Friday, 24 September 2021

Daily Blog Branded Upper-Middle-Class, Pseudo-Left, Imperialists! Who Knew?

Pythonesque: No more than the wokest of the Woke, is the Marxist Left happy to join their efforts with those of other leftists in a spirit of solidarity and comradeship. Nor are they content to let their classic interpretation of the socialist project speak for itself – winning followers by the sheer strength of its arguments and insights. Nope. Just like the Woke, they insist that their way is the only way. Dissenters aren’t just wrong, they’re bad. Exactly how bad? How much time have you got?

THERE’S A LOT TO LIKE about the World Socialist Web Site (WSWS). Anyone anxious to refresh their understanding of the tone and style of unreconstructed Trotskyism is only ever a mouse-click away from the revolutionary rhetoric of the Fourth International.

That sounds catty, I know, so let me hasten to add that Trotskyism stands at the terminus of the great red river that has its beginnings in the highlands of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, flows down through the productive fields of Luxemburg and Lenin, and ends with the brilliant strategic and tactical reconsiderations of that best of Bolsheviks, Leon Trotsky.

What Trotsky would have made of the post-war world, and the Soviet Union’s emergence as a global superpower, we shall never know. A Stalinist ice-pick split open his skull in Mexico City in 1940. Undaunted, Trotsky’s disciples continue to preach the one true socialist faith. Not for them the heretical meanderings of the Frankfurt School and its incomprehensible French disciples. There’s absolutely nothing “woke” about the WSWS. Zip. Zero. Zilch.

Before you get too excited, however, I feel it’s only fair to warn you that the members of the Socialist Equality Party (SEP) – which runs the WSWS – are afflicted to a truly remarkable degree by the besetting sin of the Marxist Left – sectarianism. No more than the wokest of the Woke, is the SEP and its stable of WSWS writers happy to join their efforts with those of other leftists in a spirit of solidarity and comradeship. Nor are they content to let their Trotskyist interpretation of the socialist project speak for itself – winning followers by the sheer strength of its arguments and insights. Nope. Just like the Woke, they insist that their way is the only way. Dissenters aren’t just wrong, they’re bad. Exactly how bad? How much time have you got?

Based in the United States, but with correspondents all over the world, the WSWS’s ability to sniff out heresy is impressive. Their man in Wellington, Tom Peters, has certainly never shied away from putting the boot into myself, The Daily Blog, and its editor, Martyn Bradbury – we’re heretics from way back

Returning to the question of tone and style, I have to say, Peters is a true pro. Reading his stately invective I was transported – positively transported – all the way back to the Soviet Show Trials of 1937!

Despite the militarist record of all parties in parliament, and Ardern’s statement welcoming AUKUS, Labour’s pseudo-left supporters are promoting the illusion that the government will stay out of the escalating preparations for war. Writing on the trade union-backed Daily Blog, columnist Chris Trotter said the government ‘will happily stay as far away from this lunacy [AUKUS] as possible.”

Pseudo-left? Pseudo-left! Honestly, Tom, I really don’t think the boys and girls down at Labour Party HQ in Wellington would accept the term “left” in relation to myself – not even with the “pseudo” prefix. They’d dismiss me as a treacherous, patriarchal, heteronormative, white supremacist, who knows nothing of what it means to be a leftist in the twenty-first century.

Oh, and unless I’m very much mistaken, Tom, The Daily Blog’s trade union “backers” pulled their dollars out a very long time ago. The site was just too spicy for their unadventurous political palettes! So, you know, consider yourself fact-checked.

But wait – there’s more. Pseudo-left was nothing. Tom was just getting warmed-up. Try this judgement from the Revolutionary Tribunal on for size:

Notwithstanding its anti-American demagogy, the Daily Blog has repeatedly echoed US propaganda against China—including the lie that the coronavirus pandemic originated in the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The blog also depicts China as a threat to both New Zealand and the Pacific region.

“No one should be fooled by Bradbury’s claim that he wants a purely “defensive” military “independent” of the US alliance. The blog represents a layer of the upper middle class that has embraced New Zealand imperialism in the Pacific; and maintaining these neo-colonial interests depends on support from the United States and Australia.

Damn! I had no idea TDB was a front for United States propaganda! That sneaky Bradbury has obviously been squirreling away the CIA’s Bitcoin down the back of his computer! I guess that’s why Tom includes TDB’s Editor in the upper-middle-class. All Martyn’s talk about being a member of the propertyless generation – nothing but a cover-story! In reality, he owns a five-bedroom, two-bathroom villa in Remuera and a tidy little holiday home in Taupo. (That’s where he keeps his deep-laid plans for the expansion of New Zealand imperialism. En garde Samoa! En garde Tonga!)

You get the picture. It’s always the same with WSWS stories. Excellent analysis right up until the last few paragraphs, where the writers are presumably instructed by their editors to go and spoil it all by spewing needless (if unintentionally hilarious) invective all over their ideological foes.

To be fair, at least the WSWS writers keep their critiques political – I’m thinking of getting a T-shirt that says: “Genuine Pseudo-Leftist”. It’s definitely a step-up from the relentless Woke vituperation found on Twitter. Even so, I always come away from the WSWS wishing that the defenders of Leon Trotsky’s legacy would finally dispense with the self-destructive self-indulgence of sectarianism.

Just imagine how far the revolution could be advanced if the Marxist Left confined itself to spreading the word that there are still chains to be lost – still a world to win.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 24 September 2021.

Is This What We Want?

Heavy Hands: Over the past few days, the centre of Melbourne has witnessed some of the worst political violence in a generation. Police officers have been hospitalised. Rubber bullets have been fired. Hundreds have been arrested. And all because the state government of Victoria is insisting that all construction workers present evidence of vaccination before being allowed onto their building sites.

“YOU NEED TO GIVE PEOPLE what they want. Not what you want to give them. Or they’ll get it from someone else.” The whole trick of dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic effectively has been to convince a solid majority of the population that they actually want what the experts reckon they should have.

Jacinda Ardern has done this better than any other leader on earth. Her “Team of Five Million” rhetoric galvanising New Zealanders like no other people on earth. She made us believe we were all in this together, and her Director-General of Health, Ashley Bloomfield, reassured us that she – and we – were right. New Zealanders had no need to get what they wanted from someone else – they already had it.

This week, however, the formula fell apart. This week Jacinda Ardern and her Cabinet had to choose between what the experts reckoned New Zealanders should have, and what New Zealanders – or, at least, the third of them living in Auckland – actually wanted. Crucially, they had ceased to be the same.

Most of the epidemiologists and “modellers” upon whom New Zealanders have come to rely for reassurance that Jacinda and her Team of Five Million are doing all the right things, would have preferred Auckland to remain in Level 4 Lockdown for at least another week. Politically, however, that had ceased to be a viable proposition. What Aucklanders had been led to expect, and what they really, really wanted, was a move down to Level 3. So, that is what they got.

The epidemiologists and modellers described the Prime Minister’s decision (politely) as a “calculated risk”. Others, with less civility, called it a “gamble”. These doubters looked around the world and noted how little success anybody has had, anywhere, at “stamping out” the Delta Variant of Covid-19. Their intuition told them that the extraordinary success of this country’s “Elimination Strategy” – which, far from turning New Zealand into a “Hermit Kingdom”, had transformed it into a passable imitation of Shangri La – had finally met its match in Delta. The nature of the game is changing.

The Prime Minister is now being called upon to pivot away from her highly successful Elimination Strategy, and convince New Zealanders that what they want now, more than anything, is for 90 percent-plus of the population over the age of 12 to be fully vaccinated by Christmas. With upwards of 90 percent of teenage and adult New Zealanders “double-jabbed”, say the rules of this new Covid game, New Zealand will be well-positioned to “live with” the Coronavirus. Managed properly, life in a fully-vaccinated New Zealand could return – almost – to normal.

Which would be fine, if every New Zealander could be relied upon to bring a rational and reasonable frame of mind to the idea of near-universal vaccination being the only way to bring their country safely out from under Covid-19. But, that is a very big ask – quite possibly too big. Polling has revealed upwards of a quarter of the population either seriously hesitant about, or downright resistant to, receiving the Pfizer vaccine. In other words, relying upon the good sense of our fellow citizens might not be enough to get us through the Delta challenge.

Okay, that’s disappointing, but nil desperandum! If too many people are either hesitant or resistant, then the next obvious step is to issue Vaccination Passports to all those who have done their civic duty. Flourish one of these and the world will open to you. Fail to present one, and, sorry, but you can’t come in. No Jab, No Job! Or anything else.

No one’s proposing to strap the anti-vaxxers to a table and stick ‘em with a syringe-full of Pfizer. It’s their right to refuse the jab. But, by the same token, its society’s right to exact a price for that refusal.

Except that’s a dreadfully risky course to take. Over the past few days, the centre of Melbourne has witnessed some of the worst political violence in a generation. Police officers have been hospitalised. Rubber bullets have been fired. Hundreds have been arrested. And all because the state government of Victoria is insisting that all construction workers present evidence of vaccination before being allowed onto their building sites.

Stamping out Covid-19 by stomping on the heads of our fellow citizens? Is that really what New Zealand wants?

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 24 September 2021.

Thursday, 23 September 2021

Hi-Viz Vengeance On Melbourne’s Streets.

Fuck The Jab! Are all these protesting Melbourne construction workers right? No, of course not. Covid-19 is not a figment of Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews’ imagination. Nor can one help speculating, just a little, that mixed-in with all this working-class fury there might also be a pretty large dose of toxic Aussie masculinity. What is absolutely indisputable, however, is that the ignorance and aggression on display in Melbourne has not materialised overnight, out of thin air.

THE LAST PLACE a young, well-educated, socially-liberal, mask-wearing Melburnian should be found today (22/9/21) is on the streets of downtown Melbourne. All morning, squads of increasingly angry and frustrated riot police have been clashing with groups of even angrier and more frustrated young men – most of them construction workers – protesting furiously against mandatory Covid-19 vaccination, and Labor Premier of Victoria Daniel Andrews’ decision to shut down Melbourne’s construction sites for a further two weeks. Anyone looking like a supporter of mandatory vaccination, Andrews, or even the “sell out” CFMEU (the construction workers’ union) who fell into these protesters’ hands would be in for a very hard time indeed.

It is most unlikely that Andrews and his advisers anticipated the explosion of anger that has followed their decision to make vaccination mandatory for construction workers. Pandemic decision-making is driven by the data – which showed a very low vaccination rate among this group of workers. Superficially, their reasoning was sound. By making the jab mandatory, unvaccinated tradies, desperate to get back to work, would be quick to comply. Where was the advantage in resistance?

Unfortunately, reason had nothing to do with it.

In the minds of an alarming number of the young, fit, Aussie males who dominate the Victorian construction industry, the so-called “Covid-19 Pandemic” was a crock of shit: nothing but a smokescreen laid down by the “elites”, whose unholy intention has always been to crush the spirit of hard-working working-class men by robbing them of their freedom. Why else did these high-viz demonstrators make a bee-line for the CFMEU’s headquarters as the protests kicked-off? Because if there’s one institution guaranteed to stand up for a working man’s freedom, then it’s his union. Right?


The CFMEU bosses, also acting reasonably, wanted to get their guys back to work as soon as possible. The building sites had been far too quiet for far too long. The members were running out of money. If the price of getting the construction industry up-and-running again was not objecting to a compulsory jab for all the lazy bastards who’d failed to get one during the weeks of lockdown, then the CFMEU would keep its mouth firmly shut. After all, which freedom was more important? The freedom to be a bloody idiot? Or, the freedom to get out and get earning again? It shouldn’t have been that hard a choice to make!

But it was.

And by the time the union bosses realised that way more blokes than they ever expected were not only refusing to get jabbed, but also blaming the union for not defending their right to say No, it was too late. There were hundreds of them right outside their front door. In vain did they demand the right to be heard. These anti-vax unionists were in no mood for explanations. First they hurled insults, then bottles, then rocks. Pretty soon all the CFMEU officials could hear was the chant every union boss dreads: “You sold us out! You sold us out! You sold us out!”

Sensibly, they retreated. This was something for the cops to sort out.

Well, yeah, usually. But these guys are very different from the middle-class sons and daughters that Melbourne’s finest are usually called upon to police during protests. Very few of those kids are willing to mix it up with the coppers – even if they were capable of such non-verbal communication. Young construction workers on the other hand: blokes who know how to handle themselves; they are a whole different story. What’s more, they’re Australians. Mixing it up with the coppers is as old as Ned Kelly – and practically an obligation. No red-blooded, working-class Aussie is going to run away from the Police – until the shooting starts.

And that’s the problem – isn’t it? The last thing Premier Andrews needs right now are half-a-dozen young construction workers bleeding-out on Flinders Street. What’s more, the protesters know it. The Riot Squad can squirt all the pepper spray, and fire all the rubber bullets it likes, but so long as their numbers hold-up, these protesters aren’t going anywhere. Hell, they’ve even drawn up a batshit crazy list of demands – just like the miners at the Eureka Stockade. And if the cops actually do start shooting? Well, who’s for an irrational revolution?

So, where the bloody hell does that leave the political leadership of Victoria and Australia? Where has all this batshit craziness come from? Best guess? It’s come from nearly forty years of working-class blokes being looked straight through – as if they weren’t there. It’s been born out of the yawning chasm between the people who get the respectful nods, and the people on the receiving end of the contemptuous sneers. Between the classy types who talk knowledgably about good wine and boutique breweries, and the guys who drink the same brand of beer as their dads’. If you shove a whole class out of sight, and make it crystal clear that nobody who matters gives a rat’s arse what they think about anything, then winning their trust when it really, really matters, is bound to be a struggle.

After all, the bosses have been telling them for forty years that all these bad things that keep happening to them cannot be helped. Yes they may be painful, but they are also necessary. And besides, there are no alternatives. That was shit forty years ago, and it’s still shit. So, when the working-class hears the people in charge spewing out the same old rhetoric about painful but necessary adjustments – for the good of all – is it any wonder that the first response of a fair old chunk of them is scepticism?

Especially when there are YouTube videos and Facebook posts telling them that this whole Covid thing is a hoax – just another trick by billionaire vampires to deprive them of what little freedom they have left.

Especially when the “nice” people get to work from home on full pay, while the gates to the city’s building sites remain firmly padlocked.

Are all these protesting construction workers right, then? No, of course not. Covid-19 is not a figment of Daniel Andrews’ imagination. Nor can one help speculating, just a little, that mixed-in with all this working-class fury there might also be a pretty large dose of toxic Aussie masculinity. What is absolutely indisputable, however, is that the ignorance and aggression on display on the streets of Melbourne has not materialised overnight, out of thin air.

As W.H. Auden wrote on the eve of the Second World War:

I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 23 September 2021.

Wednesday, 22 September 2021

Outdated Views? Andrea Vance On Sean Plunket.

Re-Platforming: In the eyes of senior Stuff journalist, Andrea Vance, Sean Plunket’s “dalliances with controversy make it easy to paint him as a two-dimensional character: a right-wing, shock-jock with outdated views on privilege and race.” Dear me! The scorn dripping from those words could fill a large spittoon! Regardless, Plunket’s new media product “The Platform” will soon be going head-to-head with his woke detractors.

IT’S ONE OF THOSE throwaway lines which, precisely because so little conscious thought was given to it, tells us so much. The author, Andrea Vance, is an experienced political journalist working for Stuff. The subject of Vance’s throwaway line, Sean Plunket, is an equally experienced journalist. It was in her recent story about Plunket’s soon-to-be-launched online media product “The Platform”, that Vance wrote: “Plunket’s dalliances with controversy make it easy to paint him as a two-dimensional character: a right-wing, shock-jock with outdated views on privilege and race.”

It’s hard to get past those first four words. The picture Vance is painting is of a dilettante: someone who flits from one inconsequential pursuit to another, taking nothing seriously. And, of course, the use of the word “dalliances” only compounds this impression. To “dally” with somebody it to treat them casually, offhandedly – almost as a plaything. Accordingly, a “dalliance” should be seen as the very opposite of a genuine commitment. It smacks of self-indulgence. A cure, perhaps, for boredom?

To dally with controversy, therefore, is to betray a thoroughly feckless character. Controversies are all about passion and commitment. Controversies are taken seriously. Indeed, a controversy is usefully defined as a dispute taken seriously by all sides. And yet, according to Vance, Plunket has only been playing with controversy: trifling with it, as a seducer trifles with the affections of an innocent maid.

In Vance’s eyes, this indifference to matters of genuine and serious concern distinguishes Plunket as a “two-dimensional character”. It reduces him to a cardboard cut-out, a promotional poster, a thing of printer’s ink and pixels – insubstantial. Or, which clearly amounts to the same thing as far as Vance is concerned: “a right-wing, shock-jock with outdated views on privilege and race.” Dear me! The scorn dripping from those words could fill a large spittoon!

As if the holding of right-wing views somehow renders a person less than three-dimensional. As if conservative thinkers from Aristotle to Thomas Hobbes, Edmund Burke to Carl Schmidt haven’t contributed enormously to Western political thought. As if Keith Holyoake, Jim Bolger and Bill English aren’t respected by New Zealanders of all political persuasions for their rough-hewn dignity and love of country. To hold right-wing views isn’t a sickness, It doesn’t make you a bad person. It merely denotes a preference for the familiar; a wariness of the new; and a deep-seated fear of sudden and unmandated change.

As for “shock-jocks”: well, that is the sort of broadcasting talent commercial radio producers are constantly searching for. People of energy and enthusiasm, with a way of communicating both qualities to the radio station’s listeners. And if they also have a talent for decoding the zeitgeist on air: for tapping into the audience’s anger and frustration; and giving voice to their hopes and their fears? Well, then they are worth their weight in gold – and usually get it. The more people a “shock-jock” glues to the station’s frequency, the more the advertisers are prepared to pay. That’s the business.

Perhaps Vance should have a word with the people who pay her salary: perhaps they could explain where all that money comes from.

The most important words, however, Vance saves for last. What really confirms Plunket’s lack of three dimensions are his “outdated views on privilege and race”. It is with these six words that Vance betrays both herself and her newspaper.

Who says Plunket’s views on privilege and race are “outdated”? According to whose measure? After all, his views on privilege and race correspond closely with those of Dr Martin Luther King. Is Vance asserting that Dr King’s view that people should not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character, is outdated? Is she suggesting that a poor white man has more in the way of privilege than Oprah Winfrey? Or that the privileges which flow from superior economic power and social status count for less than those attached to race, gender and sexuality?

The answer is Yes. Those who declare such views to be “outdated” are, indeed, making all of the claims listed above. This locates them among a relatively narrow section of the population: highly educated; paid well above the average; more than adequately housed; and enjoying all the “privileges” accruing to those who manage the bodies and shape the minds of their fellow citizens.

Andrea Vance is a member of this truly privileged group, and so, at one time, was Sean Plunket. So, why the sneering condescension? Why the scorn? The answer is to be found in the new priorities of the truly privileged; the people who actually run this society. They have determined that their interests are better served by fostering division and bitterness. Rather than see people promote a view of human-beings that unites them in a common quest for justice and equality, they would rather Blacks assailed Whites, women assailed men, gays assailed straights, trans assailed TERFS – and vice versa. In short, the “One Percent” have decided that their interests are better protected by corporations, universities and the mainstream news media all promoting the ideology of identity politics.

By setting his face against this new “Woke” establishment, Sean Plunket the conservative poses as large a threat to the status quo as Martyn Bradbury the radical. On the one hand stand those who question the necessity and morality of changes now deemed essential by persons no one elected. On the other, those who insist that such divisive policies will produce results diametrically opposed to their promoters’ intentions. Right and Left, joined in an “outdated” search for the common ground that makes rational politics possible. The place where both sides are willing to acknowledge and agree that, in the words of John F. Kennedy:

[I]n the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 21 September 2021.

Monday, 20 September 2021

A Coalition Of The Waning.

The Sunset Of Anglo-Saxon Imperialism: To join this “Coalition of the Waning”: this AUKUS pact composed of the three military aggressors of the Iraq War; would not only be folly – it would be criminal folly.

THE FORMATION OF AUKUS, the new military pact linking Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States, is a mirage. It’s most important element, the arming of the Australian Navy with 8-12 nuclear-powered attack submarines, will almost certainly never happen. The Chinese Government, against which the agreement is aimed, will not be daunted. Indeed, in a shrewd diplomatic manoeuvre, Beijing has applied to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) from which the USA remains self-excluded, and of which New Zealand remains the “secretary”. What other word except “mirage” is fit to describe this latest, rather desperate, fantasy of Anglo-Saxon imperialism? Long-term strategic decline cannot be wished away by dreaming up a new acronym.

Not that New Zealand’s foreign affairs and defence “establishment” (FADE) will understand AUKUS in such terms. To the contrary, it is already mounting a full-court press to convince New Zealanders that their country has been slighted and snubbed, and its long-term national security imperilled, because their government has not sung along lustily enough in the new “Indo-Pacific” chorus-line. Over the next few weeks and months FADE will attempt to apply maximum pressure on Jacinda Ardern’s government by wheeling out every academic expert, former military officer, US-aligned politician and journalist at its disposal.

The first of what promises to be a great many of these AUKUS promoters appeared on the Q+A current affairs programme just yesterday morning (19/9/21). Former New Zealand Deputy-Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Winston Peters, with the sparkling waters of the Bay of Islands as his backdrop, was interviewed with uncharacteristic deference by the programme’s presenter, Jack Tame. Absent entirely from this encounter was the hectoring tone usually reserved for the NZ First leader by mainstream journalists. What viewers saw was a senior New Zealand statesman invited to shed light on New Zealand’s disturbing exclusion from this new and important security agreement.

Peters, naturally, did not disappoint. Indeed his performance was excellent – full of gravitas and more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger exasperation at the failings of his former Labour colleagues. He didn’t quite say Si vis pacem, para bellum (he who desires peace, should prepare for war) but that was clearly the message delivered by this antipodean Cincinnatus. Peters also made it plain that words have consequences: a not-so-subtle reminder that while his speeches as Foreign Minister only strengthened this country’s relationship with the United States, the speeches of Nanaia Mahuta have produced the opposite effect.

With the National Party locked in what Matthew Hooton calls a “death spiral”, and Act out of contention as a coalition partner for Labour, NZ First presents the Americans with a tempting prize. Subject to proper nurturing, and the right kind of advice, Peters’ party could once again find itself in a position to dangle the keys to the kingdom in front of a desperate Labour caucus. As the price of opening the castle gates, Peters could demand – and would, almost certainly, be given – both the Foreign Affairs and Defence portfolios. The chances are high that, very soon thereafter, the doors to AUKUS would also swing open.

The next New Zealand General Election is, however, still two years away, and much can change in two years. Beijing has just handed Wellington an extraordinary opportunity to place itself at the head of those Indo-Pacific nations that would much rather expand the opportunities for economic co-operation and trade, than join in ratchetting-up the tensions of a new Cold War. Imagine the diplomatic awkwardness for Canberra if Washington made it clear to “the fella down-under” that he was expected to blackball China from membership in the CPTPP. A China seeking to increase economic opportunities across the Indo-Pacific region would have been frozen-out by an Australian government more interested in the prospects of war than the benefits of peace. The contrast between the policies of Wellington and Canberra could not be rendered more starkly: to New Zealand’s Pacific neighbours, her trading partners, and, not least, to Beijing.

It is also quite possible that, by 2023, the United States will be embroiled in domestic strife bordering on civil-war. By fair means or foul the Republican Party appears poised to seize back control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate in next year’s mid-term elections. With both the Congress and the Supreme Court under their effective control, the possibility exists that the Republicans will attempt to depose President Biden and replace him with Donald Trump. The Trump-dominated Republican Party is certainly crazy enough to try. The real question, then, will be: who, in a constitutionally compromised United States, possesses both the means – and the will – to stop them? Is the American military prepared to destroy the American republic in order to save it? If it is, then AUKUS will be the last thing on its mind!

As for those nuclear-powered submarines the Americans have promised their Australian “mates”. To employ a popular Australianism: “Tell ‘em they’re dreaming!” The six diesel-powered Collins-class subs the Aussies already possess have been one long pain in the Australian Navy’s arse. Plagued by repeated breakdowns and difficulties in accessing spare parts, the Australian submarine fleet is almost never fully functional.

When it is ready for action, however, the Collins-class submarine is considerably nimbler and harder to detect than its larger, nuclear-powered, counterparts. Having only just learned how to get the best out of their current fleet, the idea that their incredibly hard to recruit submariners will have to master an infinitely more complex boat must be seriously depressing Australia’s naval commanders.

And that’s not even factoring-in the white-hot fury of the French – who have just been stiffed out of $93 billion!

All of which suggests that, upon hearing the news about AUKUS, New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern and Canada’s Justin Trudeau would have both breathed huge sighs of relief. There is something ever-so-slightly bonkers about this supposedly “new” security arrangement. For a start, what, exactly, is new about cobbling together military alliances against surging nation-states threatening to up-end the status quo? Isn’t that the sort of carry-on that led to World War I?

More to the point, how is anyone supposed to take Boris Johnson and his brand new aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth II, seriously? A man so enamoured with the life and times of Winston Churchill surely cannot have forgotten the fate of the HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse – sunk, almost casually, by Japanese bombers in December 1941? Surely, someone has told him about China’s hypersonic, carrier-killing missiles?

And what are the Chinese supposed to make of British warships in the South China Sea? Johnson may have forgotten all about the Opium Wars of the mid-nineteenth century, but Xi Jinping has not.

Surely, it is time for New Zealand to break free of the imperial project in which it has been enmeshed for the past 181 years? Surely, as an independent nation, it is in our long-term interests to recognise Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States for what they are? The three countries which, in March 2003, and in blatant contravention of international law and the United Nations Charter, attacked and invaded the sovereign nation of Iraq. In planning and unleashing aggressive war upon a country which had not attacked them, the leaders of the US, the UK and Australia were guilty of the same war crimes for which the leaders of Nazi Germany were tried and convicted at Nuremburg in 1946. To join this “Coalition of the Waning”: this pact composed of the three military aggressors of the Iraq War; would not only be folly – it would be criminal folly.

The shimmering vision of Imperial Hegemony Regained: the mirage which leads Joe Biden, Boris Johnson and Scott Morrison deeper and deeper into a waterless diplomatic desert; will be the ruin of them all.

This essay was originally posted on the website of Monday, 20 September 2021.

“No Debate!” Means No Democracy.

To The Lamp-Post With Them! Revolutionaries, along with the counter-revolutionaries they inevitably call into existence, are not disposed to engage in rational political discussion with their opponents. Their objective is not to change minds, but to crush bodies. Tragically, those who rule out the possibility of debate, almost always end up ruling out the possibility of democracy as well.

WHAT DOES A POLICY of “No Debate!” produce? What is the nature of the politics that emerges from such a context? When at least one side of a contentious issue acknowledges absolutely nothing in the arguments of its opponents that is worthy of any other response but vituperation and violence – what happens?

As is so often the case, the Weimar Republic offers us some grim lessons. Its very name tells a story. Born in 1918 amidst the chaos that followed Germany’s defeat in the First World War, the recently proclaimed republic drew up its new constitution in the ancient Thuringian city of Weimar. Why? Because in the German capital, Berlin, running street battles between the Left and the Right made it an unsuitable locale for rational debate.

Extremism also stalked the streets of Bavaria’s largest city, Munich. Students of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich will recognise Munich as the “home” of National Socialism: the city where the Nazi Party’s “Brownshirts” brawled in the beerhalls and roughed up socialists in the streets. Less understood, however, are the political dynamics that made the formation of the Sturmabteilung (Stormtroopers) necessary.

Before it became a bastion of the extreme German Right, Munich had, briefly, been in the hands of the extreme German Left. The city was polarised in ways most New Zealanders living in the twenty-first century would struggle to imagine. Those of us old enough to remember the tensions of the 1981 Springbok Tour might have some inkling but, given that no one was killed in those disturbances, not enough. In short, Munich was a city in which “No Debate!” was the rule – on both sides of the barricades.

It was in response to the standard communist tactic of breaking-up the meetings of their ideological opponents that Hitler and his right-hand man, Ernst Rohm (a former soldier and military adventurer with close ties to the upper echelons of the German Army) took steps to recruit young war veterans to guard Nazi venues and beat-off left-wing attackers. (Their trade-mark brown shirts were purchased as a job-lot by Rohm when Germany, having lost its African colonies, found itself in possession of a warehouse full of useless colonial uniforms.)

As the Nazi Party grew in strength, and the Stormtroopers in number, the tables were turned on Munich’s left-wing extremists. Now it was the Brownshirts who were breaking-up the meetings of communists and social-democrats, or gathering outside left-wing venues to menace and harass anyone foolhardy enough to attempt entry. The extreme Left, which had pioneered the “No Debate!” tactic against “reactionaries”, now found their earlier disruptions repaid, with interest, by the pistol-packing bully-boys of the extreme Right.

Weimar’s judgement on the extremist policy of permitting “No Debate!” with ideological opponents is a harsh one. It drives political groups further and further apart, and makes any kind of resolution of political differences impossible. Deployed against one side, it will be taken up with vengeful alacrity by the other. Political polarisation deepens, and the civil political discourse upon which democracy depends retreats ever further from the public square. Moreover, as the fate of the Weimar Republic makes tragically clear: what the Left starts, the Right is happy to finish.

And the point of this history lesson is – what?

Simply, that the current policy of trans-gender activists to countenance “No Debate!” with feminists apprehensive about how the proposed amendments to the Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationships Registration Act might impact on the rights of women and girls, has generated an astonishing level of political vituperation – up to and including repeated efforts to deny their opponents both the freedom of expression and the freedom to assemble peacefully.

Just how vicious this “No Debate” fight has become was illustrated when the Otago Daily Times published an advertisement submitted by the Stand Up For Women group. By agreeing to carry SUFW’s message – the dictionary definition of “woman” – the newspaper exposed itself to bitter and sustained attack from trans-gender activists on social media. By allowing their enemies (for that is how “trans-exclusionary” feminists are perceived) to define the meaning of woman, the ODT was accused of taking up position on the wrong side of history.

By upholding freedom of speech and facilitating civil democratic debate, however, the ODT has shown its understanding of history’s “wrong side” to be both deeper and stronger than its critics’.

This essay was originally published in the Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 17 September 2021.

Friday, 17 September 2021

Keep New Zealand Nuclear-Free – Stay Out of AUKUS!

Playing With The Big Boys' Toys: The US faces an array of enemies it is no longer certain it can beat – not without destroying itself at the same time. Equipping the Aussies with nuclear submarines (and other things) represents the moment in the Western movie when the grizzled old wagon-master reluctantly places a six-gun in the eager hands of a twelve-year-old. Ordinarily, he wouldn’t think of it, but there are “Injuns” out there, and the wagon train needs every gun it’s got.

THANK GOD New Zealand is not a member of the new “AUKUS” alliance. Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States have joined forces in a military pact that has only one purpose: the intimidation and restraint of China. The price of admission to this latest demonstration of Anglo-Saxon hegemony is a willingness to “go nuclear”. Not a problem for the US and the UK, both of which have possessed nuclear weapons and nuclear-powered vessels for decades. It is, however, a very big, and potentially disastrous, step for Australia, which once boasted a nuclear-free movement every bit as noisy (remember Midnight Oil?) as New Zealand’s.

Indeed, had the Australian Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, not been a highly valued CIA asset of long-standing, it is possible – even likely – that both Australia and New Zealand would have ended up declaring themselves “Nuclear Free”.

The consequences of such a double declaration would have been profound. Not to be outdone by these far-flung antipodeans, the Nordic countries may well have followed suit. In time, the whole of the Southern Hemisphere may have rejected the madness of “mutual and assured destruction”. Seeing Reds, the Americans would certainly have had several pink fits. Not enough, though, to prevent the world from taking a slightly different course.

An intriguing counterfactual history, to be sure. What actually happened, of course, is that the Americans, having failed to “secure” David Lange as they had secured Bob Hawke, were taken completely off guard when the New Zealand Labour Party followed the breadcrumbs of sanity out of the nuclear forest. Washington was mightily pissed-off, naturally, but hey – at least it wasn’t Australia!

Certainly, Australia has never wavered in its determination to be the United States “Deputy-Sheriff” in what is now called the “Indo-Pacific” region. Ever since Japanese bombers, in about the same time it took them to get their bomb-bays open, sank HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales – and with them all the illusions of an overstretched British Empire – Canberra has tossed all its diplomatic and military chips into Washington’s pot. It does not intend to be caught out ever again as it was in December 1941. Henceforth, Australia would be right there in the room when the strategic decisions were being made – not 12,000 miles away. When your enemies are close, says Canberra, keep your friends closer.

The only alternative to taking up residence in Uncle Sam’s rectum, as far as the national security boffins and senior military brass were concerned, was for Australia to develop its own atomic bomb. Nuts? Maybe, but for a much longer period than one might have thought possible (1961-1973) the Australian right-wing governments of Robert Menzies and his successors were willing to give it a go. That they never quite managed to build an Aussie bomb was due largely to the refusal of the Brits and the Yanks to supply them with the wherewithal to do so. Anglo-Saxon imperialism may have been pretty crazy, but it wasn’t that crazy!

Fifty years on, and how things have changed. Washington is now willing to lease a dozen or more Los-Angeles-class nuclear-powered submarines to the Australian Navy. Why? Because, almost certainly, the secret protocols of the AUKUS Pact make it clear that, along with the nuclear-powered attack submarines, Australia will be given access to the “technology” it has always craved. Finally, Canberra will have what it takes to wipe the smirks off the faces of the Generals of the Peoples Liberation Army. Very soon America’s Deputy-Sheriff will be packing nuclear pistols.

If all this sounds like one of those paranoid Aussie television series, then it only goes to show that if you want to tell the truth – write fiction. AUKUS is proof positive that the Anglo-Saxon world has lost its nerve. It is the twenty-first century equivalent of circling the wagons against the Native Americans. The US faces an array of enemies it is no longer certain it can beat – not without destroying itself at the same time. Equipping the Aussies with nuclear submarines (and other things) represents the moment in the Western movie when the grizzled old wagon-master reluctantly places a six-gun in the eager hands of a twelve-year-old. Ordinarily, he wouldn’t think of it, but there are “Injuns” out there, and the wagon train needs every gun it’s got.

The New Zealand Government, its Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs especially, will happily stay as far away from this lunacy as possible – and the country’s anti-nuclear legislation gives them the perfect excuse. Moreover, with its paltry team of five million and its disturbing unwillingness to beat the war drum as enthusiastically as its much larger and more co-operative neighbour, New Zealand is dispensable. For the moment, Washington is perfectly happy to have the Kiwis cooling their heels outside the room where the big strategic decisions are being made.

All of New Zealand’s recent history, however, suggests that not being in the room is a situation which the New Zealand Defence Force will deem intolerable. It is also highly likely that a significant number of senior bureaucrats at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade will be equally disturbed by our “no show” at the AUKUS party. They will be worried that Beijing, observing these developments from afar, will see a gap just large enough to accommodate a big, fat Chinese diplomatic lever. The “Deep State” (the military, key players in the state bureaucracy, and the national security apparatus) is unlikely to tolerate New Zealand being separated from its “traditional allies” for too long.

New Zealand’s prime minister, and her nuclear-free team of five million, should fasten their seat-belts: the next few months look set to give them all a very bumpy ride. As if fighting Covid-19 wasn’t enough, Jacinda should prepare for her very own anti-nuclear moment.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 17 September 2021.