GUEST BLOG: Ben Peterson – Ideas arent enough


It’s an election year in New Zealand/Aotearoa. Around the world elections are proving to be wild and unpredictable. New political actors and organisations are arising from the margins, and the status quo is on the defensive. Its kicking off everywhere, except it seems, New Zealand.

In contrast to the rest of the world, NZ seems to be sleepwalking towards an election. If you want too see an ambitious, radical and progressive political voice, the options are sadly limited. For the radical left, the question is how do we turn this around? How can we build a radical political instrument to express the popular frustration with the status quo?

Its not an easy question to answer.

Political shake ups can look wildly different in different situations. Some countries have built new political parties from scratch, while elsewhere established formations have seen their elites displaced by internal rebellions. The shape of a radical revolt is hard to predict in advance, but with growing inequality and a large part of the population disengaged and frustrated, there is every reason to believe that could happen here too. But how?

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Many who want to see this kind of rebellion start from the policy. “If only Labour/The Greens/New Party stood up for free education and healthcare, think of how popular it would be!”

This would only be a part of the picture. By itself policy is not enough. A radical politics is not new policies, but a new way of doing politics.

Jeremy Corbyn is a good example of this. It is true that Corbyn’s political positions were a departure from the Blairite Labour mainstream. But this was only part of the picture. Corbyn’s way of campaigning was also a radical leap.

Jez Corbyn’s campaign wasn’t dependent on big ticket funders and wooing the media. It was a turn to the grassroots. Corbyn put his trust in getting his message out directly, through mass rallies not prime time tv advertisements. And bringing together crowds of people helped create the energy to drive an army of volunteers, hitting the streets and winning over millions of in one-on-one conversations.

Radical politics is driven by popular participation. Its not just winning the debate with a good idea, its bringing thousands of new working class people into politics to campaign for these ideas.

In Spain, the radical party Podemos was built out of the “indignados” protests, where tens of thousands occupied town squares to protest against the corrupt politics of the status quo.

A NZ manifestation of the new left politics has to be more than just a new set of radical policies. For this departure to grow, it would to be built on top of new spaces for mass participation in radical politics.

In Aotearoa, it is still unclear where these energies will coalesce- in Labour, the Greens or Something new? But this doesn’t mean that leftists should wait for a socialist savior. We can’t invent a Corbyn, but by building activist campaigns and networks we create the social mass that can make it possible.


Ben Peterson is a Union Organiser for Unite


  1. NZ Political parties need to invite the British Labour Party strategists here for a forum of their teams to copy the success they used which we assume was engaging in their supporters and party members being made to join in a campaigns of door knocking and engaging in town hall forums with solid attendance from the youth who are our lost voters now.

    Solid policies to interest the young would be a must and using a solid base of showing that a new policy of a kinder, gentler, open engaging inclusive governance are the future policies of the opposition parties after they are elected by the voters.

    This was helen larks successful policies shew won the 1999 election in a landslide election.

  2. “How can we build a radical political instrument to express the popular frustration with the status quo?”

    There is no “popular frustration”

  3. And prey tell which country the ‘radical left’ has made it into power and then made it better and more prosperous for the inhabitants Ben?…Spain…Venezuela…Greece?, I could go on but you get the message, ohhh wait sorry, no you don’t do you, as YOUR brand of far left politics WILL work this time as all other countries did it wrong eh? 🙂

    snort snigger guffaw

    • We only have to delve into our own history, and not that long ago
      30 years of neo liberal economics certainly hasn’t resulted in a flourishing country, where we seemingly can’t afford to house our people, protect and nurture our young, and provide a decent health system that serves all
      Recently the UN put out a report on the state of childhood in the world
      We have slipped to 28th place, behind Estonia and Lithuania
      Snort, snigger and guffaw all you like but right wing economics are an abysmal failure

    • Answer: China, Cuba

      It only works when you’re armed and prepared to kill. Don’t worry, snorty, it will happen here (I think Cuba shares obvious similarities with No Zealand)

  4. This article seems to be right on the mark. One way forward may be to start thinking of the left as a new political movement altogether; nothing to do with the old workers’ party, unionists or Rogernomics for that matter. Very soon most people will be ‘working’ up to four hours a day, four days a week or fewer. It may be time to drop the wasted party labels and the isms and start thinking in terms of policies – those that give people a fair go, one at a time, thoughtfully. That’s why I’m voting for TOP. Each one of their policies seems to be morally robust, well thought through and certainly more pragmatic and achievable than anything Labour or the Greens have on offer. In the old language of isms and neo-liberal dogma, the TOP party is probably further to the left than the Greens. The last week’s political news in New Zealand has been consumed by pathetic National and Labour personality politics and for some strange reason the media is lapping it all up. We need to grow up as a nation and give those the bird that deserve it.
    To illustrate my point, here’s an article from the ODT…/morgan-impresses-dunedin-audience

  5. “How can we build a radical political instrument to express the popular frustration with the status quo?

    Its not an easy question to answer.”

    Yes it is.

    How does one eat an elephant?
    The answer is one spoon full at a time.

    If change is to occur in anaesthetised NZ, change must be started slowly and deliberately.

    Ever heard of compounding interest? It’s a vicious parasite of a thing whereby one starts with a small debt that, for one reason or another, remains unpaid while the lender ratchets up the interest upon interest upon interest.

    Start slowly and inexorably and before you know it? The Bank has the farm.
    ( Or, before we know it, we have our country back and the scum are in prison.)
    Start to build the numbers to augment change. 2×2=4-x4=16-x16=256-x256=65536-x65536=4,294,967,296 … Etc
    The ONLY thing the Kiwi tories fear, more than the Devil himself, is our numbers.
    The Right Wing have brainwashed us via our MSM they took from us, made our TV’s unwatchable and wretched things that spread the disease of malaise and they’ve conspired with the foreign owned banks to enslave us in debt for which we mindlessly go into to buy baubles and junk houses those fucking awful ads insist we must have.
    If you still think you’re bewildered about what to do and think my opinion is of little value then hire a marketing person to enlighten you and an actor to spread the Word.
    That’s what the Right Wing do and it’s clearly working for them so why should it not work for us also?
    The only down side is that, that kind of tactic could become very scary and might quickly get out of control. I get a sense that NZ’s like a powder keg looking for a match. Remember the Queen Street Riots?

    Are the kids all right? 
    ‘Tears, terror at the concert that made history’ was one of the newspaper headlines the day following the Queen Street riot of December 1984. It made for heady reading over the morning cornflakes as papers described screaming children, bloody head wounds and police facing ‘gun-toting’ rioters.
    The ‘Thank God, it’s over’ concert took place on 7 December 1984 at Auckland’s Aotea Centre. Promoted as a summer celebration of the end of the academic year, this free event was to feature performances by top local bands Herbs, DD Smash and The Mockers. After the set by Herbs and shortly after DD Smash took the stage, the power went off. 
    While waiting for it to be restored, some of the 10,000-strong audience started throwing bottles at police. There were a few arrests, and more police arrived, outfitted in riot gear.
    On the streets 
    Dave Dobbyn, DD Smash’s lead singer, then allegedly told the crowd, ‘I wish those riot squad guys would stop wanking and put their little batons away.’ The concert promoters, radio station Triple M, announced that the concert was being stopped at the request of the police.
    Parts of the audience rioted. They poured onto Queen Street, smashed shop windows and left behind broken bottles, rubbish and upturned cars. Damage caused was in excess of $1 million.
    The government ordered a commission of inquiry to investigate what had happened. Dobbyn was charged with inciting the riot, but he was eventually cleared of all charges.
    Something like that…
    Or, we could grow man-buns, go bare foot and sing kumbaya while banging on a drum. That really worked at the ‘ Show Us Your Txt ‘ fiasco in Wellington some time ago. Not.
    Yeah, fuck it. Lets get scary !
    Make a date, organise a location like our parliament building’s steps, bring a megaphone, a crash helmet, knee pads and a mouth guard. Oh, and if anyone has a large cage we can lock the fuckers in pending an inquiry?

  6. Ben says ideas are not enough. Correct, ideas and action cannot be separated.
    What about the idea of ‘socialism’?
    The Red Fed of labour came out of the mass unions in the early 20th century rejecting the state Arbitration Court line that bosses should pay only wages they could afford.
    Christened by Paddy Webb as ‘labour’s leg-iron’.
    A bad idea which produced a good class struggle idea for action, direct bargaining and strike action to show the boss who actually is boss -those who produce the wealth and not the parasitic class that lives off them and controls the state to enforce their class rule.
    This was met by another bad idea. Strikes were attacked by scabs backed by police and ‘cossacks’ (farmers on horseback).
    By 1913 the Red Fed general strike was defeated by the military with machine guns at the ready.
    This defeat produced another bad idea from labourite moderates who defended the state arbitration of labour relations. As if the state could reconcile the class interests of producers and parasites.
    Nevermind, the labourite moderates actually believed that they could tame capitalism and create class peace.
    That worked well didnt it?
    After a century of Labourism locked into the state’s leg iron, general strikes sold out by union leaders from 1913 to 1992, and the unions gutted so that workers have no protection from a de-regulated labour market such as that which killed the Pike River miners.
    Workers need to rebuild their class independence and that is not possible without a strong democratic, fighting union movement.
    Today we have to get back to organising labor as the only progressive force in capitalism capable of bringing about the ‘change’ that would enable workers to earn a living wage.
    As the right-wing smear of the volunteer “Campaign for Change” workers shows, any serious attempt to mobilise youth around a radical program brings down a shit storm.
    Not only from the far right, but from the Labour right frightened of waking up an angry working class.
    We need a new Red Fed that takes as its collective gospel “the working class has nothing in common with the exploiting class’ and “an injury to one is an injury to all”.
    For workers to live, let alone take back the wealth ripped off by bosses to pay for ‘free’ health, education, transport etc etc., capitalism must “change” into “socialism”.
    This can only happen when workers as a class recognise that they create the wealth and have the power to expropriate that wealth to build a new society where the producers, rather than the parasites, control production, distribution and exchange.

  7. @Duncan Brown:

    ‘The obvious answer is that the majority of kiwis don’t want to see an ambitious, radical and progressive political voice.’

    Wrong conclusion. The majority of kiwis these days want a voice which resonates with what they understand and experience. No political party wants to know any of that. For example The Greens are all for more migrants but no Green candidate wants to explain the reason why there are so many millions of refugees needing an alternate country. I’m not talking about politically correct blather. I refer to monstrous and ongoing invasion, slaughter and regime change, to torture, plunder and the training and supplying of proxy armies of religious extremists for the purposes of Imperial need.
    Come on Lefties, Righties, Greenies et al. Unlock your jaws and open wide your mincy mealy mouths and cry out, roar, scream, shout, say something that bloody means something.
    You won’t of course because those who are now dismissed as ‘a basket of deplorables’ were once known as the ‘industrial proletariat.’
    The many small businesses, family and self employed concerns are no more, gobbled up by multi nationals and foreign owned chains.
    While the past cannot be conjured at least discuss it.
    While you are at it discuss endocrine disruption caused by a number of chemicals in our atmosphere including the one which mimics the female hormone estrogen, causing odd changes in laboratory rats and sexual disinterest and abnormalities in animals and birds in the wilds. Cease thy babel on identity politics and diversity and start concentrating on unity, cooperation and how homo sapiens might survive the nasty future. We proles like that sort of thing.

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