This piece originally appeared on Fightback immediately after the 2014 election titled “Where Next: Reflections on a Defeat”.
In the wake of the crushing election defeat, the left in Aotearoa, particularly members of the MANA movement needs to take careful lessons. The Internet Party alliance was a gamble,and it did not pay off. Being open about that is important. But recognising failures cannot be used as an excuse to withdraw into sectarian politics and practices.
The IP alliance was an attempt to share MANA’s political alternative to new layers of people. MANA’s message has a loyal following, but one that is politically isolated from much of the population. The alliance was an attempt to break out of this isolation and to build our movement for change. Unfortunately, this attempt failed. While the vote did slightly increase, and some activists did join Mana who might not have done otherwise, it was not enough. Dotcom was portrayed as a force that discredited MANA’s message. While MANA did not water down its politics, the perception was that a ‘deal’ had been done. This perception combined with the pressure of the entire political establishment combined to defeat Hone in Te Tai Tokerau, and the movement has lost its seat in parliament.
This is a bitter failure, and it is one that we need to reflect on.
But this cannot be used as an excuse to unnecessarily withdraw. Some socialists will use this as an excuse to turn back easier fields, such a small campus groups or activist niches. But this leaves us in exactly the same place as we find ourselves after this failed electoral experiment. One road was not successful in reaching new people and building our movement, the other does not even try to. Both roads will fail to build sustained and articulate movements for change.
Learning the lessons from this campaign will mean doing more, not less. It will mean building stronger and politically clearer projects of the left. The mainstream media played a central role in undermining MANA and distorting our message. We need to build our own media projects to fight the battle of ideas and build our pro people alternatives.
Our pro people message is best shown when people themselves express it. Building movements and taking to the streets articulates the strength of ordinary people. Activists will have to build stronger organisation in our unions and communities. Building larger organisations of fight engaged in struggle can help to build the audience for radical ideas.
The campaign for InternetMANA did show that this is possible. The attendance generated at the roadshows, and the increase in volunteers willing to work for the movement shows there is a basis for an alternative. In hindsight, it was naive to think that this could be translated into an electoral challenge effectively overnight.
But if we can organise and build on these seeds, organisationally and politically, it can be a stepping stone for struggles in the coming months and years. I think socialists need to collectively think about how to respond to these challenges and how we are going to work more effectively, together, going forward.