The outpouring of reactionary outrage over the use of the word ‘holocaust’ by Tariana Turia to apply to the impact of white-settler colonization on the Maori people of NZ highlights the enormous ‘gap’ that exists between informed objectivity and gross ignorance of the history of capitalism –and ignorance based on a Euro-centric post-colonial attempt to justify its actions in the name of stamping out barbarism and bringing civilization. We argue here that capitalism has visited ‘holocausts’ on indigenous peoples long before it discovered the Jews to persecute and it is still visiting holocausts on oppressed peoples including the Iraqis and Palestinians. ‘Holocaust denial’ is something that pervades imperialism and is not limited to anti-Semites.

Who "owns the holocaust?

An attitude of associating the Holocaust perpetrated against the Jewish people by the Nazis during the Second World War has become so firmly set into the Western psyche that its use outside of that context is regarded as making light of the suffering of white Europeans. Indeed many Jews have taken ownership of ‘holocaust’ to describe the extreme horror of their oppression, their suffering, and their genocide. These are all very real events but to claim exclusive rights to the term holocaust serves to demean and belittle suffering by other peoples in particular that of indigenous peoples largely wiped out by the spread of capitalism or the oppression of other peoples today. Moreover, the Jewish ownership of the term holocaust has become part of the justification for the oppression of the Palestinian people.

The fact that the guilt-ridden West continues to support the state of Israel makes the point. In order to preserve what amounts to a European enclave in the Middle East, the occupation of Palestine and the military oppression of the Palestinian people are regarded as the price to pay for the creation of a Jewish homeland. For example the murderous invasion of the Lebanon by Israel in 1982 masterminded by Ariel Sharon, the present Likud Party leader, has never been referred to as a holocaust event, even though its intent was to physically remove forever the threat posed to Israel by the Palestinians who were forced at gunpoint to leave their Palestinian homeland. When Christian militia slaughtered Palestinian refugees in the Sabra and Shatilla camps in the same way that the Nazis slaughtered Jews in the Warsaw ghetto, the Israelis casually sat on the side and watched.

The West didn’t even raise an eyebrow, regarding the whole Lebanon experience of 1982 that was dubbed ‘Operation Peace for Galilee’ by the Israelis, an ‘anti-terrorist operation’ according to the official description, therefore wholly justifiable. In its literal sense holocaust means mass slaughter and complete destruction by fire – conditions that the Israeli actions satisfied as far as they were able to.

Anti-terrorism has become the new cover catchword for mass slaughter against civilians perpetrated by the US and its client interests in Turkey against the Kurds, Yeltsin and Putin in Chechnya and Fujimori in Peru against the working class.

Millions of Iraqis have died in the last nine years directly as a result of US led Western action caused by those who would take great offense at having those actions described as a holocaust. Indeed the targeting of food production areas, destruction of water reservoirs, hospitals and medical supplies and electricity, shows a deliberate intent to attack a whole civilian population in the manner of genocide. All leaders including the main political parties in NZ are equally culpable in this regard for their continued support of these murderous actions.

Why Apologise for speaking out?

The edict by the Prime Minister Helen Clark to her Ministers banning them from the inappropriate use of the world ‘holocaust’, makes the point that its literal interpretation holds NZ’s political mainstream wholly exposed and hypocritical in its condemnation of Tariana Turia’s message. Forcing Turia, who is Associate Minister of Maori Affairs to publicly apologise for her ‘inappropriate’ use of the term reveals the Labour Party is fully implicated in refusing to recognize the extent of the harm done to the Maori people by white-settler colonization. The fact that Turia refused to apologise for the term itself, and only its interpretation by racist reactionaries, shows that she has no intention of backing away from her campaign to challenge the racist ignorance that exists on the whole question of colonization and decolonisation.

Turia used the term "post-colonial traumatic stress disorder" to account for the long-term after-effects of colonization on Maori today to try to explain why Maori have not been able to overcome the ‘gap’ which leaves them lagging behind non-Maori in education, income, jobs, health etc. When collectivized forms of society have an integral and spiritual bond to land and sources of sustenance that goes beyond mere shallow prayers in a church every Sunday, then the imposition by force of concepts that are the antithesis of that structure are destructive not only materially but psychologically. If land were regarded as the earth mother, then the wrenching of the children of the land has the effect of wounding the soul so long as there is memory of the trauma. That memory is sustained and passed down generationally because history demands the acknowledgement of past wrongs, the closure of the chapter and the formal beginning of a new one. Until that happens, there is no exit, no ability to walk away -a concept foreign to the central theme of Turia’s speech.

The Racist reaction

NZ First leader, Winston Peters, himself a Maori, joined forces with leader of the National Party Jenny Shipley, and far right critics in the ACT Party, to condemn Turia as creating a myth of Maori oppression to justify special treatment or ‘apartheid’ between the two races. In fact they reject the use of the term ‘colonisation’ because it implies the oppression of a whole people rather than individuals who can take advantage of social opportunities like everyone else. This is the familiar euro-centric view that projects its view that history results from the actions of individuals onto non-capitalist, collectivist, societies such as pre-European Maori society. Turia’s speech directly challenged this racist denial and explains why she was attacked so virulently.

Denial takes many forms

Denial takes many forms and uses false arguments that are ignorant of history. There are a number of arguments.

The most common attack is to blame Maori for their own fate by claiming that pre-European Maori society was more violent and destructive than the colonization process. The constant reference to murderous musket wars, to the conquest of the Ngati Moriori of Rekohua (Chatam Island) by bigots and ignoramuses as if they were not a Maori tribe, has been the age-old call of colonialist and their descendants to silence mainland Maori efforts against the Crown.

But this shows a total euro-centric ignorance of Maori society. Inter tribal warfare was normal and accepted by all. As a collectivist society, with stone tools and a limited ability to harness nature, there was a struggle between family groups for survival. Raids on other tribes were a method of replenishing food stocks when they got low. Captured slaves soon became members of the adoptive tribe. This is true of tribal society the world over including that of the Celts and Saxons. In this context inter-tribal warfare and violence is not oppressive since each tribe can survive only by constant exchanges, including warfare, with others.

Another false argument is that Maori are still savages today despite attempts to civilise them. The only thing holding them back is the survival of a tribal mentality. Gareth Morgan who writes for the Maori-bashing National Business Review, regularly slates today’s Maori as being held back by ‘stone age economics’. This is another way of saying that Maori spend their money or give it away to relatives and do not save and invest in the capitalist market.

History gives the lie to this.

History gives the lie to this. With European contact, Maori quickly realized that the ‘musket-wars’ in which one tribe could lay waste to another was destructive of all Maori, and rapidly adapted to the new techniques of production and cultivation to provide a larger resource base. By the 1840’s Maori were producing sufficient food to make inter-tribal wars unnecessary. By the 1860’s Maori were growing wheat, milling flour and shipping it to Australia.

Thus the violence done by Maori to other Maori can only be understood as a necessary feature of a relatively low level of social organization. When that changed, and Maori began to adapt the new techniques to production on their own land with their collective labour, they showed that they were clearly capable of ‘outcivilising’ the settlers. The settler state responded with violence, war and confiscation laying the basis for the post-colonial trauma.

Damned lies and statistics

A more sophisticated racist argument is that which says that Maori never existed as one people. The concept of a pan-Maori identity is a recent invention they say. A variation on this is the ‘Maori as lifestyle option’ argument. Simon Upton in his ‘Upton-on-Line’ of October 6 [] quotes figures showing that "1 in 4 ‘Maori’ in 1996 were not Maori in 1991", suggesting that choosing to be ‘Maori’ is based on self-interest not any deep ethnic identity.

This is similar to the argument that Maori don’t differ from others by being Maori. If a Maori is poor it is because he or she lacks the education to get a job. A recent paper by Simon Chapple of the Labour Department claims that the Labour Government’s "closing the gaps" policy is based on the assumption that "Maori" as a group are disadvantaged whereas the evidence is that it is not being "Maori" that counts but lack of education.

This is statistical rubbish since it denies the historical record of violence, land theft and oppression that still today explains why the majority of Maori carry the legacy of colonization as a direct cause of their underachievement in education and employment.

All of these alibis for racism come to grief in their denial of the violence of the colonization process. Thus the violence that has become endemic in sections of the Maori population has causal roots going back to the beginnings of the colonization period. Violence is a bedfellow of colonization according to psychologists, emeritus professor James Ritchie and Professor Jane Ritchie. This experience has been passed on generationally as an example of behaviour to follow. A behaviour that is expected to cope with whatever trials and tribulations are thrown at it and bound to be self-destructive. Hardly surprising given that colonial domination causes a sense of self-hatred among its own subjects resulting in senseless violence and suicide.

Young Maori alienated

Among Maori youth this history has been updated by the TV and movie images of LA street gangs beamed into the country by media moguls as a form of re-colonisation of young minds. These manifestations of dysfunction caused by colonization in the US have had the copycat effect of elevating youth violence locally to a level unheard of in earlier years. The beating up of somebody just for the sake of getting the latest fashion in running shoes, jackets or stereos is violence exercised not for survival, or in expropriating the land, but for a consumer item. It demonstrates that the consumption of violence is the ultimate experience in alienation.

Turiana Turia is to be congratulated for highlighting colonization and its effects and by standing firm on the issue. But she does stop short of explaining what drives it in the modern context. As a social democrat she is unable to reconcile that capitalism is the objective force behind colonization and that the law of value is the source of that force. If colonization is the gun, capitalism is the bullet, then the law of value is the finger on the trigger. By commodifying all things in nature and assigning to them values the incentive is created to accumulate as much of that value as possible. The new global colonialists understand that very well and are prepared to stop at nothing to advance that cause. People such as Tariana Turia should stop guilt-tripping themselves in not wanting to condemn capitalism and recognize that the fruits of capitalism are not those of the bosses, but those of workers.

From Class Struggle No 35 October-November 2000

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