The Socialist Equality Group (SEG), a supporter of New Zealand’s Fourth International Committee, held a public webinar on November 8 entitled “For a socialist program against the right-wing agenda of the New Zealand Labor government.” The meeting debunked propaganda portraying Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s government as a compassionate and progressive government, and highlighted New Zealand’s growing integration into the US war plan.
Its chairman, SEG member Matthew Carrington, began by pointing out that the meeting was held during the historic crisis of democracy in the United States. Earlier in the day Joe Biden finally announced victory in the US presidential election four days earlier. Seated President Donald Trump refuses to give up and has made the unsubstantiated claim that he lost to “voter fraud.”
Cheryl Crisp, national secretary of the Socialist Equality Party (Australia) stressed that, contrary to the claims made by Jacobin and another pseudo-left organization, Democrats do not represent lesser crime. Biden is preparing a “form of national unity administration” with direct Republican involvement. Crisp points to the outburst of anger by leading Democrats against socialism, highlighting the party’s ruthless hostility to any policy to tackle social inequality.
Crisp explained that Democrats underestimated Trump’s threat of a coup and his push for fascist militias, because “they are so much more afraid of the movement of workers and young people than of carrying out Trump’s fascist coup.”
The two sides “approached the pandemic from the point of view not of saving lives but of saving profits,” said Crisp. Democrats support the Trump administration’s multi-trillion dollar bailout for big business – its main response to the pandemic – while rejecting serious steps to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Nearly a quarter of a million people in the US alone have died from COVID-19 and poverty and inequality are rising as a result of this bipartisan policy.
SEG member John Braddock explained that, contrary to Ardern’s description of New Zealand as “an oasis of calm in a chaotic and difficult world”, the country is not isolated from the worsening global economic, social and geopolitical crisis. In the past three years, the Ardern government has increasingly integrated New Zealand into US preparations for war against China.
The Trump administration openly intervened after the 2017 New Zealand election, through its ambassador, to support the formation of a Labor-led coalition that includes the NZ First Party, right-wing nationalists. Washington prefers the Labor-NZ First government because both sides have opposed strengthening business ties with China previously led by the National Party.
Braddock pointed to the Ardern administration’s recent move to redeploy the air force to Japan as part of a US-led military siege on China and North Korea, and Ardern’s praise for an increase in US coast guard vessels in the Pacific region. “The discussion about increasing the US presence in the Pacific goes completely behind the backs of the population during the election campaign,” said Braddock.
SEG’s Tom Peters outlined the Ardern government’s pro-business response to the pandemic, reflecting responses from the US and other governments. Tens of billions of dollars have been turned over to big businesses and banks, “creating enormous debt that will be repaid through austerity and vicious pro-business restructuring.”
Peters denied these claims Jacobin and the International Socialist Organization that the re-election of the Labor Party was a “victory for the left”. “This trend writes as if the Ardern government’s attacks on the working class over the past three years have never happened and they pretend that everything has improved,” he said.
Speakers provided an overview of rising poverty, including falling incomes, rising unemployment, increased demand for charity, soaring house prices and rents, and entrenched homelessness rates.
Peters noted that workers had tried to counter the Ardern government’s austerity policies, with a national strike in 2018-2019 by teachers and nurses, but this historic act was betrayed. “In New Zealand, as in every other country,” he said, “the main obstacle is the trade union bureaucracy, which works with the help of the pseudo-left to subdue the working class onto the Labor Party’s capitalist agenda.” Salaries for health workers and teachers, and staff in hospitals and schools, remain effectively frozen.
A new eruption of revolutionary class struggle is inevitable, Peters said, but workers must prepare by making conscious political breakthroughs from the corporate trade unions, the Labor Party, the Green Party and their supporters. The necessary political leadership, based on socialism and internationalism, must be built. “That is why joining our party is the most pressing political task facing those at this meeting who agree with our analysis,” concluded Peters.
The report raises several questions from audiences, including about SEG’s support for a lockdown in response to the pandemic, and about the differences between Marxism and reformist proposals such as those put forward by economist Joseph Stiglitz. Responding to the last question, AMPL writer Nick Beams explained the bankruptcy of Stiglitz’s call for the ruling class to change its mindset and adopt a gentler form of capitalism. The alternative facing workers is not reform or revolution, but revolution or counter-revolution, he said (see also: The deception of “progressive capitalism”).
In response to other questions, Braddock explained SEG’s opposition to two referendums on euthanasia and legalization of cannabis. Socialists cannot support euthanasia while the health system, elderly care is dominated by the demands of profit, he said. Euthanasia is being promoted while governments around the world are letting elderly people die of COVID-19, and right-wing commentators argue they are too expensive to survive.
Braddock said legalizing marijuana was wrongly promoted, especially by the Greens, as a progressive step to stop young people being victimized by police. In fact, the aim is to make the drug more widely available to divert the attention of working class youth from the political struggle against capitalism. Crisp added that socialists are against criminalizing drug users, but not legalization. “Our struggle is to raise the level of consciousness, the level of awareness, among the youth and the working class; the role of marijuana, the role of drugs and alcohol is to kill it, ”he said.
Another audience asked about SEG’s position on the government’s anti-immigrant actions. New Zealand Draconian border restrictions meaning he had been separated from his partner, who was trapped abroad, for over a year. Meanwhile, “film crews, billionaires” and other special people were allowed into the country.
Peters argued that the Labor Party shared NZ First’s anti-immigrant position, and blamed migrants for the social crisis. The SEG calls on the “working class in New Zealand to defend the rights of immigrants,” who make up a large proportion of the population. The strategy of the ruling class is to divide immigrants from other workers to prevent resistance to austerity, militarism and attacks on democratic rights.