This is by Cameron Walker- No one is born Left: why we need to organise the extra-parliamentary left
Cameron recently finished a Bachelor of Arts/Law conjoint degree at the University of Auckland. He has been a subeditor for the Auckland University Law Review and Co-Editor for the Public Interest Law Journal of New Zealand, and is active volunteering with Auckland Philippines Solidarity and Migrante Aotearoa.
New Zealand is currently facing many serious economic and social issues, including the housing crisis, homelessness, commercialised tertiary education, casualised working conditions and exploitation.
Over the past 8 years a lot of debate within left circles surrounding these issues has focused on the best way to run election campaigns, organise parliamentary alliances or even start new parties to vote out the National led government.
Unfortunately focusing on Parliament alone neglects the great importance extra-parliamentary movements and politics can have on shaping political debate and ideas within society. Just because the NZ electorate may vote out National at a future election does not mean an incoming government Labour led government will immediately tackle these issues. Pressure is needed from outside of Parliament to build mass support for left wing policy.
A strong extra-parliamentary movement can fight for justice no matter which party is leading the government. It also can involve many ordinary people in its activities, educate them politically and build their abilities to both stand up for themselves and others.
By extra-parliamentary I mean those activist and community groups who campaign and organise from a left wing perspective but are not political parties or affiliates of political parties.
For example Auckland Action Against Poverty (AAAP) started from humble beginnings in 2010 but is now a regular voice in the media on issues of poverty and inequality. AAAP mixes helping individuals with gaining their proper entitlements from WINZ and political activism to challenge unjust economic and social policies marginalising the poor. It trains people to work as beneficiary advocates, developing important skills in learning how to deal with government departments and knowing the law. As a recent news article attests, AAAP’s advocates have made a positive impact for those in difficult circumstances needing to negotiate the rigmarole of getting state assistance.
There are also several other impressive extra-parliamentary initiatives which have sprung up in recent years such as the new left wing think tank Economic and Social Research Aotearoa (ESRA) as well as Counterfutures Journal. Both of these organisations are doing a fantastic job of promoting solid research and debate as a basis for political action.
Currently most New Zealand activist groups are of a single issue variety. Many do very good work but can be isolated from other groups fighting on different causes. I feel extra-parliamentary organisations could be greatly strengthened if they had an organisation which could act as a core.
The core organisation would have a shared analysis of New Zealand society and what economic and social changes were required to create a just society. The core would provide political co-ordination to the different mass affiliated to it. This would provide unity in political analysis and could ensure organisations mobilising different sectors of New Zealand society or around different issues could work together effectively. The shared principles and analysis would be decided upon after a large amount of research and discussion concerning the nature of capitalism and the political system in New Zealand.
Organisations like this do exist in other countries. One organisation which has been of inspiration to me is the Philippines’ Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (New Patriotic Alliance) or Bayan for short. Bayan is an umbrella group of a number of mass organisations, mobilising different sectors in Philippine society. Member organisations include groups mobilising workers (KMU union), farmers (peasant organisation KMP), the urban poor (Kadamay), environmentalists (Kalikasan), women (Gabriela), indigenous people (KAMP) students (League of Filipino Students), Filipino migrants abroad (Migrante) and church people (Promotion for Church People’s Response).
Bayan organises around a shared analysis that the Philippines’ is a semi-colonial country under the control of US imperialism. Land relations in the countryside are semi feudal and characterised by exploitation of peasants by large landholders, and the Philippine political system creates “bureaucrat capitalists” —family dynasties who use politics and corruption as a way to enrich themselves. Bayan and all its member organisations see organising the masses as the best way to challenge these three problems, semi-colonialism, semi-feudalism and bureaucrat capitalism.
New Zealand of course is a very different country to the Philippines. However, I think Bayan is one organisation worth studying for the New Zealand left. It has managed to survive for a long period, in an at times a very hostile political atmosphere, and also achieved significant victories for those it organises.
As noted earlier, any new core organisation set up in New Zealand would need to debate and collectively come to a common analysis. The core organisation’s nature and activities would also reflect those of the mass organisations affiliated to it.
My own preference would be for a core organisation and mass organisations which push for socialist economic, housing, health, welfare and education policy suited specifically for a New Zealand context, based on concrete research not empty slogans.
The organisation would put a huge emphasis on economic, social and political education aimed both its members and a mass audience. This is because none of us are born left wing or immediately knowledgeable about social and economic issues. Even for established activists learning should never stop because the World is constantly changing.
The organisation would also seriously support organisation among workers, including migrant workers, and the unemployed to ensure these sectors have the confidence and ability to advocate and stick up for themselves against bad employers, welfare agencies and landlords.
In the realm of foreign policy the organisation would support a peaceful and independent path. Links should be built with similar organisations and parties around the World too so we can share experiences and support one another. It would also be openly anti-imperialist and support liberation causes in the Third World such as those in Palestine, the Philippines, Kurdistan and West Papua.
The challenges facing New Zealand and the World at large are great. However, I think building a strong extra-parliamentary left core organisation and mass organisations would strengthen the cause of creating a just society.
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