WSWS left-sect slanders against genuine socialist participation in the campaign against asset sales

Jared Phillips

In a May 17 article titled “New Zealand ‘Not for Sale’ campaign promotes anti-Chinese sentiment” World Socialist Web Site (WSWS) writer John Braddock lies and makes countless distortions about the campaign against asset sales and socialist involvement in the campaign. The essential point Braddock tries to make is that the left forces involved in the campaign are lining up in support of New Zealand nationalism.

Anti-privatisation or Anti-Chinese?
First-off, the opening paragraph of Braddock’s article is misleading. He states that:

Following a decision by New Zealand’s National Party government to allow the sale of 16 privately-owned farms to the Chinese company Shanghai Penqxin, a grouping of pseudo-left organisations, in league with the opposition Labour Party, the Greens, Maori nationalists, and the unions, have launched a reactionary protest campaign under the slogan “Aotearoa [New Zealand] is Not for Sale”.

However, the truth is that the anti-asset sales campaign is based on opposition to government plans to sell off several major state assets. The private sale of farms to a Chinese company is treated as a separate issue. This is reflected in the wording of the nation-wide petition aimed at forcing a Citizen’s Initiated Referendum on the issue, which is one arm of the campaign and is connected to the recent hikoi* and protests. The wording of the petition reads “Do you support the Government selling up to 49% of Meridian Energy, Mighty River Power, Genisis Power, Solid Energy, and Air New Zealand?”

The petition for the referendum is being promoted by unions, the Labour Party, social democrats, Maori justice activists, The Greens, and genuine socialist organisations. This is an important campaign to oppose the transfer of wealth to the ruling class that occurs through privatisation. It is also important because of the likelihood of increased power and heating costs which will hurt middle and low income people. In the petition there is no mention of the private sale of dairy farms to a Chinese company.

The nature of the opposition to privatisation
The opposition to the asset sales was taken to the streets, notably by Maori justice activists and the MANA movement who called a hikoi which went from Cape Reinga at the top of the North Island to parliament in Wellington at the bottom of the North Island. This was coupled with significant marches in the major cities. In Auckland Socialist Aotearoa played a significant role in organising the Queen Street march, and Unite Union provided the venue for various organising meetings and advertised the event amongst members. In Wellington the Workers Party was significant in mobilising, as was We Are The University (WATU) in which the Workers Party is involved. The WSWS wrote:

The organisers of the “Aotearoa is Not for Sale” campaign, including Socialist Aotearoa, the Workers Party and the Unite Union, are serving to channel legitimate mass opposition to the government’s austerity agenda into chauvinism and nationalism. They are helping create an amalgam between the attacks on the working class and the decision to allow Shanghai Penxqxin to purchase a small number of farms, and use this to promote anti-Chinese sentiment. In doing so, they have lined up with not only Labour and the Greens, but the right-wing, populist NZ First Party.

The coordination of the ‘mass opposition’ which Braddock refers to does not exist outside the work of Maori social justice activists, social democrats, labourites, unions, independent activists, greens, and socialists. Braddock distorts the situation by implying that there is a mass opposition being organised spontaneously and that organisations like MANA, Unite, Workers Party, and Socialist Aotearoa are intervening against it.

There have been some traces of soft-nationalism in the campaign. There has been chalking of slogans like ‘Love Aotearoa’ at universities and such sentiments have been expressed in social media. Such sentiments are naïve but they are produced by new layers of activists who are conveying support for public ownership. While such aspects of the campaign require political development by the socialist left, the use of such slogans is not tantamount to support for the New Zealand nation-state at the expense of oppressed people in other countries.

There have been some secondary references to the sale of Crafar farms. This is misguided because as the recent Talleys-AFFCO and Ports of Auckland industrial disputes have revealed once again Aotearoa/New Zealand companies are just as oppressive as foreign-owned companies. However, no organisation involved in the campaign has encouraged anti-Chinese sentiment. There is no evidence of anti-Chinese activity from the more advanced layers of the movement.  In fact MANA and others welcomed and celebrated the actions of Chinese migrants who attended the Auckland march with a banner which read ‘Asians Supporting Tino Rangatiatanga’ (Tino Rangatiratanga broadly means sovereignty for the indigenous). The strongest anti-Chinese sentiment was displayed by a single protestor with a Chinese flag with ‘No’ written over it. This was very much at the fringes of the protest movement. There is zero evidence of anti-immigrant notions or slogans in the campaign.


Socialists challenging soft nationalism
While Braddock completely overstates the New Zealand/Aotearoa nationalism of the campaign it is true that there were soft traces as identified above. Therefore the genuine Marxist left has sought to counteract the potential for nationalism to emerge. For example the Workers Party handed out thousands of copies of a leaflet titled Aotearoa Not For Sale – to local or foreign capitalists! which said that socialists:

Regard the arguments about “foreign ownership” as a dangerous distraction that threatens to undermine our struggle against privatisation. The problem is private capitalist ownership of public utilities, whether those capitalists are New Zealanders or “foreigners”. Furthermore, there is a particularly nasty history of anti-Chinese racism in New Zealand, which dates to the development of immigration controls in this country. Immigration controls originated from a “White New Zealand Policy” that was initially concerned with keeping out Chinese people.

Another organisation, independent of the Workers Party, which has participated in the campaign – the International Socialist Organisation – published an article titled Crafar Farm Sale: whose land is it anyway? which underlined the importance of opposing nationalism. The article put forward that

The farm sales have aroused a lot of indignation, and still more confusion. But workers – whatever the power of nationalist ideas amongst our class currently – have no stake in the populist passions being generated at the moment… Any idea that New Zealand capitalists would be better owners of farmland than Chinese capitalists should explode when we stop to consider just who those prospective New Zealand buyers were.

It is clear that both the Workers Party and the ISO pursued principled internationalist positions in regard to nationalism. But Braddock is concerned with delivering low-blows. Braddock singles out the Workers Party directly where he says that;

When the protest arrived at parliament in Wellington on May 4, Winston Peters, a former National Party cabinet minister who founded NZ First in 1993 on an explicit anti-immigrant program, was given the platform. A leading member of the so-called Workers Party held up the megaphone for him.

A problem with the demonstration in the capital was that the Workers Party possessed the best megaphone so a member ended-up holding the megaphone at parliament, which was unplanned. It is not uncommon for bourgeois MPs with no ground forces in campaigns to opportunistically hijack the speaking order at mass events. This was an unfortunate situation for the Workers Party which considers NZ First to be an anti-working class party. Unfortunately elements of the ‘broad’ left give space to NZ First because of its hardcore economic protectionism, its support for higher minimum wages, and because its leader Winston Peters is Maori. However, Peters didn’t attempt his anti-immigrationism on the day. As an exacting populist he would have known this would not have gone well with the crowd. We consider this to be a trivial matter, but for the WSWS it is the high-point of
their story.

Workers Party ‘in league’ with Greens, Labour, MANA, and unions
Braddock asserts that the Workers Party is in league with the Greens, Labour, and the MANA parties. This slander should be clarified so that WSWS can’t distort our position amongst those not familiar with our positions.

The Workers Party has to say it is surprised to be operating in a concrete campaign that Labour is formally involved in (the petition for a referendum on asset sales). Labour led the sale of public assets in the 1980s and in the period of the last Labour-led government (1999-2008) we and the rest of the genuine left were in opposition to it, for example, fighting to get rid of youth rates, fighting its participation in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, fighting against the raids on Tuhoe and activists, arguing for the right to strike, fighting against its refusal to reverse the Employment Contracts Act 1991 and its refusal to restore welfare benefits to pre-1991 levels. The list is long. The Workers Party does not put forward the idea that working people should vote for Labour as a lesser-evil in comparison to National. In the current situation – with National in power and Labour putting forward a few left policies from opposition – left organisations must be more vigilant about the potential for lesser-evilism to develop.

The Green Party was once associated with the social democratic left when affiliated to the Alliance Party, it then became decidedly cross-class and is now increasingly guided by the principles of green capitalism, especially since the resignation and retirement of two of its key left MPs. From a liberal standpoint rather than a class standpoint the Greens often have progressive positions on issues like justice, child poverty, or GLBT rights. The Workers Party has no relationship with Greens and has never encouraged support or a vote for them.

The Workers Party participates in the newly emerged MANA party which developed from a split with the Maori party in 2011. The split was based on class issues and Maori Party collaboration on the foreshore and seabed legislation which heavily restricts customary access rights for Maori. The Workers Party’s view is that the MANA party (or movement) has a good class composition, a tested leadership which has not sold out principles for the privileges of office, and democratic space which allows socialist ideas to be put forward. After the 2011 election it has also become clear that MANA is operating in such a way that it is a real campaigning force in the community and the sole MP is intervening correctly in community and industrial struggles.

In regard to the union movement the Workers Party differs markedly from Braddock and the WSWS. Essentially we support militant unionism and we argue and work for the transformation of unions into democratic fighting organisations of the working class. Militant unionism in itself cannot resolve the inequalities and problems of capitalism but the movement for socialism necessarily requires militant unionism. The WSWS on the other hand writes-off the union movement and portrays it as a barrier to achieving socialism. This line on unionism that is pushed by the WSWS is one that assists the bosses.


Workers’ involvement
Another aspect which heightened the importance of this campaign was the involvement of workers who were involved in a bitter industrial dispute. The Talleys-AFFCO meat workers who were in the third month of a lockout had a consistent presence in the first half of the hikoi. On the day before the hikoi arrived in Hamilton some activists – including Workers Party members – were collecting donations to support hikoi costs when some locked-out workers tried to make a small money donation to the hikoi. This was gratefully refused. The following day their presence was marked in Hamilton. They participated as a small army in campaign shirts and hikoi marchers presented them with a strong donation of collected food. This workers’ involvement was powerful. It was not just a group of union officials with a few union flags. Instead it was a significant group of rank-and-file workers taking to the streets against asset sales. This pointed to the connection between the privatisation offensive and the attempt to smash organised workers.

Role of the WSWS
The aim of the WSWS is not to build an organisation which is capable of giving a Marxist and struggle-based lead to workers and other oppressed sections of the working class. Instead it seeks to build sects in each country where it has a presence. It is sectarian because it doesn’t participate in the day-to-day struggles in the working class and it doesn’t prioritise issues that are important for pushing the class struggle forward. Instead it uses the internet to contort, overstate, and lie about other left organisations. Through not participating in day-to-day struggles and being a web-based talking shop the WSWS is able to keep its hands completely clean from any limitations or blemishes of the working class movement. The other side of this is that there are no social forces to keep it accountable, therefore in its isolation it can publish whatever lies it wants on its website without any repercussions.

To our knowledge the extent of WSWS practical activity in Aotearoa/New Zealand over the past few years has consisted of 2 people attending We Are The University (WATU) student activist meetings and accusing Workers Party members of being reformists because we don’t emphasize slogans that relate to the immediate overthrow of capitalism. The view of the Workers Party is that in the Aotearoa/ New Zealand context we are not in a position to immediately overthrow capitalism and neither are the couple of writers for the slanderous WSWS website.

The campaign continues
In the wake of the hikoi and the demonstrations, and with the anti-asset sales referendum petition gaining momentum, the National-led government has speed up select committee hearings and attempted to have the legislation heard under urgency. Their coalition partners – the sell-out Maori Party and the ‘family first’ United Future – either of whom could have voted against the legislation have supported its progress through select committee hearings. Therefore the campaign will not only continue but will sharpen over the coming months. The Workers Party will continue as a participant in the ongoing campaign.

The campaign does not exist separately from the reformist left, unions, liberals, and Maori social justice activists. So if the socialist left was to stand aside it would practicing abstentionism, it would be letting the government pass anti-working class laws without socialist opposition, and it would be turning down the opportunity to work alongside masses and gain an audience which hasn’t yet reached socialist conclusions.

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Comments

  1. Does the name of the petition (‘KEEP OUR ASSETS’) not have nationalistic overtones?

    • Sure, although the “our” could just refer to the public or to workers. Should we not be involved in a movement against privatisation because the word “our” is ambiguous?

      It’s an anti-privatisation movement that has mobilised thousands. The Workers Party has consistently argued for a focus on private over “foreign” ownership as a part of that movement.

      • Not saying WP shouldn’t be involved, but it should be clear about this point?

        In my experience it seems that a lot of people identify the ‘keep our assets’ slogan with anti chinese sentiment, and Labour and the Greens seem to be willing to use such sentiment to their own advantage..

        So not saying WP shouldn’t be involved, just seems that this article goes a bit far in defending the positioning of this campaign.

  2. well said Jared – ‘a web-based talking shop’, sums it up nicely.

  3. Don Franks says:

    Interesting thread.

    A year or so back, Nick Kelly and I went along to a public meeting at Victoria university where we were both very surprised by the WSW’s hard wired sectarian stance.

    Another objection, observed by others, is the WSW’s rigidly negative attitude to labour union organisation, with no offer to workers of any practical alternative line of march.

    That said, the WSW are much more than a talk shop. They consistently offer solid factual up to the minute anti imperialist analysis, have led the way in calling Obama to account and produce thoughtful readable social and cultural articles.

    Regarding the issue that sparked this exchange, it is very good that some left debate about asset sales has finally arrived. Let it roll.

    Just taking one point, Ian, it is fatuous to claim that :’ ” our assets” , could seriously refer to the public or to workers’

    State owned assets belong to the ruling capitalist class, who try, at the moment with great success, to pass their interests off as common social interests.
    The capitalists only nationalise unprofitable infrastructure and services that they need to keep their system going.
    Even when they do that, they are still in charge. In marxist terms it is a total crock to sign up for supporting retention of “our assets”.

    The only asset our class has is its numbers and potential organisation.

    • WSWS produce some interesting material, but in my experience of NZ their coverage is hampered by their lack of any meaningful participation. As Jared put it: “Through not participating in day-to-day struggles… the WSWS is able to keep its hands completely clean from any limitations or blemishes of the working class movement.”

      It’s false to say that the Workers Party (or the ISO) have supported anti-Chinese sentiment, by conflating privatisation with the sale of Crafar farms. We have consistently argued against that, but Braddock lies about our approach to agitation.

      Our politics are currently in a minority in the movement against privatisation. Abstention will not win anyone over, although it may ensure purity. As for the assets, well I was partly being facetious but yes as argued in an earlier article:
      “In reality, it’s harder to “keep public assets” when we don’t yet have them.”
      http://workersparty.org.nz/2012/02/20/state-owned-assets-no-to-confiscation-yes-to-collective-control/

  4. “It’s false to say that the Workers Party (or the ISO) have supported anti-Chinese sentiment, by conflating privatisation with the sale of Crafar farms. We have consistently argued against that, but Braddock lies about our approach to agitation.”

    But is it false to say that the Workers Party have failed to clearly oppose anti-Chinese sentiment by providing a clear critique of the ‘OUR’ in ‘KEEP OUR ASSETS’?

    • I would say direct references to “Chinese” or “foreign” ownership have a far more reactionary content that need to be engaged than the word “our,” which could have more broad reformist illusions. The key demand of that petition is fine, although it is tied to a reformist strategy.

  5. Mark – I think that this Workers Party leaflet was pretty sharp on the anti-Chinese racism aspect of KOA:
    http://workersparty.org.nz/2012/04/27/workers-party-leaflet-aotearoa-not-for-sale-to-local-or-foreign-capitalists/

  6. Don – the reality is that revolutionary socialists do not currently set the political agenda, various bourgeois forces do. The task of revolutionaries is to intervene in such a way as to sharpen class consciousness.
    For example, I argued at a recent Mana hui that we had no interest in promoting nationalism within the campaign against asset sales, like Labour and the Greens have shamelessly done, and instead Mana should focus on its target constituency of the poor and the oppressed. This was well received by the activists present, and Hone Harawira agreed.
    The next press release that Mana put out was refreshingly free of nationalism. (http://www.voxy.co.nz/politics/harawira-sadness-over-state-assets-sale/5/127481)
    Intervention in the campaign has produced some modest results. Abstention would have guaranteed no results.

  7. Don Franks says:

    “I argued at a recent Mana hui that we had no interest in promoting nationalism within the campaign against asset sales, like Labour and the Greens have shamelessly done, and instead Mana should focus on its target constituency of the poor and the oppressed. This was well received by the activists present, and Hone Harawira agreed.
    The next press release that Mana put out was refreshingly free of nationalism”

    Mike, there is no reason whatsoever for capitalist parties like Labour and the Greens to be ashamed of promoting nationalism. They think its a worthy thing to promote. Your formulation suggests that Labour and the Greens are some sort of left party who ought to feel shame for such actions.

    Your claim of influencing the Mana press release does not alter my attitude to entrism. While nothing very much is at stake there will modest results, when a big wave breaks the ship will go over.

  8. Don, the inevitability of the Mana ship going over must be such a comforting notion for the abstentionist.
    Marx, on the other hand remarked to Kugelmann that: “World history would indeed be very easy to make, if the struggle were taken up only on condition of infallibly favourable chances.”

  9. Don Franks says:

    Nice quote from Marx there Mike, but I speak as one who signed articles on the good ship New Labour. There too we had the magic of a sitting mp and some mass campaigning on the ground and the hope of a jump start to the revolution. And an unyielding leader firmly running along his own rails. It is with a shudder of relief that I abstain from another dose of the same medicine.
    I am happy to work with Mana in the areas where our interest coincide, not prepared to try and change it into something it does not want to and will never be.

    • Let’s come back to this discussion when the discussion over same-sex marriage has come to an initial end aye? It makes me uneasy that you can quite comfrotably and clearly predict the outcome of this political struggle before it is resolved.
      I think it is problematic to just put the Alliance model/experience on top of MANA, it doesn’t fit. There are similarities but also differences. They are not the same organisation, they don’t involve the same people (although people have been involved in both), the don’t have the same base. They are different entities and can’t be analysed in the same way.
      I am happy to work inside and outside of MANA, I don’t see the nature of MANA as fixed, I don’t see being within a minority position within MANA as a bad thing as a generality. There is a lot of political space within MANA and there is political space outside of MANA, we’re seeing that at campus and at our conference but also within MANA. That is the basis behind our work within MANA, WATU, Queer Avengers and other spaces. places where we can stand as open Marxists/socialists/communists and engage in work and debate.
      MANA isn’t “magic” but it is a space in which we can move politically within. More dangerous is being disconnected to wider active struggles. We need to be in a space where we are having the arguments, learning lessons in practice, not just siloed away from the struggle as it develops.

  10. Don Franks says:

    Joel, I’m just suggesting that we try and learn something from past hard won experience.
    The Alliance was not the only example of failed entrism in New Zealand. There was also the failed attempt of the Socialist Action League to operate in the political space of the Labour party, and before that, the failed CPNZ attempts to do the same. By contrast, there is no historical example where socialist revolutionaries have entered someone else’s parliamentary party with success.
    Of course the arguments should be had, they do not require membership of someone else’s party. Campus and protest groups are another matter.

    cheers,

    Don

    • You make it out as if we/I aren’t learning or don’t want to learn, but more than that, I do go back and look at past experiences, listen to your experiences and try to build on that. Near the end of the WP when the Redline comrades were still involved, people were saying “you haven’t listened to me” in response to arguments in response to points, as if we don’t agree with you because we haven’t listened or taken in fully what you’re saying.
      Education and learning is two way, a lot of the time these discussions seem to be one-way i.e. I listen to you and take in what you say and my replies reflect that, it’s just not what you said repeated back to you to affirm your point.
      My point I’m saying is that we are operating in political spaces (I listed them before) where we are able to speak our voices clearly and radically. We’re not just “doing the dishes” as Phil said we would and we are not just doing donkey work either.
      The trajectory we are going in before you guys left was to build spaces around us in which we can work in and engage with people, that is what is going on, including in MANA. There’s no point having great politics if no one is there to listen/engage with them, which was a point that we hit a number of times in WP. Neither do I like sitting back and saying “I told you so” or pointing out errors and mistakes if there is a strong change that those mistakes can be avoided.
      There’ll be some interesting discussions if Hone doesn’t respect the wishes of the majority. But lets deal with that then aye? This hasn’t come to pass yet and like Hone’s take on abortion (where he put the question to the wahine of MANA to decide on and went with their decision) things are not set in stone, He might be Hone, but he’s not Jim Anderton.

      Just finally. I want to make new mistakes, I want to learn new things, learn how to deal with new revolutionary experiences (which are not the old ones and will not play out as they did in the past). We need a strong, positive, critical, reflective perspective in order to do this.
      I think you’re position is more weighted towards worrying about making mistakes in general as opposed to old mistakes. I think that holds back moving forwards and focuses too much on looking over your shoulder.

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