Part Two: Towards a Socialist Polynesia

Towards a Socialist Polynesia (TSP) was written by Owen Gager in mid 1982. It was the NZ Spartacist League's (a forerunner to the CWG) response to the events of the previous decade culminating in the Anti-Springbok tour movement, and the publication of Awatere's Maori Sovereignty. Against the petty bourgeois nationalism of both Maori and Pakeha, TSP tried to present a materialist analysis of the real history of race relations as a result of NZ’s white-settler colonisation and ongoing semi-colonial development. Petty bourgeois nationalists came out against British imperialism and its NZ 'imperialist' pretensions at the expense of Maori, and identified with Maori opposition to imperialism. In this way the struggle was posed in nationalist/racist and not class terms.

Gager's pamphlet shot through this nationalist front with a Marxist broadside. NZ was a capitalist colony. Capitalism was not imported into the South Pacific completely knocked down and ready for assembly. It had to be imposed by a process of bloody conquest and ‘primitive accumulation’. That meant dispossessing Maori by force if necessary. The object was not to destroy Maori society for its own sake (though some settlers regarded Maori as civilised only in their "graves" and one Atkinson, saw it as his scientific duty to "shoot the natives") but to destroy their primitive communist resistance to class society –capitalism. The Treaty was a fraud. It was a ‘trick’ admitted at the time, to pacify the savages while the pakeha ruling class was able to muster the imperial troops to take the land. All of this rotten history had one purpose –to convert tribal land into capitalist property, and to convert Maori into landless labourers so that they would be forced to work as wage workers and be exploited by capitalism.

TSP proved that this was the case by demonstrating that the history of Maori resistance to their expropriation and super-exploitation as waged workers was anti-capitalist. This process was part of the ongoing capitalist expansion into the South Pacific in the 19th century and it set the pattern for NZ's semi-colonial development in the 20th century. The post-war boom accelerated this process by propelling Maori from the rural reserves into the urban ghettos. But the end of the boom brought with it a massive shock as the new jobs, incomes and expectations were suddenly dashed. Awatere and the new generation of rebels expressed outrage at this betrayal of the dream of assimilation by economic progress. In its place they raised the demand "Aotearoa is Maori Land.!"

What TSP did was to point out clearly that it was a sham for a few petty bourgeois Maori to stage a national revolution when the majority of Maori were already detribalised and in the working class. Awatere was merely putting out the claim for a Maori fair share in kiwi capitalism. The sovereignty gambit was an opening shot designed to guilt-trip the petty bourgeois pakeha anti-racists behind the movement and to up the ante in the Treaty settlement process. TSP rejected this petty bourgeois nationalism as anti-migrant when Ripeka Evans, Donna Awatere's collaborator, called for Pacific Island migrants to "fuck off" home. Their "Black Unity" did not extend to their Polynesian cousins. But most pakeha anti-racists joined forces with petty bourgeois Maori nationalism at the expense of other migrants. To make it worse so did most of the so-called Left when they found reasons to call Awatere some kind of 'Marxist revolutionary'.

The Republican left.

TSP rubbished these so-called Marxists fawning on Awatere. For example, Peter Lee claimed that Awatere was some kind of antipodean Walter Benjamin (The Republican, #43 December 1982). Then Jesson took Awatere's reference to Gramsci at face value to mean that the Maori people could recover their "treasures" and lead the struggle of New Zealand's independence. He failed to notice that Awatere's ‘counter-hegemonic bloc’ fundamentally misrepresented Gramsci. Her bloc was not Gramsci’s class bloc where other classes were led by the working class. Rather it was an alliance where the working class was led by the Maori people! Thus the Republican Marxist" left of Jesson and Co took this to mean that the Maori Question could only be resolved by a national independence struggle in which the working class remained subordinated to the Maori as a people. (Jesson, "Reviewing the Maori Sovereignty Debate" The Republican, #48 December 1983; #49 February 1984). The Maori People were a liberating force who in alliance with Pakeha radicals had a common interest in a "Republic of Aotearoa" (The Republican, August 1984 "The Latest Contribution to the Maori Sovereignty Discussion"). But for Jesson the Maori as part of the proletariat and therefore as a force for socialism was non-existent. Since Maori People were a figment of petty bourgeois Maori nationalists, this was his way of putting the petty bourgeois in front of the working class in the national revolution.

Gager anticipated Lee's argument by showing that the European Marxist Walter Benjamin had long ago warned that appeals to tradition were not a basis for as progressive national movement but rather a reactionary ploy to divide and rule the working class:

"Walter Benjamin, in Illuminations, saw fascism's role as rendering politics aesthetic, while ‘communism responds by politicising art’ His understanding of the reactionary implications of making politics "cultural" still expressed the perspective of Leninism. ‘Cultural treasures’ writes Benjamin are the spoils of war between ruling classes which owe their origin not only to the efforts of the great minds and talents who have created them, but also to the anonymous toil of their contemporaries – in Maori society, all those who could not claim to be ariki or rangatira."

Gager continues: "Maori culture, as it is now, consists of the spoils of war which the white ruling class has plundered. Historical materialism, on the contrary, wishes to retain that image of the Polynesian past which unexpectedly appears to the Polynesian worker in crisis, singled out by history at the moment of danger. That danger affects both the content of Polynesian tradition and its receivers. The same threat hangs over both: that of becoming the tool of the ruling classes. In every area that attempt must be made anew to wrest Polynesian tradition away from a conformism that is about to overpower it. Only that militant will have the gift of fanning the spark of hope in the Polynesian past who is firmly convinced that even the dead will not be safe from enemy if he wins. And that enemy has not ceased to be victorious". (TSP 22)

Stalinist Left

Even worse than the Republican left was the Stalinist left. Stalinist political groups such as the Workers Communist League (now defunct), the Stalinist SUP dominated trades unions and the Stalinophile (literally, loving Stalin) 'trotskyist' Socialist Action League (and their Young Socialists) flocked to the cause of Maori Sovereignty. TSP exposed them as racists who limited their support for Maori struggles to that of becoming equal under capitalism. But where the Republican left wanted Maori in the vanguard, most Stalinists wanted them in the rearguard. So when Maori workers overstepped their subordinate role in the labour movement they got dumped just as The Polynesian Resource Centre –Te Moana –was evicted from the Trade Union Centre in 1981 when Ripeka Evans criticised the white trade union leadership. "By 'allowing' Maori people to lead the 'anti-racist' struggle, but in limiting their demands to 'full equality' and 'minority rights', WCL actively suppresses the revolutionary potential of the Maori proletariat in order to maintain its 'leadership' of the white working class." (TSP, 9).

The reason for this was the rotten legacy of colonial racism embedded in the pakeha ‘labour aristocracy’ and ‘bureaucracy’, which were the class fractions the Stalinists were based on. This was amply demonstrated by the WCL.: "The Stalinist Workers Communist League claims it has a "class" analysis of racist and colonial oppression in New Zealand. But their programme itself is clearly racist. For them, the history of New Zealand's movement towards independence is a pakeha history, to which the Maori people are an appendage...For them, the achievement of white settler power based on denial of Maori suffrage in New Zealand is an "advance". The failure to see that white "independence" achieved at the expense of Maori independence assumed a reactionary and imperialist character leads logically to a recognition of Polynesian workers as a class with no revolutionary potential, and which must limit itself to a "miniumum programme" of democratic rights, forgetting 'independence' and 'socialism'." (TST 9)

Permanent Revolution

Against the petty bourgeois "Marxists" TSP argued that Maori were historically an oppressed people. It supported Maori self-determination up to and including secession if the majority of Maori demanded it. Support for self-determination by Pakeha workers would then be necessary to win Maori workers to the struggle for socialism. This was because Maori were trapped in the reserve army of labour and could not win equal rights under capitalism. Nor could the Treaty settlement process honour a fraudulent treaty. It could only fake this by creating local versions of Bantustans – like the independent Pacific Islands whose 'cultural treasures' were returned in exchange for the wealth that was spirited away. The whole process would have the effect of encouraging and reinforcing class divisions in Maoridom – an effect that capitalism could not possibly avoid – but in the name of sovereignty (now tino rangatiratanga). This would devolve the responsibility for poverty onto Maori themselves and not the oppressive racist state that has ruled over them for nearly two centuries. Therefore, Maori could only win their democratic rights by means of a ‘permanent revolution’ ie. socialist revolution.

TSP called Awatere and Co petty bourgeois nationalists. And hasn't she proved TSP right 1000 times as cheerleader of Maori in ACT! They were not the voice of the majority of Maori workers. They rapidly turned to "honouring" the Treaty. TSP predicted the role that petty bourgeois nationalists would play in getting "10% Kiwi capitalism" in the name of a re-invented cultural tradition. Events have proven Gager correct. The Treaty is still a fraud. The whole Treaty process has seen Maori coopted by class further into capitalism – a few have become bosses and the majority stayed workers with a widening gap between. It can be nothing else when the land, resources and labour-power expropriated for 150 years are now accumulated as capitalist private property. The token settlements that have been trickled back are little more than capitalised benefits advanced as seeding capital to spawn mini-corporations who will swim as sprats among the MNC sharks. The Treaty Settlements work like a local version of the World Bank/IMF. The local NZ state hands out seeding capital but locks everyone into the local economy, just as the IMF/World Bank locks it into the global economy on the terms of the imperialists.

Neo-Marxist analysis.

Who else has been able to see all this? What other left analyses have followed? And do they add or subtract from TSP? We can look as several recent attempts to develop an Antipodean Marxism on the Maori question before passing judgement on their strengths and weaknesses. They all put class before ethnicity or nationality and attempt to explain Maori politics in terms of the integration of Maori into global capitalism. Yet they all have problems in the way they integrate their analysis of the Maori struggle into the development of NZ's semi-colonial capitalism.

The strengths of Evan Poata-Smith's work is that it is based on an analysis of New Zealand as a capitalist country. Therefore Maori inequality/oppression is NOT the result of the primitiveness of Maori or the inherent racism of Pakeha. The Pakeha (and more recently the brown table) capitalist class is the problem. Poata-Smith recognises that what he calls "cultural nationalism" is not a strategy for liberation. It is similar to the concept of petty-bourgeois nationalism raised in TSP since it is middle class or petty bourgeois Maori who benefit from it at the expense the majority of working class Maori. "Real liberation for Maori will not occur without a fundamental transformation of capitalist society".

What weaknesses? These result from a failure to explain clearly how Maori fit into a class system or how the experience of exploitation of Maori workers by Maori capitalists will generate a break from the trap of a reactionary nationalism. So Poata-Smith does not explain how the transition to socialism has to have a concrete programme and revolutionary leadership to make it happen. While academic articles are not usually the place for calls for revolution, this failure is also evident in Andrew Geddes’ pamphlet The Way Forward to Tino Rangitiratanga which draws heavily upon Poata-Smith. Published by the Socialist Workers Organisation in 1997, apart from general statements about Maori liberation happening only in a "socialist society", there is not much indication in this pamphlet on how to get there.

Geddes uses the examples of fighting for democratic rights such as the funding of Maori language broadcasting, and the return of stolen land and taonga, as part of the struggle for socialism. True as far as they go. These are democratic demands that must be part of a transitional programme. But there are two problems with this. First, the SWO does not define self-determination to include the right to secede.

In anticipation of this, TSP stated that if the majority of Maori respond to their worsening economic oppression with a call for secession (independence), then pakeha workers must support them in order to win them to socialism. How this will happen needs to be spelled out. Specifically, pakeha workers need to give critical support the demands of urban iwi for inclusion in the Treaty settlements, and for a share of fisheries and other resources. But at the same time revolutionaries must fight to extend the struggle to the expropriation of all capitalist property on the grounds that both Maori and Pakeha have contributed generations of labour to create the wealth of the country. Concretely, this means supporting the return of Maori land, fisheries, compensation etc as part of a programme that, at the same time, calls for the nationalisation of the land and fisheries under workers' control (with Maori guaranteed traditional rights of use), the re-nationalisation of state assets without compensation, the expropriation of capitalist property, for a workers state able to plan the economy, and a workers’ militia to defend the state from the international bourgeoisie.

Second, the SWO does not integrate immediate, democratic demands with transitional demands that include many other demands to unite Maori and non-Maori workers in class struggle all the way to "workers power". Therefore there is a split between the immediate demands and the goal of socialism that becomes, like the petty bourgeois Marxists, a split between a minimum and maximum programme, in which Maori have minimum (democratic) rights, but Marxists have the maximum (socialist) solution. Ironically in a strongly Stalinophobic (literally a fear of Stalinism) socialist organisation, the petty bourgeois "Marxist" notion of stages is slipped into its politics in a disguised form of support for Maori liberation.

Against this petty bourgeois position, communists link immediate and democratic demands with fully revolutionary demands for workers’ militia and a workers’ state in a transitional programme. This requires concrete analysis to be fused with revolutionary practice. There is a need to relate the Maori and Class questions in a programme of action all the way to the seizure of power. First, the inability of capitalism to deliver to Maori has to be explained by reference to NZ's semi-colonial character, where the local economy is dominated by US, Japanese and Australian companies. Thus the polarisation of classes and divisions in Maoridom will intensify and further impoverish Maori workers and small farmers as well as squeeze Maori petty bourgeois and small capitalists down into the proletariat. The fate of the Sealords deal and the legal battle over urban iwis highlights the contradiction between class and nation dramatically. Only by applying the theory of NZ as a semi-colony in crisis to understand the clear limits to the Maori Nationalism struggle can it be turned into a united class struggle.


What about the liberal left like Jane Kelsey. Has their critique of Rogernomics as incompatible with the Treaty resulted in any serious analysis or programmatic options? No. Because the cause is defined as merely a neo-liberal elite that can be defeated in parliament. What of the latter day radicals like Tama Iti etc? Where have all their protests gone? Gone to parliament under MMP, which is the latest fraud to be perpetrated on the workers and oppressed. From Mat Rata to Mason Durie, the Maori intelligentsia envisages Mana Motuhake as sharing power in the bourgeois state. Maori will have their own economic base and governance. All that is required is for Maori to mobilise as a people and assert their right to share power under a new constitution. Even the centrifugal forces of globalisation can be offset by counter-hegemonic indigenous rights movements backed by international law.

For example, Elizabeth Rata applies Regulation Theory to NZ and sees tribal capitalism as a post-Fordist mode of regulation. That is, she recognises that Maori have been coopted into state-defined tribal entities to produce a settlement that is in the interests of international capital. The problem is that Regulation theory is neo-Ricardian rather than Marxist. It explains that the exploitation of Maori requires a political conspiracy on the part of the white ruling class to deceive Maori by reinventing tribalism so the white elite can keep most of the land and wealth ripped off under colonialism. ("The Theory of Tribal Capitalism" in Review –The Fernand Braudel Centre, Vol XX11 (3) 1999). This is similar to Kelsey’s view that if a section of the ruling class is imposing a neo-liberal mode(l) of regulation (capitalist conspiracy) then it must be possible to mobilise to remove that mode(l) by a process of radical social democratic evolutionary socialism. But while the pink-greens still regard the issue as about land or capital –ie. an economic base of sorts, to which end political and cultural movements are put, the post modernists see it as about indigenous rights and nothing else. The means become the dead end.

The promised land: post-modernism meets Maori

Now that most of the Maori compradors have been bought off and the pakeha liberal left have bought into the honouring of the Treaty the debate is now about how much? First the fiscal cap was imposed and rejected. Then a sped-up process of settlements by iwi rather than hapu. But the liberal nationalists are satisfied that the Maori nation can now take its place alongside the pakeha nation in a multinational commonwealth of difference. All that is required is some attitudinal change and goodwill. So we see the post-modern turn as Maori are transformed into fully blown 'subjects' in the marketplace –with the past "pardoned". The Treaty will be turned into the base document of a Constitution. What the new right and the postmodernists all agree on, is that the market creates the conditions for freedom and these can now be realised. Every ethnic group and nationality can take their place in international society – with their "difference" recognised and respected. The Treaty Industry becomes part of the 'culture industry' looking to protect Maori 'culture' as a commodity that can fund their ethnic "difference". This means that "difference" becomes reduced to consumer taste ie. a difference that the sovereign consumer notes when s/he buys a commodity. Maori have been re-landed and re-branded. The ‘promised land’ of liberation becomes the freedom to buy and sell in the market. But as we know NZ semi-colonial capitalism will deny that freedom to most Maori so long as we do not revolutionise the relations of production.

Proletarian politics

As TSP predicted, most Maori "honoured" as a reserve army of labour find themselves trapped still in the proletariat with the obvious consequences. There are few bosses. Not because of 'stone age' economics like neo-liberal mouthpiece Gareth Morgan thinks, but because if you didn't have individual title you couldnt raise capital. Talk about the new right blaming the victim. Today the corporatisation of iwi opens up the capitalist road, but too little too late to get anywhere. As we have seen, NZ semicolonial capitalism is in the hands of the MNC's. They won’t sacrifice their profits for the sake of any Treaty. We have "the GAP" instead. Maori still own no more than about $10 Billion in assets. The majority earn well below the average wage. Maori youth unemployment is over 20%. The new Maori bosses' economic prospects are as small fish among the sharks, not good. The self-employed have been dispossessed. Small farmers and fishers swamped by globalisation. Which class will benefit and what will the masses do? Are urban iwi any answer? No. But as multi-ethnic working class organisations they have potential. This potential is not to set up a separate backward economy for an urban peasant existence, or try to compete in the corporate rat race, but to mobilise Maori along with all workers through the unions to expropriate the national wealth as their historic stake in socialism.

So the answer is to transform the national question into the class question. It means not trying to survive in 'bantustans' like the Pacific Island neo-colonies, but taking a proletarian stand to take back the lot! Why stop at reclaiming bits of land etc on the bosses Treaty terms? That's still fraud. Maori as proletarians helped make this country. Accumulated generations of surplus labour is congealed as the wealth of the nation. The working class needs a revolutionary programme to unite the masses in the struggle for socialism. Nationalise the land under workers control with Maori rights guaranteed! Re-nationalise privatised state assets without compensation under workers control! Expropriate capitalist corporates! Fight for a workers’ and working farmers' government based on workers councils and militia! For a socialist republic of Aotearoa in a federation of Asia/Pacific socialist republics!

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