When Stalinism collapsed the right wing were quick to announce the death of socialism.

This was silly politically-driven nonsense but the socialist left was left guilty by association; Stalinism had stained the socialist project.

In New Zealand much of the left had identified with some variant of Stalinism whether it be, for example, the Soviet variety, in the case of the Socialist Unity Party, or the Albanian variety, in the case of the Communist Party. And then there was the Workers' Communist League which aligned itself with Maoism for a while.

But as the Stalinist bureaucracies collapsed, so did the Stalinist parties around the world. In New Zealand they have nearly all disappeared into the trash can of history.

But socialist project itself did not - it is the 'spectre' that continues to haunt capitalism.

And, with the meltdown of global capitalism, the battle begins anew - with the socialist cause no longer smeared by the historical perversion that was Stalinism.

It's a new day for the socialist left.

Some people though are still living in the past and political commentator Chris Trotter, I'm afraid, is one of them.

Although - like Stalinism - social democracy has collapsed, Chris Trotter is still messing about in the rubble - desperately trying to rebuild the party that he consistently defended during the Helen Clark years.

Chris wants the socialist left to join him in the rubble. You don't pass 'Go' and collect $200 - but you do get to work with those well known 'socialists' Phil Twyford and Clare Curran.

Trotter is a little like a dodgy second hand car salesman trying to sell us a clapped out Toyota Corolla that should have been sent to the wrecker's yard some years ago. The engine is stuffed, the upholstery is torn and the wheels are bald but, says salesman Trotter, all it needs is a new lick of paint and it'll be as good as new!

Once again Trotter calls on the New Zealand left to stop 'wasting' its energies and talents 'on left-wing political projects that will, in the end, be extremely lucky to leave the slightest mark upon New Zealand history'.

Rather this energy, he says, should be expended towards 'achievable ends' within the Labour Party - like formulating a public broadcasting policy. Inspired? No, I didn't think so - but these are the kind of reforms that right wing social democrats are comfortable with because they don't impinge on the established political and economic order.

Notice too that Trotter is calling for the socialist left to embrace Labour in some farcical 'renewal' project - Labour itself has so few activists and even fewer that have any notion of socialist politics. Chris, a good Labour man, has no-one to debate with within his own party and continues to reach out to the socialist left for some kind of political and intellectual engagement. Clearly Clayton Cosgrove isn't up with his Marx or Luxemburg. Perhaps Chris could have a debate with Clare Curran on whether there really is any difference between a left wing and right wing social democrat. Perhaps Phil Twyford could explain the 'Third Way' without sounding as if he swallowed a dictionary.

Trotter's argument simply disregards the collapse of social democracy both here and around the world. It simply disregards the capitulation of social democracy to the demands of capital to restore its rate of profit.

Trotter's talk about working within Labour in order to articulate the concerns of ordinary people (which he calls 'emotional congruence') is fanciful at best and deluded at worst.

It implies, yet again, that there is some tangible difference between Labour and National.

One of the disappointing aspects to Trotter's argument that it also completely disregards the amount of research that has gone into tracing the demise of Labour as a traditional social democratic party. I presume Chris knows it - he just won't accept it.

The overwhelming evidence is that the Labour Party is dead as a progressive force, that it is no longer a transmission belt for 'new ideas', that is has nothing to offer progressive political forces within this country.

Trotter's talk about working within Labour in order to articulate the concerns of ordinary people (which he calls 'emotional congruence') is fanciful at best and deluded at worst.

This just doesn't stack up when we consider that many people no longer identify with Labour. This is something Bryce Edwards pointed out last year:

In the 1990s and into the new century, it seems that while many workers may still vote Labour, the difference in worker support for the party is not all that much bigger than for the more honest and open parties of capital. More often than not working class support for the Labour Party is not deeply felt, nor necessarily any indication of any real ‘political support’, but occurs simply due to their reluctance to vote for the other avowedly right-wing parties. This lack of enthusiasm is apparent in the fact that today, very few workers bother to become members of the Labour Party - let alone activists for the party.

Trotter wants the socialist left to lend Labour its support and thus help Labour maintain the fantasy that it is still a party for working people.

That doesn't sound much of a deal to me. Trotter's project is 'a project as bereft of sense as it is lacking in even the remotest possibility of success.'

There has been a fundamental shift in working class politics and the old organisations are well past their use by date.

The way forward is to begin the task of building new working class organisations that can articulate the new working class politics. It is, undeniably, a difficult task but not, as Chris Trotter would like us to believe, an impossible one.


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