"Sorry, Bomber, Hat's Off."
MARTYN “BOMBER” BRADBURY has inquired politely if I’ll be eating my hat with or without tomato sauce? So he’ll no doubt be disappointed to learn that my head-gear is in no danger of imminent consumption. The independent MP for Te Tai Tokerau, Hone Harawira, may be about to launch a political organisation called “Mana”, but I’m quietly confident this Maori-driven initiative will turn out to be something very different from the “new left-wing party” Martyn has been prophesying.
Not even the presence of Sue Bradford on the platform will convince me that the political vehicle about to be unveiled will have much to offer the Pakeha Left. Indeed, Sue’s presence would represent nothing so much as the triumph of hope over experience. Her time in the unemployed workers rights movement of the 1980s and 90s should have taught her how difficult it is to keep Maori and Pakeha activists marching in the same direction, and what a steep emotional toll such an effort extracts. Quite why she would put herself through that experience all over again I simply cannot imagine.
Hone and his comrades will certainly not have forgotten the cultural and political difficulties attendant upon Pakeha involving themselves in Maori causes. If their effort is not to be fatally compromised by the brute arithmetic of New Zealand’s population statistics they will need to create an emotional environment which strongly discourages Pakeha self-assertion. This may sound like racism but without some way of limiting Pakeha participation it is difficult to see how the new organisation can avoid being taken over and turned to purposes quite different from those envisaged by its founders.
The ham-fisted attempt by the Unite Union’s Mike Treen to enlist "all unionists and fighters for equality and social justice" in the Mana Party project should be all the warning Hone and his comrades need about the Pakeha Left’s intentions. I would have thought the days when Marxist-Leninists and Trotskyists could piggy-back on Maori struggles – as they did so effectively during the occupation of Bastion Point – were well behind us. But, you never know.
Clearly, I am far from convinced that the Mana Party will be “left-wing” in any meaningful sense at all - and certainly not in the classical democratic-socialist sense of promoting the emancipatory struggle for full and universal human equality.
As far as I can determine, the party’s genesis lies in the long-standing quarrel within Maoridom over the most effective way to secure the reconstitution of the indigenous patrimony. Viewed through Pakeha eyes this may look like class struggle, but it is actually a much more subtle conflict over how best to apply the traditional precepts of Maori political-economy in a modern, post-colonial context.
The so-called “Corporate Iwi” have harnessed the power of contemporary capitalist organisation to the neo-traditional structures of tribal leadership and the Maori Party – a process which, increasingly, substitutes the fluid energy of Pakeha capital for the fixed resources located in the alienated and/or expropriated landholdings of the hapu.
The Mana Party will undoubtedly reject this collaborationist strategy as fatal to the interests of ordinary Maori. Hone and his comrades will seek instead the full restitution of what was taken by the Settler State, arguing that it is only through the collective and undisturbed possession of their lands, forests and fisheries – as promised by the Treaty of Waitangi – that tangata whenua can both preserve their culture and gain access to a fair and proper share of Aotearoa’s resources.
It’s a cause that is likely to rally considerable Maori electoral support in Te Tai Tokerau and those parts of the country subjected to the biggest land confiscations of the 1860s (which also just happen to be the sites of contemporary New Zealand’s most crippling Maori poverty). But, the Mana Party's cause is also likely to be interpreted as a direct threat to the Pakeha ascendancy which those raupatu (and subsequent confiscations) made possible.
Far from fostering the class conflict which is so central to the Left's project, the Mana Party will encourage Pakeha of all classes to close ranks in racial solidarity. The more effectively to protect their own irreplaceable historical inheritance – New Zealand itself.
So, Mana will be a radical Maori nationalist movement – not a "new left-wing party".
But if such a thing should emerge before November’s election, Martyn, rest assured, I will eat my hat gladly – and without condiments.
This essay is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.