Identity vs Class

Now Goff and his leadership/strategists are not stupid, and know they are engaging important substantial political and philosophical issues (ie identity politics vs class politics), they are also

I have been pretty busy with my younger brothers wedding in the last few weeks (will post about this soon), but since then I’ve been trying to catch up with the news. There’s been a lot to catch up with, but the topic I did want to write about today is the happenings in the Niu Sila/New Zealand political world, more specifically the interesting debate within the political left. So yeah, those not interested in politics and turn off and go back to facebook/bebo hehehe.

It’s been an interesting political year for Labour. After losing the elections, former leader Helen Clark appeared to have saved the party from internal squabbling by immediately stepping down, allowing for the new leadership to step in. However, this new leadership: Phil Goff and Annette King, have struggled to make traction with the voting public.

This is in contrast to the ruling Government. There’s no denying that the current National Government is popular, if the regular polls are anything to go by. While there have been hiccups along the way, National has stayed ahead. More specifically, Palemia/Prime Minister John Key is very popular. With this backdrop, it must be very fustrating for the Labour leadership seeing that no matter what they do, or how hard they try, nothings happening for them.

Because of this, the Labour leadership has apparently been asking itself some hard questions, as they should. However, the answers the leadership have come up with, I’m not so sure on. A lot of commentators, including some in the Labour ranks, have decided the electoral defeat for Labour was a rejection by the Niu Sila public, of the progressive/social liberal movement. Apparently, the Niu Sila public had become more conservative, and if Labour were to gain support, it would need to contest for that conservative support from National.

Goff has always been from the “right” of the Labour party, and there are quite a few traditional Marxists, such as commentator Chris Trotter. Along with strategist Pagani, there has been a slow movement from the Labour leadership towards laying down the platform in which Labour will preach from in 2010 going into election year. Earlier rants this year by Trevor Mallard were early warning signs of things to come. And recently Goff made a speech entitled “Nationhood”, further building on that platform.

While the speech had some very good points, regarding the role of the Maori Party in coalition with the National Government, some of the wording was clearly catering for the conservative/red neck voters, such as “grievance industry” and “birthright to the beaches” populist slogans. Now Goff and his leadership/strategists are not stupid, and know they are engaging important substantial political and philosophical issues (ie identity politics vs class politics), they are also taking the opportunity to grab the superficial political points from the conservative/red neck vote at the same time.

Unfortunately, I think they will lose using either or both strategies. Political point scoring from the conservative/red neck vote can only get you so far on the left. While Trotter believes there are more social conservatives than social liberals on the left, I think that’s all too simplistic a view. I think I am social conservative in many ways. I am a Christian, but I am also Samoan. I have a tertiary education and currently hold a professional occupation, but my background is from a working class family. I have some socially conservative values, but I have some strong convictions against neo-liberal economic theories. And thus, this is the reality of post-modernism. There are many more layers to an onion, than just class or identity.

And so this is the basis of social liberalism/progressivism. Whether we are male/female, hetero/homosexual, indigenous/immigrant, religious/atheist, the social liberal/progressivism strives for a society that is inclusive of all peoples, where there is an equality amongst all irrespective of background.

For Trotter, he believes there must be a point where the left must decide that one of those identities must take precedence over other identities. For Trotter, and the Labour leadership, that is the proleteriat. The class warfare is the paramount battle to be fought. Identity politics, including Maori/indigenous politics is a distraction to that paramount battle. I believe he is wrong.

It is because of the broad Church of social liberalism/progressivism, that the left finds it’s strength. Unity through diversity. Unfortunately for Trotter and Co, they are banging the drums of divisiveness on the left. It seems as though the beat they are banging too includes: you’re either with us or against us. That might win some votes from the conservatives, but it will alienate so many more on the left. Furthermore, many of the social conservatives on the left, are in fact Maori or Pacific Island. Those on the left that disliked the “anti-smacking” law and civil union legislation were Polynesian. The working class proletariats are again, people of Polynesian back ground. Therefore it kinda only leaves the true red neck Pakeha voters to which Goff will appeal to the most.

But there is an important question that needs to be asked of identity politics. As a Samoan, I can associate myself with the struggle of our fellow Polynesian cousins, the Maori. With a similar worldview, but also our shared experience with colonialism, the struggle to have an indigenous outlook may not grate with Euro-centric theories such as Marxism, but also against aspects of liberalism. Some indigenous academics have often called human rights (a product of liberalism) as another form of colonisation. Not because there is an outright opposition to human rights, but because the authors of mainstream human rights come from a Euro-centric point of view, such as centering around the rights of the ‘individual’. From a communal culture such as Polynesian societies, this form of human rights does not fit well. And so these issues will need to be resolved, but that in no way means one must choose one identity over another.

Identity politics (along with Marxism/class struggle and environmentalism etc) are here to stay. The Maori Party is likely to be around for a while, and therefore so is identity politics.

Ok, that’s my political spiel for a while hehehe. So many more exciting things to post up about soon…

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