Friday, 18 June 2021

Losing The "Struggle-Session" Over Climate Change.

Blaming And Shaming: A "property owner" is humiliated before the masses during Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution. Critical Race Theory may substitute "White Privilege" for "Class Privilege", but the inescapability of the offending group's responsibility for "oppression" is exactly the same. The self-abasement of School Strike For Climate Auckland for its "racist" crimes against People of Colour is grimly reminiscent of Mao's Red Guards' "struggle sessions" against the enemies of the Revolution. 

THE GREAT WEAKNESS at the heart of Critical Race Theory (CRT) is its wilful ignorance of History and Anthropology. Its demonisation of “Whites”, along with the civilisations they created, owes more to religion than it does to science. A scientist would quietly explain to the adherents of CRT that the whole concept of race – especially when conflated with skin colour – is deeply flawed. That, genetically-speaking, the human species has always been one and indivisible. Culture may have elevated morphological differences into social, economic and political barriers, but such artificial barriers have always been the cause of racism – not the solution to it.

Just this week we have witnessed CRT in action in the “decision” of School Strike For Climate Auckland (SSFCA) to wind itself up. In spite of its obvious success in mobilising tens-of-thousands of mostly secondary-school students; and materially influencing the breadth and speed of the New Zealand Government’s response to the challenges of Anthropogenic Global Warming; SSFCA – “advised” by Maori and Pasifika groups also engaged in fighting Climate Change – declared themselves to be a racist organisation and handed over the entire cause to their slightly darker-skinned comrades.

The statement released by SSFCA was heart-breaking. To find an historical precedent for the document’s abject self-negation and unqualified acknowledgement of guilt it is necessary to go back to the “struggle sessions” of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution of the late-1960s. Or, even further back, to the “confessions” tremulously delivered by the broken victims of Joseph Stalin’s show trials in the 1930s. The shaming and vilification required to reduce these idealistic young people to a state of such utter intellectual prostration proves conclusively that human viciousness is not a trait peculiar to those whose skins are white.

The fate of the School Strike For Climate Movement in New Zealand must now be considered tenuous – at best. Across the country, activists will be struggling to come to terms with SSFCA’s decision. What should they do? Continue mobilising their generation against the greatest existential threat of our age? Do their best to fight off the CRT-based attacks on their alleged “white privilege” and racism? Or, should they, too, hand over the cause to Maori and Pasifika?

The temptation to adopt the latter course will be very strong. Although the School Strike For Climate Movement can put thousands of young people on the street, it is important to bear in mind that the organisational cores of such movements are actually quite small. Certainly, they are small enough to be intimidated and overwhelmed by CRT extremists ready, willing and able to wear them down in struggle-sessions of ever-increasing emotional intensity. If hardened Chinese Communists, veterans of Mao’s Long March, could be broken by such methods, it’s difficult to see Kiwi secondary-school kids resisting such unrelenting ideological pressures for very long.

The natural human response to such tactics is to say “F**k it!” and simply walk away. Sadly, it won’t just be the activists doing the walking. What’s the bet that a substantial number of those who formerly responded to the SSFC Movement’s calls will walk away with them? Word will spread about what happened in Auckland (and, other places) and a bright, sharp, sliver of iron will enter these young New Zealanders’ souls. They will struggle to resist the temptation to make a racist response, and yet, from somewhere deep inside them, the angry cry will rise: “Bastards!”

“You see?”, the CRT extremists will then respond. “We were right all along. The whole SSFC Movement is deeply and irretrievably racist.”

Not that CRT allows “White People” to be anything else. In essence, CRT is a Manichean system of thought. At its heart, an uncompromising struggle between Good and Evil; where Black, indigenous, people of colour – the righteous – are pitted against the incurably wicked White Supremacists. No room in CRT for the notion that what unites the human species is vastly more important than what divides it. Were Dr Martin Luther King still with us to share his dream that: “my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character”, the CRT extremists would shout him down.

To defeat global warming, humanity must be united. The zealotry of the Critical Race Theorists is making that much more difficult.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 18 June 2021.

Tuesday, 15 June 2021

To Speak, Or Not To Speak? That Is The Question.

Speaking Rights: The spectacle of the nation’s prime minister being denied the right to speak to her fellow citizens, personally, on New Zealand’s national day would generate massive antagonism among Pakeha of both sexes. A refusal to be guided by the customs of Ngāpuhi, on the other hand, would be regarded as a slap in the face by the whole of Maoridom. It would be interpreted as proof of the fundamental insincerity that still bedevils the Pakeha world when it comes to accepting and respecting the values of New Zealand’s indigenous culture.

WAITANGI DAY is still more than half a year away: still plenty of time for Ngāpuhi to put things “right”. The promise made at Waitangi earlier this year: that from 2022 women politicians would be “allowed” to speak for themselves; will in all likelihood be honoured. The possibility exists, however, that Ngāpuhi will refuse to be dictated to by Pakeha feminists. A stiff-necked people, they may decide that their time-honoured tribal customs are not to be overturned at the behest of “White Privilege”. Requiring the Prime Minister to nominate a male colleague to speak on her behalf would, after all, be an interesting test of Labour’s commitment to honour the ways of te ao Māori – a very interesting test.

Certainly, such a requirement would place Jacinda Ardern in a very uncomfortable position. The spectacle of the nation’s prime minister being denied the right to speak to her fellow citizens, personally, on New Zealand’s national day would generate massive antagonism among Pakeha of both sexes. A refusal to be guided by the customs of Ngāpuhi, on the other hand, would be regarded as a slap in the face by the whole of Maoridom. It would be interpreted as proof of the fundamental insincerity that still bedevils the Pakeha world when it comes to accepting and respecting the values of New Zealand’s indigenous culture.

Given that there are a great many more Pakeha than Maori, simple political arithmetic suggests that the Prime Minister’s best course of action would be to politely decline the invitation to attend the Waitangi Day celebrations on 6 February 2022, and find a less contentious venue from which to deliver her speech. That course of action would not, however, be politically cost-free. It is easy to anticipate the Maori Party’s response to Jacinda’s “slighting” of Ngāpuhi. It would be presented as confirmation that for all their fine words about “partnership”, with Pakeha it is always “My way – or the highway.”

In left-wing circles the debate would be even more intense. Critical Race Theory would enjoin Whites to step away from their cultural and political privileges and accept the judgement of Ngāpuhi’s decision-makers. To do anything else, it would be argued (at least by some) requires the elevation of Pakeha notions of equality and liberty over Ngāpuhi’s understanding of women’s and men’s roles in the ceremonies of welcome and the processes of deliberation. Any assumption that the Western liberal tradition must take precedence over indigenous custom, these leftists would contend, is prima facie evidence of white supremacism. The Prime Minister would, in effect, be saying to Ngāpuhi: “My people’s values are superior to your people’s values.”

What’s more, that would remain the message, even if she chose to spend Waitangi Day somewhere else. Indeed, these leftists would argue that, in those circumstances, the message would be made much worse. By choosing to deliver her speech on the grounds of Government House – or somewhere like it – the Prime Minister would be guilty of “othering” Ngāpuhi. No matter what the text of her address might say, the sub-text would be crystal clear:

Isn’t it a pity that the sexism of Ngāpuhi is so deeply entrenched that civilised interaction between New Zealand’s two principal ethnicities has, for the moment, become impossible? We must earnestly hope that in time – and we hope that time is soon – they will decide to join us all in the modern world.

That was, after all, the essence of the message sent out by the last National Government when it decided to steer well clear of Waitangi until Ngāpuhi were prepared to meet the expectations of the New Zealand Government vis-à-vis the dignified celebration of Waitangi Day. To declare – albeit sub-texturally – that on the 6 February 1840, Ngāpuhi did, indeed, surrender their sovereignty to the British Crown.

Within Labour’s parliamentary caucus there are plenty of MPs – and not just those holding the Maori seats – who would be extraordinarily uncomfortable with such a message being sent out by a Labour Government. For them, the steady progress being made towards the bi-cultural nation envisaged in the He Puapua Report represents the biggest and most important project in which they are ever likely to participate. They believe in te Tiriti o Waitangi, they believe in the partnership model, and they believe that kawanatanga and rangatiratanga are two distinct political concepts. Co-governance will not, however, be possible without consistent and mutual respect for the customs, practices and values of the Pakeha world and te ao Māori.

Which is why, if Ngāpuhi insist that Jacinda accept the tradition that women do not speak on the paepae, then the Prime Minister will nominate a male colleague to speak on her behalf. Equally, however, Ngāpuhi is most unlikely to demand that of her. Stiff-necked Ngāpuhi may be – but no one has ever called them stupid.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 15 June 2021.

Monday, 14 June 2021

Nobody Owns The Christchurch Tragedy.

Mass Outpourings Of Love And Solidarity: In excess of 20,000 Wellingtonians gathered at the basin Reserve in mid-March 2019 to reaffirm Prime Minister Ardern's "They are Us" response to the Christchurch Mosque Shootings. The opponents of the "They Are Us" movie project would rather the world was not reminded of the New Zealand people's inspirational reaction to Brenton Tarrant's terrorist crimes. Why? Because it contradicts fundamentally their "New Zealand is a colonialist, racist, white supremacist society" narrative.  

IT WOULD BE INTERESTING to know how most New Zealanders responded to the “They Are Us” movie project. The prospect of a movie recounting their country’s response to the Christchurch mosque attacks of 15 March 2019 would undoubtedly have evoked feelings of pride in a very large number of New Zealanders. That the central character of this historical drama was to be their own Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, would likewise have thrilled many Kiwis. Of equal interest, and perhaps more importance, however, would be some measure of New Zealanders’ reaction to the extraordinary hostility the “They Are Us” project has generated.

Over the space of just a few days, upwards of 55,000 signatures were gathered on-line for a petition opposing the film’s production. Within 48-hours of the project’s announcement, the Office of the Prime Minister felt obliged to issue a statement distancing Ardern from the production and making it clear that she’d had no warning of the film-makers’ intentions. The Mayor of Christchurch, Leanne Dalziel, publicly pilloried the project and curtly informed its promoters that they and their production crew would not be welcome in her city.

What motivated this astonishing outpouring of negativity and resistance? After all, the film’s promoters had made it clear from the get-go that the movie they hoped to make was not about the terrorist attack itself, or its victims, but about how a nation responded to an act of unprecedented savagery. Necessarily, the leader of that nation would be at the centre of the narrative because the New Zealand Prime Minister’s handling of the tragedy was a critical factor in shaping the overall response of her people.

It is important to pause here and acknowledge that Ardern’s reaction to the Christchurch shootings was as close to perfect as human-beings get. The world was by turns astonished and uplifted by her words and gestures. Ardern allowed humanity to rise above the evil of the terrorist’s actions. Few politicians are blessed with the skills to make such a contribution. So, why is it that so many have moved with such speed, and so much venom, to prevent this extraordinary story from being translated to the screen – and told again?

Superficially, the explanation is to be found in the film’s critics’ belief that the story of the Christchurch shootings belongs exclusively to its victims. That any work of art that fails to locate the terrorist’s, Brenton Tarrant’s, victims at its heart is not worth making. It is their story: not Jacinda Ardern’s story; not New Zealand’s story; not the World’s story; and no one has the right to make it anything else. As conceived, runs this argument, “They Are Us” reduces the attacks’ Muslim casualties to bit-players in their own tragedy. Tarrant treated them as objects to be used, and now the film’s promoters seem determined to do the same.

In one sense, those who make this argument are quite correct. Without the victims there is not only no story, but also no terror. Tarrant’s act has no meaning without the 51 defenceless Muslim worshippers who fell beneath his bullets. Likewise, without witnesses there can be no horror. Without families and friends left to grieve the dead, no pain. That’s how terrorism works. That’s why terrorism works.

Terrorism cannot be overcome, however, by fetishizing the horror and pain it causes and walling them in with its survivors. The act of terrorism is, by definition, a political act, and its intention is not only to shock, but to numb. The terrorist seeks to engender feelings of helplessness and, like all torturers, is hoping to extinguish hope itself. The evil of terrorism does not stop there, however, because the terrorist is also hoping to incite acts of political vengeance that will, in the long run, advance his cause.

When the followers of Osama Bin Laden flew jet airliners into the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, they all knew that the resulting destruction of life and property would not materially weaken the United States. But, that was never the point. The purpose of the 9/11 attacks were to drive America mad: to set her on a course towards disaster and decline; to create a frenzied giant that would end up demolishing its own house. And, if we’re being truthful, they succeeded – beyond their wildest dreams.

Intentionally or inadvertently (it matters little) Tarrant’s terrorism has also successfully distorted the targeted country’s politics. Long before the Christchurch shooter pulled the trigger of his MSSA, there were individuals and groups on the left of New Zealand politics who characterised their country as a deeply immoral colonial state, founded upon and maintained by the principle of white supremacy. Its mostly European citizens, they alleged, were incurably racist, and their primary victims were the indigenous Maori. This systemic racism was not, however, confined to Maori. Xenophobia and Islamophobia were deeply ingrained in the White New Zealand population.

Tarrant’s crime offered those who subscribed to these ideas an extraordinary opportunity to inject them into the bloodstream of the political mainstream. Almost immediately, the Christchurch shootings were represented as the inevitable outcome of New Zealand’s white supremacist culture. A political agenda began to be advanced, which, if implemented in full, will result in the criminalisation of all thought and speech deemed inimical to the extreme anti-racist ideology. Depressingly, a great deal of this extremist agenda ended up in the recommendations of the Royal Commission of Inquiry Into The Christchurch Mosque Shootings.

Over the past two years, much energy has been expended on the Left to mask the central fact of the Christchurch tragedy: that it was conceived and executed by a Australian who had been radicalised online and overseas and who chose New Zealand to carry out his attack precisely because it was the least likely location for an act of white supremacist terrorism to be contemplated.

The truth of the latter proposition was demonstrated immediately following the Christchurch attacks by the statements and gestures of Jacinda Ardern, and by the answering outpouring of love and solidarity from the tens-of-thousands of Kiwis who gathered in all the main centres to express their determination to prevent Tarrant’s evil act from defiling and defining their nation. The last thing New Zealand’s anti-racist extremists need now is a feature film which re-tells and re-animates those feelings of love and solidarity.

Those demanding the abandonment of the “They Are Us” project have accused its promoters of using the victims of the tragedy as props in an outrageous attempt to further entrench the white privilege of Prime Minister Ardern, and to marginalise still further the 1.2 percent of New Zealanders who are Muslims. It is, however, possible to turn that attack on its head by observing that these anti-racist extremists could just as easily be accused of using the victims of the Christchurch shootings as a means of shutting down a cultural project that would show the world just how decent a society New Zealand’s truly is.

It is, quite simply, wrong to insist that the tragic events of 15 March 2019 belong to anything, or anyone, but History itself. Nor should it be forgotten that History lives only in its re-telling. The truth of the events that shape a nation emerges from many voices, many perspectives. The tragedy that unfolded at the Al Noor and Linwood mosques no more belongs to its victims than it does to its perpetrator. It belongs to the whole world. It is us.

This essay was originally posted on the website on Monday, 14 June 2021.

Sunday, 13 June 2021

Hoping For Divine Intervention.

By Any Chance, Are These Two Related? Climate Change Commission Chair, Rod Carr, and Michelangelo's Jehovah. Is that the message hidden in the CCC's report? That only divine intervention can save the planet from the effects of anthropogenic global warming?

ROD CARR reminds me of God. Seriously, that beard. From a distance, in poor light, the God of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling could easily be mistaken for the Chair of the Climate Change Commission (CCC). More to the point, Carr seems to believe he possesses at least some of the powers of the Almighty. How else to explain the “transformational” plans he has developed to meet the, frankly, unachievable goals this government has set itself vis-à-vis greenhouse gas emissions? Contrariwise, maybe that’s exactly the message Carr is trying to send: “From here on in, folks, only divine intervention can save us!”

That the CCC and the Government have got this far without encountering very much in the way of pushback from the public (farmers don’t count as the public) is because New Zealanders have no idea how much their day-to-day lives will be affected if Carr’s masterplan becomes Government policy. Everybody pays lip service to fighting global warming, but beyond occasionally catching a bus, or walking – instead of driving – to the chippie, it’s business as usual. Hardly anyone is prepared for the radical change of lifestyle which Carr’s recommendations would require. So, when the climate change penny finally drops, all hell is going to break loose.

In a country currently engaged in a such a passionate love affair with the SUV, does the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, and the Climate Change Minister, James Shaw, truly believe New Zealanders are going to embrace electric motor vehicles without a backward glance? Do they seriously expect their political opponents to rise selflessly above all the opportunities for inflicting mortal injuries upon them by telling the voters that although they may not wanna – they hafta?

Four words: Not. Going. To. Happen.

Act’s David Seymour has already indicated the Right’s general direction of travel. He has called for Carr’s report to be thrown into the rubbish bin. Picking apart his response, it’s not difficult to predict the core content of the emerging right-wing narrative.

Carr’s plans are typically elitist in their lofty disregard for the lives of ordinary New Zealanders. Indeed, the burden of this plan of his will fall most heavily upon those Kiwis least able to bear it. Is the cleaner living in South Auckland, who travels miles each day by car to reach her workplace, seriously being asked to buy an electric vehicle? And even if the government finances her into one, how is she supposed to power it up?

When the whole global warming schtick is about not being able to take for granted all the weather events that make it possible to rely on hydro-electric energy and those godawful windmill thingies, what makes Carr and his minions so sure there will be enough electrical energy to keep a vehicle fleet of millions powered up? What if the snows don’t come? What if there’s a prolonged drought? What if the winds fall away to nothing for weeks at a time? I mean, presumably, the scientists call it “climate change” for a reason!

Seymour is also pointing the way, right-wing wise, when he counsels against New Zealand attempting to lead the world in its response to climate change. Why would we want to do that, he asks? What’s wrong with being a “fast follower”? Let others invest the billions in research. Let others develop the technological fix. Why shouldn’t we just do the best we can and await developments?

The Taxpayers’ Union is running a very similar line. This is what Jordan Williams had to say in response to Carr’s recommendations:

You might read in the media that the Commission has softened the hard edges of some of its targets (like electric vehicles and renewable energy). But working through the detail I’m sad to report that the plan doubles down on its most egregious and costly elements. Let me be very clear: this plan will not improve our ability to fight climate change. It deliberately shuns the ‘least cost’ approach and the Emissions Trading Scheme in favour of a ‘transformation’ of the New Zealand economy. This isn’t me saying this. The Commission’s own experts say that the ETS would actually get us to our emissions targets without radical interventions.

You can see where this is going, can’t you? This is going straight to the Right’s happy place, where calm and reasonable folk can say: “Look, we don’t have to change our lives in the way the CCC and the Ardern Government are suggesting. There’s a perfectly sensible scheme already in place. What’s wrong with telling people that if they want to consume a more-than-sensible amount of fossil fuel, then they’ll have to pay for the privilege? What’s wrong with letting the market decide?”

Oh, sure, the likes of Shaw, Marama Davidson and Julie-Anne Genter will wax eloquent about Aotearoa’s responsibility to do all it can to meet its Paris (and, in a few months, Glasgow) targets. They will insist that we have a moral duty to save the planet for our mokopuna. But by then, nobody will be listening. Why? Because the Right will be beating on the deplorable drum.

The deplorable drum? WTF is the deplorable drum? Well, that’s the drum that beats out the message that undermines everything God – I mean Rod – Carr and the Labour Government are trying to do.

And what message is that? The Right’s deplorable – but irrefutable – message is this. Read it and weep.

“Don’t listen to all these greenie idiots. Don’t let all this nonsense about New Zealanders having to step up to the challenge of climate change fool you. To hear people like Carr and Shaw and Ardern tell it, if we sacrifice our way of life, if we pull on the hair shirt of social and economic decline, then somehow we’ll be saved. Somehow, all over these blessed islands of ours, the climate will return to the norms of the Holocene. All BS, of course, because Climate Change is a planetary problem. And do you know how much this country contributes to the emissions that are threatening Mother Earth? No? Well, let me tell you. In 2014, our contribution was just 0.17 percent. That’s right. If we stopped using fossil fuels altogether. If we took ourselves back to the stone age in the name of saving the planet – no one would even notice. The only people who can save the planet are China and the United States. Will they? Well, that’s the only question that really matters, isn’t it? And we can’t answer it.”

A bitter truth? Oh, yes. But prepare to hear it spoken more and more forcefully in the years ahead. As the sun goes down on humanity’s hopes, and not even Rod Carr’s godlike self-confidence can disperse the encroaching darkness, I can’t help recalling the words of Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower:

“No reason to get excited”,
The thief he kindly spoke,
“There are many here among us
Who feel that life is but a joke.
But you and I, we’ve been through that
And this is not our fate.
So let us not talk falsely now,
The hour is getting late.”

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 11 June 2021.

Re-Writing The Rules of the Game: Where Chile is Leading, Can Aotearoa-New Zealand Follow?

People Power: Ending neoliberalism requires massive and militant action on the ground. Between 2019 and 2020, the young and the poor made Chile ungovernable. Engaging in running battles with the Police and facing-down the army’s bullets, they rendered the political class and its mainstream media mouthpieces increasingly irrelevant to what was happening in the streets, offices, shops, factories, schools and universities of the nation. 

THE EYES OF THE LEFT, all around the world, should be on Chile. Over the next twelve months a Constituent Assembly, comprised of 155 elected Chilean citizens, will draft a new constitution  for their battered and abused country. New constitutions are not written very often. South Africa, post-apartheid, wrote one – to world acclaim. So did Venezuela – and the rest of the world ignored it. Undaunted, the left-wing Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, had the Constitution’s key provisions printed on milk cartons, so every citizen, even the poorest, could know their rights.

Chile’s new constitution, however, is being written from scratch, an exercise that has not been attempted in a well-established nation state for more than twenty years. What’s more, with the Constituent Assembly dominated by the Left (in New Zealand, they’d be branded “Far Left”) the constitution which emerges from its deliberations will likely break new ground. Already, the members of the Constituent Assembly (MCA) are committed to ensuring that the rights of Chile’s indigenous people (roughly 10 percent of the population) are constitutionally protected.

The legislation establishing the Constituent Assembly mandated an equal number of male and female members. Interestingly, so radical was the popular mood that considerably more women ended up being elected to the Assembly than men – requiring the men’s numbers to be topped-up! Clearly the rights of women – in all political, economic, social and cultural spheres – will constitute a central pillar of the new constitution.

Given Chile’s tragic post-1973 history, it is also widely anticipated that the new constitution will explicitly repudiate the neoliberal tenets embedded in the constitution imposed upon the Chilean people from above by the military dictator, General Augusto Pinochet, in 1980. Chilean political commentators are predicting the inclusion of a slew of “social chapters” restoring to the state its key responsibility for maintaining the welfare of the people. The privatisation of key utilities – most particularly the water supply – may well be reversed as constitutionally untenable.

Essentially, Chile is engrossed in an extraordinary exercise aimed at reimposing the status-quo ante. Taking the nation back to the point it had reached under the socialist Popular Unity government of President Salvador Allende immediately prior to the military coup d’état of 11 September 1973. Allende died in that coup, and thousands more Chileans were murdered in the months and years that followed.

In the early 1970s, Allende’s government had been one of the most progressive in the world, making it that most dangerous of things – an example other peoples might feel inclined to follow. The USA, in particular, was terrified that Allende’s brand of democratic socialism might spread across Latin America. US President, Richard Nixon’s National Security Adviser, Henry Kissinger, summed-up the Administration’s position when he declared: “I don’t see why the United States should sit back and watch a country turn communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people.”

With the Left crushed, Chile became the proving ground for the neoliberal theories of Professor Milton Friedman. All the measures with which the rest of the world would soon become agonizingly familiar: deregulation, privatisation, regressive fiscal policies, abandoning economic protectionism and opening the economy to foreign investors, dismantling the welfare state and destroying the trade unions; were tested out on the politically defenceless Chilean people.

Although a measure of democracy was restored to Chile in 1990, it was heavily circumscribed by the point-blank refusal of the political class in general (and the armed forces in particular) to countenance the slightest attempt to dismantle the neoliberal order Pinochet had so firmly established. It required nothing less than the global Covid-19 pandemic to generate the massive popular rising necessary to force the Chilean powers-that-be to sanction the calling together of a constituent assembly to re-write the rules of the political game.

There are a number of lessons here for Aotearoa-New Zealand – providing its progressive forces are ready and willing to learn from the Chilean example.

The first of these is that ending neoliberalism requires massive and militant action on the ground. Between 2019 and 2020, the young and the poor made Chile ungovernable. Engaging in running battles with the Police and facing-down the army’s bullets, they rendered the political class and its mainstream media mouthpieces increasingly irrelevant to what was happening in the streets, offices, shops, factories, schools and universities of the nation. In the course of making this uprising, the young and the poor learned “on the job” how to conduct their own politics – independent of the political parties which had traditionally represented their interests. (In the elections for the Constituent Assembly, the ruling right-wing party received fewer that 30 percent of the votes, and the equivalent of our Labour Party was outpolled by a combination of communists, anarchists, feminists, indigenous Chileans and environmentalists.)

The second lesson to be drawn from recent events in Chile, is that changing the rules of the game – i.e. drawing up a new constitution – is not something to be left to elite theorists meeting behind closed doors. New ideas, revolutionary ideas, cannot be imposed upon the population from above and remain progressive ideas. (Never forget that Rogernomics was a revolution imposed from above – with disastrous results for workers and beneficiaries.) If what the radicals and revolutionaries who pulled together the He Puapua Report are proposing is any good, then the young and the poor will make it their own. When that happens, all the rest will follow. Demand the election of a Constituent Assembly to write Aotearoa-New Zealand’s bi-cultural constitution. Let the young and the poor chose their own candidates. For the first time in decades give them the chance to cast a vote that matters. Throw an additional 700,000 votes onto the electoral scales – and see what happens.

There’s a third lesson to be drawn from Chile’s experience. Not, this time, from its recent experience, but from the experience of 1970-1973. And that lesson is: Make sure you have someone watching your back. Because who, in the end, can protect the work of Chile’s Constituent Assembly from the same forces that destroyed the work of Salvador Allende’s Popular Unity government? Who will stand between the people and the armed forces – guided and resourced by the United States? That’s not just a question for Chileans. Were the young and the poor of Aotearoa-New Zealand to successfully outmanoeuvre their own political class, where should they look for protection? Australia? The United States?

In the end, it’s the question that all revolutionaries must be ready to answer: “Having made the revolution, how do we keep it?”

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 10 June 2021.

Friday, 11 June 2021

Hard Questions - Hard Answers.

Bodies On The Line: Unsurprisingly, in the aftermath of the 1981 Springbok Tour, Maori asked their Pakeha friends and comrades to explain why they were willing to get their heads broken for the rights of indigenous Africans, but had yet to put their bodies on the line for the rights of indigenous New Zealanders?

NATIONAL’S PAUL GOLDSMITH has become the target of considerable criticism for his stance on the impact of colonisation on Maori. Most particularly, he has been attacked for expressing the view that “on balance” the legacy of colonisation must be adjudged positive. Goldsmith’s explicitly historical perspective is, necessarily, a broad one. Politically-speaking, however, his opinions are downright incendiary. If he didn’t anticipate the fierce reaction his words were bound to provoke, then much of the National Party’s tone-deafness on Maori-Pakeha relations is explained.

Certainly, it is hard to fathom how National could have been part of the general political discourse in Aotearoa-New Zealand without grasping the centrality of colonisation to the current debate about the future shape of this country’s institutions. How could the party have missed the way in which the colonisation of Aotearoa-New Zealand has come to play the same role here as slavery plays in the race-driven ideological conflicts currently convulsing the United States?

Is National genuinely unaware of just how many of the ills currently afflicting Maori are attributed to the impact of colonisation? Every set of negative statistics: from consistently low levels of educational attainment, to the grossly disproportionate number of Maori in Aotearoa-New Zealand’s prisons; the whole sad saga of a people’s on-going under-performance has been laid unhesitatingly – and with undeniable justification – at the door of colonisation. How can the country’s largest political party not know this?

Part of the answer, perhaps, lies in the common misconception that “colonisation” is a word to be conjugated exclusively in the past tense. That it relates only to long-dead statesmen wearing wing-collars and staring out at us stiffly from the black-and-white plates reproduced in history books. Something that happened long ago. Something done and dusted. Something about which it is possible (and permissible) for Opposition National MPs to offer considered historical judgements.

Well, it’s not – and it really is astonishing that Paul Goldsmith and his colleagues could possibly believe that it is. The clearing of Bastion Point didn’t happen in the Nineteenth Century, it happened just 43 years ago, in 1978. That’s well within the lifetime of the Baby Boomers – and even of some Generation Xers. Paul Goldsmith, for example, would have been a 7-year-old the last time a pugnacious National Party prime minister staged a full-scale demonstration of the political, legal and military power of the New Zealand colonial state – for the benefit of tangata whenua.

It was that same prime minister, Rob Muldoon, who, just three years later, communicated an equally unmistakeable message to his core supporters – i.e. that the rights of people of colour counted for much less than the rights of White Rugby supporters living in Aotearoa-New Zealand and Apartheid-era South Africa. Unsurprisingly, in the aftermath of the 1981 Springbok Tour, Maori asked their Pakeha friends and comrades to explain why they were willing to get their heads broken for the rights of indigenous Africans, but had yet to put their bodies on the line for the rights of indigenous New Zealanders?

Could it be, they wondered, that fighting for South African Blacks cost them nothing, except a few bruises and a few nights in jail (for which they could claim bragging rights for the next 40 years!) while fighting for the lost lands, language and dignity of the original Maori inhabitants of Aotearoa could end up costing them everything that 140 years of colonisation had bequeathed Pakeha?

That was a hard question – and only a few of the Springbok Tour protesters were willing to give Maori an honest answer.

Forty years later, exactly the same question is being put to all Pakeha – with even greater force. More importantly, it is not just Maori doing the asking. Two generations after the Tour, the same challenges that were once laid at the feet of a relatively small group of left-wing activists are being laid down for the whole nation of Aotearoa-New Zealand to pick up. The children and grandchildren of those Springbok Tour protesters are looking at their elders with a steadfast gaze. As if to say: “It’s time.”

And still, apparently, Paul Goldsmith and his National Party colleagues, do not get it.

Perhaps Abraham Lincoln, who ended slavery in North America, can help them. These words are from his second inaugural address, delivered on 4 March 1865:

Fondly do we hope ─ fervently do we pray ─ that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether’.

Paul Goldsmith appears to believe Maori are in some way indebted to Pakeha. In truth, it’s the other way ‘round.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 11 June 2021.

Wednesday, 9 June 2021

A Failure of Tone: The National Party’s Week of Woe.

Tone Deaf? From a party-political point of view (and what other point of view should a National Party MP be taking?) Paul Goldsmith’s comments regarding the “benefits” of colonisation merely played into the fast-solidifying narrative of National being a stale white bread party that can’t get out of its own way when it comes to voicing outdated racial attitudes. What’s more, given the events of the week just past, National’s attitudes on race are beginning to look like the least of its worries.

PAUL GOLDSMITH, on the “benefits” – to Maori – of colonisation. First of all, and obviously, he shouldn’t have said it. From a party-political point of view (and what other point of view should a National Party MP be taking?) such a comment merely plays to the fast-solidifying narrative of National being a stale white bread party that can’t get out of its own way when it comes to voicing outdated racial attitudes. What’s more, given the events of the week just past, National’s attitudes on race are beginning to look like the least of its worries.

As with so much of National’s recent behaviour, Goldsmith’s comments raise some very dangerous questions. The most obvious being: ‘What’s wrong with these people?’ and, ‘In what, strange, alternative universe is conduct and attitudes like these considered okay?’ Questions that lead, inevitably, to a much broader concern about the quality of National’s due diligence when it comes to candidate selection. People begin to wonder whether the reason so many National candidates turn out to be embarrassing duds, is because their general demeanour and mode of discourse is construed by the selectors as entirely unremarkable. Or, to put it more bluntly, because National’s awfulness is now a feature, not a bug. They’re all like that.

Now, back in the days when the National Party boasted upwards of 200,000 members, what National’s candidate selectors recognised as good, solid, middle-of-the-road New Zealand-ness corresponded pretty much exactly with the perceptions of the ordinary voter. Back in those days, when memories of the Second World War and the enforced egalitarianism of the trenches were still fresh, unusual and/or disturbing idiosyncrasies were much easier to spot. People still recalled the stereotype of the “spiv”: the black-market con-men who were “all Brylcreem and no socks”. Both of the major parties were tolerant of a wide range of political beliefs and priorities, but the men and women they chose to represent them all evinced a reassuring sameness.

The effective destruction of New Zealand’s mass political parties, along with the thoroughgoing de-democratisation of the decision-making structures that remained, which the introduction of neoliberalism more-or-less mandated, robbed them of their almost automatic capacity to pick the “right” sort of person to represent them. The new economic order also required the major parties to abandon their former tolerance of heterodox ideas. Ideological orthodoxy now trumped social conformity. Especially after the arrival of MMP and its backroom-assembled Party Lists, the party bosses cared less-and-less about what MPs did privately – so long as they didn’t do it in front of the cameras and frighten the markets.

And it got worse. The political culture of neoliberalism bred its own, very special, kind of politician. Just as the producers of reality TV shows like Survivor are careful to screen out anyone displaying what most people would consider the “normal” human traits of compassion, co-operation and honest-dealing, in favour of the selfish, the ruthless and the faithless; so, too, are political parties careful to screen out those who display an excessive independence of mind and/or a principled unwillingness to subordinate their conscience to the dictates of the party leadership. The days of so-called “maverick” MPs like Mike Minogue and Jim Anderton are long gone.

The upshot, for the National Party, was John Key and his affably cynical amanuensis, Steven Joyce. Those of an older generation may have grumbled into their single malts about the party falling into the hands of a quintessential “spiv” and his backroom Machiavelli, but nobody who mattered cared. In a world where all that counts is the ability to buy and sell, the currency trader should be king. In a political environment where the ability to fake sincerity rates as the ultimate accomplishment, calling someone Machiavelli is a fulsome compliment.

Like it or not, these were the sort of role models National was happy to present to the next generation of aspiring MPs. Unfortunately, younger generations have a nasty habit of noticing attitudes and behaviours their elders would prefer them to overlook. This propensity to model themselves on the real – rather than the ideal – may be a perverse sort of compliment to the generation in charge, but the final product, when it steps into the public spotlight all-too-often proves to be an accident just waiting to happen – as National has discovered to its cost.

The ultimate guard-rail against these political eruptions is the party’s organisational leadership. The party president, in particular, must have an especially sensitive nose for potential stinkers. It’s a huge responsibility: in effect the president, and his/her colleagues on the party’s executive committee, must substitute their own judgement for the mass party’s homogenising instincts. In this regard, the incumbent National Party President, Peter Goodfellow, must be adjudged a costly failure. To put it crudely: far too many stinkers have been given the nod. National urgently requires a more sensitive pair of nostrils.

Not that Goldsmith is one of the stinkers, far from it. He’s one of National’s few remaining conservative intellectuals. As a politician, he is refreshingly open about expressing his opinions. The problem he has, however, is a very obvious lack of the common touch. Goldsmith is the polar opposite of Simon Bridges – a National politician who has not the slightest difficulty with the diction of the ordinary Kiwi. The bookish Goldsmith, one suspects, would struggle in the average public bar: too concerned about the facts; not concerned enough about the tone.

Factually, Goldsmith has a case to make. Colonisation has not been an unequivocal evil. What it has done, however, by forcing them to respond to its ever-increasing impact, is divide Maori.

Since the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, the internal divisions within Maoridom have resolved themselves into three broad factions: the Loyalists; the Adapters; and the Rejectionists. For the Loyalists, the British Crown has remained a symbol of power and authority over and above the treacherous settler state. Having secured its protection under Article Three of the Treaty, successive generations of Maori leaders have continued to appeal to the only institution which has been willing to defend them from the “democracy” of the Pakeha majority.

Strong believers in the hereditary principle, and inheriting all the aristocratic mana of their forefathers, they have found it hard to believe that the British sovereign – the ultimate rangatira – reigns over her subjects but does not rule them. Even today, many Maori leaders evince a profound mistrust of the democratically elected legislature, and show a decided preference for working with the executive and judicial branches of the New Zealand State. Cabinet, and a sympathetic judiciary, have taken the place of well-disposed Governors and the Church Missionary Society.

The Adapters continue to seek an enduring modus vivendi with the world of the Pakeha. Their original vision of the 1840s and 50s: of the Pakeha in their place, the tangata whenua in theirs, and the Treaty over them all, continues to inspire a significant minority of contemporary Maori – not least the authors of He Puapua.

More numerous, however, are those for whom the Treaty and the Maori tribes’ heroic resistance form just one part – albeit an important part – of their family heritage. For two centuries they have taken the Pakeha’s tools and used them to construct a new identity. One-hundred-and-fifty years after the Sovereignty Wars, and with the genealogies of tangata whenua and tauiwi inextricably intertwined, they think of themselves – and call themselves – New Zealanders.

For the Rejectionists, however, the British Crown turned out to be nothing more than the glittering bauble which ruthless settler politicians raised above their heads as proof that their government’s bare-faced larceny would soon enjoy all the security of legal title.

The rejectionists cast aside Crown and Treaty in favour of a return to the old ways. One thinks of Rua Kenana, lost in the mists of the Ureweras. Or of the fiercely independent Maori communities of Northland, the King Country and the Waikato and Whanganui Rivers. Among these proud tenders of te ahi kaa – the home-fires of inextinguishable possession – the incantations of their forefathers continue to work their magic, and, in the very bones of the land, they hear the echoes of Rewi Maniapoto’s last, defiant challenge: Ka whawhai tonu matou, ake ake ake! – “We will fight on, forever and ever and ever!”

Goldsmith’s mistake was his failure to appreciate that, for the moment, it is the rejectionists who have the floor.

This essay was originally posted on the website on Monday, 7 June 2021.