My Vote is mine; My Party is mine.

So, I want to talk a little bit about a brief spat that’s flaring up amongst us leftist bloggers and its broader political implications. I’ll need some background for this though, so bear with me. It’s an especially tricky one because it relates to worldviews, feelings, and political orientations. (by which I mean, whether your politics are about social effects or economic effects)

Essentially the global left has for some time has been divided into two camps. You can think of these as the Old Left and New Left, or Progressives and “Fauxgressives”, or whatever you like. I’m going to call them the social left and the economic left to avoid making implicit value judgements. The struggle between these two groups goes on constantly, with radical being thrown around both as a badge of pride and as a scare tactic. In some places one faction wins- for instance, there has yet to be an social-left Democrat in the White House. But the disunited Left is a reality we’ve long acknowledged to different degrees.

The social left, including myself, view the left as a collection of disparate voices who come together not necessarily by what we have intrinsically in common, but rather because of the commonality of the challenges we face. These social liberals still think of the progressive movement as collective action, but the emphasis is on collaboration and understanding of our differences rather than submission to the collective identity. We view ourselves to some degree as pragmatists, attempting to aid the progressive cause in the long-term by trying to address individual problems in the present rather than rely on class warfare to solve our problems so that we don’t fracture before we finish our work.

In contrast collectivists believe that our problems are all the same, and related to a more fundamental class identity. They view themselves as the radicals addressing the real problem (class injustice) directly. There’s a tendency to view the individualists as splitters who give ammunition to conservatives and the right, and the collectivists, not entirely without reason, howl in frustration when the smaller factions of the left do something they view as damaging the collective cause. The mantra of the collectivist could be said to be “keep on marching, we’ll get there!”

Wheras the individualists view the collectivists as centrist bullies only concerned with unemployment and free trade, trying to undermine the causes of social liberals. Youth, race, sexuality, feminism, and identity politics in general are core issues, and the understanding is that the left has legitimacy only as the collective summation of our individual votes, each of which demands that their own unique problems be addressed in addition to the generic struggle. The mantra of the individualist, on the same note, would be “don’t leave us behind!”

The problem is this: To me, my vote is mine. I will spend it on the issues that are most urgent to me right now, and if somebody wants to change my mind, they need to convince me they will do a better job of addressing the issues I care about. My philosophy on democracy is that each Party, each candidate, is a product, and because I can only buy one, I want the one that will bring progress about the fastest while still bringing stable progress, and not making the right retaliate worse. To a collectivist, my vote is viewed as being rightfully theirs, because they know what to do best, and it’s all about keeping the government benches in the right hands, and I feel like I’m being told my allegiance is “wrong” every time I hear the vanguard of Labour and New Labour criticise MMP parties for being open to working with the Right now and then when we can convince them they have some crumbs to spare. (And conveniently ignoring the fact that the individualists get crumbs from the collectivists, too.)

The Right is very good at selling itself, because the concept of image is natural to the political elite they attract as candidates. The collectivists have a disdain for selling themselves, and want to focus on fighting the Right, pulling them down. The issue is that this is opposition tactics and only good for getting the government benches. While the government benches are nice, we live in a genuinely democratic society, and as hard as you try, public opinion always shifts eventually. Individualists see a bidding war as a viable strategy not only to negotiate greater gains from the

The individualists demand that our representatives sell- not themselves- but the policy gains they can achieve for various groups of the left. (Whether a given individualist cares about one, some, or all of these groups depends on which one you pick, so we’re a fussy crowd to deal to.) We do not respond to calls to collective action until they touch “our” issues, and we guard the support of our favoured candidates and causes jealously, and lash out when they’re criticised for trying to make progressive gains.

The fundamental it comes down to is that we in the left are not united around class. Sure, class CAN explain many of our problems, but that’s part of a wider trend- that our uniting factor is not who we are of ourselves, but rather the fact that we all know what can happen when people are mistreated and oppressed. If the left is to stay united, as the collectivists imply they want, then we need to find some basis upon which we can agree not to join in the oppression and mistreatment we feel at the hands of the right. So far we have not done well at that, and while the last Labour Government made a lot of progress, the collectivists tend to feel it involved too much splitting

I think all parts of the Left want a Left government in 2011, especially after seeing what a joke National trying to be centrist has been. But the Greens and the Māori Party won’t be giving up on finding policy concessions to eke out of National in the mean time, to present a strong case that they need to be a fundamental backbone to any sea change we try for in 2011. And I think it’s wrong to say that’s somehow bad politics. We’re carving out our own way and seeking to rise the social tide, rather than the economic one- because we are used to having to convince the bigger sibling to take on those causes we have the best chance of getting agreement to, and there is little in the way of economic common ground with National. When we have a chance to work with Labour we will probably take it. But until then- my party, my vote- are both my choice.

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4 thoughts on “My Vote is mine; My Party is mine.

  1. Ari,

    The reason the left will always be split on social and economic factional lines is that for some strange reason the left (including yourself ?) think the social and economic factions can operate as seperate entities.

    They cant

    To have socialism, you need a strong economy. After all, to provide the social outcomes requires collective tax gathering for distribution to socialist programmes.

    What left is very bad at is that they cannot seem to balance the socialist programmes with the volume of taxation it requires to fund the programmes.

    Presently the leftist National government (thanks to the previous left of left Labour government) has socialist programmes in place that cannot be funded from taxation anymore.

    So many of the socialist programmes will collapse under the taxpayers inability to fund them.

    Plunging the populace back to individual responsibilty to look after themselves and more likely to vote on the right hand side of the spectrum.

    Hence the pendulum effect we see in New Zealand politics.

    For the left to be on the government benches for longer then 3 or 4 terms, it needs to present balanced budgets that match tax take to tax distribution.

    And that tax take to be low enough to let it be worthwhile for the tax payers to get out of bed in the morning and go and earn money to pay taxes on.

    But the lower the tax rate the smaller number of socialist programmes you can carry within the budget.

    Another huge mistake the left make is to increase the non productive (as in tax neutral – except for GST) public service sector. They do this by creating socialist programmes administrative functions that are clearly over staffed and over managed (public health is a good example).

    The left is incredibly good at shooting itself in the foot with their “them vesus us” attitude. There is no Them, there is only an us.

    The right dont have that attitude. To them the individual is much more powerful then the collective and see each individual as a person in their own right. They dont classify a “them or us”

    The right dont have a chip on their shoulders in regards perceived class differences.

  2. Firstly: I refuse to see a disunited left as a weakness. The reason we’re disunited is because we’re not attempting to impose a monotone vision of conservative society on everyone. That is a good thing, and in the long run it can serve us well if we use it.

    I don’t think social politics and economic politics can be seperated. I actually went through three sets of labels looking for one that was neutral and not terribly confusing, and yet you manage to interpret it in a way I didn’t intend at all ;D The second-to-last attempt talked about collectivists versus individualists, but the big problem with that is that the individualists really aren’t individualists- they believe in collaboration not collectivism. I settled for whether one emphasised social or economic policies. The majority of the right tend to be economic liberals, with the right-libertarians being the “social right”. Only the economic liberals believe that you can ignore any part of politics effectively. The social left don’t think economics can be separated off, but they believe it’s socially driven- that is, the economy improves as equality does. The economic left believes the reverse- that ending class injustic will cure our social ills. In reality of course both factions believe in a certain amount of feedback and want progress on both fronts to different degrees, but the post was too long already.

    The left is incredibly good at shooting itself in the foot with their “them vesus us” attitude. There is no Them, there is only an us.

    The right in general often concedes the theoretical desirability of these rights, but usually the only practical plan to get them is to wait. I say that rights are not something that can be waited for- tax cuts? I can wait for those. Roads? They’re not so bad as they are. But rights? Rights are urgent. This is the sense in which there is a “them”. The way I view it, you’re an “us” so long as you make some practical effort to ensure everyone their rights, entitlements, and responsibilities and respect. Hence why there exist still some “them”s. I don’t view it as a permanent classification by any means, but people who stand in the way of social progress have to be lobbied to stand with us before we can treat them like they’re allies. I think that should go without saying.

    I’m not saying not being a progressive makes you EVIL, or an inherently racist/sexist/homophobic/etc… person, (we’ll reserve those sorts of accusations for the extremists they truly belong to, like the National Front or Destiny Church) or not a human being, just that it means you deny the level of dignity that I insist we treat every citizen with, and until we resolve that I have to view you as an obstacle to human rights and social progress. This means some of the things you do may be transphobic or heteronormative or whatever, but it still doesn’t say anything about your character. It’s just a mistake some people make on the right, and eventually we’ll fix it, and we hope you’ll come to appreciate the change in time. I certainly want everyone to be one of “us” that I can get. But I can only open the door- it’s your own decision whether you have the patience to go through the listening and behaviour changes necessary to be on board with respecting the rights and claims to entitlements of others.

    The right dont have a chip on their shoulders in regards perceived class differences.

    Sure they don’t. That’s why they lower taxes and restrictions on the rich whenever they can manage it 😉 Come on, class warfare goes two ways mate. If you stop shifting the tax burden back where it doesn’t belong and actually save reduction of entitlements when it’s clear there’s a permanent problem rather than a recession, I’ll stop saying we have to oppose the righties on pretty much… any economic issue where you’re not taking our side anyway. (Like home insulation 🙂 )

    To have socialism, you need a strong economy. After all, to provide the social outcomes requires collective tax gathering for distribution to socialist programmes.

    Nope, you can have socialism in a country that’s not exactly flash. Cuba managed pretty well under a crippling U.S. embargo. Economic development is useful in that it lets us set the tide mark higher when we’re trying to lift all boats, but you only need a certain minimum amount of water. Even New Zealand under this recession has more than enough for an egalitarian society with relatively calm waters. (Excuse me, I love stretching metaphors.)

    Hence the pendulum effect we see in New Zealand politics.

    For the left to be on the government benches for longer then 3 or 4 terms, it needs to present balanced budgets that match tax take to tax distribution.

    It’s a myth that the pendulum swings to right-wing governments to balance out bad economic management from the left. What the left tends to do is show its costs honestly by increasing taxes or increasing national debt. The Right, however, tends to cut services and trim the functional parts of government that they can safely oppose when in power, shifting the costs of their economic programs and tax cuts into degrading services and privatising profitable (or profit-enabling in the case of say, Kiwirail) state assets.

    The overall state of the economy is usually better after a Left government leaves office, the issue is that the pendulum swings because Right governments promise they can give you tax cuts AND the entitlements you want, and then cook the books so that entitlements are reduced or so that funds, assets, etc… are in a worse state.

    I’d personally rather we put the negatives on the leger into debt and taxes, and the surpluses into paying off debt before tax cuts. (because by paying off debt in times of surplus, future recessions don’t hit as hard and future surplusses are bigger, allowing larger tax cuts- they just go to the next generation rather than this one)

    You can’t exactly blame Labour for landing National with lots of spending when Labour were operating a roaring surplus until global economics pulled us into recession along with the rest of the world. National are the ones who commited to keeping the spending AND cutting taxes, and look how that turned out. Governments shouldn’t try to live beyond their means- and that is what the right does to pay out its constituents, in some sort of perverse reverse-keynesianism where we pay off debt during recessions and give tax cuts in the booming times.

    I can only laugh that you think the right has a handle on economics of any kind, let alone trying to work sustainability into the system and trasitioning towards a steady-state economy.

    Labour did okay on the economy. They focused too much on growth rather than stability, and to that extent they are complicit in (but not to blame for) our current recession.

    The right dont have that attitude. To them the individual is much more powerful then the collective and see each individual as a person in their own right. They dont classify a “them or us”

    The individuals ARE more powerful than the collective. But you can be a collective and have an individual indentity at the same time. We call this grass-roots decision-making, or decentralisation, and it’s a key Green Party policy. One of the reasons we say we don’t fit very well into the old left-right spectrum is because we picked up the good parts of the right’s and the center’s focus on the individual. Hence why I was tempted to run with “individualists” rather than “social left”.

  3. “The reason we’re disunited is because we’re not attempting to impose a monotone vision of conservative society on everyone.”

    You kidding me? A socialist regime would be the most monotone and monolitic vision anyone could impose on the populace.

    The populace in Cuba were free to choose thier leader and governance? Insert Tui billboard please!

    “We call this grass-roots decision-making, or decentralisation, and it’s a key Green Party policy.”

    Unfortunately there is not one socialist experiment that allows this decentralisation. Check out Venezuela in ten years to see if their experiment is a howling success or better still check out Zimbabwe now.

    It is interesting that even on the most socialist experiment in socialism, the Isreali kibbutz, changes have had to be made to allow much greater individual freedom from the socialist agenda (allow private ownership of assets within the socialist framework). China is carrying out the same agenda as village ownership of land is far more productive then centralised control). More on that further down.

    “The social left don’t think economics can be separated off, but they believe it’s socially driven- that is, the economy improves as equality does.”

    Now define equality and when you have, I think you will find the very reason socialism will never work. You cannot achieve that romantic notion of equality, it does not exist. People are hard wired to be greedy.

    While your essay on the how the left is seperated into factions you conveniently lump all right wing into one faction. A condition best avoided.

    We have a supossedly right wing government in New Zealand. Rubbish, we have a left wing government in New Zealand. The Labour and National manifest are not too disimilar.

    The true right actually believe in decentralisation and grass root decision making.

    The problem for both the left and the right is actually the power trip that the leaders go on to maintain their position of the Alpha leader.

    Mugabe is a perfect example of this as was Helen Clark who bought down the Labour government simply becasue she did not allow rivals to be groomed as successors.

    This is not a fundamental problem of the left or the right but is seen many, many times in business structures. The reason many companies fail is the Alpha leader syndrome.

    Once someone becomes the Alpha leader, they see themselves as omnipotent, unable to participate with or even allow grass root democracy.

    That is the worlds’ biggest problem. We allow people to dictate to us what we must do, instead of allowing us to do it ourselves. (The Greens are as guilty here as the other parties)

    People, be they from a socialist collective mindframe or an individual with a property rights mind, too easily give away their power to the leadership, The populace have give away their power for self governance away.

    Perhaps you could explore that position with emphasis on how the retaking of grass root power would be achieved (transition to) and maintained.

    Foremost in the changes needed would be that in all forms of governance, an individual may serve no more then 2 terms (maybe 3 in New Zealand where we have a 3 year election cycle).

    To many governance is a career, it should never be.

    I really dont want to see another Barry Curtis in Manukau. Not that he he did not start out with good intentions and did good work. He just run out of steam and hung on to long. Severly restricting new grass root initiatives that a new mayor would have bought into the role.

  4. Gerrit, you’re confusing socialism with revolutionary communism. Communism implies socialism, but socialism does not imply communism. Cuba are revolutionary communists who implemented wide socialist reform along with their political oppression.

    I am comfortable with the idea that some dictators are not as bad as others, and Cuba has done well so far. The problem with the dictatorship is that eventually someone will succeed him, and we have no guarantee that the regime will stay as relatively benevolent as it is now.

    Unfortunately there is not one socialist experiment that allows this decentralisation. Check out Venezuela in ten years to see if their experiment is a howling success or better still check out Zimbabwe now.

    Good thing we’re Greens rather than socialists and don’t believe in collectivist ideology, right? 😛

    Good thing we want to make our existing wealth last rather than hyper-inflate the economy to deal with our own problems, right? 😉 Come on, fair comparisons please.

    Now define equality and when you have, I think you will find the very reason socialism will never work. You cannot achieve that romantic notion of equality, it does not exist. People are hard wired to be greedy.

    Equality- a state where there is no gross discrimination of opportunity.

    I don’t believe equality will ever be perfect, (human beings don’t work that way) but I do think that the practical differences in opportunities between various groups of people can be minimised enough that individual character and skill matters so much more that anyone feels like they can do anything they want.

    We are not in that space yet, although we’ve made rapid progress recently.

    While your essay on the how the left is seperated into factions you conveniently lump all right wing into one faction. A condition best avoided.

    We have a supossedly right wing government in New Zealand. Rubbish, we have a left wing government in New Zealand. The Labour and National manifest are not too disimilar.

    I’m not doing an essay about the Right, so I didn’t really want to explain them as well, especially because they do form one major faction sometimes. The right is better at consolidating when they think it will benefit them. Hence why ACT bleeds votes to National when it looks like National might need them to “beat” Labour to the government benches.

    Our government right now are centrist in ideology and image, (I can see how you’d confuse that with being leftist, given that the Labour Party has been focusing on the centre as well) but are right wing authoritarians in policy and legislative style. Try telling me a left wing government would have produced that last budget. Try showing me a left wing government that would raid kiwisaver in favour of tax cuts. Even the democrats aren’t that ridiculous, and they are often seen as the “less conservative” party in America.

    I agree that there is less difference between Labour and National than ever in policy, but the issue is in what you actually get in government, and National has shown quite clearly that it doesn’t yet live up to its centrist branding.

    The true right actually believe in decentralisation and grass root decision making.

    If you’re referring to Act, I thought they had a Dear Leader as well and not a hugely democratic Party structure? You can’t insist on mere deregulation and say “Power to the people!” and call that it with regards to decentralising power. Real grass-roots decisions don’t just de-regulate, they switch regulations that aren’t working to ones that people want, and they delegate more power to smaller authorities. As you can see in Auckland, Rodney hardly believes in local government at all, he wants it to be completely regional. I think this is the reason why they’re still relying on an electorate- Act may believe in deregulation most of the time, but they also believe in centralising power in what they don’t want to deregulate.

    Once someone becomes the Alpha leader, they see themselves as omnipotent, unable to participate with or even allow grass root democracy.

    That is the worlds’ biggest problem. We allow people to dictate to us what we must do, instead of allowing us to do it ourselves. (The Greens are as guilty here as the other parties)

    How are we guilty of letting our caucus lead us by the head? That party list? The members make it. Our policy platform? The members make that. Who we have a coalition with? Again, the caucus doesn’t get to decide. I’m not sure what more you want- the caucus does draft its own members bills, and has discretion over implementation of our strategies like the MoU- but can you point me to, for instance, a significant change in direction since Metiria became co-leader? Because we’re more about the Party than the Leader.

    I think you seem to be confusing deregulation with grass-roots decision-making. They are very, very different approaches.

    Perhaps you could explore that position with emphasis on how the retaking of grass root power would be achieved (transition to) and maintained.

    Foremost in the changes needed would be that in all forms of governance, an individual may serve no more then 2 terms (maybe 3 in New Zealand where we have a 3 year election cycle).

    Sure, I can talk about the grass roots and how they can attempt to take back power. It’s a difficult prospect in other parties, because they’re designed so that caucus tells the party organisation what to do, not the other way around. But it’s possible.

    I disagree that broad sweeping term limits are a good idea. Look at the lack of depth among National’s benches- they can barely field enough ministers, and don’t have many prospects to elevate if someone screws up. They’re already fobbing off jobs they can’t handle to their coalition partners.

    Term limits remove our experienced frontsbenchers from Parliament, and will degrade the standard of debate even more, let alone the drafting of quality bills getting into an even worse state than it currently is.

    Also, term limits tend to have very wacky effects on democratic choice. I’d prefer to trust the people on who they want to elect, but just reform the parties instead.

    While I think you could get away with that in the USA, we just don’t have the depth of field here in New Zealand that the bright new stars will always be willing to pick up for the ones who are gone.

    I think shoring up the list system to actually make List MPs better for the public than electorate MPs would be a good start.

    To many governance is a career, it should never be.

    I really dont want to see another Barry Curtis in Manukau. Not that he he did not start out with good intentions and did good work. He just run out of steam and hung on to long. Severly restricting new grass root initiatives that a new mayor would have bought into the role.

    Right, I think this is an issue too, but I don’t have any solution on my head to deal with it. Parties shouldn’t be a gerontocracy where the oldest members of the caucus boss everyone else around and take every ministerial post. If people want long political careers, then they should be willing to go back to the back benches when someone young and promising comes up.

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