I HAVE NO opinion on who the next leader of the Labour Party should be. I'm not really interested. Whoever it turns out to be, one thing is for a certain - this will remain a party locked into the failed neoliberal orthodoxy. The seeds for its election defeat in 2017 are being sown right now.
It is not news that the Labour Party is no longer an agency for progressive change and has not been for many years. When I was a member of the Labour Party many years ago, indeed I was president of Labour Youth at the University of Canterbury, the question of agency was relatively straightforward. We imagined the realistic alternative to a Muldoon-led National government was a Labour government.
But, in 2014, Labour is regarded by the left with a mixture of hatred, derision and half-hearted 'critical support'. The social democratic alternative that was once on offer has been buried under three decades of slavish loyalty to neoliberalism.
While those who continue to support Labour still insist it is the 'lesser evil', this argument clearly does not wash with the electorate. Labour's vote collapsed at the election and nearly a million people are so cynical and disillusioned with 'politics as it is' that they decided not to vote.
So what is the agency of change? Is the best we can really hope for is a sterile plan to 'nudge' Labour slightly to the left on specific issues and do we rationalise this 'counsel of despair' on the basis that it might win people to a more consistent left or socialist politics? Is this is not simply the politics of low expectations? Where is the alternative to neoliberalism in this gloomy scenario?
I think we need to climb out of this quagmire of unimaginative and uninspiring politics and think again. Simply doing the same things and saying the same things will get us nowhere. Perhaps we should look elsewhere for inspiration. Like Germany for instance.
In significant result for the German left, Bodo Ramelow, the leader of Die Linke (Left Party) in the state of Thuringia, is set to be appointed as the federal state’s prime minister.
Die Linke has been successful despite the fact the mainstream parties and the corporate media attacked its anti-capitalist policies. Chancellor Merkel even warned Thuringia voters not to “let Karl Marx back into the state premier’s office”. Die Linke has consistently opposed Merkel's austerity polices.
Nationally, Die Linke's electoral support is somewhere between 10-12 percent of all voters. The party has some 70-75,000 members.
While it is criticised as being 'reformist' by groups that demonstrate a lot of 'revolutionary hurrah spirit' (Rosa Luxemburg), Die Linke represents the only parliamentary opposition to the neoliberal and pro-capitalist policies of all the other parties. As one German commentator has said:
"Die Linke in the Bundestag has voted against all the so-called rescue packages for banks and the euro, and against all the deployments of German troops to foreign countries. It has campaigned for a minimum wage, higher taxes on the rich, regulation of the financial markets, the right to political strikes - which does not exist in Germany - and has supported anti-fascist mobilisations, trade union struggles and social movements.'
It sounds good to me. Die Linke stands resolutely against the current, as a voice against the neoliberal consensus and it offers organisational resources for struggles and movements in the wider German civil society.
On Die Linke's website we read:
Die Linke is a socialist party that stands for alternatives, for a better future. We democratic socialists, the democratic left with different political biographies, ideological and religious influences, women and men, old and young, established and immigrants, people with and without disabilities, have come together in a new left party. We cling to the dream of humankind that a better world is possible.
We pursue a concrete goal: we fight for a society in which no child has to grow up poor, in which all men and women can live a self-determined life in peace, dignity and social security and can democratically shape social relations. To achieve this we need a different economic and social system: democratic socialism.
We are not prepared to accept a world in which profit interests determine the prospects of millions of men and women and in which exploitation, war and imperialism cut whole countries off from hope and the future. Where profit rules above all else, there is little space for democracy.
Is this not a million miles more inspiring than a Labour Party whose previous leader said that socialism was not a word he used? And is it not a million miles more inspiring than a Labour Party where one of the candidates for the vacant leadership speculates if one of Labour's fundamental problems is the traditional red colour of its logo?
New Zealand certainly needs its own Die Linke, a new party with a new politics. We need a strong and independent left presence to challenge the cosy support for the neoliberal orthodoxy by the mainstream parties, including Labour and the Green's. Politics as usual is simply not good enough.