New Zealand's parliamentary politicians are a dull lot and, frankly, I find listening to them a bit of a chore. I'm always in danger of nodding off or, if they happen to be occupying my television screen, I rarely resist the urge to switch over to something else.
What is so staggeringly boring about them is that they are all pushing the same dreary neoliberal message. I can mostly predict what they are going to say before they say it. The same old faces saying the same old things. Everyday. Frankly I'd prefer being locked in a room and forced to watch endless repeats of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?
Sure, there are a few scuffles about what kind of neoliberal policies should be pursued but nobody questions the assumptions of neoliberalism itself.
I haven't, for example, heard so called Labour 'leftiies' Phil Twyford or Clare Curran calling for socialist policies. I have followed what both these MP's have been saying and writing this year and neither have come anywhere near to offering a socialist viewpoint. How on earth anyone can regard them as 'lefties' is beyond me. They are right wing social democrats at best.
When we come right down to it, both Twyford and Currie think that the 'free market' is as good as it gets - bar a bit of tweaking here and there. This is supposed to inspire us? I don't think so.
Can anyone remember when a New Zealand parliamentary MP had a big vision of a new way of doings things-and I don't mean new ways to claim for expenses.
I can't think of any MP with a vision that cuts across the prevailing neoliberal consensus. We've been lumbered with a set of grey middle-management types who get excited about moving amendments and ordering more paper clips. They are 'realistic' and 'pragmatic'. They are the next best thing to a sedative. They are truly politicians of our time.
I compare this dreariness to what is happening in Venezuela right now. A new society is being created! It's exciting! It's challenging! It stirs the emotions! Venezuelan politics are everything New Zealand politics are not.
President Hugo Chavez made a significant speech to the First Extraordinary Congress of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) last Saturday night. Not surprisingly it was completely ignored by our media - and the local blogosphere as well.
Listening to a Chavez speech can demand endurance and this one was no exception - it was five hours long and finished shortly before midnight. But Chavez did have something substantial to say.
He commented that the global economic crisis should be viewed as an opportunity to accelerate the dismantling of the capitalist system and the construction of socialism.
Against this backdrop of a crisis-ridden global capitalism, Chavez called for a congress of left parties, organisations and social movements to form a Fifth Socialist International.
Some quick history. Marx set up the First International, Engels participated in the establishment of the Second International and Lenin founded the Third International. When the Third International simply became the foreign policy tool of Stalin, Leon Trotsky founded the Fourth International in 1938.
The Fourth International, as it stands today, is the only political current with a direct organisational link to the original Fourth International. It remains the largest Trotskyist current in the world today but while it boxes above its weight, it has only minimal influence on mainstream politics. It has influenced my political thinking over the years.
One of Chavez's central arguments for a Fifth International is that its predecessors have all been based in Europe, reflecting the class struggles that were occurring in Europe at the time.
Chavez argues that the epicentre of world revolution is now Latin America, and especially in Venezuela. He pointed to the presence at the Congress of fifty-five left parties from thirty-nine countries, which had signed a document called the Caracas Agreement (El Compromiso de Caracas), based on the idea of a worldwide fight against imperialism and capitalism, for socialism.
The epicentre of revolutionary struggle is in our America. And Venezuela is the epicentre of this battle. It is up to us to assume the role of the vanguard and we have to assume it, so that we realize and become aware of the huge responsibility we have on our shoulders,”
I call on this First Extraordinary Congress of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela to include in its agenda for debate, the proposal to convene political parties and currents to create the Fifth Socialist International as a new organization that fits the time and the challenge in which we live, and that can become an instrument of unification and coordination of the struggle of peoples to save this planet.
Chavez launched a series of scathing attacks on western governments. He was particularly critical of western governments for bailing out the banks and the finance sectors. Chavez's message for the likes of Barack Obama and Gordon Brown was clear and unambiguous - the point is to destroy capitalism, not save it.
Holding up a copy of Lenin's State and Revolution (can you imagine Phil Twyford or Clare Currie doing that?) Chavez said that he completely accepted Lenin's view that the bourgeois state had to be destroyed and replaced with a socialist one.
He said that Venezuela had not yet succeeded in destroying the bourgeois state but it was still moving in that direction and remained committed to that goal. As part of that commitment Chavez announced that a further seven banks would be nationalised. Wouldn't it be nice if that happened here?
He argued that by 2019, 'Venezuela must be a socialist country with socialist values' based on the 'social ownership of the means of production.'
In order to achieve this he said that 'it was necessary to increase the consciousness of the working class as a fundamental part of Bolivarian socialism', and 'to consolidate the alliance between the party and working class.'
'The consciousness of the working class is key to the building of socialism", he said.
Interestingly he was extremely critical of the union bureaucracy.
Referring to sectors of the trade union movement Chavez said: “The elitist class culture even reaches into popular sectors, some of whom wear red t-shirts and say they are Bolivarian,” but 'defend the interests of private property.' I don't think Hugo Chavez would have much in common with Helen Kelly or Andrew Little.
He called for the revival of revolutionary trade unionism to put an end to 'those sectors that aim to neutralize and put a brake on the revolutionary movement.'
Hugo Chavez's words are writ large and speak of a world to win. They also remind us of just how lifeless and timid mainstream politics are in this country.