As the anti-capitalist socialist movement is unable to stand candidates in the general election with any prospect of success, the ISO advocates electoral support for Labour without for a moment down-playing our fundamental criticisms of the party’s politics.
We are not for abstaining. It makes a difference whether National or Labour forms the government. Take, for example, the Covid-19 pandemic; the National Party has unceasingly sniped at the successful public health measures the Ardern government has taken. National’s priority has always been to save businesses’ profits. Had National been in power we would not have had the timely alert level restrictions, infections would have spun out of control and many more people would have died.
What of the Greens? The Greens are adept at rolling out policies before elections that are often to the left of Labour’s. But it is not this or that paper policy that counts. In government for the last three years, the Greens have achieved little. On climate change, a Green issue par excellence, James Shaw as climate minister has promoted the toothless Zero Carbon Act, which is nothing but a fraud in terms of real action. The Greens are promoting a dangerous illusion that something is being done.
Socialists characterise Labour’s politics as reformist. That is to say, Labour is in theory for gradual reforms to improve the lives of workers. However, Labour’s first loyalty is to the capitalist system and will always concede to business interests. The Ardern government has followed a classically reformist path. It came to power with a list of promises, and in its first year actually delivered on some of them. However, big issues, such as reform of the welfare system, have been hardly touched on and the reform programme died down in 2019. All the while the Labour government kept its promise to the capitalist class to cap public spending – until the pandemic that is – under the budget responsibility rules policy.
The Ardern government, having borrowed billions of dollars to shore up the economy during the pandemic, and now finding itself in conditions of a global recession, will, if re-elected, even more concede to the capitalist class and heap the burden of the economic difficulties on the working class by unemployment, limiting pay and holding back on social expenditure. In a situation crying out for raising revenues, Labour is proposing only a paltry tax raise on incomes over $181,000.
The reason for voting Labour is not then the expectation of a pathway of progressive reforms. Rather, the reasoning is strategic. First of all, the question is: What outcome of the election will most sustain the morale and fighting capacity of working-class people? To answer the question negatively, the election of a rightwing government headed by Judith Collins would be a demoralising blow that would put workers on the defensive. The second question is: What outcome of the election would be most conducive to a move to the left, towards a socialist challenge to capitalism? Again answering negatively, as long as Labour is not in power working people will be told by Labour leaders and bourgeois commentators to passively wait for a Labour government. It is only by going through the experience of Labour in power, and its disappointments, that poses the question of an alternative to Labour’s politics being needed to solve the big questions, such as economic and social equality. We want people to draw the conclusions that voting Labour into office is not enough and that they must take action for themselves collectively – as trade unionists, as a campaign group, as part of mass movements.
Disappointment with Labour’s reformism does not automatically lead to a left advance; disillusionment can equally be exploited by the far right. It is therefore crucial that there are organised socialists to constantly explain the need for mass action to make gains and ultimately get rid of capitalism altogether. Join us!