Monday 24 June 2024

The Left’s Joyous Cherub: Keith Locke, 1944 - 2024.

The Struggle Continues: Keith Locke belonged to a generation that still believed in a world that could be, through struggle, relieved of its chains. That struggle constituted the core of a life lived with purpose, courage and determination. 

MANY NEW ZEALANDERS would, no doubt, have been surprised to discover that Keith Locke was 80 years old. There was always something of the cherub about the man which generally prompted guesses well south of his actual age. That youthfulness could also be applied to his ideals, which never soured with the passing of the years. Certainly, he reached the age of 80 without losing either his heart or his head. Indeed, there was a joyous naiveté about the man who finally succumbed to the twin ravages of Parkinson’s and Cancer on Friday, 21 June 2024.

Locke was what the Americans, rather unkindly, call a “red diaper baby”. The son of confirmed socialists Jack and Elsie Locke. That being the case, Locke had only two “historical” choices: to follow in his parent’s ideological footsteps, or execute an about-face and become a fierce champion of capitalism. It no doubt came as an immense relief to Jack and Elsie that their son not only kept the left-wing faith, but became (along with his sister Maire Leadbeater) one of its leading New Zealand missionaries.

It is telling, however, that when he returned from tertiary study in Canada to take up a lectureship in sociology at Victoria University in 1970, Locke declined to devote himself to either of the orthodox communist parties then operating in New Zealand.

When Moscow and Beijing parted ideological company in the “Sino-Soviet Split” of 1962, New Zealand and Albania were the only communist parties which sided with Mao Zedong and the Communist Party of China. After much internal wrangling, Moscow’s loyalists finally broke away to form the Socialist Unity Party in 1966.

Given that the SUP had all the flair and pep of a Soviet stamp-collectors congress, and the CPNZ’s ultra-leftism made Mao’s Red Guards look like Labour Youth, Locke’s decision to throw in his lot with the Trotskyites of the Socialist Action League (SAL) is entirely understandable.

Leon Trotsky, alongside Lenin himself, was indisputably the most able of the Bolshevik revolutionaries. His upper-class background, however, proved problematic. In a party increasingly composed of hard-bitten working-class battlers, Trotsky’s ostentatious love of “bourgeois” culture raised more than a few comrades’ hackles. Anyone who read French novels during meetings of the Central Committee was asking for trouble – which duly followed him into exile, and caught up with him in Mexico City where, in 1940, he met his death at the hands of an ice-pick-wielding Soviet assassin.

Was there ever any historical figure better suited to attracting the allegiance of middle-class rebels than this cinematic combination of dazzling intellectual, ruthless revolutionary, and sensitive reader of French literature? As the crimes of Stalinism became increasingly obvious, the global appeal of Trotsky – the man who should have succeeded Lenin – grew and grew. Although most of them will be quite unaware of the fact, whenever any politician consigns their political adversaries to “the dustbin of history” they are quoting Trotsky.

Trotskyism certainly found a loyal follower in Locke who, as editor of its newspaper Socialist Action, soon became one of the SAL’s key figures. It was in this role that Locke was to provide future opponents with statements that were, to say the least, embarrassing.

His too-early celebration of the Khmer Rouge’s takeover of Cambodia was to strike him again and again, like an avenging ideological boomerang, throughout his years as a Green Party Member of Parliament. While it is true that he didn’t know about Pol Pot’s killing fields when he wrote his celebratory articles – he should have guessed.

Locke’s naiveté was again in evidence following the Iranian Revolution of 1979, which Locke hailed as a victory for the Iranian working-class and its communist cadres. History would render a very different judgement – as would the Ayatollah Khomeini and his legions of deeply conservative Shite Muslim “revolutionary guards”, who never saw a crane that could not be improved by hanging an Iranian leftist from its hook.

Locke’s sojourn in the SAL proved personally costly in other ways. Like so many of his comrades, Locke allowed himself to be buried alive in the bowels of industrial capitalism. This “turn” to the New Zealand working-class involved men and women with impressive academic credentials – Locke had an MA from the University of Alberta and and was working toward a PhD in Sociology at Toronto when he returned to become a lecturer at Victoria – taking the jobs of honest workers in the car plants and freezing works of the nation.

Perhaps this “turn” was inspired by the sneering contempt in which the “bourgeois intellectual Trots” were held by their Maoist and Muscovite competitors. Nowhere is this scorn better captured than in “Socialist Action”, an excoriating parody of Peter Cape’s satirical ditty “Taumarunui – On the Main Trunk Line”. The Maoist bard was merciless:

They run the revolution
From the student union hall.
We’re down here on the picket-line
And we don’t see them at all.
They bring around a pamphlet
Maybe once or twice a year,
Saying ‘Forget about your wage demands,
You’re better off being queer.’

What is clear is that Locke, after 15 years in the SAL, many of them devoted to assembling cars and disassembling sheep, was ready for something else. He threw himself into international causes and became the proprietor of One World Books in Auckland’s Karangahape Road. But, if he remained hopeful of revolution breaking out overseas, Locke had finally reconciled himself to the fact that the only leftists who were going anywhere politically in New Zealand were those prepared to follow the “parliamentary road”.

Locke joined Jim Anderton’s NewLabour Party in 1989 and was quickly elected to the roles of foreign affairs and defence spokesperson. He could not, however, overcome Anderton’s ingrained suspicion of any NLP member further to the left than he was. Some up-and-comers Anderton had to endure – like Laila Harre and Locke’s old SAL comrade, Matt Robson – but at Locke, himself, the Alliance leader drew the line. Anderton was not prepared to ease him into Parliament. At Number 24 on the 1996 Alliance Party List there was little chance of that.

Locke’s chance came when the Greens decided to part company with Anderton’s Alliance in 1997. Alongside the former Maoist, Sue Bradford, the former Trot, Locke, secured himself one of the top seven slots on the Green Party List. If the party crossed the magic 5 percent MMP threshold, then this former lecturer, editor, car-assembler, freezing-worker, and bookseller would do what the spooks who had contributed so generously to his bulging SIS file believed to be impossible – enter the New Zealand House of Representatives.

Locke would serve four terms as a Green MP, acquitting himself impressively as the Party’s foreign affairs spokesperson. Few New Zealanders outside the circles of the more-than-rhetorical Left have any real appreciation of how steeped its members are in the great causes of their time. To a degree that would put most Labour, National, Act and NZ First MPs to shame, Locke was able to discourse knowledgably on every one of the many international issues for which he was expected to articulate the Greens’ position.

Locke departed Parliament in 2011, the same year as Phil Goff, whom he’d first encountered as a young left-wing firebrand back in the early 1970s. In sharp contrast to Goff, Locke kept the socialist faith right through, but, that said, both men almost certainly left Parliament at the right time. Because neither of them were truly ready for the changes that were, even in 2011, transforming the New Zealand Left – including Labour and the Greens. Locke was a good communist, and a passable eco-socialist, but he was not “woke”. His retirement was shrewdly calculated.

The contemporary New Zealand Left is many things, but “joyous” isn’t one of them. Locke belonged to a generation that still believed in a world that could be, through struggle, relieved of its chains. That struggle constituted the core of a life lived with purpose, courage and determination. At times, Keith Locke could be naïve, but he was never cruel. Even as the afflictions that claimed him wore down his body, he remained a gentle left-wing cherub. Aware of the darkness in the human soul, but always walking hopefully towards the light.

This essay/obituary was originally posted on the website on Monday, 24 June 2024.


New view said...

A great incite into the life of Keith Locke Chris. A complicated man who seemed to want to change the world for the better in his mind. Being a moderate righty I struggle with his thought processes but he obviously believed in socialism and communism. I guess those who follow that road dislike those with power money and who worship Capitalism. A naive view when we know that communism and socialism produce leadership just as corrupt and power hungry as anything Capitalism can dish up. I have no use for political extremes from any direction but as the left and right try to show their point of difference that’s what we have. I imagine Keith Locke may have been disappointed the National coalition and their agenda have got back into power.

Wayne Mapp said...

Nicely done.

I had many of the same responsibilities as Keith, although from a very different perspective. I enjoyed debating with him, both in the Debating Chamber and on Select Committee. As you state, he was well read. Though in the more formal aspects of international law, Kennedy Graham had a deeper knowledge.

As you note, the Pol Pot issue dogged Keith throughout his time in Parliament. Winston Peters kept tabling the relevant articles whenever they were both in the Chamber and Keith was speaking on foreign affairs.

One area that I particularly noted was the Green's position was the role of defence. I took on board their concerns that the NZDF needed to see Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) as a primary mission. That the NZDF should be both equiped and train for HADR tasks. With climate change affecting the South Pacific, this is bound to become a bigger role for the NZDF.

This helped to ensure that the 2010 Defence Review was broadly accepted across the Parliament. Not in all respects, but to a far greater extent than had been customary with previous National Governments. Though I think that my articles from the early 1990's in which I stated that the Skyhawks had no real value for New Zealand also helped establish my credentials across the Parliament.

David George said...

I don't know much of about Keith Locke beyond what's written above so I'm not going to write about him but about naïvety more generally. What possesses someone that they desperately defend an idea despite all evidence to the contrary? Emotional attachment? Lack of critical thinking? Cowardice?

The dyed in the wool communist comrades, for example, shipped off for a twenty year stretch to the Siberian gulags. As recounted by Solzhenitsyn they believed, right up to their sad and sorry end, that their glorious state wasn't a corrupt Hell; that the news that their imprisonment was all some sort of terrible mistake and they would be free to return to their loved ones would arrive any day now.

Or the Marxist allies of the Iranian Islamic revolution that, once the dust had settled, were rounded up in their tens of thousands and slaughtered. What the hell did they think they were supporting? Perhaps envy, resentment and hate towards the Shah had blinded them to the reality that they were helping enable something far far worse. "Useful idiots" barely begins to describe it.

Or the Hamas supporters rampaging through the streets as we speak. Perhaps they really believe they're on the side of noble freedom fighters; or perhaps it's something more sinister. Certainly the recent physical attacks on Jewish children and elderly, the vandalism of Jewish homes and businesses suggest their delusions have become, perhaps inevitably, fully malevolent. What possesses someone to take the side of murderous savages, the side of people that believe the rantings of a 5th century warlord are a reasonable basis to structure society, now and forever, and that take their lead from his "Book of Bad Ideas".

“Ideologies are substitutes for true knowledge, and ideologues are always dangerous when they come to power, because a simple-minded I-know-it-all approach is no match for the complexity of existence.”
― Jordan B. Peterson.

David George said...

A study investigating the 1981 Massacre in Iran.

While certainly not confined to the torture and murder of communists, Marxists and assorted leftists:
"between June 1981 and March 1982, the clerical rule carried out one of the largest mass execution of political opponents in Iranian history, including communists, socialists, social democrats, moderate Islamists, liberals, monarchists, and followers of the Bahá'í Faith. This massacre (hereafter called “the 1981 massacre”) could be considered the most extensive mass atrocity that was committed by the Islamic Republic of Iran after the 1979 revolution. This mass atrocity has received insufficient scholarly and legal attention over the past few decades."

"The theocratic regime secured its political survival by silencing, expelling, and eliminating thousands of intellectuals, academics, artists, poets, and young students. In the symbolic sense, the creation and destruction of mass graves symbolize the decisive victory of the state over its secular opponents. This symbolic victory was rendered possible by the physical, political, and spiritual eradication of all traces of resistance from the collective memory. In sum, the manifestation of state violence during the 1981 massacre embodies the fundamental characteristic of a political system that has built its foundations upon the disintegrated bodies and ruins of its political others."

These people are the allies and enablers of Hamas, the "freedom fighters" of the deluded fools in the West.

Mobfiz said...

Very well done. It is interesting to read of Locke's life and his political leanings. You do him justice I think. What is problematic though, is the subterfuge behind so called 'green' politics. We are accustomed to classifying those on the right as 'far' 'extreme' or 'ultra' but it seems that our left wing politicians and activists are shielded from public classification. Perhaps we can work it out ourselves but more often than not, we need your advice.

David George said...

Here's a lovely story:

A Jewish family named Karnofsky, who immigrated from Lithuania to the United States, took pity on the 7-year-old boy and brought him to their home.

There he stayed and spent the night in this Jewish family home, where for the first time in his life he was treated with kindness and tenderness.

When he went to bed, Mrs. Karnofski sang him Russian lullabies, which he sang with her.

Later he learned to sing and play several Russian and Jewish songs.
Over time, this boy became the adopted son of this family.

Mr. Karnofsky gave him money to buy his first musical instrument, as was the custom in Jewish families.

Later, when he became a professional musician and composer, he used these Jewish melodies in compositions such as St. James's Hospital and Go Down Moses.

The little boy grew up and wrote a book about this Jewish family, who adopted him in 1907.

In memory of this family and until the end of his life, he wore the Star of David and said that in this family he learned "how to live a real life and self-determination."

This little boy's name was Louis Armstrong. This little boy was called Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong. Louis Armstrong proudly spoke fluent Yiddish and “Satchmo” is Yiddish for “big cheeks, a nickname some say was given to him by Mrs. Karnofsky!

Anonymous said...

"Louis had many nicknames as a child, all of which referred to the size of his mouth: “Gatemouth,” “Dippermouth,” and “Satchelmouth.” During a visit to Great Britain, Louis was met by Percy Brooks, the editor of Melody Maker magazine, who greeted him by saying, “Hello, Satchmo!” (He inadvertently contracted “Satchelmouth” into “Satchmo.”) Louis loved the new name and adopted it for his own. It provides the title to Louis’s second autobiography, is inscribed on at least two of Louis’s trumpets, and is on Louis’s stationery."

"I was always led to believe ‘Satchmo’ was an abbreviation of ‘Satchel Mouth’. I also believe the Yiddish translation of Chubby Cheeks is diklekh bakn (דיקלעך באַקן)"