Chris Trotter wants a Labour purge. Again. 

It’s not often you see a New Zealand political figure compared favourably to Stalin, but this is what Chris Trotter has done to that decidedly non-genocidal non-lunatic Grant Robertson.  

To be fair, Trotter credits a “friend” for coming up with the Stalin analogy (which extends, perhaps even more risibly, to casting David Cunliffe as Leon Trotsky), but it bears the hallmarks of the kind of apocryphal friend who wants you to ask your parents where to buy condoms.  

To be fairer still, the Stalin comparison extends only so far: “There is, [the ‘friend’] insisted, the same easy familiarity with the party apparatus; the same willingness to wield it ruthlessly in his pursuit of power”. Hmm, yes, a bit of a stretch. This sentence groans with unwarranted heft: subtract the sinister terms, “apparatus”, “wield”, “ruthlessly” and “pursuit”, and you are left with the contention that Robertson is like Stalin inasmuch as he uses his position in the Labour Party to advance his career. By that definition, the ghost of Iosif Vissarionovich Djugashvili looms large over anyone who’s ever sought elected office.

Beneath the hyperbole – and who I am to deny Trotter his fun? – there is a serious argument: Grant should emulate Stalin’s intolerance for dissent and enforce a “recognisable – and recognised – party line” in a process Trotter calls an “ideological gleichschaltung” (emphasis his).

This is Trotter’s way of saying he thinks Labour is due a purge (has there ever been a time when he doesn’t?); moreover, he thinks Robertson agrees with him:

Speaking last Sunday (19/10/14) on TVNZ’s current affairs show Q+A, Robertson made it very clear that, as leader, his line would be the party’s line:

ROBERTSON: If people step outside of that, there have to be consequences.

Q+A: Does that mean they have to leave the Labour Party?

ROBERTSON: It may well do – for some.

Dissenters in the Labour Party – piss off. Grant has everything to lose – and a new generation to win.

It’s no wonder Trotter finds nothing but disappointment in politics.  In his reading, by saying “it may well do – for some”, Robertson is making “very clear, as leader, his line would be the party’s line”. He is seeing what he wants to see; to most people, Robertson’s response on Q&A is bog standard political equivocation that means, like pretty much everything he says, as little as possible while still moving your lips.  

But Trotter is far from alone in believing that Labour could do with a touch of gleichschaltung.  Gina Giordani, a member of the party’s ruling council, took to Facebook recently to express concern about the flurry of new members joining up to take part in the leadership election:  “joining the Labour Party should be a wholesale examination of values and policies and being sure that yours aligns with the Labour Party’s”. Giordani requires none of Trotter’s rhetorical flourishes to achieve the same chilling effect.  

To purists like Giordani and Trotter, Labour’s problem is that it’s too inclusive, too accommodating of competing views, too tolerant of dissent.  This is the cultish clique who ripped into David Shearer for saying Labour has become excessively beholden to sectional interests and that Cunliffe should exit Parliament to avoid becoming a destabilizing influence; arguments that not only fall easily within the bounds of acceptable discourse but have the added benefit of being true.  These are the people who believe, in defiance of all logic, that Labour lost the election by failing to cuddle up closely enough to the Greens and Internet Mana.   

But what the heretic hunters seem not to grasp is that they already have the party they want. The winner takes all rules for internal ballots means the Left’s control of the party’s levers is complete: the President, General Secretary, as well as sector council and regional reps on the NZ Council are elected en masse from a single ticket. The so-called centrists have long been run out of town, unless they refer to a handful of caucus members like Damien O’Connor who won’t read the memo and keep winning their electorate seats. Labour's future is not threatened by internal enemies, real or imagined, but by the bad ideas and self serving delusions that have gained ascendancy in a party already purged of dissent.

Comments (6)

by Alan Johnstone on October 24, 2014
Alan Johnstone

What's so wrong with Uncle Joe anyway?

Sometimes you need a Stalin to defeat a Hitler.

by Chris Trotter on October 24, 2014
Chris Trotter

Oh dear, oh dear, Phil, you do have a habit of reading into other people’s writing only those things which best reflect your own prejudices.


The piece you refer to had as its theme the need for the Labour Party to settle upon a consistent political message, and whether or not Grant and Jacinda are up to the task.


The quip about Stalin was indeed that of a friend (whose PhD encourages me to believe that he’s not, as some have unkindly suggested, certifiable). If you read carefully, however, you will see that I, too, raise the possibility that he might be going just a little far with that particular comparison!


Looking back on the last long period of Labour success, it is, however, clear that Helen Clark benefited enormously from the departure of both her Left and Right wings. Many (perhaps most) of those who remained in Labour had been traumatised by the events of the 1980s and wanted only peace and a steady hand at the tiller. Clearly that is not the case today – hence my observation that, whoever wins, will need to impose some measure of ideological coherence upon the party.


Grant seems to get this, Phil, even if you claim confusion. His answer on Q+A confirms that he is not keen to preside over a party of warring factions. I do suspect, however, that you, too, grasp the importance of establishing some sort of party line, and would not be averse to ridding Labour of the elements you so clearly like to lambast.


Your current posture of political naïf, shocked and horrified by the big bad extremists, doesn’t quite fit with your back-story – which reveals you to have been an impressively effective party apparatchik – oops, there I go again with the Soviet nomenklatura.


Damn, did it again!

by Phil Quin on October 24, 2014
Phil Quin

I was never "impressively effective". 

by Marco on October 24, 2014

One of the scary things I read about Stalin was that in 1931 he gave a speech where he said that unless Russia became an industrial society they would be dead-meat to anyone that tried to invade them, and further that he thought they had at most ten years to achieve that. 

Ten years and two weeks later, Hitler sent in the troops to invade.

During those ten years, there was much displacement, lots of people starved to death, others were forceably moved to cities and made to work in factories.

If he hadn't done it, would Hitler have won?


by Katharine Moody on October 24, 2014
Katharine Moody

These are the people who believe, in defiance of all logic, that Labour lost the election by failing to cuddle up closely enough to the Greens and Internet Mana.

Not sure how that defies all logic. I've seen a number of analyses that suggest the problem for the left was a failure by the collective left to run a strategic/joint change the government campaign. I'm guessing both Labour and Greens would have polled higher had they coordinated their campaign from the outset - giving environmental policy to the Greens to determine and employment/welfare policy to Labour to determine - and setting out a joint finance/ED policy.


by Charlie on October 25, 2014

Katherine: You and many on the Left keep twisting and turning to avoid facing the obvious:

The voters didn't like your offering.

Labour's policy statements were ludicrous and the party was (and still is) riven by faction fights.

You can strategize until you're red in the fact but it won't help if you got rubbish policies and clowns for leaders.



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