Sue BradfordA radical left activist, Sue Bradford’s visit to Dunedin was introduced by a representative of the Department of Politics and supported by the Hobgoblin Network of Christchurch.  This is the second time I have heard her speak in Dunedin.  The first time was at Circadian Rhythm where she was a guest speaker for Drinking Liberally Dunedin.  This lecture was held in a small lecture theatre in the University Quad.  It was full to bursting with over a hundred people in the room.

I need to be careful what I write from here on.  She interviewed a wide representation of the New Zealand left for her thesis and what I write should be read as my paraphrase and opinion, not an acurate quote of her sampling of the left.  My bias in praxis leans towards the social democratic left, not the radical, transformational left she favours.  If she accomplishes her goals then I respect the change she makes, and she remains an important speaker in the spectrum of left-wing politics and activism in New Zealand.

In the past there have been groups like the Business Roundtable, the Maxim Institute, and on the left, influential individuals like Bruce Jesson.  Has a left-wing think tank risen in this generation?  Or any generation in New Zealand?  The question left me considering, are we too pragmatic, and anti-intellectual, to be ideological?

Two key definations:

Left: a commitment to working for a world based on values of fairness, inclusion, participatory democracy, solidarity and equality, and to transforming Aotearoa into a society grounded in economic, social, environmental and Tiriti justice.

Think tank: a community based not for profit organisation which undertakes detailed research and policy development in order to influence and enhance public policy formation across a broad range of issues, through publications, media work, lobbying, conferences, workshops, and other forms of advocacy and education.

The social democratic left can live with that definition, the radical left want to include class and capitalism in the definition.  I get their point.  These are things that need to face change.

Think tanks in New Zealand: Bradford excluded church-based think tanks and religious social organisation from her defination when working on her thesis.  A faith-based religious identity for an organisation is ultimately exclusivist.  She raised the example of Child Poverty Action Group.  I have heard speakers from this important group several times.  Its work is limited to the issue of child poverty.  Then the example of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, a government-funded think tank for the German Left (Linke) Party.  In Germany the parties have funded think tanks to cultivate political thinking.  Any think tank named after the heroine of the first German soviet is going to be radical!

Often such groups run on the persistant efforts of one person.  I mentioned Bruce Jesson above.  There’s also Brian Easton.  There are more people thinking on the left movement in New Zealand than realised.  What Bradford has provided is an ethnographical study of the left in New Zealand.

Is a lot of our think tank efforts coming out of Auckland and the north?  What is coming out of the south?

There’s a lot to be worried about:-

  • We lost to the capitalist agenda
  • The community sector is beholden to corporate support
  • The unions are weak, as marginal as churches
  • The left is divided, both among Maori and Tauiwi
  • Activism is mindless; imitating overseas movements like Occupy; time to get together to find out what we want to do

There’s a loss of confidence, a loss of courage.  So be motivated, this is a challenge to the left to bravery and risk-taking:

  • There’s a lot of good work going on — a rise in activism
  • The radical left are talking across their sects.  They want to work respectfully with each other
  • A young generation and an old generation are talking to each other on the left.  Again the respect is there

Jerusalem is not going to come in this green and pleasant land — take power.

It’s time to talk about theory that is relevant to Aotearoa — it’s time to talk to the critics of the left.  There’s an absence of organisational and ideological home for the left.  It’s not just a radical left think tank that needs to emerge.  There’s room for Social Democratic Think Tank as well, and an ecological think tank that could cross the left/right divide.  These can’t be vanity think tanks.  They need to be more than one person talking in an echo chamber.  They cannot be aligned with any one political party.

It has to be prepared to piss off its own supporters from time to time

Gordon Campbell

The radical left think tank will be about moving beyond capitalisms — finding alternatives — developing education, skill and knowledge: an institution that feeds into a society or a community or a movement of the radical left.  There is uncertainty how other think tanks representing the social democratic and ecological left movements will feed in.  Don’t accept existing options, create new alternatives.

In the end there was an enthusiasm from the audience to start talking.  I signed a list of people interested in talking about a Dunedin-based group.  The conversations spilled out into the university quad.  It was like leaving a revival meeting.

Read more here.