Chris Trotter writes his recent weekly syndicated newspaper column about the socialist left's approach to National's election win. Those on the left that aren't used to Trotter's provocations would be best not to read any further, as they might find themselves rather outraged. As usual, when Trotter deals with anything to the left of Labour, he is rather provocative. The picture he paints of the socialist left is rather inaccurate and based on the outdated idea - if indeed it was ever true - that socialists prefer to see rightwing political parties in power because by their more blatant anti-worker programme of government they bring about some sort of "heightened contradictions" through their intensified class oppression. Yet rather than wishing for any sort of “heightened contradictions” under National, the socialist left are probably thinking to themselves: 'It's better to have National stabbing you in the front than to have Labour stabbing you in the back’ [Read more below]
So how does the socialist left feel about National's election win? Few are likely to be mourning the death of Clark’s Labour Government, but are instead organising to oppose any attacks on the working class by the new National Government. Trotter puts forward a slightly different story/parody, suggesting that such people might actually be taking some glee in National’s return to power:
Previously Trotter's given the example of how this reasoning 'led the KPD to demonise the SPD as "social fascists" and to completely underestimate the NSDAP's capacity to destroy European civilisation. We are all still paying for that particular example of ultra-leftist stupidity'. So this has been Trotter's image of the far left for quite a while, and this obviously needs to be refuted to him. Of course the arguments that he is putting forward are actually quite commonly held ones, and in certain cases are reinforced by some on the far left (especially by those that, ironically, work so hard to get Labour elected and scream hysterically about the evils of National).
To be fair to Trotter, there is an element of the far left that thinks the worse it gets for the workers (either through having a Tory government, through an economic slump, crisis, etc) the better it is more radical lefties. This would indeed be a rather crude and unsophisticated approach.
Trotter writes that while social democrats (such as himself) want the position of workers improved under capitalism, revolutionaries regard reforms as part of the problem:
Although Trotter might claim that the above is nothing more than a flippant parody (and I acknowledge that his strange sense of humour is rarely recognized), he needs to get to grips with the reality of the contemporary socialist left. Ironically, to do so, he probably should go back to reading Rosa Luxemborg’s Social Reform or Revolution from the early 20th century. Trotter has in fact quoted from Luxemborg before in his Friday column.
Social Reform or Revolution is the classic statement of the revolutionary case against reformism but in favour of reforms. She argues that reform and revolution are inextricably linked.
Social Reform or Revolution remains today the classic statement of the revolutionary case against reformism. And to her, reform and revolution were inextricably linked. Luxemburg supported the struggle for social reforms as well as social revolution, considering the former above all a school for the latter, whose greater historical import she made clear in analysing the mutual relations of the two. She says that ‘By struggling for economic, social and democratic reforms on a daily basis, workers become more confident, better organized and aware of the need to fight for a fundamental transformation in the way society is structured’.
Luxemborg actually argued against the then prevalent theory that only hunger may cause workers to follow a revolutionary path: 'Revolutions of this political and spiritual maturity are not made by paupers…. Incidentally, empty stomachs, besides encouraging rebellion, lead also to submission.'
But most crucially, I’d direct Trotter back to a quote that he’s very well aware of (having included it in his own newspaper column in September 2000):
And if anyone wants to read another classic socialist account of why the left doesn’t wish for "heightened contradictions" and how the far left actually should approach rightwing governments, read Booms and slumps (1921) by Leon Trotsky, who argues against such a crude and mechanical outlook that Trotter parodies the far left as having.
But also, it has to be pointed out that although Trotter's picture of the socialist left is terribly twisted, it is indeed true that some of us believe that National and Labour are fairly similar in their levels of oppression of workers. And what's more, we believe that the "silver lining" of having a National Government is that it will actually provide greater opportunities for real fightbacks against workers rights to be built than when Labour is in power. This isn't really a positive comment on having a National government but a critique of how the left and the trade union movement capitulate to anti-worker governments that are led by the Labour Party. As Murray Horton of CAFCA once said, (which I paraphrase), 'It's better to have National stabbing you in the front than to have Labour stabbing you in the back’.
Trotter's position obviously relies on the idea that Labour governments are good for the working class. I've tried to show why this isn't the case in many posts on this blog. And at some stage I'll provide my evaluation of the Fifth Labour Government, which will include in depth detail on why the Fifth Labour Government was so bad for New Zealand workers.
If anyone else disagrees with Chris Trotter's portrayal of the socialist left, please leave a considered and useful comment below for me to pass onto Trotter. For all his faults and provocations, it can't be said that Trotter doesn't welcome dialogue and disagreement. I'm sure he'll rise to the occassion on this topic.