Friday, 13 February 2009

That Loving Feeling

A new historic compromise? Just as the post-World War II "historic compromise" between capital and labour ushered in a 30-year period of working-class growth and consolidation, the new relationship between the Pakeha and Maori capitalist elites (symbolised here by Tariana Turia and John Key) looks set to transform New Zealand's economic, cultural and political environment - and not, in this case, to the Left's advantage.

WAITANGI was a love-in this year. We must put to one side the assault on the Prime Minister by two Northland Maori protesting the National-Maori Party alliance. Their action was small, uncoordinated and aggressive precisely because it did not enjoy the support (much less reflect the generally positive mood) of the Maori people. For the first time in a long time there were no angry denunciations of colonial treachery, no argy-bargy with the Police, and no ambushes in the wharenui. Indeed, recalling the dramatic events of past Waitangi Days, this year’s love-in seemed positively unpatriotic.

What has happened in the five years since Don Brash’s notorious Orewa Speech inspired genuine mud-slinging and abuse? How is it possible that John Key can be welcomed onto our national marae with the same genuine warmth Norman Kirk received way back in 1973? What lies behind this extraordinary rapprochement between Maori and Pakeha?

At the root of all these changes lies the succession of Treaty settlements negotiated by both the National and Labour parties since the late-1980s. Though representing only a fraction of the value of the lands, forests and fisheries alienated from Maori control by the 19th Century colonial authorities, the capital base provided by the settlement process is, nevertheless, slowly transforming iwi corporates into key players in the New Zealand economy.

In less than a decade it is likely that the big iwi corporations will constitute this country’s largest domestically-owned business enterprises. Their holdings in the tourism, forestry and fishing industries will generate a growing proportion of our national income, and, even more significantly, as the legislation controlling the use of Maori land-holdings is made increasingly facilitative of Maori commercial development, the iwi corporates will be exerting a growing influence over New Zealand’s core primary production industries – dairying, meat and wool.

The explanation for this revolution in economic and, inevitably, political power is simple. The nature of iwi corporate structures renders them immune to takeover by foreign interests. The owners of the Maori corporations will always define themselves as tangata whenua before they define themselves as financial stakeholders in a commercial enterprise. That being so, they would no more countenance losing control of the tribe’s assets – its taonga – than they would countenance the loss of their people’s mana – which, in the world of the Maori, amounts to much the same thing.

Remarkably, it was the Right which first recognised the true significance of the Treaty settlement process: that tribal capitalism was destined to become the critical guarantor of capitalist relations generally in New Zealand.

National and Labour’s attempts to roll back the Treaty-settlement process – whether it be Helen Clark’s and Michael Cullen’s effective re-nationalisation of the foreshore and seabed, or Don Brash’s swingeing attack on Maori "privilege" – represented what was almost certainly the last, concerted effort on the part of the traditional, European elites to re-colonise the Maori-Pakeha relationship.

Maoridom’s response: the massive hikoi which descended on Parliament in May 2004, along with the simultaneous formation of the Maori Party; demonstrated the futility of this strategy. Wiser political heads, most notably in the Business Roundtable, realised that a more intelligent strategy, one based on the carefully managed assimilation of Maoridom’s economic and political elites into a broader, bi-cultural Aotearoa-New Zealand ruling class, has become Kiwi capitalism’s most urgent priority.

The skill with which Don Brash’s successor, John Key, has managed this recalibration of the Right’s relationship with Maori has been considerable. Not only has he been able to replicate the close ties National enjoyed with the Maori aristocracy throughout the 1950s and 60s, but by his assiduous courtship of the Maori Party MPs, he has also been able to harness the goodwill of the Maori Party’s supporters to National’s new deal in New Zealand race relations.

In doing so he has almost effortlessly parted the Labour Party from one of its most reliable bases of electoral support. The respect Maori culture bestows upon leaders, along with its infatuation with prestige, means that the Maori-National alliance has every chance of enduring well into the future. Underlying the new relationship will be the expanding amount of ideological common ground shared by Maori and Pakeha capitalists.

It is, indeed, a new day for the Maori people, not because, at the level of the typical working-class Maori family, life has got materially better, but because for the first time in a long time they feel that the colonial victors want (and need) more from them as a people than their sullen acquiescence at being last hired, first fired.

For that, John Key will win not only their support, he’ll claim their love.

The above is a slightly modified version of an essay which first appeared in the Timaru Herald, The Taranaki Daily News, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Evening Star on Friday 6th February 2009.


Anonymous said...

If this marriage is at it looks, a marriage between non-ideological partners, then the union will be blessed by longevity... I hope.

The social problems that beset us, that bought Pita Sharples close to tears last year can only be addressed by tangata whenua gaining some control. Without being provocative, I think that level of understanding has been lacking in the past.(See Mason Durie, "Whaiora".)

A new mood in the country, a new approach to the problems, a new Waitangi day dawning.

rouppe said...

I think it is very early days in the relationship. It would not take much for the wonderful glow to turn into recriminations of "deceit", "backstabbing" and the like.

Can't see what the catalyst of that would be right now, but I think this relationship is still very fragile.

Remember we still have the trials of the Urewera "lot" and the renegotiating of the Foreshore and Seabed Act to come.

It is however inevitable that Maori will become a very significant business force. Something that would have happened anyway if the NZ Company and its cohorts hadn't reneged on their deals.

It will be interesting to see if that becomes the source of a different set of grievances.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

How things change. In 1984 I joined a hikoi to Waitangi with various trade unionists including the late Bill Andersen. Titewhai screamed at us pakeha to piss off despite respectfully being at the ‘back of the bus’ in the march, and only there to support our oppressed Maori friends as we saw it at the time. We were not liberals slung with bone carvings, but strike hardened working class politicos. Strangely enough we were allowed to stay after the intervention of one Nick (Niko) Tangaroa later of Motua gardens fame in Wanganui.

And now Titewhai is holding John Keys hand…

Chris’ post is one of the first to try and describe for a mainstream audience what is obvious to the marxist left.

Throttling the Prime Minister is not a widely acknowledged method of building influence, but nonetheless I support the Popata brothers from Kaitaia.They are articulate and active in the local community and their kaupapa will be recalled many times in the years to come I am sure.
Per the old saying “we may not be able to defeat the bastards just yet, but it doesn’t mean we have to join them”. There is no dishonour in being part of a militant minority notwithstanding the usually long wait for effectiveness!

The Maori Party sooner than perhaps expected have revealed the basic structural flaw of identity based parliamentary political parties.