In a May 17 article titled “New Zealand ‘Not for Sale’ campaign promotes anti-Chinese sentiment” World Socialist Web Site (WSWS) writer John Braddock lies and makes countless distortions about the campaign against asset sales and socialist involvement in the campaign. The essential point Braddock tries to make is that the left forces involved in the campaign are lining up in support of New Zealand nationalism.
Anti-privatisation or Anti-Chinese?
First-off, the opening paragraph of Braddock’s article is misleading. He states that:
Following a decision by New Zealand’s National Party government to allow the sale of 16 privately-owned farms to the Chinese company Shanghai Penqxin, a grouping of pseudo-left organisations, in league with the opposition Labour Party, the Greens, Maori nationalists, and the unions, have launched a reactionary protest campaign under the slogan “Aotearoa [New Zealand] is Not for Sale”.
However, the truth is that the anti-asset sales campaign is based on opposition to government plans to sell off several major state assets. The private sale of farms to a Chinese company is treated as a separate issue. This is reflected in the wording of the nation-wide petition aimed at forcing a Citizen’s Initiated Referendum on the issue, which is one arm of the campaign and is connected to the recent hikoi* and protests. The wording of the petition reads “Do you support the Government selling up to 49% of Meridian Energy, Mighty River Power, Genisis Power, Solid Energy, and Air New Zealand?”
The petition for the referendum is being promoted by unions, the Labour Party, social democrats, Maori justice activists, The Greens, and genuine socialist organisations. This is an important campaign to oppose the transfer of wealth to the ruling class that occurs through privatisation. It is also important because of the likelihood of increased power and heating costs which will hurt middle and low income people. In the petition there is no mention of the private sale of dairy farms to a Chinese company.
The nature of the opposition to privatisation
The opposition to the asset sales was taken to the streets, notably by Maori justice activists and the MANA movement who called a hikoi which went from Cape Reinga at the top of the North Island to parliament in Wellington at the bottom of the North Island. This was coupled with significant marches in the major cities. In Auckland Socialist Aotearoa played a significant role in organising the Queen Street march, and Unite Union provided the venue for various organising meetings and advertised the event amongst members. In Wellington the Workers Party was significant in mobilising, as was We Are The University (WATU) in which the Workers Party is involved. The WSWS wrote:
The organisers of the “Aotearoa is Not for Sale” campaign, including Socialist Aotearoa, the Workers Party and the Unite Union, are serving to channel legitimate mass opposition to the government’s austerity agenda into chauvinism and nationalism. They are helping create an amalgam between the attacks on the working class and the decision to allow Shanghai Penxqxin to purchase a small number of farms, and use this to promote anti-Chinese sentiment. In doing so, they have lined up with not only Labour and the Greens, but the right-wing, populist NZ First Party.
The coordination of the ‘mass opposition’ which Braddock refers to does not exist outside the work of Maori social justice activists, social democrats, labourites, unions, independent activists, greens, and socialists. Braddock distorts the situation by implying that there is a mass opposition being organised spontaneously and that organisations like MANA, Unite, Workers Party, and Socialist Aotearoa are intervening against it.
There have been some traces of soft-nationalism in the campaign. There has been chalking of slogans like ‘Love Aotearoa’ at universities and such sentiments have been expressed in social media. Such sentiments are naïve but they are produced by new layers of activists who are conveying support for public ownership. While such aspects of the campaign require political development by the socialist left, the use of such slogans is not tantamount to support for the New Zealand nation-state at the expense of oppressed people in other countries.
There have been some secondary references to the sale of Crafar farms. This is misguided because as the recent Talleys-AFFCO and Ports of Auckland industrial disputes have revealed once again Aotearoa/New Zealand companies are just as oppressive as foreign-owned companies. However, no organisation involved in the campaign has encouraged anti-Chinese sentiment. There is no evidence of anti-Chinese activity from the more advanced layers of the movement. In fact MANA and others welcomed and celebrated the actions of Chinese migrants who attended the Auckland march with a banner which read ‘Asians Supporting Tino Rangatiatanga’ (Tino Rangatiratanga broadly means sovereignty for the indigenous). The strongest anti-Chinese sentiment was displayed by a single protestor with a Chinese flag with ‘No’ written over it. This was very much at the fringes of the protest movement. There is zero evidence of anti-immigrant notions or slogans in the campaign.
Socialists challenging soft nationalism
While Braddock completely overstates the New Zealand/Aotearoa nationalism of the campaign it is true that there were soft traces as identified above. Therefore the genuine Marxist left has sought to counteract the potential for nationalism to emerge. For example the Workers Party handed out thousands of copies of a leaflet titled Aotearoa Not For Sale – to local or foreign capitalists! which said that socialists:
Regard the arguments about “foreign ownership” as a dangerous distraction that threatens to undermine our struggle against privatisation. The problem is private capitalist ownership of public utilities, whether those capitalists are New Zealanders or “foreigners”. Furthermore, there is a particularly nasty history of anti-Chinese racism in New Zealand, which dates to the development of immigration controls in this country. Immigration controls originated from a “White New Zealand Policy” that was initially concerned with keeping out Chinese people.
Another organisation, independent of the Workers Party, which has participated in the campaign – the International Socialist Organisation – published an article titled Crafar Farm Sale: whose land is it anyway? which underlined the importance of opposing nationalism. The article put forward that
The farm sales have aroused a lot of indignation, and still more confusion. But workers – whatever the power of nationalist ideas amongst our class currently – have no stake in the populist passions being generated at the moment… Any idea that New Zealand capitalists would be better owners of farmland than Chinese capitalists should explode when we stop to consider just who those prospective New Zealand buyers were.
It is clear that both the Workers Party and the ISO pursued principled internationalist positions in regard to nationalism. But Braddock is concerned with delivering low-blows. Braddock singles out the Workers Party directly where he says that;
When the protest arrived at parliament in Wellington on May 4, Winston Peters, a former National Party cabinet minister who founded NZ First in 1993 on an explicit anti-immigrant program, was given the platform. A leading member of the so-called Workers Party held up the megaphone for him.
A problem with the demonstration in the capital was that the Workers Party possessed the best megaphone so a member ended-up holding the megaphone at parliament, which was unplanned. It is not uncommon for bourgeois MPs with no ground forces in campaigns to opportunistically hijack the speaking order at mass events. This was an unfortunate situation for the Workers Party which considers NZ First to be an anti-working class party. Unfortunately elements of the ‘broad’ left give space to NZ First because of its hardcore economic protectionism, its support for higher minimum wages, and because its leader Winston Peters is Maori. However, Peters didn’t attempt his anti-immigrationism on the day. As an exacting populist he would have known this would not have gone well with the crowd. We consider this to be a trivial matter, but for the WSWS it is the high-point of
Workers Party ‘in league’ with Greens, Labour, MANA, and unions
Braddock asserts that the Workers Party is in league with the Greens, Labour, and the MANA parties. This slander should be clarified so that WSWS can’t distort our position amongst those not familiar with our positions.
The Workers Party has to say it is surprised to be operating in a concrete campaign that Labour is formally involved in (the petition for a referendum on asset sales). Labour led the sale of public assets in the 1980s and in the period of the last Labour-led government (1999-2008) we and the rest of the genuine left were in opposition to it, for example, fighting to get rid of youth rates, fighting its participation in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, fighting against the raids on Tuhoe and activists, arguing for the right to strike, fighting against its refusal to reverse the Employment Contracts Act 1991 and its refusal to restore welfare benefits to pre-1991 levels. The list is long. The Workers Party does not put forward the idea that working people should vote for Labour as a lesser-evil in comparison to National. In the current situation – with National in power and Labour putting forward a few left policies from opposition – left organisations must be more vigilant about the potential for lesser-evilism to develop.
The Green Party was once associated with the social democratic left when affiliated to the Alliance Party, it then became decidedly cross-class and is now increasingly guided by the principles of green capitalism, especially since the resignation and retirement of two of its key left MPs. From a liberal standpoint rather than a class standpoint the Greens often have progressive positions on issues like justice, child poverty, or GLBT rights. The Workers Party has no relationship with Greens and has never encouraged support or a vote for them.
The Workers Party participates in the newly emerged MANA party which developed from a split with the Maori party in 2011. The split was based on class issues and Maori Party collaboration on the foreshore and seabed legislation which heavily restricts customary access rights for Maori. The Workers Party’s view is that the MANA party (or movement) has a good class composition, a tested leadership which has not sold out principles for the privileges of office, and democratic space which allows socialist ideas to be put forward. After the 2011 election it has also become clear that MANA is operating in such a way that it is a real campaigning force in the community and the sole MP is intervening correctly in community and industrial struggles.
In regard to the union movement the Workers Party differs markedly from Braddock and the WSWS. Essentially we support militant unionism and we argue and work for the transformation of unions into democratic fighting organisations of the working class. Militant unionism in itself cannot resolve the inequalities and problems of capitalism but the movement for socialism necessarily requires militant unionism. The WSWS on the other hand writes-off the union movement and portrays it as a barrier to achieving socialism. This line on unionism that is pushed by the WSWS is one that assists the bosses.
Another aspect which heightened the importance of this campaign was the involvement of workers who were involved in a bitter industrial dispute. The Talleys-AFFCO meat workers who were in the third month of a lockout had a consistent presence in the first half of the hikoi. On the day before the hikoi arrived in Hamilton some activists - including Workers Party members - were collecting donations to support hikoi costs when some locked-out workers tried to make a small money donation to the hikoi. This was gratefully refused. The following day their presence was marked in Hamilton. They participated as a small army in campaign shirts and hikoi marchers presented them with a strong donation of collected food. This workers’ involvement was powerful. It was not just a group of union officials with a few union flags. Instead it was a significant group of rank-and-file workers taking to the streets against asset sales. This pointed to the connection between the privatisation offensive and the attempt to smash organised workers.
Role of the WSWS
The aim of the WSWS is not to build an organisation which is capable of giving a Marxist and struggle-based lead to workers and other oppressed sections of the working class. Instead it seeks to build sects in each country where it has a presence. It is sectarian because it doesn’t participate in the day-to-day struggles in the working class and it doesn’t prioritise issues that are important for pushing the class struggle forward. Instead it uses the internet to contort, overstate, and lie about other left organisations. Through not participating in day-to-day struggles and being a web-based talking shop the WSWS is able to keep its hands completely clean from any limitations or blemishes of the working class movement. The other side of this is that there are no social forces to keep it accountable, therefore in its isolation it can publish whatever lies it wants on its website without any repercussions.
To our knowledge the extent of WSWS practical activity in Aotearoa/New Zealand over the past few years has consisted of 2 people attending We Are The University (WATU) student activist meetings and accusing Workers Party members of being reformists because we don’t emphasize slogans that relate to the immediate overthrow of capitalism. The view of the Workers Party is that in the Aotearoa/ New Zealand context we are not in a position to immediately overthrow capitalism and neither are the couple of writers for the slanderous WSWS website.
The campaign continues
In the wake of the hikoi and the demonstrations, and with the anti-asset sales referendum petition gaining momentum, the National-led government has speed up select committee hearings and attempted to have the legislation heard under urgency. Their coalition partners – the sell-out Maori Party and the ‘family first’ United Future - either of whom could have voted against the legislation have supported its progress through select committee hearings. Therefore the campaign will not only continue but will sharpen over the coming months. The Workers Party will continue as a participant in the ongoing campaign.
The campaign does not exist separately from the reformist left, unions, liberals, and Maori social justice activists. So if the socialist left was to stand aside it would practicing abstentionism, it would be letting the government pass anti-working class laws without socialist opposition, and it would be turning down the opportunity to work alongside masses and gain an audience which hasn’t yet reached socialist conclusions.