Wednesday 31 December 2008

Debating Social Democracy

No self-respecting human individual, of any class, responds well to the notion that he or she is like one of those faceless workers surging jerkily across the screen in a black-and-white newsreel from the 1920s; just another soulless cog in Marx’s irresistible historical juggernaut.

THERE is a huge difference between believing in something and making it happen.

So often, on the Left, we tie ourselves up in knots arguing about the principles and programmes we should believe in, and expend far too little effort turning those principles and programmes into real-world achievements.

Karl Marx, as usual, put it best when he wrote: "Philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it."

In the debate sparked by my Dominion Post "From the Left’ column of 12 December (see here, here, here, here, and here) my opponents have concentrated on what they consider to be the most important errors in my contention that the Labour Party is, as Quentin Findlay so succinctly puts it: "the only game in town".

Labour, they argue, no longer subscribes to the social-democratic ideology (or, at least, not in the way any "genuine" social-democrat would define the term). That being the case, they contend, Labour will never introduce the sort of legislative and/or regulatory initiatives required to eliminate social and economic injustice.

From both a strategic and a tactical perspective, insists the non-Labour Left, it is imperative to constitute an independent electoral force to Labour’s left – from which position the social-democrats can be "persuaded" to embrace a more radical policy agenda. The model they point to for historical vindication of this strategy is the Alliance.

It is important to take a few moments here to review the historical explanation for this idea that the prospects for a socialist transformation of capitalist society can be enhanced by multiplying the political instruments required for its accomplishment. A strategy which, on the face of it, appears to contradict the first rule of effective politics: in unity there is strength.

It originated, of course, in the triumph of nationalism over socialist internationalism occasioned by the outbreak of the First World War. Since the turn of the 19th Century, socialists parties around the world had pledged themselves to peace. Should an imperialist war break out, the proper response of the socialists in every country was to call a general strike. Rather than make imperialist war on their brothers, the working class was supposed to declare class war on their bosses.

That’s not what happened, of course. Confronted with what they saw as the unprovoked aggression of their neighbours, overwhelming majorities in all the working class parties of the belligerent powers voted in favour of supplying their respective governments with the necessary funds for waging war. Patriotism easily trumped the much vaunted, though seldom demonstrated, solidarity of the 2nd Socialist International.

Even so, the outbreak of socialist revolutions, in Russia, in February of 1917, and Germany, in November 1918, encouraged the minority of socialists who had voted against the war to break decisively from those majorities which still aligned themselves with the nation’s cause and supported its core institutions. The triumphant Russian Bolsheviks formalised this split in the world socialist movement by announcing the formation of a Third "Communist" International – the Comintern.

Thus was the international working-class divided into two, mutually antagonistic factions: the social-democratic "reformists" versus the "revolutionary" communists. By restricting membership of the Comintern to Moscow-approved Communist parties, and by employing state-of-the-art propaganda techniques, the Bolshevik’s highly centralised mode of organisation and revolutionary dogma soon came to dominate, if not the international proletariat, then at least the international intelligentsia.

It represented a crippling (and, in the case of inter-war Germany, a deadly) bifurcation of proletarian effort which was to last as long as "actually existing socialism" itself. Indeed, with the Sino-Soviet split of the early-1960s and the rise of the "New Left" a few years later, one could almost say the international socialist movement was spoiled by choice!

In the context of our original theme of political efficacy, to which we now return, the bifurcation of the socialist movement has had an equally pernicious effect. Constrained by its adherence to democratic principles, the reformers of the labour and social-democratic parties could not point to practical achievements on the scale of the totalitarian Soviet Union. In the midst of the Great Depression, the oft-repeated cry "There’s no unemployment in Russia!" carried a lot of weight. Not as much, however, as the social-democrats’ counter-cry "And no freedom either!"

"Nationalise everything, and shoot the buggers who complain" (as one New Zealand playwright wittily summarised Stalinism) may have got things done – but only at the cost of extinguishing those indispensable solidaristic and emancipatory impulses from which socialism draws its moral authority and political momentum.

As Rosa Luxemburg put it in her famous essay on the Russian Revolution: "Without universal elections, an unlimited freedom of the press and of assembly, and free contest of ideas, the life in every public institution dies down, turns into a pseudo-life in which the bureaucracy remains the only active element… a dictatorship indeed, but not the dictatorship of the proletariat but rather the dictatorship of a handful of politicians."

It is one of the besetting sins of the revolutionary Left that they massively and consistently under-rate the opprobrium in which working people hold socialism and communism (by which they almost always mean Stalinism and/or Maoism). No self-respecting human individual, of any class, responds well to the notion that he or she is like one of those faceless workers surging jerkily across the screen in a black-and-white newsreel from the 1920s; just another soulless cog in Marx’s irresistible historical juggernaut. Like everybody else, working people resent being taken for granted and told what to do. They like to be asked.

They also prefer to be led in directions they actually want to travel – a truth turned into a memorable political aphorism by Jim Anderton, when, many years ago, he advised a group of impatient young firebrands in Labour Youth to: "Build your footpaths where the people walk."

As democratic socialists, we should be striving to achieve "emotional congruence" with working people. Our political messages should map, as closely as possible, the way people are feeling about the problems and challenges that beset them. In my experience, there is only one sure way to do this, and that is through much informal discussion and a great many formal debates. And the only places this can be done effectively is in what remains of the mass organisations of the New Zealand working class: the trade unions and the Labour Party.

Don’t misunderstand me, developing emotional congruence is not the same as mastering the dark arts of political populism. The populist politician works with the feelings he, or others, have already found or implanted in their audiences, shaping people to a template only partly of their own devising. The populist plays upon, validates and exploits his audience’s anxieties, he does not attempt to investigate, challenge or inform them.

The most important strategic task those who seek to rehabilitate and revivify socialism in New Zealand could undertake in 2009 would be the task of massively expanding the opportunities for discussion and debate within the trade union movement and the Labour Party. The failure of both these institutions in 2008 reflected their woeful inability to ensure that there was an emotional congruence between the ideas, practices and policies of their respective leaders, and the hopes, fears and aspirations of their respective members and supporters.

Expanding that space will not be easy, and it will meet with resistance – probably from the very moment it is attempted. But there is a very good reason for that. What happens in the unions and the Labour Party matters.

Oliver Woods describes with some feeling the harsh treatment which was meted out to him and his comrades at the Princes Street Branch of the Labour Party – comparing it to the treachery of my own Castle Street Branch in the 1980s. All true, Oliver, but predictable as well, because some of the most influential Labour Party politicians of the past forty years have come out of those branches. You should never be surprised by the ferocity with which the designated gate-keepers guard the entrances to genuine political power. Learning how to get past them is an indispensable part of the process of becoming politically effective.

Steve Cowan, by way of contrast, regards this process as one in which people like myself are required to place themselves in an insoluble contradiction. On the one hand we want to be effective progressives, but, on the other, we want to be supporters of the Labour Party. You can be one or the other, says Steve, but you can’t be both. From my perspective, however, the most debilitating contradiction afflicting the contemporary New Zealand Left is the one which sees activists desperately trying to become politically effective while, simultaneously, refusing to make the ideological and moral compromises political effectiveness inevitably entails. To paraphrase Steve, you can do one, or you can do the other, but you can’t do both.

This lack of political realism is even more evident in the Workers’ Party’s commentary. Don Franks seems to believe that Labour’s failure to correct all the evils and injustices of 21st Century capitalism is driven by a combination of old-fashioned political treachery and unforgivable moral cowardice.

If the capitalist system were a static and non-responsive entity such a charge might carry conviction, but, as every sensible socialist understands, capitalism is one of humanity’s most dynamic, adaptive and ruthlessly responsive creations.

To satisfy Don, Labour would have to have launched a full-scale assault upon the neo-liberal edifice erected by Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson in the late-1980s and early-1990s. But such a strategy, as he well knows, would have been tantamount to sounding the revolutionary tocsin - and at a moment in their history when all that New Zealanders wanted from their government was a respite from sudden and wrenching social and economic change.

Those parts of the capitalist system materially unaffected by a political party's temporary command of a parliamentary majority – the Armed Forces, the Police, the Judiciary, the Civil Service, employer organisations and the news media – would have made short work of such a foolhardy challenge.

Ultimately, all Don and the Workers’ Party seem able to offer the Left is the counsel of perfection – both for political parties and individuals. Don’s quite unnecessarily disparaging and inaccurate comments in regard to myself offer the best proof I can think of why artists should never attempt to become politicians. Don Franks the singer-songwriter, whose lyrics sparkle with wit and insight, delivers much more in the way of political wisdom to the Left than Don Franks the dour and unforgiving Maoist of the blogosphere and letters-to-the-editor columns.

The picture which emerges at the conclusion of this very interesting debate is at once depressing and encouraging. Depressing, because so much intellect and energy is being wasted on left-wing political projects that will, in the end, be extremely lucky to leave the slightest mark upon New Zealand history. Encouraging, because so much political talent still exists in this country. Directed towards achievable ends, that talent could make a real and lasting difference.

If, instead of by turns praising and lambasting one another in the splendid isolation of the blogosphere, or at conferences attended by nobody apart from the usual suspects, the revolutionary "philosophers" of the Left were willing, for just three years, to put to one side their fiery principles, and devote the many and considerable skills they undoubtedly possess to developing a much higher degree of emotional congruence between the leadership and the rank-and-file of the New Zealand labour movement, they might be surprised at how much of the world they could change.

As a wise old social-democratic parliamentarian from Switzerland told me at the Otago Foreign Policy School in May of this year:

"The democracy is in the discussion."

Wednesday 24 December 2008

The Calculus of Kingship

The flight into Egypt.

THE sky darkens – again.

Can God be so displeased with the works of Herod the Great? Has he not rebuilt the Temple? Does its splendour not put even Solomon’s work to shame?

And has he not brought peace to Judea? Why should peace count for so little? Judea is small in the eyes of Rome, but Rome looms large in the eyes of Judea’s king. What the Roman Senate can make, the Roman Senate can break.

These stiff-necked Jews! Why can they not accept that their fate is to be ruled by others? Would it hurt them so much to acknowledge Caesar’s divinity? What harm could it do?

A stiff-necked people – and a stiff-necked God. So jealous – so easily offended.

He who, for the second time, darkens the face of the Moon.

It all began with those three Parthian wizards. Yes, it was they who began it. As if I didn’t have enough trouble on my hands, they came before the throne – my throne, mark you – seeking to know where they might find the Christ: "For we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him."

The Christ! The "anointed one"!

They had the temerity to ask me – Herod the Great, King of the Jews by order of the Senate and People of Rome – where they should seek for the "King of the Jews".

It crossed my mind to have them executed on the spot. But the Parthians rule a mighty empire, and are not to be offended needlessly. So I hid my anger, and put on the countenance of a devout and benevolent ruler – bidding the Temple priests and guardians of the Law to give the Magi answer.

"In Bethlehem of Judea," they replied, "for so it is written by the prophet: ‘And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.’"

Rule my people? What unutterable folly! As if Rome would permit anyone it had not chosen to rule over its own client kingdom. I pity the man unfortunate enough to be proclaimed King by these credulous fools. The Romans would have him nailed to a cross before you could say "Hosanna!"

But, once again, I hid my wrath and drew the Parthians aside. "Follow your star to Bethlehem," I said, "search diligently for the young child: and when you have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also."

They assured me they would do so. Fool! For wizards they were, and they read my thoughts as easily as if they were written on parchment. They knew that the real King of the Jews would never suffer such a prodigy to live.

Some rough peasant’s child, born under a wayward star? That’s just the sort of event that encourages the most dangerous political dreamers, and sends every village rabbi scurrying for scriptural confirmation that, at last, the Messiah has come among his people.

So I did what I had to do – what any ruler worthy of the name would have done. When the Parthians failed to return, and the first mad rumours of stables and angels reached my ears, I sent my men-at-arms to Bethlehem … and they did what had to be done.

It was less than three-dozen little boys. The Captain of the Guard put the tally at thirty-three. Not such a crime – not really. Not when you consider how many little boys would have ended up being run through by Roman swords if this "holy child" had been allowed to reach manhood.

Thirty-three little boys to save thirty-three thousand. Such is the calculus of kingship.

If you would rule men, then you must first learn to kill children.

And live with nightmares.

Oh yes, I see them in my dreams. Hear their screams. See the faces of their stricken mothers.

All save one. She recedes from me, south into the desert. Beneath a blazing star, she lifts up her living son – and his face is shining.

Historical Note: In 4BC – the year traditionally associated with the birth of Jesus Christ – Herod the Great of Judea mysteriously fell victim to the excruciating medical condition known as Fournier’s gangrene. He died in a matter of hours.
This short story was first published in The Dominion Post of 21st December 2007.
May I wish all the visitors to Bowalley Road a very Merry Christmas.

Sunday 21 December 2008

Left of Labour, or Bereft of Sense?

Oliver Woods

THE extraordinary success of the Alliance in the 1990s was both a blessing and curse for the New Zealand Left. A blessing, because, by its very existence, the Alliance forced the Labour Party to purge itself of the most dangerous elements of the neo-liberal clique which had seized control of the Parliamentary Labour Party in the 1980s (after which it was able to pressure Helen Clark and her colleagues to return to a more recognizably social-democratic policy course). A curse, because the Alliance’s undoubted (although limited) achievements have convinced individuals and organisations to the left of the Labour Party that the creation of a viable left-wing electoral option to Labour is a viable political project.

A good example of this flawed thinking is contained in this posting by Oliver Woods, the Residents’ Action Movement (RAM) candidate for the seat of Auckland Central in the last election. Joining the debate initiated here by Bryce Edwards, a left-wing political studies lecturer at the University of Otago, and taking strong issue with my response ("You Say You Want A Revolution?" – see below) Oliver writes:

There seems to be a major underlying problem in the post he made. Namely, he has conveniently forgotten his own political background. He omits that he was part of the current of people that quit Labour during the late 1980's because of the party's swing to the extreme libertarian right. He quit Labour because it was no longer a party that helped the working class. Chris was a staunch NewLabour and Alliance Party supporter, remaining true to New Zealand's social democratic tradition.
In a depressingly crude argument, he attacks the Workers Party based on how many votes they received and uses Labour's high votes to illustrate that it is the "true" Workers Party. This is the crass argument of a bully, not Chris' usual intelligent analysis and commentary.
Even more bizarrely for Chris' normally very coherent work, his argument is fundamentally illogical. He manipulates the Alliance into his pro-Labour story. He argues the Alliance's influence on Labour as an argument to prove that Labour is really left wing. Yet he argues that without the Alliance in coalition, Labour would not have followed a pro-worker, left program.
Which leaves me bemused. How can he simultaneously argue that Labour isn't really for the workers, yet really it is?

Well, the first thing to acknowledge is that Oliver is quite correct in identifying the lacunae in my earlier posting. I was wrong to assume so much willing compression of the historical and political narrative concerning Labour and the Alliance on the part of my readers.

Let me remedy that now by making explicit what I mistakenly believed was implicit in the posting: i.e. that the Alliance (and the NLP before it) were born out of, and were, in fact, all about – the Labour Party. What they represented was not a departure from the social-democratic project in New Zealand, but a reaffirmation of its centrality to the nation’s political life.

As I wrote in 2001 (in Ray Miller’s New Zealand Government & Politics):

"With only 8 percent of the 1999 popular vote, the Alliance has made its future utility to Labour highly questionable. If the organisation’s historical task was to act as a transitional vehicle – from the aberration of the 1984-90 Labour Party, to the much more recognisable social democratic force that Helen Clark has fashioned – then surely that task has been accomplished? Its constituent membership notwithstanding, the Alliance’s future may now lie in a more-or-less amicable reabsorption by Labour – the party it devoted so much energy to destroying, and then saved."

There is nothing illogical, therefore, in citing the Alliance as evidence of the futility of attempting to establish an electoral organisation, anchored in the New Zealand working-class, with a programme well to the left of Labour’s. On the contrary, the ultimate fate of the Alliance demonstrates quite conclusively the very real constraints that will inevitably be brought to bear on all those radical social-democrats (not to mention revolutionary socialists) who attempt to extend the boundaries of political praxis beyond what the majority of their own party comrades, their party’s leadership, their coalition partner’s leadership, the capitalist ruling class, and public opinion generally, are willing to tolerate.

The Alliance split over the US invasion of Afghanistan – an issue singularly ill-suited to the purposes of those who wished to boost the Alliance’s dwindling electoral fortunes. And to those who say: "Oh, if it hadn’t been Afghanistan, it would have been something else.", I would only reply: "Well, I wish it had been something else!"

Splitting the Alliance over making the restoration of free tertiary education a non-negotiable element of the 2002 Labour-Alliance coalition agreement, for example, would, at the very least, have offered the prospect of bringing a significant number of the public in behind the radical faction’s demands – thereby applying maximum political pressure to Anderton and Clark.

Dying in a ditch for the Taleban never did strike me as the radical Left’s best way of convincing the Alliance’s 200,000 voters that it was anything other than a collection of self-indulgent, terrorist-appeasing, twits.

I fear Oliver will again accuse me of adopting a bullying tone, but really, what does the radical Left expect? Its blunt refusal to face political realities is not something it is in any left-leaning individual’s interest to ignore. Take Oliver’s own "party" – RAM – as a case in point. Earlier in the year a critic of RAM’s decision to contest the 2008 General Election wrote:

Any attempt by RAM to break into the national political scene will, therefore, almost certainly end in failure. Thousands of person hours, and tens-of-thousands of dollars, will be expended for what, when all the votes have been counted, is likely to be a tally well short of one percent of the Party Vote. Not only will this outcome prove profoundly demoralising for those candidates/activists who participated in the election campaign, but it will also constitute a significant opportunity cost for the Left as a whole – and for the Far Left in particular.

The history of New Zealand elections is studded with examples of Far-Left groups who put their policies to the democratic test and were aggressively rebuffed by the electorate. The consequences of these repeated rejections have been very damaging in at least two important respects.

First: the derisory election results powerfully reinforced the entrenched Centre-Left belief that Far-Left parties have no genuine constituency of any size among the New Zealand population. Centre-Leftists were, therefore, further encouraged to write-off ‘revolutionary’ political aspirants as Quixotic – at best, or dangerous nutcases – at worst.

Second: among the revolutionaries themselves, poor election results powerfully reinforced the argument that the ‘masses’ were suffering from ‘false consciousness’. They – the ‘Genuine Left’ – had seen the issues all-too-clearly, but, up against the lies of the news media, the schools and universities, and the ‘treacherous mis-leaders of the working-class’ the ‘truth’ was unable gain a hearing. This self-pitying attitude only served to widen the distance between the Far- and Centre-Left, and the electorate as a whole.

Sadly, these predictions have all been borne out – practically to the letter. Oliver, in spite of the investment of hundreds of hours, and the expenditure of huge amounts of emotional energy (and, I suspect, a not inconsiderable amount of his own cash) attracted just 132 votes, a figure which, to his credit, was eight times higher than the number of Party Votes cast for RAM in Auckland Central. (Indeed, across the country, RAM managed the extraordinary feat of actually attracting fewer Party Votes (435) than the 500 members required to register it as a political party!)

Oliver, a young comrade of enormous political potential, would be far better engaged in the vital process of building up the growing strength of the progressive forces within the Labour Party. Joining with new MPs like Grant Robertson, Clare Curran and Phil Twyford to develop practical solutions to crucial issues like child poverty, the strengthening of the trade unions, the introduction of a universal student allowance, and the revitalisation of our public broadcasting services.

Men and women of Oliver’s intelligence, erudition and commitment are rare enough in New Zealand politics, without pissing their energies into the wind by cynically involving them in attempts to establish electoral options for the working-class to the left of Labour – a project as bereft of sense as it is lacking in even the remotest possibility of success.

Thursday 18 December 2008

You Say You Want A Revolution?

Lenin instructs the masses, as Trotsky looks on. Revolution was far too important to be left to ordinary working people.

IT is always a pleasure to respond to the critical writing of left-wing comrades – even when it is my own newspaper columns that are being critiqued!

Bryce Edwards, here, has taken me to task for a series of satirical jibes which I directed at the far-Left in my Dominion Post "From the Left’ column published on Friday 12 December 2008.

What appears to have upset Bryce most about the column was its underlying assumption that in New Zealand the revolutionary Left enjoys (if that is the right word) a reputation for being a motley collection of political Jeremiahs, who delight in the misery of the working class and positively welcome hard economic times on the grounds that such adverse conditions can only "heighten the contradictions" inherent in all capitalist societies and, hence, hasten their demise.

Bryce also takes exception to the other big assumption in my column: that the NZ Labour Party has always enjoyed, and will continue to enjoy, much greater success than the revolutionary Left in attracting mass working-class support - especially during periods of economic hardship.

Like many revolutionary socialists, Bryce regularly condemns the Labour Party for being a "right-wing" and "anti-worker" party.

On the face of it, this is a rather absurd charge. As I pointed out in my column, the Labour Party attracted 796,880 Party Votes in the recent election - most of them from working-class voters. (By way of comparison, the far-Left Workers' Party received just 932 Party Votes.) What Bryce's characterisation of the Labour Party as right-wing and anti-worker implies, therefore, is that the working-class is either blind (or has been blinded) to its own self-interest; or has itself become a hot-bed of right-wing and anti-worker beliefs.

Now, I don’t know for sure, but I'm assuming that Bryce, like most of those who adhere to the revolutionary socialist tradition, still subscribes to the principles of Marxism-Leninism. If so, his rather condescending attitude toward the working-class is perfectly consistent with the revolutionary model he espouses. As Lenin so arrogantly expressed it in What Is To Be Done?:

"The history of all countries shows that the working class exclusively by its own effort is able to develop only trade-union consciousness."

In other words, revolution is much too important to be left to ordinary working people! Far better to leave it to, oh, I don’t know – university lecturers – perhaps?

Sometimes, however, ordinary working people see the world a great deal more clearly than revolutionary academics. Ordinary working people just might, for example, regard advice from Rosa Luxemburg and Leon Trotsky as something to be taken with a very large grain of salt.

After all, if Rosa was such a visionary, how come in January 1919 she allowed a troop of demobbed soldiers, now serving in the notorious Garde-Kavallerie-Schützendivision Freikorps, to abduct her off a Berlin street, club her senseless, fire a bullet into her brain, and throw her lifeless body into the Landwehr Canal? And if Leon Trotsky was such a socialist seer, how was Stalin’s special assassin, Ramon Mercader, able to disaggregate his skull with an ice-pick in Mexico City in 1940?

I ask these brutal questions with a serious purpose. Because it is almost always posterity which invests individuals with the extraordinary qualities for which they are remembered. Luxemburg and Trotsky were both immensely talented revolutionary politicians, but just as prone to getting caught up in the day-to-day exigencies of their craft as the rest of us – and equally blind to their ultimate fates.

It is as foolish to abstract from their political context the political writings and observations of Luxemburg and Trotsky, as it is to quote at random from the commentary of a left-wing political columnist like myself.

Luxemburg was wrong about the revolutionary potential of the German working-class, and she paid for that misjudgement with her life. What she correctly identified, however, were the elitist and ultimately tyrannical tendencies within the Leninist revolutionary model – and for that she is justly remembered.

Trotsky, too, was wrong in his assessment of capitalism’s strengths and weaknesses. Far from being a brief respite, the economic recovery noted in his 1921 pamphlet marked the beginning of a capitalist boom lasting almost a decade. What’s more, when boom turned to bust, it was not the socialists who benefited, but the fascists.

What today’s revolutionaries always seem to overlook, when quoting Luxemburg and Trotsky, is the signal fact that their respective assassinations were not the work of the Right, but of their fellow socialists (Noske in the case of Luxemburg, Stalin in the case of Trotsky). They died because they refused to accept that the revolutions in which they’d played such an important role had reached the limits of what was politically and economically feasible.

And it is this, the recognition of what is – and what is not – politically and economically feasible, that distinguishes the political movements capable of attracting 796,880 votes, from those capable of attracting just 932.

As I recall, Bryce was, for a period, a member of Jim Anderton’s NewLabour Party (and worked for a while in the Alliance's parliamentary office). For more than a decade these organisations represented the most successful parliamentary assertion of democratic socialism in the Western world. That the Alliance, in 1999, secured four Cabinet seats in what was internationally regarded as the most left-wing Labour government in the world, was a huge achievement.

Indeed, such was the pull of its political gravity that the Alliance carried Helen Clark’s government several degrees further to the left than, left to itself, it would ever have felt comfortable travelling.

Would the renationalisation of ACC, the restoration of income related state-house rentals, the repeal of the Employment Contracts Act, the creation of a state-owned bank, and the introduction of paid parental leave and four weeks annual leave have occurred without the Alliance? Certainly not as quickly, and possibly not at all.

Were these reforms of benefit to working people? Absolutely.

Would a right-wing, anti-worker government (such as the one we have now) have introduced such measures? Never.

As it was, in threatening a full-scale investment strike, New Zealand’s capitalist ruling class, in "The Winter of Discontent" of 2000, signalled how very close to the limits of what was politically and economically feasible the Labour-Alliance coalition had come. When, in 2002, the Alliance Left indicated that it intended to test those limits further , Clark and Anderton (like Noske and Stalin before them) ruthlessly organised its destruction.

And when Labour, itself, took the revolutionary step of illegally appropriating sufficient public funds to mobilise its working-class base against the threat of a Don Brash-led National Government in 2005, the New Zealand ruling class made it very clear that the limits of its tolerance had been exceeded.

What followed Labour’s 2005 election victory: the "Establishment’s" three-year campaign of non-stop political aggression against the entire parliamentary Left and its NZ First allies; stands as an object lesson in what happens to social-democratic governments which mobilise their core working-class vote without a coherent plan for keeping it mobilised.

For Bryce should make no mistake, it is the latter variety of social-democratic governance that I have always stood for – and fought for. But, to pull off that sort of governance you have to box clever – very clever.

In my book, No Left Turn, I used a classical myth to illustrate the method adopted by the First Labour Government for slaying the capitalist monster:

"The conduct of Savage, Nash and Fraser calls to mind the legend of Perseus and Medusa. Befriended by Athena, the goddess of wisdom, and Hermes, the keeper of secrets, Perseus is provided with the weapons necessary to slay Medusa. But the gods also warn the hero that when the critical moment arrives for him to put an end to tyranny by striking off the monster’s head, he must be guided only by Medusa’s bright reflection mirrored in the metal of Athena’s shield. It was fatal to confront the Gorgon face-to-face: any man who gazed directly upon the true horror of her countenance was instantly turned to stone.

"Like Perseus, the first Labour government’s heroic achievements were secured by its wise refusal to confront its enemy directly. Capitalism in New Zealand was mastered not by staring it down, but by addressing its many institutional reflections: the private control of credit creation; the private provision of health and housing; the master-servant relationship in the workplace; the disciplinary effects of mass unemployment; and the class-based allocation of educational and cultural resources. By concentrating their reforming zeal on these institutional representations of capitalist power, Savage, Nash and Fraser avoided the massive social resistance which would inevitably have attended the wholesale expropriation of private property."

New Zealand politics, since the end of the long post-war boom in the mid-1970s, has been about little else apart from the New Zealand ruling-class’s single-minded determination to tear down the institutional walls in which social-democracy had immured it. The ferocity of that effort, and the limited nature of its success, reveals the deadly efficacy of Savage’s strategy.

It is also highly significant that in order to breach those walls, it was first necessary to subvert the Labour Party. No other political movement in New Zealand could have done it.

And no other movement in New Zealand will ever rebuild those walls. Only the labour movement – political and industrial – possesses the historical and cultural power to lead the counter-attack against the Right’s counter-revolution.

Ultimately, it is the wisdom and courage of ordinary working people – not academic Marxist-Leninists, or even erratic newspaper columnists – that will re-imprison the capitalist beast.

And the party they turn to for that purpose will be Labour – the real workers’ party.

Monday 15 December 2008

Spy vs Spy

Following Nicky Hager's revelations in The Sunday Star-Times of police infiltration of domestic protest organisations, and acknowledging the two very interesting responses to his article from Liberation and Against the Current, I re-publish here my "Making A Contribution", article, published in The Independent of 14 February 2001. It occasioned some bitter left-wing reaction at the time, which, to my mind at least, betrayed an extraordinary degree of naivete on the part of the Left in New Zealand.

If your intention is to overthrow the existing order, you should not be surprised – nor outraged – when it takes steps to protect itself.

NEW ZEALAND’s Security Intelligence Service guards its secrets well. Only rarely is the public permitted even a glimpse of its internal workings. Outside of the Beehive’s Ninth Floor, the intentions and operations of the Service remain a mystery. Inquiries from journalists are politely turned away, and inquisitive MPs are referred to Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee, a carefully chosen clutch of senior politicians, chaired by the Prime Minister, and legally prevented from commenting on any matter "relating directly to the activities" of the Service. This is probably as it should be. A security service unable to guard its secrets would hardly be worthy of the name.

Sometimes, however, things go badly wrong, and matters relating directly to the activities of the Service are thrust, blinking, into the bright light of day. The most notorious breach of SIS secrecy occurred on July 13th 1996, when David Small, a lecturer in Education at the University of Canterbury, surprised at least two SIS agents in the process of burgling the home of anti-free-trade activist Aziz Choudry.

As far as most New Zealanders were concerned, the story of the Choudry break-in was relatively straight-forward. Concerned that Choudry and his fellow dissidents might be planning to disrupt the ministerial meeting of APEC, then taking place in Christchurch, the SIS detailed an unspecified number of its agents to mount what is known in the trade as a "black bag" operation. They were to gain entry to Choudry’s home and search for anything indicating intended or real acts of "espionage, sabotage, terrorism, and subversion". This dramatic infringement of Choudry’s rights could have been justified by the SIS on the grounds that it was "making a contribution to New Zealand’s international well-being and economic well-being" – a new set of responsibilities which came into force on July 1st 1996 - less than a fortnight prior to the black-bag operation in Choudry’s home.

The consequences of this botched operation were considerable. Having failed to have their complaints against the SIS upheld by the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, and unable to persuade the conservative National-NZ First Government to mount a public inquiry, Choudry and Small enlisted the support of top Auckland barrister, Rodney Harrison, who agreed to sue the SIS on Choudry’s behalf for trespass and unreasonable search. Rather surprisingly, they won, and in 1999 Choudry was awarded an unspecified – but rumoured to be large – sum in compensation.

What did not emerge from the trial was anything resembling an official explanation of the break-in. The Prime Minister, Mrs Shipley, declared she was ready to go all the way to the Privy Council to protect the "national security" content of SIS records. Mrs Shipley’s government was also required to pass legislation protecting the SIS’s ability to mount black bag operations in pursuit if its national security obligations.

What Mrs Shipley could not prevent, however, was the then Leader of the Opposition, Helen Clark, blabbing out the real reason for the SIS’s surveillance of Choudry to North & South political journalist, David McLaughlin.

"They burgled his house, yes, but not because of him", Clark told McLaughlin. "He had visitors who were of interest and when you’ve got people coming to New Zealand on visitor’s visas who have got links with groups who could have an interest, someone will make inquiries."
And who was Aziz Choudry’s visitor? All we were told at the time was that his name was Alejandro Villamar, and that he was a member of RMALC – Mexican Action Network on Free Trade.

It is important to note at this point that Choudry, Small, and their entire GATT-Watchdog network, had made no locatable public reference to Villamar prior to the 1999 North & South revelations. In a media release dated 20th October 1997 they declared that the 1996 break-in "confirms concerns that critics of the government’s free-market policies are now fair game for the SIS." Choudry was quoted as saying that the SIS’s action "puts the lie to assurances contained within the legislation and reiterated by the Prime Minister that remaining within the law is a guarantee of freedom from SIS operations and that the SIS would not be used against legitimate political dissenters."

So why no reference to the presence of Villamar? Surely the fact that a foreign national was staying with Choudry at the time of the break-in was relevant to the case? It beggars the imagination to suggest that neither Choudry nor Small were capable of putting 2 and 2 together to make 4. A Mexican activist against free-trade turns up in Christchurch at the same time as a meeting of APEC is taking place, bunks down with a prominent member of the New Zealand anti-free-trade movement, and – bingo! – the house is broken into by the SIS. What’s going on here? Is it possible that Alejandro Villamar is something more than a "legitimate political dissenter"?

Well he is certainly more than "Dr Alejandro Villamar, the Mexican academic" referred to by David Small in an article for N.Z. Political Review back in April of 1999. Research by this writer has identified Dr Villamar as the Director of Research for Natural Resources and Fisheries for the Foreign Trade Committee of the PRD – Partido de la Revolución Democrática – Mexico’s main opposition party. One of Dr Villamar’s key tasks is the tracking of foreign investment in Mexico’s forestry sector.

Dr Villamar is also associated with ACERCA – Action for Community and Ecology in the Rainforests of Central America. In an article for the World Rainforest Movement Bulletin dated August 1998 he states: "The increased activities of the maquiladora industry [production facilities established along the US-Mexican border to take advantage of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement] have resulted in an enormous need for packaging paper used in shipping industrial goods for export. Mexico currently imports this packaging from the US and Canada. In response to pressure from the maquiladora industry, the Mexican government is now paving the way for the large-scale pulpwood plantations in order to provide industry with raw material to produce cheap pulp and paper."

According to a July 17th 1999 article from ACERCA, published on the Corporate Watch website: "Huge foreign-owned paper companies have acquired large tracts of land in southern Mexico for the purpose of growing eucalyptus and palm trees which have been genetically altered to yield pulpwood with short growing times. Evidence suggests that much (or most) of this fibre will end up as packing materials for products assembled in the maquiladoras and then shipped out of the country."

The same article identifies two of those companies as International Paper and Fletcher Challenge Forests. In a joint venture with the Westavco Corporation and Monsanto, IP – the owners of the New Zealand company Carter Holt Harvey – and FCF were said to be in the process of establishing a forestry biotechnology company to produce and market genetically engineered tree seedlings. According to the article, this new company would be based in Chiapas, a province in the Mexican south-west, and home to the "Zapatistas" - one of the most sophisticated indigenous rights movements on Earth.

It is not known if Dr Villamar has any direct links with the Zapatistas, but, according to an article by Tracey Eaton of the Dallas Morning Post dated August 27th 1999, he is no stranger to radical peasant activism. According to Eaton, a Mr Alejandro Villamar is the principle defender of a jailed peasant activist named Rodolfo Montiel.

Montiel, whose case has been taken up by Amnesty International and the Sierra Club, was jailed on weapons and other charges in May of 1999 after organising farmers against logging operations near their village. Authorities in Guerrero State, where Montiel was active, have accused the 45 year-old farmer of being a member of the EPR – the Popular Revolutionary Army. His allies deny this, accusing the authorities of torturing Montiel in custody and attempting to frame him as a drug dealer and insurrectionist. "Rodolfo is definitely not a member of the EPR," says Villamar, who had been working with Montiel’s organisation since February 1999, "that’s just a pretext".

It is scarcely surprising that New Zealand’s Security Intelligence Service should be interested in such a colourful character as Dr Alejandro Villamar. After all, the July 13th 1996 break-in to Choudry’s house took place only two-and-a-half years after the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas. Led by their mysterious "Sub-Commandante Marcos", the Mayan Indian rebels staged their armed insurrection on January 1st 1994 to coincide with the coming into force of NAFTA. RMALC – of which Villamar is a key member – was in sympathy with the Zapatista rebellion, endorsing its aims – if not its methods.

With the CEO of International Paper – already a significant player in the New Zealand economy through its investment in Carter Holt Harvey – engaged in important negotiations with the Mexican Government throughout 1995-96, and with one of this country’s largest corporations, Fletcher Challenge, gearing itself up to make long-term investments in the Mexican pulpwood industry, it is arguable, at the very least, that Dr Alejandro Villamar was a suitable subject for surveillance.

Finding out what this radical Mexican was doing in New Zealand, and discovering exactly what information he was exchanging with one of this country’s most vociferous opponents of free-trade, might even qualify as "making a contribution to New Zealand’s international and economic well-being".

Friday 12 December 2008

Unleash Hell!

The Fury of the Goths by Paul Ivanowitz

I’VE always considered the first ten minutes of the movie Gladiator to be some of the finest work Ridley Scott has ever produced.

The brutal engagement between the formidably armed Roman legions and the wildly undisciplined but unquestionably brave Gothic tribesmen is a fantastic piece of cinematography.

Russell Crowe’s "Maximus", the Roman commander, issues the grim order: "On my signal, unleash Hell." His well-trained centurions do not disappoint.

"On my signal, unleash Hell."

Scott’s design of the battle, I’ve always thought, owes a tremendous amount to a 19th Century painting entitled The Fury of the Goths, executed by the now long-forgotten Austrian artist, Paul Ivanowitz.

I’ve been an admirer of Ivanowitz’s masterpiece ever since, as a little boy, I encountered a reproduction of the painting in an illustrated encyclopaedia. As soon as I laid eyes on the opening sequence of Gladiator, I just knew I’d seen Scott’s battle scene somewhere before.

Of course a pan-German nationalist like Ivanowitz was not about to celebrate some unrecorded victory by Marcus Aurelius’ legions over a rogue Gothic tribe. No, The Fury of the Goths celebrates the much earlier defeat of the Roman General, Varus, by the proto-nationalist German war-leader, Arminius, in the Teutoburg Forest.

Ambushed as his line was strung out along the narrow forest trail, Varus and his approximately 20,000-strong army was utterly annihilated. A small expeditionary force, sent in by Caesar Augustus a few years later to learn the fate of "Varus’ lost legions" discovered a battlefield literally covered with the whitening bones of their butchered comrades. The terrified legionaries buried them where they had fallen, and fled.

At Teutoburg it was the "Goths" who unleashed Hell.

All of which will, I hope, serve to preface the following critique of the NZ Council of Trade Unions’ (CTU) lamentable failure to anticipate and respond forcefully to the new National Government’s first assault upon the rights of New Zealand workers – the so-called "Fire At Will" Bill.

It is several months now since I had dinner with the President of the CTU, Helen Kelly, but I clearly remember practically begging her to have the trade union movement in readiness for the National Party’s inevitable sneak-attack, and to – please, please, please – learn from and avoid the critical strategic error committed by Ken Douglas and Angela Foulkes in the first few months of the fourth National Government.

It was the CTU leadership’s failure to answer the Bolger Government’s introduction of the Employment Contracts Bill with massive industrial resistance by the organised working-class, that saw the level of union density in the private sector workforce fall from close to 60 percent, to around 10 percent. Their point-blank refusal to sanction and lead a General Strike destroyed, practically overnight, New Zealand workers’ faith in the trade union movement. It was a defeat from which the Left, in general, and the working-class, in particular, never really recovered.

Nine years later, and just as the New Zealand working class was lifting itself up off its knees, the CTU has, once again, failed to meet the Tory challenge. In spite of the fact that they knew the 90-Day Bill was a key element in the National Party’s manifesto, and in spite of the fact that the introduction of the Bill, under urgency, was an obvious tactic for Key’s Government to adopt, the trade unions were caught napping.

A CTU that had learned the lessons of history would have planned for just such a contingency. It would have prepared a campaign as comprehensive as Maximus’s punitive expedition against the unfortunate Goths. Most importantly, they would have let Key know that, should he attempt to begin again where Bill Birch left off, they were ready to give the signal to: "Unleash Hell".

But what did the trade union leaders actually do in the 30-day period between National’s victory and the introduction of the 90-Day Bill? They spent their time billing and cooing with the newly elected government, and debating whether or not the Maori Party should be considered a progressive force.

Instead of being ready to pour their affiliated members into the streets, and to rally the tens of thousands of potential members targeted by the legislation to the CTU’s banner, the best they were able to organise was a pathetic (and constitutionally suspect) petition to the Governor-General – urging him not to sign the Bill into law.

With courage and imagination, this past week could have been National’s Teutoburg Forest. Instead, it has turned out to be yet another victory for right-wing ruthlessness.

In 1991, more than 100,000 unionists marched and rallied against the ECB. That this vast mobilisation of working-class anger was never translated into a General Strike was a true tragedy.

In 2008, it was a few hundred e-mails to the Governor-General.

As Marx said: "the second time as farce".

Thursday 4 December 2008

Oh Canada!

TRY this little thought experiment for me. Imagine that somewhere out there in the big wide world there’s a country a whole lot like ours. It’s ruled by the same Queen, most of its people speak the our language, it’s democratic traditions are of roughly the same vintage, and, along with New Zealand, it has recently come through a general election.


Now imagine that this country is in the grip of a constitutional crisis. Imagine that the government of the day, having lost the confidence of the legislature, is seeking to have Parliament prorogued by the Governor-General in order to avoid a Confidence Motion it knows it’s bound to lose. Imagine, too, that the Governor-General has hurried back from an overseas trip to be present in the capital as the crisis unfolds. Imagine the governing party of that country launching radio attack ads against its parliamentary rivals; calling upon its supporters to flood the Governor-General’s office with letters and e-mails; and even proposing a mass pro-Government demonstration outside her official residence. Imagine the country’s trade union leaders responding by calling protest rallies of their own to condemn the Government’s "unconstitutional" intentions.


Now answer me this question: "Don’t you think these events warrant a reasonable amount of space in our newspapers? And a reasonable amount of time on our radio and television news broadcasts?"

After all, we are talking about Canada.

I first learned of the crisis engulfing Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party Government here, at the World Socialist Web Site. But, for a more balanced view of the unfolding crisis, I would also recommend this link to the Globe & Mail – Canada’s leading daily newspaper.

Stephen Harper, along with the UK Conservative leader, David Cameron, and our very own, newly-elected National Party Prime Minister, John Key, belongs to the "new" generation of English-speaking conservative leaders. Young, telegenic, and studiously non-threatening, this group already controls two out of the four old "White" Commonwealth countries – Canada and New Zealand – and Cameron seems poised to make it three out of four the moment UK Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, gives him the opportunity. (Cynics might say that if you count Australia’s small "c" conservative Labor Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, it will soon be four out of four!)

What’s interesting about Harper’s reaction to the coming together of his parliamentary enemies, and his potential ouster from power, is its extraordinary and reckless aggression. For the Canadian voter it has been a real shock to see the hitherto mild-mannered, non-threatening Harper suddenly transformed into someone hell-bent on clinging to power at almost any cost – up to and including undermining the constitutional integrity of the Queen’s representative.

It makes me wonder what sort of John Key might have emerged in the days following our own General Election if the numbers had turned out even slightly more favourably for Labour and NZ First. If a Labour, Progressive, Green and NZ First combination had ended up controlling three or four more seats than National, ACT and the Maori Party, what would his reaction have been?

I pose this question because there is an unnerving similarity in the constitutional misrepresentation that went on here in New Zealand over the issue of whether the party winning the largest number of seats had a "moral mandate" to govern, and Harper’s insistence that there is something constitutionally suspect about the Liberal, NDP and Le Bloc Quebecois decision to support a No-Confidence Motion against his government in the Canadian House of Commons.

In both cases, the Right has wilfully misconstrued the essence of the Westminster System prevailing in both countries: that general elections are held to elect parliaments – not governments.

A government is what is formed when a political party, or group of parties, enjoys the "confidence" (i.e. the support of more than half the members) of the legislature. In neither Canada nor New Zealand do the electors choose a prime minister, they choose a member of Parliament and/or a political party to represent their locality and/or themselves. It is these representatives who ultimately decide who the PM will be.

Fortunately, the NZ electorate, by voting in a decisive fashion, was able to avoid the potential constitutional confrontation inherent in the "moral mandate" position. The Canadians have not been so fortunate.

It is frankly scandalous that the New Zealand public has not been permitted to learn about the situation in Canada. The dilemma in which the relatively new and inexperienced Governor General, Michaelle Jean, has been placed is one which could easily be replicated in New Zealand. What is unfolding in Ottawa should be the subject of lively debate among all those New Zealanders with a interest in both understanding and defending their country’s democratic traditions.

The almost total media blackout on this story reflects the entrenched notion in practically all our newsrooms that the English-speaking nations of the world constitute the bench-mark of political normality and stability, and that it is, therefore, quite impossible for them to experience anything as abnormal and destabilising as a constitutional crisis. Our news editors simply ignore (or are ignorant of) the many historical precedents – from the dismissal of Lang and Whitlam in Australia, to the judicial theft of the 2000 US presidential election.

Apparently, constitutional crises only happen in hot countries – like Thailand – and are newsworthy only to the extent that they seriously inconvenience the travelling public.

Worried Canadians on the snow-covered streets of Ottawa might beg to differ.

UPDATE: Dateline Friday, 5th December 2008.

The Canadian Governor-General, Michaelle Jean, yesterday (our time) acceeded to Prime Minister, Stephen Harper's, request that Canada's Parliament be prorogued until January 26th 2009. This link will take you to the Globe & Mail's coverage of the unfolding crisis.

Monday 1 December 2008

Chambers of Secrets

SECRETS are important things in communities where change, apart from the slow roll of the seasons, arrives only reluctantly, if at all. In New Zealand’s little towns and rural hamlets, back in the days of station-masters and telephone party-lines, the urge to elaborate an alternative identity, whose details were not the common knowledge of all and sundry, was very strong.

There had to be something more to you than the man the neighbours saw mowing his front lawn every Saturday morning; or, seated on a tartan rug in the brisk winter air every Saturday afternoon, sipping sweet tea from a thermos flask and watching the local footy team cover itself with mud, if not glory, on the poplar-lined playing fields down by the river. Most of all, you needed to be something more than just the polite little fellow serving behind the counter of the general store, the butcher shop, the drapers.

In the frenetic environment of our modern world, it is difficult to conceive just how constrained the lives of our grandparents and great-grandparents really were. Travelling more than about twenty-five miles from one’s front door was a major undertaking in an age where private motor vehicles were rare and folk still got about on horseback or by bicycle.

People travelled slowly in those days: slow enough to both see everything that was going on, and to be seen by everybody doing it. Imagine, then, how exciting the thought of doing something that could not be seen; saying something that could not be heard; must have been to the upright and prosperous men of town and village. The prospect of leaving behind, if only for a few hours, the hum-drum world of wives and children, customers and clients, employees and tenants – and becoming something entirely different – must have had an enormous appeal.

I say "must" because the evidence of this need for a secret, more potent, more intense existence may be found in just about every settlement of any size in New Zealand. In some places they were built right there on the main street; in others at one remove from the daily commerce of the town, but everywhere they presented to the outside world a blank and uncompromising façade of secrecy. New Zealand’s Masonic Lodges were places where only the initiate gained admittance: secret temples, where dark oaths were spoken and ancient rituals enacted; places where the local grocer, butcher and draper was transformed into something new, and luminous, and powerful.

Transplanted from the bleak landscape of Scotland and Northern Ireland, to the equally desolate wilds of the West Coast and Southland (see illustrations) New Zealand Freemasonry retained a great many of its original prejudices and much of its historical purpose.

Vigorously anti-clerical, and theologically sceptical – as befitted its origins in the secret societies of the Enlightenment – Freemasonry placed less faith in an all-knowing God, than it did in the esoteric knowledge of its supposedly ancient brotherhood. Like the perennial Gnostic heresy, Freemasonry believes the mind of Man, properly prepared, is more than equal to the task of comprehending the mind and purpose of its maker.

This was a heady brew to pour into the brains of the good burghers of Hokitika and Clinton, but clearly of sufficient potency to persuade them to finance the sturdy little structures in which their brotherhood could meet without fear of prying eyes and flapping ears. For what, in the end, is more conducive to solidarity and mutual assistance than a shared secret, or secrets? Especially when the secrets shared are said to be drawn from the hidden wisdom of the ancients and sufficient to lift you high above the level of the common herd?

In many ways Freemasonry made New Zealand’s little towns. These numerous bands of Masonic brothers, who solemnly greeted each other every week down at the local lodge, could hardly avoid becoming an economic, social and political oligarchy, effortlessly presiding over their community’s commercial expansion and setting the tone of its cultural life. Deeds and projects which Adam Smith’s invisible hand might never have touched were very often the manifestations of the local Masonic brotherhood’s enlightened spirits.

They could also, sadly, be the moving force behind the very worst kind of reactionary social behaviour. It doesn’t take much for a small and secret group to move from light to darkness. Believing themselves to be the sole repository of local wisdom, and the only protectors of local prosperity, the Masonic brothers of how many small towns lent their power to causes that were as disreputable as they were self-serving? How fared the local unionist, clergyman, doctor or teacher of radical, or even liberal, views when the bigoted brothers of the local lodge turned their faces against them?

And how was justice served when the local magistrate, the local prosecutor, and the local policeman all greeted each other with the secret handshake? How many innocent people have been imprisoned, how many wife beaters and child abusers have gone free, thanks to the secret solidarity of the local Masonic brotherhood?

So, the next time you’re driving through one of our provincial towns, or rural villages, and you see a building of singular aspect, standing at a distance from the workaday world, pause, take a closer look, and ponder what role the men who gathered inside its walls may have played in the history of the place where you are standing. Imagine what arcane thoughts went through the minds of seemingly ordinary men as they plied their daily trades. Consider what deeds – dark or luminous – may have been set in motion behind the set-square and dividers that crown the secret door.