Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 36, Number 25. 3rd October 1973
A perspective of self delusion — Socialist Election Strategy in New Zealand:
A perspective of self delusion
Socialist Election Strategy in New Zealand:
In May 1972 the Labour Party hierarchy, with characteristic short-sightedness and stupidity, purged the Socialist Action League from their party. The SAL screamed, a few rank and file Labourites like a certain P. Franks protested and the Labour leaders changed their minds a couple of times about why the dirty deed had been done before reaffirming the decision.
Six months later the SAL was busily organising people to vote Labour through its "Socialists for Labour" campaign. This was not a remarkable example of Jesus Christ's dictum to turn the other cheek, but a conscious political strategy.
"Socialist Election Strategy" in New Zealand is a collection of articles, documents and newspaper cuttings recording the "Socialists for labour" campaign. Because it sees the Labour Party as the political party of the working class, the SAL believes it should be supported electorally while its "right-wing misleadership" is vigorously opposed
Socialists must work within the Labour Party because when the working class starts to radicalise, so the theory goes, the Labour Party will be torn apart and "Marxists (i.e. the SAL) will be in a strong position, both organisationally and politically, to intervene and pick up a mass working-class following." (Political Resolution of the founding conference of SAL, August 1970).
A naive reader of this booklet might well conclude that Russell Johnson's comment that "The Socialists for Labour campaign was successful in getting socialist ideas and the Socialist Action League more widely known that ever before" is a correct summation of the campaign. And after all the campaign did distribute 20,000 Vote Labour leaflets, 3,000 election supplements of "Socialist Action", 264 Young Socialist buttons, and was endorsed by 263 people, including 47 workers!
What the booklet neglects to mention however, is that election campaigns inevitably generate a far greater interest and involvement in politics on the part of ordinary people than usual. Other groups benefited from this as well as the SAL. For example Hart supporters (whose leader Trevor Richards is sneered at in a section of the booklet) sold over 10,000 copies of the election issue of Hart News.
Furthermore the "Socialists lor Labour" campaign was kicked off to a great start by the Labour Party leadership. The usual method of removing unwanted dissidents who have little rank and file support from the Labour Parry is to let them burn themselves out and resign in frustration — a technique which works very effectively. But the Labour Party Executive was rattled into purging the SAL, only to find itself unable to produce any plausible reasons for doing so. Bullshit like The League supports reform by revolution and rejects the party's policy of reform by democratic processes" only helped with the SAL supporters.
Few party members were upset by the executive's decision. An excerpt from the "Socialist Action" report of this year's Labour Parry conference cites "a unanimous vote that 'the decision on the Socialist Action League be rescinded' " at the 1973 youth conference as an example of "the feeling among party ranks against the National Executive on this matter..." In actual fact the only support Keith Locke got when he came cap in hand to the youth conference was from Peter Wilson who argued that as the Labour Parry was full of right-wing opportunists the presence of a few' more wouldn't matter much.
Although the Labour Party gets electoral support from many working class people, it is essentially in Lenin's words, "an organisation of the bourgeoisie, which exists to systematically dupe the workers". Elected mainly on a programme of ending wage restraints, holding prices and improving welfare services the Labour Government has imposed a wage freeze and let prices run riot, while the education and hospital services are as run down as ever. Like the Socialist Unity Party and people like myself who also supported a Labour victory, the SAL is in a small way responsible because it encouraged people to vote for Kirk and his followers.
Despite the SAL's rhetoric, the number of working class people active in the Labour Party has been steadily declining for years. Trade union participation in the party is also failing, and the only unionists really active in the party are a few right-wing officials such as the local boss of the Engineers Union, Brian Landers. Some day, the SAL cries, the workers will be radicalised and we will be there to lead them in taking over the Labour Party!
While it is far more likely that the working class will establish its own revolutionary party, the SAL was thrown out of the Labour Party before it could get itself established in any position of influence. I recall a comment made to me by one fellow comrade when our local Labour Party branch was discussing the purge of the SAL. "They're not real Trotskyists", he muttered. "When the Trots took over the party's youth movement in England they fought like bastards before we could clean them out."