New Zealand: Broad left party strides ahead
May 17, 2008
The Residents’ Action Movement has been growing rapidly in the last month (with around 100-300 people joining per week) as a result of the popularity of their key campaign — to remove the 12.5% goods and services tax on food… How did such a party that has the mainstream parties ducking for cover grow so quickly and achieve such success in so short a time?
In Australia, Aoteraoa/New Zealand and the UK, the last few years has witnessed the emergence of left-wing electoral coalitions. In each case, after some initial success, they have largely collapsed. In each case, the coalition has dwindled to a front group for one of the ‘revolutionary’ socialist (neo-Trotskyist) parties who played a key role in their initiation.
“An historic moment for the left in Australia” was the most common comment made by participants in the founding conference of the Socialist Alliance in Melbourne over the August 4-5 weekend.
Launched in 2001, as a joint initiative of the Democratic Socialist Party (nee Socialist Workers Party) and the International Socialist Organisation (nee International Socialists), the Socialist Alliance (SA) was joined in its initial stages by the Freedom Socialist Party (FSP), Socialist Alternative (SAlt), Socialist Democracy (SD) and Workers Power (WP). (The somewhat mysterious Workers League and Worker Communist Party of Iraq (Australia) were also part of this historic occasion.)
So much for the good news.
As for the bad news: SAlt (wisely) left the Alliance in its initial stages; SD disbanded in December 2005; WP left in April 2006 (and has also since disbanded); the ISO withdrew in January 2007 (and has since re-emerged as Solidarity); while the FSP left the Alliance just two months later. The status of several other groups affiliated to SA remains somewhat in doubt — thus the Alliance for Workers Liberty (AWL) were there at the beginning, and have yet to formally announce their retirement, although nothing has been heard from them since 2004 — while the Workers League and the Worker Communist Party of Iraq (Australia) have been keeping mum.
SA has contested a number of elections over the intervening period, and a number of SA candidates will be contesting the upcoming Victorian local council elections (November 29). To date, however, none have experienced any degree of real success, and nobody — outside of, perhaps, SA — believes that they will any time soon. Indeed, such has been the controversy surrounding SA, that the question of its utility as a vehicle for the promotion of socialist politics led earlier this year to a split in the DSP (its only remaining power). Thus while the decision by the DSP to submerge itself in SA — celebrated by its re-nomination in December 2003 as the Democratic Socialist Perspective, “a Marxist tendency in the Socialist Alliance” — has had its benefits (the decimation of the ISO) it has also had its costs (currently known as the Revolutionary Socialist Party).
On SA election results, see:
- NSW local council election results : far left and far right (September 14, 2008)
SA in WA (September 9, 2008)
Socialist Alliance vs. Australia First in Newcastle (August 26, 2008)
Socialism vs. 2007 Federal Election: Results (November 25, 2007)
NSW State Election : Results (March 24, 2007)
Join in the chorus? Socialism vs. 2006 Victorian state election (November 26, 2006)
In Aotearoa/New Zealand, as in Australia, there have been a number of attempts at left re-groupment in recent years. One of these was centred around the development of a Workers’ Charter in 2005. Workers’ Charter has since gone the way of all things, and been replaced by the Residents’ Action Movement (RAM). RAM was formed in 2003, and has been described as a “broad left coalition, stretching from social liberals, community activists and former National Party members to social democrats, democratic socialists and left-wing radicals”. Its chairperson is currently Grant Morgan, who is also a leading member of Socialist Worker (Aotearoa).
SW-NZ is one of a bewildering number of Trotskyist parties descended from or (formerly) claiming allegiance to the UK’s Socialist Workers Party and its International: the International Socialist Tendency (iSt): in Aotearoa, SW-NZ remains the iSt affiliate; in Australia, the franchise is owned by Solidarity (and before it, the ISO). Confusingly:
SW-NZ produces a quarterly journal titled UNITY which is Aotearoa’s premier Marxist publication. We have our own website called UNITYblogNZ.com. We publish a monthly Operational E-Zine for SW-NZ members. We hold branch meetings and national conferences to debate Marxist strategies and tactics, and to elect people to positions of local and national responsibility. We are a Marxist group which can act independently for specific political reasons. Such things will continue in the aftermath of the unanimous decision by the February 2008 SW-NZ national conference to support RAM’s plan to go nationwide.
Confusing, as Unity was originally a publication of the Workers’ Charter (under the editorship of the delightfully subversive John Minto); the Workers’ Charter website has since disappeared; Unity appears to have ceased publication; and UNITYblogNZ.com now resolves to Unity Aotearoa, a ‘broad left’ blog (and seemingly a publication of SW-NZ).
Disappointing (for SW-NZ), as, despite a good deal of hype, RAM’s result at the recent election has been farcical. Thus, despite claiming a membership of 3000, RAM received just over 400 votes across the country. By contrast, with 824 votes, the ‘hard’ left in the Workers Party — its “ideology is pro-Mao, Marxism-Leninism [and] based on the teachings and practice of the great revolutionaries from Marx to Mao” — fared a good deal better (as did the social-democratic Alliance, with 1,721 votes).
- WPNZ was formed in 2002 as an amalgamation of the (seminal) Workers Party and a Trotskyist groupuscule called Revolution (see Philip Ferguson, ‘Fusion forms new group – Revolutionary Workers League’, The Spark, June 15, 2004). Well, kinda… actually, it emerged out of the ‘Anti-Capitalist Alliance’ as the ‘Revolutionary Workers League’, before settling for the name Workers Party (again).
The original ‘Socialist Alliance’ was established in the UK in 1992. According to the current holders of the title:
The first Socialist Alliance was set up in Coventry in 1992 and the first national meeting held in 1996 with eight local alliances represented. Within two years 20 local alliances and twelve left groups had joined. During the next two years the project took off with 58 local SA’s across the country.
In 2001 the SA adopted a new programme and constitution and now involved all the main tendencies and groupings on the left, including the AWL, CPGB, International Socialist Group, Revolutionary Democratic Group, Socialist Party, SWP and Workers Power. The SA stood 98 candidates in the 2001 general election, making the biggest left challenge to the Labour Party for 50 years. [Gaining 57,553 votes.]
After the Bush-Blair war in Iraq, the SWP majority abandoned the SA for Respect and closed the SA down. However a significant minority did not accept this. In November 2005 the SA was relaunched at the London conference. The need for non-sectarian socialist unity remains central to the struggle for socialism. The Socialist Alliance is coming back.
Maybe so — although given that it had just 30 ‘national’ members in 2007, and just 20 in 2008 (supplemented, presumably, by members of a dozen or so affiliates/branches), it certainly has an extremely long road to travel. As for Respect — Respect, Equality, Socialism, Peace, Environmentalism, Community, and Trade Unionism — it was formally founded in January 2004, and split into two in 2007, with one faction dominated by the SWP, and the other comprising most of the remainder.
Respect won its first local council election a few months after its founding, in July, 2004. It contested the general election of 2005, and gained 68,094 votes. Moreover, it gained Parliamentary representation in the form of ‘Gorgeous’ George Galloway (a former Laborite, expelled from the party in October 2003 on account of his opposition to the war in/on Iraq).
The turning point for Respect came in late 2007, when the party split into two: one faction labelled Respect Renewal (Galloway), the other Respect — The Unity Coalition (SWP). Renewal accused the SWP of control freakery; the SWP accused Galloway & Co. of shifting to the right. In any event, the SWP-dominated Respect soon transmogrified into the ‘Left List’, and it was under this title that the SWP contested the London council elections in May, 2008. In the contest for Mayor, the BNP’s Richard Barnbrook received 69,710 votes, while Lindsay German (Left List/SWP) got a mere 16,796 (less than 1%). (As the Respect candidate in 2004, German got 61,731 votes.)
In the ding-dong battle between the SWP (Left List) and Respect in City & East, Respect (George Galloway) got 26,760 votes (14.28%) while the Left candidate got just 2,274 votes (1.21%), less even than the National Front with 2,350 votes (1.25%). In general, of fourteen constituencies, Left List (SWP) candidates managed to avoid coming last in nine, comfortably seeing off Veritas in Barnet & Camden, the English Democrats in seven seats (although being outpolled in seven others), the UK Independence Party in two seats (losing in the remaining twelve), and seeing off challenges from two Independents, Socialist Alternative (Chris Flood), Animals Count and the Socialist Party (David Lambert), and even managed to defeat a Christian in one seat (losing all others) in the race to the bottom.
Following these disastrous results, the ‘Left List’ became the ‘Left Alternative’ (June 2008), and under this name will continue to eke out an existence as the SWP’s electoral front — minus Lindsey German and John Rees.
The fortunes of the SWP in the UK are in many ways mirrored by those of the DSP in Australia and SW-NZ in er, New Zealand. All three parties are (or perhaps were, in the case of SW-NZ) major forces on the Leninist left, and all decided, in their wisdom, to try and hitch their wagons to the ‘anti-capitalist’ movement in the early noughties by way of joining/forming an electoral alliance. In the case of the SWP this meant, first, joining/forming the Socialist Alliance (1999–2003), then Respect (2003–2007), then Respect Coalition (2007–2008), then the Left List (2008), and now the Left Alternative. In the case of the DSP, they comprised one of the founding members of the Socialist Alliance (2001) and — while every single other member of the ‘alliance’ has since departed — have remained there. As indicated, this has come at a cost to the DSP, with the recent departure of a large minority to form the RSP. The SWP, on the other hand, has (also) witnessed a declining membership, one which — and in reaction to the popularity of the BNP — it would appear it is attempting to bolster through rejuvenating its ‘anti-fascist’ organising.
…So the LA is going to be a parked front, much like Globalise Resistance, kept just about ticking over in case there’s a need to dust it off again. This makes sense. Since the election debacle, practically all the SWP’s allies – who weren’t too numerous to begin with – have flaked off. The four Tower Hamlets councillors have gone, three to New Labour and one to the Tories. Kumar Murshid has gone. The very able Sait Akgul seems to have dropped off the face of the earth. And the SWP itself doesn’t have the membership or the money to keep a halfway serious electoral intervention going under its own steam…
See also : Socialist Renewal: “We wish to provide a site for the publication of ideas about how the socialist left with the renewed Respect can begin to offer their socialist perspective, in a non-sectarian way within a more plural and outward-looking Respect.”
Pfft, I reckon you need to start checking your NZ posts with me first. 😉 Two corrections:
“Confusing, as Unity was originally a publication of the Workers’ Charter (under the editorship of the delightfully subversive John Minto)… Unity appears to have ceased publication.”
You’re wrong here – Unity has been going for ages, and has always been an SW publication, not a WC one. The WC newspaper was called Workers Charter, and that was what Minto edited (it may even still be going, although I haven’t seen a copy for a long time – it was only ever really distributed in Auckland). Unity is definitely still going (I saw the newest issue about a month ago) and is definitely still a Socialist Worker journal. Unity is edited by a senior SW member, Daphne Lawless.
“…actually, it emerged out of the ‘Anti-Capitalist Alliance’ as the ‘Revolutionary Workers League’, before settling for the name Workers Party (again).”
The ACA changed its name directly to WP – there was no RWL time in between. There was a funny but pointless (what’s new?) Indymedia thread about the change at the time.
Thank Godwin you’re on the case Ash…er.
Last things first.
Re ACA / WP-NZ / RWL:
That appears to be more or less it for the RWL — at least insofar as the Workers Party site is concerned. Other references to the RWL include Phil Duncan, ‘Left unity in NZ’, Weekly Worker, No.577, May 19, 2005:
So… I dunno. The RWL is a faction within the WP-NZ? The connection between the two seems very intimate (from this distance). Part of my confusion stems also from the fact that The Spark was described for a period after the RWL’s formation as the paper of the RWL; currently, it’s described as being the paper of the WP-NZ. See Philip Ferguson’s letter, Weekly Worker, No.640, September 14 2006:
Presumably, the pretence of being separate organisations ended at some point between now and then.
Re Unity / Workers Charter / SW-NZ:
You’re right. My fault. ‘Workers Charter’ was the monthly publication of Workers Charter; Unity, the monthly (then hung, drawn and quarterly) paper of SW-NZ. I dunno if ‘Workers Charter’ is still being published: an appeal for support was published on the SW-NZ blog in December 2007. John Minto wrote:
So maybe not?
A full programmatic statement of SW-NZ’s intent by the Central Committee is published as ‘Organising to build a global broad left movement’: “Statement by the central committee of Socialist Worker-New Zealand on the occasion of the two separate Respect conferences taking place in London on 17 November 2007”.
They then proceed to laud the achievements of Comrade Hugo and the Bolivarian revolution, and take special note of El Presidente‘s proposal for “a new International of socialist parties and the left for Latin America and the Caribbean”. Further: “A global programme for a living world, founded on the rights of humans to dignity, prosperity and peace, would electrify and unite the international struggle. Especially if it was promoted by an International that included the newly formed United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), set to be the biggest mass party of the left in the world.”
Noticeably absent is any reference to, let alone criticism of, the authoritarian manner in which Comrade Hugo has pursued his vision of a mass party/state under his command.
I read something earlier today (don’t remember where) that implied that WC was still publishing.
Back to the ACA/WP – the bit you quoted from Phil Ferguson sums it up. Basically, originally, two groups joined together to form the ACA – when people joined the ACA, it didn’t mean they necessarily had to join either of the two constituent groups (which had tighter lines on policy than the ACA itself). The ACA changed its name to the WP – I’m not sure if the RWL exists as a faction inside it still, or if it has dissolved itself.
To clear things up, the RWL doesn’t really exist anymore despite never actually dissolving itself officially. It was a by-product of a fusion of the two groups, which has became obsolete, most Workers Party members today (including myself) were not members of either of the original groups.
Thanks for the clarification Byron. Mao more than ever.
Oliver Woods, Auckland Central Candidate
“I’m from RAM, New Zealand’s fastest growing political party with more than 3000 members in only a few months!”
“What a crazy few weeks it’s been! Two awesome debates, a whole lot of grassroots campaigning and finally meeting my Auckland Central opponents. People around Auckland Central have been really, really receptive to RAM’s message, particularly our economic and education policies. I keep on getting people walking up to me out of nowhere at parties, on campus and even just walking along the street and having a chat about my policies. Thanks to all of you who do that – it really keeps my energy and passion levels up!”
~ September 23, 2008
“20 year old post-graduate university student Oliver Woods is taking on incumbent Labour MP Judith Tizard and National newcomer Nikki Kaye in what is shaping up to be one of the country’s most heated electoral contests.”
~ October 30, 2008
“When folk like Steve Pierson/Clinton Smith see RAM rising, they start to attack us. It’s anti-democratic for one thing, and utterly pathetic to try and argue that people shouldn’t vote for us. Because – apparently in their world – we just can’t reach the 5%. I reckon we can, and if not this election, then in 2011. Labour started off as a small party, why can’t we?”
~ November 2, 2008
Only another 4.98% to go!
RAM – 25 COPELAND, Rafe 65
RAM – 14 FOWLER, Roger 138
RAM – 19 BLADE, Elliott 71
RAM – 14 LAWLESS, Daphne 58
RAM – 9 COOPER, Stephen 39
RAM – 9 DOHERTY, Benjamin 54
RAM – 14 O’DEA, Pat 92
RAM – 23 ROGERS, Grant 133
RAM – 11 BROOKES, Grant 49
RAM – 26 KAIPO, Martin 251
RAM also has a supporter in East Coast, Hamilton East, Invercargill, Taranaki-King Country, Tauranga, Waitaki, Whanganui, Wigram but none in Ilam, Ötaki, Taupö, Ikaroa-Räwhiti, Te Tai Hauäuru, and anywhere from 2 to 20 in the other 46 electorates.
Personally, I’m beginning to suspect that the membership figure of 3000 may have been slightly exaggerated.
RAM candidates in order of personal popularity:
KAIPO, Martin 251
FOWLER, Roger 138
ROGERS, Grant 133
WOODS, Oliver 97
O’DEA, Pat 92 (SW)
BLADE, Elliott 71
COPELAND, Rafe 65
LAWLESS, Daphne 58 (SW)
DOHERTY, Benjamin 54
BROOKES, Grant 49 (SW)
COOPER, Stephen 39
To be fair I am beginning to get the impression the main reason for the far rights (mainly BNPs) success of recent times has a lot to do with the rather evident impending collapse of modern liberal democracy. Might sound much but one of the reasons that these initial fringe parties get success is that they are totally contra to the norm of the big three, who have totally alienated themselves from the British public. Like you said they are reaching out to the working classes and making them feel a part of something. Basically, the have become one of the largest protest votes in British history (the lib dems do not count). In this sense I question whether the far right parties have attained their following via their actual policies. I think that they have played on the nationalist prose via posing as patriotic. This is actually in nowadays an old fashioned and traditional value (im not saying that there is anything wrong with being patriotic though). Even though a lot of people (right-wingers mainly) may scoff at this, it is capitalism and the global economy which has made patriotism old fashioned, simply because no nation can be entirely self-sufficient anymore. Anything that one county has (and at one time used to pride itself on) is most likely supplied buy other countries primarily or belongs mainly to a larger spectrum of forces. For example, the British Army though still one of the best on the planet, is more a part of Nato than it is its own entity like it used to be. Also things like food industries in the UK are slowly dieing out now to better and cheaper supplies being imported from abroad.
It is these kinds of thing that has gripped a lot to the British working class into turning towards the far right as they dream of a return to times old, even though in this new ‘global’ economy it simply is not possible anymore.
What is most shocking though is the synomonous rise of racism that has come with it, especially from people who were never racist before because though I despise the BNP and know that they are without a doubt a vile racist organisation, you do not have to be racist to support them. I suppose that this is more a factor of people getting sucked in by a sense of protest, and then getting repetitively hammered by their (BNPs) both obvious and subtle racist propaganda that they actually begin to believe it. Then one thing simply leads to another.
As for you opinions of how the left have dealt with race in the past, I totally agree with you. All through my life, even as a kid, I always respected people of my class as equals regardless of colour. In fact, I loath it when people mention race. It is as you have virtually said a form of segregation.
All of this affirmative action that has happened in the last 20 years is positive and has served its purpose, but at this point in time, I’m starting to see it as counter productive, as people are people no matter what and shouldn’t be either negatively or positively discriminated against because their appearance and demeanour. I suppose this is where I have become viciously anti-nazi from, as even as a very young child living in a mostly white area of the UK, I always knew that fundamentally we are all equals and that race theory of any kind is absolute bullshit without question. This had a follow on effect to capitalism in later life as a lot of capitalists (not all though) are racist chauvinists, even if they do not see it themselves (this isn’t the only reason I oppose capitalism obviously).
What does puzzle me is how people have played on this segregation, by linking things that are dominated by certain ethnicity as that particular ethnicity. Take for example, hip hop and rap now getting referred to in popular culture as ‘black music’. It is almost as if people believe that these African American hip hop artists have done this because it is natural to them because they are ‘black’ (and that anyone who is of a different ethnicity is trying to be ‘black’) rather than the simple reason that it of socio-economical nature of growing up in a racist society of America during the 50/60/70s.
– Mick Reyfield
Just for the record, the WP is not a pro-Mao organisation. We contain a wide variety of historical perspectives in our organisation, and feel that so long as we agree on the political lines relevant to NZ today our historical position on things like Stalin vs Trotsky vs Mao vs Whoever can be argued out at our leisure, and shouldn’t get in the way of building a revolutionary movement in New Zealand. For example, I lean towards Maoism, while Byron who posted earlier is more of a Trotskyist.
Google still has that thing about “from Marx to Mao”, which is left over from the website of the original WP, but you’ll find that the text cannot be found anywhere on the site itself. We’ve sent them an email about changing it, but so far they don’t appear to have done so…