HOW SHOULD THE LEFT VOTE IN THE GENERAL ELECTION?
Every three years as the parliamentary elections come round many left-wingers get anxious. A victory of the National Party would inevitably bring open attacks on workers’ rights, on Maori, beneficiaries, women, even large sections of the middle class, especially if National is in coalition with ACT. Yet the only currently serious alternative to National, Labour, has a history of betrayal of the interests of the people – just ask the teachers.
Labour - Capital’s Second Hook
Labour governments don’t generally undertake open attacks on the working class; their existence hinges on being somewhat different from the natural party of the capitalist class by incorporating close links with parts of the trade unions. But their links are overwhelmingly with the most conservative sections of the trade union movement. Lenin called this group the ‘labour aristocracy’; that part of the working class bribed or coopted by higher wages conceded by the monopoly capitalists from the superprofits of their worldwide operations.
But Labour is fundamentally a capitalist party and is happy to attack working class interests if capitalist interests are weakened. Labour abandoned its original socialist goals in exchange for small farmer support in the 1930s; it sees no alternative to capitalism and sees its purpose to, at best, smooth the worst edges of naked capitalism. At other times, such as during the Lange-Douglas regime of the 1980s, Labour has been among the most enthusiastic insurgents against working class interests.
The Lange-Douglas regime was not an isolated event; the Fraser regime from 1943 to 1949 unleashed savage attacks on the left of the trade union movement. Nordmeyer’s infamous ‘black budget’ of 1958 cut into working class living standards. The Kirk-Rowling regime from 1972-75 again cut workers living standards by unleashing rampant inflation.
Labour parties are forward defences of the capitalist class. When the natural parties of the capitalists (National and ACT) can no longer deceive the masses to the extent of providing a majority of votes, the capitalists are generally happy to concede a parliamentary majority to Labour. Some capitalists object, those most likely to suffer some minor limitation on rampant profiteering, but normally at least as many support Labour electorally and financially.
In 1987 arch corporate raider Alan Hawkins donated $250,000 for Labour’s reelection. This year Business Roundtable vice president has come out in open support of Labour because of the prospect of a ‘stable’ parliamentary majority.
Parliament is a Capitalist Institution
Parliaments are fundamental capitalist institutions. They were established by the capitalist class to consolidate their power following the defeat of feudalism. Collected representatives of property owners replaced the absolute rule of feudal lords.
In the face of growing working class rebellion, the capitalists gradually conceded entry to the electoral system. The franchise was gradually extended to the working classes, the US finally formally enfranchising blacks in the last state in 1970, although still employing an array of technicalities to deny the vote to a majority of blacks.
Access to the parliamentary system is carefully controlled. Outside parliament, the capitalists retain real power over society through their control of the economy. If governments get out of line the capitalists withdraw their investment.
Parliamentary elections are now used by the capitalists to periodically check their power over the masses. If the masses are outraged, they concede government to the Labour party. MMP has provided even finer measurement of the mood of the masses.
In this respect the election of Labour or more left wing parties reflect the power of the working class. But this is power within the strict limits allowed by the capitalists.
In the rare occasions that working class organisation has come close to challenge their power the capitalists have quickly abandoned their sacred support for the democratic system.
In Germany in the 1920s they threw their support behind the fascists. In Chile in 1974 they organized the military coup that ousted Allende.
For the left, reaching and mobilising the people is far more important than which party they vote for. Does it matter if there are National party or ACT supporters on a 100,000 strong march against nuclear warship visits?
Parliamentary Votes are Tactical Questions
It is unwise for the left to become divided over parliamentary elections; it is not as if elections make much difference to the course of politics. The question of which capitalist party to vote for is much like the question of which capitalist shops to frequent or brands to purchase. Shopping at the Body Shop may make a difference, but it is pretty inconsequential in terms of capitalism as a whole.
So voting in parliamentary elections is largely a tactical question. Labour governments will generally cause more difficulties for the capitalist class than National governments and the election of MPs to the left of Labour will cause the capitalists more anxiety. Further, the success of social democratic MPs, whether right wing social democrats like Labour or left-wing social democrats like the Alliance, provides a quick lesson to voters on the empty promises of parliament.
No matter how much parliamentary parties promise, they cannot deliver more than the capitalist class will concede. It is in this sense that Lenin called on workers in the West to support the Labour party “like a rope supports a hanging man”.
In this election, the Clark regime, representing US imperialism and their local agents, is seeking an absolute parliamentary majority in the interests of “stability”. Such “stability” will allow the Clark regime to reduce our living standards further and boost profits for their imperialist masters.
The left will achieve a minor tactical victory if they can deprive the Clark regime and Anderton’s gang of an absolute majority. Victory of the National Party, Act, or NZ First would not provide such a victory as they would pursue the same policy, even more vigorously.
Sufficient electoral support for the Green Party, Alliance, or Mana Maori to deprive the Clark regime of a parliamentary majority may achieve this tactical goal. The best way to achieve this will depend largely on local conditions.
The Green Party has the greatest chance of electoral support in this regard, but their many commonalities with the Clark regime and their strong opportunist currents within, means they are likely to join a coalition with the Clark regime, albeit with some conditions on GMOs.
The Alliance and Mana Maori are likely to join a coalition with the Clark regime only with significant conditions, but their electoral support is likely to be limited.
Tactical voting along these lines would see a preferred party vote for the Alliance or Mana Maori in general, but a party vote for the Greens if an absolute Labour majority looked likely. Because electorate votes can boost the representation of minor parties, there is tactical advantage in voting for the Alliance in Waitakari, for the Greens in Coromandel, for Labour against Anderton in Wigram, for Labour against NZ First in Tauranga, and for National against Act in Epson. In other electorates the left would make a modest gain from a Labour victory over Anderton, National, Act, and NZ First. #