work with their support partners on their differences, rather than using them as a point of difference.
|National's depiction of the New Zealand Left in the lead up to the election.|
What must be done?
In many ways the failures of MANA were not due to what was done, but what was not. MANA was ultimately unable to convey to a great mass of the working class a programme, a viable alternative to capitalism. Nor was it able to convince them of it's commitment to that programme or that it was in possession of forces adequate for the realisation of this programme. Neither was the working class yet in a situation desperate enough for MANA to lead in that project. Relative prosperity in New Zealand, as well as acts of unity from the ruling class, show that there is still a material basis for bourgeois dominance currently. However this material basis continues to decline, with growing inequality despite growing global wealth, environmental degradation despite new technologies and oppression despite protest. It is only a matter of time until there is a situation which brings all of these growing contradictions to the fore anew, as with the last crisis. If the Labour party is relied upon to lead in this next crisis the result can only be the same; Paralysis, as the party turns on itself once more.
Mike Treen from Unite union advocates;
'At the same time a more radical critique of capitalism which is beginning to be advanced by the MANA Movement has yet to to win a hearing from a significant percentage of the voting public. That doesn’t mean that radical voice should be silenced or moderated. I am confident that the continued failure of this system, and the parties that defend this system, will eventually open the eyes of many more people to what is needed. That is also reflected in the willingness of growing numbers to take action around issues like climate change, child poverty, deep sea oil drilling in just the last few weeks. Ultimately real change will come from a combination of action in the streets and at the ballot box. If MANA remains true to itself as a movement of both the streets and parliament they can be confident of future victories.'
MANA must be the focus for constructing a resolute, unified and broad mass working class party. It needs a clear anticapitalist programme as an alternative to capitalism, a mass organisation of activists to lead struggle for the programme, and a mass membership to struggle for and implement their programme. Socialist Aotearoa reaffirms its support for the MANA movement and calls for the following reforms.
Without parliamentary representation to distract or provide a basis for opportunism, which is now at a low within the party. There is a clear opportunity to build the MANA movement, through activism, argument, and solidarity. MANA must now be at the forefront of all struggles against oppression, climate change and inequality for the next three years. It will take a high level of coordination within MANA and with other activists. By being the most organised, consistent and democratic, we can win these activists to MANA. By winning these activists, we can win the most advanced sections of the working class to MANA.
A sold publication from MANA must be produced. This is a traditional method to communicate with sections of the working classes and is sorely missing from the left. This is vital in order to organise MANA effectively, but also to develop ideas creating a greater degree of consensus within the movement, avoiding delays and internal strife, while promoting movement democracy. It can be used to advocate for an anticapitalist programme to the working class and promoting MANA's actions to win new members.
Funding for activities, campaigns and publications must be gathered from the membership. It is necessary for MANA to collect dues from their members in order to fund the movements activities. The national aspect of MANA provides opportunities for national funding in order to support vital struggles with resources previously inaccessible. This is also a vital source of non parliamentary resources which will help to strengthen MANA's independence.
Revolutionary socialists must work within the MANA movement to be the most active leaders, with the most advanced strategies, tactics and politics, we must win our arguments through their strength. We must continue to fight against racism, sexism and nationalism within the MANA movement, and call upon the movement to be the first to oppose these injustices wherever they present. We must also work to win the most advanced section of the MANA movement over to revolutionary socialism and promote socialist ideas in general. Only then will we be ready for the looming crisis.