The leftward and other blatherings of Span (now with Snaps!)

Monday, March 21, 2005

a surfeit of bitterness

Ordinarily I keep my bitter feelings towards Labour under my hat. But tonight for some reason they are all welling up and overcoming me a little bit. Everything I read or write is tinged with an underlying anger at Labour and the distance between what it is and what it ought to be.

It's nothing personal that has happened, or anything to do with the Labour list particularly, perhaps it's just the realisation that Labour is probably going to get back in and the Greens are probably not going to be big enough to have a strong influence. I don't want National but I don't really want Labour either.

Few Labour members even seem aware of their roots - many of those who are see those socialist tendencies as radical madness that could never be implemented in the modern world.

I just find the whole concept that the Labour Party is somehow the Left so depressing. Sure there are (IMHO misguided but well-meaning) individuals in Labour who are genuinely left of centre. But the Party itself? Even those who argue their policy is leftish must be feeling secretly uncomfortable about the massive gap between party policy and what the caucus implement.

It's that old slogan all over again - I'd rather have a revolution than a Labour Government.



Joe Hendren said...

Hear Hear!

Unfortunately I don't believe many people will see the key failure of third way politics until Labour is thrown out of office. Only then will it be realised the country is even more in the clutches of the multinationals, and the policy gradualism had far more to do with Labour not being keen to raise the tax base needed to achieve any real socialistic aims.

Scott said...

It's frustrating indeed to see the gap between Labour policies and the needs of Labour voters, especially when most of Labour's voters don't see along with you!

At the same time, it's not too hard to explain the discrepancy, by analysing contemporary NZ and its place in the world.

The labour movement was very weak when Labour came to power and has been unable to press its case strongly and thus start exposing the built-in limits of social democracy in twenty-first century NZ. The closest we've come was probably the teachers' strike back in 2002.

(Maori political organsiations are much stronger, having been coopted rather than smashed from 84-99, but they have become dominated by the 'brown bourgeoisie', so that struggles like the one over the seabed and foreshore have been blunted.)

The nature of the 1984-99 governments, and the spectre of the return of their policies have helped keep Labour supporters happy with the crumbs they've been thrown. I think that Clark's minor scrapes with the Bush administration over the war in Iraq have also had a major effect on the consciousness of her supporters, giving them a warm fuzzy 'she ain't as bad as that bastard' feeling.

The dairy boom which greeted Labour when they came to office has been a great help, as well, enabling Clark to hose down the one really threatening industrial campaign of 2005, the nurses' pay claim, with a quite generous settlement (of course this settlement and the economic upturn that made it possible create their own dangers - there's the possibility of a 'ripple' effect, which is what the EPMU and the SFWU as well as the non-DHB nurses are going for now. A ripple could yet create problems for Labour in 2005, though I think union leaders will roll over before that happens).

The extraordinary thing is not that Labour has cruised in office, but that it has been able to do so little with the major advantages it has had. Compare its policy programme to that of the 35-49 government, which created a social contract society in NZ, or even the 57-60 government, which sped up industrialisation. Labour has not been able to solve short-term problems that affect it score constituency, like the student debt bomb and hospital waiting lists, let alone restructure society in any significant way.

The reason for this is not that Clark is a worse social democrat than Savage, but that the foreign-owned, globalised, deindustrialised and still export-dependent economy that is the legacy of the 84-99 reforms severely circumscribes the space available for reforms (it's the same in most countries in the world - the golden age of social democracy ended when the long boom ended thirty years ago).

I disagree with the idea that Labour's lack of achievement will be exposed when they are out of office.
Free of fiscal constraints the party would almost certainly move to the left and try to ride the backlash a Brash regime would create back into power.

The left can never advance as long as the vast majority of the working class retains illusions in Labour, and I think that these illusions are most likely to be dispelled by Labour's acts while in power.

Despite its easy ride, our Labour government has lost the support of the activist left and the leftmost fringes of the labour movement, represented by the Alliance, and more recently a big chunk of its Maori base.

In the UK Blair is losing some of his core working class backing - the Fire Brigades Union is gone and so are the railworkers. You can bet this would never have happened if the Tories had been in power and Blair had been able to pose as a leftist...


Sorry, btw, about these long-winded posts - too much coffee and not enough enthusiasm for thesis writing!

Make Tea Not War said...

Things could be worse...imagine living in the UK or US and possibly feeling like you had to vote for Blair, or the US Democrats

Rich said...

It's surprising that in an MMP environment parties to the left of Labour do so badly - even including the Maori Party they struggle to break 10%.

The UK Lib Dems generally poll over 20%, in the last French presidential election parties to the left of the socialists polled 15%+, in Germany the Greens+PDS got over 12% (and the SPD is a lot more left wing then NZ Labour).

Are people more right-wing/contented or do the left wing parties not organise very well?

(The UK Lib Dems organise *very* well at grass roots level - they use local government as a springboard to win FPP parliamentary elections).

Rover said...


Labour is everthing from Right wing bastards to left wing communists depending on who's blog you read. Now both sides can't be correct can they?

So who is correct here DPF or you?

You are both well educated, thoughtfull politcal types? Can you honestly say that you have the monopoly on truth here?

I think you will both have to conceed that you are both wrong. Labour is not communist nor is it classically liberal.

It's in between... Like it always has been. Labour come in to existance not to destory the machinary of capitalism but to getter a better deal for workers.

IT IS NOT THE PARTY OF SOCIAL REVLOUTION and it has never claimed to be.

Those who say I would rather have a revloution than a labour government really mean one of two things...

1. They want an ACT government as that will bring about the revoloution quiker and hurt ALOT of people in the process

2. They want a revaloution instead of ACT and I wonder if anyone who says that has actually lived through say the russian or chinese or any other revaloution for that matter... it's not as rosy as people make out... it's bloody, people die and it takes generations to recover.

Both options are not to my taste, a little insulting and will hurt more people than it will save.

If I was a spitefull person I would suggest that the only reason you want a revaloution instead of a Labour government is beacuse no body buys your soloutions at election time and democracy is not your ideal way of getting what you want. But I'm not spitefull so I won't say that.

Labour is pragmatic in what it does, it makes no bones about that sometimes it will lean left sometimes right. It's about making the best decisions at the right time. The last time we threw pragmatisim out the window we got the 4th Labour Government and no wants that...

Labour rules with it's head rather than heart alot less people get hurt that way

Sock Thief said...

I agree with About Town. Labour is the best way to advance the cause of those less well off.

Advocating anything more to the left has two problems. Firstly, the centre Right will take the opportunity to get back into power. Like it or not, most people are not going to vote for anything too far away from the centre.

Secondly, socialism most often was a complete disaster for workers.

Small steps forward is the essential message of Third Way politics.

Scott said...

And what 'small steps forward' would these be? The Jobs Jolt? The invasion of Afghanistan? The ban on political, solidarity and secondary strikes in the ERA? The denial of summer dole to students? The confiscation of the seabed and foreshore from Maori in defiance of the UN? Participation in Bush's occupation of Iraq? Public-private partnerships that part-privatise social servces like education and (in the UK, under Tony Blair) health?

These are all rather large steps, in the wrong direction.

The claim that the public would turn against more left-wing policies than the 'Third Way' rings rather hollow, when Tony Blair is being warned that he may lose the upcoming UK election, not because the punters like Michael 'Poll Tax' Howard, but because Labour's working class supporters are so angry about Iraq and right-wing domestic policies that they will stay away from the polls in huge numbers.

Nor do I think that the Maori voters who are deserting Clark's Labour Party in droves were antagonised by radical left-wing policies.

As for the tired old line about the Russian revolution discrediting socialism: have you admirers of Tony Blair and British democracy ever noticed that it was only in 1919, in the aftermath and as a direct result of the Russian revolution, that the last Reform Act actually gave a majority of Britons the right to vote for the first time?

Rover said...

Scott we could get into a petty argument on how labour has "wrecked" everything (you think you would have done better under national??)

but lets look at what your slightly frantic rant point by point..

Jobs Jolt - with the lowest unemployment rate in the world it's going to be hard to get the last 3 percent to work

Invasion of Afganistan - The SAS spent it's time in afganistan hunting opium dealers and protecting people from warlords... yeah nast stuff from the SAS

Banning secondary stikes with the ERA - ahhh they were already banned the ERA didnt reintroduce them. You make think it "fair" to bring a nation to a halt over a diffrence over 3 percent in pay but others want more constructive measuers over industrial black mail.

The summer dole for students - even when education was free students worked over the summer to save money for the year... you have three months off over summer, do some work!

Foreshore and sea bed - the law was passed BEFORE the UN ruled on it. No one was going to be happy with any soloution it was the best bet in a bad situation

Occupation of Iraq - Yeah building hospitals and reparing sewage systmes is really awfull, are you on crack??

Public/ private patnerships - no one has privatised education what they have done is said "hey the state system dosent suit everyone lets fund places for EVERYONE

Scott i'm inclined to that if labour DID smash the machinary of captilism you would say to little to late...

Rich said...

At last! The secret behind ACT is revealed. It's a cunning conspiracy to bring on an extreme right-wing government that will wake up the workers to the need for revolution?

Why do you think many ACT members used to be left-wingers (or even Labour party members)?

Rover said...

as dumb as it seems i have heard people oh the very hard left voting for ACT just for the purpose...

Scott said...

Well, I suspect that *you* could quite happily vote for a National/Act government, 'About Town'.

You defend the worst parts of the legacy of the National governments of the 90s - the ECA's bans on strikes, the victimisation of beneficiaries, the attacks on students - and you apologise for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq with 'humanitarian' piffle, which puts you right in line with Act policy.

A lot of your language - 'industrial blackmail' is a striking example - is classically reactionary. The fact that a person of your views identifies with the 'Third Way' tells us a good deal about the nature of that ideology.

span said...

when i wrote this:
"many of those who are see those socialist tendencies as radical madness that could never be implemented in the modern world" I have to say I thought of you Tristan (About Town).

As DPF and I are coming at this from different ideologies and experiences of course we would have different ideas. I find the constant harping by some on the right (not so much DPF actually) that the current Govt is somehow "socialist" really grating. I wonder what they would do in the face of real socialism? Or even a highly Alliance influenced Govt?

And Tristan I have to say that I suspect that Scott knows more hard left people than you do and I also suspect that he doesn't know a single person on the (real) left who has voted for Act. I certainly don't.

Sock Thief said...

I honestly don't believe that the argument about Labour being not left enough is going to go anywhere. Most centre-left voters are happy with Labour even if they have some reservations. But they realise that politics is about compromise.

A more important question is the role of parties to the Left of Labour. I was a supporter in the Alliance in its early days but shifted back to Labour becasue of the poeple like Treen. In principle I'd be happy with a more Left wing party based on the Union movement but most unions are happy with Labour. As for the Greens, no comment.

Greg Stephens said...

As a Labour person, I want this government to move to the left. No question about that.
The reforms of the 1980s and 1990s hurt too many people, and too many of them are still hurting.
I'm aware of the history of the labour movement. Social democratic parties were set up to evolve capitalism into socialism. that evolution is a slow process, and it starts today (well 1999). This government is laying the groundwork in much the same way the 1893-1908(?) Liberal government did for the 1935-49 Labour govt.
The process begins with small steps which people then take for granted as natural. From there it can be built upon. Eventually the 'right wing' of New Zealand stands on to the left of the current government.

The current government has put through some wonderful reforms. ERA, Working for Families, minimum wage increases, raising the pension level, destroying market rentals, etc etc. But it is only a start.

Rover said...

I am an unabashed centerist... I belive that people who advoacte a 20 cent in the dollar tax rate inhabit the same madness as the 80 percent tax rate advocates.

I means that BOTH sides think you have "sold out"

but i console my self that both sides are just as mad :)

Scott said...

One of the best ways to respond to the 'bold measures are impossible today' crowd is to point to the revolution unfolding in Venezuela at the moment.

Though the outcome of this process is uncertain and the government of Hugo Chavez is not perfect, the fact remains that this Third World country is seeing the implementation of a policy programme which is both radically left-wing and extremely popular.

Whether things end in a transition to socialism or a US invasion/CIA coup remains to be seen, but Venezuela shows that, contrary to all the Blairite rhetoric, there is a twenty-first century alternative to the worship of the market by policy makers.

(Incidentally, that Third Way hero Blair was supportive of the CIA coup which briefly overthrew Chavez in April 2002, recognising the puppet US governemnt which lasted only twenty-four hours in the face of popular protest).

Recently I helped write an article which contrasts the achievements in Venezuela with the miserable record of the Labour government here. It's online at:

Scott said...

The end of that URL fell off my post -


Rover said...

scott do you have idea what it's like in Venezuela???

With a large proportion of the population destitute.... a HUGE homless community most of the population have nothing left to use...

In order to achive that here we would need to make a WHOLE LOT OF PEOPLE very very poor and basically starve them...

I guess thats the diffrence between you an me... you dont care who gets hurt to reach your socialist dream.

As for me I don't put my idealogy ahead of other peoples well being

Scott said...

Once again you completely miss the point. Venezuela has managed to undertake radical social reforms and make large strides, even though it is a poor country, compared to NZ: imagine, then, what could be achieved here, with the resources available, by a socialist government. Venezuela puts us to shame.

Why can this poor country build a new university offering free education for the poor, when we in the First World are making students pay more and more? Why is this Third World country opening hundreds of schools and health clinics, while our government can't reduce waiting lists, and has closed scores of rural schools? Why does Venezuela's ally Cuba, another Third World nation, now have a lower infant mortality rate than the United States? These countries are outperforming us because they reject
the uber-capitalist thinking of neo-liberalism and the Third Way.

You seem to hold to the rather cynical belief that ordinary people in the advanced countries could only embrace radical ideas if they suffered economic catastrophe and ended up 'starving'. But the largest general strike of all the time, and the closest approach to socialist revolution in an adavnced country, took place in France, in May 1968, in the middle of an economic boom!

And if immiseration is the key to radicalisation, why is Venezuela, one of the richer countries in South America, being radicalised, and not, say, Somalia or Liberia? Last year the Venezuelan economy achieved a growth rate of 17% - the highest in the world. If your logic held, then the revolution would be over by now.

You don't make a lot of sense, I'm afraid.

stephen said...

Scott: behold the very first result for Googling "Cuba infant mortality":

Bang goes that one.

You ask "Why is [Venezuela] opening hundreds of schools and health clinics, while our government can't reduce waiting lists, and has closed scores of rural schools?"

Two reasons immediately come to mind. 1, Venezuela is starting from virtually nothing. We already spend a great deal on public health. School closures, you will recall, stem from declining rural rolls - in other words, the need which those schools operated to meet has declined. 2, clearly Venezuala has made a decision to fund these initiatives through redistribution (or maybe printing money with the accompanying inflationary dangers). We don't want to do that. End of story.

I'm also a bit puzzled by what you or for that matter Span mean by "revolution". Are we talking armed revolt by the working classes to impose a new political order, or something short of that?

Getting back to the leftiness or otherwise of Labour, I personally am in a "plague on all your houses" situtation. I reject the Greens' irrational anti-science views. I do not believe in the economics of the Alliance. Labour is increasingly passing policies creating new crimes and reducing my civil rights to a point where I can't support them. (Not to mention stealing Maori private property rights, which I would have thought that consistent right-wingers would be all over, but no...) National would be even worse on the punitive innocent-have-nothing-to-fear front, and ACT are a bunch of doctrinaire monetarists shot through with illiberal conservatives.

Where is the natural home for a pragmatic person who believes some intervention and collective organisation is necessary and sensible in a small island economy, believes in a welfare state safety net, has socially "liberal" views and otherwise wants to be left alone by the State?

Anonymous said...

Politicians require moral strength, but also flexibility. They must bend enough to get things done, but not so much that they fail to achieve what they intended. That's very, very hard.

But this govt isn't just flexible: they are so relaxed as to be supine. There is no easy solution to the student loans mess (what do you do about current loans? etc?): so they refuse to attempt any real solution and just let it slide. There is no easy solution to the decline of public health care: so they refuse to attempt any real solution and just let it slide. There's pressure from abroad to impose strong 'anti-terrorist' measures, so they cave in.

This isn't the govt of the third way. This is the govt of the soft option.


Scott said...

Stephen: the article you posted a link to doesn't actually dispute that Cuba has a lower infant mortality rate than the US.

Whether or not the US's higher rate is offset by superior care for premature births doesn't really affect my point.

Why is this small, poor and (thanks to the US) isolated country able to sustain a welfare state which is not only unique in the Third World but in some respects superior to those in the advanced countries? Any intelligent answer to this question has to make reference to Cuba's rejection of capitalism and its planned economy.

The success of this planned economy is reflected in the enormous crowds that come out to greet Castro whenever he visits other Latin American nations. The workers of these nations see Cuba as an inspiration, even if (like me) they dislike the undemocratic political structure that Castro maintains alongside his welfare state and planned economy.

It is facetious to say that school closures in the NZ countryside are motivated by falling rolls. They are cost-cutting moves linked to attempts to complete the forceful reorganisation of the workforce in the regions, a reorganisation which was such a feature of the 84-99 'reforms'.

Consider, for instance, Orauta School in Moerewa, a timber town which was gutted by job losses in the 80s and 90s. Locals do not want to close their school - in fact they are defying the Ministry of Education by occupying it and keeping it open.

Like the people of Patea, another small town which was gutted in the 80s when its freezing works closed, they recognise that the death of their school could mean the death of their community.

When communities like these lose jobs and population as a result of these latest closures, then Labour may well feel inclined to add them to its list of 'no-go' areas for beneficiaries, thus further fuelling population decline - and, not coincidentally, getting rid of those annoying radical brownies and opening up land for foreign speculators and a tourist industry that caters to wealthy foreign visitors.

Venezuela is not funding its reforms by printing money, but by gaining control over the income from its own resources, especially its enormous oil reserves, developing secondary industries to make use of those resources, and funnelling export income into constructive projects. This is not a matter of economic profligacy, but of building a productive economy, instrad of sitting by and letting profits flow offshore.

There is a lesson here for our own government, which is so pathetically weak in the face of international capital that it has to go cap in hand to Carter Holt Harvey, which is sending huge profits offshore from the export of unprocessed timber, and beg them (unsuccessfully) to build industry to process the raw material in the economically depressed areas where it grows (Moerewa, and the East Coast, for examples). A socialist government with control of its country's resources could establish a dynamic new industry and full employment overnight, in places like Moerewa.

Finally, on the question of revolution, here's a quote from the Venezuelan Trotskyist group the Revolutionary Marxist Current, whose publications have been promoted by Hugo Chavez on national television:


We must speed up the revolution and carry it to the end in order to solve the problems that the masses are suffering. History teaches us that a revolution that stops halfway will be defeated (as happened in Chile, Portugal and Nicaragua). In a capitalist world in crisis , where unemployment and exploitation are increasing even in the most advanced countries, the only way to solve the problems of the workers and the popular masses is by adopting socialism'

check their full programme out at:

sagenz said...

The only thing I am really really curious about is? - given the Cubans have had 50 years of Castro why is the poverty level income in America about the same as the average wage in New Zealand and why is the poverty level wage in New Zealand vastly higher than the average wage in Venezuela and Cuba.

sagenz said...

Freudian Slippers: March 2005.
We do not hear the term ‘compassionate’ applied to business executives or entrepreneurs, certainly not when they are engaged in their normal work. Yet in terms of results in the measurable form of jobs created, lives enriched, communities built, living standards raised, and poverty healed, a handful of capitalists has done infinitely more for mankind than all the self-serving politicians, academics, social workers, and religionists who march under the banner of ‘compassion.’ ~ Nathaniel Brande

Glenn said...

But if we could be serious for a moment ... New Zealanders would never (knowingly) elect an openly “left wing” or a “right wing” government without a radical cultural change. That’s why Labour and National brand themselves “centre-left” and “centre-right” respectively. If Labour released an Alliance-style manifesto, National would capture the centre and defeat Labour in a landslide. Anyone within or sympathetic to Labour wishing for it to move to the left (I’m thinking you, Jordan) doom it to opposition and won’t be taken seriously by party strategists.

Graham Watson said...

Lets face it, Labour is a pale imitaion of National. It is certainly a right wing capitalist government (which doesn't necessarily concern me)look at its big business support, and is happy to be authoritarian, dictatorial and arrogant (which does concern me).

Tristan is right to say he fits in with such a party, I always wondered how he reconciled his obvious right wing conservate attitudes with his idealistic left travelling companions. But lets be real, there is none of that idealism in the Labour Parliamentary Party, only on campuses and even then only amongst the less ambitious party members.

Note how all the ambitious ones are happy to tow right wing policy lines where pragmatic for their future elevation.

Labour a party of the left? 'trying hard' maybe, what a wishy washy joke, would a left party over tax the working class and then not spend it?

The Alliance and now the Greens, as much as I may disagree with many of their positions, are clearly the heirs to the true left tradition in new Zealand, and deserve respect for their ability not to buckle and effectively 'sell out' their principles for naked political gain.