Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Is Jacinda a commie?

She's a pretty communist, said the placard a farmer brought to the pre-election demonstration in Morrinsville against Labour's plan for a tax on irrigators. After a photograph of the placard and its owner was run by the New Zealand Herald and other papers, social media teemed with discussions about the c word. On facebook and on twitter and on conservative blogs, many Kiwis insisted that Labour's new leader was, indeed, a communist. In the weeks since Ardern became Prime Minister, her allegiance to the communist creed has again been asserted.

In the comments boxes at Kiwiblog, New Zealand's most popular right-leaning blog, Ardern's communism is something like an article of faith. Commenter after commenter condemns Ardern as a dangerous extremist, but few offer any evidence for their political diagnosis.

In a recent post, Kiwiblog host David Farrar threw some red meat to the red-haters. Farrar quoted Ardern's claim that capitalism has been a 'blatant failure' at alleviating child poverty, and then noted that our new Prime Minister is a former head of the International Union of Socialist Youth. Given that history, what else could one expect from Ardern, Farrar asked, but resolute anti-capitalism?

Farrar went on to challenge Ardern to explain 'what socialism had ever done for poverty'.

Underneath Farrar's post, commenters accepted his insinuation that Ardern was a communist, and an admirer of societies like the Soviet Union and Mao's China. One commenter claimed that Ardern wanted to make New Zealand more like North Korea; another predicted she would build Stalinist gulags.
David Farrar’s grasp of the details of left-wing history and thought has often been uncertain. In a 2014 post to Kiwiblog he got the Communist Manifesto's publication date wrong by a quarter of a century, before going on claim that New Zealand's Labour Party had gotten most its policies from Marx and Engels' famous text. When he argues that Ardern is a revolutionary anti-capitalist because she once led the International Union of Socialist Youth, Farrar is either being mischievous or showing an ignorance of left-wing politics and traditions.  
The International Union of Socialist Youth represents youngsters from the organisations of the Second Socialist International. The Labour parties of Britain, Australia, New Zealand are included in the International, as well as Germany's Social Democratic Party, France's Socialist Party, South Africa's African National Congress, and scores of other outfits.

The member parties of the Second International share a social democratic politics. They don’t seek to abolish private property and the market and establish a planned economy, in the way that communists and other revolutionary anti-capitalists urge, but rather want to use the state to ameliorate what they see as the worst excesses of capitalism.
The Second International was founded in 1889, with the support of Engels. The Communist Manifesto had called on workers of the world to unite, and an international organisation was supposed to help its members to transcend national borders and parochialisms. Up until the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 the International's parties were sometimes vexed mixtures of revolutionaries and social democrats. When war came, the leaderships of the European parties that dominated the International lined up behind their nations' flags and armies.

Vladimir Lenin, one of the most vociferous members of the International's revolutionary wing, was living in exile in Zurich in 1914. When he read in a newspaper that the German Social Democratic Party's representatives in the Reichstag had joined conservatives and voted in support of the Kaiser and war, Lenin at first believed that the paper was a forgery. When he realised that the leaders of the SDP and its sister really had sided with their bourgeoisies and declared war, Lenin denounced the Second International. After they had seized power in Russia in 1917, Lenin and his Bolsheviks founded a Third, revolutionary International, with its headquarters in Moscow.

After World War One the Second International slowly regrouped, and by the 1920s the Second and Third Internationals were competing for influence inside the trade union movements of the world.

In his book-length polemic Left-wing Communism Lenin addressed his followers in nations like Britain and New Zealand, where Labour parties linked to the Second International were far larger and more influential than revolutionary organisations. Revolutionaries should support the social democratic parties in the way 'a rope supports a hanged man', Lenin said. They should cooperate with social democrats inside the workers' movement, but at the same time criticise their rivals and seek to replace them in the hearts of the workers.
The Communist Party of New Zealand never had more than a couple of thousand members, but it made several attempts to affiliate with the Labour Party, in an attempt to put Lenin's advice into practice. The party was always rebuffed by Labour. 
David Farrar invited Jacinda Ardern to explain what her brand of socialism has done for poverty. I’d expect that, as a former leader of the youth wing of the Second International, she’d be inclined to talk about the likes of Michael Joseph Savage’s 1930s NZ government, Norm Kirk’s government in the ’70s, and Clem Attlee’s government in postwar Britain, and initiatives like the welfare state and the National Health Service. She certainly wouldn’t be obliged to talk about the Soviet Union or China.
There’s a sense in which some of the ideas of the Second International have been assimilated even by conservatives in the West. David Farrar's National Party supports many of the anti-poverty innovations of Second International parties, like a public health system and welfare payments for the unemployed.
There have been senior Labour politicians who were in their youth members of revolutionary parties – Marion Hobbs, who was a member of the Communist Party of New Zealand before she became a Quaker and a member of Helen Clark's cabinet, is one who comes to mind – but I haven’t seen any evidence that Ardern has ever been anything more than a social democrat. Not many revolutionaries have worked in the office of Tony Blair
We can get a sense of the distance of Jacinda Ardern's government from the revolutionary left by looking at the cool welcome that New Zealand's handful of revolutionary outfits have given it. The group that publishes a blog named Redline responded to Ardern's Prime Ministership with a piece called 'Tories out, Xenophobes in?' Redline denounced the new government's plans to cut immigration, and accused Labour as well as New Zealand First of 'anti-Asian racism'. Ardern's government will be, Redline predicts, the most xenophobic New Zealand has seen since the 1970s, when Rob Muldoon sent squads of cops on dawn raids against Pacific Island homes.

In an article published before Winston Peters gave New Zealand a Labour government, the Dunedin-based International Socialist Organisation was also critical of Ardern. The ISO blamed Labour's relatively poor electoral performance in a number of working class Auckland on the 'anti-migrant rhetoric' from Ardern and her comrades. For Redline and the ISO, the struggle between nationalism and internationalism that sundered the Second International in 1914 continues. Like the German Social Democrats in 1914, the New Zealand Labour Party of 2017 is guilty, they believe, of appeasing chthonic prejudices and kowtowing to its local bourgeoisie, instead of standing for internationalism and against capitalism.

When they call Jacinda Ardern a commie, David Farrar and others on the right are trying to elide two very different political traditions.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]


Anonymous Anonymous said...

you are very good at muddying the waters.
Time will prove Farrar and others correct.
OPM - Other people's Money is the Mantra that Socialista's like our new PM exist in.
They never actually create anything, Just spend other peoples money.

Margaret Thatcher said it best..
"The problem with Socialists is they run out of other peoples money at some time".

The NZ labour Party is going to have a right old time fleecing the 168,000 taxpayers (who pay 90% of collected private tax after WFF is allowed for) who David Farrar has referred to from IRD spreadsheets in the past.
Not that their voters care as so many don't pay taxes.

11:36 am  
Anonymous Scott Hamilton said...

Surely I'm trying to clear rather than muddy the waters, anon, by differentiating two quite different political traditions? You mention that Labour will be fleecing taxpayers by hiking taxes. But in a communist society the state doesn't redistribute wealth indirectly, through a tax system. It simply expropriates wealth. There were no taxes in the Soviet Union. You can criticise Labour for being social democrats intent on using the state to tinker with capitalism all you want, if that's your bent; what I'm suggesting is that you should avoid treating them as communists, when they're clearly not about abolishing capitalism.

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Blogger Richard said...

Adern is obviously not a communist. She is a bourgeois liberal. Her politics is or are centre-left. However she is not as bad as the left wing socialist parties paint her. I think we do need to reduce immigration right now. Of course Peters always uses the race card.

Taxes can always be adjusted up or down. In all likelihood if taxes go up National wont take them off if the get back into Goverment...all things considered.

We have an interesting mix with three quite interesting parties in the driving seat instead of just the usual old farts club.

See how it all works out.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Scott,

Long time reader first time commenter &c.

Just a note to belatedly say I always find your analyses clarifying and interesting. So, thanks.

(One favourite I remember was your post on Carl Rackemann, a person who I thought was forgotten to... pretty much everyone, and who I remember because I saw him bowl at the WACA as a kid, and because his name on the scorecards produced the enticing 'CRACKEMANN').

I can only assume the first commenter didn't read the article

There was a large protest in Melbourne yesterday over the situation on Manus Island. Ardern's offer to accept 150 of the refugees in NZ seems to have been (bizarrely) rejected. Immigration in Aust has been militarised and rebranded 'Border Force', so hopefully NZ Labor doesn't look here for ideas.


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Anonymous nic said...

I can only assume the first commenter didn't read the article,Surely I'm trying to clear rather than muddy the waters, anon, by differentiating two quite different political traditions? You mention that Labour will be fleecing taxpayers by hiking taxes

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