- Philip Ferguson
One thing the election and the days since have confirmed is the inability of many on the left to make a sober analysis based on reality and, in particular, the way in which bourgeois politics is related to the economy and how bourgeois politics is centrally concerned with the maintenance of conditions such as social stability which are necessary to the operations of the market. Instead much of the left has cried wolf about the new government, seeing it as a re-run of the 1984-1993 period of ‘new right’ dominance.
For instance, the headline on the Socialist Aotearoa blog is “RESISTING THE NAT-ACT JUNTA- What is to be done?” Does the author of that piece really believe that we are about to be ruled by a “junta”? Are they unable to distinguish between bourgeois democracy and military dictatorship? If they are able to make the distinction why use terminology that bears no relation to the reality and simply misleads and misorients people?
Although, in the context of a worsening economic situation, there would certainly have to be attacks on the working class, Key is not creating a junta of any kind. In fact, he appears to not even be creating a National-ACT coalition but opting for Clark’s own strategy - a minority government with ministers out of cabinet from what he sees as both the ‘left’ (Maori Party) and ‘right’ (ACT) and support on confidence and supply. The temptation for the Maori Party to go for this will likely be pretty substantial, as Key and co. well know. This was apparent before the election - and was reiterated by Key on Saturday night, by Matthew Hooton on ‘Eye to Eye’ on Sunday morning, by Key again on TV on Sunday night and Monday night. In fact, Key even wants to talk with the Greens. (Since this was written on Monday 11 November, things have moved along further with the Maori Party.)
The Maori Party is going to be as much involved in Key’s government as Act - no surprise to us, of course, but probably quite a shock to the left groups who have illusions in what the Maori Party represents in real political terms, a thoroughly exaggerated idea of the ‘threat’ represented by ACT and who fail to appreciate that the modern National Party is not the party of rural reactionaries and upper crust racists and hasn’t been for a long time.
What National does in terms of economic policy will be overwhelmingly conditioned by how much of an economic downturn there is. They’re not going to attack the working class because they have some ideological fixation with making workers poor (they don’t have such a fixation and, in fact, the Nats never really have had such a fixation) and least of all are they going to try some pitbull job on the working class just because Roger Douglas might want them to.
The attacks of the 1984-93 period were the reflection that NZ capitalism was up shit creek without a paddle. The capitalists had absolutely no alternative. That’s not the situation at present and it remains to be seen how deeply the woes in the financial and banking sector in other countries will hit NZ. Because the NZ economy depends on exports, and to some extent easy foreign money, it could be hit quite hard - on the other hand, the decline of the NZ dollar (which is a product of these woes) is good news for exporters because it makes NZ products cheaper in export markets than those of their rivals.
Unless they’re really in a huge crisis, the capitalists prefer not to make big attacks on the working class. Especially when they’re blessed with social stability and a tame-pet union leadership like the CTU brass. Why screw that up unless the economic situation is so totally dire that you have to?
One of the things that a large part of the far left has in common with the market rules ideologues is that neither really understand that the market is just a thing and can’t organise the preconditions for its own existence and continuance. The operation of the market depends, for one thing, on social stability yet the operations of the market undermine social stability by trying to commodify everything and individualise society.
Any smart capitalists - and any good Marxist - understands that capital, because it’s a thing, requires conscious human planning and organisation to maintain social stability and manage society so that the market itself can operate successfully and deliver maximum profitability to the capitalists. In the First World, the capitalists are prepared to pay for stability too. And, generally, they’d rather pay a bit for it than have a big scrap with the working class. This only changes when there is a really serious economic crisis - ie a real crisis across the whole of the economy, not just problems in the finance sector.
It’s interesting that, every time you see him, Key has a big smile on his face. He’s in a very strong position because he has options and is not beholden to Act, let alone to Douglas. He’s perfectly prepared to make concessions to the Maori Party - because, despite the rubbish from a lot of the left that the Nats are some kind of dinosaur backwoods racists, the Nats these days (ie in terms of who they are) are essentially an urban-liberal petty-bourgeois party like Labour. The Nats have more actual capitalists in their ranks, and are a bourgeois party in the sense that that is the class interest they defend, but in terms of personnel and ideas they’re an urban-liberal petty-bourgeois party.
A few of them like Lockwood Smith have bits and pieces of racist ideas, just like a chunk of Labour MPs do, but few of them are dyed-in-the-wool racists and none of them want to impoverish Maori, suppress Maori cultural rights etc. What they actually want is to wed Maori cultural rights to the market as much as possible. Since there’s nothing radical about Maori cultural rights in the context of 21st century New Zealand - there may have been at some point in the past, there just ain’t today - this is a project in which the Nats and the Maori Party can happily marry.
What the Maori Party represents politically (the views of upwardly mobile Maori middle class and burgeoning Maori entrepreneurs) is more significant than what they represent sociologically (a large chunk of Maori workers as well), so the Maori Party will likely be way more interested in winning more contracts and control for (essentially private) Maori service providers in the health and education sectors and stuff like that is where they and National meet ideologically. That will likely trump any pressure from within the party and its support base by Maori workers around class demands such as the protection of union rights, increases in the minimum wage and so on.
Also, when you take in what support the Maori Party has among Maori, they’re actually not in an especially strong situation. The party vote for the Maori Party was only a little above 2 percent. Maori are nearly 15 percent of the population. Taking into account that proportionately there are more Maori under 18, that still means that only about one in six Maori gave their party vote to the Maori Party. In all the Maori seats Labour won the party vote. So the Maori Party hasn’t achieved what NZ First achieved in the Maori seats in 1996 - a clean sweep of the seats plus the largest share of the party vote. This position of the Maori Party may mean they will want to buttress up their party vote for 2011 by being seen to deliver in the one or two areas they could deliver - separate services for Maori and some cultural rights stuff.
Another thing to keep in mind is that there is no class-based opposition in the Maori Party. There’s no force within the party that will call the likes of Turia, Sharples and Flavell to account. And, while NZ First lost all the Maori seats back to Labour in 1999 because of its coalition with National, the situation today is quite different. National was widely hated in 1996 when Winston did his deal with Bolger, people had voted NZ First to get the Nats out and were very angry about Winston First coalescing with National, and the ideological differences (and personal differences) between Winston First and the Nats were probably greater than the differences between Key/National and Turia, Sharples, Flavell and co. Unlike 1996, National isn’t widely hated today - in fact quite the opposite - and there wasn’t a massive groundswell of Maori voting for the Maori Party to keep National out the way people in 1996 voted for Winston to get the Nats out.
Although it’s possible that a Maori Party deal with National could make them dog tucker like NZ First, it’s important to keep in mind that 2008 is not 1996. The Maori Party may well only be dog tucker if the Nats are forced by an economic crisis to attack the working class and the Maori Party stays wedded to the Nats in that kind of situation. But in the absence of much conflict, and in the absence of a deep recession, the Maori Party could deliver on Maori-provided services, some more cultural identity stuff and so on, and keep one-sixth of the Maori electorate happy and win 3-4 Maori seats again in 2011.
All this has completely failed to register with a lot of the left, which prefers over-the-top scenarios to the more mundane reality. These over-the-top scenarios are used to whip people up into the next round of mindless activism and prevent any sober assessment of the fiascos produced by the last round of mindless activism.