Rosario Dawson: "This isn't about political parties. It's about us."
The revival of the American left has thrown the dull inertia of the New Zealand left into sharp focus. Is voting for a right wing Labour Party next year really all it can come up with?

THE MASSIVE NATIONWIDE MOVEMENT that has been sparked by Bernie Sanders bid for the Democratic presidential nomination has, for me, thrown into sharp relief just how intensely dull, backward looking and reactionary the so-called New Zealand left is. By the New Zealand left I mean the milieu of supporters, bloggers, union officials and others, who orbit around the Labour Party. Like a black hole, it has, for the past three decades at least, sucked the life out of the left.

On an organised political level, the New Zealand left again is demonstrating its shallow electoralist approach by assuming that we should gear our politics towards getting a right wing Labour Party elected in 2017. If you think that's a failed strategy then.... tough.

So-called 'progressives' (for want of a better term, but I use it in a very broad sense) will again be campaigning for the next eighteen months or so on the basis that Labour might be not up to much but it is preferable to another three years of John Key and his cabal. You can expect The Daily Blog's Martyn Bradbury, like a crazed mathematician, to start crunching the figures to 'prove' that a 'progressive coalition' can win the general election. He got it stunningly wrong last time but he'll have another go at it in 2017. What fun.

The New Zealand electorate rejected this 'lesser evil' argument last time round but, because you didn't ask for it, it'll be back again for another airing next year. But it's very hard - okay, impossible - to be inspired by the message 'Vote for Andrew Little and everything will be great." It hasn't quite got the impact of Sanders 'political revolution'.

So much for all the tubthumping after Labour's dismal defeat in 2015. Apparently it was time for some soul searching, for reflection and analysis, a time to seek out new ways and go where no union official has been before - namely well away from the Labour Party. But after all the wailing and hand wringing, absolutely nothing has happened.

Mark Ruffalo
In contrast to the inertia of the New Zealand Labour 'left', Bernie Sanders, who won't get his party's presidential nomination, is seeking to advance some major progressive changes within the Democratic Party and swing it to the left. At the same time, there is a momentum enough to ensure that the movement that Sanders has inspired will not fade away after the presidential campaign is over. The People's Summit, being held in Chicago this weekend, is a step in that direction. It will feature speakers such as Cornel West and Naomi Klein.

 I've been struck by how wide ranging a discussion and debate is occurring within the American left In a country once considered by many to be a backwater in terms of progressive politics. The discussion has embraced such subjects as the need for an independent third party to what socialism would mean in an American context. That kind of relevant discussion rarely occurs here and among only a handful of activists. The 'debate' largely hasn't risen above the infantile level of  'Isn't John Key terrible? Vote Labour'.

Of course how socialism is defined varies considerably. Socialist Alternative's Kshama Sawant and journalist Abby Martin have a different definition of socialism to say actors Mark Ruffalo and Susan Sarandon. But what is important is that there is a consensus for real change, not merely a change of government. Who could disagree with actress Rosario Dawson when she says the United States needs economic policies that benefit the people, not the corporations? Who can disagree with Mark Ruffalo that the political revolution is about much more than who you vote for as president?

Thanks to Bernie Sanders, socialism is no longer a dirty word in America. If only it was so in New Zealand.


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