"hey Chong just cool it"- Prohibition, Mana and the Left.
Guest Post- Olivier Jutel, DJ Radio One Dunedin.
I wanted to offer my thoughts on the politics of the recent successful push to ban synthetic cannabis. My consternation about the Internet Party and the libertarianization of the Left will have to wait for another post. Let me begin by saying that I have not been neck deep in some of the internal dialogue of the Mana Party at either the AGM, social media or at party meetings, so maybe I’ve missed something. I Just want to offer my humble opinion as someone who cares deeply for the Left and the cause of emancipation and equality in NZ and globally.
I present a politics radio show on Radio One in Dunedin called ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’ and co-host the program with Abe Gray of Aoteroa Legalize Cannabis Party. Its fair to say the brother is pretty passionate about decriminalization/legalization as it is up at the top of his list of political priorities. As a Marxist I would be happy to see Marijuana and drug reform as a lower priority to the class struggle, gender, racial and sexual equality, however this has become a central issue to our national politics and will be key in the upcoming election. Therefore it is incredibly important for us to formulate a position on the Psychoactive Substances Bill (PSB), drug reform and the prison industrial complex that reflects our deep commitment to workers emancipation, community empowerment and the health and well-being of our peeps. Sadly I don’t see how the Mana Party’s current prohibitionist politics align with these goals of the Left. The Green Party is also disappointing in this regard as well. It may well be that Mana’s position is not being properly reflected in a mainstream media onslaught that is full of populist fervor in favor banning Synths.
Let me begin by stating that it is clear that synthetic cannabis is having a damaging effect in communities across New Zealand. But if Peter Dunne and John Campbell wanted to hang outside a bottle shop in Dunedin or cruise through the Octagon at 1am on a Sunday morning that could just as easily gather some harrowing footage to whip their viewers into a moral panic. Tobacco, Alcohol, Gambling, Drugs of various sorts can all fester in the social crisis of exploitation and alienation that capitalism produces. These are all symptoms of the beast we call capitalism that we’ve vowed to fight. Synthetic Cannabis is clearly bad shit anecdotally my friends say its gross and there is obviously nowhere near the amount research that has been done on Marijuana which is by all accounts safer than alcohol (this was the basis for legalization in the US state of Colorado http://archive.saferchoice.
org/content/view/24/53/) and alcohol is of course exacting a tremendous toll on our public health system (http://www.odt.co.nz/news/ dunedin/289630/souths- statistics-worst).
While it is clear that some corporates and some petite bourgeois shop keepers are exploiting people’s misery, I do not believe that prohibitionist politics helps us in the broader class struggle, in fact it does the opposite. First anyone who does not believe that decriminalizing marijuana at a minimum would destroy the synth market instantly is not being intellectually honest. Bad legalisation policy might risk that marijuana becomes controlled by the weed equivalent of Lion-Nathan but for now we can say that weed has decentralized production. We would also be striking a blow against the criminal economy and the prison-industrial complex, two things that should be priorities for us. Thus if we want to ban synths its imperative that we push for decriminalization at a minimum and address the problems of abuse as a social public health issue.
Okay so the common refrain might be to say “hey Chong just cool it, weed is not a big issue”. Well, right now New Zealand is in full populist backlash mode against synths but I believe that the politics of this backlash are extremely retrograde, demonizes the poor and working class Michael Laws-style. The media have been making synth a drug of the poor and working class with portraits of teenage mums, the unemployed etc… And we all know that the drug laws that the state enforces are about criminalizing communities the bourgeois don’t like. That is why whether it is intentional or not the Mana Party writing press releases about some of the horrifying stories of abuse (children selling themselves) fits into a predominate narrative of drug abuse and the poor that the Tories trot out like the “culture of poverty and dependency”. Perhaps this is bad media strategy or the media ignoring broader points the Mana Party is making but I frankly see these prohibitionist politics as very harmful. It is the kind of politics that creates a wedge in the working class by demonizing the poor. This is the way that Shane Jones can “represent” the working class, if by working class we’re talking about angry reactionaires that hate “dole bludgers” and “pointy-headed academic types” (me). I know very well that is not Mana’s intention but to repeat myself this is how there position will be used if decriminalization is not part of policy plank. I see this as the biggest problem the Left and Mana face, the populist backlash within the ranks of the working class. All this to say nothing of the problems with prohibitionist policies. If we do not articulate a proper position on marijuana, then drugs and the culturalization of poverty will continue to be a weapon the ruling class wield against us.
I want to conclude by expressing a certain acknowledgement of where I think the prohibitionist streak in Mana comes from. I understand the notion of militant revolutionary discipline and those that see intoxicants as obstacles to a clear eyed militancy. Malcolm X is an inspirational figure to us all and an important example of a personal and political transformation through kicking intoxicants and inspiring a movement of the lumpen proletariat. And of course Malcolm articulated the role intoxicants play in keeping the people in a stupor:
Every time you break the seal on that liquor bottle, that's a
Government seal that you're breaking!
For those who make that choice, cool but I don’t think that is the basis for formulate broad social policy on drugs. By all means lets fund whatever treatment and empowerment programmes that work, but lets not give the ruling class the ability to criminalize and demonize. Mana should not be trying to steal the thunder of National’s PSB revamp, its a politics that can only help the right. Tell me where my analysis is wrong comrades, have I missed something?