Should socialists support the Internet-Mana alliance?

Sue Bradford has walked, reportedly describing the Mana-Internet alliance as a “sugar hit” of mass media publicity and cash – which, she predicts, will be followed by a crash. A sugar hit is not a bad way of describing the deal. But a sugar hit isn’t necessarily fatal if you don’t make it a habit, writes Andrew Tait.

The Alliance announced last week between Mana and the Internet Party has injected a bit of excitement into what was looking like the most dismal election in recent history.

Before the alliance was announced, polls predicted veteran activist and leader of the Mana Party Hone Harawira was likely to hold his seat but the chances of him being joined by another MP were slim. Annette Sykes, second on the Mana party list, was polling at about 40% in her electorate battle against Maori Party leader Te Ururoa Flavell.

The alliance has changed all that, especially since the Internet Party announced that it had appointed trade unionist Laila Harre as its leader. This came as a shock to many – the party is the creation of millionaire new media mogul Kim Dotcom, whose first port of call politically was the far right. The Internet-Mana alliance looks likely to bring three MPs into Parliament – Harawira, Harre, and Sykes, with the possibility of John Minto joining them.

The International Socialist Organisation (ISO) have supported the Mana movement from the start. But not surprisingly, given our name – were against an alliance with a millionaire, although we don’t care whether he is German or Chinese or Mongolian. We would have preferred to see a hard-out campaign in the Te Tai Tokerau and Waiariki electorates on a straight Mana ticket. But the majority of Mana members – especially the members who are on the frontlines in those key electorates – thought an alliance made sense.

Accusations of hypocrisy from the right are ridiculous. In the last week, Sue Bradford has been the darling of right-wing columnists for her “principles” since she described the Dotcom deal as 21st century “beads and blankets” colonisation. Her integrity and principles for her decades as a staunch defender of beneficiaries’ rights have never won her anything but mockery and attacks from the same columnists.

This is parliamentary politics. Mana has the right to make deals with other parties to improve chances in an election. This is a limited deal, with a “divorce clause” built in, which has given Mana a much-needed boost before the election. But like any deal, there are upfront costs, potential pitfalls and long-term dangers.

The deal reflects the strength of Mana’s support as against the Internet Party, and strengthens Mana in this election, but the movement as a whole is weaker now than at the last election. If Mana – and the struggle on the streets more generally – had grown the way we had hoped in 2011 Mana would never have had to make this deal. If Labour had rolled out a strong left-wing campaign to ernergise non-voting communities (the kind of campaign David Cunliffe promised when he stood for leader) then Mana members would have seen Dotcom as an irrelevant distraction from the real battle.

The long-term aim of the ISO is to help build a mass, democratic working class party in Aotearoa and the Pacific that can play a part in an international revolutionary struggle to overthrow capitalism. We support Mana because, although it is not a revolutionary party, it is the only party standing on an anti-neoliberal platform – for full employment, state housing, free health and education, workers’ rights and a living wage. Mana’s profile as a party with parliamentary representation means these policies reach a much wider audience. Although we opposed the deal with Dotcom, the leadership won Mana members over to the alliance by promising the deal would increase Mana’s profile without compromising the policies.

Cynics like John Key argue Dotcom’s main motivation is avoiding extradition to the USA, where he is wanted by Warner Brothers for copyright violations. Key said people could choose to vote for the Internet Party, but they should realise they would be voting for the far left. Key’s probably right on both counts, but hardly in a position to complain after his craven capitulation to US corporations – he smashed unions for the sake of the film industry bosses and then sicced the secret police and armed offenders’ squad on Dotcom for the same corporations. What else can a poor boy like Dotcom do, when the right-wing politicians are in the pocket of the US multinationals, but bankroll the far left?

While the appointment of Harre, who is a former leader of the left-wing Alliance Party, may have scared off more right-wing potential supporters of the Internet Party, it has strengthened the alliance with Mana and will reassure left-wing voters and supporters that Internet-Mana is a safe party to vote for. The appointment of Harre means the Internet-Mana alliance looks less like a cynical stitch-up and more like “Super Mana” – a party with broader appeal and deeper pockets (Dotcom has reportedly donated $3 million to the party) but firmly on the left of the political spectrum.

What kind of party is the Internet Party?
First and foremost, the Internet Party is the creation of German millionaire Kim Dotcom. Although he has taken a back seat since the appointment of Laila Harre as party leader, his politics are like to continue to be the guiding influence in the party. He even has an official title “Party Visionary”. There is something more than a little creepy about this.

It is significant though, that the first policy announced by the Internet Party was for free tertiary education. Dotcom himself signalled this at the Mana hui in Rotorua, well before any deal was signed. This is less a sign of the radicalism of Dotcom than of the radicalism of neoliberalism in New Zealand. Free education, which used to be standard here, has been so eroded that the common sense of Germany’s generous education system, which Dotcom is used to, seems crazy.

However, the Internet Party is more than just Dotcom’s creation. It is built on the basis of networks like Vikram Kumar’s Internet Association. In northern Europe, “Pirate Parties” campaigning on free information, anti-surveillance, anti-copyright platforms, have had some electoral success, most natably winning 7% of the Swedish vote in recent European Union elections. The “Anonymous” network of hackers, which has targeted the websites of repressive governments such as Israel in online DOS attacks, is another example of cyber-activism.

Cyber-activism is not necessarily left-wing though. The internet is disproportionately dominated by the US, with all of the kooky craziness of American libertarianism. In the “Third World” internet access is restricted to the upper classes. “Cyber-unions”, for instance of finance workers or computer programmers, are not yet a force – although their emergence is inevitable. Most people engage with the internet as atomised individuals.
The formation of the Internet Party in an alliance with Mana will drive away any right-wing libertarians but we can then expect a mixture of utopian thinking and neo liberal “business as usual” thinking from the Internet Party.

What does this mean for the 2014 election?
The appointment of Laila Harre as Internet Party leader makes the Internet-Mana alliance a clear left vote. A vote for that party list is a vote for Harawira, Harre, Sykes and Minto – a strong team. The agreement leaves room for the two parties to articulate separate policies but there seems little danger of serious contradictions in policy at this stage – that is more likely to emerge after the election. It is possible to campaign on Mana’s key policies – state housing, full employment at a living wage, and a financial transactions tax on the rich to replace the GST.

Mana has already used the profile won from the alliance to put pressure on Labour for its anti-immigration stance, calling for an amnesty for Pacific overstayers. Its worth noting though that Mana has not directly criticised the anti-Asian spin of Labour’s immigration pitch.

Plans are being laid for an anti-GCSB speaking tour. John Key is complicit in the drone killing of New Zealand citizens in Yemen. He has smashed through some of the most basic and fundamental principles of the rule of law. A speaking tour focused on state surveillance could bring together Mana’s audience with Internet Party supporters (and people otherwise inclined to vote Green or Labour).

Mana may also prise the Maori electorates out of John Key’s grasp, if Sykes can defeat Maori Party leader Te Ururoa Flavell in Waiariki.
As Herald colunmist John Armstrong writes: “Internet Mana poses a very real threat to National. It is not just that Hone Harawira, Laila Harre and Co might carve out new territory by appealing to young non-voters and thus expand the left’s share of the vote. The far bigger danger to National is that Internet Maori wipes the floor in the Maori seats and obliterates the Maori Party.

National’s other partners – United Future and ACT – are both political jokes. ACT has been living on borrowed time for most of a decade, and United Future only exists thanks to National. A “loony left” outfit like ourselves can get more members to a meeting than United Future could get to their Annual General Meeting.

Artmstrong continues: “That leaves National relying on the Maori Party. If the party makes it back into Parliament, signing up with National for a third time would be the kiss of death. But the odds on it holding any of its current three seats look increasingly bleak. Its poor showing in the Ikaroa-Rawhiti byelection — it came third behind Labour and Mana — was a wake-up call.”

What does this mean for the future of the Mana movement?
Sue Bradford reportedly described the alliance as a “sugar hit” – the deal with Dotcom provides mass media publicity and an injection of cash – which, she predicts, will be followed by a crash. Ot worse, we will realise we have been taken for a ride by a smooth-talking con man.
A sugar hit is not a bad way of describing the deal.

Mana was born in 2011, the year of Occupy and the Arab Spring, when mass movements seemed to be stirring in reaction to economic disaster and bank bail-outs. Mana aspired to be more than just a party, to be a movement of the people, with branches everywhere that were involved in a myriad of campaigns in their communities, but united in a nationwide network.

That has not happened. John Key has enjoyed another three quiet years. He has been able to avoid massive scraps with organised workers and managed to stop the frustration felt by earthquake-hit Christchurch residents from infecting the national mood. He has delivered a budget surplus by a thousand cuts to welfare, without sparking a backlash.

This has meant three years of hard grind for Mana activists – Harawira included. He has suggested that unless another Mana MP is elected, he would resign. Some, like party secretary Gerard Hehir, reckoned a “sugar hit” was just what the doctor ordered. If media time and a millionaire’s money could get Mana over the line one more time, the project – a nationwide, Maori-led, left-wing movement might survive for another three years.

There are risks, if course. First and foremost, a millionaire cannot help but tread on our mana. Dotcom obviously believes he has gone from rags to riches because of his own genius. As he told the Mana AGM “I have the ability to create value” (as oppose to you lot who should be grateful to me for the jobs I create). We live in an increasingly unequal society where a lucky few (growing fewer all the time) are rewarded disproportionately while human genius is squandered and destroyed by unemployment, miseducation, incarceration and the ego-smashing machine that is Winz and work.
If Mana does well in the next election, many members may feel more grateful to Dotcom than he deserves.

Secondly, if Mana does well, it will also be thanks to astute manouevring by Gerard Hehir and Harawira. There is nothing wrong with wheeling and dealing in itself. Cutting deals in parliament and dealing with the media circus that surrounds it is a necessary part of broadcasting political ideas.
But what are those ideas? Fundamentally, the mission of the MANA Movement is to “bring rangatiratanga to the poor, the powerless and the dispossessed; to empower them against government by the rich and powerful for the rich and powerful”.

In so far as the Mana Party builds up the mana and the tino rangatiratanga of working people and the poor – our self-activity and autonomy – it will be a project that the International Socialist Organisation supports. In so far as it teaches a generation of activists that success comes from playing parliamentary games with millionaires, it will be a failure.

What is needed, after this election and before, is a clear-cut working-class political project around an explicitly revolutionary programme. That means workers looking to political questions as class questions. What will encourage our independence from other classes and other classes’ ideas? What will advance the project of working-class self-emancipation? We are trying to build a revolutionary socialist organisation in the here and now around these goals. It will take workers’ action outside parliament – in strikes and protests – to foster that confidence. Our primary task remains building a revolutionary socialist organisation.