New Zealand Elections 8 November

No choice for the working class! Spoil your ballot!

While the global economy teeters on the edge of a depression that may well throw millions of workers around the world out of their jobs, the New Zealand media is drearily focussed on the triennial elections. It’s a contest between alternatives without significant differences. The outcome will be either a centre “left” coalition led by the Labour Party (currently in office) or a centre “right” coalition led by the conservative National Party (currently in opposition). Neither have anything to offer working people in the face of the impending economic collapse.

The other parties fall into three categories. First there are the real but small parties representing significant constituencies (the Mâori Party and the Greens). Second, there are the decomposition products of the two big parties (the tiny social-democratic Progressives, and the minor bourgeois United Future, New Zealand First and Act). These six parties are likely to get some seats, courtesy of the proportional representation system, and some of them will have a role in the post-election horse trading to put together a coalition with a majority in Parliament. The third category consists of groups who don’t have a chance of winning a seat but are using the opportunity for propaganda purposes (particularly the Workers Party and the Residents Action Movement).

Marxists believe that the way to a better future lies through the working class becoming conscious of its political interests as a class, in opposition to the bourgeoisie and the parties that represent it. For the moment, the eyes of the working class, especially those most interested in politics, are on the electoral process. So unlike the anarchists, we take the elections and the programmes of those who participate in them seriously. If we had the forces we would stand our own candidates—not with any expectation of bringing about any real changes through Parliament, but to take advantage of the opportunity to win a hearing for revolutionary ideas from working people and win them away from the parties they currently support. If we are unable to field candidates, we may give critical support to another party which, with whatever deficiencies, expresses some important element of a class-struggle programme.

The New Zealand Labour Party is not such a party. It is happy to govern in coalition with two unambiguously bourgeois formations: the venal Winston Peters’ New Zealand First and the pious Peter Dunne’s United Future. Their presence guarantees that the Labour government will not step beyond policies approved by the bourgeoisie.

Of course, no guarantor is necessary; Labour has earned the complete confidence of the bourgeoisie. In the 1980s they presided over the dismantling of the welfare state. More recently the government they led has administered a pretty austere capitalist regime and maintained strict limitations on the right to strike. Furthermore they victimised the refugee Ahmed Zaoui as a “terrorist” and passed the Terrorism Suppression Act under which leftists and Mâori activists have been spied on and their homes—and the whole township of Ruatoki—subject to armed police raids. And they have allowed the police to use allegations of trivial infractions of the Arms Act and bizarre and dangerous allegations of participation in a “criminal gang” to stifle leftist protest and dissent.

The Council of Trade Unions’ support for the Labour Party is an outrage, but hardly a surprise. The trade-union bureaucrats and Labour Party MPs, who are joined at the hip, both enjoy substantial material rewards—appointments, directorships, etc.—for services rendered to their capitalist masters.

Two other parties with Members of Parliament which some people count as part of left are the Mâori Party and the Greens. Yet neither even pretends to represent the working class much less stand for socialism. Both seek to build broad, cross-class coalitions.

Mâori, who constitute perhaps 18 percent of the population, are highly concentrated in the working class, over-represented in the prisons and have lower than average lifespans. They suffer both material and cultural oppression. The division of the working class between Mâori and Pâkehâ serves the interests of the capitalists. In some places—like Tûhoe’s Urewera area—Mâori should have regional autonomy. In general, however, the special needs of Mâori must be addressed within the context of the broader fight for the interests of the working class as a whole. Only a revolutionary workers’ party can lay the basis for uprooting the material basis for the special oppression of Mâori through fusing the fight for their historic interests with the struggle for the social liberation of all the downtrodden and oppressed.

The Greens, despite an ex-Maoist and an ex-Trotskyist among their Members of Parliament, propose nothing more than a utopian reform of capitalism. Yet only by putting the working class in power – a goal that runs counter to everything the bourgeois Green Party stands for – will rational planning replace the market anarchy that is destroying the biosphere.

The Residents Action Movement (RAM) is a project of Socialist Worker, associated with the International Socialist Tendency (IST), though more wholehearted in its support of Hugo Chávez’s bourgeois-nationalist Venezuelan government than the leadership of the IST’s flagship section—the Socialist Workers Party of Britain. RAM talks of left unity and pledges to give priority to ten social-democratic demands, including wage rises, free school lunches in low-income areas, cheap solar panels, and entrenching the Treaty of Waitangi. These are supportable reforms, but entirely inadequate as a programme to deal with the looming depression, in that they fail to even hint at a socialist solution to any of the problems faced by the working class. Nor would the struggle to win them, separately or in combination, serve as any sort of transition to a struggle for socialism.

The Workers Party has always supported the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), which, on 1 May 2007 achieved its strategic objective of forming a coalition government with liberal elements of the Nepalese bourgeoisie. On 15 August this year its leader, Prachanda, became Prime Minister in a power-sharing regime. The WP has yet to comment on their Nepalese mentors’ parliamentary “success,” but is much more forthright in praising Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez. “The emergence and growth of Venezuela’s Bolivarian revolution,” they say, “is one of the most important developments for the global anti-capitalist movement in the past two decades” (Spark, June 2007). Yet Chávez’ government, like Prachanda’s, exists wholly within the framework of the historically developed bourgeois state. It constitutes an obstacle on the road to socialism, because the illusions it promotes politically disarm its plebeian base and lay the basis for defeat. This is what happened in Indonesia under Sukarno when the Maoist Communist Party of Indonesia lulled the masses with dangerous fantasies about the possibility of uniting with the “progressive” elements of the bourgeoisie, and thus paved the way for the right-wing coup in 1965, in which at least a half million leftists were slaughtered.

Workers Party candidates on occasion are explicitly pro-working-class and anti-capitalist, and their supporters carry placards like “Workers should run the country” and “Capitalism’s not our future”. But they don’t say anything about how workers might come to run the country or capitalist rule can be ended. They have a five-point platform for the elections—four demands for various democratic and economist reforms, and a fifth…“For a working people’s republic.” A minimum-maximum programme, with four parts minimum and one part maximum, and stripped of any class-struggle content.

Supporters of the International Bolshevik Tendency gladly contributed signatures to help the Workers Party get on the ballot. While we support their right to stand, we note that their programme does not actually address the key issues of the day, and that their overseas models are pursuing a path that can only lead to disaster. The Workers Party is, in short, is a “party” of crystallised confusion.

Current indications point to a serious worldwide depression and mass unemployment, yet neither the Workers Party nor any other organisation standing in these elections has a programme that even contemplates that—much less begin to seriously address it. A programme which meets the immediate needs of the working class and other oppressed layers must be one capable of mobilising the exploited masses in struggle against the capitalists. The idea of linking today’s immediate struggles with the historical necessity to fight for socialism was developed by the Third International under Lenin, and codified by Trotsky in the founding document of the Fourth International, The Transitional Programme.

The meltdown in the banks and other organs of the financial system, and the associated chaos of mortgage foreclosures and mass layoffs as the credit squeeze begins to bite, points to the necessity for the expropriation of capitalist banks and other financial institutions without compensation and operating them under workers’ control. Yet none of the supposedly leftist candidates in this election are proposing anything along these lines.

When layoffs threaten, a revolutionary leadership must respond with the demand for a sliding scale of hours in order to ensure that the available work is shared. It is necessary to accompany this with the demand for a sliding scale of wages – so incomes are not gutted by inflation. In anticipation of the bosses’ claims that they cannot afford such measures, a Marxist leadership will raise the call to open the books to workers’ inspection.

Defend every job! For strikes and occupations to stop layoffs and shutdowns! Prepare strike committees and picket lines!

In a serious crisis it will be necessary to go beyond strike committees and picket lines and to establish workers’ councils with workers’ militias to defend them and help implement their decisions. This is the road to mobilising the masses of working people in struggle to carry out the socialist reorganization of society through the creation of a real workers’ republic—a transition that the programme of the Workers Party does not address.

The simple truth is that there is no party in these elections with a programme to meet the needs of the working class. One must be built with the political capacity to lead the working class to power. But on 8 November the only choice for class conscious workers is to spoil their ballots.

Posted: 05 November 2008