By Mike Treen
Friends of mine, including some pretty staunch left wingers, have questioned the wisdom of Laila Harre taking up the position of Internet Party leader and of the Mana Movement forming an electoral arrangement with the Internet Party for this election.
A lot of the criticism comes from the fact that Internet Party founder Kim Dotcom is a multi-millionaire. It seems strange to me that I, as a socialist, have to explain that no one is born with original sin or necessarily acquires it by becoming wealthy. The modern socialist movement was formed by an alliance between a “German millionaire” (Frederick Engels) and Karl Marx. Engels devoted his adult life to running the family cotton mill in Manchester to make enough money to keep the Marx family out of the poorhouse. I accept that Kim Dotcom is no Engels, but his wealth should not be held against him.
The next challenge raised against an alliance is questions about how Kim Dotcom acquired his wealth. Vague references are made to his “criminal” past. His first arrest in 1994 as a teenage hacker resulted in a suspended sentence and the judge referring to his actions as "youthful foolishness”. His next conviction in 2003 was for “insider trading” because he bought shares in a bankrupt company and then said he was investing some money in it so its shares jumped and he sold out at a profit. Again, he received a suspended sentence. Insider trading only became a crime in Germany in 1995 and Dotcom said he wasn’t aware what he had done was a crime. In a lengthy article on TorrentFreak, Dotcom claims he was not guilty of insider trading in Germany. He said the judge and prosecutor offered him a suspended sentence if he pleaded guilty. "I took the deal and moved on with my life instead of spending the next few years in court rooms defending my innocence”. Remember that Kim was given residence in NZ despite this past so it can’t have been considered that serious.
His real “crime” as far as the Hollywood moguls are concerned is for doing something he hasn’t yet been convicted of any crime for – establishing Megaupload Ltd. Wikipedia describes it as follows: “Megaupload was a file hosting and sharing online service in which users could share links to files for viewing or editing… The company was successful. However, millions of people from across the globe used Megaupload to store and access copies of TV shows, feature films, songs, porn and software. Eventually, it had over 150 employees, revenues of US$175 million and 50 million daily visitors. At its peak, Megaupload was estimated to be the 13th most popular site on the internet and responsible for four per cent of all internet traffic.”
The essence of the case against Kim Dotcom is that because his site enabled others to share files, he was responsible for them doing so. This an offence as far as the big media and film companies are concerned because they use their copyright laws to extract billions of dollars from you and I. In my view, copyright laws are essentially reactionary. They are not a right but a commercial privilege. They allow big business to charge monopoly prices far and above the actual costs of production. Ninety per cent of the benefits of these laws goes to one per cent of the writers, musicians or other artists.
The same argument can be made for other similar laws, like patents. Genuine right wing economists also oppose copyright as a barrier to free competition. Unlike them, however, I believe we need a system of public funding for artists and scientists that doesn’t require the erection of a system of monopoly pricing. This would allow true creativity to flourish, free from the whip or constraints of market demand. Drug companies, for example, would be contracted to find cures for genuine illnesses rather than the latest diet pill for the affluent.
Another argument against Kim Dotcom was that he treated his workers badly. There is no evidence of this at all. It is simply made up. It was true that there were a number of tradespeople and small businesses caught up in the legal action being taken against Kim Dotcom. His assets were frozen. Dotcom’s lawyers asked for enough to be released to settle the debts. The February 19, NZ Herald reported, “Opposition by police kept the money tied up, with the courts accepting in August 2012 that there was no ‘legal liability’ to release Dotcom’s restrained assets to pay debts of Megastuff, now called RSV Holdings.” The sum owed was about $500,000 in total. He always promised to pay all of the money owed, despite having no legal obligation to do so. The only problem was he had to do it all at once. He couldn’t pay off one before the other.
One of those contractors was a friend of mine. It irked him that Kim Dotcom was given a substantial living allowance for his family by the court – much more than he was able to earn as a small builder. It is a fact that the courts are generous to the already wealthy. Judges are paid a handsome salary to ensure that this remains so. The media could always find someone from this group to give voice to this resentment. But Kim Dotcom was always clear – everyone would be paid and at the same time. That could only happen when he and his family were able to receive the income from the establishment of a new file sharing company that could earn the funds needed. This is exactly what happened. Everyone has now been repaid in full.
When some leftist critics started saying that Kim Dotcom was a right winger or a neo-liberal there was no evidence on the public record that supported the assertion. I met him during the protests against the ammendments to the laws governing the GCSB and other spy agencies. If at any time he had such views, they were not apparent in his speeches. Moreover, even if he had such views people can change. This is especially true if the forces of international big business and the local state organise illegal spying on you, arrange an illegal raid on your home, detain you, and seek to extradite you to the US to face “racketeering” charges.
The left should be protesting these actions being taken against Kim Dotcom. It is a terrible threat to everyone’s civil liberties. The “racketeering” charges are an abuse of process. They were developed in the US to use against Mafia bosses. They were not designed for copyright violators. They have been introduced to justify the extradition request which couldn’t be done with lesser charges.
I was interested in hearing him speak at the Mana AGM when talks between the parties were beginning. He came across as a pretty typical German Social Democrat. He believes the poor should be protected. He favours the rich paying more taxes. He supports free education and getting rid of the student debt. From his experiences, he is for a radical dismantling of the national security state and repealing the laws allowing massive intrusions on personal privacy. He also explained he wasn’t always rich. He came from broken home. He knew hunger as a child.
The final argument against an alliance with Kim Dotcom is that it is somehow inappropriate for a left wing movement to take $3 million dollars from an individual. The fact is that every election in NZ costs the main parties millions of dollars. They get that money mostly from big business. That is true for National, Labour, Act and NZ First. National sell tickets for $5000 a head for dinner with John Key. The Maori Party used Key in the same way. A few years back, big business imposed Don Brash as leader of the National Party under threat of the withdrawal of their donations for the election. When that plan blew up, big business imposed Brash on the Act Party. Big business forced Act to dump Rodney Hide in Epsom and put in John Banks. All that happens in secret, behind closed doors. All Kim Dotcom has done is say openly what he is going to do. For The Internet-Mana Party, they have only one generous millionaire donor. National has probably hundreds who can share the burden among themselves. Labour has only a dozen or so. The Greens a handful. Act a few more. Does it make any sense that because Internet-Mana have one donor, the party should refuse his donation? Not to me it doesn’t.
There can be no “secret deal” that is the “price” imposed by Dotcom for that support. How do I know that? Other than also knowing the honesty and integrity of Laila Harre and the Mana Party leaders, there is no deal that can be made. The courts will decide the extradition. If they find in favour of the movie moguls, the Minister of Justice in the next government will make the final call. That person will not be a member of Internet-Mana. If Dotcom had wanted to influence the decision behind closed doors, he could have stayed out of the limelight and given the money to National or Labour or both, as a lot of businesses do. Instead, he has risked earning the enmity of any future government minister by his actions in supporting a new left wing alternative. The Internet-Mana Party, I am sure, will oppose his extradition as I would hope any left thinking, decent person would. That policy position is what a left party would do regardless of any donation. For the same reason, the left has opposed the raids on Kim Dotcom’s home, his illegal detention and the spying against him. We organised protest meetings featuring him on the platform. We received not a cent from him. We did it because it was the correct thing to do.
Kim Dotcom wants to take his revenge on this government. This is perfectly understandable. He has every reason to do so. In fact, given his treatment, he has more reasons than most. The most effective way for that to happen is for this government to be defeated in the coming election. The Mana-Internet party alliance is the best way to make that happen. He was smart enough to see that.
The current government has a modest but clear lead in most polls over the Labour Party and Green Party combined. NZ First cannot be trusted to change the government if they are holding the balance of power. The Maori Party needs to be taken out as a National support party.
Hone Harawira was also smart enough to see the possibilities. After all the other parties had been to the mansion to talk, he pushed for Mana to at least talk to the man. Mana discovered that there was a lot of common policy ground. Kim Dotcom realised that an alliance with Mana had the possibility of broadening the anti-government vote in an effective way – possibly enough to defeat this government. Hone drove a hard bargain. Three of the first four elected are Mana Movement members. The fourth is Laila Harre as Internet Party leader . She has the second position on the list. List positions five and six will be from the Internet Party; they alternate from there. This is a good deal for the left. Mana Movement General Secretary Gerard Hehir, who used to hold the same position in the Alliance Party, was a key strategist for the deal.
There is no obligation to continue the alliance indefinitely. Both parties maintain their own independence and their own policy programmes. The interim agreement has a joint slate for this election with a minimum common policy platform for the election. It has some bottom lines, such as not supporting the formation of a National government. Further collaboration beyond this election will be decided by the two parties. Having Laila Harre as leader of the Internet Party makes the possibility of future collaboration a stronger bet, but nothing is guaranteed in politics. The agreement that has been made for this election is good for both parties. It gives resources to Mana they did not have. It gives a chance for the Internet Party to get parliamentary representation more easily than being forced to pass the five per cent threshold so soon after their formation. Both results will strengthen the left presence in Parliament and make the election of another National Party government that much harder for the right to achieve.
Kim Dotcom addressing the Mana Movement AGM
There is every possibility that the Internet-Mana alliance will be able to expand the numbers voting for the left. There are many alienated younger voters who are waiting for a reason to vote. There are a number of former Labour voters disappointed that “their” party seems unable to break decisively with the pro-big business economic policy they carried when they were previously in government. There are a number of people concerned with the environment who don’t think the market will be a solution. These voters should be attracted by a genuine left wing movement. Unfortunately, Mana was unable to break out from being branded simply as a “Maori” party, at best, or a “racist Maori Party led by the baby-eating Hone Harawira”, at worst. It was never going to get beyond about one per cent of the vote in this election. It could hope for two seats at best.
The Internet-Mana Party allows the new alliance to reach out to all the disaffected. It has the potential to motivate discouraged voters and new voters to come out and make their voices heard. The new alliance has promised to resource the Mana Movement’s priority electorate campaigns where it has a real chance of winning, including Annette Sykes, the Mana candidate for Waiariki. Annette came a close second last election and with more resources will most likely take out Maori Party leader Te Ururoa Flavell. His defeat will eliminate the Maori Party from parliament. So we have the chance of not just adding to the left presence but of reducing the right’s presence by eliminating a support party for National.
Labour and the Greens are on about 42-45 per cent between them. This has been relatively stable. A little over three per cent of the vote for Internet Mana will give the left another four members of parliament. We then subtract three from the Maori Party. That could make the difference between victory and defeat. And what a foursome for Internet-Mana – Hone Harawira, Laila Harre, Annette Sykes, and John Minto. That’s a prospect worth fighting for.
(Unite National Director Mike Treen has a blog hosted on the TheDailyBlog website. The site is sponsored by several unions and hosts some of New Zealand’s leading progressive commentators. Mike’s blog will be covering union news and general political comment but the views expressed are his own and not necessarily those of Unite Union.)