Friday, 18 July 2014

Introduction

In a major contribution to the development of a cogent and insightful counter hegemony in Aotearoa former Green MP and lifelong left-militant Sue Bradford has made public her thesis "A major left wing think tank in Aotearoa—an impossible dream or a call to action".

The product of 3 years PhD research with Professor Marilyn Waring at AUT’s Institute of Public Policy, the thesis sought sort to ascertain: 
  • Why no major left wing think tank had developed in Aotearoa, despite the existence of right and centre think tanks.
  • Whether there was any support from left academics and activists for such an entity (or entities).
  • If there was support, what was the nature of any think tank they would like to see established?
  • What did the state of the activist left in Aotearoa 2010 – 2013 indicate about the possibility or otherwise of establishing of a left wing think tank?
  • With such an initiative in mind, what might be learned from the experiences of some of the think tank-like left organisations that had already existed in New Zealand in the period 1990-2013?
Immediately below is Sue’s Summary of the papers findings and below that an article on the topic , by Sue, published in  Foreign Control Watchdog 130 (August 2012). The full paper can be downloaded here.

A major left wing think tank in Aotearoa - A Summary


A major left wing think tank in Aotearoa—an impossible dream or a call to action? - a summary

By: Sue Bradford, 16th July, 2014

In 2010-2013 I undertook PhD research with Professor Marilyn Waring at AUT’s Institute of Public Policy, aiming to find out:
Download the full document
  • Why no major left wing think tank had developed in Aotearoa, despite the existence of right and centre think tanks.
  • Whether there was any support from left academics and activists for such an entity (or entities).
  • If there was, what was the nature of any think tank they would like to see established?
  • What did the state of the activist left in Aotearoa 2010 – 2013 indicate about the possibility or otherwise of establishing of a left wing think tank?
  • With such an initiative in mind, what might be learned from the experiences of some of the think tank-like left organisations that had already existed in New Zealand in the period 1990-2013?
Because the research was so bound up in the world of ‘left’ and ‘think tanks’ it was important to provide definitions of these concepts before I started interviewing people.  

Left: a commitment to working for a world based on values of fairness, inclusion, participatory democracy, solidarity and equality, and to transforming Aotearoa into a society grounded in economic, social, environmental and Tiriti justice.

This definition was deliberately intended to be as inclusive as possible of the spectrum of ‘left’ from social democracy and the Greens through to the farther reaches of socialism, anarchism and communism, hence it was  unlikely to please everyone.

Think tank: A community based not for profit organisation which undertakes detailed research and policy development in order to influence and enhance public policy formation across a broad range of issues, through publications, media work, lobbying, conferences, workshops and other forms of advocacy and education.

I chose not to include think tanks that are totally within universities, polytechnics or wānanga; government and church based think tanks; and transnational bodies.  This definition was chosen solely for the purposes of the thesis because I considered the most likely form of major left wing think tank to be created in Aotearoa in the near future is one that is based at least partially in the community and union sector.

Methodology and methods 

I used a qualitative methodology called ‘political activist ethnography’ as a way of maintaining academic rigour while carrying out research which had the overt purpose of attempting to help the left activist world from which I come.  I interviewed 51 left activists and academics from around New Zealand and kept a thesis journal of observation, analysis and reflection for three years.
a) During the interviews and in my thesis journal I explored what was going on in the left activist world of the time, as well as asking participants what they thought about the state of the left and about the idea of one or more major left wing think tanks.  Particular activist developments during the research period included Occupy, Mana, the Living Wage campaign and renewed student, union and welfare activism in some places.     
b) I briefly examined nine left wing think tanks overseas, including the Search Foundation, the Australia Institute and the Centre for Policy Development (Australia); the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and Canada Without Poverty (Canada); the New Economics Foundation and the Green House Think Tank (UK); the Jimmy Reid Foundation (Scotland); and the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation (Germany). 
c) The thesis also looked at seven ‘nascent’ left wing think tanks in New Zealand, community based organisations that have (or had) think tank-like characteristics: the Alternative Welfare Working Group, the Bruce Jesson Foundation, CAFCA (Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa), the Child Poverty Action Group; the Fabian Society, AUWRC (Auckland Unemployed Workers Rights Centre), and Kotare Trust, Research and Education for Social Change in Aotearoa.  A number of other initiatives were also discussed, including the Jobs Research Trust and ARENA (Action, Research and Education Network Aotearoa).
The study became in effect:
  • A rare opportunity for the NZ left (or at least some of it) to take a reasonably detailed look at itself at a particular point in history.
  • A feasibility study in relation to the possible establishment of one or more left wing think tanks.
Findings

(1) State of the left

  Negative
There was an almost overwhelming sense that the left was on the losing side of a long term struggle against the power of the neoliberal agenda and its political proponents. Left parliamentary parties were seen as edging to the centre and right.  Pasifika participants indicated a right wing shift in their communities. Divisions were noted in te ao Māori, with the impact of iwi corporatisation making itself felt.  In 2012 the broader community sector was seen as having become almost completely colonised by the values and practices of state and business.
The accompanying sense of loss and despair contributed to what some identified as a reduction in left confidence.  Some participants noted a lack of courage & risk taking among activists.  Organisational fragility and the negative effect of difficult individuals in groups were also mentioned.  Substantial comment was made about the phenomenon of ‘mindless activism’, a lack of sufficient time dedicated to thinking and strategising, of a dearth of spaces and opportunities where activists and their organisations could move beyond the superficial.
  Positive 
At the same time, there were many signs of hope, in the work of groups identified as ‘nascent’ left wing think tanks, in the emergence of activities such as Occupy, renewed student radicalism and the development of welfare activist group Auckland Action Against Poverty. There was surprisingly wide respect for Mana, including from people not affiliated to it in any way.
Among the radical left some organisations were attracting more young people; groups were attempting to abandon alienating jargon; there was increased receptivity to listening to the views of others and debating across traditional sectarian lines; there was growing willingness to cooperate on actions, meetings and campaigns; and I found a healthy respect for other generations than one’s own.
Building left power - ways forward
One of the things I was keenest to discover through the research was whether the left in Aotearoa offered fertile ground for the development of one or more major left wing think tanks, or not.  I was also interested in the broader question of what other strategies might be critical to developing counter hegemonic power more effectually than we had done in the past.  I identified four significant factors critical to building a more robust left counter force to neoliberal capitalism in Aotearoa post-2013.
A shared dream – an ideological home.  For some on the left, there was a sense that there was no place, no party or movement where they felt completely at home ideologically. Existing parties and movements provided this for some people, but for others the sense of yearning for something that did not yet exist was palpable. 
Courage and the will to power.  A second theme to emerge was the need for more of us on the left to become braver, more aware that courage and the will to power are core attributes of successful and sustainable activist practice.  This applied to those in the academy too, with respect paid to those within wānanga, universities and polytechnics who continue to demonstrate that an overt commitment to left kaupapa can accompany a productive academic career. 
Theory matters.  It became clear through the research process that many on the left recognised the importance of theories and theoretical debate as one aspect of strengthening the intellectual and practical capacity of left organisations and movements.  
A thoughtful left is a potent left.   Despite the sterling efforts of many groups and individuals, there was an urgent need for more opportunities for the left to become more thoughtful.  It was seen as imperative that we develop the spaces and free up the time to talk deeply together, confront and provoke each other (respectfully), undertake research and education, and explore new and effective ways of organising.    
State of the left: summary 

The left in Aotearoa 2010-2013 did provide potentially fertile ground for a think tank project.  All those I interviewed supported the idea, in some shape or form and despite a number of specific reservations.  The experiences of the nascent left wing think tanks demonstrate a reservoir of experience and knowledge that has barely been tapped, should any implementation groups choose to learn from some or all of their stories.  While there was a wide sense of desperation and loss of confidence, that in itself may actually spur on the creation of a think tank, as this fits so closely with the consciousness of the need to move beyond ‘mindless activism’.  

The lack of a party or movement to call ‘home’ is a big gap for many on the left.  For some of us, there is an urgent need for an organisation capable of mobilising and inspiring a far wider range of people than any existing organisation had been able to achieve by mid-2013.  

(2) Left wing think tanks

Multiple possibilities
There are many permutations possible, but there could be a place in Aotearoa for at least three major left think thinks: social democratic, green and left radical.  The question of what might work for the Māori left and for Pasifika and other migrant peoples is of course up to those involved, but with the right ground work it is possible they could be an integral part of any or all of these initiatives – or independent option(s) may well be preferred.

I doubt very much that it would be possible to build one sustainable pan-left think tank, as the divisions between the radical and the social democratic left are too fundamental.

What would it take to set up a major left wing think tank?
  • Money is an issue, especially at the radical end of the spectrum.  However, there are many ideas about how resourcing might be established, and international examples to consider. 
  • An important first step is to make the concept visible and viable.
  • Such viability will depend on the coming together of a group of skilled, dedicated people with a clearly defined and agreed kaupapa.
  • It is important that it not align with any one political party.
  • Maori involvement and/or good relationships between any initiative and allied rōpū are critical.
  • High quality research and policy work are essential.
  • Any think tank initiative(s) would be an opportunity to build stronger links between the academic and activist left, to the benefit of all.
Research participants offered a stimulating breadth of ideas about potential think tank activities, kaupapa and structures.  These are listed in the thesis and will be a resource of interest to any future implementation project(s).  I deliberately chose not to develop a blueprint or template for the creation of a think tank, as in line with sound community development practice, any sustainable and left-consistent initiative will need to be a collective rather than individual effort. 

Four recommendations for action:

In my experience, it is never a good idea for anyone on the left to presume to tell others what to do.  However, in the spirit in which this research was carried out – as a piece of work which may help to inform the development of a stronger left counter hegemony in Aotearoa – I offer these four recommendations for action.
1 One or more think tank initiatives will be possible if some individuals decide to form a committed group to make a project happen, and have the fortitude to dedicate themselves to such a difficult, long haul enterprise.  If more than one project develops, that should be an occasion for rejoicing, not rivalry.  My personal interest is in the possibility of developing a think tank on the transformational left. 
2 Union and community activists need to keep sustaining and developing effective, relevant and creative unions and organisations.  Without that, a think tank – at least on the radical left - will not have the support to flourish anyway.  
3 The left in Aotearoa is more powerful than any of us realise. One thing that was revealed very clearly during the research was that there are many more of ‘us’ than any of us realise.  We need to find each other and be a whole lot more proactive about making this part of our activist and academic lives. 
4 We need to nourish courage and the will to power across and among generations.  We will be collectively stronger if we build organisations we truly believe in rather than simply accepting the limitations of existing options.


A Major Leftwing Think Tank In Aotearoa

Call To Action Or Impossible Dream?

- Sue Bradford

This article first appeared in Foreign Control Watchdog 130 August 2012. 

I was much taken with Brian Easton’s article “Rogernomics And The Left”in Foreign Control Watchdog 129. Among other things, Brian contrasts the power and influence which the business community and its think tanks have exerted on Governments in this country with the scarcity of institutions capable of fostering debate and policy renewal on the Left side of the political spectrum. The lack of any substantial Leftwing think tank in Aotearoa is something which has nagged at me since around 1990 when I first recall conversations with friends and colleagues lamenting the absence of any organisation with the wherewithal to counter the influence the New Zealand Business Round Table (NZBRT) was then having on successive Labour and National governments.

In later years I felt the gap again, when as a Green MP in the 2000s I saw firsthand the extensive influence the Maxim Institute exerted over Parliamentary, media and public discourse on legislation, particularly in relation to controversial social issues such as the Prostitution Reform Bill and my own Member’s Bill amending s59 of the Crimes Act (which came to be popularly labelled as the Anti-Smacking Bill. Ed.). After I quit Parliament in October 2009 I realised, in a somewhat post-traumatic kind of way, that this was a good opportunity to take stock, both personally and politically, in terms of looking at what I did next. While the economic imperative suggested I get out and attempt to secure a reasonably well paid job as quickly as possible, this was countered by the thought that at last here was a rare opportunity in my headlong activist life to take a step back and attempt some deeper research and writing for a change.

The issue which was very much on my mind back then, after ten years in Parliament, was the lack of genuine depth and vision in policy development on the Left – and overall, the absence of time and space for us to simply ‘think’ together – to debate, discuss and even dissent from each other in the way Brian talks about in his article. This reflection then lead me in a natural progression back to my earlier questioning about why we don’t  have a major Leftwing think tank in New Zealand anyway, and what it might take to set one up.

I approached Professor Marilyn Waring at the Auckland University of Technology’s Institute of Public Policy to see if she would be willing to take a Parliamentary refugee under her wing as a doctoral candidate. Much to my delight, she provided total backing for my proposed PhD as primary supervisor and helped me negotiate my somewhat tenuous way back into the academic world which I’d left some decades earlier. So here I am, several years later, half way through a PhD which considers the key question: “A major Leftwing think tank in Aotearoa - an impossible dream or a call to action?”

When Murray Horton invited me to contribute an article to Watchdog, I suddenly realised that this was an opportunity to let people on the Left in Aotearoa – and elsewhere - know what I was up to, and to invite feedback and comment from anyone who might have an interest in this question. Some information about my thesis project follows, and my contact email address is available at the end of this article – please feel free to get in touch.

Defining “Left”

It quickly became apparent that one of the first things I needed to do if I was to pursue this topic in any meaningful way was to identify a working definition of “Left” that others as well as myself might consider relevant and useful in Aotearoa in 2012. If I was going to talk about a “Leftwing think tank”, what in fact did I mean by “Left”? After a considerable amount of reading and pondering, and chasing down many interesting and time consuming byways, I came up with this preliminary definition:

Left: a commitment to working for a world based on values of fairness, inclusion, participatory democracy, solidarity and equality, and to transforming Aotearoa into a society grounded in economic, social, environmental and Tiriti justice. I am well aware that any definition, including this one, will be open to almost infinite critique, but I needed something that I could use as a starting point. In the interviews which I am carrying out for this research, I am asking participants to feel free to amend this definition and/or offer their own if they wish. 

I am also conscious that this definition won’t be setting radical hearts on fire, but it has been formed for academic rather than inspirational purposes. In terms of a shorthand way of identifying what I mean by “Left”, another means of cutting it is to clarify that for this research project I am defining “Left” as anyone who identifies themselves as such, and who is at any place on the Left spectrum from Labour, Green and Mana Left, through to the farther shores of extra-Parliamentary Left social democracy, socialism, eco-socialism, socialist feminism, Communism, anarcho-syndicalism (and varieties thereof).

Defining “Think Tank”

The second key term I had to grapple with in embarking on this study was, of course, the concept of “think tank”. There is a huge international academic literature on think tanks, and even a think tank specialising in the study of think tanks, the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program at the University of Pennsylvania. While the term was first used by the United States during the Second World War to describe secure locations where military personnel and civilians could work on war strategies together (McGann & Sabatini, 2011), in fact histories often include mentions of organisations whose antecedents substantially predate this. For example, one writer reckons that the first think tank was in fact the Society for the Abolition of the African Slave Trade, set up by Thomas Clarkson in England in 1782 (Goodman, 2005), while another suggests that the Fabian Society, established in England in 1884, was an early example (Stone, 1996).

There are many different types of think tank, from very local through to transnational, and expressing perspectives from every different part of the political spectrum. Worldwide there has been an exponential growth in their number over the last few decades, and by one recent account there are now over 6,000 think tanks in 169 countries (McGann & Sabatini, 2011). Defining ‘think tank’ proved to be almost as difficult as attempting to define “Left”. Both are ever-shifting terms, with definitions as various as there are academics to make the definition. In the end I came up with this:

Think tank:  a community based not for profit organisation which undertakes detailed research and policy development in order to influence and enhance public policy formation across a broad range of issues, through publications, media work, lobbying, conferences, workshops and other forms of advocacy and education. This is highly arbitrary, excluding many types of think tank which would fall into a broader standard definition, for example, policy institutes wholly or mainly funded by governments or religious networks or institutions, those based entirely within universities, and transnational think tanks. I decided to keep these out of scope for my research because (a) I believe it is highly unlikely that any New Zealand government in the foreseeable future will substantially fund a Leftwing think tank (although I’d love to be proved wrong); (b) I wanted to limit the scope to the possibility of setting up a Left think tank in this country, rather than aim to be trans national in the first instance;  and (c) I sought to focus my study on the potential or otherwise to develop a think tank from a community sector base, rather than from or within a religious institution or university. This is not to preclude the possibility that any new entity might have some association – including funding and/or contracting arrangements – with academic, church, governmental or other bodies.

Leftwing Think Tanks Internationally

It will come as little surprise to readers of Watchdog that internationally there are far more think tanks on the Right of the political spectrum than there are on the Left, wielding substantially more influence than their progressive counterparts (Hart & Vromen, 2008; Hassan, 2008; Rich, 2004) . The Heritage Foundation is one of the best known of the influential US Rightwing think tanks, and has even spread its influence directly into Aotearoa in recent times, where it has provided at least $84,000 to fund the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition, a lobby group which has worked hard to deny the existence of human induced climate change (Davison, 2012; Renowden, 2012).

And as I pointed out in an earlier article for Watchdog on welfare reform (Watchdog 125, December 2010, “Alert On Welfare Reforms: TNC Agenda Lurks Here, Too” ), Rightwing think tanks internationally, and particularly in the US, have deliberately and effectively driven a conservative welfare agenda for decades, impacting heavily on countries including the US, the UK, Australia and New Zealand. Again, it will come as no surprise to readers to learn that a range of studies also demonstrate that, internationally, think tanks of the Right and Centre attract a relatively high level of funding compared to those on the Left, and that conservative funding tends to have fewer strings attached in terms of constraining the scope of a think tank’s activities. 

Conditions for the development of Leftwing think tanks differ hugely from country to country. To give just one notable example at the positive end of things, in Germany the Government funds major think tanks for each political party in the Bundestag as part of its post-war commitment to nourishing democracy. The Rosa Luxemburg Foundation based in Berlin is the think tank attached to Die Linke (The Left), employing over 100 staff. Its main project is currently focused on “…working towards strategising Left politics and democratic-socialistic transformation of the current capitalistic society.” (Foundation, 2012). This is certainly a very different situation than the experience of Left think tanks in most other jurisdictions, where they exist at all. 

As part of my research, I plan to describe a sample  of six Leftwing think tanks based in four countries comparable to New Zealand in order to provide current comparisons with what has and hasn’t been happening here, and to offer information and insights for any new initiatives which may eventuate in this country. These six groups are the Centre for Policy Development and the Search Foundation (Australia), Canada Without Poverty and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (Canada), the Green House Think Tank (England), and the Jimmy Reid Foundation (Scotland).

I have chosen these organisations from a much wider pool of international Left think tanks because they represent a reasonably diverse sample in terms of size, age, ideology, structure and location, and because they are situated in countries with which we share a common language and similar political traditions. There are many Left think tanks in the United States, but I have excluded consideration of American examples, interesting though that would have been, because the philanthropic environment for progressive institutions and for think tanks generally is so much more benign there than in countries like Australia and New Zealand.

Think Tanks In New Zealand

Despite the steep rise in the number of think tanks around the world, especially from the 1970s onwards, New Zealand was a relative latecomer. Its first major think tank, the NZBRT, started life as a group of company chief executives who adopted the name “Roundtable” around 1980, before establishing a permanent office in 1986 (Kerr, 1990). Other think tanks on the Right and Centre of the political spectrum have also been established including the New Zealand Institute, the Ecologic Foundation, the Institute of Policy Studies, the Centre for Strategic Studies, the Sustainable Future Institute and the Maxim Institute. Of these, the Maxim Institute with its focus on family and social issues from a conservative perspective, and the New Zealand Institute, which arose out of the Knowledge Wave conferences of 2001 and 2003, have achieved substantial media and public prominence, alongside the NZBRT. 

Shortly after the death of Roger Kerr in October 2011 after 25 years as Executive Director of the NZBRT, the NZBRT and the New Zealand Institute announced their intention to merge into one organisation in April 2012. This they have done, under the name “New Zealand Initiative”, with Roger Partridge (formerly NZBRT) and Tony Carter (formerly NZI) as Co-Chairs, and German-born economist Dr Oliver Hartwich as Executive Director. The New Zealand Initiative’s mission is, in its own words,  “…to promote a prosperous, free and fair society with a competitive, open and dynamic economy.” (Initiative, 2012). Among other things, Dr Hartwich has been a Research Fellow at the Centre for Independent Studies in Sydney, and chief executive of the Policy Exchange in the UK, both renowned Rightwing think tanks.

While there has been a small amount of published comment about the lack of think tank activity generally in New Zealand (Crothers, 2008; B.  Easton, 2003)  and about the absence of any major Leftwing think tank (Choat, 2010; Edwards, 2009) there has been no  research into why no Leftwing equivalent of the Right and Centre think tanks exists in New Zealand, what people on the Left think about the very concept of “think tank”, or into what it might take to establish such an entity. As far back as 1995 Jane Kelsey wrote about the need to avoid anti-intellectualism,  develop “well-resourced critical think-tanks”, and that “uncoordinated research by isolated critics can never compete” (Kelsey, 1995, p. 374). 

I come to my own research project in 2012 with an instinctive sense that what Jane was saying nearly two decades ago is even more relevant now than it was then. The twin ecological and economic crises and the ever greater power of transnational capital and its institutions over our lives are issues which confront us daily. Like Jane in 1995, I believe that without our own institutions on the Left which have the intellectual, research and advocacy firepower to begin to counteract the forces arrayed against us, we on the Left are always going to be very much on the back foot. However, I make no assumptions about what others on the Left might think. One of the main things I am keen to uncover through this research is whether others besides myself and a few friends think the idea of a Leftwing think tank(s) is a sound one, or not. I am well aware that there may well be a general sense among Leftwing academics and activists that such an enterprise(s) is neither desirable, nor possible. The answer to this is a major part of what I am keen to find out.

“Nascent” Left Think Tanks – Community Sector Organisations Which Carry Out Some Of The Functions Of Think Tanks

Early on in my research, I came to realise that while no major Leftwing think tank has developed in New Zealand during the timeframe of my study (1990 – 2012), in fact there have been and continue to be a number of community based organisations, networks and initiatives which have undertaken – and, in some cases, continue to carry out - some of the functions of a think tank. I believe there is much that can be learned from their experiences, and that the seeds of a future successful Left think tank (or tanks) may well lie in what is revealed through their stories. I have chosen to term these organisations and projects “nascent” Left think tanks for the purposes of this research, and I plan to describe the history and functions of eight of these, with detailed case studies of two in particular, as part of my study.

The sample I have chosen includes the Alternative Welfare Working Group (2010), the Auckland Unemployed Workers Rights Centre (AUWRC, 1983-1999),  the Bruce Jesson Foundation (2000-present), Watchdog’s very own  Campaign against Foreign Control of Aotearoa  (1974-present), the Child Poverty Action Group (1994-present), the Fabian Society (2010-present), the Jobs Research Trust (1994-2006) and Kotare Research and Education for Social Change in Aotearoa Trust (1999-present). 

I selected these eight organisations from a substantially longer list, having felt the need to confine the number under investigation to a manageable quantity. The reasons for including these particular groups include that they are or were community based and not for profit; have some or all of the characteristics of a “think tank” as per my preliminary definition; that they clearly operate(d) within some aspect of my working definition of “Left”, and that they represent a variety of Left ideological positionings and priorities. The two organisations which I will examine in a more detailed way are the think tank-like aspects of the work of AUWRC and the Kotare Trust.

Design Of The Study

My research does not pretend to be unbiased or objective, but is that of an insider studying the world from which I come – the Left in Aotearoa, in which I have been politically active since 1967. As I go into this research, I genuinely do not know or assume any particular answer to the question I am asking: A major Leftwing think tank in Aotearoa—an impossible dream or a call to action?  Uncovering an answer—or a range of answers—is what I intend to explore, to more specific questions like: What do people on the Left think of the idea of a major Leftwing think tank – a good idea or not?  Why hasn’t one developed so far?  If it is a good idea, what would it take to set one up?  Where would resourcing come from?  What role should or could such an entity (or entities) take in relation to te ao Maori and the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi?... And so on.

In terms of research methods, I am planning to carry out semi-structured interviews with up to 50 Left wing academics and activists from around New Zealand, some of whom will have had involvement with one or more of the eight nascent Left think tanks I identified earlier.  This is actually quite a high number of participants for this type of research, but already I am concerned that there are many more people with whom I would like to talk – and who may be interested in talking to me – than the number I am able to interview directly within the methodological framework of this study. In this vein, and as mentioned above, I welcome any comment or queries you might have upon reading this article.

As well as the interviews, I will also be analysing documents from a number of sources, including material from and about the six international Left think tanks and the eight local nascent Leftwing think tanks. In the final phase of my research, and once it is complete, I will also look for opportunities to share or workshop my research findings with any group or network which has a particular interest. My full thesis will be available for free online via Scholarly Commons  once it’s done, and I intend to produce a short report to be published as well. I will also welcome further opportunities to write about my research findings as they unfold.

Why Am I Doing This Research?

I started discussing my reasons for undertaking this project early on in this article, but to expand and summarise:

1 There is no existing substantive research on the question of a Leftwing think tank in Aotearoa, and I believe that the work I am doing will start to fill a gap which has long been noted by some Left academics and activists. 
2 There is no major Leftwing think tank in existence in New Zealand. My hope is that the process of the research itself, and its findings, may assist in leading to the establishment of such an organisation – or organisations. 
3 There is very little academic literature in New Zealand relating to think tanks despite a wide ranging literature internationally, so this research will be a small contribution towards filling this gap. However, it is probably worth noting that my focus is very much on the concept of a Leftwing think tank and related issues. Apart from contextualising, this study is not aimed at providing a work on the history and influence of Right and Centre think tanks in Aotearoa. 
4 The presentation of a small selection of case studies of international Left think tanks based in comparable jurisdictions may well be helpful to anyone considering establishing a Leftwing think tank in Aotearoa, in providing some examples of what other have achieved, and how. 
5 I hope that this research will provide an insight into the history, roles and influence of the community based organisations which I have identified as “nascent” Left think tanks, especially through the two more detailed case studies, adding to the growing literature about and from the community and voluntary sector in New Zealand. 
6 As a by-product of the core thesis question, my expectation is that this study will assist in generating insights into how the Left in Aotearoa sees itself at a given historical moment – the second half of 2012; and through this, make a small but possibly significant contribution to the historical and political record of the New Zealand Left’s perception of itself. 

Some key events have happened over the past year, for example the Occupy experience, the rise of the Mana political party, the development of a consciously “eco-socialist” strand in New Zealand Left thinking, and a revival of extra-Parliamentary street activism in the face of a highly reactionary second term National government. It seems an opportune time to take some soundings on how people view current and recent developments, and the key strategic tasks which lie ahead.

Brian Easton’s recent Watchdog article concludes with a challenge:

“The likelihood is that the Key government will be too timid to address the evolving issues facing New Zealand including big ones like globalisation, social inequality and the environment as well as a myriad of smaller issues. The danger remains that there may be a repeat of Muldoon’s legacy in which a future Government of the Left has to introduce major radical modernisation to resolve its predecessor’s failures to respond to change, while handicapped by the limitations that these failures cause. Will the incoming Government be as bereft of analysis and vision as the Left was after Muldoon?  Last time the consequence was Rogernomics” (Watchdog 129, April 2012, ).

Is This All That We Can Expect?

A rerun of the 1980s, for those of us old enough to remember, when the party that was supposed to represent the aspirations of ordinary people sold us and our country out to the highest bidders, in part because the Left of the Labour caucus was so dim on economics and so unwilling to stand up to persuasive ideologues that their very ideological core was stolen out from under them. And the addition of the new-generation Greens to the mix will not necessarily improve our prospects, at least from the perspective of those of us who believe that we need to go beyond the greening of capitalism to achieve truly transformative and successful economic, social, ecological and Tiriti justice.

I continue to hold a small flame of hope that we just may be able to find ways in which Left social democrats, socialists, eco-socialists and anarchists can build organisation(s) that will allow us to develop the intellectual, research and advocacy depth we need to take on a brutal economic system – and maybe start winning one day. Such organisations can and will take many forms, but I reckon one of them is that of “think tank”.

References                                             

Hart, P., & Vromen, A. (2008). "A new era for think tanks in public policy? International trends, Australian realities". The Australian Journal of Public Administration, 67(2), 135-148. doi:10:1111/j.1467-8500.2008.00577.x

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