THERE IS SOMETHING quite seriously out-of-kilter with the universe when I find myself agreeing with Richard Prebble. Commenting in this morning’s (2/12/20) NZ Herald, Prebs states with unnerving accuracy: “Labour won the election but we elected a conservative government. Gone from the government programme announced in the speech from the throne is any promise of ‘transformational change’. Instead we have the false promise of every Tory, ‘stability and certainty’.
Many conservatives will disagree with Prebble’s analysis. In their eyes, Jacinda Ardern is still “a pretty communist”, and her party a collection of fire-breathing “Cultural Marxists” hell-bent on transforming New Zealand into the Venezuela of the South Pacific. [No, I’m not really sure what a “Cultural Marxist” is either – but the term is very big right now in right-wing circles!] The conservatives’ confusion is understandable, however, given how common it has become for radical ideas about culture and identity to be conflated with the ideology of the “Left” in general.
Prebble is not so easily distracted. He won his political spurs in the days when leftism was mostly about the economic, social and political consequences of being born into a particular social class. The Labour Party he grew up in took as its starting point the condition of the New Zealand working-class and how it could be improved. The point of Prebble’s admirably acidic column is that this “Labour” government has begun its second term from a very different starting-point: namely, the condition of the New Zealand middle-class and how it can be protected. Hence, its very public commitment to “stability and certainty”.
The problem, of course, is that keeping conditions stable and certain for the middle-class more-or-less obliges the Government to refrain from implementing policies likely to produce significant improvements in the condition of the working-class. Most especially, it obliges Jacinda Ardern and her colleagues to do next-to-nothing for the poorest and most vulnerable members of the working-class. Improving their lives would simply be too costly. It would require precisely the sort of new taxes and tax increases that Labour has already ruled out of contention.
Not that Prebble is the least bit interested in tax rises. His big worry is New Zealand’s woefully low levels of productivity. Like any good Rogernome, he sees the solution to this country’s poor productivity in terms of upping the rate of exploitation: i.e. making the nation’s employees work harder and longer for less. He’s all about further deregulating an already comprehensively de-regulated labour market. Yes, he would start by undoing Labour’s minimal improvements to paid leave and minimum wages, but it wouldn’t stop there.
The funny thing about Prebble and his ilk is that the solution to our low rate of productivity has always been staring them in the face. The fastest way to lift productivity is to force employers to substitute innovative technology for the absurdly cheap and indifferently-skilled human labour that has, since the 1990s, been permitted to take its place. By dramatically lifting wages and improving working conditions, a reforming government would require inefficient businesses to either find a way to work smarter or close down. The inevitable rise in unemployment would be met with a massive state programme of upskilling and employment creation.
Not that this government would dream of implementing such a solution. Not only would it outrage the small-business sector, but it would unnerve the professional and managerial classes. Those who work for salaries are extraordinarily sensitive to what we old trade unionists used to call “the relativities”. Put simply, any appreciable rise in the income of the “lower orders” unmatched by a corresponding upward movement in the income of their “betters” will be construed as a direct attack on their social prestige and position – which, of course, it is. Maintaining the yawning gap in the life experiences of wage workers and salaried professionals is one of those unspoken and unbreakable laws of capitalist society that “reformers” ignore at their peril. Fortunately for the class that dominates Labour’s caucus, Jacinda doesn’t do peril!
But, if the Sixth Labour Government is unwilling to follow either Prebble’s path, or the path of uplifting the working-class, then how can it hope to escape the latter’s anger and disillusionment when they realise that in spite of all her “kind” words, Jacinda is not going to help them? Tragically, my gut instinct tells me that she and her colleagues are going to try and distract them.
For quite a long time now it has been clear to those who make it their business to keep an eye on such things that most of this country’s blue collars are to be found around brown necks. So many of this country’s most poorly paid jobs are being done by Maori, Pasifika and immigrant workers. They make up the bulk of the “working poor” and they are represented disproportionately in the ranks of beneficiaries.
These are the people who struggle to pay the rent, or, far too often, struggle to find a landlord to pay rent to. Theirs are the schools that are failing. Theirs the hospitals that are underfunded. It is their mothers, daughters, sisters and wives who are abused for wearing the hijab. It is their fathers, sons, brothers and husbands who are pulled over by the cops. Most of all, they are the New Zealanders for whom the daily injuries of race are experienced much more directly and painfully than the injuries of class.
What could be easier than to portray racism as the root cause of their misery? Especially when it is so much cheaper, politically, to persuade people that their problems arise out of the personal failings and prejudices of their fellow citizens, rather than from the structures of economic exploitation and social subordination in which they are trapped. As an explanatory tool, race has the added advantage of being something we cannot do anything about. Those who are born poor, on the other hand, are not bound by their genetic inheritance to remain so. To make race the problem is to choose a war that can never be truly won. Healing the injuries of class, however, is something human-beings have done before – and can do again. What’s more, the great thing about combatting the injustices of class is the way it renders racial differences increasingly unimportant.
When an injury to one is treated as an injury to all, the only colour people tend to see is red. It’s a colour that has bugger-all to do with “stability and certainty”, but it used to have a whole lot to do with Labour. Even Richard Prebble knows that.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 3 December 2020.
Great piece here Chris, sadly Ardern is looking more an more like New Zealand's Obama and we all know where the disillusionment and disappointment of his presidency lead too...if Collins can steer a reasonably steady ship until next election who knows?
Chris: "how common it has become for radical ideas about culture and identity to be conflated with the ideology of the “Left”"
Absolutely! Needs to be shouted from the rooftops.
I strongly agree with you on the need to encourage businesses to invest in new technology, plant and equipment instead of running a low wage economy on the back of mass immigration. But I see no sign of Labour prioritising this through tax incentives on depreciation etc. They would rather farm the low waged and unskilled impoverished as a voting bloc.
Brown people have problems over and above poverty. Their poverty is exacerbated by racism. It's called "intersectionality" – a word that seems to scare the crap out of most conservatives considering how they just love to use it "ironically". There is no reason why Labour shouldn't try to get rid of both poverty and racism – except that they've largely abandoned the working class, and accepted apparently, that the poor will always be with us, which is a sad reflection on them. In which case some mitigation of racism might be the best that the brown poor can expect – unfortunately.
Thank you for your insight
Every now and again Chris Trotter manages to "hit the nail right on the head".
This article reminds me of the mice experiment. One mice pitted with a weaker or stronger mouse, depending on the outcome it goes on to beat the next mouse.
A fairly national party attitude
It could also be that some people are under anxious and some over anxious. I have a friend who is under anxious - he would buy Shell Oil. Someone told me a well known property investor had a thyroid condition that made him super confident(?). The point is these people judge everyone by themselves and their success ("subdivisions"). Societies need to be made up of types who balance each other out, perhaps (that is) until today's individualistic society when some people accumulate 1000 houses.
Politicians respond to numbers, who votes and why. What do they want? In NZ the middle class votes and it tends to vote for its wallet. The working class not so much, except for the aspirational working class, self employed tradies etc. They align with the middle class politically because to do so is in their interest politically , economically , socially and culturally. Democraphically together they constitute the largest segment of our society. The working poor etc. are a minority, a substantial minority, but a minority none the less. Moreover only some of them vote, and they are politically divided. Thus the the key to success in NZ's politics is keep the middle classes contentented and prosperous or they will chuck you out on your ear. John Key knew this, and Jacinda Ardern has also knows this. The Greens are the most radical left party that is electable, they have topped out at ten percent of the vote. Labour cannot out left the Greens because they have to maintain a majority to rule. The Oz Labor party in the past chased Green votes with catastrophic consequences. A split in their electoral base between the green progressive inner city elites, and the private sector employed working class, especially in the regions, has left them unelectable. Last election the Greens took Auckland Central. That is just the first inner city seat with a prosperous, mostly state employed, progressive, left cultural, voting base that the Greens will target. If Labour is to remain politically relevant it has to be an attractive option for current and former National voters and seek to replace National as the party of prosperity. This will of course lose it vote on the left to the Greens. The future of that relationship can only be toxic.
"Ardern is looking more an more like New Zealand's Obama and we all know where the disillusionment and disappointment of his presidency lead too.." Adrian Thornton
"Hope and change"..."Let's do this"
And we all know what followed.
Chris, a cultural Marxist is somebody who follows the philosophy of French philosophers including Derrida and Foucault. These were formally Marxists who realised that with the failure of the 1968 rebellion and the exposure of the reality of the USSR that Marxism was not saleable. So they in a nutshell reinvented themselves as post modernists who retained from Marxism the idea of group victimhood which entailed the necessity for oppressors. That nicely removed the problematic stigma of the gulag.
This philosophy has been the mainstay of sociologists through out academia, and is at the heart of removing class from political action and replacing it with LGBT issues, race issues etc, in fact any possible "victim". To ensure solidarity from disparate often conflicting groups we have what GS refers to as "intersectionality". That requires a common oppressor / enemy. Hence white males being demanded by feminists and black people to bend their knee and admit their "guilt".
Those oppressive white males are often "deplorables", stuck with the same issues as out of work impoverished black people. They are of course guilty according to intersectional cultural Marxists, even if they love their gay sister (no excuses, original sin is modernised, as is the gulag which is now "cancellation").
This is all good unless you are actually somebody who believes that personal agency to drive one's destiny is denied by this imposition of oppression or guilt on one's status.
One of the problems with French philosophers is their conviction with the total sanctity of their theories. Mid points and shades of grey are not required. What happens if you can see the virtues of both the victim oppressor model and individual agency? I'd say that's old fashioned socialism.
There is no such thing as cultural Marxism. It was simply something invented by the Germans in the 1920s as an anti-Semitic slur. Of course it is now a right-wing buzzword, still with anti-Semitism at its core in some circles, because apparently the sociologists are trying to take over the universities and by stealth – the world. That's not true either – but if they are they are doing it in a remarkably incompetent way.
"This philosophy has been the mainstay of sociologists through out academia, and is at the heart of removing class from political action and replacing it with LGBT issues, race issues etc, in fact any possible "victim".
Interesting then that me having been studying sociology now for about 10 years – very slowly, undiscovered by Massey University and apparently I shouldn't have been doing it – just about every sociology perfessor has stressed class at the root of political actions and issues throughout history and all over the world. They have INCLUDED LGBT + issues, but certainly haven't replaced class as the major issue.
This may help the punters understand your intersectionality principle
Catherine Delahunty answers the poor white/intersectionality argument with "immigrants are always the scapegoat".
By that reasoning economic arguments are judged wrong
"The high rate of immigration is a national disaster. It is lowering the present and future living standards of New Zealanders by serious adverse economic, social and environmental consequences." Kerry McDonald
and "a lovely family from Shanghai" just brought house near my friend, has nothing to do with house prices which is "an on-going structural issue" - Paul Spoonley
Cultural Marxism as understood on the right (online commentators of the Spectator, Reason, and the Australian) being my source material. Often refers the writings of bods like Herbert Marcuse as well as Derrida and co. It is also used inconjunction with "The long march through institutions" which they attribute to Gramsci. I wouldn't know, not having read Gramsci. Generally in regard to the ideological progressive/left consensus to be found in modern political parties including those supposedly on the right, the MSM and academia. The suppression or banning of conservatives by social media and the demoneterisation of conservative youtubers by Youtube.
I've been glad these many years, or often sad, by my own understandings. Cultural Marxism?! Talk reality and trash goes away. A Democratic Party in the USA that looked after the old middle class would clear away Trump like so much nothing.
Sure cultural Marxism doesnt exist, neither does the alt Right does it? Lets just wish them both away, whats in a name after all?
Im delighted with your sneaky education, i would probably not pay willingly for sociological content. Glad class still matters, especially if you ard paying for a degree.
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