Monday 5 June 2023

The Extinction Of Rebellion.

Not Even Close, Comrades! Occupy made it all the way to New Zealand, but its fate here did not differ substantially from its fate everywhere else around the world. The political praxis of identity politics, its extraordinary disintegrative power, made the organisation of any kind of credible threat to the status quo impossible.

JOHN MINTO IS RIGHT, New Zealand needs nothing more urgently than a mass movement committed to ending the wealth crisis. He is right, too, that those who can have a moral duty to do something about the obscene maldistribution of wealth in this country and across the planet. Nor would I quibble with the list of those we cannot and/or should not rely upon to intervene – i.e. the principal economic and political beneficiaries of wealth inequality, and the mainstream political parties. As John says: “only a broad, well-organised people’s movement will be able to end the wealth crisis.”

Where I suspect John and I would part company, however, is over the question of whether a “broad, well-organised people’s movement” is any longer achievable in the New Zealand of 2023.

John reckons it is. He cites the people’s movements of the past as proof of what can be achieved when New Zealanders get organised – and then get active. Certainly, the broad mass movements he cites: women’s suffrage; halting sporting contacts with apartheid South Africa; opposing the war in Vietnam, abolishing conscription, outlawing discrimination on the basis of sex and sexuality; declaring New Zealand nuclear-free; were all successful in achieving their aims. Unfortunately, all of John’s examples peaked around four (or more) decades ago.

The only appreciably younger mass movement I recall achieving its objective is the early twenty-first century campaign to keep genetically-engineered organisms out of New Zealand. There were others – most notably the mass movement against the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and the mass movement against the Trans-Pacific Partnership – but they did not achieve their objectives.

Some may object that I have left out John’s reference to the 1975 Māori Land March, and the protest activity at Raglan, Bastion Point and Ihumatao. (To which I would add the impressive hikoi against the Foreshore & Seabed legislation of April 2004.) My reasons for doing so turn on John’s use of the crucial qualifier, “broad”. Māori have been successful in achieving a great many of their political, economic and cultural objectives, but these have, perforce, been sectional victories: “by Māori, for Māori”. As such, they do not fit John’s paradigm of the mass movement extending across class, race and gender boundaries to engage the broadest possible cross-section of the New Zealand population.

It is precisely the immense difficulties encountered by those attempting to surmount the barriers of class, race and gender identity that leads me to question the practicality of John’s appeal for a mass movement against the wealth crisis. The “Occupy” movement which swept across the English-speaking world in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis of 2008-09 serves as a tragic test case for whether “broad, well-organised people’s movements” can any longer be constructed.

Certainly, it is difficult to imagine circumstances more conducive to the formation of a mass-movement against the obscene maldistribution of wealth than the GFC. Nor is it possible to fault the inspired slogan of the “1 Percent vs the 99 percent”. If any formula could generate unity across the broadest possible cross-section of society, then including on your side of the barricades everyone except the tiny group of super-exploiters memorably referred to by President Theodore Roosevelt as “the malefactors of great wealth” should have been the formula to do it.

And it did do it – but only briefly. Those who rallied to the cause, expecting to find an organisation with a clear statement of aims and objectives, a constitution, elected leaders, and sections dedicated to communications, fund-raising, and keeping the thousands of people eager to get involved in “Occupy” occupied, found something else entirely.

Occupy’s originators, activists drawn from the many manifestations of what people call, for want of a better description, “identity politics”, had no intention of building a movement on the organisational principles of the Boy Scouts of America. There were no elected leaders, speechifying was frowned upon, and rather than applaud or cheer, people were encouraged to wave their hands in the air – but only after they had “checked their privilege”.

Entirely unsurprisingly, most of the people encountering this brave new world of intersectional anarchy turned around and walked the other way. The authorities, initially terrified of this burgeoning political movement, received the reports of their informers and very soon realised that Occupy posed no threat at all. They waited until the Occupy gatherings were reduced to a fractious remnant of their former selves, and then sent in the pepper-spray, tear-gas and billy-clubs to, once again, make the world safe for the 1 Percent.

Occupy made it all the way to New Zealand, but its fate here did not differ substantially from its fate everywhere else around the world. The political praxis of identity politics, its extraordinary disintegrative power, made the organisation of any kind of credible threat to the status quo impossible. Ruling classes, throughout history, have always understood the effectiveness of the “divide and conquer” strategy. In the aftermath of the GFC, however, the “1 Percent” were astounded to discover that its deployment would not be necessary. The “Left” (or what passed for it in the 2000s) was doing it for them.

It is interesting to note that the mass movements cited by John conform neatly to the mode of mass political interventions listed by historian Michael King in his Penguin History of New Zealand. He mentions the visits of America’s President Johnson in 1966 and Vice-President Agnew in 1970. He covers-off the angry reaction to the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, and recalls the student protests against the installation of the US Omega spy navigation system near Blenheim. Mentioned, too, is the mass campaign to “Save Manapouri”.

Missing from John’s and Michael’s lists, however, is any reference to the movement responsible for organising the 1960s’ and 70s’ most impressive demonstrations: the biggest and broadest mass movement of them all; the trade unions. Certainly, one of the largest demonstrations of the late-1960s and early-1970s coincided with what was effectively the half-day general strike of 12 May 1970, which managed to shut down most of the capital city’s industry and infrastructure. On that day, tens-of-thousands of workers and their families gathered outside Parliament to protest the soaring cost of living.

In the thick of that massive gathering was CARP – the Campaign Against Rising Prices. Formed in 1966 in Auckland, and 1967 in Wellington, CARP was a radical outgrowth of the Housewives Association. It was spurred to action by the abolition of government subsidies on key food items such as bread and milk. Led by the wives of trade unionists from both the private and public sectors, CARP became a household name for the best part of a decade, and a thorn in the side of both National and Labour governments.

New Zealand’s working families are again experiencing severe cost of living pressures. A movement dedicated to easing those pressures, organised by those most directly affected, and unafraid to take their message directly to the powers-that-be, would be a most welcome development.

Except, of course, the New Zealand of 2023 is not the New Zealand of 1966-67. A Housewives Association would be laughed off the political stage in 2023. It is also true to say that the sort of working-class communities that gave birth to political organisations like CARP, no longer exist. Poorly-paid wage-workers by necessity, de-unionised, ill-housed, isolated, with those forced to live outside the workforce under the constant surveillance of the state’s welfare agencies, the working-class women of today would find in difficult to even conceive of such autonomous and uncompromising interventions.

Although, to be fair, they would probably find it easier than the Council of Trade Unions!

It’s hard to mount a sincere fight against the wealth crisis when your union boss is taking home a six-figure salary. Hard, too, to construct a “broad, well-organised people’s movement” when those same people are immediately divided into their respective identity groups, discouraged from indulging in excessive individual assertion (i.e. leadership) and forbidden from applauding it.

Much and all as I agree with John, that a mass mobilisation against the malefactors of great wealth is what we need, I cannot see how it could be done.

I remain transfixed by the tragic image of all those revolutionary hands refusing to come together.

They’re not waving, John, they’re drowning.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 2 June 2023.


Anonymous said...

Basically we're screwed.
The left had the chance to try kill Richardson budget by General Strike. The members wanted to but the top table didn't.
It has got worse. Generally speaking we no longer have left leadership to speak of.

chris prudence said...

Are you forgetting the students chris.Twenty thousand marched up queen street to prevent student loans from being introduced in 92.Largely ignored the act on campus led by three times former president graham watson and david seymour sneaked through voluntary student membership of student unions and decimated compulsory membership and student control of student affairs.Now student unions beg cap in hand for the university to shell out its student levy of a grand per student.Students continued protesting, occupying the registry and clocktower overturning filing cabinets and smashing windows in old choral hall.Protests became smaller but more vociferous.Targetted university deans and council meetings.John Minto told the students to sit-in at an intersection on k-road and grafton bridge.Foreign students ignored the calls for a quota of fifteen percent from local domestic student union leaders and stormed the barricades with up to 50% of the student body in auckland comprised of chinese and indian students from overseas.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Was women's suffrage not a sectional interest? I know they had some support from men but I'd hardly call it broad.
On the other hand, while the physical Maori land March although pretty much AFAIK restricted to Maori also had broad support, at least among progressives.
The anti-apartheid movement was broad-ish, but I doubt if you'd find too many people in the provinces who supported it. They'd be roughly the same people who didn't support the Maori land March I wouldn't be surprised.

Conservative governments as you say have cleverly used divide and conquer against broad movements, particularly using a lower-middle-class and aspirationals against the workers. The upper working class, often self educated, used to provide leadership in circumstances like this, but it's either been gutted or co-opted.

IMO it's the result of 40 or 50 years of social engineering post Roger Douglas that have convinced these people that neoliberal policies are the way to go.
Ever since "New Labour" decided that the market is pretty much a solution to everything, and all we need to do is tweak around the edges, we've been abandoned.

The cost of living crisis just might be enough to bring everyone together, but both National and ACT claim to have the answer. Easy enough to say when they're in opposition of course. But no one is going to do anything like say – take GST off food.

I think the greatest problem has been the gutting of trade unions. Research has shown that strong trade unions mean better wages and conditions. Better wages and conditions might have just made us a little more resilient when it comes to price increases. And unions would have provided the broader leadership sadly lacking today.

greywarbler said...

I know about CARP. And I can advise why it wasn't more successful with longer lasting effects. It saw end results and wanted to change them. But it didn't put its mind to all women learning about economics and politics so they could become either informed and practical leaders, or wiser supporters of leading groups or political parties. Instead it the tail on the end of the donkey swatting flies. There was anger at rising costs and a willingness to support anyone who would stand up and make a fuss about it.

The women didn't recognise how much like donkeys we all need to be. I understand they are patient beasts and can carry heavy loads, can be both smart and stubborn, and also can be loving pets. Which reflects the sort of society we all want to live in and how most want to be. If we want better conditions today we need to learn new tricks, go from the donkey tail to the head where the ideas, responses and decisions occur. It seems looking at past decades that our education was about soaking up the broth served to us, not encouraging thinking, knowing and revising our understandings with experience, and particularly the art of rational decision making. Then the possession of money wouldn't be our main measure of standard and status.

In the thick of that massive gathering was CARP – the Campaign Against Rising Prices. Formed in 1966 in Auckland, and 1967 in Wellington, CARP was a radical outgrowth of the Housewives Association. It was spurred to action by the abolition of government subsidies on key food items such as bread and milk. Led by the wives of trade unionists from both the private and public sectors, CARP became a household name for the best part of a decade, and a thorn in the side of both National and Labour governments.

Archduke Piccolo said...

The time to deal with the wealth distribution crisis was when we had the popular machinery to do it: the Unions, and the political movement with a social programme. The one was hijacked by right-wing ideologues wedded to a crackpot economic policy derived from a 'theory' known to have been refuted by the real word. The other simply rolled over and betrayed by their supine attitude the people they purported to represent.

In my view, it is too late. Although I participated in the Occupy Movement in Christchurch, it was always obvious it was never going anywhere. Movements such as these are apt to become hijacked themselves, and in ways that are not at first obvious. I murmured at one public meeting that I thought the movement was being hijacked by interests that were narrower than what the majority represented. My murmur was heard, which, at the time, was enough to wrench the meeting back on track, but it did serve to tell be that sometimes not even the hijackers quite realise what they are doing.

If there is going to be a popular move against the upward redistribution of wealth into the rentier class, I'll probably join. I've been sucker enough for this sort of thing in the past. And I'll wish it all the luck and success that it ought, if there were any justice in the world, to receive. The fact remains, though, that the people with the power will do the minimum they think necessary to deal with the movement (and not the problem - the UK and the US are setting the examples, here), will murmur sweet nothings if they must, then roll over and go back to sleep upon their gilded mattresses.

Plus c'est la change ...
Ion A. Dowman

David George said...

Despite the unlikelihood of coordinated mass protest the state appear to be utterly terrified of it, their media lackeys bent on dismissal or denigration. The huge protests in Holland completely ignored - despite the obvious parallels with the 100,000 strong groundswell protests here. The fearful wannabe totalitarian state is, as we speak, putting in place opaque monitoring and control of the public sphere.

Chris Trotter:
"By disguising a comprehensive censorship regime as nothing more than thinking of the children, and appointing a regulator of communications who would operate at arm’s length from the government, the crusade against Hate Speech would not only be empowered, but also rendered unassailable.

Dr Roderick Mulgan, in an email appealing to his fellow Free Speech Union members, summed up the danger posed by the vastly expanded censorial powers of the proposed regulator as follows:

"We have never opposed the Chief Censor’s role of removing patently objectionable content like terrorist activity. We’re not talking about the extreme material that is already illegal and is already regulated by the Chief Censor’s Office. We’re talking about the expression of your beliefs, opinions and experiences that others dislike or disagree with."

If New Zealanders allow the DIA’s proposed Regulator to mount her dark horse and unholster her Colt 45s, then they will have no one to blame but themselves when she opens fire."

Gary Peters said...

Again I have to disagree with you Chris, not about the distribution of wealth but the reasons for it and the reasons for our current economic situation.

Where we do agree is that there will be no mass formation of protest or change, that time is well past in New Zealand as those that think they're disadvantaged are, in the main, too lazy to do anything other than demand more money from the "gummint".

By the time I was 19 I was earning more money that my father, a long time labour supporter who encouraged me to get an education and put it to use. Not just a book based education but a life education and he gave me the skills and motivation to put that "education" to use, as I did with my own children.

Few of the "disadvantaged" today are educated, highly or otherwise yet the opportunity to gain that needed education has never been greater than now yet a surprising number do not.

I guess you can take it from my comments that I have little sympathy for those who find themselves in a difficult financial situation when it would seem they are the masters of their own destiny. Also, I have spent over 40 years in the finance/insurance industry and have seen people from both ends of the financial spectrum plus have seen all human attrributes displayed in the pursuit or expenditure of money. I have also never seen a single client accumulate wealth without significant hard work and risk so why should they be despised for working that much harder/smarter than others?

I read recently that if all the wealth in the world was equally divided up we would all get about $NZ50,000. Doesn't seem that much does it?

This is another comment on that.

sumsuch said...

May I say that NZ worked out for many immigrants. Oz retained a suspicion of authority which saw them better through their neoliberalism. We'd forgotten how to fight.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"The huge protests in Holland completely ignored"

Honestly David, I don't know where you are getting your information from but 10 seconds of googling found me a dozen articles about huge protests in the Netherlands. Perhaps if you mentioned that rather than "Holland"?
They were big news all over the Internet. Maybe they were ignored in New Zealand ... oops no, they were featured on radio New Zealand. Maybe if you expanded your sources of information to the more Communist ones like radio NZ?

And I suspect that private enterprise – like the idiot owner of Twitter – has far more influence on censorship than most governments, excepting the extreme right ones in places like Florida and Italy. You know – those ones you ignore when it comes to free speech.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"I have little sympathy for those who find themselves in a difficult financial situation when it would seem they are the masters of their own destiny. "

Yes, stupid we buggers should have chosen their parents better shouldn't they?

sumsuch said...

Pretty true. Why I think a politician could get far by talking (simplified) ideas. Which our shit lot don't do being wedded to focus groups.

All this is laughable in the last days of the species. Regularly censored by free speech supposed Leftists.

chris prudence said...


As new zealanders know only too well their country has been transformed almost beyond recognition.This is not my life summed it up nicely with a bland grey concrete jungle of glass and mirrors.A once well protected economy under fortress muldoon before the run on the dollar and the intervention of treasury bosses and the reserve bank governor.A car industry, import licensing which made fashionable kiwi made clothing possible remember parachute or workshop.Price controls, CER the list goes on.All this as we became a world model for structural adjustment and left naked in a world of tariff protection while canada and the aussies sat back and watched from afar.A polish shipyard.

David George said...

GS: "should have chosen their parents better"

That's a trap (an enticing excuse?) that's easy to fall into. While there is a genetic and familial culture correlation with life success there are a great many exceptions. I know a lot families, people I grew up with, where siblings have had wildly different outcomes. Children from the same family with very similar intelligence, aptitude and upbringing that have flourished while their brothers and sisters (and cousins and similarly favoured friends) have floundered. Some are financially secure with happy relationships while their siblings are unhappy hand to mouth failures.

The "inequality" is staggering. What to do?

David George said...

Thanks GS, I stand corrected. It does appear our local media had reports on the protests in Holland. For all that, and with relevance to this essay, there is a war on dissent; the labeling and cancelling of criticism as "disinformation" a principal weapon.

Tom Slater: "But in the great disinformation panic of our time, sparked by the populist revolts of 2016 and sent into hyperdrive by the paranoia of the pandemic, the word has come to mean something very different among our elites. It has come to mean inconvenient facts, or a differing opinion. Tackling disinformation is now just a euphemism for demonising and silencing dissent."

Conclusion: "All this is proof, if any more were needed, that the war on disinformation is really a war on dissent. Across the Western world, governments, tech oligarchs and the corporate media are taking it upon themselves to rule on what is and isn’t true, and are using this lofty, unearned status to try to ram their opponents into the ground. Information-warfare tactics, usually reserved for hostile foreign states, have been quietly turned on domestic populations. This isn’t about rescuing the truth from social-media derangement – it’s about a deranged, blundering establishment trying to take back control."

Gary Peters said...

"Yes, stupid we buggers should have chosen their parents better shouldn't they?"

A lazy answer if ever I saw one.

I had a mate at school, young maori guy whose father beat him fairly regularly yet he went on the be a very successful man.

We have Sir John Key, raised by a solo mkum in a state house and we all know how that turned out.

WE are the masters of our own destiny and to blame the generation before for the parlous state we may find ourselves in is just lazy.

In my opinion.

sumsuch said...

As I think I said here we need strong Left politician talkers in the absence of people's movements. Without that the nutty Right populists fly in. Lessons from America and Australia.

David George said...

Is anyone aware of a proper comprehensive study into the causes/correlations between positive life success and personality traits/intelligence/conscientiousness etc.? Or the opposite?

There seems to be a lot of convenient assumptions being made about things like the causes of poverty or criminality etc.

Here's an article I found with links to scientific studies:

Chapter headlines;
1. The ability to delay gratification
2. Conscientiousness.
3. A belief in free will.
4. Being in an open network.
5. Childhood adversity. [Negatively correlated?]
6. Avid reading.
7. Past success.
8. Grit.

sumsuch said...

I come to Bowalley for intelligence.

Just watching 'The Big Lebowsky' for the 3000th time. Basic Sky. Still entertaining.

Details, small points, footnotes, don't help the great cause of reality. Are really Right really. The prob with you and TDB. Much more central prob with The Standard.

This is the end of times, not ever going-on entertainment for us middle class. I feel that idleness myself but reality comes first. The 30s crowd talked about reality. I know that doesne pay, for any of us, just it's true.

Said to Martyn we need a politician violent talker on our side before the numbnut Right do it. Like my g. granddad -- I expect you to laugh at this point.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"I had a mate at school, young maori guy whose father beat him fairly regularly yet he went on the be a very successful man.

We have Sir John Key, raised by a solo mkum in a state house and we all know how that turned out."

A lazy answer? It's a correct one and supported by the science. Having the right parents is essential to success in life and the occasional exception – as in your answer here, is of no consequence. Anecdote is not data. The "But it worked for me auntie" school is not only lazy but ignorant.

Some of the most common predictors of success are a decent family, and family enough, luck.

sumsuch said...

Greens have come through with the boldness needed for this time, just not any trace of violent talkers for it or the ability to reach out to the non-voters.

When climate change arrives it's too late. But, for our momentary pleasure, it makes our Right free shots. Just a lot of idiots out there to support them. It's a very amusing way to die early -- not you.

sumsuch said...

This is the end of time, Minto and me are right, finally. Timing is over. Just the Godzone honest truth now. Of course, too late, but what else. Shooting at foolish Righties?

Anonymous said...

National's announcement yesterday (Sunday, June 11) that a government they lead will ease the restrictions on genetic engineering,and set up a new biotechnology regulator, make it timely to reconsider the "....campaign to keep genetically engineered organisms out of New Zealand".

As I've commented here before, I think that the early 21st century campaign against genetic engineering was an early fore-runner of the anti-vaxx movement, sharing a fear and distrust of science, in particular, but also of expertise and authority in general.

I was completely unsurprised that GE-Free NZ went full anti-vaxx, and threw itself whole heartedly into the occupation of the Parliamentary grounds. They condemned all the covid-19 vaccines as "genetic engineering".

That raises an interesting point, that shows some of the problems in the current law. GE-Free NZ is totally wrong on the mRNA vacccines. There is no genetic engineering used in their production, and they do not, and can not, affect anyone's DNA after injection.

But they do have a point on the viral vector vaccines, including the Oxford AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccine. They ARE GMOs, at least according to the Oxford scientists who developed them, and the UK regulators who first approved them. When it was first announced New Zealand would acquire the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine, it was expected that they would, like other viral vector vaccines, need approval by the EPA under the genetic engineering laws, as well as Medsafe approval.

Then it was decreed by Medsafe that the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine is NOT a GMO under New Zealand law, it need not be referred to the EPA, it needs only Medsafe approval, which is granted.

So, there is alternative to mRNA vaccines offered in New Zealand, for those with doubts about the new technology. It uses older, established, technology, and it is a GMO in the UK, but, on one interpretation of New Zealand law, not here.

So the laws against introducing GMOs into New Zealand were hindering the pandemic response. Until, essentially, Medsafe turned a blind eye to them. That alone surely shows a need to, at the very least, review the law.

On top of that, patients now being treated with gene editing to cure cancer have to be deemed to NOT be GMOs. That is because the current law requires gene edited organisms to be treated as GMOs, that can only be grown in containment.

How much the world has changed is shown by the Greens wanting to fight an election campaign on tax policy, not genetic engineering. Can GE-Free NZ now reassemble a broad coalition, including Greens who do want to fight genetic engineering? Or can they now only attract fellow anti-vaxxers? Is the public swayed by the medical benefits of genetic technologies more than they worry about other uses? It's going to be interesting, but I think New Zealand is now more likely to join Australia, and many others, in the 21st century, than not.

Gary Peters said...

As I said, a lazy answer.

There are no "rules" for prosperity save hard work and a bit of luck.

Opportunity is now there for us all to grab, some do, some don't and while the influence of your parents may have a bearing on "your" choices, they are still your choices not theirs.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"There are no "rules" for prosperity save hard work and a bit of luck."

Unfortunately the science says otherwise.

As I said a lazy answer.