The decision by the MANA Movement to enter into a formal alliance with the Internet Party has drawn criticism from Right and Left. Fightback has voiced criticism of our own.
In our April editorial, we said that “Fightback opposes any close ties between the Internet Party and the MANA Movement”. We added: “Fightback also opposes MANA entering a coalition government with pro-capitalist parties”.
We argued that the Internet Party “is more or less a front for millionaire Kim Dotcom”, that the “Internet Party’s politics are extremely vague and no candidates have yet been revealed” and that “there is no sign that it represents a progressive force.”
We were wrong.
Even as we criticised moves towards the alliance back in April, however, we did reaffirm that “whatever MANA decides on this issue, Fightback will continue to belong to and support the movement, as long as policies and principles are not sacrificed”.
At our national conference in Wellington on 2 June, Fightback members voted unanimously that we should remain in MANA. As a contribution to the public debate over MANA’s new direction, we would like to restate why we support the Movement, including its decision to join the Internet MANA alliance.
Fightback decided to participate in MANA back in 2011. “What makes Mana an important progressive force”, we wrote at the time, “is the interface of its class composition, its leadership, its policy, its democratic space, and the class/community outlook of the non-socialist activists involved, who are the majority of the party membership”.
The “democratic space” within MANA, and the role of the leadership in maintaining it, were clearly displayed during the negotiations with the Internet Party.
“Democracy” within a kaupapa Māori movement does not always look the same as it does in a European context. Nor should it. But party leader Hone Harawira announced in April that “it will be the membership and not the leadership, who will make the final decision on any possible arrangements” (MANA – and, or, or not – Dotcom).
Despite criticisms from some on the Left about “authoritarian” leadership in MANA, it was our experience that branches thoroughly debated the pros and cons of the alliance. Where opinion was divided, members voted. The decision to enter into the alliance reflected the democratic will of the membership.
It has become clear to us that the Internet Party is not “a front for millionaire Kim Dotcom”. MANA has also had influence, for example in the choice of party leader. Laila Harré, a former cabinet minister from 1999-2002, championed paid parental leave and caused controversy by joining a picket line of striking journalists. After stepping down as Alliance Party leader in 2003, she went on to head the Nurses Organisation’s historic “Fair Pay Campaign” and then the National Distribution Union (part of FIRST Union today). As a Left wing and pro-union leader of the Internet Party, Harré has already influenced candidate selection and party policies.
So we can now see many signs that the Internet Party “represents a progressive force” and is a legitimate political ally.
From its foundation, MANA has sought to broaden out its main support base among Māori in Te Tai Tokerau to include progressive Pākehā, tagata Pasifika and other tau iwi. At the 2011 general election, MANA stood Pākehā and Pasifika candidates in general seats, including Sue Bradford, John Minto and James Papali’i. But this strategy did not succeed. The alliance with a new, progressive force – the Internet Party – simply represents another strategy to achieve MANA’s original vision.
Critics of the alliance have also claimed that MANA is “selling out”, trading its principles or its ability to bring in list MPs on its “coat tails”, in return for Dotcom’s cash. Ironically, this attack comes mainly from parties to the Right of MANA, who happily accept corporate donations and “game the system” all the time.
But MANA’s policies for the 2014 election, to be released soon, will reflect even more strongly the principles of uplifting Māori and the poor. The agreement with the Internet Party guarantees MANA’s policy independence. Meanwhile, the more MPs that MANA can help to elect, the greater the chance of changing the government.
MANA also remains committed to the goal of changing the world – a goal broadly shared by Fightback. At the party’s AGM in April, president Annette Sykes outlined “rules of engagement” for dealing with all other parties. We will not work with a party that maintains the status quo, she said, or one with incompatible policies or people. We will only work with another party if it does not compromise MANA’s values. Fightback supports the view that MANA should allow Labour to form a government in September, but not join it. Staying outside of capitalist coalitions is necessary for MANA to keep playing the role described by Hone Harawira – being “the independent voice for Maori, the fighter for te pani me te rawakore (the poor and the dispossessed)”.
Fightback’s ongoing commitment to MANA reflects a long-term perspective about the importance of linking the fight for indigenous self-determination and the socialist struggle for an egalitarian society in Aotearoa.
With the benefit of hindsight, we can see some reasons why we were mistaken in our earlier assessment of the Internet Party alliance. Hone Harawira pursued the opportunity of the alliance from the outset. Many of the MANA members who supported the idea had come to know Hone through whanau connections and decades of shared struggle, and developed deep trust in his political judgement. Fightback, as an organisation made up of mainly young, Pākehā members, do not yet have the benefit of this experience.
Finally, therefore, Fightback will continue to belong to and support the MANA Movement in order to gain experience and learn, so we can better contribute to the struggle for a world beyond the parliamentary capitalist system.