What the Workers Party is about

All the registered parties got the following email a few weeks ago:

Dear Parties,
I am an 18 year old female. I would really like to be interested in politics, but I don’t know anything about it! I graduated high school 1 year ago, and for a few years political representitives have making sure I am enrolled to vote for the coming election. However no party has ever come forward to us to explain how everything works. I don’t know anyone my age who has a reasonable knowledge about politics. Probably, in the 2011 general election, most of my classmates will be making uninformed desicions about their choice of vote.

I understand that I can read your views on most of your websites but none of this makes any sense to me- there needs to some kind of 101 handbook ‘for dummies’ about what you are offering.

On Facebook, there is a tab on your profile called “Political Views”. All of my friends have things like “boring”, “what?!” or “none” written as theirs. You should be concerned!

Please explain!

Here’s what Jason Froch, a Workers Party member replied to her:

Many thanks,

I’m actually rather delighted by your e-mail, it’s good to know that I’m not alone.  I too have problems trying to make sense of that parliamentary sideshow that consists of bourgeois politics.

In 2008 we had before us:

v     An economic system which requires continued and rising levels of unemployment

v     State legislation that ensures the continuing fall of real wages derived from work, already down 25% since 1982.

v     A predatory war in Afghanistan where New Zealand soldiers assist in the slaughter of civilians, all to assure US military and economic interests

v     The continuation of an exploitative relationship with environment which will see a number of pacific islands underwater in the near future and cause massive social costs

v     Violence against women who are often unable to leave their abusers because of an inability to support themselves and their children

v     The spread of third-world diseases in our communities because of inadequate housing and an inability to afford a doctor visit

v     Not to mention disproportionate magnification of all the above if you happen to be born Maori, Pacific Islander, or are an immigrant

And yet this reality did not connect with those politicians whose happy smiles asked to be our representatives once again in 2008 (the only difference between them being marginal differences in the rate of tax cuts—43% of which have gone to the top 12% of taxpayers).

Every three years or so we scratch our heads trying to decide whether to vote for “false smile A” or “empty suit B”, realising they actually don’t represent our class interests.  Our generation’s indifference towards politics is really quite an understandable reaction to the fact that none of the options presented are worth supporting.  First time a tragedy. Second time a farce. Ninth time indifference.

Now that you’re 18, if you’re from the working-class you’ll most likely find yourself joining that reserve-pool of the unemployed.  Or maybe if your from the middle-class and your whānau doesn’t depend on you to help to feed, cloth and shelter the younger ones, you’ll heavily in-debt yourself to attend university and pick-up some skills before joining that same reserve-pool of the unemployed.  Either way, once you’re there you’ll wait on a benefit designed to break you of your dignity, to condition you—should you be lucky enough—to take any job that is offered no matter how horrible the conditions.

As socialists, the Workers’ Party sees the inhumanity, exploitation and human suffering necessary under a capitalist mode of production as abhorrent.  As revolutionary socialists, the Workers’ Party sees parliamentary politics and the state as being a method of legitimising and enforcing the capitalist economic system.  Workers’ Party does not engage in parliamentary elections to become administers of that human suffering, like other parties, or even to better the terms of exploitation.  We engage in elections as a means to spread our message.  Our end is to create a new economic and political system that represents the interests of all the working classes, a true democracy operating over an economic system not based on exploitation.

Of course this sort of political action cannot be achieved through votes alone, but rather will require the strength of workers to initiate strike action and the solidarity for them to defend their common interests as they build a revolutionary consciousness.  See you on the streets…

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Comments

  1. And of course this system only exists in books and dreams. This sort of utopia always ends in failure, name one country that started on this dream that actually made it. I suppose once the chinese purged a few tens of millions then forgot the original idea things picked up but I suspect there are some workers still being exploited in heaven.

    Ironically it is belief in utopia that sent the neo cons and America to their death. They thought if their version of capitalism was unleashed on the world after the collapse of the soviet empire that the world would become one democratic replica of the US. Those that didn’t could be forced to see the light and once free from tyranny would embrace democracy and US corporate capitalism.

    Unfortunately they committed the same sin as the communists in thinking that if only they killed the apparent problem a new world would appear and all would be love.

    Nationalism, tribalism and greed always sit under the surface waiting to be grabbed or used.

    Another problem is the worker. I am a union delegate and within factories there is greed and disunity and between workers and unemployed and families and childless. These are exploited by those who hold power to sway opinion and control the people.

    The Unite union works, I suspect, because most of the workers are similar and at the bottom so until over 50% of all workers are in this position and know it, nothing will happen. As the proportion of workers to those on benefits (all types) decrease don’t expect the workers to take kindly to higher taxes to pay.

    There will be blood but don’t think it will play out like Karl predicted. In the sixties large manufacturing sectors existed but now large portions of workers are independent contractors and you talk the same old stuff. Things have changed

    New Zealand is in trouble but the current left/right fight won’t work and we need some vision to save us. If both sides continue the foreign banks may just step in. I would even predict a crisis that opens the door to Australian union/take over.

  2. Jason Froch says:

    Hi Kiki,

    Your post raised a few points that deserve comment and some fairly common misconceptions about Marxism that need to be squashed entirely.

    You wrote: “…this system only exists in books and dreams. This sort of utopia always ends in failure, name one country that started on this dream that actually made it.” This brings up two common misconceptions about Marxism. 1. That socialism is utopian (what is utopianism exactly?). 2. That socialism has irrevocably failed.

    1. Marxists are not utopians, either in practice or in goal. We are materialists, not idealists. Idealists are utopian. Idealists see ideas as having primacy over the formation of social relationships and political structures. Whereas Marx argues that “The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness”. We deduce our ideas from the material existence around us. Idealism carried to its natural conclusion would lead me to conclude that if I believed hard enough I could hold back a flood with a broom, or that the working class can maintain the welfare state under capitalism—even when it gets in the way of the accumulation process. Idealism is reason turned on its head. Of course that sort of idealist utopianism will always end in failure.

    But as I said, Marxists are materialists, not utopian. In practice we do not see revolutions coming out of thin air, out of “books and dreams” as you said. We base our ideas in material reality. The engine driving revolution under capitalism is the tendency for capital to concentrate in monopolies and oligarchies (proletarianising the population) and the instability that results from the continued expansion of the productivity of labour and the minimal capacity of consumption by the vast majority of the population. Historically, revolutionary situations occur when capital cannot circumvent or overcome these contradictions (through housing bubbles, expansion into previously non-existent markets, etc.) and has to face these problems head on (in a world war or in a massive attack on the living conditions of the working classes). These are material facts that we continue to live with day by day. Revolution is not a utopian fantasy. It is idea aligned with material reality.

    Neither are Marxists utopian in our end goal. Unlike the neo-conservatives you referenced, Marxists do not posit an “end of history” or an “end-point communist utopia”. A socialist revolution would liberate vast amounts of oppressed peoples, but it would not create a Garden of Eden. There would still be a drudgery of tedious work to be done! Humans would still have to learn to live within the ecological limits of the planet! People will continue to harbour backwards and oppressive religious prejudices, a cesspool for homophobia and misogamy! We will have the horrors of the past to deal with as well as the evolving problems of the future. The materialist view of reality acknowledges that things are always changing. Socialism and communism are merely another epoch in history, another transitory period, defiantly not an idealist utopian “End of History”. Compared with the endemic violence, poverty and wage slavery necessary under capitalism though, I can see how socialism is seen as utopian.

    2. The other misconception that needs to be quashed is that socialism has irrevocably failed. Stalinism betrayed rule #1 of revolutions, spread or die, and eventually fell to a hostile capitalist world economy after decades of economic isolation and military aggression. That this is displayed as evidence that socialism in totality has failed is absurd. What is shown is not that socialism is great in theory but doesn’t work in practice—have you ever noticed that capitalism is great in theory but seems to be caught in this unstable boom and bust cycle?—but that the a specific Stalinist strategy of maintaining a minority socialist bloc in a capitalist world system has failed. History has cast its judgment on Stalinism rather than socialism. Just as history has cast its judgment on the tactics of the Paris Commune of 1871, rather then using that as a proxy for socialism in totality. What history has shown is that a certain set of policies and strategies for building socialism given a specific context of time and place did not work. The revolutionaries in Czarist Russia took the tactical lessons from the Paris Commune and they were all the more successful for it, just as we should learn the lessons of the Stalinist degenerated workers’ state. An analysis more nuanced than “the USSR eventually fell to a hostile capitalist system” is required before socialism can be written-off.

    Now on to some points you made which deserve a different type of comment. You wrote, “Nationalism, tribalism and greed always sit under the surface waiting to be grabbed or used. … within factories there is greed and disunity and between workers and unemployed and families and childless. … The Unite union works, I suspect, because most of the workers are similar and at the bottom”.

    Nationalism, tribalism and greed are products of history. They do not “always exist”, they are not “natural” to humanity, but require a certain ideology to be perpetuated. The fact that we have managed to extend our feelings of solidarity from a tribe to a nation proves the point that these ideas are mutable. Nations are historic creations, a creation of the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648. That is when political organisation shifted from fractured accidents of history to entire cultures connected by language and culture. Maori nationalism, te kingitanga, did not begin until the 1860s. Before then there was no pan-Maori nationalism, just a collection of different iwi and hapu. Notions of solidarity have spread from one social construct “tribe” to another social construct “nation”. Marxism posits workers as an international class of people existing under and international system of capital. On that basis Marxism is propelling the moral humanism of “solidarity” from the social construct of nation to the social construct of international class of workers. Hate and greed are not “always sitting under the surface”, they are bourgeois ideological tools of oppression. These are not problems of the worker as much as they are problems of the ideological hegemony of capitalism. Certainly though you do identify a problem that needs to be overcome. Unite Union might work better because they are the worst-off workers generally… although it may be that the union leadership does not propagate a “partnership” view with business owners as do most unions, but rather are militant and thus break from bourgeois ideology. It’s a worthy question.

    You write: “so until over 50% of all workers are in this position [at the bottom of society] and know it, nothing will happen. As the proportion of workers to those on benefits (all types) decrease don’t expect the workers to take kindly to higher taxes to pay.”

    Two things here, of course to create a revolutionary situation there will have to be a mass movement of people. This mass movement will require (amongst other things) a massive attack on the wages and conditions to which the working class is accustomed to and sees that it is entitled to. Such as is happening in Europe. This doesn’t necessarily require workers to be very poorly paid… but it does require people to feel they’re getting a sour end of a deal. New Zealand has yet had its economy burst in the same way that the US and Europe has. It’s only a matter of time until the attacks come though…

    You write: “As the proportion of workers to those on benefits (all types) decrease don’t expect the workers to take kindly to higher taxes to pay… In the sixties large manufacturing sectors existed but now large portions of workers are independent contractors and you talk the same old stuff. Things have changed. … New Zealand is in trouble but the current left/right fight won’t work and we need some vision to save us. If both sides continue the foreign banks may just step in. I would even predict a crisis that opens the door to Australian union/take over”.

    Certainly there has been a shift in the economy from production to service with a focus on finance, insurance and real estate as the drivers of “growth” and consumption. With this shift has gone an interesting proletarianisation of a number of what were before “middle-class” jobs. For instance, clerical work, sales, nursing and teaching are just some examples of this. There has been a shift in economic orientation, and this is reflected in the shift in jobs that are done, but that does not mean that the working class ceases to exist. These changes have important ramifications and need to be better understood.

    As for your other points, that left/right fight will not work now (1), that there is a potential for overseas capital to take control of the New Zealand economy (2) and that workers wont take kindly to higher taxes (3)… well, you really don’t provide much support to (1) and the social relationship between wage labour and capital is still the primary, so I dismiss it. As for (2), so what? New Zealand capitalist, Australian capitalist, the story is the same. Regarding (3), WP and Marxists don’t support higher taxes be they progressive or otherwise… We regard taxes to fund a capitalist state as an additional form of theft.

    Thanks for the post, I look forward to further comments.

  3. Barrie (AWSM) says:

    I realise you were well meaning in your reply to the inquirer Jason, but i think you mightve missed the mark in respect to your use of terminology. No doubt you were trying to avoid appearing patronising or condescending but i cant help thinking that a person with such a limited knowledge of politics would struggle with your unreflexive use of words like ‘bourgeois’, ‘working class’, ‘socialist’, ‘capitalist’, ‘mode-of-production’ etc. Perhaps defining some terms wouldve helped? To some extent youve got to go to

  4. Barrie (AWSM) says:

    [ooops, cursor drifted to the ‘submit’ button before i could finish] …where people are at, eh.

  5. Jason Froch says:

    Hey Barrie,

    Am I right that you are refering to my reply to Kiki rather than the origional reply to the electorial letter? If so, did you see the same problem in the origional reply?

    I agree with you that there is a practical necessity to be understood and that anything not understood is superfluous. That being said, I’d imagine that if Kiki has read the reply she’d be able to follow the gist of it. If only for the reason that she said she was a union delegate (I presume for Unite). “socialist” “working class” “bourgeois”, etc are all easy enough… although regarding “mode of production” you’re probally right.

    If anything I think the more text is too cumbersome. It is long, repetitive, has bad sentance structure in places and potentially does not addressing Kiki’s concerns. Especially the first part where I tried to explain materialism and utopianism generally.

    Thanks for the feedback.

    Interestingly enough, the one thing I did want to go into a detailed explanation of was the concept of solidarity. Too often Marxists are taken to be grubby materialists, when in reality we are trying to develope a morality and a culture based on the concept of solidarity.

  6. I would add that Kiki is wrong to suggest that such a system only exists in books and dreams, because communism existed for centuries right here in Aotearoa before British imperialism imposed capitalism.

    Tangata Whenua lived in profoundly communal societies, where all social activity was collectivised – from child-rearing to earthworks (hence the proverb:“Ma tini ma mano ka rapa te whai”/ By many, by thousands, the work (project) will be accomplished.)

    Of course there were commoners and chiefs, but there was no class society. Everything of value – land, waka, taonga – was owned in common, the principle social unit being the hapu. This article goes into more detail: https://workerspartynz.files.wordpress.com/2008/02/the-maori-in-prehistory-and-today2.pdf

    We are revolutionaries, meaning we do not idealise the early communist societies of yesteryear. We envisage a society where modern technology is finally brought under rational, democratic control, to enable the greatest fulfillment of human potential for the multitude.

  7. Sorry to disappoint but Kiki was our cat I’m a six foot guy and I am a delegate (not their best one) for a local government union.

    I won’t be to picky but I still feel it’s more utopian.

    From your reply “A socialist revolution would liberate vast amounts of oppressed peoples, but it would not create a Garden of Eden. There would still be a drudgery of tedious work to be done! Humans would still have to learn to live within the ecological limits of the planet! People will continue to harbour backwards and oppressive religious prejudices” so nothing would change? these would just be used to manipulate people to put an elite on top again.

    And did history cast judgement on communism based on Stalinism or did people look at Stalin and understand why power should never be centralized. The reason the communist and socialists failed was the lack of freedom for their people and the inability of the state run economy to meet the needs or wants of their people. The west at the time provided a opposing system for the people to compare. The soviet union did not stand alone, Eastern Europe, China and India were all under socialist government of sorts with a large population base but none are socialist now just dictatorial.

    I think you live in hope that nationalism or tribalism will disappear over time. They might but only through the removal of other tribes or nations and those people expected to disappear may not approve. China makes a big issue of all being Han to hide the fact that they aren’t. After 5000 years of being one country the north feel north and the south feel south they still don’t trust each other.

    Capitalism at it’s basic is just selling goods from one to another, little bits of paper make it easier. A farmer at a local market is little different from apple selling ipods. The corruption of this is the problem, governments manipulate the people and bankers manipulate the government all to keep the elite at the top. What did the soviet state achieve? an elite still sat at the top.

    If I appear negative I probably am. I can see the problems around us economically, socially and environmentally I just don’t see people changing. I dislike the idea of revolution now as I know an egg broken for the omelet so to speak and a husband and daughter starved to death for a better world made the world a darker place. We live in one of the most democratic places in the world if we can’t make positive change I have my doubts about the future.

    I am curious on one point, can you have a democratic socialist country? If the people have an equal vote and are free to vote for who they wish and they wished for a capitalist system would that be the end?

    and M Harris if there are chiefs and commoners then there is class and don’t forget the slaves.

    Cheers

  8. Alec Morgan says:

    Try reading some WP and other socialist publications kiki, it is hard to answer all matters you raise in a blog discussion.

    Could you vote capitalism back in? No more than you can vote capitalism out now. That is why marxists call for revolution, a total structural and class power change. The failed worker states of the 20th century demonstrate that revolution must keep expanding to succeed. Capitalist states will not stand by and let socialism, the precursor to communism develop in their midst. e.g. the US has had a trade embargo on Cuba for 50 years.

  9. Hi Kiki, I think we have to bear in mind we live in a capitalist society, that promotes the idea that the social relations that surround us are natural and eternal, and any idea of fundamentally changing them is utopian. This can then colour our attitude when viewing the past, as evidenced by your comment “if there are chiefs and commoners then there is class”
    Class society needs private ownership of the means of production to develop. It has not always existed. The cheifs owed their authority to mana, not to accumulation of wealth.
    Slavery was marginal to pre-European Maori societies. Slaves were people from other tribes captured in the course of battle, but unlike Greece and Rome, they did not become commodities (chattel slaves). The latter were true class societies with a tiny ruling class sustained by a huge class of slaves and peasants. Again, I recommend you check out the article I referenced above for a more thorough discussion of the issue.

  10. Back again.

    I still think you are utopian in your thinking. A bit of romantic revisionist history of other cultures is not really something to base your hopes on, neither is the expectation that all at once the people of the world will suddenly throw out capitalism. The moment anyone trades or sells any good or service they become a capitalist, this is not bad if the transaction is done in a free manner.

    It is the denial of freedom of choice for the buyers, sellers or producers that create the injustice as well as the transfer of the real costs onto the environment or others.

    I will say I am a pragmatic anarchist in that I accept government needs to exist, it is the manner of government, who they represent and the level of power they have that I am concerned with. I try to stand with the individual against the state who ever and what ever form they may take as I know the state will always move to acquire more power.

    as I said in the other post the main socialist states, not those militarily toppled by the west, fell because the example set by the surrounding freer countries. On the opposite side the benefits that unions gained from the governments could be said to have come from the underlying threat of the socialist states. These states provided an alternative which people could turn to. This created a market, in the west, leading to better rights for workers. The moment the socialist states fell a monopoly was created. The only alternative is islam at the moment and that is not an alternative most want. This has lead to the steady loss of rights in the west.

    From this the world needs a state that takes a different path from the rest to create some competition to the current thinking. Instead of waiting around for change or using elections for education purposes why don’t you get serious and put some ideas up. No revolution is going to come so at least create a better country using the democratic process that exists.

    If you can’t sell your ideas to at least 5% of the population perhaps your ideas aren’t worth it.

    At the very least you can create some trouble which is always worth it and remember your enemies greatest strength is their greatest weakness.

    Also the idea of pre colonial maori being communist is interesting as I think what you really see is community spirit and family bonds. People doing things that help the community without expectation of a return except the continuation of the community. This happened in small rural communities and still exists although it has decreased since 1984. And a Maori slave or Roman slave are still slaves.

    Sorry had to add this

  11. Don Franks says:

    “The moment anyone trades or sells any good or service they become a capitalist”

    Not really mate.

    If the kid over the road comes and mows my lawn for five bucks, he’s not suddenly transformed into one of the bourgeosie.

  12. Kiki’s insistence that transcending capitalism is utopian reminds me of the following passage:

    “Abundance for all? Freedom for all? A society without a state? Impossible! Never had it in all history!

    If they could have reasoned and talked, the common ancestors of man and ape could easily have spoken the same way. “We tree-animals will always have to fight among ourselves and with other animals for food. Our fathers and forefathers had to do it before us, and so will our offspring after us. The idea of growing our own food is very attractive, but it is utopian and impractical. As for tails, those we shall always have with us. Our fathers and forefathers found tails indispensable for swinging from branch to branch, and for a third support when trying to stand on two legs. Our offspring will never be able to do without tails. That animal there, who just dropped to the ground and is trying to move on two legs alone, is sure to break his fool neck in no time at all. The idea of moving around without tails is very attractive, because in many ways they are a nuisance, but it will never work in practice. The idea of walking upright on two legs might be an interesting experiment for crackpots, but we know from experience that we need tails for balance and we shall always have them with us”.

    Man, as is known, has proved that these hypothetical tree-animals were somewhat conservative and wrong.

    Man will also prove that class divisions, poverty and oppression are not unavoidable and the state not indispensable. In the socialist society he will show that abundance, freedom and equality are not only possible but the natural condition for the new history of the human race.”

    —written by the US socialist Max Shachtman in 1946, when he was still a revolutionary
    http://www.marxists.org/archive/shachtma/1946/ffs/ffs07.htm

  13. Sorry but if the kid mows your lawn for 5 bucks he’s trading his labour for your cash, he is a capitalist but not quite middle class unless he can mow 30 lawns a day.

    If he controls the government and local council, gets them to control the employment and movement of his brother and regulates who can mow your laws charges you $20 and pays his brother $5 then he’s a corporate capitalist.

    and M Harris that looks similar to those bible bashers letters to the editor. Progress is not natural, shoot all the historians and burn all the books and I could take you back a few centuries. Really this may be as good as it gets and it might be down hill from here.

  14. Don Franks says:

    Kiki,if some local lawn mowing kid gets to control the government and local council he’s doing better than I, and, I surmise, you have ever done. If we get to learn that such a thing ever actually happens, then let’s try and grab that kid and extract from him to see what his secret is. In the mean time, let’s just knock some tops off and have a merry Christmas.

  15. Ian Anderson says:

    “he’s trading his labour for your cash, he is a capitalist”

    Actually, the Marxist definition of a worker is someone who trades their labour for money. That definition you gave makes the kid a worker, not a capitalist.

    As M Harris said, it’s hard to argue with such broad ideological dismissals when you don’t make the effort to understand where we’re coming from. The Workers Party has regular branch studies for anyone interested in getting a better understanding of our basic ideas.

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