Various contenders are jockeying for position in the lead-up to New Zealand’s general election on 20 September 2014. As it stands now, there is no party for which socialists can vote.
The current center-right National Party government is supported in parliament by the bourgeois nationalist Māori Party and other right-wing splinters. Opposition parties include the pro-capitalist right social-democratic Labour Party, the Greens, the populist New Zealand First and Mana, a left split from the Māori Party led by Hone Harawira, who has in the past been willing to take struggles beyond the bounds of bourgeois legality. Mana identifies with the interests of the oppressed and workers’ movement, albeit with a nationalist tilt, and is backed by many leftists in New Zealand. In 2011 the IBT gave critical support to a preliminary electoral foray by one of Mana’s founders (see ‘Practical’ Reformism: Obstacle to Socialism: Vote Matt McCarten).
In late May, Mana announced a deal with the Internet Party, founded in January by Kim Dotcom, a shady German-born multi-millionaire resident in New Zealand who has become a public figure in the course of fighting extradition to the United States on accusations of massive breach of copyright. The two parties will unite for the period up to the election, fielding a joint electoral list, but it is expected that they will go their separate ways after the election. This arrangement boosts the profile of both parties, supplies funding to Mana and will quite likely provide at least one member of parliament to the Internet Party under New Zealand’s system of proportional representation.
Shortly after the deal was announced, the Internet Party introduced its new leader, Laila Harré, a left trade-union bureaucrat and former cabinet minister (in a previous popular frontist lash-up of small parties called the Alliance, which was itself in alliance with Labour). Supporters of the two parties seem to believe that Harré’s appointment is a brilliant move, giving gravitas to the Internet Party and credibility to its deal with Mana.
Mana's deputy leader, Annette Sykes, spoke at a meeting on 30 May organised by Fightback on “Elections and Community Struggle.” During the discussion period afterward, Bill Logan made the following remarks from the floor on behalf of the IBT.
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This deal between the Internet Party and the Mana Party has been called a marriage. There were certainly considerable prenuptial negotiations – but this is not a marriage. There’s no commitment after election night.
Mana is offering very short-term intimacy to the Internet Party, in exchange for very large material benefits. You've got to admire a courtesan with the skills to command such a high fee for a one-night stand.
But while the specifics have been so very clever, this approach to politics is actually not new. There is a lesson to be taken into account.
The last 25 years of New Zealand left parliamentary politics have been a history of coalitions. Indeed, the received wisdom is that the left cannot stand alone. There is a received wisdom that a left party must find a party of capitalism to stand alongside. That is the history of Jim Anderton, Matt McCarten, Laila Harré, Willie Jackson and all the rest.
And the lesson of that history is that coalitionism does not deliver to the working class, to beneficiaries or to ordinary Maori. It delivers temporary rewards to some leftist politicians. But it does not deliver significant jobs, or health care, or education or relief from poverty.
It is not only the New Zealand experience that shows this.
The 20th century was full of coalitions between workers’ parties and bourgeois parties. None offered anything to the proletariat. Many have offered big-time to the bourgeoisie – from Spain in the 30s, to Indonesia in the 60s and Chile in the 70s. Hundreds of thousands of lives lost, and scores of years of struggle wasted.
The way forward is not through coalitions with capitalist parties but through independence from capitalist parties. A vote for Mana while it is in coalition with the Internet Party is a vote against working-class independence. The way forward is through building consciousness that the working class must unite against the capitalist parties. Anything which clouds that consciousness, anything which creates an illusion that coalitionism is smart, is a step backward for working people and the poor, not a step forward.