The departure of Anderton and the gang of right opportunists is well overdue. Their desperation for the privileges of Cabinet Office have overcome any remaining vestiges of principle they might have once had. The naked opportunism by which Anderton claimed to remain leader of the Alliance, while openly plotting its destruction has done immense damage to the project of left social democracy and strengthened the forces of the right.
The split has played right into the hands of the Clark regime, which has long sort to undermine proportional representation and now senses the chance of an absolute majority in parliament. Even if this bid fails, Anderton and Co. have already surrendered any resistance, so long as the spoils of Ministerial office are theirs. Despite this clear sycophantic position, the Clark regime showed its contempt by citing the split as grounds for an early election, thereby depriving Anderton of any state-funded advertising budget, and appealing to voters for a clear majority. Nonetheless, Anderton’s local popularity is likely to see his return to parliament and perhaps to government.
This split was brewing from the very founding of the New Labour Party in 1989. The NLP was formed from an important alliance between a wide range of community activists, steeled in battles against Rogernomics, and a significant split from the Labour Party. Anderton’s resignation from the Labour Party was an important blow against the neo-liberal policies of the Lange-Douglas regime. But he and his Labour left supporters brought many of the right-wing practices to New Labour.
The tenuousness of the alliance underpinning New Labour was evident in the close call of vote after vote at the founding conference, broadly reflecting the division between the Labour left and the community activists, culminating in the election of unemployed movement leader, Sue Bradford, as vice-president against Anderton’s opposition.
But despite a bare majority for the activist left on most issues, Anderton and the left social democrats ultimately held the upper hand because they were more skilled in the committee bureaucracy and the electoral politics that is the mainstream of a party focused on bourgeois democracy. While the NLP pledged to combine electoral politics with organising the parliament of the streets, in practice the former goal dominated, the Labour left bureaucrats consolidated their position, and mass mobilisation was reduced to stunts supporting the electoral machine.
Anderton personified the bureaucratic skills of the left social democrats. Faced with majority opposition, he nearly always got his way by repeatedly threatening to resign, bullying and victimising. Initially concentrating early on economic policy, he repeatedly used the blackmail tactic to force through a policy programme that would not alienate his supporters. Because party members generally saw parliamentary elections as the path to change, Anderton could get his way because he was the only MP, and many members were in awe of this. This tendency was only reinforced as the party accumulated more MPs over subsequent elections and the community activists progressively failed to renew their membership.
This right opportunism was also reinforced by the ‘left’ opportunism of prominent members of the Alliance bureaucracy who saw the parliamentary party system as a short cut to mass mobilisation. For these, parliamentary representation provided the funds for offices and organisers who could then work for ‘real change’. The problem with this short cut, however, was that servicing the MPs took much time and energy and was ultimately subject to the demands of caucus. The use of parliamentary services for purposes other than that allowed by parliament also opened these left opportunists to charges of misusing funds, which were laid when the split with Anderton and Co. came.
As a left social democratic party, the NLP led some effective actions, playing a leading role in the proportional representation victory and building an electoral alliance against neo-liberalism, uniting with Mana Motuhake, the Greens, the Liberals and the Democrats under the balance of the Alliance. Finally gaining the balance of power in 1999, they gained a series of minor progressive reforms as junior partners in the Clark regime’s coalition. But many of these reforms were won against the opposition of Anderton and his rightist supporters within the Alliance.
The brewing tensions came to a head, first with the resignation of the Greens from the Alliance, and then with the commitment of NZ troops to the US war in Afghanistan, where the Greens’ principled opposition to the war exposed the majority of the Alliance caucus as compradors for US imperialism.
Social Democratic Betrayal
Votes on war have long been the undoing of social democrats. Despite their avowed commitment to social justice and peace, in the face of inter-capitalist hostilities the social democrats have repeatedly sided with the capitalists of ‘their’ country against the capitalists of other countries, regardless of the human cost.
This was first most clearly seen at the beginning of the First World War, when the MPs of the largest socialist party in the world, the German Social Democrats, voted funds for the German war effort. The support for the war by the German socialists and many other social democratic parties (organised in the ‘second international’ or ‘socialist international’) irretrievably split the international socialist movement.
Lenin identified the cause of the split in the emergence of imperialism from the late nineteenth century. The superprofits accumulated by the vast monopolies in the imperialist countries from their world-wide operations allowed them to bribe, coopt and buy-off the leading sections of the working class in their home countries. This was the ‘labour aristocracy’ at the forefront of the trade union movement and even socialist parties in these countries. These sections of the working class were able to gain real material benefits from this, even though the position of the international working class as a whole was seriously weakened.
Against this, the remaining minority of the international socialist movement called for international workers’ resistance to the inter-imperialist war. The Russian Social Democrats led a successful rebellion of the Russian military against the war, culminating in the 1917 revolution. Other less successful revolts followed in Hungary, Austria, Germany and Britain. The radical minority socialist parties coalesced in the ‘third international’ or ‘communist international’.
The split in the socialist movement has persisted to this day, with the socialist international (which still includes the New Zealand Labour Party) committing to capitalism (‘with a human face’) and enthusiastically supporting imperialist wars from the Suez to Vietnam; during World War II the New Zealand Labour government went as far as banning the Communist Party newspaper and jailing most of our central committee.
Following the departure of the Anderton faction and the Democrats in particular, the Alliance is left undisputedly as a left social democratic party, committed to progressive reforms of capitalism and strengthening the position of many peoples’ movements. The question is whether the Alliance can overcome the traditional limits of social democracy.
The Alliance has considerable resources, until the election at least: 3 fulltime MPs, including one experienced high profile Government minister, a number of fulltime paid officials, an experienced electoral machine, perhaps 2000 members and a larger mailing list, and a large state-funded broadcasting budget. But this will be dedicated exclusively to the attempt to win an electoral seat or 5% of the national vote on July 27th.
In the wake of likely electoral defeat, the Alliance will have the choice of repeating the mistakes of the past, rebuilding a social democratic party, and making every more compromising accommodations with the capitalists’ representatives in parliament. The Social Democrats that dominate the parliamentary caucus and the party bureaucracy will pursue this path as they see no alternative to capitalism, albeit with a ‘human face’.
With the departure of the Alliance right, there is a chance, however, for a change of direction. The Alliance can reconstitute itself primarily as a mass campaigning party on the side of the people against capitalism and using parliamentary elections only as a means to this end. This approach is advocated by the minority of mass activists within the party. #