Are New Zealand’s Greens worth a socialist vote? Three perspectives

From Fightback‘s upcoming issue on Electoral Politics. To subscribe, please visit https://fightback.zoob.net/payment.html

Fightback asked for three perspectives from social justice campaigners over whether they would advise anti-capitalists to vote Green in the New Zealand election this October. Fightback offers these perspectives as part of debate and we neither endorse nor oppose a Green vote in this election.

1. Sharon Bell, on behalf of the GreenLeft Network within the Green Party of Aotearoa/New Zealand

What precisely is the “GreenLeft Network” and what is your relationship to the Green Party of Aotearoa/NZ?

The GreenLeft Network (GLN) is one of a few formal membership networks within the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand. Other networks include Rainbow Greens, Inclusive Greens, Young Greens, and a number of other smaller interest-based networks. The GLN was established in 2014 as a response to a shift towards centrism within the Green Party. It initially started as a Facebook-based group but, following the establishment of the Budget Responsibility Rules in 2017, a group of members worked to formalise some of our operating structures and develop our Kaupapa Statement and Rules of Operation that guide how we function.

We aim to provide a home for lefties in the Green Party, as we work within the Party through mechanisms such as remits at the annual AGM to make change. We have over 200 members and members of the GLN also hold Party office roles, and focus on working constructively within Party processes for progressive change.

2. What does “GreenLeft” mean to you, in terms of kaupapa? Would you call yourself anti-capitalist or social-democratic?

Our Kaupapa Statement includes the following:

The GreenLeft Network holds true to the existing Green Party of Aotearoa Charter.

Further, the GreenLeft Network believes that the way to honour these principles is through a strong commitment to intersectional left-wing policies and analysis, with particular regard to an anti-capitalist stance and a critique of power.

We honour Te Tiriti o Waitangi and the tino rangatiratanga of hapū and iwi Māori, recognising that they did not cede their sovereignty… We are opposed to imperialism and militarism.

We recognise that capitalism produces a hierarchical classed society, which privileges profit accumulation at the expense of the many. We acknowledge that the capitalist system we live under is a base from which systems of oppression, hierarchy and division flow. We reject this, the GreenLeft Network aims to defend the rights of the poor and the working class, and fight all forms of marginalisation and oppression that capitalist society produces. We work to promote class analysis within the Green Party, as well as supporting those external groups already carrying out this work.

We reject “sustainable capitalism” as an oxymoron; we do not believe the market will ever be able to provide a genuine solution to climate change, and we indict the inherent violence of capitalism… We believe that our vision, and the Green Party’s vision, for Aotearoa cannot be achieved by pandering, conservatism, incrementalism or arbitrary constraints on the political imaginary. We are in favour of the Green Party campaigning on a bold and radical left-wing platform in electoral contests.

Whilst our members hold a healthy variety of positions and interpretations, all our members have to sign up to our Kaupapa Statement, and this keeps us ideologically unified.

What role GreenLeft has played in debates within the GPA/NZ recently? What struggles have you contributed to, and what (specifically) do you think your impact has been?

GLN members worked outside and inside the Party to drop the Budget Responsibility Rules, which we were successful with. Related to the current election, many top candidates in this year’s Green List are GLN members and we support their campaigns. In 2019, we put forward a remit to make MP tithing [donation of a portion of their salaries] to the Party progressive, which was passed by consensus.

I’d like to remind you of a few things that your party co-leader James Shaw said about you in an interview with Stuff a few months ago.[1] Can you tell us in your own words what the context of your “alternative draft list” was? How would you describe your relationship with GPA/NZ leadership, including James Shaw, Marama Davidson and others?

The GLN list was drafted in the context of the Party list-ranking process where non-incumbent MP candidates don’t fare well once the list is sent to the wider Party membership to vote upon. To overcome that, the GLN Executive underwent a process, including surveying the candidates for their views on issues, to establish a list of candidates that aligned well with the GLN Kaupapa, and communicated it privately to our members. Neither James Shaw nor anybody else in leadership has told us this was inappropriate. We always participate in Party democratic processes in good faith and strive to keep GLN members informed of how they can be involved.

Would you advise people who are explicitly anti-capitalist (members of groups like Fightback or Organise Aotearoa, Labour Party socialists, even anarchists) to vote for the Green Party this election – or even to join the GPA/NZ in order to fight alongside you?

Yes. We have a diverse range of political affiliations and grassroots organisation memberships within the Network. Although parliamentary politics is by no means perfect, the Green Party is the best option, as its membership structure and member-driven policy, principles and values mean you can contribute more directly to creating change. We value the many different ways people contribute to Aotearoa’s politics and voting Green is a worthwhile vote. Even if it’s just one day out of 1094 days of being staunchly committed to other ways of creating change (awesome, please do!), voting Green is one way you can advocate for transformational reforms. And if you agree with our Kaupapa Statement, we’d love to have you on board!

Where do you see yourself in the context of other “GreenLeft” organisations overseas, some of which have achieved parliamentary representation or even government on their own (e.g. Iceland, Netherlands or Denmark)? What do you think you gain by being part of the GPA/NZ?

Being part of the GreenLeft Network, as with any Party network, provides solidarity and space to be ourselves, reflect and develop our vision according to our values and politics. It weaves together grassroots movements and the Party. We also have MPs who are part of the network. Creating another Party is not the aim of the Network, as the Greens are the only Party that can and will push for a Just Transition to a healthier, more equitable world.

It is heartening to see the ascendency of GreenLeft organisations overseas. We see it as the most natural and strategic alliance for an anti-capitalist politics. The Green Party in Aotearoa has radical roots, and by staying true to them we can see similar successes here.

What is your take on the compromises made to the Zero Carbon Act?

We are glad that there is broad consensus in Parliament that climate change is a crisis that cannot be ignored and must be addressed at a governmental level. A lot of us were disappointed with aspects of it, such as having a split target for methane which meant it was weaker than the carbon reduction target and counter to the preferred option based on public consultation, and the omission of citizen litigation for enforcement. But we see the Zero Carbon Act as a starting point to build from, not the end of action.

Sharon invites those who support the GLN Kaupapa to join up online: https://facebook.us18.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=e2c710e7fb7b15d0c9e3a6a5a&id=290e9d377c

2. PETER SYKES is an Anglican minister and a long-time activist based in South Auckland. He is one of the founders and CEO of ME Family Services, a non-government organisation based in Mangere East with an environmental and social justice focus, which offers support to the community with an Early Childhood Education centre, waste minimisation, community gardening, social work and other initiatives. Sykes is standing as a Green Party candidate for the seat of Māngere, currently held by Labour’s Aupito William Sio, the current Minister for Pacific Peoples.

What made you decide to put yourself forward as a Green Party candidate? Do you have a prior involvement with the Greens?

I have been Green at heart most of my life and was involved in the Values Party, an early form of green party, while at university. I have been a passive member for the past few years. The decision to step forward as a candidate was based on the lack of Green presence in Mangere, and a concern that Labour was not voicing the need for collaboration more strongly. I strongly believe in the vision and values of the Green Party … built on a commitment to Te Tiriti o Waitangi, the four pou [pillars] are: building on ecological wisdom (which I believe to be a regenerative understanding to the rhythm of ecosystems around us); social responsibility (a thriving community based on social and economic justice); appropriate decision-making (consensus decision making made directly at the appropriate level by those affected); and a commitment to nonviolence in all levels and contexts. Probably the major reason I have put myself forward as the candidate for Mangere is a belief that the Green Party is the only party which gives shape to my understanding a vision for a thriving, regenerative Mangere now and into the future; and links into a context where we exist. I believe the Greens’ principles challenge us to dig deeper into understanding the earth rhythms where we are … and therefore challenge us to understand indigenous wisdom.

What do you think of the Greens’ current leadership?

The party has leadership at three levels – parliament, party and membership. The party also seeks to have leadership which gives voice to the key values. Both these aspects are vital for me to be active at a local level – I can give voice to the issues and policy for myself and my communities. On a much more specific response – I am excited about the political leadership being shown by Marama Davidson and James Shaw. They are passionate and able voices to the diversity of the Greens. Beyond them those who have been put on the list are people I want to see in leadership – they have been tested by the party and by the members. I am proud to be associated with our list members, even though I choose not to put my name into the pool.

Mangere has traditionally been a strong Labour seat. Do you think the Labour government has been responsive to the needs of the voters in the past, particularly Pacific peoples?

The Labour Party has laid the foundation of an intergenerational wellbeing for our nation, which no other party has. However, because of the nature of politics in NZ, it has had to work hard for a significant middle ground. It has had to work at building an understanding of MMP in a time when aspirations nationally and internationally are in change and when we are facing economic, social and environmental challenges unlike any other age; and on top of that we are weaving (successfully?) through the global disruption of COVID-19.

However, with that strong foundation, I do not believe the voice of Mangere or the Pacific is heard within the Labour Party as a whole. I believe that Aupito, as local MP, is greatly supported by the Greens voice pushing for greater social and environmental justice.

Locally I think more needs to be done around 1] protecting our land and sea and streams – an issue highlighted by the beam of hope – Ihumatao. 2] Creating housing for our people – accessible and appropriate. Not based on economic models which continue to disconnect and isolate people. 3] We need an economic model which celebrates and builds local resilience – especially our networks, our small businesses, and allows local solutions for local people. This means more local control over power, food, water, and decision making.

You are the only non-Pasifika candidate in Mangere. What support do you have in the Pasifika community?

Personally, I am proud to stand in Mangere and believe being Pakeha is, ironically, a strength. It is too stereotypical and simplistic to identify Mangere as ‘a Pasifika Community’. Mangere is in fact a city of many villages and communities. It is not a single spirit or mind. It has enormous resources and diversity that are being shut down because in a national and Auckland context it stands different. And in the midst of that I am one voice. Whether I have support from any of the communities will be up to them to say.

As an Anglican minister, how does Christianity fit with Green policies? Other parties (particularly New Conservatives) claim to represent “Christian” values such as opposition to abortion, LGBTI+ rights, etc. What is your response to them?

My understanding of Christianity has always placed me outside the institutional church in the borderlands, and sometimes ‘wasteland’. I have always stood for social justice and inclusion of the vulnerable. The Christian faith is as diverse as any other faith or belief system, and it is not exclusive. My belief as a Christian encourages me to, “act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” [Micah 6:8] Conservative beliefs seek to hold onto whatever truth they gather around. But it is not the only way of being a believer. My belief is based on walking with the lost, lonely and wounded and showing a vision of hope and future. [eg. Isaiah 65:17-26]

The Greens’ principles allow for me to be me, and walk with my faith…. and recognise both social responsibility and appropriate decision making. When applied to the ‘issues’ of abortion, LGBTI+ and the referendums on creating a framework for cannabis and ‘euthanasia’ my stand in support of these is based on a belief that 1] I will not block other people’s wellbeing, particularly if it does not personally impact on me; 2] I ensure that law is used for social justice not social control; and 3] I will ensure that those most vulnerable have a voice.

What is your vision for future Aotearoa New Zealand?

My vision of Aotearoa NZ is that of thriving, regenerative communities working together with people and planet to ensure the ongoing embracing of future generations. In placing that vision, I believe we need to make significant changes to our political and economic structures to enable this to become reality. The seeds of these changes are embedded in the living standards framework of the Labour Party and given voice in the vision and principles of the Green Party. Therefore, a party vote for Greens is an essential next step to move things along.

3. SUE BRADFORD, former Green Party MP and long-time ecosocialist, wrote an article in 2019 saying that she could not vote for the Green Party under the Shaw/Davidson leadership.

I am still not sure how I will vote in the Sept 2020 election. The step towards wealth taxes and a minimum income for some people was progressive, and may influence a decision on my part to vote Green.

But at the same time, the level at which they set the income was too low for survival and didn’t go as far as the Basic Income which I support (in a progressive form). Also, I don’t know what else may emerge (or not emerge) from the Greens between now and Sept 20. I know in the past things have come out at the last minute that have reshaped my voting decision.

I regret deeply that the Greens have become so firmly a party whose scope remains within a framework of what I’d call ‘greening capitalism’ rather than firmly exposing and moving – at least to some extent – beyond the confines of neoliberal capitalism. The party’s position in earlier years was more ambiguous, especially during the period when Rod Donald was co-leader.

At the same time, I agree with you that often enough it is important to support a party and/or candidate whose position is not what I’d call ‘radical left’, and in fact my whole twelve years as an active Green Party member, candidate and then MP were an example of my own willingness to compromise sufficiently to take part in parliamentary politics, because I thought it was important to try and shift the Greens – and the public discourse – to the left, on social, economic, Tiriti and ecological issues.

I believe it was worth the effort, in part because of the three private member’s bills I got through, but also because I was able to use the MP platform to amplify advocacy for the causes I most strongly advocate for, and for people whose interests are usually not strongly represented in Parliament.

The Green Party of that period (1998–2009) welcomed me as a member and – for the most part – supported me as candidate and MP, with the most significant internal support coming from Rod Donald and of course quite a few others within the party. Losing the co-leadership contest to Metiria Turei in 2009 revealed clearly how much support I, and the left wing of the party, had lost since Rod’s death at the end of 2005 – and how much the party had shifted to wanting to be a safe, non-radical, more centrist and even blue-leaning party on both social and environmental issues. Despite a staunch fight back in recent times from some great left people inside the party that shift to the ‘safe’ centre has just kept going since then, accentuated by James Shaw’s co-leadership.

While I know some people would see me as reformist for this, I continue to believe it is important to vote and to engage in other ways with parliamentary politics. If we want to build for transformational constitutional change alongside Māori, we need to build strength on the Pākehā/tauiwi side of politics to become partners with the strength inside and outside Parliament to achieve that change. The big problem I have at present is that there is no party in whose kaupapa I have enough belief to go out and say to others ‘vote for ‘x’ or ‘join ‘y’. At this stage I do not feel able to do that for the Greens or Labour much less anyone else, which is not to say I won’t vote – just that at this stage my voting decision remains uncertain, and may stay that way until the last moment.


[1]              https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/121694108/portrait-of-green-leader-james-shaw-labour-wasted-its-political-capital

National maintains centre ground

Like clockwork, Treasury recently released a wishlist of attacks on the working class. These include increases in GST, a return to youth rates and a 90-day trial period for employment.

However, Finance Minister Bill English promptly shot them down, observing that these recommendations are nothing new. English stuck to the party line, stating, “We won’t be doing anything with GST. We are focused on personal tax rates.”

National’s tax cuts primarily benefit the rich, as with those of Labour. Introduced by the Fourth Labour government, GST is a tax on workers and consumers. Neither Labour nor National shows any inclination to increase it, or get rid of it. Despite the hopes of Treasury, and the fears of some on the left, National continues to maintain the centre ground; to pay for stable capitalist exploitation.

If the economy requires it, either party will attack.

The reign of Helen Clark

– Daphna Whitmore
The Spark
December 2008 – January 2009

The end was swift. Stepping down on election night Helen Clark ended 16 years as the Labour Party’s leader and nine years as Prime Minister. As Labour’s longest serving head, she was one of its most capable and helped shape the organisation into an urban liberal capitalist party.

Clark personified the new type of Labour politician. She came from a middle class farming background and was university educated. She studied politics and lectured for a few years at Auckland University, then headed straight to parliament in 1981.

In 1984 Labour won the elections and launched Rogernomics. There was not a peep of opposition to this rabidly neo-liberal programme from Clark. Later on she would try to distance herself from that period but as David Lange once quipped, Clark “was so dry she was combustible”. According to Michael Basset, who was a minister in that government, Clark begged Roger Douglas to return to the finance minister’s role in January 1990 when the party was rife with internal divisions over Rogernomics.

[Read more…]

Newtown public meeting

national-govt-meeting

Population is not the problem!

-Mike Kay

The Green Party has caused some controversy recently by releasing its Population Policy for New Zealand just prior to the election. The Greens estimate the maximum population that Aotearoa can sustain at 5.7 million. In order that we do not exceed this figure, they propose policies including: “initiatives to raise awareness amongst parents and potential parents regarding the issue of sustainable global population levels.”

They also propose to “regularly review NZ’s immigration policy to ensure that we are retaining capacity to absorb climate change refugees and returning NZ citizens.”

It seems strange that the Greens should have made this an issue in a country that is sparsely populated with an ageing population. But in today’s political discourse, “sustainability” is becoming an essential green veneer to reactionary measures such as immigration controls and restricting working class people’s consumption.

[Read more…]

Silence of the Lambs

– Don Franks

Before the election, NZCTU President Helen Kelly had much to say about the two main parties. On April 13th she told the Labour Party Congress:

“Working people have been given the chance to get back on their feet with this government. This is not just because of good policies. It is because we have a Government made up of people who care about workers, who understand the difficulties they face, and who try to make things better.”

Kelly was not ­ quite – absolutely obsequious in her praise of Labour, adding:

“Of course this does not mean that we live in paradise! There is more to do. And workers are really feeling the pinch at the moment with high food prices, rising petrol costs and high rents and mortgage payments.”

Then, even this mild admonition was hastily qualified into nothingness, with the soothing:

“So we need more change and with the continuation of a Labour led government we know that will happen. Labour is the Government with a proven record of change for the better and we need more of it.”

And, after the vision of heaven ­ the warning of hell:

“We have seen National’s industrial relations policy and it is dramatic and will have a major negative impact on working people.”

“National’s plans for industrial relations are the same as in 1991”.

Just before I began writing this, I took a look at the NZ Council of Trade unions website, to see if there was any comment on the election result. Still, after two weeks, not a peep. As we supposedly teeter on the brink of another 1991! It would seem that if National’s plans for industrial relations are really the same as in 1991, so too are the plans of the CTU. Determined inertia. Remember when the top leaders refused to take up calls for a general strike to defeat National’s Employment Contracts Act?

If National is poised for launching a major negative impact on working people, wouldn’t it be the task of union leaders to start rallying and mobilising opposition from day one?

[Read more…]

No illusions or delusions

  hertz-v-avis-politics-copy5

The Workers Party has been rationally assessing the two main political parties for many years. This cartoon appeared with an article in The Spark February 2007 on the similarities between Labour and National.

Whereas a considerable section of the left had illusions in Labour and delusions about National, our analysis has proved to be sound.

Standing up for socialist ideas

The Spark November 2008

The Workers Party is primarily an organisation of activists who fight for workers’ interests on jobs and in the streets. We recognise that the struggle for workers’ rights and workers’ power mostly takes place outside of parliament. Taking mass actions against an employer offers workers more chance of controlling their destiny than voting. However, parliamentary elections provide a chance to raise alternative ideas, and socialists should make use of the opportunity. The reports below show some of the initiatives taken by the Workers Party in the 2008 general election. You can see that we got stuck in and stood up for socialist ideas without mincing our words. If you like the look of our approach, why not join us and help make the socialist voice even louder in 2011!

[Read more…]

The Greens and their left-wing friends

-John Moore

At a recent election meeting at the University of Auckland, the prominent anarchist Omar Hamed of the Auckland Anarchist Network presented “an anarchist view on elections” but then admitted he would be voting for the Greens. This was a good example of how the left-wing friends of what is increasingly a party of the establishment must construct a false reality to justify their misfit between theory and practice. Like Christian obscurantists who, despite mounting evidence, continue to present their creationist themes, anti-capitalists who present the Greens as some form of progressive force not only obscure the facts but present an overwhelmingly deceptive image of reality.

The political nature of the Greens
To discover the truth of what the Green Party is all about, who better to go to than its fresh new leader. Russel Norman, a former anti-capitalist associated with the Democratic Socialist Party of Australia, has made explicit his desire not just to save the planet but to save the capitalist system. He has compared the role of the modern-day Greens to that of social democrats of the 1930s who introduced counter-measures against capitalism’s self-destructive tendencies.
In a revealing blog posting in 2007 on Frogblog, Russel Norman presented his thesis on the role of the Greens:

It’s a funny position we find ourselves in. Just as the social democrats (Europe), labourists (UK, Australia, NZ) and new dealers (US) of the 1930s and 1940s had to save capitalism from its own destructive tendencies by introducing a range of modifications and interventions on the market system, so now the Green Parties of the world find ourselves in possibly a similar position. The best of the old social democrats like Michael Cullen are too locked in the old paradigm to understand it, and the sectional interests like the business roundtable and Employers Federation are too narrow to see it, but we have to intervene in the market system to place a price on resource use and pollution so that we can save the planet. And in the process we will quite possibly save the market system from its natural tendency to destroy or consume all resources leading to its own demise as well as the demise of the planet and all of us living on it.

[Read more…]

Much of the left crying wolf over Nats

Philip Ferguson

One thing the election and the days since have confirmed is the inability of many on the left to make a sober analysis based on reality and, in particular, the way in which bourgeois politics is related to the economy and how bourgeois politics is centrally concerned with the maintenance of conditions such as social stability which are necessary to the operations of the market. Instead much of the left has cried wolf about the new government, seeing it as a re-run of the 1984-1993 period of ‘new right’ dominance. John Key makes acceptance speech

For instance, the headline on the Socialist Aotearoa blog is “RESISTING THE NAT-ACT JUNTA- What is to be done?” Does the author of that piece really believe that we are about to be ruled by a “junta”? Are they unable to distinguish between bourgeois democracy and military dictatorship? If they are able to make the distinction why use terminology that bears no relation to the reality and simply misleads and misorients people?

Although, in the context of a worsening economic situation, there would certainly have to be attacks on the working class, Key is not creating a junta of any kind. In fact, he appears to not even be creating a National-ACT coalition but opting for Clark’s own strategy – a minority government with ministers out of cabinet from what he sees as both the ‘left’ (Maori Party) and ‘right’ (ACT) and support on confidence and supply. The temptation for the Maori Party to go for this will likely be pretty substantial, as Key and co. well know. This was apparent before the election – and was reiterated by Key on Saturday night, by Matthew Hooton on ‘Eye to Eye’ on Sunday morning, by Key again on TV on Sunday night and Monday night. In fact, Key even wants to talk with the Greens. (Since this was written on Monday 11 November, things have moved along further with the Maori Party.) [Read more…]