Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Rod Donald's legacy

It's a year since the sudden death of Rod Donald, and the Green Party is still missing him a lot. Here are some comments which I typed a couple of days after Donald's death, but never got around to tidying up and posting.

It is natural to be shocked and saddened by the sudden death of a very healthy forty-eight year old. I think, though, that the response of the media and politicians of all parties to Donald's demise goes well beyond those sentiments - I'd compare it with the response to David Lange's death earlier this year. And this sort of response is at odds with claims made on sites like indymedia and frogblog that Donald was some sort of thorn in the side of the establishment, an 'outsider' politician untainted by the sort of grubby compromise which is the stock in trade of most MPs. I think the reality is that by the time he had died Donald had become a very valued member of what we can call the political establishment.

He and the Greens had spent much of their time in parliament trying to convince the other parties and the public of their 'respectability' - that is, of their ability to be 'safe pairs of hands' running the state on behalf of New Zealand capitalism. A particularly poignant example of this campaign for respectability came in the aftermath of this year's election, when the Greens held a behind-closed-doors meeting with members of the Business Roundtable, in an effort to convince Roger Kerr and his comrades that they had 'nothing to fear' from a Labour-Green government. For any Green Party member who identifies with left-wing politics, such a meeting must have seemed infinitely more embarrassing than Keith Locke's nearly-nude run through Newmarket.

Rod Donald represented the right wing of the Green Party. Unlike Locke, Sue Bradford and Metiria Turei, who had a background in anti-capitalist politics and the labour movement, Donald traced his political descent back to the sort of petty bourgeois utopianism which found differing expressions in both Social Credit and the early Values Party. Most of his formative political work involved him setting up 'ethical' businesses, and his vision was of a kinder, gentler, greener, Kiwi-owned capitalism. His nationalism made him an opponent of free trade deals, the spy base at Waihopai, and a number of other causes associated with the left, but unlike the soicalist left he never took the working class and the labour movement seriously as possible agents for change.

Of all the Green MPs, Donald was the keenest to abandon shibboleths like opposition to GE field trials and Kiwi troops in Afghanistan in the quest for a place at the Cabinet table. Although he joined the other Green MPs in opposing Labour's decision to join the invasion of Afghanistan, Donald time and time again made himself invaluable to the ruling class of this country and their pals in Canberra and Washington, by giving a 'respectable' 'left' face to reactionary pieces of foreign policy. For example, Donald and his Green comrades beat the drum for last year's Australian-led invasion of the Solomons, which was motivated by a desire to enforce the implementation of a disastrous IMF 'austerity' programme, and by Washington's anxiety about France expansing its influence in Melanesia with an offer of military assistance to the Solomons government.

In 2003 Donald and the rest of the Greens also jumped into bed with the right to pass, under urgency, the so-called 'people smuggling' legislation which would make any 'boat people' fleeing the chaos that IMF policies have created in places like the Solomons liable to 20 years' imprisonment, should they reach New Zealand shores. Had Donald lived, he undoubtedly would have kept shepherding the Greens towards the political centre-right, making more and more compromises in the quest for the illusory power that comes with being a minor partner in a Labour or National government. His death is a tragedy for his family and friends, but it is no loss to the left.


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