There’s an anecdote, probably apocryphal, that in the early 1920s Lenin claimed that capitalism would provide the rope to hang itself.
When some wag (reputedly Grigori Zinoviev, a close associate) responded by asking ‘Where will we get the rope?’ – at a time when industrial production was struggling to recover from the civil war and Western-led invasion of the Soviet Union – Lenin was famously said to reply: “The capitalists will sell us the rope with which to hang them.”
An additional, extremely revealing, piece of news is that former Alliance MP and cabinet minister Laila Harre has been announced as the leader of the Internet Party.
With Harre now at the head of the Internet Party there’s now an interesting alignment of well-known left wing activists lining up through the alliance between the two parties – Martyn Bradbury (“who has worked on strategy for the Internet Party“), John Minto (long-standing protestor, political activist and high-ranking Mana Party candidate) and, most significantly, Laila Harre.
Add to that the appointment of Matt McCarten as David Cunliffe’s Chief of Staff and you have a powerful (coordinated?) re-grouping of some of the left’s strongest organisers and activists – something not seen since the hey-day of the Alliance.
The probable announcement of Laila Harre as leader of the Internet Party also got the big tick from Willie Jackson:
Broadcaster and former Alliance Party MP Willie Jackson said it was “great news” that Ms Harre would be Internet Party Leader.
“I’m really pleased that Laila’s getting back into it. She’s someone I’ve worked with and I’ve always admired her politics, she’s a woman of principal[sic] and she’ll be a great advocate in terms of working class people.
“I think it’s a very smart and strategic move by both sides.”
While multiple planetary alignments are a mere statistical event political alignments of this nature are rarely so coincidental.
Whatever the electoral outcome it is clear that the New Zealand left is making a significant strategic move in this election.
Not all on the left, however, agree with the direction of that move.
True to her word, Sue Bradford has resigned from the Mana Party, along with several others. In explanation, Bradford
sent a letter of resignation to the leadership late this morning, effective immediately, saying she had lost enthusiasm for Mana and “sucking up to a German millionaire” was not her vision for the party.
“My overwhelming emotion today is sadness,” she told 3 News.
“Kim Dotcom is a gamer and it’s a big game that he’s playing, and I don’t want to become his pawn.”
Apart from the unnecessary reference to Dotcom’s nationality, the reaction is understandable and, presumably, a concern not limited to Sue Bradford and other (former?) members of the Mana Party.
Bradford further explains that the ‘game’ Dotcom is playing amounts to buying political influence:
“I find it incredible that a party with the kaupapa Mana has, should be considering going into an alliance with Kim Dotcom – a man who tried to buy off the right and failed and now he seems to have turned to the left to buy the left off,” she said in March, referring to Dotcom’s donation to ACT MP John Banks’ 2010 mayoralty campaign.
The question, however, is to what end is this ‘buying of influence’ aimed – at least from Dotcom’s perspective? What’s the ‘game’?
The permutations of motive and outcome are several. Is Dotcom ‘gaming’ Mana and the left? Is Mana and the left ‘gaming’ Dotcom? Are both entering this relationship with eyes wide open and clear that they are allied for one reason – to remove John Key’s National-led government?
At the announcement between Mana Party leader Hone Hawarira and Vikram Kumar (Chief Executive of the Internet Party) Harawira claimed that Dotcom’s extradition trial was not part of the negotiations between Mana and the Internet Party:
Mr Harawira said Mr Dotcom’s looming extradition trial and whether Mana would support his efforts to remain in New Zealand had “not even come up once” during discussions over the last few weeks.
“It’s not a matter on the table at all.”
Certainly, if such a ‘matter’ had been ‘on the table’ that would have put paid to any claims that this was a morally defensible ‘marriage of convenience’. Whether Dotcom is guilty or innocent, trading off judicial leniency should never be part of political strategy (trading off legislation is, of course, equally abhorrent as political or economic strategy).
There may be legitimate legal reasons to stall or even stop the extradition process – I’m not a legal expert – but, irrespective, it seems pretty obvious that a party’s position on the legitimacy or otherwise of such proceedings should not be part of political negotiations.
The ethical argument against the alliance is potentially the most powerful one. After all, it is the ethical argument, in turn, that underpins criticisms of the electoral wisdom of the move. That is, by aligning with the Internet Party and, by association, with Kim Dotcom, it has been argued that the Mana Party may taint its reputation:
Auckland University of Technology professor Paul Moon said the alliance could bring Mana’s policies more leverage, but it could also impact peoples’ perceptions.
He said Mana had emphasized the purity of its ideal, but joining with the Internet party tainted that purity.
Professor Moon said people could perceive that Mana was compromising its ideals for the sake of more seats, which was a gamble.
He also said any damage to the reputation of Kim Dotcom could bring the party down, too.
Political competitors have predictably pounced upon this obvious weak spot.
The Maori Party’s Pita Sharples, for example, hasn’t minced words:
The Maori Party yesterday continued to attack Mana over its plan to bring Internet Party MPs into Parliament on the coattails of Mr Harawira’s Te Tai Tokerau Maori seat.
“It’s disgusting,” said Maori Party MP Pita Sharples. “It will force people to wonder what the Maori seats are really there for.”
The Labour Party’s Kelvin Davis has also been quick to exploit this criticism of the deal between the two political parties in terms designed to inflict maximum political damage in Hone Harawira’s electorate of Te Tai Tokerau:
“People can see that this is just a stitch-up,” he said. “I don’t think they like seeing Te Tai Tokerau being traded off like that. I think they’re taking the voters of Te Tai Tokerau for granted.”
This perceived risk for Mana arises, of course, not only from the fact that Kim Dotcom, the driving force and financier behind the establishment of the Internet Party, currently has extradition hearings against him but also that he is currently accused of facilitating massive breaches of copyright and money laundering through his previous website Megaupload.
In addition, and as reported in March 2012, Dotcom has had several convictions related to computer hacking (at age 20 in Germany), breach of trust and insider trading (also in Germany), ‘business charges’ (in Hong Kong) and some minor traffic infringements.
[As an aside, and in the light of those accusations, there is an interesting feature of the Internet Party policy platform under the title ‘Copyright Reform’:
Reform copyright laws.
The Internet Party will draft a modern copyright law that ensures safe harbour for Internet service providers, promotes fair use, and compels global content creators to make their products available here without the usual delays. We will advance a balanced system that rewards creators and benefits the public, which in turn will attract innovation and new businesses. Free and open access to knowledge and research is a key requirement for New Zealand’s digital future.
The website promises that “Policy details will be in our upcoming manifesto“. At that point it should be possible to see whether or not the Megaupload business model, or some other, is driving the policy.]
Yet, even if there were no criminal convictions or criminal proceedings in sight, the question most often asked remains: How can the Mana Party – as a representative of the disadvantaged and politically dispossessed – form an alliance with a political vehicle driven by someone who has profited so greatly from the system that has created such disadvantage?
The answer to that question, it turns out, has less to do with the ethical principles that might be expected for a representative of the politically disadvantaged and dispossessed than it does with the activism required to remedy that disadvantage and allow the dispossessed to repossess the political sphere and the power over their own lives.
In short, the befuddlement over the spectacle of Mana (and people like Harawira, Sykes, Minto and Harre) teaming up with the Internet Party arises from a particular view of what modern politics should be about – representation.
The view that needs to be adopted to see the reasoning behind the alliance is quite different – it is the view that modern politics is fundamentally about activism, and not about representation.
Activism seeks to change the world – representation merely seeks to ‘represent’ it, or some section of it. The two are fundamentally opposed views of politics.
The ‘representative’ has done their job if they authentically voice the concerns of those they represent. The activist has done their job when the injustice is corrected, the wrong righted and the world made better.
An early sign of this re-emergence of left-activism was when the membership of the Labour Party reformed the process for electing the party’s leader and for developing policy. It was echoed in the appointment of Matt McCarten as Labour Leader David Cunliffe’s Chief of Staff.
It is now fully out in the public sphere with the ‘realpolitik’ of the Mana-Internet Party deal.
But what, then, of political principles?
Well, the principles against which political activists judge themselves are related to results not to the ethical esteem – or otherwise – in which their actions are held. It matters less to an activist that they are perceived – at what they would see as a superficial level – to be ‘unprincipled’ than that, for example, they have alleviated the suffering of thousands of children in poverty.
From an activist’s viewpoint, there is little that is principled about holding to one’s ‘principles’ while people continue to be harmed and to suffer.
And there is some ethical merit in that position. It takes courage to place a priority on the moral worth of the outcomes of your actions over and above the moral worth that society attributes to your means.
At the extreme, of course, the ends (the – hoped for – ‘outcomes’) can never justify the means – as is so often pointed out.
But the reverse, while highlighted less often, is also true: The means – no matter how ethical – do not always justify the lack of ends.
The person who is mostly concerned with being considered ethical by others (and by themselves) risks placing the means so far ahead of the outcomes (the ends) of their actions that it can amount to a narcissistic – even cowardly – privileging of their ‘ethical reputation’ above the interests of those in need.
A desire to be seen as good comes to dominate the act of doing good.
If I’m right that this deal amounts to the re-entry of left-activism into electoral politics, then Kim Dotcom has a type of ‘rope’ that is far more important for the activist left than money.
He has access to two vital resources that the left need if they are to have a way of effecting social change into the future. That access is, first, to a section of the population of young people most in need of political change. Second, and, just as importantly, he provides access to the media spotlight.
Not since the days of the Alliance – and perhaps not even then – has the activist left had such access.
The prominence and calibre of the members of the activist left who are now associated with the Mana-Internet deal suggest to me that this is not some naive sellout or self-serving tactic. It has the distinct look of a calculated, well-planned mechanism for the activist left to re-enter the mainstream political arena.
As the figure of Laila Harre delivering her first speech as Internet Party leader strongly suggests, this is not amateur hour:
Laila Harré brought political polish and signs of a coherent policy platform to the official announcement of her leadership of the fledgling Internet Party this afternoon.
In her first comments as Internet Party Leader, Ms Harré offered a commitment to giving young New Zealanders “a future in the digital economy”.
“We are going to weave an awesome future.”
Ms Harré’s speech to media and Internet Party hopefuls gathered at Auckland’s Langham Hotel was also a strong attack on the National Government.
Addressing criticism of the deal between Kim Dotcom’s new party and Hone Harawira’s Mana Party she said the party made “no apologies for acting in the strategic interests of this generation“.
National’s “capture of MMP strategy” had led to the further privatisation of state assets, a strengthening of spying agencies, the “trading of employment laws to Hollywood and a “deal to double the size of the Auckland Casino with a disregard for accepted Government practices”.
“It is time for the people to take back MMP for ourselves.”
This is the language of activism. It is hard-edged and assertive of what it sees as the truth.
It is not the language of managerial reassurance that dominates the rhetoric of the two major parties (and, increasingly, of the Green Party).
Who knows what Kim Dotcom may or may not think he has created in the political entity called the Internet Party? Who knows what he believes it is supposed to achieve in the service of his own interests?
What Dotcom thinks about these matters is now next to irrelevant (and, who knows, he may be fine with that).
With Laila Harre once again in the political spotlight; with a media narrative around Mana and the Internet Party set in train up until the election; with an electoral profile that won’t fade anytime soon, this new vehicle for the activist left is no longer under his control – or even under the control of his money.
The rope has been sold.
We now simply wait to see if the best of New Zealand’s activist left knows how to tie a noose.