Tuesday 21 January 2020

Revolution in New Zealand? Not Even Close!

No Fires Thanks, We're Kiwis: For the moment, in those close-to-home places where revolutions are born, there may be tetchiness and resentment, frustration and complaint, but nowhere is anybody uttering the cry that will bring a New Zealand revolution into being: “We have found the way to make tomorrow better than today!”

WHERE DO REVOLUTIONS begin? The answer, invariably, is “close to home”. Where demonstrable public need meets unresponsive public authority. Where collective outrage invites violent repression. Where injustice spawns indignation and indignation demands action. Where popular action generates governmental reaction. That’s where revolutions are born.

Once begun, what makes a revolution successful? It is tempting to respond with the purely historical observation that revolutions succeed where they are able to muster sufficient armed force to overwhelm those dedicated to their failure. People with guns allow revolutions to succeed. But is mere armed force enough? Surely, before people are willing to wage war on the Revolution’s behalf, they must first believe its objectives to be both desirable and achievable.

The need for guns, and the willingness to use them, almost always arises when the authorities announce their intention to thwart the people’s intentions. When real change, desperately needed, and now within the people’s grasp, is suddenly faced with the prospect of being halted and/or reversed by forces loyal to the status-quo. That is when people start looking for the means to preserve the imminence of change.

Historically, the people’s determination to preserve the imminence of change is soon extended to ensure the preservation of those who have made them believe that change is imminent. Fearing that the authorities are coming for their leaders, people typically resolve to impede their progress: peacefully if possible; by force if necessary. The leaders themselves, realising that the revolution’s failure will more than likely lead to their demise, are left with little choice but to keep pushing it forward as hard and as far as they can. The revolution’s survival, and their own, become welded together.

The French Revolution of 1789, for example, was kicked-off by the fear that the King’s troops were about to visit retribution upon the revolutionary crowds of Paris. The latter rushed to the Bastille, hated symbol of royal power, because they were convinced that within the fortress-prison’s walls they would find the muskets, cannons and gunpowder they needed to resist the King’s soldiers.

The storming of the Bastille, 14 July 1789.

In the Russian capital, Petrograd, in February-March 1917, the soldiers who had refused to fire on the crowds of women demanding bread for their starving families knew that the Czar would immediately dispatch troops to disarm and punish them as mutineers. If their revolt was not extended, then many of them would die. Accordingly, they reached out to radical left-wing politicians and to their working-class supporters in the factories. By joining forces with the political enemies of the hated Czarist regime, and offering them the protection of their rifles and machine-guns, they helped to turn what had started-out as a protest against bread shortages into a full-scale revolution.

But, the events in Petrograd unfolded more than a hundred years ago. Is there a plausible scenario for revolution in New Zealand in 2020? The short answer is “No.” Nothing has occurred for decades in New Zealand that matches in any way the cultural, intellectual, and political preparations that preceded the French and Russian revolutions.

In Eighteenth Century Europe, for example, the cultural supremacy of the Catholic Church and the political doctrine of Absolute Monarchy had been profoundly weakened by what came to be known as “The Enlightenment” or “The Age of Reason”. Breakthroughs in moral and political philosophy, together with the rapid expansion of science, called into question the existence of the Judeo-Christian God and, thus, the “divine right of kings”. Within the ruling classes doubt grew, and from these doubts ordinary people drew confidence that their own ideas and priorities were as worthy of serious consideration as their lords’ and masters’.

Crucially, in the shape of an elected parliamentary assembly, the people had also identified a mechanism capable of supplanting the autocratic rule of the monarch. The self-evidently desirable objectives of “liberty, equality fraternity” were thus made achievable. In the people’s “deputies”, gathered together in the revolutionary “National Constituent Assembly”, the people’s will had finally found its political vector.

In Petrograd, 128 years later, the critical political vector of the “nation” had been replaced by Karl Marx’s “proletariat”. Likewise, the revolutionary mechanism ceased to be a parliament filled with elected representatives, and became, instead, a multitude of workers’ councils (soviets) filled with instantly recallable delegates elected in the factories and regiments. Replacing the Enlightenment and its philosophers was the revolutionary Marxist party – whose ruthless and highly disciplined “cadres” were determined to inspire and guide the soviets of workers and soldiers.

Other determinants of success were also at work in 1789 and 1917.

Bankrupt of both the ideas and the funds required to address the multiple crises afflicting his subjects, the French king, Louis XVI, set in motion a massive, kingdom-wide effort to identify and collate the grievances of the French people. These Cahiers de doléances provided the core agenda of the Estates General – the feudal body charged with advising the Crown, which had not been called together for 175 years! Thus equipped, the people’s representatives possessed a clear idea of what they had to do.

In 1917, also, the Russian people’s priorities were clear. Czar Nicolas II had led them into a disastrous war with the Austro-Hungarian and German empires. Millions of conscripted peasant-soldiers had been killed, the Russian economy was in ruins, and the Russian people were starving. Their lords and masters had failed utterly to protect them and were either unable or unwilling to feed them. When the leader of the revolutionary workers’ party, Vladimir Lenin, arrived at Petrograd’s Finland Station, his speech to the workers’ and soldiers’ delegates was short and to the point: “Peace! Bread! Land! All power to the soviets!” With these simple but highly effective promises, Lenin’s party ruthlessly blew away the political fog engulfing the ineffectual Russian parliament and set in motion the world’s first socialist revolution.

Lenin promises "Peace! Bread! Land!" at the Finland Station, Petrograd 1917.

It should be clear by now that New Zealand’s cultural, economic and political situation bears no comparison with the two great Western revolutions. Neither Maori nor Pakeha culture offers anything to compare with the devastating ideological critiques which the Enlightenment and Marxism brought to bear on the political regimes of France and Russia. Animism with corporate clip-ons is no more a revolutionary doctrine than post-modernism incongruously blended with the politics of identity.

Nor is New Zealand trapped in the sort of intractable economic and military crises that brought down the Bourbon and Romanov dynasties. In fact, it presents itself as a highly successful neoliberal capitalist economy. Which is not to say that poverty has been eliminated, or homelessness overcome, merely that the levels of inequality and social injustice which beset all but a handful of western states is not dramatically worse in New Zealand than it is in other comparable countries. Certainly, the grave challenge of Climate Change looms over New Zealand’s future but, once again, that is a problem to which the entire world has yet to find a workable solution.

Most importantly, the New Zealand ruling-class retains sufficient faith in its ability to manage the nation’s affairs to render any challenge to its dominance ineffective. No mass movement with a practical programme of revolutionary change exists in this country. Nor does it contain a disciplined revolutionary party dedicated to creating one. Those who proclaim themselves champions of change and fighters against injustice are currently more willing to go to war with each other than with neoliberal capitalism. Indeed, it is possible to argue that identity politics, far from being a revolutionary phenomenon, has become the paradoxical vector for neoliberal consolidation. The ever-more-strident calls to recognise every new construction thrown up by the social kaleidoscope have a way of drowning out the truly revolutionary demands for a radical redistribution of the economic pie.

For the moment, in those close-to-home places where revolutions are born, there may be tetchiness and resentment, frustration and complaint, but nowhere is anybody uttering the cry that will bring a New Zealand revolution into being:

“We have found the way to make tomorrow better than today!”

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 21 January 2020.


John Hurley said...

Cannot have a revolution because "we are diverse". Politics in multicultural countries is about ethnic politics. Also movements need their intellectuals and Gramsci hasn't left the building. Professors tweet about whiteness and they and their underlings spawn the left. Also Cameron Slater was bang on with The Media Party and NZ On Air is propaganda.

greywarbler said...

Timely points Chris. Those involved with identity politics are so meticulous in ordering their and others thoughts about them to match with the correct interpretations that they seem right-wing, dictatorial and confining as a cult becomes.

John Hurley said...

I watched a yale lecture on Edmund Burke not knowing the meaning of Burkean conservative. So what ever happened to a social contract? It appears to have fallen victim to the Burke Review of Immigration (1986) which made diversity a number one objective. Where were the squeals and where was the discussion? Following Labour National got on with the job as exemplified in comments by former MP Warren Cooper.

Long-time Queenstown resident and former mayor Warren Cooper scoffs at the idea that commercial and residential development is undermining the resort's appeal.

''I think it gets better every year - the waves of development are part of what makes Queenstown.

''You'll still always have the autumn colours, the mountains. It's something to be proud of as a country.''
In another 60 years, the Wakatipu would be a large, sprawling city, and the district council had less ability to control the shape of that development than it thought.

The decisions that counted were made by ''doers and achievers'', he said.


The "doers and achievers" are the vested interests behind National. Clearly they are neither conservative nor a national party, they are best summed up as National Real estate.

Nick J said...

Grey recently I commented on the Left Right axis requiring a cross axis of individual freedom versus authoritarian.

The Left in particular deludes itself that it is non coercive, it regularly then takes an authoritarian stance for "the greater good'. I'm regularly in agreement with Left ideas but in opposition to their execution.

Patricia said...

I think the PR industry has, most successfully, controlled the political environment. I don’t know anybody who talks about policy. Everybody treats the PM as if they are just like an American president. What is that wonderful old saying ‘divide and conquer’. It has certainly been achieved by the PR industry like Crosby Textor Group which s a company that seems to be employed by every right wing party in the world in every election.

pat said...

Are you really so willing to dismiss armed revolution in NZ?....we have 9000 police and around 6000 military....revolution dosnt need to be widely supported, and once the Rubicon crossed it grows its own momentum whether desired by the majority or not.

Tiger Mountain said...

A class analysis of the population and what they do, and the level of political and public activity they undertake, along with an examination of the strength or otherwise of the various class forces, will answer the first part of the headline–“Revolution in New Zealand”. The second–“Not Even Close!” is more open to subjectivity–is the writer celebrating his finding or soberly emphasising it?
n.b. a revolution in my books is a fundamental change in class power due to organised mass action and support that would see Capital and Finance capital’s hegemony retired.

A colleague of mine visited the Soviet Union in the early ’80s, and a Professor opined to him that NZ would be one of the last Western orbit nations to ever go socialist, in the Marxist sense. His view was informed by NZs unique geography and British Imperialist colonial beginnings with agriculture and horticulture dependent on appropriated land, and the preponderance of petit bourgeois compared to numbers of proletarian wage workers. Much has changed since pre Rogernomics times–there are now more self employed, small businesses, contractors, and SMEs than ever imagined almost 40 years ago. The digital era long ago subsumed analogue ways. Work for many can be anywhere there is Wifi or a cell tower. But work for others such as the underclass first cast aside by Rogernomics and Ruthanasia is non existent, or so pitiful as to not be capable of living on.

The Professors instinct remains correct however. The dog eat dog psychology of neo liberalism has affected the population deeply, many know exactly how many Flybuys points they have but would not have a clue on say what they should be paid for working a public holiday. Institutional memory of collectivism has substantially faded. Ken Douglas and the State Sector Union top’s cowardice or worse, in 1991 re the ECA, haunts NZ workers still. Public participation of citizens in voluntary community work and political affairs seems less common. The population has grown from 3.1 million in 1980 to the 5 million mark in 2020, much of it in the Auck/Ham/Tauranga “golden triangle”.

So my take also is no revolution tomorrow…not because there is not an objective need for one to end inequality and exploitation, but because post modernist philosophy has traction over materialist philosophy in many spheres of life, and neo liberalism has created active “me me me” thinking and allowed wide penetration of private capital into public infrastructure and processes. Some people happily buy up “ex staties” and rent them out to other NZers at extortionate rates seeing no problem at all, let alone a link to homelessness. Many are so in debt they can’t think straight let alone organise with fellow citizens to rise up. Arm the people at this juncture (particularly in the provinces) and some would likely shoot leftists not the state forces or employer reps!

But Climate Activism shows sizeable spontaneous movements can still arise at short notice. And indeed must over that existential question. The Ihumātao protest eviction attempt was thwarted essentially by social media reach outs–Auckland Police operational capacity was exposed by the likelihood of big numbers materialising promptly if the cops had seriously moved. Even the threat of strike action still shakes bosses. Their constructs may have worked well but the old arm wrestle between Labour and Capital continues around the globe. So in essence the capitalists are ahead in the ideological war and armed coercion at the moment so their rotten system continues until we all go down with it, or, there is a successful revolution that spreads. A few dozen squllionaires hogging more resources than 3.8 billion global citizens, is not sustainable.

David Stone said...

When the community hospital in our little town was closed, a lady came from some government agency to address the citizens of the town enthusiastically about the wonderful new health service Roger was going to arrange for us all. A user pays system ; much more efficient and equitable. When she had finished her address , politely attended by the hall packed with good conservative citizens without interruption , my retiring partner who never addresses public forums , stood up and said in her quiet sweet clear voice " What we want is a comprehensive public health system paid for out of taxation" and sat down again . Every citizen in that hall clapped. It had all been said for everyone , the message was clear , unequivocal and completely unanimous.
But what was also striking about that meeting was that those citizens believed deeply in their country and the way it had been run. And that common sense would soon return to their government. Many of them would have fought in WW2 and married returned servicemen, the rest like me were baby boomers. they knew that the way NZ was governed was the right way , and better than anywhere else in the world. There's no way in the world those people would give up on our democracy and take up arms against the government and half the other people and turn it all to the kind of hell that they had been through in Europe and the Pacific and the East.
Those folk will have ti die a natural death before there is a large enough section of the population ignorant enough and stupid enough to do anything like that.
All that needs to be done to create a totally non violent revolution to stop the flow of all wealth into a smaller and smaller group of people is for everyone to stop ever borrowing money from a bank. It does require discipline , but it is exactly what this government views as it's own greater virtue so it can hardly complain if citizens do the same. There is no law that says " thou shalt borrow money from the bank". In fact
"A lesson woe betide the bank that doesn't heed it,
Never lend to anyone unless he doesn't need it."
The financial system would last about 6 months , and a new system would have to come into existence that issued credit money controlled by the state instead of by the banks.
If there is not the level of dissatisfaction within the community to do this then violent revolution is light years away from NZ.

sumsuch said...

As usual you're ahead of me in analysis. Bankrupt though they are the ruling class carries on. What then does 'bankrupt' mean? A Donald Trump per haps? Of course , though it doesn't matter, the lower 20 % brown must form their own narrowwealths. It rots out without honest love. And one honest voice cuts through everything, as our only hope.

John Hurley said...

"It's the Orks stupid!"

Left Thinking said...

Working on it.

Geoff Fischer said...

Revolution is most simply a change of sovereign authority (the British assumption of sovereignty in New Zealand was termed a revolution by jurists of an earlier era), and it is interesting to note that over the years the leaders of the main colonialist parties in New Zealand have consistently said that a movement away from the British monarchy is "inevitable" or "only a matter of time" while hastening to add "but it won't happen on my watch".
So there is a realistic expectation even within the colonial regime that New Zealand will go through a political revolution sooner or later and the colonialist forces will try to ensure that when it comes the revolution takes a form that will be relatively acceptable to them.
That end requires some deft footwork. The regime cannot afford to unequivocally oppose the nationalist movement if it is not to end up "on the wrong side of history" and suffer a crushing defeat, but on the other hand it does not want to progress a movement which threatens its hold on power. Its preferred option (lesser of evils) is a so-called "soft republic" which would involve a transfer of sovereign authority from Buckingham Palace to the Governor-General in Wellington and not much else. Still a "revolution" but one with limited consequences and ramifications for the regime and the nation as a whole.
Demographic factors will drive the change and external political factors may give it impetus. For example a continued, widening and intensifying conflict between China and the United States will seriously destabilize the colonial regime.
When the time for change arrives it is most likely that non-European groups - Maori, Pakeha, Polynesian, Asian and so on - will seize the opportunity to defend or advance their sectional interests rather than demur to the current political establishment. Added to that, there are tricky legal and political fish hooks in the "soft republican" model. So the change will not necessarily be devoid of controversy and conflict.
While the French and Russian revolutions come from times and places so different to our own as to seem totally alien and incapable of repetition here, I concur with the conventional wisdom that a revolution in New Zealand has become inevitable, and the only questions remaining are over how antagonistic the process may become and how profound its effects may be.

Odysseus said...

The Revolution has arrived Chris. In the past 48 hours the NZ Police have announced they have surrendered Hawkes Bay and much of the East Coast to race-based criminal gangs. It is only a matter of time before the rest of the country succumbs. In the meantime the Police keep busy by mounting raids-in-strength on family homes looking for parts for outlawed bunny guns. Heil the Coalition!

Mike Grimshaw said...

The welfare state that maintains the status quo is a successful bulwark against revolution and revolt; the extension of middle-class welfare in 'working for families' consolidates this.
Yet NZ did have a revolution- it was the counter-revolution of neo-liberalism and identity politics and the mantra of 'my choice/ my identity' arises from this.

Nancy Fraser has critiqued the no-liberal ethos of identity politics in Dissent a couple fop years back:https://www.dissentmagazine.org/online_articles/progressive-neoliberalism-reactionary-populism-nancy-fraser
This focus on the self is also part of social media which is really a distraction economy that depoliticizes the vast majority.

Bill Wright said...

One issue not mentioned is the divisive growth of the power of unelected Maori elites. By stealth or guile self-selected prominent Maori are inserting themselves into many aspects of the governance of New Zealand. Demands, based upon the erroneous idea that an element of partnership between Maori and the Crown was contained in the Treaty of Waitangi, are becoming more strident. The imagined Principles of the Treaty are now also strengthening the growing demands of those representing a mere 16% of the population of this country.

It is difficult to comprehend the readiness of politicians of all stripes to invariably accede to these undemocratic demands in the face of manifest public antipathy. It has been suggested that this tendency owes more to party politics in securing the support of fleeting Maori entities and their collective vote, than to any recognition the future needs of all the people of this country.

Taken too far, might this trend ultimately be grounds and incentive for pushback by the other 84% of the population of New Zealand?

Shane McDowall said...


Both the Black Power and the Mongrel Mob have non-Maori members.

It was/is the white South Island based outlaw motorcycle clubs that were/are race based.

The Harris brothers, associated with the Road Knights MC, were notoriously racist.

This has changed since the Hells Angels and the Headhunters moved into the South Island.

And judging by the fact that the Police in the East Coast/ Hawke's Bay are now routinely armed hardly points to them "surrendering" these regions to the gangs.

John Hurley said...

Mike Grimshaw
That link above "it's the Orks Stupid" critiques the economic basis of populism. Robert Sapolsky says that while who we are can change quickly he also says that millions of years of monocultural living is hard to undo. Jacinda Adern quoted Sapolsky at the UN and concluded "we just have to choose". The reality is it depends on the circumstances. Labour nevertheless has delivered us a multicultural future and is doing everything it can to suppress or smother opposition. There has been a lot of talk about an accident involving a Chinese bus driver. Helen Clark imported Chinese after the Burke Review of immigration declared diversity had been of immense value to the nation and it would continue to be even more so in the future. Tourism boosts Air B'nB, pushes up rents and the tax payer pays for the roads. Meanwhile real wages in tourism and hospitality are falling. The migrants Helen Clarke imported now dominate the Chinese market as we face over tourism, celebrate diversity is no compensation for the loss of status for New Zealanders.

John Hurley said...

Back in the day the New Zealand worker had grievances now he has white privilege. The grievances were stolen by a privileged elite and bequeathed to minorities of any stripe. This gives the privileged elite status (commensurate with their income). The high income insulates them from the lifestyle of the New Zealand working class.

Mike Grimshaw said...

There is actually a long-standing and important critique of multi-culturalism because it tends to import attitudes and prejudices and discrimination towards women, children and minorities that become 'tolerated' in the name of diversity and 'culture'. An option is cosmopolitanism, but then we need to ask what is the identity that transcends difference- and too often it is just an elite cosmopolitanism of consumption and globalization.
Democratic socialism does offer an alternative, but needs to be linked to an inclusive nationalism.
I agree Tourism is deeply problematic and the headlong push towards a low wage tourism/ hospitality/ service sector, whether in the main centres or the provinces just increases inequality and drives a sense of resentment.

sumsuch said...

Bill Wright and Odyseuss, the Freemarket State of '84 has positive published goals and implied negative ones, like abandoning the lowest 20 %, which they've been very successful at! Gangs and Maori nationalism is a sign of your friends' success. Celebrate!

sumsuch said...

The coalition govts of the Allies in WW 2 were deeply socialist -- J.K. Galbraith managed the economy of America so well with his little pinkie that he never took the free market seriously again. The power-holders see this right path even if we don't. It's their fascism or socialism. And the people are blind.

John Hurley said...