Friday, January 01, 2010

A short response

I've been meaning to write a bit about Phil Goff's 'nationhood' and the response on the left (as usual most of what people are saying is infuriating me). Bryce over at liberation is writing a very long series of posts, and I disagree with most of his premises and conclusions, so I was planning to respond to that, when he finished it.

I don't know when he's going to finish it, but there are parts of the latest section that I want to respond to while the series is still going. I am particularly interested in the latest section where he argues that during the fourth labour government a socially liberal concensus was built alongside the neo-liberal concensus. More than that he's arguing that this happened because there was a trade off where people.

I think this is problematic on many levels. For example, he argues there was a feminist trade-off he lists the Ministry of Women's Affairs and Pay Equity as what the feminists gained. But these gains were paltry compared to what feminists were demanding. Even those who supported the Ministry of Women's Affairs were disillusioned within a short time of it being set up.* Pay Equity legislation wasn't introduced until everyone knew it was too late to do any good.** The repeal of the appalling 1977 abortion laws didn't even get off the ground (and still hasn't - despite there being a supposed social liberal concensus).

Edwards really isn't clear on who he sees as making this trade-off. If he is talking entirely about those in positions of power within the labour party, which he appears to be in the feminist section, then he may be right, I don't know a lot about that. However, if he is trying to describe the response of the movements that had grown up over the 1970s, then his analysis is very very limited, and does not acknowledge the resistance to the fourth labour government's economic policies. That opposition may not have been effective, but it existed.

But my point in this post is even simpler. Edwards quotes Bruce Jesson:

They couldn't affect economic policy, but they could gain a trade-off – the anti-nuclear position for economics, in many cases. In the case of the unions, the trade-off was compulsory unionism.

I haven't done enough study of the New Zealand left in the 1980s to provide detail information about how the many strands of orgnaised opposition that had been present in the Muldoon day responded. However, here Edwards demonstrates the limited usefulness of his own argument. Whether trade-offs were made, whether people pushed where they thought they were most likely to win, whether people fought on more than one front, winning some battles, but losing the big ones - 'identity politics' or 'social liberalism' is not a useful explanatory framework, particular if set as an alternative to class politics. Unions took exactly the same trade-offs that Bryce Edwards was talking about (actually from what I've heard they were far, far worse, because they were more powerful within the labour party, and hte trade-off process was more explicit).

The New Zealand left was ineffectual in responding to the fourth labour government that is a fact. But to lay blame on that ineffectualness at the feet of 'identity politics' is only possible if you are selective with your evidence. Bryce Edwards talks about the feminist trade-off within the party, but ignores the feminist organising against the reforms. But more importantly, he ignores the role of the labour movement in propping up and supporting the fourth labour government. As I said in my response to John Minto" "It wasn't the lack of class analysis which stopped people fighting back, it was a really bad class analysis."

I will try to respond to the arguments Bryce Edwards makes more fully at some point.

* I can't give you the exact time line sorry - although I can visualise the article in broadsheet.

** Although the importance of pay equity to feminists does undermine another part of Bryce's argument - that what he calls identity politics comes at the expense of a focus on economic inequality.

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