Bryce Edwards analysis of the controversy surrounding Willie Jackson is badly wrong, not in the least his strange definition of the Labour left.

I'VE GOT A LOT OF TIME for the work of Bryce Edwards and he adds some intelligence and eruditeness to The Commentariat sadly lacking in both, but he's got it badly wrong about the political forces within the Labour Party that have come back into focus because of the controversy swirling around Labour MP-to-be Willie Jackson.

Edwards interprets this as battle between two distinctive political camps - the Labour left and 'class politics' and the Labour liberals, representing 'identity politics'.

But this is a false dichotomy and doesn't make sense even when you shoehorn the facts into fitting the theory. That Edwards has chosen to expound it within the pages of the NZ Herald doesn't seem to be particularly productive to me.

The difficulty with Edwards argument becomes quickly clear when we recognise that he expects us to accept that someone has determinedly conservative as Labour leader Andrew Little is actually a champion of the left wing and of class politics.

That's right. That's the same Andrew Little who says he admires the political blandness of Australian Labor leader Bill Shorten, who warmly described conservative technocrat Hillary Clinton as a 'steady pair of hands' and has made it clear that Labour, under him, will not adopt the policies of change as expressed by people like Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn.

But having stumbled down this road Edwards has to populate his 'Labour left' with other left wing 'class warriors'. His choices are entirely underwhelming because its Chris Trotter and his old mate Martyn Bradbury. Apparently it doesn't actually matter that neither men are not  only not left wing but actually hostile to the left wing tradition. That Edwards should quote someone like Bradbury lecturing his readers on class politics is particularly unpleasant. This is the same man who thought  the disastrous cross-class alliance with the Internet Party was  a really good idea and hurls numerous gratuitous insults at the left. What next? Quoting Chris Trotter on Rosa Luxemburg or Antonio Gramsci?

Of course some might be more tolerant of Trotter's and Bradbury's views as evidence of them drifting between left wing and right wing social democratic positions (can you really tell the difference?). Given both men's clear right wing trajectories, there's not much evidence for that claim either. My view is more unambiguous than that - neither Trotter or Bradbury are friends of the left.

The underlying problem is that Edwards is apparently so determined to devalue the whole notion of what he conceives to be 'identity politics' is that he ends up jumping into bed with right wingers like Trotter and Bradbury. And he ends up supporting someone as equally as conservative as political opportunist Willie Jackson.

The sterility of Edwards view originates in his belief that issues of race, gender and sexuality are at best a distraction from class politics, and at worst a bourgeois tendency that will be destroyed after the revolution.

But those who cast aside class politics in favour of identity politics have to recognise that a diversified elite is not made any the less elite by its diversity and, as a response to the demand for equality, far from being left-wing politics, it is also right-wing politics.

The reality is that social justice and economic justice are not mutually exclusive. It's not a case of you can have one, but you can't have both. It's actually a case, that if you don't embrace both, you end up with neither. So Edwards is prepared to sacrifice 'identity politics' on the altar of Andrew Little's neoliberal worldview. I'm not sure how that advances the left wing cause.

Race, gender and identity are not side issues in the current crisis to be disparaged as simply the affectations of 'champagne socialists' but they an integral part of the economic struggle against a capitalism in crisis. Achieving unity does not mean downplaying the importance of combating the specific oppressions different groups in society face. We need a more sophisticated and expansive socialist politics than the one Edwards is apparently promoting.


  1. I like your final paragraphs, but I'm not sure I've ever felt close enough to the people mentioned earlier to seek them out for political inspiration or economic insight. I get the feeling that many of the big blogging & journalistic brands are very cagey when the big numbers used as cyphers for anything 'economic' in New Zealand politics is touched upon. I wonder if some of the writers are themselves are simply keeping their political options open.

    I'm learning my economics as I go along - it's heterodox & I otherwise don't get a strong sense of economics other than the never too far away from the political mainstream from the people you mention. I don't have so much time that I can afford to miss the things I think are insightful or truely important. I tweet under @economicsnz but don't expect radicalism from the left here to agree or adopt the heterodox positions I tweet. And more importantly agree/adopt the authors these views are based on. And I feel there's also a lot of journalistic-style brand making that's going on also.

    Which finally brings me to my feeling that I've never really noticed this 'identity politics' thing that appears opposed to class in the minds of some. I don't think most New Zealand politics ever goes that deeply into politics. But we have had popular representation of some really important questions recently - housing, finicall instability, debt, corruption, jobs, low wages, health, water, pollution, climate change, local government, urban development, transport, ecology, protection, child abuse, violence, women, gays, lesbians, transgendered, race, Maori, equality, justice, prison etc etc. I think that makes us politically healthier than for a while.

    So, I probably won't be increasing the time spent on some blogs. But Twitter I find keeps me in touch better.



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