"Left over" hui: Don Franks contribution
talk given at a Wellington left strategy meeting
Kia ora kou tou.
Thanks for inviting me here this evening.
I appreciate the chance to participate in this discussion of how the activist left might make progress.
Discussion of political ideas is something the New Zealand left hasn’t done very well.
We've spent more time discussing other things. Such as how we can get this or that "good" person elected to some position.
Or how we might achieve mainstream media coverage of a political stunt.
We kiwi leftists are practical down to earth people aren't we? We like to get on with the job, do something real, get something going now, not later. We care, we want to stop the drilling, feed the kids, not wank off over an economic textbook.
So, political study for long term strategising is something we do, if at all, after completing our other supposedly more relevant duties.
That’s how its mostly been in the sections of the socialist left I've inhabited. Most of the time we’ve been hardworking reliable helpers of various reformists and union officials.
On the plus side, these long hard hours had some positive effect, we've helped bring in some progressive reforms along the way.
But we've also neglected to build our own programe and our own culture. Because of that it’s hard to identify "The activist left" as anything more than “certain people who usually turn up at various demonstrations".
This meeting's organisers have asked:
What are our strengths and weaknesses?
Can we learn from history or do we need to re-invent our movement?
And, what issues and strategies should we consider?
These are very relevant questions, I think we also need to ask one more - what do we want to achieve?
I believe our central goal should be to destroy the capitalist system and replace it with worker controlled economic and soclal organisation.
Capitalism is a flexible system which rewards a minority and seems to offer promise for a wider minority.
Capitalism is also a ruthlessly vicious system.
Exploitation, war, deceit, and stark social deprivation are inherent unavoidable elements of capitalism. If humankind is ever to live in general peace and prosperity, capitalism must go.
Most leftists would say they agree with this. Yet we very often act as if the destruction of capitalism was not any sort of priority.
The New Zealand Labour party is totally committed to capitalism, yet so many leftists support it as somehow "better" than National.
This, despite the fact that the working class have less faith in the Labour party with each passing year. Few workers join the party, each election fewer workers vote for the party. This reflects Labour's essentially anti worker position.
Anyway, responding to the questions before us tonight, what are our some of our strengths and weaknesses?
We live in a relatively peaceful prosperous society, where most people are literate. So its possible to spread ideas and organise gatherings without being killed or imprisoned. In much of the world that isn’t the case. Our relatively benign social climate is not guaranteed, in my lifetime left activists have been imprisoned for possessing communist literature, and of course there were the terror raids just a few years ago. Still, we enjoy relative political freedom and should make use of it.
A serious weakness we have is reluctance to debate political ideas. Political criticism is too often seen as a personal attack. Sometimes it is, because we are often too ready to see politics as the whims of important individuals rather than struggle between classes. Thus, New Zealand involvement in the TPPA is, its frequently claimed, because of John Key's mad desire to help US corporates destroy New Zealand people’s democratic rights. Instead of political analysis we have childish demonisation of John Key as some sort of crazy fascist.
Primeminster Rob Muldoon was characterised in the same way. While we were pulling faces at Muldoon nice David Lange's Labour government crept up behind us and destroyed thousands of jobs. We were unprepared, because we were fixated with the personalities and not the real drivers of change - international and national economic forces.
Another weakness of the New Zealand left is fixation with parliament. Beneath all the fuss, parliament is a buffer for the capitalist class to hide behind while they conduct their business unmolested. Workers are losing interest in parliament, so should we.
Can we learn from history, or do we need to reinvent our movement?
We are unavoidably shaped by our past, and the question I think is how we learn from history. We’ve had a tendency to copy the form and trappings of overseas movements. Better I think, to examine how successful overseas movements solved the problems of their particular environments, as we must solve ours.
What strategies should we consider?
If you accept getting rid of capitalism as the main leftist responsibility, then this is what I think we need to work on right now.
We need to develop and vigorously uphold our own left agenda, otherwise we will be forever responding to capitalism, on capitalism’s terms.
I see part of making our own revolutionary kaupapa in the creation of a regular bulletin, presenting a day by day left alternative to the capitalist media. This news service should seek to build a readership of working people, so that they may be armed with better understanding of how society works and how it might be changed.
The Marxist Redline blog I contribute to goes some way towards this function but only very little.
I would like to see a much bigger, more comprehensive news alternative. My vision is a regular bulletin in plain clear language addressing all worker related issues of the day, with a consistently internationalist revolutionary focus.
Obviously, a regular reliable readable anti capitalist bulletin is only part of the job. I do believe that properly done it could help us step forward together with more conviction, resolve and effect.