This article has been bubbling away in the background since the military coup d’état of the 1st February 2021 in Myanmar, I returned to it but still did not see fit to finish it during the Solomon Islands riots of late November 2021, and again during the great unrest which swept Kazakhstan in January of this year. Each time it has slipped back by the wayside as I simply have not been writing for the length of the pandemic. As I have been writing again of late and with international events in mind it seems fit to put this piece to paper. As it has been rewritten repeatedly, I’ve done my best to update it to the current situation and make any necessary edits to the central argument. As a result the argument may come across a little scattered at points, for which I apologise. At any rate…


The Russian invasion of Ukraine has given many on the left pause to reconsider their conceptions of imperialism and priorities on the world stage. An earnest reckoning with what has become a rote-learned and stultifying world-view among the left should be welcomed in these circumstances, such that it allows for a reassessment of world conditions and a new framework to be developed. This reckoning is long overdue, being needed since at least the end of the Cold War, and its absence has muddied prior attempts to find footing in assessing New Zealand’s position in other international events, let alone what a coherent response might be.

Over the last decade or three, many events have attracted temporary interest before subsiding into the maelstrom of world affairs never to be picked up again. In some instances this is fair enough, an issue is nominally resolved on its own terms and ceases to demand as much attention. One might take the conflict and immediate aftermath of independence for East Timor, to draw a Pacific example. Attention started to drift away after the worst fighting subsided and had largely shifted elsewhere by the time peacekeepers were sailing over the horizon in 2005. In others, events overcame one another, sometimes in the same theater. Barely had the two operations which comprised the 2006 Israel-Gaza War begun that events tumbled toward the Israel-Lebanon War that same year. That is unlikely to happen in the case of this new escalation in Ukraine, but it will happen again in the next case without course correction. Without that correction, the chances of grasping a coherent framework sink toward zero.

Part of the problem is theoretical, an inherited idea of imperialism from prior eras of imperial excess stretched poorly onto new conditions. To those who cry of Lenin’s theory it should be said that it is time to pick Lenin up and cast his words upon both the extant conditions of the world and the developments since Lenin’s old wounds stole his final years. The ‘unipolar order’, if it ever really existed, has likely been in decay for as long as the neoliberal order has, which is to say since at least the 2008 Great Financial Crisis (in terms of world conflict, some point between the Russo-Georgian War and the rise & annihilation of the ISIS statelet). Some other order has surely been born, even if we are yet to quantify or name it.

Whether our moment resembles the 1970s, the 1930s, the 1900s, or no prior period at all has been hotly debated for years now. It does not need to be relitigated to be able to say that a great break occurred at some point fairly recently and we have not been able to pinpoint it or sufficiently analyze our current era. We have all, from the most ardent Marxist-Leninist to the most unreconstructed Neoconservative, been chasing after history as it tears off in all directions around us. The only question is who has recognised this for what it is, and who is still working on a prewritten script while the stage burns around them.

Perhaps another part of the problem, for New Zealand anyway, is an unintentional parochialism. Some on the left find a set core of overseas causes célèbre and don’t really see fit to pay much attention to anything else, creating a kind of internationalist myopia in which a handful of things take up the entire view and complicating factors or outside events fall by the wayside. This is not a call for each and every individual who concerns themselves with such matters to take all the worlds ills upon their mind, but for the movement (or movement in waiting) to which they belong to perform its job as the social brain which acts to altar the path of history. To be capable of meeting each crisis as it arises with cold eyed rationality and not forget those crises which slip from world headlines and the popular conscience even as they worsen before our eyes. No one person could be asked to do more than they can, but the movement such that it exists can be asked as a generalised whole to grasp the problem.

An unquestionable problem is numbers. The extra-parliamentary and especially the nominally socialist left in this country is small, fragmented, geographically scattered, and lacking in resources. This makes any project or campaign a fraught matter if it doesn’t draw initial support from elsewhere or at least a wide swathe of the extra-parliamentary left. With a raft of domestic issues to deal with, something like the ongoing anti-coup insurgency in Myanmar can slip through the attention cracks. It is not to say constant attention is needed from New Zealand, but the general situation should be kept in mind. This is merely one example. There could be many. Let us choose another.

Consider the Solomon Islands, wracked last November by the worst unrest since the civil war. They are not only a much closer neighbour, but New Zealand troops are still deployed there. How many could confidently say they knew the deployment alongside Australian and Fijian forces was provisionally extended in January to at least the end of March this year? At time of writing it is entirely possible some new factor pushes out that date further (at time of initial publication new events have occurred bringing the Solomons back into view). It did not require a laser focus on the Solomons to know that, just the curiosity to keep occasional tabs on the situation. The Solomons case is a useful one, as it serves to act as a lesson for those wanting to learn how inter-imperial competition could rip the bandage off open wounds in the social fabric of otherwise uninvolved countries. Not only that, but it provides that lesson in a close Pacific neighbour to New Zealand. There could be other cases, Kazakhstan seems obvious, but the point is what keeping in touch with these events means for the New Zealand left. Each is a lesson in class power, in imperial dynamics, in economic flow, in any number of things. More importantly, each is real. The socialist left is richer for being able to monitor the world situation effectively. It helps build the possibility of meaningful relationships with workers across national borders and with ethno-cultural minority workers within our own borders. It is one of the things that allows us to be internationalists.

So what of it? Why bring it up at all, what is the point? I would like, if I may, to make some suggestions. I do not presume of myself the power to make a declaration of what should be done and presume it will be so. I’ve never been a fan of that kind of sloganeering, or at least its wild overuse. But if I may outline what I’d like to see, at least it is out there and I can say I have done that much. Before that, some background is necessary. We must survey where we are and where we stand.

As recently as the 1990s the left-media sphere in New Zealand was large enough that it could include a number of publications dedicated to international events either generally or of a specific focus. A prime example being the Free East Timor Coalition, which published Nettalk through the 1990s. Another might be the “Best Irish Paper in the Pacific” Saoirse, published over the 1980s-’90s, which existed among a once thriving constellation of Irish focused cultural/political organisations and outlets in New Zealand (many involving the recently late Jimmy O’Dea). The long running CORSO publication Overview kept a consistent eye on international events from the late 1970s through early 2000s. Similar groups exist today but few produce physical or digital periodicals for news and debate, and online forums are patchy and stretched across numerous topics. The tiny handful of socialist publications which exist dedicate some paper & ink to international topics, but their best efforts cannot but amount to a fairly small quantity of coverage. Sporadic publication, diverging editorial lines and formats, and the heavy weight of domestic and theoretical affairs make it an unfair ask on their own.

The existing groups which focus on this conflict or that national oppression are largely scattered and co-operate on an ad hoc basis. The Peace Action groups act as a functional node in the synaptic web of organisations. Their activities, in my opinion, should be commended at every turn. Similar could be said of Global Peace & Justice Auckland Aotearoa. It is not that they are insufficient (indeed they do more with very little than most could hope to) but that I am referring to a different kind of activity to their largely activist model. What I think is lacking is a national forum to keep the wider movement, such that it exists, abreast of international events. A point of connection which tallies up the sum total of existing international solidarity organisations in New Zealand and, with some degree of formality and structure, brings together the background coverage of their activities with a place to discuss international affairs generally. Something that can act as a locus for ongoing discussion while its contributors are focused on their own activities, sufficiently in-the-loop to keep abreast of internationalist actions in New Zealand but detached enough from the organising that the forum does not slip away and the purpose lost.

In a way this is just one component of a wider need for a twofold (partial) solution to multifold problems faced by the New Zealand left. The first is the need for a central catalogue of active organisations of and of interest to the extra-parliamentary left in New Zealand, a resource to which the entire extra-parliamentary left can contribute to and benefit from. Such a resource has existed in part before and been attempted at times throughout the years, but has never been fully realised on a national scale. It could go a great way to connect at the level of the organisation, consolidate as social movements, help initiate those newly interested in the left, allay intra-left confusion and organising overload, and provide an agreeable project for cooperation. The second is the need for a number of forums and sub-forums among the extra-parliamentary left on a number of topics which could provide similar benefits to those outlined above for an international & conflict forum, while retaining the structure needed to continue functioning through the contention and infighting inherent to political organisation.

Again, the infrastructure for these forums exists in a patchwork across the country – some of these conceptual forums effectively exist already. But the disconnection and lack of way for someone not already truly deeply embedded in the culture of the extra-parliamentary left to get their feet means that functionally it is as far away as existing solely on the drawing board. This country is in a sweet spot where in theory it is small enough for such infrastructure to exist but large enough for the infrastructure to sustain it to exist as well. It is a matter of cooperating across a geographical and socio-cultural divide which has long, perhaps always, hampered efforts at national coordination among the extra-parliamentary and socialist left. Whether it is possible to overcome such divides is not for me to say but the thought’s worth entertaining, yeah?