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?
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