Monday, November 28, 2011

Aotearoa/NZ - End of Parliamentary Democracy?

Labour leader Phil Goff (left) and National leader and former Goldman Sachs banker John Key

In Aotearoa/NZ the National and Labour parties are both capitalist parties but they are not quite the same. Labour historically claims to represent working people, while National has always stood for international finance capital. Under the current crisis of global capital the NZ Labour Party like Social Democratic parties everywhere has almost exhausted its claim to represent the working class. In the face of this historic bankruptcy, support for Social Democracy has been falling as the largest sector of workers no longer vote. Capitalism in crisis is everywhere openly abandoning the figleaf of parliamentary democracy and installing Bonapartist regimes to impose mounting austerity attacks on workers. The results of the 2011 election in Aotearoa/NZ has confirmed the bankruptcy of Social Democracy with the number or voters falling to an historic low at 73% of eligible voters and Labour's share of the vote falling to an historic low in the traditional working class constituencies. 

Labour Party exhausted historic role?

Labour is being pulled left and right in the face of the global capitalist crisis. It’s torn between two masters. On the one hand it has to serve capitalism and manage capitalism by increasing the productivity of labour the creator of value. On the other it has to respond to its working class supporters and try to claim it serves their interests or it loses its reason for existence. This reveals that Labour like all Social Democratic parties is founded on a class contradiction between its bourgeois program and its labour movement base. Its function is to attempt to suppress that contradiction. In a crisis when that contradiction comes exploding to the surface, Labour has no option but to move right to attempt to solve the crisis at the expense of the working class. But in the process the contraction threatens to destroy Social Democracy.

This explains labour’s lurch to the right. Its new policy on pensions steals the extreme neo-liberal ACT party's policy of making workers work harder, longer, and die sooner. Pushing out the age of retirement from 65 to 67 is an open attack on the working class. To get elected Labour has again abandoned its working class roots and openly appeals to international finance capital to allow it to manage its affairs in NZ. It's another lurch to the right in response to a deep crisis echoing the 1980s crisis management at the expense of workers. Labour has gone so far to the right it even makes multi-millionaire Gareth Morgan’s Big Kahuna look positively leftwing.[see note]

Labour wants to make workers' pay for NZ's economic crisis in the same way as so-called 'socialist' parties in Greece, Spain, Portugal and Ireland are making workers pay for the crisis of international finance capital. And like those parties which have been voted out or replaced by unelected politicians, Social Democracy is exposed as political bankrupt. What this proves that when it comes to deciding which master it serves Labour always sides with the capitalists and their profits rather with workers and their needs. Let’s prove that this is historically true.

Labour was never a socialist party. It was formed in 1916 after the historic defeat of militant labour in 1913 to co-opt the labour movement into parliament. But under pressure from unemployed workers and destitute working farmers during the Great Depression of the 30's the First Labour Government came to power on a radical populist policy of economic protectionism and income redistribution. This policy prevailed under both Labour and National until the late 1960’s when falling export earnings and internal costs created a big balance of payments deficit. The National Government Prime Minister Muldoon's response to the deepening international crisis in the 1970s was to reinforce protectionism. He refused to concede control over NZs economy even in the face of the threat of massive capital flight. Not because he was pro-worker but because he was for the protection of farmers and manufacturers from rising world prices for energy etc. Hence the 'think big' economic nationalist policy of self-reliance which ironically echoed that of the First Labour Government of the '30s. NZ became a pariah for international finance capital. When Labour was elected in 1984 it found itself facing a double global structural crisis and a crisis of capital flight from a collapsing NZ economy.

Labour became the Government without declaring to its working class supporters that it would shortly adopt the shock therapy of monetarist deregulation. It claimed it had no option because of a crisis of confidence in the NZ economy on the part of international capital. 'Rogernomics', as it came to be called after Finance Minister, Roger Douglas, was the policy of international finance capital (neo-liberalism) designed to destroy protectionism and privatise public assets. It was driven by the crisis facing global capital of falling profits. Douglas prepared his plans as early as 1980 as anyone who read ‘There Must be a Better Way’ knows. Labour had the unions in its pocket so by the time its so-called ‘red’ [pro-Moscow 'socialist'] leaders woke up under their beds it was too late. They were rewarded by Labour stripping the unions of basic rights just before the 1990 election. The left split to form the New Labour Party while many workers refused to vote Labour. Labour was defeated and the 1990s became a decade of National-led governments that furthered the neo-liberal plan of deregulation.

Labour was in Government from 1999 until 2008 but did damn all to reverse its sell-out to monetarism of the '80s. It reformed the Employment Contracts Act to restore the 'balance of power' between employers and unions but the unions remained hollow shells and never recovered their mass membership. Labour had to live within the neo-liberal parameters it had imposed in the 1980s. Its ‘rescued’ some privatised state assets like AirNZ and NZRail but for the sake of business not workers. State provision of basic infrastructure has always been the role of the state in NZ as a subsidy to a weak national capital. So basically Labour accepted the neo-liberal ‘settlement’ of finance capital of the 1980s and imposed further limits on the sovereignty of parliament through fiscal and monetary policy constraints.

This is why it no longer has the tools (or the will) to tackle neo-liberalism and opts for fake ‘tough’ options like making workers work harder and longer. Labour’s tax adjustments are fiscal fiddling which do little to reverse steeply regressive taxation and the widening income gap. Labour introduced the Goods and Service Tax [GST] in the '80s as part of the neo-liberal shift of taxation from capital to labour. Taking GST off fresh fruit and vegetables will be eaten up by inflation in no time. The Capital Gains Tax [CGT] is another grim joke. It won’t do anything to stop speculation or boost productive investment in jobs. That’s why Labour’s excellently produced election advertisements try to cover up its historic sell-out to finance capital with clips from the Joe Savage and Walter Nash eras from 1935-1949 falsely claiming to be going back to Labour’s social justice historic roots.

It is the failure of Labour to reconcile the class contradiction that runs through it that has created the vacuum for the NACT regime to take power and dominate the political domain. Having co-opted the ‘middle class’ and labour aristocracy the NACTs are now resolving the class contradiction by dividing and splitting the working class between aspiring middle class and the ‘underclass’ in the name of national unity. The NACT regime now takes the form of an increasingly authoritarian Bonapartist regime.

Down with NACTs Bonapartism!

NACT PM John Key is a leader who appears to be able to stand above ‘partisan’ politics and represent the nation. He can change the law almost at will. He passes some urgent retrospective empowering legislation and sends a minister to ride shotgun. Some say it’s a feature of ‘presidential’ rule that spawns mini Tsars. His 'presidential' appeal however is that of finance capital and his reputation as a successful 'banker'. John Key the rich banker can pass himself off as above the nation because he represents the financial salvation of the nation. Of course this explains why Key is so popular and can get away with doing what he likes, laugh it off, smile and wave, and move on.

This is a well known phenomenon to Marxists who refer to it as ‘Bonapartism’ after the French Bonapartes who ruled as ‘strong men’ in the 1800s seemingly above classes, and therefore identifying with the nation as a whole. It is a feature of a period of social crisis when the open Tory parties are too much identified with the greedy, arrogant ruling class, so a populist figure, apparently straddling the classes, can for a relatively short period maintain a class balance and semblance of order and stability. Bonapartism provides a cover for creeping autocracy as the regime has to implement rapid reforms to make the working masses pay for its crises and restore its profits. In the current crisis, as the success of John Key shows, Bonapartism is taking the form of unelected Bankers assuming executive power by default allowing Social Democracy and Rightwing regimes to hide behind the figleaf of the authority of finance capital that is 'too big to allow nation states to fail'.

Yet Bonapartist figures cannot put the lid on class struggle in a serious prolonged crisis and the working class begins to resist the attacks on it. A very clever Bonapartist like Key can delay the shift to the right by simply smothering working class resistance. He won the ‘08 election as ‘Labour Lite’ keeping his Tory agenda under wraps. He has removed the wraps as his popularity and ability to maintain the class balance holds. He is well managed. The RWC and his photo op with the Mad Butcher continues to promote his stand for the national above classes. He drinks in the corporate boxes with the rugby bosses and sits in the stands with the heartland of working class NZ, the league fans, fraternising with another self made working class multi-millionaire. To make it easier the Labour Party under Goff is incapable of standing up for the most oppressed workers. And Mana has not yet been able to appeal to the disaffected hordes of Labour voters attracting only 1% of the vote in the 2011 election.

However, in one or two or three year’s time depending how rapidly the global crisis develops, the NACT regime will no longer be able to keep workers down. The Bonapartist regime will then move right to redefine the nation as excluding the ‘outsiders’- the 100s of thousands of workers who have been disenfranchised by Labour’s open pro-capitalist trajectory in the last 30 years and who in 2008 and 2011 stayed at home. Labour faces the ignominy of most of its traditional working class base alienated from 'their' historic Party.

The ‘outsiders’ are those sections of the working class mainly Maori, Pacifica, youth and women who are over-represented as unemployed, lowpaid, unpaid, precarious, casualised workers and labelled as the 'underclass'. The Bonapartist regime attacks these groups to victimise and demonise them in order to divide and smash their unity as workers. The NACTs have used Brash and will now use Banks to drive racist, sexist, anti-youth and homophobic wedges in this direction hoping to incite the formation of fascist currents. This opens the way for a fascist movement to demonise and physically attack the most militant sections of the working class and destroy its challenge to capitalist rule.

A serious working class opposition to capitalist class rule has therefore to unite all of these class elements as one single fighting force. This is what is under way with the wave of occupations that is spreading across the world. These occupations are all pointing towards growing support for general strikes from Egypt to Bolivia, Greece to the US etc, which if they become based on workers councils, militias and support from the ranks of the military, open the road to the smashing of the class power of the bourgeoisie and the rise to power of the working class globally. 

Global Revolution is the solution!
Just as we see growing layers of the masses around the world turning their backs on parliaments and the bankruptcy of social democracy, mobilising on the streets and Liberation squares to take their futures into their own hands, young people and workers are doing the same in Aotearoa. When it is clear that parliament is talk shop for the bosses and the state the committee to manage the affairs of the ruling class, the people are waking up to the reality that they have the power to make change by uniting, organising and campaigning for what they need.

The Arab Revolution that stood against political dictatorships sparked off the ‘indignados’ in Spain and Greece to stand up against the dictatorship of finance capital. The first tentative demand to emerge from the #OWS is the Robin Hood Tax but already it's clear that even to make this demand the movement needs to unite with workers everywhere and build for a general strike to bring down the capitalist regimes and open the road for real democracy. The general strike #OccupyOakland led on November 2 followed closely on the 48 hour general strike in Greece. There will be many more. Based on a revolutionary consciousness, program and action and lead by a global democratic mass workers' revolutionary party,  this can be the beginning of the revolution.

After the Robin Hood Tax comes the jailing of the Sheriff and his army of cops and then the deposing of King John and the ruling class.

The Big Kahuna

Gareth Morgan and his collaborators have put out proposals for an Unconditional Basic Income to all (paid work or not) and a flat tax to pay for it which would incorporate a Capital Gains Tax. These proposals are an advance on modern social democracy that has conceded a tax regime that is highly regressive (poor pay a bigger % of income than rich). While the UBI challenges the fundamental presumption of capitalism that we must work or starve, and takes away the stigma attached to social welfare, in the end this is still a distributional solution to inequality that fails to get to the roots of capitalisms class structure. It is a proposal for re-allocating a social wage in a way that is more efficient for capital to make profits and to buy social peace. Nevertheless these proposals are ones that should be taken up by the left and debated as they can become the launching pad for mobilising working people to challenge the rule of capital, the ownership of private property, and the exploitation of labour-power as the source of profits.

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