Towards an inclusive, democratic left

Written By: - Date published: 10:53 am, November 16th, 2012 - 46 comments
Categories: activism, democratic participation, feminism, gay rights, greens, labour, Left, mana, national, Social issues, vision - Tags:

The political Left needs a new direction with a break to the future, to prevent the on-going rightwards drift. If progressive political parties merely react to the ruling neoliberal discourses and policies, they will continue to inadvertently absorbed right wing values. A re-vitalised Left would be strengthened by working towards a more inclusive, diverse participatory democracy.

The neoliberal policies and anti-democratic approach of our current government has led the country backwards.  It has re-masculinised the political landscape and undermined gender equality, with high status given to male leaders and  the traditionally masculine finance and economic portfolios.  It can be seen in the WEF gender gap survey. This shows that, with respect to Political empowermentNZ’s ranking has slipped from 8th in 2011 to 9th in  2012: for Economic participation and opportunity NZ has slipped from 11th to 15th.

Unfortunately opposition parties have absorbed these changes by trying to oppose the government on its own terms.  There is no one person or organisation at fault in this.  It is the result of the interplay of the NAct values spun through their PR machinery and viral foot-soldiers; the MSM editors and journalists who often unquestioningly repeat neoliberal and masculinist discourses; and opposition politicians and strategists, who try to beat the right wing strategists at their own game.

One of the consequences is the under-reporting of the solid and committed work by opposition women MPs on various crucial issues to do with community well-being, poverty, and social justice; on the way the NAct government sacrifices women at the forefront of enacting controversial social policies.  There needs to be more acknowledgment and prominence given to some of the great work being done by and/or for women. For instance Julie Anne Genter taking it to Bully Boy Brownlee in the House; the low income women, struggling along side Mana for affordable rentals and against the cuts to state housing; Sue Moroney with her private members bills on PPL and redundancy;  Annette King on housing (even though her approach maybe falls short of Mana’s policies); Metira Turei on the streets for anti-poverty campaigns and working in the house for children in poverty; Darien Fenton for workers rights and free public library services …. and more….

A new way forward would value such struggles, while not supporting the “reheated Blairism”, that Chris Trotter rightly associates with the current NZ Labour Party and Josie Pagani.  It is necessary for Labour to reconnect with low income people, working to improve their increasingly difficult circumstances.  But this should not be done by demonising the “undeserving poor” and  supporting John Tamihere as expressed by Josie Pagani in an NZ Herald article this week. This is a patronising and conservative middle-class approach, that reinforces stereotypes and divisions.

We can learn from some of the positive developments during the 20th century. The Left was progressing towards a more inclusive politics and society when it was brutally halted by neoliberalism. When I was living in London in the late 70s and early 80, it was a productive time of intense debates, tensions and collaboration.  Diverse left wing groups interacted through feminist, gay, lesbian, anti-racist and working class networks. The beginnings of a diverse and united Left could be seen during the miners’ strike 80s.

Lesbian, gays support miners

Feminist and gay groups joined together to protest the pit closures.  This collaboration began uneasily, but was gaining ground.

 

Something similar happened in NZ during the 1981 protests against the Springbok rugby tour. The accompanying images, are very much of their time, indicating that such strategies need to be revised, revised with hindsight, and re-worked to fit current circumstance.

Masked protesters 1981

(Side note to those who smear anonymous pseudonymous left-wing bloggers: powerless people often feel a need to mask their identity when challenging the dominant discourses and ruling groups – some in the 1981 demonstrations wore masks, and surely not a sign of being similar to hooded racists violently persecuting oppressed people.)

An inclusive and democratic left is a goal to work towards, with on-going analysis of the dangers and pitfalls of being dragged back into divisive in-fighting, or the assimilation of the destructive discourses of the right wing elite that we are struggling against. I don’t expect such an integration to be completed over night, or in a weekend.

What can we do to move in a new direction?

46 comments on “Towards an inclusive, democratic left ”

  1. Well said Karol, the likening of Anonymous bloggers the KKK is nothing short of an attempt to re-intoduce the race card yet again.

    That woman has no idea what the KKK means, and she should apologise for the inference, she’s never been close to that kind of HELL obviously.

    Bloggers that use pseudonyms are not anonymous, there is a person behind every comment regardless of that persons identity, it’s our thought that counts not our bloody names.

    Something else those morons should realise is some/a lot of bloggers are teenagers and likely to be quite emotional at times ……

    • just saying 1.1

      Something else those morons should realise is some/a lot of bloggers are teenagers and likely to be quite emotional at times ……

      You’ve got me really intrigued. The only teenaged blogger I’ve ever even heard of is the precociously brilliant, Morgan Godfrey from “Maui Street” blog.

      • PlanetOrphan 1.1.1

        Yeah, well like I’ve said to others, it’s about the level of understanding,
        Most people make up their minds when they are teenagers and stick with the conclusions religously, never opening their eyes to the truth that things change and policies must change with them.

        I know many “teenaged” 60 year olds for instance.

      • Draco T Bastard 1.1.2

        Morgan Godfery, not Godfrey

    • karol 1.2

      Thanks, PO.

      PO: Bloggers that use pseudonyms are not anonymous,

      Agreed, PO.  I had intended to strikethrough “anonyomous” to make just that point.  I had a dodgy fixed line broadband connection all morning.  Managed to connect to update the last edit and publish the post – then the connection went down completely and won’t be fixed for a day or two.

      After much hassle, I added the strikethrough and am now operating on a glitchy dial-up connection on an alternative phone line.

      This is my 3rd attempt to make this comment – each time the connection gives out and the comment doesn’t take. grrr… 

  2. Dr Terry 2

    I cannot answer your question Karol, other than try a change in government (particularly Greens/Mana). Nevertheless this article is excellent in its entirety. Allow me to repeat a couple a salient passages:

    “opposition parties have abandoned these changes by trying to oppose the government on its own terms” (virtually endorsed by Shearer this morning).

    “It is necessary for Labour to reconnect with low income people . . .” (Social policies, Mr Shearer?)

    I did not wear a mask in the 1981 demonstrations. But today I need the pseudonym.

  3. Colonial Viper 3

    An inclusive democratic left has to take the country towards an inclusive democratic participatory economy. Self sustaining and viable worker owned co-operatives, mutual organisations, and not for profits.

    Time to put the power of the markets, economic infrastructure and productive capital into the hands of ordinary people.

  4. Rogue Trooper 4

    I believe that you are an excellent political writer karol, demonstrably able to cover a variety of salient issues in a comparitively small space; inspirational.
    (i relaxed my anonymity and no rabid, right-winger has burnt a cross in front of my caravan, yet, although, the rentier class might be in a position to help me put a more permanent, not leaky, roof over my head) 😉

  5. Loved your article and quelled this labour heart.
    Labour should look to the past, in so far as how the depression was handled and how Savage
    worked his government and align it to today’s woes.
    If people are expected to pay $400-$800 pw for a rental to line the pockets of property
    investors,then those people would be better off paying off their own mortgage,
    Auckland is the ‘it’ city,but does it need to be ? NZ has plenty of land in provincial centres
    and small towns that would be more affordable for those wishing to build or buy,if labour can
    bring in a viable home ownership scheme,that war could be won, housing nz has one but it is still a mountain to climb for many,the need to earn a high income applies to the housing nz scheme.
    Capitalisation of the family benefit was bought in by Goff and that helped so many people into
    their own homes, including myself,so thanks Phil.
    There would be no housing bubble if housing was for families and individuals to buy or build,
    a housing bubble is caused by speculators and those who have millions and billions to spend,so property is their best bet,a capital gains tax on speculators would take the heat out of that, from memory labours capital gains tax policy is that the family home is exempt from capital gains tax.
    Inclusiveness is what so many labour supporters,voters are wanting,also a path back to the basics.

  6. Mary 6

    Well said Karol. Currently Labour is certainly no more than “Blairism reheated”. Perfect description. This is one reason why the right love Shearer because they know Labour can never make an impact going down this road. I was sickened yesterday listening to Kathryn Ryan interviewing Gavin Ellis who applauded Fran O’Sullivan and Richard Long for showing so much “respect” and “support” for David Shearer’s ability as leader. It was at the same time the most biased, naive, sanctimonious and disingenuous views heard on RNZ for a long time. Managing to be all four must surely be difficult but Ellis did it. Of course, the only way was to ignore the fact that both O’Sullivan and Long are themselves biased, naive, sanctimonious and disingenuous gits. It was overpoweringly cringeworthy to listen to. Gavin Ellis is no commentator. He is, though, a complete and utter fool:

    http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/ninetonoon/audio/2538666/media-commentator-gavin-ellis.asx

    • rosy 6.1

      ” It was overpoweringly cringeworthy to listen to. Gavin Ellis is no commentator. He is, though, a complete and utter fool:”

      Yep… the thoughts of Richard Long should carry more weight than the opinions of two ‘anonymous’ bloggers (ignoring the hundreds of comments that he’d mentioned earlier supporting these blogs)? Who has more chance of voting Labour – commenters on the Standard or Richard Long, Fran O’Sullivan et al?

      On second thought, the way things stand it appears that the commentariat on the right is sick of Key and can’t see a replacement in National …

      • lprent 6.1.1

        Ummm thanks for reminding me of that. I’d meant to write the defence post earlier. But things got in the way. Took longer to write it grumpier.

  7. Bill 7

    What can we do to move in a new direction?

    Well, that’s the question, isn’t it? What I do know is a little on how not to move in a new direction. If we cast a glance back to the socio/political movements of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, one glaringly obvious feature of those times (broadly speaking) was the inabilty to wrench away from the organisational habits of heirarchy.

    That resulted in (as an example) women being subordinated in class orientated organisations. And most people (predominantly men) saw no problem with that.

    And there was the friction, that remains today, between people who would elevate either of gender, race or class issues to be a principle focus.

    I mean, from my perspective none of the issues of class or gender or race politics stand in isolation. None is more or less important than the other. Just because I might be better versed in class issues and another person better versed in gender issues doesn’t, or shouldn’t mean we vie to have our respective perspective elevated. Each in some way informs the other. But unless that’s acknowledged (and I mean beyond paying mere lipservice to the idea), and unless heirarchical orgainisational structures are dumped – then the negative dynamics inherent to whichever focus is ‘ignored’ will reassert and ‘infect’ the organisations and mindsets of those who’se focus is exclusive.

    And so we will endlessly cycle back to a situation of dominance and subservience…or should that be, we will be endlessly backpeddling, stuck in a situation of dominance and subservience?

    I’d say, on a positive note, democratise. At any and every opportunity insist on democracy and simply walk away from any political activism that refuses to budge.. or that tries to convince itself or others that it really is democratic because it has constructed some shambolic approximation of truly democratic procedures or organisational structures.

    • Mary 7.1

      “What can we do to move in a new direction?”

      The 1980s and especially the 1990s saw the destruction of what some call a caring society. We just don’t have that anymore. For example, today’s debate isn’t so much about income levels of the poor so much as whether the poorest in society should receive an income at all. The challenge for the Left, therefore, isn’t just about policies but about basic values around how we see and how we treat others. There was a time in New Zealand when social policy for the Right still meant the poor were entitled to participate in the community on the same basis as others. The Right no longer believe this to be the case. Fixing things means fixing basic values.

      http://www.academia.edu/821547/Social_empathy_A_tool_to_address_the_contradiction_of_working_but_still_poor

      • Draco T Bastard 7.1.1

        For example, today’s debate isn’t so much about income levels of the poor so much as whether the poorest in society should receive an income at all.

        And all based around the BD idea that we can’t afford anything despite the fact that a few people have million dollar incomes from doing SFA.

        • KJT 7.1.1.1

          I fail to understand how the RW can accept that people have tens or even hundred of million dollars in wealth and or income, which is, mostly, totally unearned *, and complain about the bottom 5% having enough to live on of their inheritance from all the working people before them.

          * http://kjt-kt.blogspot.co.nz/2011/03/myth-of-wealth-creation.html
          The proportion of rich people who actually invest their money in real wealth creation, jobs or entrepreneurship is vanishingly small.

          http://kjt-kt.blogspot.co.nz/2012/11/livable-income.html
          “We can produce enough for everyone to live in comfort in NZ with fraction of our present activity/employment.

          I do not have the figures for New Zealand, but, rather than a more equal distribution of income making everyone poorer, if the USA’s current production was shared equally, every family in the States would have an income of around 180k annually.

          The right wing idea that a more equal distribution of income means equality in misery, is an obvious fallacy.

          Whereas higher incomes at the lower end is good for NZ business, and ultimately everyone’s incomes”..

          • fatty 7.1.1.1.1

            I do not have the figures for New Zealand, but, rather than a more equal distribution of income making everyone poorer, if the USA’s current production was shared equally, every family in the States would have an income of around 180k annually…higher incomes at the lower end is good for NZ business, and ultimately everyone’s incomes

            The NZ figures would be interesting…as for 180K per family in the USA – most of that would be spent, and as you say, their economy would not be flat-lining the way it has been. Instead they vote, as we do, to have our money sitting in a few people’s bank accounts.

      • seeker 7.1.2

        +1

  8. handle 8

    Julie Anne Genter is using her professional background to do brilliant work in the Transport portfolio. Labelling some domains as women’s and others as men’s does not help an intelligent conversation about the many forms of diversity that need to be better reflected in our politics as you say. I thought feminism moved past that decades ago.

    • karol 8.1

      Identifying the inequalities and power differences is not labeling things as if that’s the way things should be.  It’s identifying that women tend to be given certain kinds of portfolios.  The main issue I have is that such ministries and opposition roles (related to some crucial social policies) are given too little power and status.

      It’s identifying something that needs changing – especially more power and status to crucial policies. 

      • handle 8.1.1

        By all means identify and discuss the issues but getting more people involved means letting go of old assumptions. Arguing that some portfolios need more focus and power is not helped by adding gender stereotypes. It is no more inclusive than stereotyping by ethnicity or class is. Play the ball, not the woman.

        • karol 8.1.1.1

          Sorry.  I don’t understand you.  Are we not meant to note when we see gender stereotyping operating. I didn’t create it.  And it’s evident in the gender gap survey I referred to. Where am I playing the woman. I acknowledged great work being done by several women MPs, which I think has been under-acknowledged – especially by the MSM.  

          What assumptions am I not letting go of?  I don’t understand your reasoning. 

          I really do want to see more status given to social policy portfolios.  Currently there’s too much focus on economic policy driving everything else.  I would like to see social policy being more front and central, and and economic policy being developed to serve those policies.

          I didn’t create the gender differences that are attached to the above – they have been there for a long, long time.  In more recent years they have been breaking down.  But under NAct they have been re-instated.  That is what I am arguing against. 

      • Populuxe1 8.1.2

        It’s identifying that women tend to be given certain kinds of portfolios.

        Hang on, how is Minister of Police a “certain kind of portfolio”?

        Also, I would note in the spirit of fairness that National does seem to have more women on their front bench than Labour does, though I may have miscounted.

        • Populuxe1 8.1.2.1

          Wait, my mistake – Labour has one whole female frontbencher more

          • karol 8.1.2.1.1

            Pop, it wouldn’t surprise me if Labour had shifted to having fewer front benchers than National now, the way they have shifted towards male dominance.  But Labour being light on MPs generally, it needs to be done as a proportion not by total numbers.

            According to Claire Trevett, Labour has 3 women in it’s (top 10) front benchers.  I would have also included a couple on page 2 here e.g. Annette King.   

            But I’m pleased to see that the Labour Conference had  a speaker on gender and Political Representation last night.  I would love to get access to a transcript or video of that speech, and this.

            @suemoroney: we’re building on what generations of Labour women have done.@Megan_Woods speaking about changing the culture of Parliament @ #Labour2012

             

  9. just saying 9

    I’m glad you’ve reraised the issue of pseudononymity Carol.

    With the state holding (like a loaded gun) voluminous, often sensitive and extremely personal information on its citizens, a disproprtionate amount about dispossessed, marginalised, and politically active persons, and with large numbers of people substantially or entirely dependant on that same state, and with the state and its agents given virtual carte blanche to surveil citizens in the privacy of their own homes, and with the with the progressive stripping bare of many other democratic freedoms, and with the increasing impunity accorded to big business in their actions protecting their bottom lines……

    A lot of people are vulnerable. At risk. Some considerably more than others. If not right now, potentially in the future.

    The last time I participated in a public meeting attended by representatives of the political parties, I was not required to give any personal details in order to contribute to the discussion, and neither was anyone else other than the MC and those standing for political office. I was there as a citizen. I’m here as a citizen. I’m consistently “just saying’ and I answer for my actions online as this entity.

  10. Uturn 10

    My interpretation of what you’re saying, in rebuilding links between groups without the motivation of resistance is that you’ll need some sort of common ground, for no reason.

    Long time ago village markets and fairs were free. People brought their food and products to spend time with each other and generally touch base, since they spent all their time growing food and herding animals.

    If people these days spend all their time isolated by work and electronic media, separated by suburbs and soci-economic status, maybe we just need a get together for no particular reason. People can supply free food if they choose (to include those with no disposable income), or sell it at cost if that is prohibitive. Others can provide entertainment, music, activities or whatever and generally people can mix with people they don’t ever see, other than through negetive representations in the media. You’ll need people to bring in those who can’t geet there under their own steam. Trim out political messages (other than, say, a banner that identifies the group) and exchange for introductions to the language and style of the subculture. Let people know what it’s like to be someone else, without over emphasising a poor me attitude or a you’re to blame stance and present what people are doing that’s important to us all – despite the labels. Do whatever has to be done to make things the least scary for everyone, without blanding everyone down to a formless blob.

    Quite a logistical undertaking for some group and I’m not sure where you will find these purely public minded people, but at least driven by something common to us all. This sort of thing happend during OWS, but there was an us and them element, divisions based around who was worthy and who was not. It also sounds a bit “summer of love”, but maybe just try a “day of introduction”, instead. From there, people may be more inclined to communicate between groups on a political level once the fear of attack and suspicion has been lessened by the familiarity of real-life experience.

    • Draco T Bastard 10.1

      Glimpse of the future

      Preparations had been going on for months.

      Early signs to uninvolved visitors were donated clothes, toys, tools, cds, kitchen implements, books, dubious junk and all the other stuff of modern living piled in foyers in plastic bags.

      As the mounds of offerings grew, bright hand drawn posters heralded their coming across town:

      MIRAMAR NORTH SCHOOL FAIR , SUNDAY 11 NOVEMBER.

      The administration that is described is why I tend to be enthusiastic about digital networks.

    • karol 10.2

      Some very good ideas, UTurn.

      In London in the early 80s, there were such festivals.   Thatcher did her best to demolish them because she saw the power they had for the  left,

      There were the Rock Against Racism gigs with high profile bands and other entertainers. And there were “People’s Festivals” on the South Bank organised by the Greater London Council (under Red Ken Livingston). Thatcher dismantled the GLC to put an end to its progressive initiatives.

      I recall a young Morissey standing on a ledge quite high up on the outside of the ILEA/GLC building, singing with flowers hanging out his back pocket.  Such a great spirit among the crowd.

      Yes, social gatherings have an important role.  Of course, today, people expect a lot of expensive slick and flashing lights. How do we get back to people enjoying more inexpensive social gatherings?

      “Drinking Liberally” is one such initiative. 
       

      • Uturn 10.2.1

        “How do we get back to people enjoying more inexpensive social gatherings?”

        I’m pretty sure they never stopped enjoying them, or maybe enjoy isn’t an accurate enough description of what I mean. When people laugh, when they eat together, when they dance (as puddlegum says below), when they share ideas, participate in group activities, there’s always the chance of the group becoming more than the sum of its parts. It seems to me that humans are prone to searching exclusive pursuits for the kind of magic that has the potential to exist anywhere. For some reason, the more exclusivity we experience, our ideas on where to look for “it” narrow and we get to thinking it’s running out or scarce. But expose people to the “it” in any source and they’ll respond in their own way.

        Coke was once called “it” – but it was just a sugar rush giving a fragmented, lifeless, imitation.
        Free Love was once “it”, but it was just sensation offering half the experience.
        Then there was E as “it”, but as Jarvis said, in the morning no one wants to know you.
        Money, aquisition, control – all tried, some come close, but all fail.

        Push the imitations aside, start smallish, know why we’re bothering but not too ernest about it and let it run.

    • Puddleglum 10.3

      Good point about collective festivity.

      The clamping down on ‘Dancing in the Streets’ has been going on for centuries and seems correlated with an increase in public discussion of ‘melancholia’, and the rise of the concepts of the ‘self’ and ‘society’ (as in, the public/private split).

      Here’s Barbara Ehrenreich’s interesting take on those linkages. 

  11. Rogue Trooper 11

    what a wonderful word glimpse is; hence the interest in “utopian” thought.
    we had a fair recently; community
    school galas, punnets of fudge, rolls of comics, shiney stones, White Elephant, but there goes nostalgia again; abandon romanticism

    • Rhinocrates 11.1

      I’m thinking of Don McGlashan’s “Marvellous Year”

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VeqUf82TgJ4

      “We did a lot of things, and some of them were good. We did a lot of things; we did the best that we could. We had democracy, dentistry Waistband elastic, rhythmic gymnastics The rule of law, the rule of thumb Fire, the wheel, Rugby Union The petrol engine, the old-age pension The fires of Hades, the Briscoes Lady Dental floss, Motorcross the Koran, the Torah, Interflora”

  12. geoff 12

    You won’t get any change from the current political system.

  13. Reagan Cline 13

    What can we do to move in a new direction ? Slow down, perhaps stop for a while, find the new direction and press “GO”.

  14. RedBaron 14

    Yes I’ve noticed those who have been working hard on social policy. However, I still think there has to be greater interlinking between the economic portfolios and social portfolios and for this be made much more explict. i.e noting the effects of any economic policy on the various social groups.

    Looked around work, and at educated guess, around 60% of the males are living in a household with another potential income earner (children all at school say) while the reverse was true for the women. Some 60% of the women lived in a “single adult” household. This can’t be true over the whole economy but economic policy needs to be far more aware of winners and losers.

    I believe female headed households make up a large portion of low income households. A whole range of factors must be operating for this outcome not just social policy ones. Obviously these people are “losing” over a whole range of policy initiatives.

  15. QoT 15

    Kickass post, karol! (I should stop complimenting you though, eventually someone’s going to accuse us of being each other’s sockpuppets.)

    • karol 15.1

      Thanks QOT.  But of course felix, you and I  (and maybe more) are all probably the same person…. what with us all being “anonymous”!

      Even though I couldn’t write in your very witty style if I tried. 

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