Russel Norman is a former Marxist and current co - leader of the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand.
Russel Norman, his background
Russel Norman was born in Brisbane, Australia in 1967.
The youngest of 6 children in a working-class family whose parents were Labor Party members, Norman, in his late teens, believed the Australian Labor Party had "embraced the new right."Socialist politics consequently drew him in.
He was to note that at the time when he finished high school and went to university "...I was one of only a few students from my state school year group to do so. It was very apparent that there was no equal access to opportunity for kids from state schools in Bjelke-Peterson’s Queensland. I cared deeply about issues of access to education, aboriginal dispossession, global poverty, inequality, sustainability etc (I still do!)." So around 1986 as a student, he joined the Democratic Socialist Party (or the Socialist Workers Party as it was known until it changed its name). They were, moreover, vocal on issues that really mattered to him. He was actively involved in this party for several years and was to say "I learned a lot from my youthful involvement in socialist party politics - it taught me a great deal about the world of political power and ideas. But it’s not where I am now." He was also a member of Resistance-the youth wing of the Australian Democratic Socialist Party.
In his native Australia, he was involved in many environmental and social justice campaigns; for example, student fees, union issues, Aboriginal land rights, peace issues and native forest logging.
He worked at a variety of jobs in Australia. Listing some of these, and in chronological order:
- 1988, Nurses Aid.
- 1989-90, Sheetmetal worker.
- 1990-2, Car assembly-line worker.
- 1994-5, Gardener.
Norman notes that he was involved in Green Party politics in the early to mid 1990's "because they believed in democracy, social justice and protecting the environment, and were trying to do something about it."
He consequently switched to environmental politics in Adelaide and became interested in the "red-green" Alliance Party led by Jim Anderton in New Zealand - the grouping that the Green Party left in 1997. He was most certainly active in the Australian Greens in 1995-6.
In the early 1990's, Norman "...decided that if I wanted to help address the causes of injustice, war and environmental destruction, I needed to properly educate myself about the world of politics..." He consequently aquired a BA (Hons) and in 1996-7, pursued and got a PhD in politics - his PhD was a study of the Alliance Party - at Macquarie University, Sydney.
State election candidate
At some point in the 1990's, Norman, described as "a red-headed lad", and an ex-medical student, stood as a state election candidate.
Contributor to Green Left Weekly
Between the years 1994-1999, Norman had contributed articles to the magazine of the Australian Democratic Socialist Party, Green Left Weekly, many of which indicated his interest in New Zealand politics. Indeed he was to say "... I wrote a few articles for Green Left Weekly about New Zealand politics because the magazine is widely read in progressive circles and I believed that others could learn a lot from the good things that were happening in New Zealand (i.e. the resistance to Rogernomics and Ruthanasia, and later, GE)." (The terms "Rogernomics" and "Ruthanasia" which are unique to New Zealand, were invented and popularised by the left in this country to describe what they regarded as right-wing economics). The following list displays in chronological order some of the subjects covered:
- 1994, an article on the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).
- 1996, an article on the New Zealand elections.
- 1996, an anti- New Zealand First Party article.
- 1997, an article entitled "Winston's Winebox is Empty". (This refers to an anti-corruption enquiry spearheaded by Winston Peters - the head of the New Zealand First Party).
- 1999, an article entitled "Labour Sinks Anti G.E. Bill." (G.E. refers to Genetic Engineering).
Move to New Zealand
In 1997, Norman moved to New Zealand. He is now a naturalised kiwi (New Zealander) and lives with his partner Katya.
Some of the work he persued in New Zealand other than his involvement with the Green Party included:
- 1997-9, Work as a farmhand on an organic farm.
- 1998-9, Organic market gardener in addition to work on native bush regeneration.
- 2001, Researcher/marker for a Unitech Not-for-Profit management course.
Involvement with the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand
Norman joined the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand in 1997 - the year he arrived in this country.
He was actively involved in rebuilding the Waiheke and Auckland Green organisations and in the local and national election campaigns in 1998-9. In that same year, Norman was editor of the Green Party's Auckland Provincial Newsletter.
Also, in 2001, he was Co-Convener of the Auckland Greens.
From 2001-2, Norman was the executive secretary for Green M.P. Sue Bradford in parliament.
In 2002, at the age of 35, he stood as a Candidate for the Green Party in Rimutaka. He gave a brief outline as to his credentials: "I currently work as Parliamentary Secretary/Researcher. I have a PhD in politics from Macquarie University, Sydney. I rent a house in Vogeltown but will be based at an organic farm on Moonshine Rd for the campaign. I have not previously been a Parliamentary candidate." In that same year, Norman was the Green Party representative on the Caucus and was also Number 17 on the Green Party parliamentary list.
It was noted that when he was the Green parliamentary researcher, he was able to persue some of his policy interests which included conservation, health, food safety, trade, foreign affairs, housing, the community sector and more.
From 2002-4, he was a researcher/advisor to the party.
In 2003-4, he was a member of the Executive Communications Committee in the party. Later, he was to become Number 10 on the party list. He also became the Green Party national campaign manager from December 2004.
In 2004-5, Norman was the Green Party convener and treasurer. He was also on the board of the Green Party magazine.
Norman was the initiator and Co-Convenor of the Auckland G.E. Free Coalition. (Genetic Engineering).
In 2001, Norman was the coordinator of the first big G.E. Free rally .
Also in that year, he was a member of Friends of Cactus Bay.
Around 2002-4, he was involved with the Wellington Forest and Bird Protection Society. In 2005, he was living in Mt. Cook, Wellington.
Will the real Russel Norman please stand up?
Although Norman joined the the extreme left-wing Australian Democratic Socialist Party around 1986, he claimed he had abandoned it several years later because "Eventually I found myself in opposition to their ideology and politics. I didn’t agree with the fundamental lack of democracy in Marxist-Leninist ideology and I didn’t think their theories took environmental sustainability seriously etc." but it is worthy of note that he nonetheless, and with no appearent reservations, contributed a number of articles, from 1994-1999, to the Green Left Weekly - the publication of the self-same Democratic Socialist Party!
On the one hand...
On the one hand, Norman, in the following statement, displays himself as being of the typical left: "Unfortunately, the neo-liberals / new right have taken over the right side of politics and have rejected their conservative and liberal forebears. They believe enough is never enough, and their embrace of endless consumption will destroy the planet. They have rejected the social liberals’ care for community and instead believe only in negative freedom, that is, freedom from state intervention. This means that poor kids never get a chance to eat properly, go to decent schools, or get decent healthcare because it just isn’t possible to raise the tax to pay for it. And they are happy to see the public sphere destroyed by monopoly media companies, and parliament debased by the executive, as we saw when the Rogernomes forced through the new right revolution against the popular will."
Further, Norman's following statement about the ACT Party can only help but reinforce one's perception as to a person irretrievably steeped in left-wing ideology:
"There is nothing liberal about Act. They are socially conservative and economically new right - the same position as United Future and a good chunk of National. My prediction is that in trying to hold Epsom, Hide will only make them more socially conservative and more economically new right. Perhaps in years ahead ex-Act people will look back on their time with that organisation and think “well I learnt a lot but thank goodness I left!” It is a sentiment to which I can relate."
On the other...
Norman, in the next breath, tries to give the appearance, at least, of having a balanced world view, as might be suggested in this next utterance: "...I’d like to say to those on the right that they should be less scared of ideas from the left or the green sides of politics. In the Greens we’ve learnt to take good ideas wherever they come from. We have accepted a basic idea of conservatism that “enough is enough”, and that ceaseless increase in material consumption, or ‘progress’, as the left has at times called it, does not make us happy and will destroy the planet. From the socialists and social liberals we take the importance of equal opportunity – the positive freedom to have decent food, housing, healthcare and education. It’s only when you have these things that you have freedom to do all the other things in life. From liberalism we have taken the centrality of the rule of law, the division of powers between executive, legislature and judiciary, and the importance of a vital public sphere where ideas can be freely discussed. And we even agree with the neo-liberals on the key role for the market, just not at the expense of people and the planet."
Balance: Left and Extreme-Left?
Norman's critics say he hasn't escaped his authoritarian socialist heritage - some Greens call him arrogant and high-handed.