Commentary- Andrew Tait, ISO Dunedin
To watch the ACT party - once the mouthpiece of the ruling class, showered with money and praise by the elite, feted by the media lapdogs as the voice of economic reason, a party blessed with every advantage except policies palatable to ordinary people - to watch this party fall apart under the weight of its own contradictions is a rare pleasure. Dancing with the Stars was a laugh, Garret was a sick joke, and Hilary Calvert promises to bring a more serious level of insane fanaticism to the ACT caucus.
To be sure, the ascension of Calvert to the Beehive will not on its own end the ACT party, but it is yet another sign of the evaporation of its talent pool.
Calvert won 1.8% of the vote in Dunedin North in the 2008 election - that's 573 electorate votes and just 749 party votes. That's less than 100 votes better than the Legalise Cannabis candidate. For contrast, directly above her, Metiria Turei won 3,611 electorate votes and 5221 party votes, and Pete Hodgson, who won the seat, had 17000+ electorate votes and 14000+ party votes.
Calvert is in Parliament thanks to Rodney Hide's electorate vote and a tiny lunatic fringe up and down the country who still vote for ACT. She can in no way claim to "represent" Dunedin. The International Socialist Organisation, which is a small student-based club that makes no claim to being a national political party and has next to nothing in the way of funds or media profile, has repeatedly mobilised more people on street demonstrations than voted for Calvert. When we supported Tim Bowron as "a socialist for mayor" back in 2007, he received 896 votes.
We revolutionary socialists fully acknowledge that we are marginal to the mainstream of politics. But we are tiny organisations without business backing and without upper-class professional members and supporters. We can't buy advertising or engage spin doctors. We can't pull any strings or rely on the professional networks that Labour, National, and ACT can. Because of the dominance of the Labour Party in the union movement, we don't even have a base in the organised working class, the very people whose interests we work so hard to represent. For us, survival is a victory, and every small battle we win is won only by dedication and self-sacrifice in the face of overwhelming odds.
The ACT Party, by contrast, had every advantage in resourcing in their financial, professional and social capital that could be lavished on them. Where we socialists have to think twice before we speak at a demo, write an article, or stand on a picket line for fear of being branded as a troublemaker and denied work, being in the ACT party is proof that you are eminently employable. For us, political activity may make it harder to pay the mortgage, to buy groceries or pay for our children's school camps; for them, political activity is rewarded by the bosses as a service to the boss class.
Despite all of these advantages, the ACT Party is an advanced state of decay. Why is this?
The basic reason is that they are selling poison and even the best sales team will struggle with that. The 2008 global financial crisis rung the death knell for the ideology (call it neo-liberalism, monetarism, or the free market, whatever you well) that dominated politics for 30 years. This theory has failed to do anything except massively enrich the rich. A deeper question is why on earth do we even have an ACT party. NZ is, so far as I know, unique in having such an openly pro-capitalist (specifically pro-corporate) party. Of course, pro-business parties exist in other countries, but, so far as I know, always base themselves on a section of the population other than big business, which is just numerically too small to matter in a democracy.
ACT is unique because it is a product of the Labour movement.
Coming after the economically and socially conservative Muldoon government, the 1984-1990 Labour Government of David Lange seemed a breath of fresh air. The piggish brutality the Muldoon government and state forces used to suppress the 1981 anti-apartheid movement was part of the logic of the Cold War.
The election of Lange seemed to signal a victory for liberation but capitalism was in crisis and the Labour Party knew no other path than compromise.
Unlike in most other countries though, the compromise here was wholehearted and enthusiastic. The leading figures were Roger Douglas, Richard Prebble, David Caygill and Michael Bassett, but the entire caucus was complicit with the notable exception of Jim Anderton. The mistaken association between human liberation and business "liberation" spawned the criminal crew of the Association of Crooks and Thieves (ACT). This outfit celebrated state sell-offs that enriched an already wealthy few while beggaring the working population.
Our grandfathers and grandmothers, who starved as children in the Depression, worked, killed and died in the war, then built up through their labour the roads, rail, schools, polytechs and unis, the dams and power lines. This generation through enormous work laid the foundations of a better world - and then a small cabal of smarmy school boys, too clever for their own good, sold it off for the price of a $1 mixture at the dairy.
In the UK and the US, these policies were pursued by Tories, here by Labour.
The wholehearted embrace by the supposed representatives of the working class of the policies of the ruling class is the reason for the existence of a party of big business, even though big business is too tiny a section of the population to electorally support such a party. The disorientation that resulted from this massive betrayal allowed, for two decades, a party to survive that based itself purely on policies in the interest of the 1% to 5% of the population that run big business.
This highlights the role of subjective factors - consciousness and ideology - in history. There is no mechanical link between classes and their political parties. Classes, like people, express themselves in the languages, in the traditions they have inherited. The absence of a Marxist current in the working class movement in New Zealand allowed an enormous betrayal with long-lasting after-effects – such as a catastrophic decline in our placing on all OECD rankings.
Nonetheless, you can fool some people sometimes, but you can't fool all the people all the time. The point arrived, somewhere around the appointment of Rodney Hide as leader, where the ACT Party was no longer able to sustain itself on the basis of policies that only appealed to the ruling class. They need to reach out to the conservative right, to the reactionary sections of the small business class.
They went fishing in murky waters and pulled up a grave-robber.
David Garret stealing the identity of a dead baby is distasteful, but it is important to recognise that that action is symptomatic of an arrogant, adventurist, element in the professions and small business. Their attitudes are the attitudes of the expat in the South Pacific, who feels it his right to beat the local men and seduce the women. Their attitudes are well-represented by David Garrett and Bruce Emery, the kiddy-killer and the revenge-obsessed Garth McVicar, of the Sensible Sentencing Trust.
This is the cess-pool where the neo-liberals, who once portrayed themselves as the best and brightest, as the young Turks, as the wave of the future who held human happiness in their hands, this is the cess-pool where they now drink, the shadows they now lurk in.
We revolutionary socialists, by contrast, can celebrate our survival in the face of some of the worst ideological weather of the last 100 years. We have survived in the teeth of an onslaught in the media and in reality on working class living standards and working class organisation. We don't discount for a minute the continuing threat that the far right represents, but we relish the revenge of history.