THERE SEEMS TO BE something of a consensus that 2016 wasn't up to much. But, as we always do around about this  time of the year, we change our shirt, comb our hair, put our best foot forward and look back at some of the highlights of the past twelve months. As usual, this list is entirely arbitrary and in no particular order.

The Democratic Party establishment decided to do Donald Trump a favour and selected the Goldman Sachs approved but immensely unpopular Hillary Clinton as its presidential candidate. Just to make sure Hillary got the nod, the Democratic National Committee broke its own rules and actively campaigned to undermine the wildly popular Bernie Sanders - the man who should of been of President.

Nevertheless the Sanders campaign, which attracted some 14 million supporters, has sparked a revival in socialist and left wing ideas generally. It has comprehensively destroyed a long held fiction that socialism would never establish a foothold in America.

In truth though there has always been support for socialism - it just has never been acknowledged by a political system and a corporate media that have actively tried to extinguish any thoughts of an alternative to capitalism.

 In 2011 a nationwide poll revealed that while 49 percent of 18-to-29-year-olds in the United States held a favourable view of socialism only 46 percent had a favourable view of capitalism. And a New York Times/CBS News survey taken shortly before Sanders’ Nov. 19, 2015, Georgetown University speech on democratic socialism found that 56 percent of Democratic primary voters felt positively about socialism versus only 29 percent who felt negatively.

Even if Bernie's election platform wasn't fully socialist, his campaign was a gift for socialists everywhere. Anderson Cooper’s initial question to Sanders in the first Democratic presidential debate, in front of 15 million viewers, implicitly tried to red-bait him by asking, “How can any kind of a socialist win a general election in the United States?” The question led to a lengthy discussion among the candidates as to whether democratic socialism or capitalism promised a more just society. When has the capitalist nature of our society last been challenged in a major presidential forum - and on national television? Can you imagine Andrew Little challenging Bill English's support for capitalism in the election debates next year? Don't be daft.

Not so much a highlight but a reminder that Trump will be the likely focus of demonstrations and protests unparalleled in recent American history.

The campaign against Trump will kick off with a huge demonstration in Washington on January 20, the day of Trump's inauguration. Demonstrations are planned for other cities as well.

While the political establishment and the corporate media are hurriedly attempting to 'normalise' Trump, the words of the great American historian Howard Zinn should echo throughout the land: “What matters most is not who is sitting in the White House, but "who is sitting in" -- and who is marching outside the White House, pushing for change.”

WHILE WE HATE TO DWELL ON TRUMP more than we have to, we could have done without the brown nosing by both National's Paula Bennett and Labour's Annette King.

Shortly after his election victory, Bennett told Trump's critics to "just shut up". King's reaction to Trump's win was little better. According to her we just have to give this monster "a chance." These are two representatives of political parties that want your vote in 2017. Think about that.

It's a pity we don't have politicians of the calibre of Catarina Martins. The leader of Portugal's Left Bloc wrote:

"The election of Donald Trump is terrible news for the United States and for the world.

It is a victory for hate politics - hate for equal rights, immigration and human rights.

The election of Donald Trump puts the world in danger, as proved by the statement he made during the electoral campaign, saying that he will go to war with the world. The USA, the second largest economy in the world, now has a president that denies the existence of climate change and wants to cancel the Paris Agreement.

Left Bloc's Catarina Martins.
This is the most striking case in the cycle of disintegration of the political systems after the financial crisis. The permanence of the dominance of globalised finance and the increase in inequality in the United States and in Europe has produced social convulsions and political earthquakes such as this one.

The lack of a mobilizing alternative, such as the one that could have been led by Bernie Sanders, also opened the way to this result.

Donald Trump’s agenda is the wrong solution to the problems caused by financial globalisation, and to face him, we need an international union of those who do not give up on the goals of democracy in the face of barbarism, who fight for human rights and to defend the planet."

What could a progressive populism 'made in New Zealand' look like? That's a question Bryce Edwards and John Moore sought to answer and came up with a 10 point manifesto for change.

Focused on radically reforming a political system that no longer serves the people it claims to represent, it represents a credible and realistic strategy to break the neoliberal straitjacket and bring about real change in New Zealand.

While a million people have indicated loudly and clearly that they won't participate in the three yearly farce of parliamentary musical chairs, most of the left simply isn't listening. It has chosen to largely ignore the good work of Edwards and Moore and - yes, because you didn't ask for it - will be calling yet again for another Labour vote in 2017. Because it proved to be such a winning strategy in 2014.

Bryce Edwards
While Edwards and Moore are talking of "Grassroots activists and mass participation' replacing "the duplicitous advisers and spin-doctors', much of the left thinks we should all be thrilled that we can vote for Andrew Little and his band of right wing deadbeats. Er, I don't think so...

While Edwards and Moore talk about kicking the career politicians out of Parliament we also need to remind ourselves that those sitting on the opposition benches continue to be propped up by a large section of the left that itself has become part of that political establishment.

After two successful years fronting Breaking The Set for RT, 2016 saw Abby Martin branch out to host and produce The Empire Files for teleSUR TV. We posted most of her shows on this blog throughout the year.

The documentary series covered a wide range of subjects including the corporate politics of Hillary Clinton, the nefarious activities of the agri-chemical multinational Monsanto and a three on-the-ground reports looking at the continued Israeli oppression of the Palestinian people.

Abby only received her press pass to enter the Palestinian Gaza Strip after an Israeli foreign press department 'investigation' about teleSUR cooperating with Iran's state-run media outlet, HispanTV, a country branded an “enemy state” by Israel.

Abby was also accused by the Israeli press office of not being a journalist because of her 'pro-Palestinian views".

The head of Israel's foreign press office, Ron Paz, told her that “We took a look on your Twitter account too, just to get a sense of it. What we found can easily be labelled as pure Palestinian advocacy, and sure not journalism.”

"I believe this is part of a larger effort by the Israeli state to hide the grim reality of their illegal occupation and expansion,” Abby told teleSUR English.

Meanwhile, on New Zealand television, Mike Hosking was talking about something important to Mike Hosking. Possibly hair products.

The folk at ESRA.
2016 saw the launch of Economic and Social Research Aotearoa (ESRA), a left wing think tank that had its genesis in Sue Bradford's PhD thesis.

Suspicion arose in some quarters that ESRA might become just another organisational adjunct to the Labour Party, even though Sue Bradford has always conceived ESRA of  embracing all strands of left wing thought.

A recent symposium made that clear, with twelve speakers "addressing recent local and international developments in left political organisation from different angles."

Finn Morrow, co-convener of ESRA’s Political Organisation Inquiry Group and union organiser with the New Zealand Nurses Organisation, spoke, for example about the ways in which a focus on parliamentary politics has limited the successes of the left in Aotearoa. He argued that new political organisations on the left in Aotearoa need to break out of the trap set by taking parliament as the main focus of politics. Following that up, ESRA researcher Jonathan King argued that focusing on parliamentary politics led to left political parties taking for granted the way in which the economy is organised and left  unchallenged the assumptions of capitalism.

Moving on a different tangent, two speakers took issue with left populist politics as conceived by Podemos in Spain - and also articulated by Left Bloc in Portugal. Not a viewpoint that this writer shares, but what is important is that these issues are being talked about. It can only benefit the New Zealand left.

ESRA now has its own office. It can be found at 2/11 Bray's Rise, Onehunga, Auckland.


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