Originally published on the letters page of Weekly Worker No. 577, 19 May 2005.

Kiwi IBT
The letter from the International Bolshevik Tendency contains a number of factual and political errors. On the factual side Marcus Hayes is wrong when he states that my letter of May 5 was from the Anti-Capitalist Alliance; it was actually a personal letter from me, and was clearly signed on behalf of myself (Weekly Worker May 12).

More important, however, is the letter’s political content. Firstly, it totally sidesteps my criticism of the IBT’s liberal approach in the Non! group in opposition to French testing at Mururoa in 1995. Marcus concentrates on what the IBT said in their own publications, which is not what I criticised. My criticism was that they argued for a single-slogan campaign, with the slogan being one that the entire NZ ruling class supported.

A revolutionary approach in Non! would have been to argue that the group adopt a minimum anti-imperialist position which combined opposition to French tests with support for the independence of New Caledonia and French Polynesia and opposition to NZ capitalism’s own interests in the Pacific. Even the liberal peaceniks had a better position than the IBT in terms of wanting to take up the wider issue of imperialism in the Pacific.

Instead, the approach of the IBT was the same one pioneered by the US Socialist Workers Party in relation to the Vietnam war - unite as broad a section of society as possible on the basis of a single slogan. At least the US SWP, however, had the merit that their slogan for the anti-Vietnam war movement - ‘US troops out now!’ - was one opposed by the bulk of the US ruling class. The IBT slogan for Non!, by contrast, was one supported by the entire NZ ruling class, the Tory government and every member of the NZ parliament! Can’t get much ‘broader’ than that, I guess, but hardly a Marxist approach.

Having argued for a liberal, single-slogan approach in Non! back in 1995, the IBT virtually disintegrated in NZ over the following years and only rarely carries out any public activity. However, it turned up in Multicultural Aotearoa (MCA) and, again, argued for a liberal approach - a single focus on the National Front. This at a time when the Labour government has been busy tightening immigration controls, deporting migrant workers, and holding others in detention, including in long periods of solitary confinement, without even due bourgeois legal process.

A minimum principled position in MCA was to argue for this group, if it was serious about fighting racism, to take up the issue of immigration controls. However, the IBT opposed this and went along with the liberal MCA position of a single focus on defending multiculturalism and opposing the nasty fascists (again, a position supported by the entire NZ ruling class).

In the IBT letter, Marcus Hayes defends this and argues that even mentioning immigration in the MCA leaflet “blurr[ed] the focus of the MCA”! (In fact the mention of immigration in the MCA leaflet was pretty wishy-washy, but even this was too much for the IBT.)

So the IBT wishes to limit an ‘anti-fascist’ campaign to merely defending multiculturalism and opposing the NF, but not actually taking up the key racist issue around which the NF organises and on which the NZ ruling class and government are actually carrying out repressive measures. This is the same liberal approach pursued by the British SWP in relation to the Anti-Nazi League - unite everyone on a non-class basis of general antipathy towards the fascists.

The perspective of the ACA was to argue that if the MCA was to be a serious, principled anti-racist campaign it had to take up the question of immigration controls. Not a “10-point anti-capitalist programme”, as Marcus tries to caricature, but a simple position in support of the right of foreign-born workers to live and work in NZ on the same basis as NZ-born citizens.

Unlike the wee remnant of the NZ wing of the IBT, the ACA believes in drawing class lines in campaigns. We aren’t interested in uniting everyone across the classes in campaigns based on single, liberal, middle class slogans, but in fighting for a principled class stance and for campaigns to adopt principled minimum platforms which point to opposition to the NZ ruling class and their liberal ideology.

Not only was the IBT approach in both these campaigns essentially liberal, but in the case of MCA they also helped protect the political arse of the Labour Party/government. Labourites and other liberal middle class people support immigration controls but salve their consciences by being against the lumpenproletarian fascists, often as a form of snobbery. If we are to build a revolutionary working class movement in NZ, we need to block off the ability of Labourites to pose as left by protesting against fascists while spending the rest of their year propping up a government which imprisons and deports migrant workers and maintains a set of tighter and tighter immigration controls.

The IBT in NZ completely fails to understand such a class approach. This is partly explainable by their political weaknesses and partly by their social composition - they are the only left group in NZ which in its entire existence has failed to recruit a single industrial worker, a single Maori, a single Pacific Islander. If they stepped outside their white, middle class comfort zone they might start to understand the importance of building an anti-racist movement which takes up the issue of immigration.
Phil Duncan
New Zealand

Posted: 15 June 2005