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Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 29, No. 8. 1966.

Labour needs a socialist answer

Labour needs a socialist answer

Sir.—Patricia Caughley. in her assessment of the Labour Party (Salient June 3), is, I think, making several misconceptions which are, however, common in much political and historical writing on New Zealand. The main misconception is that of equating "Socialism" with Labourist "ideology," and hence the interpretation that by rejecting overt ideology Labour is illustrating the impracticality of Socialism. Indeed, Labour may have espoused, at one time, socialism for New Zealand, but this is begging the question, for Socialism is no mere myth acting as an idealist panacea, but is as Marx defined it, a total transformation of man and society.



Far from throwing "ideology" and "doctrinaire Socialism" to the winds and opting for "pragmatism," Labour is merely slightly modifying the Labourist ideology it has in effect been preaching for nearly thirty years. Socialism for Labour meant Labour in power, as it did for Labour's opponents, but to view the creation of the welfare state as more than the perpetuation of the petty bourgeois is illusory. Labourist ideology is a reality, and it is based on a mixture of Protestantism, liberalism, statism, glossed in [phrases like "fair share for 'all" and the "brotherhood of man."

Labour did. in fact, effect a complete absorption into a society dominated by rural interests, the ideals of the small businessman and the 'Labour aristocracy. Labour's failure to create a hegemonic Socialist ideology is because it alienated the farmers by a policy of inefficient industrialisation and import substitution. Moreover, Labour was itself absorbed into a political system based on the ideas of the ruling class: how could it; do no more than offer, as Professor Airey has noted, "a working solution for a particular set of circumstances"; in other words, a truly corporate party.


The question of ideology in New Zealand is an interesting one, if only because everyone denies that there is any. The effect of the "behavioural" approach to politics, and the tendency to skirt analysis in history, has been, I fear, a damaging influence to a radical critique of New Zealand society. At worst, it implies a conservative approach, where only "pragmatism" can solve problems, and fundamental issues of social relations, etc., do not require the radical transformation that, for example. Socialism demands. The non-ideological approach, if accepted, is implicitly denying that ideology plays an influential role in our life. In ignoring this we are far from rejecting the truth of ideology, rather we have been seduced into what Herbert Marcuse called "one dimensional thinking."

Patricia Caughley refers to Labour's foreign policy as a "logical development" of traditional Labour views. She is right. This foreign policy, aside from Mr. Kirk's opportunism, is an unashamed expression of naive humanitarianism, as the quotations from Mr. Nordmeyer illustrate. Miss Caughley also refers to the ideological nature of National's antipathy to economic planning. This is so, but it is far from the classic laissez faire economic ideas of nineteenth century liberalism. The ideology of National has deeper roots; although there is very little research on this party. I am sure that once again "pragmatism" is merely a cover for obvious class interests.

Pipe dreams

The future of the Labour Party does not depend on "pragmatic appraisals" or "realistic solutions," but upon an ideological revolution that recognises that New Zealand's relations of production are a fetter upon the productive forces. Unless Labour has a Socialist answer to the imminent crisis, its policy for the future of our welfare state will remain no more than pipe dreams.

Nevil Gibson