US politics/Jose

Philip Ferguson PLF13 at
Tue Nov 30 14:56:30 MST 1999

Jose G. Perez wrote:

> 6. This two party system has made bourgeois politics a content-free zone.
> People do not vote because there is no "there" there. It's not that all the
> different
> choices are basically bourgeois and therefore unpalatable. It's that there
> are no different choices period.
> 7. The two party system lives in intimate symbiosis with the bourgeois
> press, which has also become a content-free zone, devoid of any pretense of
> reporting on or analysis of public policy.
> 8. The art of bourgeois politics in the U.S. is looking good on TV. The art
> of bourgeois reporting in the U.S. is looking good on TV. Thus the
> politicians and political operatives are increasingly intermingled with and
> indistinguishable from the celebrity press corps.
> 9. At no time in American history has bourgeois politics been as openly and
> nakedly corrupt as now. Congress is a whorehouse  and the two party national
> committees are bagmen for an extortion/protection rackets that rake in
> hundreds of millions of dollars a year.
It is interesting how New Zealand (and British) politics are becoming more and more
like US politics.  Blair is more like a president than a traditional British PM.  And
in NZ the consensus of the commentators several months ago was that the NZ election
would be very much 'presidential' and this certainly turned out to be so.  Of course,
this was a bit rich coming from the media, because they ensured that Labour and
National would be able to make it a 'presidential' election.

But basically people were faced with having one of two awful bourgeois politicians -
both of whom happened to be women - as prez.

One of the other ironies is that National's Shipley in her former life was a primary
school teacher, whereas Labour's Clark was a university academic.  Which also sums up
the fact that there is no difference between National and Labour and, like the
Democrats and Republicans, they are just two political heads of the capitalist Gorgon
or Hydra or whatever it is.  (My knowledge of Greek mythology isn't what it used to

The media treatment of Clark has been adulatory and since the election we have had
stuff already like a programme on Clark which took us into her house and showed us
round it (it's quite an ordinary house, a modest two-bedroom villa in Auckland), met
her husband, the waspish wimpish Professor Peter Davis, and her parents (retired
farmers and ex-National Party supporters).

In her living room we were introduced to a montage of three photos, put together by
Davis' parents, of family members meeting various British monarchs.  Davis'
grandfather - a colonel in the British Army in India - meeting George V, Davis'
father, also a high-ranking British Army officer, meeting the old lush commonly known
as the Queen Mother back during WW2 when she was Queen, and Helen Clark meeting the
current Queen Elizabeth back in the 80s.

No political questions were asked, apart from a particularly asinine one when the
interviewer, the wretched Paul Holmes, asked Clark, "How left-wing are you?"  This was
just after we'd been introduced to the photos above!   Holmes, who is notorious for
answering his own questions and asking pompous, long-winded questions, let her off on
that question.  She was clearly taken aback and Holmes quickly chimed in, "Well, back
in the 60s you were involved in radical student politics - as indeed we all were."
(You'd have to be familiar with Holmes to understand how funny that comment from him

The art of bourgeois politics in NZ has certainly become the art of looking good on
TV.  Since none of the parties have mass memberships any more - a phenomenon which has
hit Labour particularly hard; it has less members than the Alliance and National,
which also are quite small these days - TV has become especially important.  Clark was
'made over' by media people Judy Callingham and Brian Edwards before the 1996 election
in a way very similar to how Irish Labour made over dowdy, dull, snobby old Mary
Robinson when they successfully ran her for president of Ireland.

Looking over the Labour politicians, almost all of them could be National MPs.  In
fact, National is to still to the left of Labour on one or two things - for instance,
the Labour Party has more, or certainly more dangerous, law-and-order nazis than
National.  Creepily, one of these little Labour nazis is probably going to be minister
of justice (Phil Goff).

At the same time as the elections, there were two public referenda.  One was for
tougher sentences (including hard labour) for violent crimes, and this passed with a
whopping great 92 percent vote.  The other was for a reduction in the number of MPs,
which passed with 80 percent voter support, but is unlikely to be actioned.  This
second vote reflected people's dissatisfaction with the level of party-hopping in the
last parliament, and I voted against reducing the number of MPs because it would
simply make it harder for minor parties to have a voice in parliament and restrict
democracy even further.  It was an anti-political backlash against the current state
of bourgeois politics.

Lastly, I'm not quite sure what Jose means about the national committees of the
Democrats and Republicans being bagmen engaged in extortion (Jose, you have to
remember there are a lot of non-US based people on this list, who need to have things
explained a bit more sometimes when US-based people are writing on US stuff).  But if
you are talking about party financing, it is interesting to note the sources of party
financing in NZ are little different between National and Labour.  Labour gets a
negligible amount from its own members and ordinary working people directly, through
membership fees, cake stalls, jumble sales and raffles - the old activities of party
branches - and very little from trade union affiliations and donations.  The vast bulk
of Labour's income is from business and the state, as we have state financing of
parties here these days.

This also means that in order to maximise state funding, parties move more and more of
their functioning into parliament where they can claim party activities as MPs' costs
etc.  So party branches are becoming less and less relevant.  The only time the
members are necessary is for a bit of door-knocking once every three years, and even
that is being replaced by TV campaigns.
Parties even often hire private firms to deliver election propaganda and put up their

There is a very interesting major feature article on the transformation of NZ
political parties in the current issue of 'revolution', written by one of our
editorial collective members who is doing his PhD on the subject, looking at the last
fifteen years.

One of the saddest comments on the radical left in NZ is that all the Trots are still
living in the 1930s, calling for votes for Labour on the basis that it's a "workers'
party".  Needless to say, none of these groups has actually done any work at all on
researching whether the criteria Lenin used in relation to the British Labour Party in
the early 1920s actually applies to the NZ Labour Party in 1999.  The only group which
did do any real research into this question, and they did it in the late 1980s, was
the (now defunct) Christchurch-based Ernest Mandel supporters and, to their credit,
they concluded that Labour was a liberal bourgeois party and had been for some time.
We are publishing some of their research papers in the next issue of our journal
'Critiqu(al) Studies'.

Philip Ferguson

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