Mass Resistance To A Left-Wing Government: Women bang pots and pans in protest at the shortages arising out of the right-wing strategies of resistance directed against the left-wing government of Chilean President Salvador Allende 1970-73.
CAN WE REALLY DO THIS? As the euphoria of victory wears off, and the sheer enormity of the challenge confronting progressive New Zealand reveals itself, it would be foolish not to feel just a little bit daunted. We face an economic system without the slightest idea how to solve the problems created by its discredited policies and practices. Nevertheless, the Neoliberal Establishment remains very strong, and just as soon as it settles upon an effective strategy of resistance, the fightback will begin.
Two principle lines of attack present themselves. The first, sketched out in this morning’s NZ Herald editorial, is to paint the new Labour-led coalition as little more than a pink-tinted continuation of Bill English’s National Government.
The Herald’s leader-writer dismisses any notion that the new regime represents some sort of sharp break with Neoliberalism. He is at pains to point out that all the key elements of the “Open Economy” remain firmly entrenched. All we are hearing from Labour, he says, is the rhetoric of change. But, even the most cursory examination of the Labour-NZ First-Green Government’s priorities, argues the Herald’s leader-writer, reveals them to be little changed from those of the Clark-Cullen years: priorities to which both John Key and Bill English were more than happy to subscribe for 9 years.
This is a subtle strategy, directed principally at the new government’s most ideologically-committed supporters. Its purpose is to demoralise, antagonise, and inflame suspicion. At its heart stands the figure of Grant Robertson: Finance Minister and close friend of Prime Minister Ardern. As the prime-mover of the Labour-Greens’ self-limiting “Budget Responsibility Rules”, Robertson has already positioned himself as New Zealand Capitalism’s first line of defence against left-wing fiscal recklessness. By praising Robertson’s political moderation and economic orthodoxy, the Herald’s mouthpiece intends to divide and conquer the Neoliberal Establishment’s most coherent progressive critics.
The most obvious deficiency with this “demoralisation” strategy is that it leaves the Opposition with very little room in which to manoeuvre politically. If the Labour-NZ First-Green Government is really just a slightly pinker version of its pale-blue predecessor, then how can National attack it with any credibility – or success? To raise a political storm violent enough to reclaim the Treasury Benches requires the red-hot passion of the fanatic – not the lofty sneers of the neoliberal intellectual who recognises kindred economic spirits when he sees them.
That Richard Prebble recognised this in an instant is unsurprising. Few living New Zealand politicians can claim a better rapport with the dark animal spirits needed to rouse this country’s right-wing voters. It was Prebble who recognised the futility of Act attempting to sell pure free-market policies to an electorate that wasn’t buying them. It was only when he identified the party with law and order, crime and punishment, environmental scepticism, and the deep anti-Maori prejudices of rural and provincial New Zealand that Act was able to lift itself up and over the 5 percent MMP threshold. Like Rob Muldoon before him, Prebble understands that to make right-wing Kiwis angry enough to destroy the Left, you first have to frighten them out of their wits.
Hence Prebble’s outrageous claim that Winston Peters is guilty of mounting a coup d’etat against Kiwi democracy. It is not his purpose, and neither, I suspect, does he believe it should be National’s, to convince New Zealanders that they have nothing to fear from what, in all likelihood, will prove to be a pretty mild and responsible Labour-led Government. His aim, and almost certainly the aim of most of the National Party caucus (and their surrogates in the mainstream news media) is to splash as much red paint over Jacinda Ardern, Winston Peters and James Shaw as is humanly possible.
The Labour-NZ First-Green Government will be presented by these hard-line rightists as an illegitimate and dangerously anti-capitalist regime. Its anti-business and anti-farming policies, they will argue, are not only incompatible with genuine Kiwi democracy, but also constitute a direct attack on the sanctity of private property. As such, it will not be enough to merely oppose this far-left government; it will be necessary to fight it head-on.
Interviewed on RNZ’s “morning Report” this morning, Ken Shirley, CEO of the Road Transport Forum (and former right-wing comrade-in-arms with Richard Prebble and Roger Douglas in both the Labour and Act parties) reminded listeners of the massive truck-owners protest in the dying days of Helen Clark’s government. If Jacinda’s government went ahead with its plans to use the Road User Charges collected from the RTF’s members for purposes other than the maintenance and construction of roads, then similar protests could be expected.
Prior to the coup that toppled the left-wing “Popular Unity” government of Salvador Allende in 1973, the country’s economy had been made to “scream” by a nationwide strike organised by the right-wing truckers’ union and supported by the bosses of Chile’s biggest trucking companies. The ensuing shortages brought thousands of angry, middle- and working-class women onto the streets, banging their pots and pans in protest. The right-wing newspapers maintained a relentless barrage of criticism against the “anti-democratic” and “incompetent” government of Chile’s self-proclaimed Marxist president. Calls for Allende’s forcible removal grew louder and more frequent until, on 11 September 1973, General Pinochet was obliged to overthrow the “communist dictator”.
A very similar project of economic destabilisation and political mobilisation was set in train by the right-wing opponents of the left-wing Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, in 2002.
As a strategy of right-wing resistance, it has proved successful in a distressingly large number of countries. Progressive New Zealanders would be most unwise to believe, even for a moment, that it cannot happen here.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 26 October 2017.