Monday, 4 June 2018

Generating Our Own Momentum.

Radical Millennial: As one of the most articulate and progressive representatives of “Roger’s Children” – those young New Zealanders who have grown up knowing nothing but neoliberalism –– Max Harris (above) is constantly searching for the raw materials with which to launch in his own homeland the same sort of fightback made possible by Jeremy Corbyn and Momentum in the UK.

CAN A “MOMENTUM” be built in New Zealand? This, in essence, was the question posed by millennial political scholar extraordinaire, Max Harris, to the sixty-or-so leftists who showed up at the Kai Pasifika restaurant on Wednesday night (30/5/18) for the welcome return of Laila Harré’s political “salon”.

The question is important because, as Harris made clear, it is the 30,000-strong Momentum movement which can claim most of the credit for consolidating Jeremy Corbyn's grip on the leadership of the British Labour Party, and most certainly it is Momentum which is keeping him there. Harris, himself, seemed less than optimistic that such a movement could get off the ground in this country, citing the profound depoliticization wrought by 30 years of extreme neoliberalism. Not helped, he might have added, by the New Zealand Labour Party (NZLP) hierarchy’s ingrained hostility to “Corbynism” and all forms of “bottom-up” organisation.

The reason for that hostility may be traced back directly to the 1989 split in the NZLP, when hundreds of left-wing activists followed the late Jim Anderton out of the organisation to form the NewLabour Party (NLP) – later to become a dominant force in the Alliance. The centrists who remained in the NZLP never forgave their erstwhile left-wing comrades for leaving them alone with the Rogernomes (who themselves decamped to form the Act Party in 1994). The key consequence of these centrists’ political traumas was that, throughout the 1990s and well into the 2000s, the NZLP’s default ideological setting was a rather bloodless version of Tony Blair’s “Third Way-ism”.

It is interesting to speculate what might have happened had the NZLP not split. Would the enormous energy and imagination that went into the formation of the NLP, and then the Alliance, have been devoted instead to hurling the neoliberal cuckoos out of Labour’s nest? Could New Zealand have given birth to its own intra-party generator of left-wing organisation and power a good twenty years before the British Labour Party generated its own Momentum?

The answer is – probably not. The extraordinary fact remains that it was the NZLP which accepted the task of introducing neoliberalism to New Zealand. In so doing it denied itself the historic role of leading the fight against it. The contrast with the British Labour Party, whose members waged a long and bitter struggle against Thatcherism, is a stark one. After eighteen years in the wilderness, Tony Blair may have been able to overlay his Third Way message on the British Labour Party, but its deep-in-the-bone hatred of the Thatcherite project was ineradicable. Had it not been, Momentum and Corbyn (who, almost alone, kept the flame of Labour’s core values burning for more than thirty years) would have had nothing to work with.

Even with British Labour’s proud history of resisting Thatcherism, Blair’s capture of the party’s “commanding heights” in the mid-1990s allowed him to populate Labour’s parliamentary contingent with careerist clones of their master and his minions. Corbyn undoubtedly faces powerful opponents in the all the usual bastions of the British establishment, but his bitterest enemies continue to be seated behind him on the Opposition benches.

Had Anderton and the Labour Left stayed put in 1989, and then flexed their muscles in the aftermath of the fourth Labour government’s inevitable defeat in 1990, the party would still have split. A good proportion of the caucus and much of the organisational hierarchy would have refused to accept a left-dominated NZLP. The legal battle over who had the right to call themselves the Labour Party would have raged on for months – possibly years. There would have been no winners.

The depoliticization of New Zealand society which Harris noted in his address was inescapable either way. It is simply not possible for a party of the Left to oversee the imposition of policies which the Right could only have introduced with the assistance of policemen’s truncheons without fundamentally deranging the entire political system for at least a generation.

As one of the most articulate and progressive representatives of “Roger’s Children” – those young New Zealanders who have grown up knowing nothing but neoliberalism –– Harris is constantly searching for the raw materials with which to launch in his own homeland the same sort of fightback made possible by Corbyn and Momentum. With the Alliance dead by its own hand, however, and with the NZLP allergic to “Corbynism” in all its forms (who was the one person Jacinda didn’t exchange public kisses with on her triumphant European tour?) the chances of building a Kiwi Momentum here are heartbreakingly slim.

Harris’s “politics of love” will require a very different vector. One which, given the history of Aotearoa-New Zealand, is most unlikely to have anything British about it at all.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 1 May 2018.

20 comments:

peter petterson said...

It was trade unionism that created Labour in the first place. Regeneration of unionism and Labour would go hand in hand. Sadly it was the union movement's leadership who laid down and died when the ECA was enacted.If it had been fought, the situation would be different today. As I have said elsewhere The Employment Contracts Act enabled my employers South Pacific Tyres to 'sell' my job under me. I was a job delegate who needed getting rid of and the ECA enabled that. I was well compensated, but money only lasts a short time.I was unemployed for three years. Nobody wanted a 50 something former unionist. I eventually got a job with the Hutt City Council and was made redundanant four years later when Mayor John Terris enacted his own version of neoliberalism within the City of Lower Hutt. Never had a permanent job again. I was either too old or over qualified - knew too much with the ability to express myself. Cheers friends.

Mark Hubbard said...

I wish the left here were allergic to Corbynism, but with the Left's vitriolic stance against Israel - particularly Marama Davidson and Golriz - while Hamas can do no wrong - a stance which is advocacy for the destruction of Israel and a safe Jewish homeland, therefore, nothing else - unfortunately, the same brand of antisemitism rots them from the centre out.

But don't worry, Chris, progressives have won the battle, wholly. Neoliberalism was always a nonsensical term, for the Big State has won across all of our political parties decades ago, the very notion of an individual life as the highest value snuffed out, again, our lives subservient to the state, to be sacrificed to the mob by our political masters who thumb their noses at representational democracy every day. The true brutal, progressive society. Next stop controlled, sorry, disharmonious speech laws.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Hamas can do no wrong"
Bullshit. There has been plenty of criticism of Hamas from the left. This is a ridiculous argument.

" antisemitism rots them from the centre out."
There is a difference between anti-Semitism and criticising the policies of the Israeli government towards Palestinians. It's time that members of the extreme right in particular learn the difference.

sumsuch said...

Love, like cheerios, 'Corbynism', Mark Hubbard. Are all your values chucked into the fire for Israel?

The New Labour Party gave me someone to vote for in 1990, unlike in '87 when I spoiled my ballot. Of course there are a lot of subjective thickos out there by which the elite work their playing card 'magic' -- or, pay later.

What a foul egomane was John Terris. Mental, fit to be committed, from just one view in council session. Child of Roger.

Sanctuary said...

@Mark Hubbard - as an utterly discredited Rogernome and a person with a track record of being an implacable enemy of workers, all I can say to your lame attempt at trolling is - lol.

Mark Hubbard said...

Guerilla Surgeon: post me the links where our Left are criticising Hamas (and indicating they are the problem for Palestinians, not Israel, or even equally with Israel)?

One thing I have learned is that the vicious condemnation of Israel by the likes of Davidson, because it is so one-sided and does not recognise the right of the Jewish homeland to exist, then it *is* antisemitism alright, in the same manner as antisemitism informs the British Labour party.

Sanctuary: I'm fascinated. I'm the 'implacable enemy of workers'? Really? I've run two blogs in the past, both still up, so this must be from something I've written: care to give me a link please?

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Sanctuary. Oh no, not a rogernome but a libertarian. The most selfish – I've got mine – I made it without any help – so fuck everybody else philosophy, and 10 times worse than Rogernomics. The philosophy which has never been successfully tried anywhere, and if the libertarian presidential candidate in the last American elections anything to judge by – peopled by the less informed.

greywarbler said...

Max Harris link -
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NqHcio3dfug

Guerilla Surgeon said...

http://isj.org.uk/hamas-gaza-and-the-blockade/
https://www.dissentmagazine.org/article/is-left-zionism-possible
https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/08/29/palestine-crackdown-journalists-activists
https://www.huffingtonpost.com/ali-a-rizvi/picking-a-side-in-israel-palestine_b_5602701.html
https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/global-opinions/israel-falls-into-hamass-trap/2018/04/02/abcb6b72-369e-11e8-acd5-35eac230e514_story.html?utm_term=.9a28c33a41a4

Jesus Mark I don't know what you consider left. Presumably anything to the left of Genghis Khan? So here's everything, from what you would consider to be raving loony left – to what I consider to be moderately centrist or slightly right – from a vaguely Marxist magazine to the Washington post. I've included at least one human rights organisation, because you people usually consider them to be raving loony left as well. Perhaps should now do me the courtesy of posting some right wing sources which are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause? Particularly American ones.

No one who supports Palestinian independence is going to claim that the Palestinians are the problem. They are fighting a perfectly legitimate and legal fight against occupation forces.
If your knowledge of the history of Israel/Palestine is as deficient as your knowledge of the history of libertarianism in the 19th century, I don't really hold out much hope.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Incidentally, while we are on the subject, Mark – Israel is actually responsible for Hamas in the first place. They expelled Mubarak Awad, from Gaza – he was a Christian, a pacifist and who wanted to use Gandhian methods, and decided that Islamist forces should be encouraged as a counterweight to the secular PLO. And now it's come back to bite them in the arse.

NickJ said...

Much as it pains me to say so Im not going to shoot the messenger Mark Hubbard.

I personally think it pointless arguing Israel with you or anybody else ideologically possessed, I would however challenge you to justify to yourself why being anti Zionist is conflated with Antisemitism, especially given so many Jews object to Zionism.

With regard to your criticism of the way we are ( for the Big State has won across all of our political parties decades ago, the very notion of an individual life as the highest value snuffed out, again, our lives subservient to the state, to be sacrificed to the mob by our political masters who thumb their noses at representational democracy every day. The true brutal, progressive society. Next stop controlled, sorry, disharmonious speech laws. I am not wholly unsympathetic.

I do believe that the major intersect of politics today is the increasing conflict between identity politics and the individual. The whole post Soviet-neo Marxist nexus that is post Modernism and its associated bedfellows has the lingual ascendancy. It makes me cringe to have to stop and think about the suppositions of much of the PC language which we don't challenge enough. Its the same as the neo Lib lingual terror such as TINA (there was always an alternative) or freedom (with which comes responsibilities). It needs to be deconstructed in a non ideological way. For example being labelled as an old white male I am assumed to have privilege, and must therefore bear guilt, my opinion cheaper as a result than other people. Its bollocks.

Your notion of the Big State....yes that is modern corporatism in the private sector and in government and it has the same effect.We are not subservient to just the state in this, we are all subject to the dictates of large organizations per se. The sheer size of corporation / bureaucracies dis empowers the citizen. You try taking on Monsanto or MSD. By nature these organizations have a collectivist mindset and group think that is to me inimical to individual liberty and freedom of thought. You question why we tolerate this? Id suggest that it is because the psyche of individuals is normally risk aversion, yet without risk we cannot take chances. Chances taken can be very powerful change agents, no chances, no change. Stasis.

Stasis is fine for those who want to dictate outcomes, it is a form of "I know best", rather closely related to Utopian projects like "real socialism". It is the domain of safety first operators, the risk averse, who in my mind equate to value extractors (bureaucrats, lawyers, accountants...generalism I know). I suspect Mark that we both prefer a risk taking value creation model that you call libertarianism. Thats great so long as we remember actions have consequences, and as a member of the collective (whether you like it or not you are a citizen) we have responsibilities.

Geoff Fischer said...

Do all states enjoy "the right to exist"? Not in my book. People may be accorded that right, but even they have no guarantees of continued existence. If they take a wrong step, miscalculate, or offend too many others, their lives may come to an abrupt end.
Having said that, the re-settlement of Jews in Palestine is an irreversible fact, and Jew and Arab will have to find ways to live with each other or else fight each other for a long time.
However the Israel/Palestine issue is peripheral to the theme of the post, (except for the irony of the pseudonymous abuse directed to Mark Hubbard which hardly sits well with the "politics of love").
The original post is concerned, among other things, with the "depoliticization" of New Zealand society.
Is that a bad thing? Isn't the end of politics something to look forward to, for all but the "political junkies" and even for them if they could see life more objectively? Would we be better off spending our energies working on the land, creating things of use or beauty, or spending time with those we love, rather than wasting our lives in futile political campaigns directed against those who irk us? Would the present generation answer those questions in the affirmative, and if so, would they be right? Is the "politics of love" an oxymoron? By encouraging a return to "love" and "values" isn't Max really suggesting a return to the foundations of religion, even if in a different form to the prevailing orthodoxies? Do we at the same time need structural changes to the political and economic system? If so, which comes first, the values or the structural changes? Or must the two proceed in step together?
I expect I can find Max's answers to those questions in his book, which I have yet to read, but in the meantime there is no harm in putting them on the table here.

NickJ said...

Harris’s “politics of love” will require a very different vector. One which, given the history of Aotearoa-New Zealand, is most unlikely to have anything British about it at all.

Are you suggesting Chris that we might actually grow up as a nation and be "ourselves" whatever that means? Might that include that we as a "nation" embrace our Pasifica / Polynesian heritage and a fusion of the other non European cultures we have here? Might it mean we challenge and verify ideologies from where ever for their applicability to ourselves?

That would be very nice indeed.



greywarbler said...

I'm starting to watch Max Harris. As my manta has become to myself- think 'kindness and practicality' and he talks about love, I feel warmth just reading about the thoughts from this individual who wants people to mix and go forward together solving our problems together. Anyway I think that is what he is on about and will check further to see if this appraisal seems right.

sumsuch said...

Can't see we had any other choice in 1989. Like many a lemon tree Labour keeps producing marketable fruit despite its central decay. Not kissing Corbyn just confirms it, on top of the 'careful' budget of Robertson. Doubt I'll ever vote Labour, after 31 years of voting . One day it will fall over, I'd like to be the one that gives it the final kick, for '84. My Socialist G.Grandfather would have rushed it in 84. Sin is sin and he would've understood it immediately; our sorrow, no one from old Labour raised that flag of resistance. The Ozzies' unreasonableness protected them better than our reasonableness.

Unless the lass holds her State of the Nation speech in Murupara year after year I'm sceptical.

microbe said...

The right to a "Jewish homeland" is a fiction.

Alan said...

Very well dissected Chris as usual and core 'heartland' stuff Peter.

Can't see how the thrust of the article deflects to Israel, Hamas...

The New Labour Party developed a great deal that would have benefitted genuine democratic socialism in New Zealand, and it was, in my humble view, a big mistake to try to develop a mixed bag of lollies like the Alliance. We didn't give the NLP enough time, before subsuming it, with its democratic socialist understandings, into a long-term impossibility.

Resurrection, in some form, awaits.

Alan Rhodes

Geoff Fischer said...

From where I sit it is easy to think that Aotearoa has "nothing British about it". That is because we remain engaged in a centuries old conflict with the British Crown which can only be resolved when the claims of Crown sovereignty over our land and our people are abandoned once and for all. When that happens, I expect that we will be able to take a more measured and objective view of British culture. Christian religion and the the concept of rule of law (however imperfectly applied or even totally disregarded by the colonial regime) are two British contributions to our culture which have been of positive and enduring benefit. On the other hand colonialism, imperialism and the class system have to go. There is no place for them here.

greywarbler said...

Geoff Fischer
the concept of rule of law (however imperfectly applied or even totally disregarded by the colonial regime) are two British contributions to our culture which have been of positive and enduring benefit. On the other hand colonialism, imperialism and the class system have to go.

I notice that you wiggle out of the need to defend the rule of law as purveyed by colonials. Maori had their own rule of law don't you think.
And probably considered it superior in most ways to that of the pakeha.
The fact that they could adapt to the colonials devious use of the British law is an indication that they understood the concept. Eddie
Izzard demonstrates how all this works.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UTduy7Qkvk8

And class system etc grow as the illusion of our classless society withers. It was never classless but the wealthy put up with some fraying of its cloth until the unions got too bolshy. Now it is quite PC to display one's finery. And to show how superior the upper classes are, they wear jeans that are cut and frayed as part of the design, the shabby chic, and the poor dress themselves up to the 9's from the op shop. There isn't even the solidarity of knowing who is poor, and who is just amusing themselves dressed as a 'guy'.

Geoff Fischer said...

Maori have tikanga which is in many respects superior to the British system. That is is why I follow the tikanga and do not participate in the colonial political system. However the concept of rule of law is important, and it was developed to an advanced level in English culture. English common law is not unlike parts of our own tikanga, and we can learn much from it. Statute law is more problematic, but rule of law can apply to both common and statute law. Unfortunately New Zealand is moving away from rule of law and towards government by administration, the wide exercise of discretionary powers by government departments, private companies, police and judiciary, and there are great dangers in that. Some Maori may have adapted to the devious application of British law, or rather the way in which the imperial regime suspended the rule of law in order to rule by fiat, but others, for example Eru Peka Makarini who was a qualified lawyer, determined to fight and die in the struggle against colonial rule.