While the American left is enjoying a revival, the New Zealand left continues to stagnate. It has only got itself to blame.
I HAVE friends and comrades in the United States who were involved, to a greater and lesser degree, in the movement to get Bernie Sanders selected as the Democratic Party presidential candidate.
It was an exciting time for everyone involved, pregnant with possibilities. There was a sense of a real grassroots momentum for fundamental economic and political change - driven by the over 15 million ordinary Americans who swung in behind the Sanders campaign. While some on the left thought Sanders brand of left populism didn’t go quite far enough, everyone recognised that a Sanders presidency would break the hold of the political establishment over the political process.
But we all know what happened. Bernie Sanders was kneecapped by an arrogant Democratic Party establishment that could not imagine they were on the wrong side of history. And they chose the corporate-approved but widely despised Hillary Clinton. She was the wrong candidate, all day long. Chalk up yet another miserable liberal failure.
Two days before the elections, in which Trump won the electoral college by a large margin but lost the popular vote, the Gravis Marketing research firm published a survey that examined how Bernie Sanders would have squared off against Trump. That survey found that Sanders would have thumped Trump by a 56 to 44 percent margin.
But thanks to the Sanders campaign and the election of Trump, interest in socialist ideas has increased significantly. That has resulted in American socialist groups and parties reporting large increases in their memberships.
The largest left wing group in the United States is the Democratic Socialists of America. Its membership has almost doubled since the election of Trump.
Socialist Alternative, the party of Seattle city councillor Kshama Sawant, says it has seen its membership grow nearly thirty percent since Trump entered the White House.
What this indicates, of course, is that there is a significant desire among Americans for a new progressive party to the left of the Democratic Party. In 2015 a September Gallup poll, revealed that 60 percent of interviewees supported the establishment of a viable third party because the two main parties "do such a poor job".
I recently did an interview with a US left wing media outlet and I explained that, in many ways, United States progressives were in a far superior political position compared to what we were dealing with in New Zealand. If the American left was enjoying a revival, the New Zealand left is continuing to go nowhere fast.
|Kshama Sawant of Socialist Alternative.|
Unlike the United States there is the absence of any populist left movement that is shaking things up and threatening to topple over the political status quo. Instead this election we’ll be presented with yet another uninspiring and unappetising smorgasbord of political parties loyal to ‘the market’ and who are offering little more than ‘business as usual’. In the case of the Labour Party and the Green’s they have formalised their commitment to the status quo with the ‘Budget Responsibility Rules’.
Apparently we’re supposed to get excited about Labour selecting the lacklustre and conservative Jacinda Arden as its deputy leader.
But the left continues to remain marginalised not in the least because much of it continues to insist that Labour’s brand of neoliberalism is preferable to National’s brand. ‘Lesser evil’ politics has much to answer for.
Why would anyone be even remotely attracted to left wing politics when they know it will come to nought because, despite all the huffin’ and puffin’, much of the left has no real interest in actually changing anything– other than installing the Labour Party in government? Let’s face it – if you get involved with some ‘left’ groups, you are supporting Labour by proxy.
The fact that some 750,000 New Zealanders no longer vote because they don’t like what’s on offer, continues to be largely ignored by a left that is embedded within the political establishment.
If the New Zealand political landscape is arid and lifeless, the left has helped to make it that way. However its not all bleak. There are tentative green shoots of a new left emerging, one not beholden to the Labour Party and one that seeks to reinvent and reimagine left wing politics in New Zealand. One can imagine that it can only start to gain traction, regardless of the election result. If Labour wins, its reactionary politics will soon be found out in government. If it loses for the fourth time in row, the conservative left’s support for Labour will be just about untenable.