Friday, September 17, 2004

My ten cents' worth on Destiny

Posted by Scott

Here's a quick contribution I made to the discussion John's article sparked on indymedia:

Fascism has to be defined ultimately in terms of class relationships. Fascism occurs when a capitalist class, or a section of the capitalist class, is unable to control an insurgent section of the working class using the normal insitutions of the state. Fascist leaders often come from the petty bourgeoisie or military, and they are called in because they can mobilise a section of the petty bourgeoisie and/or working class to smash organised labour and the left.

Fascist leaders also destroy bourgeois democracy (ie multi-party parliamentary democracy), because it is a luxury capitalism cannot afford in a revolutionary crisis. Fascist leaders also frequently rein in the 'free' market, using a 'corporate state' state to commandeer economic resources and to force puppet unions and a cowed bourgeoisie to cooperate 'in the national interest'.

When John mentions Maori, commies, and other groups I think he is pointing out that real fascists would be aiming to destroy the whole of the labour movement and the left. I've visited the National Front website and I notice that they spend almost as much time attacking leftists (and especially those dreaded 'communists'!) as any other group. They are also very anti-Maori.

The National Front's project of mobilising the white working class can only succeed if they destroy cross-race working class institutions, the most important of which is of course the union movement. They'd like to create white-only unions, and they naturally hate communists because good communists are amongst the staunchest trade unionists.

Outfits like the NF hang around on the political fringes until a crisis makes them into a credible force and they are needed by a section of the bourgeoisie.

I don't think it's possible for a Maori fascist movement to exist, because the capitalist class in New Zealand is overwhelmingly white, and Maori are the core of the working class that a crisis-ridden capitalism would use fascism to smash.

Maybe the only example of an indigenous fascist movement in this part of the world is the Taukei movement in Fiji, which is sponsored by a part of the Fijian elite with close links to the US and the army, and which uses violently anti-Indian language to mobilise poor working class and petty criminal indigenous Fijians.

I think that the model to use to understand Destiny is not the Blackshirts but the Ratana Church. Ratana organised 'Te Morehu' - the poor and atomised people left on the margins of both Pakeha and traditional Maori society after the dispossesions of the nineteenth century. Tamaki is picking up some of the declassed, atomised workers who were hammered by the neo-liberal onslaughts of the 80s and 90s - he is giving these people a sense of community and purpose, but he is doing it by adapting rather than resisting the ideology of the oppressor.

Everyone carries on as though Tamaki's Americanisms are something new, but Ratana used American titles like 'President' in his Church and adapted American imagery - one of the early Ratana symbols was a ladder rising out of a convertible car (message: we can use the material world to get spiritual rewards). For Tamaki as for Ratana, America represents dynamism and modernity and success.

Of course Ratana did try to blance modernity with tradition, and in the 30s guided his church into an alliance with Labour and the trade union movement, organisations based on a collectivist ideology. Tamaki, on the other hand, is trying to create a sense of community for his followers using an ideology of extreme individualism! He preaches neo-liberal economics, self-reliance and the rest of the Act religion, but the needs of his congregation tug the other way, and force him to run a de facto welfare service.

The contradiction between the need for community and the ideology of individualism also forces Tamaki to give his flock a sort of oppositional identity. Like all cult members, they come to define themselves by their distance from 'mainstream' society - they are the healthy cells in a sick society, and boy does it make them feel good!In my view, Tamaki's march on Wellington was largely an exercise in catering to the psychological needs of his followers. The march allowed them to achieve a vicarious sense of community and self-esteem by 'branding' themselves in opposition to the Godless rest of us.

Tamaki has not sought to liaise with other right-wing organisations and fundamentalist churches to stop the Civil Union Bill and similar progressive bits of legislation. On the contrary, he actually tried to persuade sympathetic 'outsiders' not to join the Destiny March, and he got his followers to wear a uniform that he knew would anatagonise the greater part of the population. I think he is preoccupied with trying to control and direct the massive contradictions in his own organisation, not seriously trying to intervene in national politics.

Which leaves us the question: how can we activate that contradiction between Destiny's ideology and the needs of its members?

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Tariana Turns to Labour?

More than three months after forming the Maori Party, Tariana Turia has gotten around to pledging not to put Don Brash into power next year.

After breaking with Labour over the theft of the seabed and foreshore and other Maori Party figures repeatedly said that the Maori Party was prepared to 'work with' and 'sit down with' National, which was not unnaturally taken to mean that she was open to forming a government with National. Tariana repeated these phrases when directly questioned about whether she'd support a National government.

The perception was reinforced by Tariana's overtures to National MP Georgina te Heuheu, whose right-wing record has been fulsomely praised by Maori Party leaders. Matt McCarten certainly believed that Tariana was open to a coalition deal with National - he devoted a chunk of the letter he wrote to Alliance members defending his decision to work on her by-election campaign to an explanation of the logic of Tariana's stance.

I think that Tariana has figured out that her overtures to National went down like a lead balloon with ordinary Maori and Pakeha who are terrified by the prospect of a National government and have nothing but contempt for the likes of Te Heuheu. It's no secret that the Maori Party has attracted little support from the left and organised labour, and Tariana probably guesses that changing her line on National might make the party's ongoing efforts to win the support of union rununga easier.

So where does Tariana's latest statement leave us? Even if we assume that Tariana's word is worth something - and her record as a right-wing, union-bashing, pro-war MP and Minister suggests that it isn't worth a great deal - we are left with the prospect of a Maori Party keeping the Labour Party government in power. Is this something that leftists want to support?

It's perhaps good to have Labour in power in the very limited sense that many workers have illusions in the party, and these illusions can potentially be shattered when the party shows its true spots by acting on behalf of US imperialism and its local crony capitalists. We have seen some disquiet over Labour's participation in the War of Terror, over its anti-worker attitude towards the pay claims of public sector workers like the nurses and teachers, and of course over its racist seabed and foreshore legislation.

A lot of Alliance members and more recently a lot of Maori have learned that Labour serves the interests of the bosses, not the people who vote for the party. Maori expressed this realisation by supporting the hikoi and walking from the party; the Alliance expressed it by leaving government and reorganising itself around a Socialist Platform.

Does it now make sense for Maori and for the lefties in the Alliance to turn again to Labour, and look to go through the whole rigmarole all over again? Tariana thinks so, and there's nothing to suggest she has any regrets about the role she played as a cheerleader for George Bush's wars, Labour's anti-strike legislation, and dozens of other reactionary policies she voted through Cabinet and parliament.

But ordinary Maori Party supporters should think twice before they go down that road again. The Labour Party is incapable of delivering any real gains to ordinary Maori or ordinary Pakeha. It is implementing Brash's agenda already, with measures like the S and F legislation, the beneficiary-bashing 'Jobs Jolt', the ban on strikes in the ERA, last week's tightening up of sick leave rules, and so on. A vote for a Maori Party deal with Labour is a vote for neo-liberalism.

I would support a Maori Party only if it ruled out putting either a Labour or National government in power, and instead promoted the direct action of the working class in pursuit of progressive goals like the defence of the seabed and foreshore and the pay claims of the nurses and all the other workers who are witing with far too much patience for their support for this government to be rewarded.

What's in a black T shirt?

Posted by Scott

The latest issue of Class Struggle features John Lawrence's article Black Shirts and Gay Hate is not Fascism, an examination of the rough reception the Civil Unions Bill has gotten from Brian Tamaki and his Destiny Church, and the rather thoughtless if understandable reception Destiny Church has gotten from the left.

In the 1980s John was a founding member of GLUE, which stood for Gay and Lesbian Unionists for Equality (one of the other founders was Carol Beaumont, who was a member of the Workers Communist League ('Weasels' for short) before degenerating into a Labour Party functionary in the 90s). John argues for critical support for the CUB, as a step forward for gays:

"The right of all couples to have a civil union which is recognized by the state, regardless of whether they are gay, lesbian or straight, is an extension of democratic civil rights. The fact that ‘civil union’ gives couples legal equality without the need for marriage must be a good thing. It undermines the institution of marriage, and with it the often repressive gender relations that marriage sanctions. Anything that hastens the end of the bourgeois family is to be welcomed!"

On his Anti-podean Journal blog social democrat Rohan Quinby argues against any sort of left support for the Bill, and I must admit I have been inclined to agree with him. Rohan argues that:

"...many of the people who support the Civil Unions Bill have been clear that the Bill doesn’t go far enough. Many people have understood from day one that the Bill achieves nothing but equivalence. But emotionally, psychically, the fight to get the Civil Unions Bill through Parliament has been all about equality. That's what the debate has been all about.My feeling is, if you are going to fight for something, fight for it. Especially when the environment is right, and particularly when it appears that the rest of the world is slowly coming around to the fact that preventing homosexuals from marrying amounts to discrimination."

Monday, September 06, 2004

Investigating the pro-war 'left'

Posted by Scott

Have submitted the following abstract for this year's conference of the Sociological Association of Aotearoa New Zealand. Haven't written the thing up yet (the conference's in late November), so any info is welcome. I'm particularly interested in tracing any local strains of this strange disease.


The global political left has been united as seldom before by opposition to the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Twenty million people protested the invasion,and the runaway success of Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 shows how strong anti-war sentiment remains.

A tiny but noisy section of the Western left has dissented from this anti-war orthodoxy. Invoking George Orwell and Karl Kautsky as well as Tony Blair and George Bush, ‘pro-war leftists’ have offeredtheir ‘critical support’ to a ‘war against fascism’. Eschewing traditional models of left-wing agitation, the ‘pro-war left’ has created a network of internet‘blogs’ in an effort to influence the mass media andgovernment policy-makers. Pro-war writers like Christopher Hitchens and philosopher Norman Geras have attracted considerable attention.

But the problems encountered by the occupiers of Iraq have increasingly haunted the pro-war ‘left’, making its argument for the compatibility of progressive politics and Bush foreign policy extremely difficult to sustain, and pushing its members towards an uncomplicated neo-conservatism. Written from a Marxist perspective and using Imre Lakatos’ model of theory formation and change, this paper analyses the social basis, intellectual genealogy, and self-presentation of a quixotic but instructive political movement.

Adrian and the Romanovs

Hi all,

I'm in a flash internet cafe adjacent to Red Square in Moscow at the moment, probably the flashest internet cafe I've ever been in. Nice, but complicated when you only know 5 Russian words...

We left Irkutsk for Ekaterinberg on the train, taking a two-day trip on the Trans-Siberian, probably about the maximum comfortable time without a stop. You get pretty stir crazy after awhile, but at least all the colds and stomach troubles had cleared up. Ekaterinberg used to be a closed city because of a strong military presence there - it used to produce tanks and stuff for the Soviets in WWII and has continued up until recently. A closed city means you need special papers to enter, and from talking to one of our guides it's actually a pretty cool place to live, since not everyone can enter and you get a nice community spirit with low crime, etc.

When we arrived in Ekaterinberg our guide, appropriately named Ivan, showed us round the town. It is near the Ural mountains, so a lot of mining goes on nearby. The place is covered in statues and monuments but apart from Lenin almost all of it is post-1993 or so, introduced to wipe away some of the Soviet times. Probably the most obvious example is the huge Church of the Blood cathedral built on the site where the Romanovs were executed. There was an old church there before, but Boris Yeltsin demolished it in 1977 cause too many people were doing a pilgrimage to it - Yeltsin used to be governor of Ekaterinberg. Now there's a great huge cathedral plonked there. Ivan was pretty philosophical about it, a little critical of the post-Soviet history which has glamourised the Tsar and his family far beyond historical info. This is exacerbated since the whole family were canonised and made into Russian Orthodox saints.

We had a great homestay with a little old lady who said 'Da da da da' (yes yes yes yes) to just about everything. She reminded me of my granny and cooked some really good (and huge) meals for us. Her apartment was way bigger than Japanese ones - a hall, bathroom, toilet and 5 biggish rooms in all.Next day we visited a Russian Orthodox monastary built around the mineshaft the Romanovs were dumped into. To get into it (and other Russian Orthodox buildings) women have to wear scarves and skirts, which meant Susan and Cindi ended up looking like a pair of Russian grannies. Accordingly, we took a lot of photos. The buildings are six or so log churchs built among the trees and surrounded by a log wall, the place was really cool and really new - the whole place is post-Soviet, built in the mid 90s, part of the Church's rebirth. I had a real movie Russian moment when a military helicopter flew low overhead: white-barked Russian trees and a sinister camouflage helicopter swooping over. I guess the log Churches didn't fit in, but you can't have everything.

Apparently about 90% of Russians consider themselves Russian Orthodox, but the guy who told us, another Sasha, said the Church didn't do anything for people, just strengthened its own position.After that we visited the point where Asia and Europe meet and visited a graveyard where Russian mafia are buried. Their gravestones are carved with their images, a driver guy holding his car keys in his hand, stuff like that. They had 5 full on busts of Mafia guys killed in a car bomb. No attempts to glamorise them really, they all looked pretty thuggish from their faces. Sasha said it's almost impossible to get rich in Russia without breaking the law in some way or other, due to crushing taxes among other stuff. Even the head of the tour company has a false name and company for tax purposes.

Our last day there we went on a hike in the Urals, including a raft along the unfortunately named river Urin (pronounced urine). We went with an English couple and Sasha, but were driven by a Russian hero, a guy whose in the Guiness book of records twice for climbing Russian peaks using husky dogs - one of the mountains was almost 7,000 metres high and he has photos of him posing with Russian film stars and even with Kurosawa Akira, the famous Japanese director (did Seven Samurai, Ran, Throne of Blood and lots of others). The guys name is Pavel Smolin, and I have no idea why he was slumming it as a tour guide driver, neither did Sasha. He brought two of his Siberian Huskies along too, which were a hit with Susan.We rafted a bit, visited some caves and got really muddy and Susan and Dan had a go of a big flying fox there, then we went home. The whole thing was a long day though, since there was a lot of travelling there and back in addition to the hiking. Me and the English guy had the unlucky job of carrying the bag with the 3 inflatable rafts in it, but we worked out a system in the end.

On the way to the hike we visited a memorial for 20-25,000 people killed in the forest nearby. The bodies mainly date from 1937-38, during a purge by Stalin and 5 mass graves were discovered in the '90s when soldiers started to build some barracks. When KGB records were opened the names of all those killed were released and used for the memorial, one of the many mass killings Stalin committed around that time all over Russia prior to WWII.

The army in Russia sounds like a worry. Every young guy has to spend 2 years in the army and I asked Sasha about it, since he's got to go after he finishes university. It sounds a lot worse than military service in South Korea, which I've heard is more boring than anything else. Sasha said he'd prefer going to Chechnya over somewhere quieter, because where it's boring there's a lot of bullying and senior officers have absolute control over new recruits, with no real recourse for complaints. It sounds really tough, but I don't know about it being worse than Chechnya - more chance of getting killed there.

Ekaterinberg has a big monument erected by veterans to soldiers killed in wars from the Spanish Civil War onwards, including wars Russia still officially won't admit involvement in, like Vietnam and Angola. By far the biggest list of names of the dead (not counting WWII) from Ekaterinberg are due to Chechnya.Then we left Ekaterinberg, declining to pick up some of the souvenir plates and posters featuring President Putin. It was a shame in some ways, as they really were works of art, all soft focus and flattering poses. Apparently Putin enjoys a 70% popularity rating, but with his control over the media it's a dubious statistic.

One more day's train travel and we got to Moscow this morning and transferred to a hotel. Tomorrow we move to a homestay and we've spent the day exploring the Moscow Metro, which is full of Soviet-era artwork and chandeliers, then visiting Red Square and the sights nearby. Only 2 more days to go then I'm on a plane back to Japan, then onto New Zealand!
I think Susan and I will come back to Russia if we get the chance, especially to visit St. Petersburg. The people are a mixture of surly on the surface and in service jobs, but friendly and helpful individually. One of the strangest things is that lots of Russian girls seem to look like models or tennis players, yet all the older Russian women have invariably gone kind of apple shaped. It doesn't apply to the men either, just the women. The average Russian young guy is big with a crewcut and looks like they'd fit in well with the Hollywood stereotype of Mafia thug or Spetnaz commando, and people start drinking early round here - 10.00 am isn't unusual.