Grant Brookes, Wellington
"The Alliance is a broad inclusive party of the Left with policies based on socialist principles: democracy, equality and social ownership." This is the opening statement of a working manifesto adopted by around 70 party delegates at the Alliance national conference in Wellington on November 29-30.
The Alliance's decision to openly call itself "socialist" for the first time is a watershed. It's driven by a new grassroots mood that's spreading around the world, seen in the huge anti-war protests last year. The decision also raises exciting new possibilities â and new questions â for the party and for the left in New Zealand.
The new Alliance manifesto is based on the manifesto of the Scottish Socialist Party. Colin Fox, a Scottish Socialist MP, ended his week-long national speaking tour with an address to the Alliance conference delegates. "This conference is something of a crossroads for the Alliance", he said.
The Alliance was founded in 1991 around the New Labour Party (NLP), formed when the left wing of the Labour Party walked out in disgust at "Rogernomics" in 1989. But leader Jim Anderton steered the Alliance back towards Labour, finally going into coalition with Helen Clark in 1999. Tensions exploded when the Alliance caucus voted with Labour to back the US invasion of Afghanistan.
Anderton and others left to form the Progressive Party, and the Alliance lost all its MPs in the 2002 national election.
The new party leader, Matt McCarten, told Socialist Worker Monthly Review that the people who stayed "are in for the long haul, trying to change society. The anti-war movement globally and nationally has restored their belief that it's possible."
Mike Treen from Global Peace and Justice Auckland told the conference: "People are radicalising, mostly young people. Some are influenced by socialist ideas, some by anarchist ideas, some the Green ecology movement, animal rights and so on. But they want to change the world."
Outgoing leader Laila Harré contributed her experience from the union movement. "Four years into a Labour-led government", she said, "workers are getting restless. The space for a left party continues to grow."
'Campaigning' and 'electoral'
The new manifesto contains a list of statements describing the Alliance. The conference voted to make it first of all, "a campaigning party that organises and fights for its principles and policies outside parliament", and secondly, "an electoral party that aims to build support for its socialist alternative politics and win governmental power".
This decision reverses previous priorities. Turning it into reality will be a challenge for the Alliance.
Len Richards from the South Auckland branch admitted: "A lot of focus will still be on elections. The campaigning part is something we have to learn."
The manifesto also describes the Alliance as "a pluralist party that seeks to unite socialists and left social democrats".
The socialists include people (like those supporting Socialist Worker) who believe workers must take control of society from below if we're to rid the world of capitalism.
The social democrats, on the other hand, think that if enough left-wing candidates are elected to parliament then the government can introduce reforms from above to overcome capitalism's problems.
Richards says, "Most of the party is left of Keynesianism [social democracy]". However, there is a group of 50 members (who weren't at the conference) opposed to the new socialist direction.
The manifesto is designed to give enough detail about what to do right now, while being sufficiently vague on the bigger questions, to provide a basis for unity inside the party and â longer term â across the left.
Richards, one of its authors, says: "We want to invite other socialists to join. They could come and make their contribution."
Many workers today have little faith in parliament, but as yet see little alternative to social democracy. Revolutionaries who want to reach them need to work with social democrats. But is uniting in a single party the best way, when fundamental debates about reform or revolution run through everything? For instance, should the Alliance run in elections in order to enter government, or to help build campaigns outside parliament?
Should the Alliance back protesters and strikers who defy the law, or support the legislation passed by parliament?
Despite guarantees of internal democracy, there is a danger that the need for outward party unity could suppress vital debates like these.
However the manifesto does contain strong commitments to a socialist goal. The Alliance, it says, "challenges the conventional idea that global capitalism is permanent or invincible and advocates a socialist alternative for society". And it "will fight to ensure the country's resources are collectively owned and democratically controlled by the people of New Zealand".
The Alliance is in transition. This is true of individuals and the party as a whole. Since Anderton left there are new, younger members in Christchurch, Wellington, Palmerston North and elsewhere.
John Anderson from Wellington is one of them. At the conference, he was elected onto the Alliance's ruling body. He told Socialist Worker Monthly Review, "My experience in the anti-war movement has developed me from social democratic to socialist politics. The anti-war movement is also starting to create connections between traditions and movements that have been previously unknown or dormant for years."
Last century, the Labour Party was born out of a massive defeat for the union movement â the crushing of the 1913 general strike. From the outset, this steered it towards getting MPs elected and away from struggles outside parliament.
The Alliance today is growing out of massive defeat in parliament, and a turn towards the unions and mass movements. If the party is able to turn its decisions into action on the ground, it's likely to be pulled further towards revolution.
The Alliance conference elected Matt McCarten as the new party leader after Laila Harré decided to step down. This is a shortened version of his acceptance speech: "Last night, singing 'Auld Lang Syne', was the first time in 14 years I'd held hands with anyone in the Alliance. For the first time, the Alliance felt like a political family. That was the party we set out to build 14 years ago. After last year's conference, we were licking our wounds. People needed time to grieve after the election defeat. I knew it would take another year before we could move forward. In the last month, I've felt a change. Colin [Fox] has helped to contribute to that.
"The Alliance and the NLP were extraordinarily successful. But it was all about electoralism, getting MPs elected for its own sake. The conflicts ultimately destroyed us. There's been some debate about whether we need a party leader. I want to say I'm not the 'leader'. We're all just servants of the movement. My role is to articulate externally what we're about.
"We should co-operate with the Greens. I got a call last night from one of the Green Party leaders, saying we should talk. But we are a party for social justice independent of others. We will work with our fraternal allies as appropriate.
"In 1994, we had the five parties [the New Labour Party, Mana Motuhake, the Greens, the Democrats and the Liberals]. When we got MPs elected, it was a divvy-up behind closed doors. The members had nothing to do with it.
"In 1996, I withdrew my nomination from the party list. I wanted to take up a role as the elected president, because I knew the contradictions would eventually come out. I'm glad it was Afghanistan that did it. It was a litmus issue.
"Jim [Anderton] said to me a number of times, 'Do you understand? George Bush says you're either with us or you're with the terrorists. Are you with the Americans or not?' I thought the answer was obvious. The American empire is the new Holy Roman empire, spreading over the world. It could be Iran next, or Syria. That's what the future is, unless movements like ours fight to stop it. It can't be fought with guns any more, but with ideas.
"Our society is an unjust society, and it's getting worse. You see it clearly when you stand on a picket line or in the movement on the streets. The Alliance moves away now from being better at managing capitalism to its overthrow. We've been elected to the parliament of the streets. I prefer it, actually. The next period of our time is out on the streets, earning the right to represent those who struggle. We need to be with them, not doing it for them.
"The things we have to deal with include who owns our society. That comes down to the struggle between classes. The electoral agenda is essential for a movement like ours. We need to have a dual strategy â in elections and on the streets."
McCarten's speech captured the mood of delegates. "I'm glad he came out and said it", said Len Richards from South Auckland. "Great, great, fantastic!", said Tricia Hehir from Palmerston North. "Matt's speech reflected the spirit of the members", she told Socialist Worker Monthly Review. "It's like we've got a rank and filer as a leader."
[From Socialist Worker Monthly Review. Visit <http://au.geocities.com/swo_nz>.]
From Green Left Weekly, January 14, 2004.
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