Elliot Crossan

A Simple, Fair Solution to the Cost of Living Crisis

A Simple, Fair Solution to the Cost of Living Crisis

Everyone is talking about the cost of living crisis.

Inflation in the first quarter of 2022 was 6.9%, up from 5.9% in the last quarter of 2021 — the highest level we have seen since 1990. The price of food, rent and, in particular, fuel is going through the roof. Add this on top of our long-term crisis of low wages and housing unaffordability, and you have a colossal problem for poor and working class Kiwis who are already struggling to get by. It’s no wonder that a survey by Consumer NZ has found that this crisis has become New Zealanders’ biggest concern, and that the government is taking a huge hit in the polls as a result.

There are multiple causes contributing to these price rises — the war in Ukraine, supply chain disruption due to Covid-19, and the vast sums of money hoarded by the rich during the pandemic and the lockdowns.

The Labour Government’s response has been to reduce fuel tax and public transport costs, and give a one-off payment of $350 to everyone earning under $70,000 per year — except, shamefully, for pensioners and beneficiaries who need that money the most. The Opposition National Party’s plan would be to abolish several taxes introduced by the current government, to adjust income tax brackets for inflation, and to abolish the top tax rate of 39% on income over $180,000, introduced by Labour last year. The Greens, meanwhile, are proposing a tax on wealth to deal with inequality and tax injustice, which they claim would only affect the top 6% wealthiest households.

Labour’s policies do not go nearly far enough. National’s plan would disproportionately benefit high earners, the people who need that money the least. The Greens, meanwhile, have the right idea — a wealth tax would go a long way towards moving the tax burden onto those who can afford to pay. But what if both National and the Greens have a point?

I don’t mean that both policies should be followed. The Green policy would make the economy more fair; the National policy would make things less fair. But the idea of implementing a wealth tax alongside tax cuts for ordinary people is actually a great idea if done properly.

The Tax Revolution of the 1980s

Let’s take a short trip back to the past. In the 1980s, Labour Finance Minister Roger Douglas introduced a series of sweeping right-wing economic reforms. His National Party successor Ruth Richardson followed suit with further major changes in the 1990s. Douglas and Richardson were the last truly transformative politicians in terms of the way our economy is run.

Tragically, they transformed the country in precisely the opposite direction to what was needed. Inequality and poverty exploded thanks to “Rogernomics” and “Ruthanasia,” as their regimes came to be known. They were part of a broader trend which made up the neoliberal free market revolution around the world, led by British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and US President Ronald Reagan. Inequality rose in every country which introduced neoliberal policies — though the speed and scale of the inequality unleashed in Aotearoa was one of the most extreme in the world.

According to Michael Fletcher and Máire Dwyer’s 2008 report to the Children’s Commissioner:

“Child poverty rates rose sharply in the late 1980s and the early 1990s. During this period, inequality rose more in New Zealand than in any of the 20 Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries for which comparable data is available. The key drivers were low wage growth for many working families, high unemployment and reductions in welfare payments.”

One of Roger Douglas’ flagship policies was the most radical tax reform in our nation’s history. He slashed the top rate of income tax from 66 cents in the dollar to 33; he reduced company tax from 48% to 28%; and in 1986, he introduced a brand new tax, the Goods and Services Tax (GST), initially at a rate of 10%. It was raised to 12.5% by his ally and successor David Caygill in 1989. This transformed our tax system from a fairly progressive system to an extremely regressive regime, with high earners and corporations contributing far less than before. GST has been increased once since then — National Party Finance Minister Bill English increased it to 15% in 2010.

Righting the Wrongs of the Past

The benefit of GST is that it is a very easy tax to collect, which is useful for government bureaucrats. It is a very difficult tax to evade. However, it is also a clear driver of inequality. Poor and working class people spend the highest percentage of their income on goods and services.  The ultra-rich, on the other hand, spend the lowest percentage of their money, and instead either save it, or invest it in assets such as housing, generating even more money for themselves at the expense of everybody else. GST is the very definition of a regressive tax.

GST should be abolished with immediate effect. And it should be replaced with a wealth tax.

This is a radical proposal. It would be a reform almost as significant as Roger Douglas’ 1980s tax overhaul. But it is also a common sense solution.

Firstly, it would deal in a big way with the crisis of inequality. The vast majority of people, whether poor, working class or middle class, would benefit. Spending on goods and services would increase substantially — a huge boon for the economy. But those on the lowest incomes would benefit the most, with their purchasing power suddenly, and dramatically, rising. This would drive down inequality and poverty. More action would be needed to deal with these deep-rooted problems in our society, but it would be a start.

Secondly, and directly relevant to our current situation, it would dramatically negate the cost of living crisis. Abolishing GST would reduce the cost of all goods and services by 13% — meaning prices would return to 2018 levels. This would reverse the negative effects of inflation substantially. It would mean that people can keep spending rather than having to cut back.

This would certainly be a massive task for the government to undertake. Last year, the government raised $27.2 billion from GST alone. The Green Party’s proposed wealth tax was estimated in 2020 to be worth $7.9 billion in its first proposed year of implementation. Such a wealth tax would pay for a 29% reduction in the current rate of GST — which would be a good start. But a much steeper and more progressive wealth tax is both possible and necessary.

In 2021, the top 10% of New Zealanders held over half of the country’s wealth. The top 5% held 37%, and the top 1% held 15.8%. Meanwhile, the bottom 50% of the country held just 6.7%. This is based on estimates which inequality expert Max Rashbrooke says may be wildly inaccurate; he told Stuff:

“[Rashbrooke] said there was a caveat in that the very richest people in the country refused to be part of surveys. The 1 per cent might in reality have more like 85 per cent of wealth than 20 per cent, he said.”

From stuff.co.nz

This means that the top 5% of Kiwis have at the very least $628 billion in net worth between them, an average of $6.7 million per household. That is an obscene amount of money, especially given how little the bottom 50% have. To redistribute that wealth is an urgent moral necessity, especially in the face of the current cost of living crisis.

To raise the $27.2 billion needed to replace annual GST revenue, we would need to take away just 4.3% of that wealth. It can be done, and it must be done.

Such a policy would take a lot of bravery from the government. It would be a u-turn from Jacinda Ardern’s ongoing stubborn refusal to implement any tax on wealth. It would mean taking on the wealthiest and most powerful people in Aotearoa. That is never an easy feat, and would guarantee the majority of business, media and the ultra-rich elite turning against her.

However, this policy could also save Ardern. It would have massive financial consequences for everyone in the country — it would be a tax cut for the bottom 94%. This would surely be felt keenly by wavering voters currently considering opting for National instead of Labour. It would indicate clear, strong action on the cost of living emergency. That would only be a good thing in electoral terms.

It would allow Labour and the Greens to permanently reframe the debate on tax. In response to National and ACT accusing them of being parties who want to raise taxes for ordinary New Zealanders, the centre-left parties could throw back in their faces the fact that in reality, the government just gave a huge tax cut to the majority of the country, whilst making National’s wealthy mates pay for it.

It would mean Labour would finally be delivering on their rhetoric of being a kind, transformative government, as they would be seriously addressing poverty and inequality in a meaningful and lasting way — which they have not yet done. It would begin to redress the decades-old injury to this country’s social fabric inflicted by the Fourth Labour Government, and mark a clear break from the era of Rogernomics — which would be fitting, given that as Leader of the Opposition in 2017, Jacinda Ardern proclaimed that “neoliberalism has failed.”

Regardless of whether or not Labour or the Greens were to take up this solution, it is the kind of policy the left should be fighting for to demonstrate that there is a radical alternative to this moderate centre-left government other than the austerity and tax cuts for the wealthy offered by the right-wing parties as a false solution to this crisis. Further accelerating inequality will only ever make things worse. Another world is possible, and the left must fight for it.



This article was originally published on 1of200.nz, and has been republished with their kind permission.

Elliot Crossan is a socialist writer and activist.

29 May, 2022

Posted by Elliot Crossan in Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand, New Zealand Labour Party, New Zealand National Party, New Zealand politics, 0 comments
Can Labour Really Govern For All?

Can Labour Really Govern For All?

“We will be a party that governs for every New Zealander!”

This was Jacinda Ardern’s triumphant declaration on the night she was reelected Prime Minister, with a landslide so huge that she has become New Zealand’s first leader to win an outright majority under our proportional representation system, whilst Labour became the first party to win over 50% of the vote since 1951 — the first time Labour themselves have done so since 1946. It was certainly a night to celebrate for Ardern and her supporters.

She has been well rewarded for her swift and decisive leadership in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic, and working class New Zealanders are justifiably proud that we came together, as few other countries have, and successfully stopped the spread of the virus within our island nation.

The vote share won by the centre-left bloc (Labour, the Greens and the Māori Party) in the 2020 general election is unprecedented since the first MMP election in 1996. Data from the Electoral Commission.

This election result stands in stark contrast to the chaos unfurling in the United States, where racist right-wing President Donald Trump has failed utterly to deal with the virus, instead prioritising the needs of the economy over people’s lives while encouraging anti-lockdown and anti-mask sentiments amongst his fanatical supporters. Nearly a quarter of a million Americans have died, and the closeness of the election result indicates both a more polarised nation than at any time since the 1960s, and a complete failure by the corporate-backed Democratic elite to resist Trumpism.

But with historic levels of support among both workers and the middle class, can Ardern truly live up to her stated ambition of “governing for all”?

A Question of Class

The Covid-19 crisis was a fairly unique issue on which the medium-to-long-term interests of the capitalist class aligned with the short-term interests of the workers. Some of the business community did prefer the right-wing response of trying to keep the economy as “open” as possible, as advocated by National Party leader at the time Simon Bridges, and as seen in countries such as the US, UK and Ireland, which have conservative governments and have been ravaged by the virus as a result. However, Ardern’s approach, summarised in the slogan “go hard, go early, stamp it out,” was actually the most intelligent and effective strategy for properly reopening the economy and returning to “normal” as quickly as possible — and, crucially, not having to then retreat again six months later. Smarter business leaders saw what Ardern was attempting to do and supported her, and are now being rewarded by a much less harsh economic crisis than other OECD countries are experiencing.

However, the Covid-19 crisis also created other issues of contention where Labour had to make snap decisions on the basis of class. Ardern and her Finance Minister Grant Robertson — now elevated to the position of Deputy Prime Minister thanks to the crushing defeat of Labour’s former coalition partner, racist minor party New Zealand First, who can no longer be used as Ardern’s excuse for inaction on social issues — acted immediately to pour billions of dollars into propping up business during the lockdown period.

Grant Robertson, long-term friend and ally of Jacinda Ardern, is now in the powerful position of being both Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister.

The government also initiated a six month “mortgage holiday” for homeowners affected by the crisis — a welcome move for the middle class and for older and better-off sections of the working class, to be sure. But all the help there was for the ever-growing number of New Zealand households who rent their homes — which in the last thirty years has grown to more than a third of the population — was a cap on increases in rent between March and September. Where was the payment holiday for the hundreds of thousands of renters, who are far more likely to be in severe financial stress thanks to the lockdown and the recession?

These decisions were merely a continuation of Labour’s abject failure to deal with the housing crisis. The government built just 2,726 state houses between June 2018 and March 2020, despite the country having over 40,000 people homeless. A rent freeze lasting years could have alleviated some of the pressure on the workers struggling week in, week out to keep up with the demands of their landlords. However, it was those landlords who Labour chose to back, rather than renters.

Meanwhile, Labour implemented a divide-and-rule policy on benefits — giving workers laid off due to Covid-19 $490 per week to live on, while existing beneficiaries continue to live on the poverty rate of $200-250 per week.

Labour also firmly ruled out the Greens’ election policy of taxing millionaires’ wealth at a rate of 1%, and multi-millionaires at 2%, to pay for a guaranteed minimum income of $325 per week — even though that in itself is, adjusted for inflation, less than the recommendations of the Labour-Green government’s own Welfare Expert Advisory Group. Yet the issue Ardern has personally taken ministerial responsibility for is child poverty reduction!

Then there are long-term, systemic crises such as New Zealand’s low-pay economy and the climate crisis. The government have done the absolute bare minimum on these issues.

They’ve raised the minimum wage, yes — to a level that is still 15% ($3.20) below the living wage, which is the lowest level anybody can live on and stay above the poverty line. Unlike the Greens, Labour did not campaign for opt-out union membership, which would be a huge time-saver for union organisers and delegates across the country, allowing them to focus on campaigns and strikes rather than the constant churn of recruiting.

The government has utterly failed when it comes to the long-term issue of the climate crisis, where they want campaigners to be content with the toothless, non-binding Zero Carbon Act, which doesn’t even fully include New Zealand’s biggest polluting sector, agriculture. On this issue the Greens are directly implicated, thanks to centrist party co-leader James Shaw, who continues in his role as Minister for Climate Change for a second term thanks to his party’s bizarre decision to go into a confidence-and-supply arrangement with a majority government instead of properly opposing said government from the left, as is desperately needed.

The Nature of the Labour Party

The reason why Labour, the supposed party of workers, and Ardern, with all her talk of “kindness”, cannot govern for every New Zealander when it comes to such pressing issues as the housing crisis, poverty, low wages and climate change, is because they are a party which seeks to manage the capitalist system, minimise class conflict, and keep the economy growing in perpetuity.

When it came to Covid-19, the medium-term interests of the economy did indeed align temporarily with the interests of workers. But the interests of the capitalist class in the long term are wedded to the neoliberal economic model, in which taxes are kept low for those at the top, wages stay low for workers, any redistribution of the obscene wealth hoarded by the rich is kept minimal, the human right of housing continues to be a commodity to be bought, sold and speculated upon, and therefore inaccessible for an ever-larger number of workers, and all the while exponential economic growth is essential — growth which now, in the light of environmental breakdown, risks to make the very planet we live upon uninhabitable.

Ardern and the current Labour Party are Third Way neoliberals, in the style of Tony Blair in the UK and Bill Clinton in the US. They have given up even on the basic left-wing principles of mid-20th Century social democratic leaders such as Michael Joseph Savage, let alone the original goal of Labour’s socialist founders, who once upon a time sought to end capitalist greed, and the misery it creates for the rest of us, for good.

Michael Joseph Savage was Aotearoa’s first ever Labour Prime Minister, from 1935 until his death in 1940. He is revered as a hero within the Labour Party.

The First Labour Government (1935-1949), led by Savage and later by Peter Fraser, could at least partially claim at the time that they were “governing for all”, as they built the first state houses and created the welfare system to look after workers and the poor while raising taxes on the rich. Even so, they ultimately failed to challenge the long-term power of the capitalist elite in Aotearoa, and thus allowed the system as a whole to continue and eventually reset to the level of extreme inequality we see today.

Ardern can make no such claim; while her government will continue to deliver mild progressive reforms which National wouldn’t have, overall they will not even touch the foundations of neoliberalism in this country.

No, Labour in the 21st Century will not govern for the workers without a serious ideological overhaul.

The Case for Hope

That being said, there is absolutely no reason to despair. While Labour refuses to govern for all, that doesn’t necessarily mean their hand cannot be forced. The First Labour Government did what it did for the working class in the 1930s and 40s because there was a powerful movement of workers and the unemployed in this country. We can and we must rebuild such a movement again today.

The workers’ movement needs to take heart from the absolute drubbing received by the National Party, Winston Peters, and the small conspiratorial far-right parties — the New Conservatives, Advance NZ, et al — and rather than waiting for this Labour Government with its huge mandate to deliver the change we so desperately need, demand it.

Red-line issues we should campaign on include:

  • Making the minimum wage a living wage
  • Guaranteeing a proper universal minimum income of at least $500 per week to New Zealanders, alongside universal, free basic services such as university and dental care
  • Building 100,000 state houses and freezing rent increases for the long term
  • Giving amnesty to migrant workers, both offshore and onshore, who have lived in insecure conditions, often with visas tied to their bosses, for far too long
  • Creating a Green New Deal to move our economy away from pollution-intensive agriculture and fossil fuels in the next ten years, creating hundreds of thousands of well-paying jobs

Another question needs to be broached by the left in the unions and social movements — the question of whether or not we are ready to build a new left-wing party to bring these demands together and provide real opposition to the now-hegemonic Labour government.

The Greens showed us they cannot be properly trusted to represent the left when they elected ex-corporate consultant James Shaw as their co-leader, and they have shown as much again with 85% of party members taking Labour’s bait and supporting the government instead of going independent and becoming a left-wing opposition party. This is in spite of the elections of new left-wing MPs Ricardo Menéndez March, Teanau Tuiono and Elizabeth Kerekere, who are allies of left-wing co-leader Marama Davidson — we should welcome these new MPs and work with them wherever they are willing to stand with the movements in the streets, even if on the whole we cannot rely on half of a parliamentary party to represent the left.

All three newly elected Green MPs — Elizabeth Kerekere, Teanau Tuiono and Ricardo Menéndez March — are supported by the left-wing faction within the Green Party.

A new left-wing party, which would bring together fighting trade unionists, the left of the social movements and Māori radicals, needs to be built in time for the 2023 election. Such a party would provide a real, independent voice for workers in the struggle against neoliberal capitalism and all the social and environmental crises it creates.

There is no point in one group in alone as an isolated group of revolutionaries — what is needed is a united front bringing together those who tried to build the Mana Movement last decade, and those on the reformist left who are inspired by popular figures such as Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Evo Morales. A coalition of the broad left will be necessary to build a party which will succeed, rather than a small group left to flounder on its own.

But before, during and after the formation of such a party, the struggle for workers’ rights, environmental protection, social change and Tino Rangatiratanga must continue to be strengthened. Without unions and social movements, we will get nowhere. The struggle must go on!



This article has been republished. You can read the original here.

Elliot Crossan is a socialist writer and activist.

13 November, 2020

Posted by Elliot Crossan in 2020 New Zealand general election, Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand, New Zealand Labour Party, New Zealand National Party, New Zealand politics, 0 comments
Do Labour Deserve a Second Term — and Will They Finally Deliver?

Do Labour Deserve a Second Term — and Will They Finally Deliver?

Jacinda Ardern is headed for a landslide victory in the 2020 New Zealand general election.  The Labour Party are currently polling around 47-50% — down from the stratospheric high of 60.9% seen in July, but still on course for easily their best election result since 1987, and still in with some chance of forming the first majority government since proportional representation was first used in 1996.

Do Ardern and Labour deserve this remarkable popularity?  By some measures, yes.  From a health perspective, Ardern has shown unwavering commitment to the government’s Zero Covid strategy.  This strategy has succeeded, despite August’s hiccup, and continues to be one of the few genuinely good international examples of how to stamp out this virus.  While so many fellow OECD nations saw hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths as a result of the first wave, and are now being hit by a second wave which in some countries, including the UK, looks to be even worse, the government under Ardern’s leadership have done a brilliant job in keeping New Zealanders safe.

Labour Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

However, as huge a threat as Covid-19 continues to pose to us, the pandemic is far from the only crisis facing Aotearoa.  The housing crisis, a result of 30 years of free market economics, is still in full swing.  Labour have categorically failed to build enough houses, and they’ve failed to keep prices and rents under control.  Their flagship Kiwibuild policy is rightly derided, even though National could not be more hypocritical in their attacks, given their appalling track record in office from 2008 to 2017.  A new approach to housing is needed, one which involves building new, high quality state houses to be provided at affordable rates — and rent increases urgently need to be restricted.  Working class people are fed up with housing unaffordability, and with the fact that Aotearoa has the highest homelessness rate in the OECD.

Labour has also failed to tackle the chronic issue of low wages — teachers, nurses and thousands of other public sector workers had to go on strike against the government to get better deals after being offered pay rises barely above inflation!  Meanwhile, the government’s minimum wage increases have been better than nothing, but still do not constitute a living wage.

It’s the same story when it comes to tax — Labour wants us to be content with the absolute bare minimum.  Their policy is to introduce a new top income tax bracket at 39% for those earning over $180,000 per year.  One of the first policies of Helen Clark’s government was to raise the top tax rate for those earning over $60,000 a year ($91,400 in today’s money) to 39% in April 2000.  Labour’s current election proposal is better than the Ardern government’s first term policy of zero tax increases on wealthier New Zealanders, but it is still not good enough at all.  All other tax increases on the rich have been ruled out, even the capital gains tax recommended by the government’s own Tax Working Group.  Also off the table are reductions in regressive taxes such as Goods and Services Tax (GST), which disproportionately take money from workers and the poor.  Such unequal taxes should have been scrapped years ago!

Jacinda Ardern is without a doubt a better candidate for Prime Minister than hardcore conservative Judith Collins.  Collins coming to power would likely mean the most right-wing government New Zealand has had since 1993, even if it wasn’t in coalition with the fanatical ACT Party.  Collins and National Party finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith are planning extreme austerity measures, while ACT wants to freeze the minimum wage for three years, slashing the earnings of those at the bottom relative to inflation.  Thankfully, National and ACT are very unlikely to end up with a majority this election.

There is no question therefore as to whether or not a Labour victory is preferable to the bleak alternative.  But there is also no question that a second-term Labour government, freed from the excuse of Winston Peters and his obstruction, needs to finally deliver for workers.  Ardern’s strategy appears at the moment to be to coast to a landslide reelection based solely on her Covid record and her personal popularity, while promising the bare minimum in terms of progressive policy.  This means that the only scenario in which Labour will truly challenge the crises facing Aotearoa is if a huge movement of working class people rises up and forces them to do so.

Party Vote Green — But Get Ready to Build a New Party

The incumbent Green Party caucus.

Labour are not the only left-of-centre party contesting this election, of course.  The Green Party are once again hovering just above the 5% threshold required to return to parliament, while the Māori Party have made a sharp left turn in response to losing both of their electorate seats in 2017 after their disgraceful role in propping up John Key and Bill English’s government.  The Māori Party may have ruled out going into coalition with National this time, but the question of broken trust must surely remain.  Also worrying is that the nationalist undercurrent lying beneath their mostly progressive, sometimes radical policy platform is belied by a xenophobic commitment to “curb all immigration,” supposedly to deal with the housing crisis.

The Greens are clearly the most left-wing party this election.  Their Poverty Action Plan, which would give $325 per week as a guaranteed minimum income to all those in need, is a smarter way of packaging Metiria Turei’s brave but heavily scapegoated 2017 policy of increasing benefits and removing all Work and Income sanctions.  The party’s tax plan, released alongside the Poverty Action Plan — a 1% tax on all wealth over $1 million, a 2% tax on wealth over $2 million; two new top income tax brackets, 37% on income over $100,000 per year, and 42% on income over $150,000 per year; and a crackdown on tax avoidance and loopholes — is significantly more progressive than the Greens’ tax policies from previous elections, and should be common sense in a time of crisis like this.  They have emphasised that these policies will only affect the richest 7% of New Zealanders, who can surely afford to pay more to help everybody else right now.  Labour’s complete political cowardice is exposed in contrast, with the Greens stepping up.

The Greens have also made decent commitments on housing and workers’ rights.  They plan to build 5,000 new houses per year, in order to clear the public housing waiting list in five years, and to stop Labour’s privatisation-by-stealth of public land by scrapping the policy of building new state houses on 30% of the land previously used, while selling off the other 70%.  The party has also promised to restore the right to solidarity strikes and political strikes, and to make union membership default when starting a new job, moving from opt-in to opt-out.  These changes if implemented would have huge effects in building the strength of the workers’ movement.

If anything, their environmental policies are the Greens’ weakness this election.  The party’s male co-leader, James Shaw, is the current government’s Climate Minister, and responsible for the passage of the toothless Zero Carbon Act (ZCA), which was watered down in an attempt to be “cross-partisan” by getting support from Labour, National and NZ First — only for National, inevitably enough, to commit to gutting the ZCA if elected.  Shaw’s climate plan is heavily reliant on “green investment” into private businesses.  Shaw refuses to understand that the market cannot solve a crisis caused by capitalism’s need for constant economic growth.

This highlights the central contradiction in the Green Party — a large portion of the membership honestly believes they should have a politically “balanced” co-leadership: a female co-leader, Marama Davidson, who has been a staunch left-wing activist and Tino Rangatiratanga campaigner all her life, alongside a male co-leader, James Shaw, who used to work as a consultant at multinational corporations PricewaterhouseCooper and HSBC, and whose entire political project is emissions trading and green capitalism.  Shaw stated in his 2014 maiden speech in parliament that he is “a huge fan of the market” — and therein lies the problem. He also made the provocative statement that “Thatcher was right” about climate change; he knew what he was doing when he said that.

Green Party male co-leader James Shaw is an advocate of “regulated” capitalism.

The Greens’ political strategy is to play to the left at the same time as trying to court middle class centrist voters, and the politically naïve membership is somehow able to constantly ignore the internal ideological struggle this supposedly “balanced” leadership structure constantly creates.  It is clear that the left of the party has written the transformative social policies, policies which won’t be taken up by Labour unless forced, whilst the right of the party has used its government power to advocate neoliberal market-based environmental policies which the centrists in charge of the Labour Party are quite happy to implement.

What this demonstrates is the urgent need for a new left-wing party based on the power of the working class.  Obviously it is too late this election cycle, but the left must get its act together for the 2023 election.  We can’t keep relying on the very mixed bag that is the Green Party, with its constant compromises, capitulations, and capitalist non-solutions to the huge threat that is the climate crisis.  The left in the unions and social movements of Aotearoa need to stop reeling from the defeat of Mana — which by 2023 will be nine years ago — and form a coalition against neoliberal capitalism which will unequivocally stand for people before profit.

We have three years to gear up for next time.  Until then, the Green Party is clearly the best choice for the left to vote for, despite the blight on the party that is Shaw’s co-leadership.  Moreover, a good result this election for the Greens could well get several left-wing MPs into parliament — as well as current radical MPs Marama Davidson and Jan Logie, the candidates occupying positions 8 to 11 on the party list are:

Left-wing Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson.

Those four candidates need the Greens to receive roughly 8.5-8.8% of the party vote to be guaranteed seats in parliament.  Therefore, voting Green could get six staunch left-wingers elected, and in the absence of a unapologetic left-wing party, those six left MPs will certainly be better than none — especially given one of the new male candidates could be well positioned to challenge Shaw’s co-leadership after the election!

Those who fear that a vote for the Greens could be wasted needn’t fear: proportional representation ensures that, as long as the Greens get at least 5% of the vote, they will stay in parliament.  In fact, MMP means that the centre-left bloc would actually be weakened by voters moving from the Greens to Labour, not the other way around — and though this may turn out to be the first election in many years in which Labour won’t require Green MPs to support the government, as Labour are almost certain to have a bigger share of the party vote than National and ACT combined, there is always a small chance that the Greens falling below 5% could let the Tories in through the back door.

But if we are to take the Greens’ election slogan as advice, the NZ left needs to “think ahead,” and start preparing to build a new left-wing party in time for 2023.  The Greens, progressive though some of their candidates may be, cannot as a whole be relied on to represent the left in parliament.  Therefore my advice to voters is:

  • Party vote Green
  • Electorate vote Green, Labour or left-wing independents, depending on the strength of your local candidates
  • Vote yes to the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill — the War on Drugs needs to end!
  • Vote yes to the End of Life Choice Bill — while this referendum is less clear cut, we believe that everybody has the right to die with dignity
  • Prepare to form a new left-wing party for next election!
Capitalism isn’t working — another world is possible.



This article has been republished. You can read the original here.

Elliot Crossan is a socialist writer and activist.

12 October, 2020

Posted by Elliot Crossan in 2020 New Zealand general election, Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand, New Zealand Labour Party, New Zealand National Party, New Zealand politics, 0 comments
Teachers Strike Against Government’s Self-Imposed Austerity

Teachers Strike Against Government’s Self-Imposed Austerity

Aotearoa’s education system is in crisis.  A perfect storm of underfunding, understaffing, low pay and long hours is causing people to leave the teaching profession in droves.  This exodus is demonstrated in two alarming facts: one, that between 2010 and 2016, there was a 40% drop in student teachers; two, and even worse — that nearly half of all new teachers are dropping the career in their first five working years.  Principals are feeling the pain as well: a study was released last year showing that too much work and unsafe hours are resulting in principals in primary schools experiencing dangerously high amounts of stress, burnout and sleep deprivation.

This education crisis is the direct result of a decade of chronic underfunding.  Between the 1999/2000 and 2008/09 budgets, when Helen Clark was Prime Minister, weekly spending on education adjusted for inflation and population size rose by $12.32.  By the 2017/18 budget, after nine years of National in power, real weekly spending per capita had decreased by $3.37.

Year after year, our teachers have put up with these conditions.  But no more. In August 2018, the New Zealand Education Institute (NZEI), the union for primary and intermediate school teachers and principals, went on strike; they struck again in November.  Their demands include the hiring of more staff, a 16% pay rise, a reduction in average class sizes for Years 4-8 from a ratio of 1 teacher to 29 students down to 1:25, and significantly more paid time for teachers to complete their extensive out-of-classroom responsibilities, such as marking.

It goes without saying that these demands have not yet been met.  The Ministry of Education have made weak offer after weak offer, with the latest (and, due to the pressure of the strikes, strongest) proposal involving a 3% pay rise each year for three years.  But NZEI members, sick of being underappreciated, are not backing down.

Not only are primary school teachers and principals not backing down — they are being joined by the secondary school union!  Members of both NZEI and the Post Primary Teachers’ Association (PPTA) voted earlier this month for an historic joint strike, which will include up to 50,000 workers across Aotearoa.  The two unions are entering this dispute with fighting talk, promising “the biggest strike this country has ever seen” to tackle the “unprecedented crisis in education”.

Independent polling has shown huge public support for the teachers’ struggle, and overwhelming agreement with the demands raised, with 89% of Kiwis agreeing that more funding for education should be a priority, 88-89% agreeing that there is a teacher shortage, 83% agreeing that teachers need a pay rise, 73-76% agreeing that class sizes should be reduced, 79% agreeing that teachers need more time for planning, preparation and assessment, and 91% agreeing that more support is needed for students with additional needs.

The only way to tackle the epidemic of low pay and poor conditions which scourges this country is for workers to organise, stand up, and fight back.  Primary teachers, nurses, public servants, bus drivers, fast food, cinema and retail workers, and many others led the fightback with their strikes last year. So far this year, secondary teachers, junior doctors, and still more union members — almost too many to count! — have joined them.  To all those who have created this strike wave in the last 18 months: solidarity.

The NZEI-PPTA “mega-strike” on 29 May 2019.

The Labour-led Government has had a different message to the strikers.  Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern insists that she “understands the frustration of teachers and principals”, but that her administration are “doing as much as we can right now for the education sector.”  The same line is being given to our teachers as was given to nurses last year: there is no more money, and therefore the lukewarm proposals being offered are as good as it gets.

Two responses are desperately needed to the Government’s position.  One, to highlight the blatant dishonesty of the claims Labour are making; and two, to be clear to all inside the union movement and the working class that the Labour Party refusing to meet demands for better pay and conditions does not mean we should give up hope of victory.

NZEI strike on 15 August 2018.

No More Money?

The Ministry of Education’s offer to teachers and principals constituted a package of $698 million over four years.  NZEI’s demands alone add up to $900 million over two years. So just one of the teachers’ unions are demanding nearly 30% more money, to be delivered twice as fast — that’s a lot, right?  An unreasonable request?

The (allegedly) independent Chief of the Employment Relations Authority (ERA), lawyer Jim Crichton — who was appointed to the ERA by Labour in 2004, and promoted to Chief in 2015 by National — certainly thinks so.  Crichton has called NZEI’s demands “totally unrealistic”, and proclaimed that the Government’s offer was “a handsome and competitive proposal in the current fiscal environment”.

On the contrary — the “current fiscal environment”, when cast into the light of day, is overwhelmingly positive.  Our Government currently has a $3.5 billion surplus, while net core Crown debt is down to 20.1% of GDP. Public debt, which has been far lower than the public debt of most OECD countries for over a decade, is projected to keep falling over the next five years.

If the Government did need extra cash — say they wanted to pay down debt and invest more in education at the same time — they could always raise more revenue by increasing taxes.  Granted, the majority of working people would be angry at a tax rise right now — and they’d be right to be angry, as making ends meet is tough enough as it is.  But the richest group of New Zealanders are not paying their fair share right now. Far from it — the top 20% of the population own nearly three times as much wealth as the bottom 80%, and even within the top 20%, over a third of the wealth is held by the top 1%.  Taxing the super-rich even a fraction more could raise the money to meet the demands of both teachers’ unions several times over — and the elite are so unfathomably wealthy that they wouldn’t feel one bit of difference.

Source: Credit Suisse Global Wealth Databook 2018. The Databook and accompanying Report are available for download here — see page 156 of the Databook, Table 6-5: Wealth shares and minimum wealth of deciles and top percentiles for regions and selected countries, 2018.

There’s no crisis in the Government budget, and there’s no lack of money to go around right now — quite the opposite, the country’s wealth is simply not shared fairly.  But even if there was barely any cash in the Treasury, that would still be no excuse to abandon teachers and principals to weather the raging storm of the education crisis.  If we can’t afford to look after those who have chosen to dedicate their careers to nurturing and educating future generations, what can we afford?  What NZEI and PPTA are asking for would be a price worth paying regardless.

Self-Imposed Austerity: Why Labour Aren’t Delivering

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Education Minister Chris Hipkins, and representatives of NZ First and the Greens, face the NZEI rally in Wellington during last August’s strike.

“We want to attract the very best teachers, provide them with ongoing development opportunities throughout their careers, ensure they are well paid and respected, and receive all the support that they need to thrive in their roles”

This was the education policy campaigned on by the Labour Party in the 2017 election.  On paper, it aligns entirely with what NZEI and PPTA are asking for. Why, then, are Labour not even coming close to honouring their promises, and instead refusing to meet the demands of teachers who have faced over a decade of appalling treatment from the National Government?

The answer lies with another key policy Labour committed itself to, alongside the Greens, during the last election: the Budget Responsibility Rules (BRR).  These self-imposed rules chained Labour and the Greens to the logic of austerity. The two main parties of the centre-left not only promised they would run surpluses and reduce debt — which, as explained above, is largely unnecessary given how rosy the Government accounts are looking right now — but, alarmingly, they made a pledge to keep state spending at the average of the last 15 years: 30% or less.  That wasn’t just a commitment to unnecessarily prudish management of the existing pot of money. It was a promise to continue the era of small government, no matter what.

Aotearoa didn’t always have a small, fiscally conservative government.  Before 1984, we had one of the most generous welfare states in the world, alongside comparatively high taxes on the rich, and among the highest levels of union density in the OECD.  That all changed between 1984 and 1993. Right-wing governments, led first by Labour, then by National, flogged off state assets in a fire sale, slashed funding for public services, attacked the unionsended full employment while decimating welfare, and made the tax system far less progressive than it had been previously.  The top income tax rate was halved, from 66% on the highest earners down to 33%, and introduced instead was the deeply regressive Goods and Services Tax (GST), which disproportionately hits the poorest in society.

35 years after this assault began, and we still live in the long shadow of ‘trickle down’ economics, otherwise known as neoliberalism.  No government since 1984 has even begun to challenge this framework.  Labour and the Greens proved with BRR that they have no intention of doing so either.  But the strike wave of the last 18 months has presented the challenge to the Government: if you won’t end austerity, we’ll fight you until you do.  For the demands of the 50,000 angry teachers cannot be met until and unless the Budget Responsibility Rules are cast into the dustbin of history.

Where Austerity Comes From

But why?  Why would the Labour Party, which came from the union movement and has always claimed to represent workers and the poor, hold to a economic doctrine which prioritises low taxes, small government and prosperity for the top 10% over the interests of teachers, nurses, and the rest of the working class?

Such a question can only be answered by understanding the very heart of our economic, political and social system: capitalism.  It is capitalism which creates a structural separation between those who create all the world’s wealth, the working class, and those who profit from it: the bosses, shareholders, landlords and bankers.  The capitalist class, the tiny minority at the top of society, hoard extraordinary wealth to themselves, while everybody else carries the cost, suffering under the crushing weight of unspeakable inequality.

Austerity is endemic to this capitalist system.  The welfare state, which provided free basic health and education services to the working class, and insured against unemployment and old age, was a victory won by the workers through huge industrial and political struggle in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.  It always endured in spite of the capitalist class.  The capitalists got their revenge, however, as they set about dismantling the welfare state as soon as they possibly could.  They made sure to break the power of the trade unions in the process. That’s why public health and education are always under attack by the capitalist class — and it’s why our governments, whatever their intentions, are always held to ransom by those who truly control the economic and political levers of power.

Ardern, Robertson, their Labour colleagues and their Green allies, may very well want to deal with the crises which have emerged in health and education in the past 35 years.  They may well want to solve the housing crisis and end poverty, as they claim. It’s not necessarily the case that their intentions are bad, or that they are dishonest — we have no real way of knowing whether or not they are.  But ultimately, that’s not what matters. What matters is that in practice, Labour and the Greens cannot solve our problems for us — they do not have the power to do anything about the capitalist system as a whole. But that is not for a second to say that we should give up hope of a better system.  The people with the power to make the world a better place are the very workers who have been on strike in 2018 and 2019.

Socialist Politics Is Needed To End Austerity

The strikes of the last 18 months have shown exactly how we can fight back against this rigged system, and exactly how we can win.  When workers go on strike, it’s not just another protest or demonstration. It demonstrates, in a microcosm at first, greater truths about the system we live under: that workers are the ones who really allow society to function; that we can shut down capitalism if we have the will to do so; and, ultimately, that we can take over and run the world in a far better way ourselves than the way the ruling class so desperately want us to.

The struggle being fought by teachers, nurses, junior doctors, public servants, bus drivers, fast food, cinema and retail workers, and so many others, is not just a collection of different struggles aiming for better pay and conditions within a range of different workplaces.  It’s a struggle for a better world for everybody, being fought on many different fronts, with currently separate goals, but with the potential to change everything. It’s a struggle that’s also being fought through school strikes, not just by teachers, but also by the students they are teaching, who have so far struck twice for climate action, and intend to do so again.

Low wages, long hours, underfunding and understaffing of services, precarious contracts, the housing crisisthe mental health crisis, and even the climate crisis, can all be defeated — if the missing piece in the jigsaw puzzle is found.  That missing piece is socialist politics. Socialist politics is what is needed to connect the dots, make the links between disparate struggles, and bring people together from industrial and social movements, putting forward common sense demands which come from a vision of life beyond capitalism.

Free, high-quality housing, healthcare, education and public transport for all; higher wages across the board; the end of poverty and involuntary unemployment; the abolition of taxes on working class people; the rapid and just transition away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy — these should not be far-off, crazy-sounding pipe dreams.  These ideas can and should become reality, if we are willing to stand together and fight for them. The people and the planet should always come before profit.

Another world is possible, and the striking teachers are showing the way to get there.



This article has been republished. You can read the original here.

Elliot Crossan is a socialist writer and activist.

31 May, 2019

Posted by Elliot Crossan in New Zealand Labour Party, New Zealand politics, 0 comments
After the Attack: Building a Lasting Movement Against Racism

After the Attack: Building a Lasting Movement Against Racism

The morning of March 15 was incredible. Thousands of young people were on strike from school, marching in the streets of Aotearoa, demanding action on climate change; demanding a better future. For many of them, it was their first ever experience of politics, and their first ever feeling of people power.

Then the news started coming in. 51 people murdered in Christchurch. Two mosques attacked. I’ve never before felt such a dizzying change in emotions: from extreme optimism, to shock, horror, rage. A lot of people believed that “this could never happen here”. But it has.

Over the last year, the anti-racist left have been increasingly alarmed about the rise of a small but militant far-right in this country. We’ve been holding counter-protests against rallies which have been opposing a non-binding UN treaty on migration and supporting British Nazi Tommy Robinson. Even so, Friday 15 was beyond our worst fears. “Here’s your UN Migration Pact!” was written on the killer’s gun.

People are also responding to the attacks by saying that we shouldn’t give the killer’s ideas any attention. But this is not just an isolated incident. It’s a politically motivated hate crime. We must name the ideology behind the terror. Fascism.

Anti-racist organisers were worried that racist violence could happen here, precisely because we know that fascism is the most dangerous ideology in the world; because the conditions which cause fascism to rise are here today. We know from the history of Europe that the only way to stop fascism is to name it, and to organise people to fight against it. Ignoring fascism only ever lets it spread.

Fascism is weaponised despair, which emerges in times of capitalist crisis. Italian socialist Antonio Gramsci, who spent the last years of his life in a fascist jail, described its roots in his Prison Notebooks, saying:

“The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum, a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”

The fascist movement comes from people who witness society falling apart, see no hope for the future, and rather than blaming the top 1% who control society, they find scapegoats: migrants, ethnic and religious minorities, LGBT people, trade unionists, socialists, and in particular, Jews and Muslims. Fascism seeks to abolish democracy; to destroy all unions and left-wing parties; and to establish an ethnically, culturally and religiously “pure” corporate dictatorship.

The only way in which they are correct is this: society is in a profound state of crisis. Wages in Aotearoa have been stagnant since the 90s. We have the worst housing crisis in the OECD, with 40,000 people homeless. 700,000 people live in poverty, including 220,000 children. Mental health problems are rampant. Meanwhile, the richest million Kiwis own nearly 3x the wealth of the other 4 million of us combined.

Of course, Muslims, migrants, LGBT and the left are not to blame. The real culprits are the wealthy and powerful — the bosses and landlords who have rigged the economy in their own interests, and the politicians who have helped them. Political fault lies with both Labour and National, who took turns rigging the system in the 1980s and 1990s, and who have over several decades failed completely to fix the system.

A hero of mine used to say:

“Progress has been made by two flames which have always been burning in the human heart. The flame of anger against injustice; and the flame of hope that we can build a better world.”

Tony Benn

We need to fan the flame of hope to succeed in this struggle. We have to destroy fascism and dismantle capitalism; but we also need to know what we’re fighting for. We need a real alternative: jobs and houses for all; a pay rise for all workers; the end of poverty; a refugee quota of 10,000 a year. That is the response we need to this hateful attack.

So how do we fight for a positive alternative? Those at the top of society will not do it for us. The answer is the people.

Hope in this time of darkness is hard to feel — but there is still immense cause for it. There have been huge displays of aroha in the past week. On the beautiful morning of Friday 15, tens of thousands of school children marched for a better world, and discovered their own power for the first time. Something special happened that morning, which through all our other emotions of shock and grief must not be forgotten.

When workers and students unite, regardless of race or religion, to fight for a better society, we can never be defeated. Let that be the ultimate lesson of March 15. When we stand together to challenge racism and all other forms of injustice, there is nothing we cannot accomplish. While fascism represents the worst kind of hopelessness, a mass movement against hatred and for a fairer system has the potential to show everybody that there is actually hope for the future after all.

4,000 people marched against racism, Islamophobia and fascism in Auckland on 24 March 2019. Photo by Bruce Crossan.



This article has been republished. You can read the original here.

Elliot Crossan is a socialist writer and activist.

24 March, 2019

Posted by Elliot Crossan in New Zealand politics, 0 comments
Long Past Time For Climate Justice

Long Past Time For Climate Justice

Runaway climate change is the greatest crisis of the 21st Century.  It has been inspiring in the past few months to see new movements forming to take a stand for our planet — especially young people, as our generation have by far the most to lose from this fast-approaching disaster.  But we can never truly prevent environmental meltdown unless we challenge this problem at its root; unless we challenge the system which is the fundamental cause, both of climate change, and of the extreme inequality in today’s society.  We need to overthrow capitalism.

Capitalism = Profit > People + Planet

The science is clear: we have 12 years at the most to dramatically reduce global greenhouse gas emissions if we want to prevent catastrophic climate change from occurring.  This will require an economic and social transformation, the likes of which humanity has rarely seen throughout our history. That is no excuse for inaction — there is simply no alternative.

The problem is not that such a transformation is impossible.  It’s that the current economic system we live under will never be able to deliver it.  Capitalism is a system where a tiny elite own the vast majority of wealth, and hence control the way resources are distributed and used in our world.  Corporations make the decisions over what is produced, who gets employed, how much they are paid, and under what conditions — and inevitably, they always put their profits over the interests of people and the planet.

Just 100 corporations were responsible for 70.6% — nearly three quarters! — of all greenhouse gas emissions between 1988 and 2015.  This crisis has not been caused by ordinary people — workers, students and beneficiaries like you, me, our families and our friends — and it’s not our fault for consuming certain products or relying on cars to get to work, school or uni.  We do not have the choice of whether or not to make those decisions — and we do not have the power to decide the fate of the system as a whole. Only a system where the economy is controlled democratically by communities can prioritise such trivial things as the survival of our generation over the trillions of dollars which climate polluters rake in every day.

We Need a Just Transition

Union ACV-CSC Belgium demonstration for a just transition.

Even if capitalism could become a “green” system, and the “sustainable” businesses won out, this would not bring about climate justice.  The perfect example of an unjust climate so-called solution is the Auckland Regional Fuel Tax.  Yes, we do need to end our dependence on petrol and diesel powered cars to reduce our emissions.  But ordinary people who need to get to work or education on time are not to blame for the lack of decent public transport in this city; we cannot magic into existence overnight a functioning alternative to getting to work by car; and we should not pay the price of this transition — especially when low wages and unaffordable housing are already squeezing people’s incomes so much.

Our trips to work, school and uni are unavoidable.  Even if this policy wasn’t so unfair, it wouldn’t actually reduce emissions at all, because people need to travel across the city anyway!  A just transition would require making trains and busses free, investing far more than the government is currently prepared to into frequent, good quality public transport services, and taxing the fossil fuel and dairy companies to pay for it.

Workers who are currently employed in the dairy or oil and gas sectors are not to blame for the fact that their jobs and livelihoods depend on extracting unsustainable resources.  Even if we were to see a transition to a zero carbon capitalist economy, these workers would be shafted — they would be tossed out of work with no proper safety net to look after them.  A just transition must mean providing a guaranteed livable income and free retraining for all workers. Capitalism will not deliver this, because it is a system which only ever does one thing — turn money into more money for the top 1%.

Even Labour and the Greens Are Failing

Our Prime Minister has responded to the call for school students to strike for climate action by saying that what she’d like to think is that “in New Zealand there’s less cause for protest, [because] we’re certainly trying to do our bit.”  Jacinda Ardern does have better rhetoric than most politicians about how bad the climate crisis is — as, of course, do her coalition partners in the Green Party — but unfortunately, their policies do not match up with the scale of the threat.  It’s not necessarily because they don’t understand how bad climate change is, or because they don’t care. It’s because governments which are not prepared to challenge capitalism simply cannot reduce pollution, whatever their intentions.

Comic by Joel Pett.

As for the Greens — as well as supporting the cruel and ineffective fuel tax, Climate Minister James Shaw has explained why the Government refused to end existing block offers for deep sea oil and gas drilling by effectively saying that the “property rights” of the corporations who have already purchased the permits for this offshore exploration are more important than climate action.  Labour and the Greens have also refused to end permits for drilling on the land entirely — meaning Taranaki is still open to yet more destructive mining and fracking. This is not a green approach in any way, shape or form — it’s a capitalist approach, which once again protects corporate greed instead of the future of the planet.

Is There Any Alternative?

Yes, there is.  Young people and activists challenging inadequate action on climate change from governments, and challenging the very existence of fossil fuel companies, is a great start.  It shows where the real power to stop climate change lies — as the Māori proverb goes: he tangata, he tangata, he tangata; it is the people, the people, the people.

Workers, students and beneficiaries need to unite behind the movement for climate action, and widen our demands — not just an end to environmental destruction, but ultimately, an end to the entire capitalist economic structure which created this crisis in the first place.  We all deserve a better world and a future to believe in — young people more than anybody. Let’s stand together, as students, workers and beneficiaries, whether we are Māori, Pākehā or tauiwi, to demand real climate action, real climate justice, and a more equal society as a whole!



This article has been republished. You can read the original here.

Elliot Crossan is a socialist writer and activist.

14 March, 2019

Posted by Elliot Crossan in Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand, New Zealand Labour Party, New Zealand politics, 0 comments
Taxing the Richardson Will Not Be Enough

Taxing the Richardson Will Not Be Enough

A shrill screeching sound has been echoing around Aotearoa in the last couple of weeks.  From Cape Reinga to Stewart Island, the deafening screams of the rich — terrified at the idea that they might have to pay a little more tax — have been reverberating across the country, reaching every corner of the land.

This ear-splitting pitch has been induced by the Government’s Tax Working Group, who have finally, after sixteen months of deliberation, released their report exploring ideas of how to adjust the country’s taxation system.  This report has the audacity to suggest that the Labour-NZ First Coalition should bring in a tax on capital gains at a similar rate to how ordinary income is currently taxed — a radical, far-left proposal which is found in the communist dictatorships of… the United States, Japan, Australia, and no less than 18 other OECD countries.

Leader of the Opposition Simon Bridges has condemned this suggestion, issuing an outraged warning that a Capital Gains Tax (CGT) would be “an assault on the Kiwi way of life”.  Ever-outspoken and ambitious National Party frontbencher Judith Collins has proclaimed that Labour going ahead with a tax on capital gains “would make Simon Bridges Prime Minister” — something she must be even more worried about than everybody else in the country right now, given that her hopes of successfully challenging Bridges for the leadership of their party are currently looking rosier than ever!  Meanwhile, Business Central have called the proposed CGT “fatally flawed”, while the Taxpayers Union have complained that it would be “aggressive and unfair”, and the architect of our current free market economy, Sir Roger Douglas himself, has labelled the suggested policy “a joke”.

From page 33 of the Tax Working Group’s final report.

Take a glance at the anticipated effects of a CGT, which are outlined at length in the Working Group’s report, and you will instantly see why the richest people in Aotearoa and their political representatives in the National Party are so angry and upset.  Page 33 of the report shows the spread of total net worth for each fifth (or ‘quintile’) of New Zealanders, excluding owner-occupied family homes, which would not be taxed by CGT — something Business Central actually object to.  The bottom two-fifths of households combined have a net worth of around $28.9 billion — meaning 40% of the country own roughly 4% of the total net worth above and beyond people’s personal houses. The next 40% own $159 billion, or 20% of that wealth.  Then there’s the top fifth of the country. They own $602 billion, as well as the homes they live in; that means that the top 20% own 76%, more than three times what the other 80% of us do.  The kind of wealth which a Capital Gains Tax would apply to is concentrated in the hands of those at the very top of society.  The vast majority of the country hold very little of the wealth which CGT would affect — it’s far from “an assault on the Kiwi way of life” for ordinary people.

The reasons why the rich are so scared of a CGT are further illuminated by the statistics provided on page 62 of the Working Group’s findings.  The bottom 30% of the country would have around 0.13% of their current disposable income taken by the proposed tax. How much would taxes go up for hard working middle New Zealand?  Well, an average of 0.5% of what the middle 40% of households are earning right now, after existing taxes, would be paid to the government through this new tax. It’s not even that bad for the upper middle class!  Deciles 8 and 9, the group richer than the bottom 70% but poorer than the top 10%, would have approximately 1.65% of their current disposable income taxed.

From page 62 of the Tax Working Group’s final report.

It’s only the top 10% who would be hit hard.  7.7% of their current disposable income would be paid to the state if the Government decided to accept the Working Group’s proposal of a CGT.  Even if you include owner-occupied housing, the five hundred thousand New Zealanders who make up decile 10 currently own significantly more total wealth than deciles 1 through 9 — the other four-and-a-half million of us — put together.  The wealthiest citizens in the land would still be ridiculously well-off even if the CGT was implemented — in fact, they would still be far, far richer than everybody else combined.

So, the poorest households in Aotearoa would have to pay as little as 13 cents out of every hundred dollars earned, while the average working family would only have to pay 50 cents, and even the upper middle class would be charged just $1.65 out of every $100.  The top 10% would have to rummage around in their oversized bank accounts and hand over just $7.70 out of every $100 they make. They can more than afford that, many times over. Taxing capital gains is common sense. It would help reduce the speculation in the housing market which has caused the price of buying a home to skyrocket in the last few decades, and it would raise a solid amount of money for the Government to spend — the Working Group have proposed to spend that money on income tax cuts of around $15 per person per week, but the money could also be spent on public services, or on building the new houses which we so desperately need.  Either way, it would reduce the obscene levels of inequality this country currently experiences by a small fraction. What’s not to like?

A Door Opens — Only to Be Slammed Back in Our Faces

It is most amusing to see the richest citizens of this country freak out at the idea of a minor increase in their taxes.  Unfortunately, amongst the panicked screams of greedy landlords and corporate fat cats terrified of a small reduction in their vast hoarded wealth, there lies a sinister pledge to take revenge if this CGT goes through.

It’s a pledge which perfectly demonstrates why merely tinkering around the edges of the existing economic framework — raising taxes on the rich and redistributing that money to working class people, but ultimately leaving the fundamentals of the system unchallenged — is always going to be entirely inadequate.  The unpleasant truth is that the wealthiest people in Aotearoa hold the real power in society. Their power is derived from their control over the economy — meaning they can hold the government to ransom if the elected representatives of the people dare to even think about going against the interests of the wealthy.  They can make day-to-day life very hard for ordinary people, because they own our workplaces, and they even own many of our homes.  They are determined to get their way, no matter the cost.

Enter ageing ex-cricketer Mark Richardson.  Richardson is a pundit on the AM Show — he is officially their sports presenter, but he also uses his platform on the popular radio program to give voice to his mean-spirited, increasingly brazen political views.  Last year, Richardson expressed exasperation at the media’s “unfair” treatment of Donald Trump, telling people to “give the guy a shot” in response to his co-presenter Amanda Gillies calling the US President racist.

Image from Newshub.

After Labour’s 2018 Budget a couple of months earlier, he had been complaining that “I’m going to be left out of pocket by this Budget […] I’m running a business here, you know!”.  He announced live on air, without even telling the people affected beforehand, that because of the rising costs the Budget would give him, he would be increasing rent for the tenants in the properties he owns.

The latest of Richardson’s angry right-wing rants came last week.  He insisted to AM Show listeners that “there is no housing crisis in this country, there is an accommodation crisis.  That’s very different!”  He elaborated by saying “I don’t give a rat’s arse if you can’t afford a house!  What I care about is if you can’t afford to rent a nice place to stay.”

Here are a few facts about the housing crisis which Richardson denies the existence of:

Never mind all that though — as he says, Richardson couldn’t give a rat’s arse about the colossal crisis in home ownership.  So surely, as he points out, everything is fine, and people are able to get by renting lovely accommodation to live in.

How utterly out-of-touch he is with the real lives of working class people.  Rents have also been skyrocketing in the past few decades, well outstripping wage growth.  The 600,000 households who rent are up to their ears in outrageously high bills from landlords, and it shows — housing costs for the bottom fifth of New Zealanders nearly doubled between 1990 and 2015, going from an average of 30% of their incomes to a staggering 54%.

Source: The State of New Zealand Housing, The House Site.

As for “a nice place to live”?!  Don’t make me laugh! The appalling conditions which so many renters have to put up with every day have been thoroughly documented.  Cold, damp, mouldy flats — it’s a story which scarcely needs repeating.  I know myself and too many of my friends have suffered symptoms such as disgusting skin conditions and shortness of breath in the winter — the situation is even more horrible for children who have to grow up in this environment.  Aotearoa is a developed country. It is positively criminal that serious health problems which were thought to have been eradicated are returning to the poorest and most vulnerable of our communities, while the wealthiest citizens of the nation enjoy such extreme affluence.

In response to the proposed Capital Gains Tax, Richardson decided that he needed to add yet more injury to his insulting attitude towards working people.  He once again proclaimed live on the AM Show that, if Labour’s planned CGT and accompanying $15 per week income tax cuts are implemented, he will take back whatever he loses by raising rents for his tenants.

“These tax cuts, alright?  I’m sorry — I went through how much people stand to make in tax cuts if it comes in, about $575 a year — I’m sorry, that might make a small difference to those right down the bottom, but that makes diddly-squat difference to the people who will be hurt by this tax, which is the middle class, who are trying desperately to get ahead, not to be a burden on the system when they retire, trying to get their kids ahead — they’re the ones who will take a proportionally greater hit!”

He continued:

“If they don’t own something, what are they doing, they are renting.  Well I will take that fifteen bucks a week back within the next couple of years, thank you very much!”

The sheer ignorance.  Richardson is genuinely convinced that the “middle class” are as wealthy as he is, and that people who don’t own investments, rental properties and businesses are a small group at the bottom of society.  He couldn’t be more wrong if he tried. The class who will “take a proportionally greater hit” are the top 10%. They’re the ruling class. They are the only group who will see a tax increase of 7.7% from CGT; they’re the group who between them own more wealth than the bottom 90% of us combined; they are the greedy profiteers, the leeches on society who live off the backs of the hard work everybody else does.  Yes, a $15 a week tax cut would make a difference to ordinary middle New Zealand — that is, if you didn’t raise rents and take that cash straight back for yourself, you elitist bully-boy.

The absolutely revolting hypocrisy.  Within a week of saying he will raise the rents of his tenants to make up for a modest tax increase on his massive wealth, to proclaim that there isn’t a housing crisis in Aotearoa!  To act as though it’s fine because people who don’t own anything can afford to rent “nice places”!  How Richardson can make these two statements within just a week of each other without the blindingly obvious contradictions causing his brain to explode simply baffles me.

A Useful Idiot

It’s infuriating that this man can espouse such ignorant, selfish and hypocritical views with such a mind-numbing lack of self-awareness.  However, on the other hand, I would argue that it is actually very useful that Richardson is being so honest. He is not only exposing to the rest of us, with absolute clarity, the odious position he occupies in society.  He is in the same breath illustrating the odious nature of his class. He is revealing for all to see the utter disregard for fellow humans which landlords embody; he is displaying the mental contortions they must necessarily exercise in order to avoid feeling guilty for their actions; he is demonstrating that himself and people like him either simply cannot understand the realities of life for the vast majority of working class people who exist around them — or even worse: if they do understand, they do not care.

Above all, he is shouting to the world, more sharply and concisely than a thousand of my wordy articles ever could, the exact reason why capitalism as an economic system and a political power structure must be overthrown.  Yes, it is possible to elect a Labour Government, and yes, if pressure from below is applied, that government will have to concede reforms to the majority of people in order to reduce extreme inequality and the daily suffering it causes the working class.  But reformist governments will always be powerless to actually change things on the scale necessary to truly end that suffering — precisely because a reformist government, even one led by the most brave and radical of people, will never hold any true power in society.

Housing Action Now march.

The power Mark Richardson is expressing when he tells AM Show listeners that he is going to raise rents for his tenants is the power which is the source of the crisis of inequality Aotearoa faces today.  We have a housing crisis because of the all-consuming greed of property speculators and landlords. It’s not a technical hiccup in an otherwise functioning system. It’s a problem which will always exist when the small group at the top of society control the vast majority of the wealth and power.  It’s a problem which will always exist under capitalism.

It’s not just a problem found in housing.  Workers experienced a huge reduction in our real median wages in the 1980s and early 1990s, aided by the policy of full employment being endedstate-owned industries being privatised, and unions being smashed.  Real median wages have been stagnant ever since this reduction.  Just as the housing market has been driven into crisis by speculators and landlords pursuing ever-higher profits, bosses have held down wages in order to achieve the same goal — cut the share of income going to workers so they can hoard that cash for themselves.

It is why inequality has soared in the last 35 years, to a point where the top tenth of the country own more than the bottom nine-tenths, and the two men at the very top — the richest men in the country, Graeme Hart and Richard Chandler — own more wealth between them than the bottom 1.4 million people.  It’s a class war which has been waged against the working class of Aotearoa by the bosses, landlords, bankers and investors.  It’s a war which has been fought by their representatives in government, both under National Party and under Labour Party rule.  And it’s a war which cannot be fixed even if Labour are prepared to tax the rich a bit more and redistribute the wealth — because the landlords can just make rents even higher, the bosses can just push wages even lower, and the banks can just raise interest rates.  They will get their way under this exploitative economic order.

Capitalism isn’t working.

Another World Is Possible

It’s time to fight back.  Mark Richardson has shown us why, as do all the statistics about the housing crisis, wage suppression and inequality.  We don’t even need those statistics to understand; most New Zealanders, especially young New Zealanders, can feel that something is deeply wrong.  We can feel the unbearable pressure we are under as we see house prices, rents and debts soar through the roof while wages are stuck on the floor; and we can see clearly that the super-rich are the only ones benefiting from this state of affairs.  The mental health crisis amongst the youth of today is largely caused by the hopelessness and stress produced as an inevitable result of capitalism.  Again, my personal experience, and the experiences of my friends, make the statistics on this issue strike far too close to home.

We’re ready to fight back.  That’s why National were kicked out of power after the nine long years of misery they gave us.  That’s why 2018 saw the biggest strikes in decades, with tens of thousands of nurses, midwives, teachers and public servants taking industrial action against the Labour-NZ First Government, demanding a better deal — these workers know that nothing is going to happen if we wait in vain for Labour to deliver, and that we have to take matters into our own hands.

The fight against obscene inequality is happening across the world, not just in Aotearoa.  Young people in the United States of America — of all places! — prefer the idea of socialism to capitalism.  Not only that, but in Britain and Germany, a majority of the total population have a favourable view of socialism and a net unfavourable view of capitalism.  Working class people, especially amongst the youth, are rejecting tired old status quo politics in favour of unashamed left-wing reformists who are willing to call out the rigged economic system for what it is, and promise meaningful changes which will make a genuine difference in people’s daily lives.  That’s why in the last few years, out of the political wilderness and into the centre stage have sprung self-proclaimed socialists such as Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in America, Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell in Britain, Jean-Luc Mélenchon and his La France Insoumise movement in France, Die Linke in Germany, Pablo Iglesias and the Podemos party in Spain, People Before Profit in Ireland, and SYRIZA in Greece, just to name a few examples.  Their political messages all contain a common theme: as Jeremy Corbyn’s iconic slogan states, they stand “for the many, not the few”.

There is no question that we need a new political party in Aotearoa which will fight without compromise for the interests of the bottom 90% of New Zealand — the workers, renters and debtors who deserve a better deal — and against the bosses, landlords and bankers who exploit us for their own gain.  There is no question that such a workers’ party would be popular — the number of people desperate for change is massive. The only questions are of detail: who, when, and most importantly, how?

I, for one, can’t wait to see the look on Mark Richardson’s face when his beloved ‘middle New Zealand’ turns out to be a complete myth; when the real majority in this land turns out to be the exploited and righteously angry working class; and when that working class turns out to be ready to stand up, fight back, put Mark and his rich mates in their place, and build an Aotearoa which works in the interests of everybody.



This article has been republished. You can read the original here.

Elliot Crossan is a socialist writer and activist.

6 March, 2019

Posted by Elliot Crossan in New Zealand Labour Party, New Zealand politics, 0 comments
100 Years Ago: The Murder of Rosa Luxemburg

100 Years Ago: The Murder of Rosa Luxemburg

“Today we can seriously set about destroying capitalism once and for all. No, still more; today we are not only in a position to perform this task, its performance is not only a duty toward the proletariat, but its solution offers the only means of saving human society from destruction.”

These were the words of socialist leader Rosa Luxemburg in a speech given on New Year’s Eve of 1918, just two weeks before her death. The First World War, a pointless bloodbath of nationalistic slaughter, had been ended only a month before, after four long years and the loss of around 17 million lives. The war was not ended by either the benevolence or the rationality of the rulers of the European empires which had contested it; it took the onset of the German Revolution to stop the massacre.

This was the context in which “Red Rosa” proclaimed the overthrow of capitalism to be the only means of saving human society from destruction, and rightly so: the imperialist wars we have seen in the hundred years since the First World War ended have caused unspeakable suffering. If anything, her words are even more relevant to the world of today than they were when she uttered them a century ago, with the ecological catastrophe capitalism is unleashing poised to make the very planet we live on uninhabitable — unless we can stop this mad system in the next decade.

Who Was Rosa Luxemburg?

Born in 1871 to a Jewish family living in Poland, Rosa Luxemburg became a Marxist at a very young age, and began organising workers to fight the system which exploited them as soon as she was able to. She joined the Proletarian Party in 1886, but had to flee the country three years later, aged just eighteen, after a failed attempt to lead a general strike resulted in the execution of four of the party’s leaders, and the organisation being disbanded.

After living in Switzerland and France for a few years, Luxemburg decided that she needed to base herself in the country where the socialist movement was the strongest at the time: Germany. She became a German citizen in 1897, and immediately began to immerse herself in the politics of the Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (‘Social Democratic Party of Germany’ or ‘SPD’), which at the turn of the century was the largest and most influential working class party in the world. To her alarm, however, what she quickly realised was that, instead of the SPD being the bastion of revolutionary socialism everybody believed it to be, in reality the party was becoming increasingly more conservative, watering down its programme, and focusing in practice on trying to win reforms through parliamentary elections instead of trying to build a movement to overthrow capitalism altogether and establish a socialist system in its place.

Luxemburg’s seminal work was a series of articles which became the book Social Reform or Revolution? (written in 1898-99 and updated in 1907), in which she sought to explain that, while it would be foolish for the SPD and other socialist parties to dismiss the vital importance of participating in and building on workers’ struggles to win reforms which could reduce their immediate suffering, ultimately capitalism is a system which has chaos, destruction, and the exploitation of the masses built into it; it is not a system which will ever be able to deliver lasting order or prosperity for everybody. She mounted a passionate defence of the core Marxist belief — nominally the belief of the SPD, despite attempts to “revise” and “update” what Marx and Engels argued in The Communist Manifesto (1848) — that the only way to win a society which could truly and permanently deliver a better life for all would be for the working class to conquer political power for themselves.

She stressed the importance of the fact that the capitalist class only became the ruling class in society because of their revolutionary overthrow in the 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries of both the feudal system, and the class which benefited from it. The capitalists did not settle for mere reforms within a political, social and economic framework which was never designed to function in their interests in the first place. Why should the workers’ ambitions for a better world be restricted to compromising with the capitalist system which is not designed to benefit us?

The crux of her argument as to why capitalism in the long term could not be reformed in the interests of the working class revolved around mocking the notion that the capitalist economy had managed to solve, or at least moderate, its regular crises. Arguments proposing this theory are always put forward during economic booms by capitalist ideologues, as well as by those who want to reform but not overthrow the system. Supposed “proof” that crisis was no longer a central part of the capitalist economy was presented in Rosa Luxemburg’s time by leading SPD reformist Eduard Bernstein and his followers, just as similar “original” theories to this effect were put forward during the 1920s, 1950s-60s, and, most recently, during the 1990s-2000s.

Immediately after Luxemburg published her book rejecting reformism, an economic crisis struck, as crises under capitalism always do. There have, of course, been many economic meltdowns since, all of which have proven both the capitalist and reformist conceptions of the system utterly wrong. No crises have humiliated proponents of the idea that “we have ended boom and bust” more so than the catastrophic global collapses of 1929 and 2008, both of which shook capitalism to its very core, and produced immense resistance — both socialist resistance and, unfortunately, reactionary resistance — to the powers that be. We are living through such a period of rising resistance and polarisation today.

Luxemburg — every bit as fiery a public speaker as she was a writer — addresses a crowd of workers.

In another crucial work, The Accumulation of Capital (1913), Luxemburg sought to explain the causes and consequences of these periodic economic crises. Her argument, which has caused much controversy among Marxists — especially due to her claim that Marx had made an error in Volume II of his magnum opus Capital: A Critique of Political Economy (which was published posthumously in 1885 by Marx’s life-long friend and collaborator, Engels) — was that capitalism can never truly resolve its crises, because the quantity of commodities the system produces must always be significantly greater than the market for purchasing these commodities. The explanation for why this is came from Marx’s theory of surplus value, which says that the profits which capitalists make must necessarily come directly from the capitalists paying their workers less than the value of the work they perform. In a system in which making profit is the dominant factor which drives the economy forward, no capitalist in their right mind would pay their workers more than the absolute minimum necessary at any given time. But the workers are the market. It is the vast majority of people who must consume what they have made, and by holding down the wages of the working class in order to increase the bosses’ profits, capitalism also takes away the workers’ means of consumption. In this act, the capitalist class cut away their own ability to profit from the commodities their workers have made, and the whole economy goes into a “crisis of overproduction” in which more value has been created than can ever be realised under the system.

Her argument then goes that the only way capitalism can continue to function in this context is to constantly expand into new markets through imperialism, to offload all the excess capacity in the economy. In doing so, it must — sometimes peacefully, but more often violently — bring the entire world into the system. Once it had done this, however, there would be nowhere left to go, and no more opportunities left to resolve the crises of the system — and the house of cards would collapse.

The Accumulation of Capital describes with remarkable foresight the events which have unfolded in the century after its publication. When China entered properly into the capitalist system in 1979, and when the USSR — the dictatorship which was for most of its existence in name, but not in practice, “socialist” — collapsed in 1991, capitalism had at last expanded into the remaining major economies of the world. Then the second greatest recession capitalism has ever experienced then broke out in 2008, followed by one of the weakest, if not the weakest recoveries in history — with the prospect of another, possibly even worse economic crisis on the horizon. Luxemburg’s theory is crucial as one part of (though by no means the whole of) the explanation as to why capitalism’s latest crisis is so deep and long-lasting now that the system appears to have exhausted all of the most significant avenues for imperial expansion.

War and Betrayal

But Luxemburg did not have to wait a hundred years to see her theory vindicated — a series of tragic events unfolded, and she was proved correct. Just one year after The Accumulation of Capital was published, the First World War broke out. The war was a direct result of what Luxemburg described: the capitalist powers of Europe had little room to expand their system into at that moment in time, and going to war with each other to try and redivide their existing empires was the only option which remained to them. How sadly prescient Luxemburg was. She described the war with her typical eloquence and moral outrage:

“Violated, dishonoured, wading in blood, dripping filth – there stands bourgeois society. This is it [in reality]. Not all spic and span and moral, with pretense to culture, philosophy, ethics, order, peace, and the rule of law – but the ravening beast, the witches’ sabbath of anarchy, a plague to culture and humanity. Thus it reveals itself in its true, its naked form.”

From The Junius Pamphlet, written by Luxemburg from prison in 1915 — she was locked up for opposing the war effort

Even more tragically, Luxemburg’s foresight was demonstrated in a second way: the parliamentary wing of the SPD, along with the politicians of nearly every other social democratic party in Europe (the Bolsheviks in Russia were a notable exception) voted in favour of their countries joining the First World War. Before 1914, the socialist parties of the world had all agreed upon the correct course of action if the capitalists were to try and start a military confrontation, and in doing so risk the lives of millions of working people: that the workers of all countries, realising they had far more in common with each other than they did with their capitalist masters, should unite, stop the war, and overthrow the system which tried to force them to kill each other. When the reformists in the German party, supposedly the bastion of international socialism, chose nationalism and its bloody barbarism over every principle they had previously proclaimed to uphold, Luxemburg rightly condemned the SPD as “a stinking corpse”. The social democratic so-called leaders abandoning the working class in their greatest hour of need, choosing the horrors of war over resistance and solidarity, remains to this day one of the most calamitous and murderous decisions in human history.

War Becomes Revolution, and Luxemburg Is Murdered

A rally in Berlin during the 1918 German Revolution.

The blood-letting was finally halted in November 1918, when first the sailors, then the workers and soldiers of Germany revolted against their rulers. In two short weeks, the German Revolution put an end to the war, and forced the ruler of the German Empire, the Kaiser, into resigning on November 9th. With workers’ and soldiers’ councils forming across the country, the “moderate” pro-war leader of the SPD, Friedrich Ebert, demanded to be made Chancellor. When Philipp Scheidemann, the SPD’s Deputy Leader, heard that Karl Liebknecht, a comrade of Luxemburg who had also been imprisoned for resisting the war, intended to declare Germany a “Free Socialist Republic”, Scheidemann instead grabbed the initiative and issued his own declaration of Germany becoming a republic, in a mad scramble to legitimise the SPD’s claim to government. Liebknecht’s declaration came just two hours later, two kilometers away from Scheidemann’s.

A power struggle then emerged. As had happened the previous year in the early months of the Russian Revolution, the working class looked first, once they had overthrown their capitalist rulers, to the established leaders of the labour movement — the reformists. Meanwhile, the Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands (‘Communist Party of Germany‘ or ‘KPD’), newly formed by the anti-war revolutionaries who had left the SPD in disgust, had a hasty debate as to whether or not to stand in the parliamentary elections of January 1919. Despite Luxemburg’s arguments, the majority of the KPD voted to boycott those elections — a grave error which only gave more legitimacy to the victorious reformists. Ebert and Scheidemann swiftly formed a government.

The KPD set about developing a programme for how to carry the revolution forward. Luxemburg knew, as Lenin and Trotsky had known in Russia, that the success or failure of the revolution would depend on striking at the right moment. Try to start a revolution before you have popular support, and failure will be inevitable. In Russia, this knowledge had compelled the revolutionaries to go to the factories and frantically convince the most radical elements in the working class not to start an uprising in July 1917, as the Bolshevik leadership knew that it was too early, and that they needed a majority in the workers’ and soliders’ councils. They declared the revolution only upon obtaining this majority in October, and succeeded as a result. Luxemburg knew the importance of ensuring the KPD did not move too quickly.

Unfortunately, in a meeting Luxemburg did not attend, the KPD leadership decided to call for a revolution in the first week of January. Upon Luxemburg hearing that her friend and comrade Karl Liebknecht had been among those who voted in favour, she was horrified, and wrote to colleagues that “it would no longer be possible to go on working [with him] in future.” But she also knew that it was too late to turn back, and joined the attempt to start an uprising, despite her certainty that it would have disastrous consequences.

The uprising was crushed, and, I must confess, I started to well up a little while trying to write about what happened next. The thought of anyone — especially someone so intellectually outstanding, so passionately committed to human freedom, and so brave in the face of her enemies — being tortured to death is bad enough. The fact that it was on the orders of her own ex-comrades is devastating beyond description.

The SPD under Ebert and Scheidemann had enlisted the “Freikorps” to crush the KPD’s attempted revolution. The Freikorps were paramilitary groups of far-right WWI veterans who had returned to Germany believing that the socialists and the Jews had “stabbed the fatherland in the back”. They were all too happy to assist the reformist government in crushing the revolution.

On 15 January 1919, one hundred years ago yesterday, the social democratic government, lead by the party Rosa Luxemburg had been a passionate member of for 17 years, ordered the Freikorps to capture and kill her and Karl Leibknecht. After they were both tortured and questioned, Leibknecht was shot, and his body was delivered unnamed to the Berlin morgue. Rosa was knocked to the ground by a rifle butt, before a bullet was turned on her as well. Her body was dumped in the nearby canal.

Many of the members and leaders of the Freikorps were to later become the basis for Hitler’s SS divisions — the Nazi secret police who carried out some of the worst crimes of that horrifying regime between 1933 and 1945.

Why We Remember

It is beyond crucial that we remember the lessons of the German Revolution, and the mistakes that were made by the KPD. It is beyond crucial that we remember the treachery of the power-hungry opportunists who were willing to murder working class leaders in order to cling on to their positions in government — only to have that government overthrown by the Nazis they had empowered just 14 years later. The cowards reaped what they had sown, and helped contribute to the Second World War, the Holocaust, and the deaths of 60 million people.

And of course, we should remember Rosa Luxemburg herself. A hero of the working class, who devoted every fiber of her being, and every day of her life, to ending the capitalist nightmares of exploitation, economic crisis and war. An idealist who envisioned a society in which true freedom and democracy could reign supreme — but also a cool-headed theorist, who so many times warned of the barbarism capitalism was preparing to unleash, and of the dangers of the socialist movement taking the wrong path in its struggle to prevent such barbarism. So many times she was proven, tragically, right.

Her last published words, reflecting on the KPD’s devastating mistakes in trying to start the revolution too early, were written so powerfully and so poignantly, as if she knew her enemies would be coming to kill her, and as if to give to those of us who remember her the courage to organise and fight, and fight again, instead of mourning her loss. But then again, having only read a fraction of her writings so far myself, I have found that everything she published had this same character which was represented in her final article: eloquence and clarity in every aspect, with not a word wasted — each sentence giving wisdom and guidance to the workers to which she gave her life, and her death. Her final written paragraphs tell us precisely the way to honour her memory. Everybody who gives their energy, their passion, their mind and their muscle to the struggle for working class liberation is continuing the legacy of Rosa Luxemburg. How proud she would be of each and every person who does so.

“The leadership failed. But a new leadership can and must be created by the masses and from the masses. The masses are the crucial factor. They are the rock on which the ultimate victory of the revolution will be built. The masses were up to the challenge, and out of this “defeat” they have forged a link in the chain of historic defeats, which is the pride and strength of international socialism. That is why future victories will spring from this “defeat.”

“Order prevails in Berlin!” You foolish lackeys! Your “order” is built on sand. Tomorrow the revolution will “rise up again, clashing its weapons,” and to your horror it will proclaim with trumpets blazing:

I was, I am, I shall be!”

January 14, 1919
Karl Leibknecht and Rosa Luxemburg remembered.



This article has been republished. You can read the original here.

Elliot Crossan is a socialist writer and activist.

16 January, 2019

Posted by Elliot Crossan in History, International politics, 0 comments
Can We Afford to Pay Teachers and Nurses?

Can We Afford to Pay Teachers and Nurses?

This year has seen a remarkable upsurge in workers’ struggle.  Union members, largely but not exclusively in the public service, are demonstrating loud and clear that they are sick and tired of decades of low wages and precarious conditions, especially with the cost of housing so toweringly high these days.  The level of inequality between ordinary workers and our bosses and landlords has become utterly unsustainable — tens of thousands of people are not prepared to tolerate this anymore.

We have heard, more and more as these workplace disputes have escalated, cries from the government that the pay claims workers — especially primary teachers and nurses — are making are impossible to pay for.  This is not true. The much deserved pay rises demanded by teachers, nurses, and other public sector workers could be paid for, with billions of dollars still to spare, through:

  • Spending just a portion of the $5.5 billion surplus the government recorded in October, which was the biggest surplus since the Global Financial Crisis in 2008; 
  • Taxing the super-rich even slightly — the top 10% of New Zealanders own 60% of the country’s wealth, and would still be filthy rich, even if they were made to pay significantly.

So why is this government, supposedly elected to serve working people, pretending they can’t afford to give teachers and nurses a raise?  Why aren’t they injecting urgently needed money into schools and hospitals put under such strain by years of underfunding?

The answer is that the Labour Party either do not want to or are not brave enough to challenge our rigged economic system.  Keeping public spending low means taxes can stay low, and privatised utilities can outperform cash-starved public providers, benefiting the wealthier classes.  The government are not willing or able to take on these vested interests.

The only way to challenge this system is for working people to come together and build a movement so strong that the power of the bosses, the landlords and the government cannot stop us.  The early stages of this are already happening, with the biggest strikes in decades giving new hope and energy to so many. But we must go further. We must connect currently disparate struggles, and come together to demand higher wages, better conditions, properly funded public services, and cheaper housing.  We need a movement which instead of asking politely for concessions, demands that we put people before profit; that we build a society for the many, not the few.



This article has been republished. You can read the original here.

Elliot Crossan is a socialist writer and activist.

11 November, 2018

Posted by Elliot Crossan in New Zealand Labour Party, New Zealand politics, 0 comments
Stop the False Compromise

Stop the False Compromise

A response to an article in Stuff by Tracy Watkins: ‘Jacinda Ardern must pause radical reforms or risk economic consequences of falling business confidence – National


There is a pervasive myth on the left that while we may want to see significant, systemic change to society, we have to constantly tone down the demands we make and the reforms we argue for, because doing so will win support from business and the media and neutralise the arguments that National and their outriders try to make. This argument has been disproven time and time again, and this article demonstrates precisely why. Simon Bridges is saying that Ardern and her Government “must pause radical reforms or risk economic consequences of falling business confidence”.

Now, which of the policies that the Government is proposing are “radical reforms”? Apparently, the main “radical reform” is the ban on new offshore oil and gas drilling — a supposed environmental win which in reality is tiny and fairly meaningless, given the likely expansion of onshore drilling, and given the difficulty at this stage of finding anywhere else to drill in our oceans since all of the low hanging fruits for offshore drilling have already been handed out in decades-long permits, which Labour have committed to honouring. The other concern Bridges mentioned is the minor changes the Government is proposing to industrial relations.

We saw this exact same thing during the election. National didn’t care for a second that Labour and the Greens had committed to neoliberal, small government economics with the Budget Responsibility Rules. They accused Labour of having an $11 billion hole in their manifesto, the media endlessly repeated it as if it were true, and the kind of people who fall for that kind of rhetoric were convinced. The kind of people who aren’t inclined to believe National didn’t. Labour didn’t fight back, they conceded ground, and did a u-turn on their tax policy.

It is so important for those of us who do want real change to understand that moderating all of the reforms we propose, that giving up on hope of significant progress in favour of tinkering around the edges to blunt the worst aspects of the system we live under, never actually works. A supposedly progressive Government can put forward the most pathetic, milquetoast platform, and still get attacked by business, the media, and of course the National Party, with the exact same lines they would use if we were actually fighting for a transformational agenda: business confidence is down, the economy is going to collapse, stop these “radical reforms”, the left are crazy radicals, etc.

Both the National Party and the corporate-owned media exist to perpetuate the interests of the business and property owning class. They will fight tooth and nail against the tiniest concession to the working class or the environment if it at all harms the capital accumulation of the wealthy. They will never compromise with us.

So we need to stop compromising with them. Call their bluff. See how ordinary people feel about a programme which fights for the interests of the many, not the few. And stop paying attention to the lies, smears and attacks of those who will never, ever stop howling that we are ruining everything every time we take any action, no matter how small, against the vested interests of the establishment.



This article has been republished. You can read the original here.

Elliot Crossan is a socialist writer and activist.

10 June, 2018

Posted by Elliot Crossan in New Zealand Labour Party, New Zealand National Party, New Zealand politics, 0 comments