Monday, 19 November 2007
Statement by the central committee of Socialist Worker-New Zealand on the occasion of the two separate Respect conferences taking place in London on 17 November 2007. The political crisis in Respect that has led to a split is a setback for the movement in Britain. Many activists involved with Respect must be incredibly frustrated and disappointed that this happened at this time and in this manner. Some of that frustration and disappointment is shared by Socialist Worker-New Zealand. As an organisation we have watched closely the development of Respect, as an example of a broad left political formation. That this split has occurred, however, should not detract from the urgent necessity of building broad left alternatives. It’s not inevitable that a coalition that brings together people from a range of political traditions and experiences should fracture in this way. And there’s hope that out of the split, and the important political lessons it contains, a viable broad left project which maintains the original vision of Respect can emerge. For us in New Zealand, building a mass-based broad left alternative is central to the political strategy of our organisation. It is a strategy that we believe has global reach. Why broad left formations are necessary To many activists, workers and other grassroots people it’s apparent that the world’s becoming more dangerous, unequal, and at risk of environmental catastrophe. Corporate imperialism is driving the US ruling class to pursue a global war, currently centred on the Middle East. The same forces of corporate domination and control are marching the world headlong towards irreversible climate change. While the wealth gap between the world’s elite and the vast majority of humanity continues to grow. Grassroots people in every country are deeply concerned and angry at the twisted world that’s been created by three decades of neo-liberalism. In recent years – though globally uneven – there have been signs that anger is being combined with a growing willingness to fight back. Internationally, a layer of younger anti-capitalist activists has emerged. In some countries there’s increased militancy by unionised workers. And in Latin America, led by the revolutionary process in Venezuela, millions of people are now in revolt against corporate rule. So while the world faces the most urgent problems which threaten the lives of billions of people, there are also opportunities for building a political challenge to the corporate imperialists and the political parties that represent them. This is being recognised by activists in many countries, who are forming broad left networks, coalitions and parties. There’s a growing realisation that mass-based political alternatives to formerly social democratic parties that have embraced neo-liberalism have got to be built. For Socialist Worker-New Zealand such broad left formations are necessary for raising the confidence of working class people, because they begin to establish the prospect of an alternative society with different norms of collective behaviour and social responsibility. A programme of general and specific demands Central to many broad left initiatives is a common strategy: which is, the vital importance of presenting a programme of general and specific demands out to the wider movement. Such demands include free healthcare, free education, the nationalisation of wealth for the people, measures to protect the environment, rights for workers, rights for indigenous people, and so on. These demands can mobilise people in the struggle, uniting them into a potentially powerful force for social change. This is an essential strategy for advancing the movement after years of neo-liberal attacks and often severe defeats for workers and other grassroots people. Creating a viable electoral platform to present progressive demands out to masses of people is a necessity. Achieving legitimacy and authority in the eyes of grassroots people requires committed efforts to mount serious electoral campaigns. This is one part of building organic links with people who have been politically marginalised for so long. This electoral work must, of course, go hand-in-hand with grassroots campaigning in communities and workplaces. Mass outreach publications are needed which aim to bring broad layers of people into common activity. Such publications are important for maintaining an outwards focus and encouraging participants in broad left formations, both individuals and groups, to regard this work as a political priority. New Zealand’s Workers Charter Our organisation has worked with other radical leftists in New Zealand to establish the Workers Charter, a document which includes a ten-point list of human rights (see Appendix). At the beginning of 2006 the Workers Charter paper was set-up to promote the charter and to connect with workers and other grassroots people beginning to radicalise. The paper is distributed at protests and through union networks. The aim has been to bring socialist, leftists and other activists closer together, where debates can take place in the context of an orientation to the wider movement. The ten-point Workers Charter is also part of the manifesto of the Residents Action Movement (RAM). RAM was formed in 2003 by leading members of Socialist Worker-New Zealand in coalition with other grassroots activists on the back of a rates revolt in Auckland, New Zealand’s biggest city. In the 2007 local body elections RAM stood candidates across Greater Auckland (population: 1.4 million) and received over 100,000 votes campaigning on a clear anti-corporate, pro-people, pro-environment platform. Key policies were free and frequent public transport and shifting the rates burden off residents and onto big corporations. We see RAM and the Workers Charter as part of the struggle to build a serious challenge to the increasingly neo-liberal and reactionary New Zealand Labour Party. Breaking the hold that social liberal parties still maintain over workers and the wider movement will remove a crucial barrier to advancing the confidence of grassroots people. This is going to be a difficult struggle, but one which Socialist Worker-New Zealand believes must be embarked on with total commitment. Free debate and open democracy Broad left formations are by their very nature going to bring people with a range of views and experiences together. This is to be celebrated. Different ideas, shades of socialist and left politics, will generate much needed political creativity as broad left formations strive to connect with working class people. Any broad left network, coalition or party that is to have a long term future must foster a spirit of trust and equality based on free debate and open democracy. And certainly no one group can claim ownership and control. But because this is the real world of politics, there will be differences and often quite intense debates at every stage of the struggle, but all individuals and groups must make every effort to avoid behaviour that destroys long term political relationships between activists. Further, uncomradely argument and bureaucratic pettiness simply alienates ordinary grassroots people, particularly those new to political activity. Who are the very people that any broad left coalition or party must seek to attract. An outwards focus, where the goal is always to relate to grassroots people who are becoming radicalised in the current political context, is crucial to maintaining a political culture which encourages the free exchange of ideas. The significance of the Venezuelan revolution Socialist Worker-New Zealand believes the question of building broad left alternatives should be considered in relation to the Venezuelan revolution and its global impact. The revolutionary process in Venezuela involves millions of people, it is democratic, it is anti-imperialist, and it is empowering grassroots Venezuelans. A whole society is being transformed. These historic events provide all of us who hope for social change an opportunity to point to a real life alternative. This must be utilised by any broad left formation serious about advancing the movement in their own country. In addition, it is our opinion that the Venezuelan revolution holds some important lessons for broad left formations looking to build a mass movement. Socialism for the 21st century is being achieved by a strategically and tactically astute leadership putting in front of grassroots Venezuelans inspiring but attainable goals that have then been acted upon by millions of people. Through this process the struggle has pressed on towards socialist goals. We can look to advancing the movement in this way inside our own countries through broad left formations presenting well considered demands and policies out to masses of ordinary people. A new mass socialist international Recently, Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez proposed a new International of socialist parties and the left for Latin America and the Caribbean. An international forum is being planned for 2008. It’s our belief that the Venezuelan revolution and the wider Latin American uprisings are indeed providing the essential material foundations for a new socialist international of the type that Chávez is proposing. A new International would be a hugely significant development for a grassroots, inclusive and democratic struggle against corporate imperialism. A mass socialist international that links the inspiring example of the Venezuelan revolution with radical forces in other countries would have moral and political authority in the eyes of millions. It could give real leadership and coordination to the global struggle against poverty, eco-destruction and war. As a step towards creating a new International, Socialist Worker-New Zealand is proposing to comrades in Venezuela and international socialists the urgent formation of an International Editorial Committee to facilitate a multi-language international discussion on the global significance of the Venezuelan revolution. A global programme for a living world The formation of a new mass socialist international would expand prospects for building a global broad left movement. It is Socialist Worker-New Zealand’s belief that the broad left strategy being pursued within individual countries can be supplemented and enhanced by a global broad left programme. A global programme for a living world, founded on the rights of humans to dignity, prosperity and peace, would electrify and unite the international struggle. Especially if it was promoted by an International that included the newly formed United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), set to be the biggest mass party of the left in the world. A global programme that includes general and specific demands generated by the movement would build practical solidarity between peoples in different countries. A common programme that has mass buy-in from left and socialist forces on every continent would be a truly powerful force for social change. Such a bold international strategy would provide a massive lift to the struggle in every country, potentially acting as a force to overcome unevenness in the global movement. By forging bonds of international solidarity we strengthen the struggle in our own countries. Relating to the struggle here and now The political focus of socialists and the radical left has to be on relating to the problems and opportunities in front of the movement now. To miss the opportunities that are present, through a lack of vision or through sectarian political practices, could bring grave consequences for humanity and the struggle to achieve a just society. In the absence of broad left coalitions or parties with a mass following it will be the right that stands to benefit in a situation of intensified capitalist crisis. It was not predetermined that the activists who have worked in and alongside Respect since 2004 would come to see the project arrive at its present point. Given the correct political outlook, commitment and vision, socialists and radical leftists can work cooperatively in broad left formations. Socialist Worker-New Zealand believes this is possible and absolutely necessary in the current political context. Organising to achieve increased confidence and political involvement of grassroots people in a progressive movement for social change should be the immediate priority of the international movement. We would like to establish links with all activists who are interested in our thoughts on building a global broad left movement. Contact email@example.com In solidarity, Central committee of Socialist Worker-New Zealand SIGNED BY Don Archer Grant Brookes Vaughan Gunson Bernie Hornfeck Peter Hughes Daphne Lawless Grant Morgan Len Parker Tony Snelling-Berg Appendix New Zealand's 10-point Workers Charter has been endorsed by the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions and is included in the manifesto of RAM (Residents Action Movement). The 10 points of the Workers Charter are: 1. The right to a job that pays a living wage and gives us time with our families and communities. 2. The right to pay equity for women, youth and casual workers. 3. The right to free public healthcare and education, and to liveable superannuation and welfare. 4. The right to decent housing without crippling mortgages and rents. 5. The right to public control of assets vital to community well-being. 6. The right to protect our environment from corporate greed. 7. The right to express our personal identity free from discrimination. 8. The right to strike in defence of our interests. 9. The right to organise for the transfer of wealth and power from the haves to the have-nots. 10. The right to unite with workers in other lands against corporate globalisation and war.