In an earlier post I wrote about my expulsion and later re-joining of the New Zealand Labour Party. I’ve also written about ideology and some of the limitations this can cause. I have experience of this, as in the years following me leaving Labour, I became active in the radical socialist movement.
So to put this into context, in 2002-03 the Iraq war resulted in a global mass movement built. At this time I was elected to the student executive (a subject for a future post) and was also becoming a union delegate on the cleaning site I was working on. The late 1990s anti globalisation movement had lost some of its initial steam, but anti capitalist and certainly anti neo liberal politics and ideas were still being discussed at university. To me and many of my friends at the time, the third way Labour Government was on the wrong side of these issues, and something more radical was needed.
I first became aware of the Anti Capitalist Alliance in 2002, shortly after it formed. It was a coalition of a couple of other smaller socialist groups, and ran a couple of candidates in that years NZ general election. The grouping had a 5 point platform:
The five-point policy platform of the Workers Party is as follows:
- Opposition to all New Zealand and Western intervention in the Third World and all Western military alliances.
- Secure jobs for all with a living wage and a shorter working week.
- For the unrestricted right of workers to organise and take industrial action and no limits on workers’ freedom of speech and activity.
- For working class unity and solidarity – equality for women, Maori and other ethnic minorities and people of all sexual orientations and identities; open borders and full rights for migrant workers.
- For a working people’s republic
After a few months of flatting with one of its members (who in 2003 arrested at a Wellington anti war protest for throwing his lunch at Australian PM John Howard), I eventually joined the group.
I became a regular contributor to the organisations paper The Spark writing about my time as a cleaner and various critiques of the government such as this one demanding equality for same sex couples during the 2004 Civil Union debate. This also meant many cold Saturday mornings selling the paper on the streets of Wellington and Porirua (often hungover).
In 2004 I ran for Mayor of Upper Hutt against incumbent Wayne Guppy. And in 2007 I was one of a number of candidates to run unsuccessfully against Mayor Kerry Prendergast.
By 2008 the Anti Capitalist Alliance had changed its name to the Workers Party, a somewhat generous description of the tiny socialist group. It gained 500 signatures allowing it to appear on the ballot nationally in the 2008 general election (NZ has Proportional Representation, thus party’s with over 500 members can run as a party on the national ballot as well as standing local candidates).
The ideological debates within the groups were about Trotskyism verses Maoism, and peoples assessments over Russia and China. These historical debates always interested me, but I generally entered them usually to wind others up rather than seeing them as the pressing issue of the day. Other debates such as whether New Zealand was a junior imperialist state or a semi colony of the US was more somewhat more interesting, as it was assessing the current state of the NZ economy. I also enjoyed studying volume 2 of Karl Marx’s capital addressing the Tendency of the rate of profit to fall, a theory that many economists on the left and the right of the political spectrum believe explains why the post war boom and subsequent neo liberal policies were implemented from the late 1970s onwards.
On the issue of revolution verses reform, or working within the parliamentary established structures or outside of them was always a big questions. While my time in Labour and subsequent views leaned me heavily towards creating change outside of parliament, looking back I wasn’t consistent on this. For most of my time in radical socialist groups I was an elected student representative, working within the university structures to achieve change. Later I was elected a union president and representative. While both involved encouraging members to become active and pressure for change, both roles also involved working within the system. I later realised the revolution/reform, working inside or outside the system dichotomy was a false and limiting one.
Eventually the inevitable happened with small socialist groups, and those who have seen the Life of Brian know how this goes down. My then girlfriend (soon to be ex) and I ended up leaving the group in 2009. A rather long polemic ghost written by me was issued by Jasmine, you can read it here, but I don’t recommend it. The organisation became dysfunctional, and I certainly don’t claim to have been totally in the right. In the end it was a group built on 19th century ideology, and unsurprisingly this didn’t work out. The group disappears not long after I left.
The global financial crisis of 2008 was I think the end of it for me. Capitalism had ended up in another crisis due to its own inherent flaws. The free market that had been trumpeted as the ideological way by the right had to be abandoned as governments bailed out the banks. Yet left and socialists politics went into decline rather than growth after this crisis. Yes the banks and markets had failed. But socialist idea’s, while perhaps providing some useful analysis did not have much to offer during this.
So I was a radical socialist. Do I regret it? It was an experience I learnt from, so why would I regret it. By taking part in radical politics many dismiss you as a nutter, and years later some still view me in this light. This is disappointing. Yes some of the positions I took at the time were (literally) out of left field. But sometimes radical or out there ideas can be right. Blindly following ideology is limiting, but so is totally dismissing someone who has these ideas and everything they say as “nuts.”