What Jose Aylwin could teach Chris Trotter
Last week, in an article published in The Independent, Chris Trotter compared the Maori Party to Adolf Hitler's National Socialist movement.
According to Trotter, the Maori Party's 'revolutionary nationalism' recalls the ideology of the Nazis, and the conflict between Hone Harawira and the party leadership resembles the split between Hitler and Ernst Rohm, the dissident Nazi who dreamed of a racially pure workers' state and was murdered along with his followers on the 'night of the long knives' in 1934. Just as Rohm became a liability to the more conservative Hitler, so Harawira has, according to Trotter, become a liability to Maori Party leaders Pita Sharples and Tariana Turia.
Trotter believes that the Maori Party as a whole is a liability to New Zealand, and that the mandated Maori seats which give the organisation a foothold in parliament should be abolished, before they lead either to a form of apartheid or to the break-up of the country.
Chris Trotter is not some crackpot blogger or letter writer with a tiny audience - he is a respected political commentator who makes appearances on radio and television as well as in the print media. His views on many issues are decidedly left-wing.
Sadly, the hysterical similies and dire prophecies of Trotter's article are representative of the disorientation that many Pakeha feel, and have always felt, in the face of the politics of tino rangatiratanga.
Although Trotter's article tries to draw a red line between the 'revolutionary nationalists' of the Maori Party and 'good' Maori politicians of the past like Apirana Ngata, the truth is that the Maori quest for self-determination is neither a new phenomenon nor a reactionary return to the nineteenth century. There is an unbroken thread which connects the pan-tribalism of nineteenth century innovations like Kingitanga and the Kotahitanga movement, the struggle of leaders like Ngata to keep their people's identity in the early twentieth century, and the more militant politics of the 'Maori renaissance' which began in the '70s.
Even the most conservative Maori leaders have sought to create and sustain organisations and institutions which express the special history and worldview of their people. Ngata was a convinced Tory who sat down in parliament alongside representatives of the Pakeha bourgeoisie, and yet many of his projects - his visionary, partly-realised scheme for the creation of large-scale dairy farms on Maori land, for instance - were an expression of the ideology of tino rangatiratanga.
The denunciations which Chris Trotter aims today at the Maori Party have their precedents in the '20s and early '30s, when Ngata's land scheme was criticised as race-based and corrupt, and in the nineteenth century, when independent Maori states like the Waikato Kingdom were characterised as 'rebellions' against the Crown.
For the great majority of Maori, and for the minority of Pakeha who support the politics of tino rangatiratanga, accusations of 'disloyalty' and 'divisiveness' have long been bewildering. Since the final shots of the Land Wars were fired at Maungapohatu in 1916, there has been no large-scale attempt by Maori to re-establish their old, independent states, or to establish new states. There has been the occasional proclamation of independence - Tainui activist Eva Rickard declared Whaingaroa independent in the late '70s, during the struggle to reclaim the golf course there, and a group of dissident Ngati Porou claim to have established a mini-state of their own near the East Cape in 2007 - but usually these have been publicity stunts by protesters, not serious attempts to break up New Zealand.
For Maori activists and politicians, tino rangatiratanga means not the dismantling of New Zealand but the establishment of institutions and practices that give the New Zealand state and New Zealand society a bicultural character. The outlook of most Maori nationalists was nicely summed up by Linda Munn, one of the designers of the tino rangatiratanga flag, in a recent interview with the New Zealand Herald. Munn said she was pleased that her flag would be flown from the Auckland harbour bridge on Waitangi Day, but that she wanted it to fly side by side with the 'old' New Zealand flag, which she considers a 'taonga'.
Over the last quarter century some of the ideas associated with tino rangatiratanga, like the notion of Maori-language schools, have been turned into reality, but many others, like the call by Tuhoe for regional autonomy or the idea of a Maori restorative justice system, remain remote prospects. One of the most important obstacles to the achievement of tino rangatiratanga is the sort of misinterpretation which is so strikingly displayed in Chris Trotter's recent article. As long as most Pakeha believe that tino rangatiratanga means race war and the breakup of New Zealand, they will be susceptible to the overtures of Maori-bashing politicians like Don Brash and Michael Laws.
One explanation for the failure of many Pakeha to understand tino rangatiratanga is their lack of knowledge of alternatives to the uninational, highly centralised state that has existed in New Zealand since the 1860s. We associate our system with democracy, and assume that any radically different system must be undemocratic. When Maori talk about subjects about regional autonomy and a separate justice system, many of us panic, and make ill-advised analogies to apartheid South Africa, with its patchwork of impoverished, corrupt Bantustans and separate beaches for whites and blacks, or Nazi Germany, with its ferocious obsession with race.
One man who can help us get a more accurate picture of what tino rangatiratanga might mean for New Zealand is Professor Jose Aylwin, of the University Austral de Chile. Aylwin has been a long-time champion of the rights of Chile's indigenous Mapuche peoples, and he is an expert on the situation of indigenous peoples across Latin America. Last week, at about the same time that Chris Trotter's exercise in hysteria was being published, Aylwin was taking the stage of the University of Auckland's Stone Lecture Theatre to speak about the ongoing refashioning of several Latin America states to meet the demands of indigenous peoples. Aylwin had been invited to Auckland by the university's Law School and by its Centre for Latin American Studies, and his lecture was attended by staff and students interested in recent changes in Latin America, and in the lessons which these changes might have for New Zealand.
Aylwin began his talk by noting that Latin America's indigenous peoples, which are divided into 400 or 500 groups, make up about a tenth of its population. Indigenous peoples are distributed unevenly across the continent: in some countries, like Chile and Venezuela, they form only a small part of the population, but in Bolivia they make up the great majority, and in Peru and Ecuador they are substantial minorities. Despite their cultural differences, and the differences in the sizes of their populations, the continent's indigenous peoples share the memory of conquest by Europeans, and face continued discrimination and economic marginalisation.
Aylwin argued that, since the 1980s, there have been three distinct 'waves of struggle' by Latin America's indigenous peoples. The first wave coincided with the democratisation of much of the continent, as the military dictatorships which had flourished in the '70s either imploded or were toppled by popular protest. As newly democratic countries like Brazil, Argentina, Nicaragua and Guatemala revised or replaced their constitutions, indigenous peoples demanded that their concerns receive legal recognition. Many of the indigenous activists took their inspiration from the campaigns of their counterparts in the United States and Canada, and from concepts of multiculturalism developed by intellectuals in the West in the '60s and '70s. In most cases, though, the response from authorities to indigenous protest did not go beyond tokenism.
The second wave of indigenous struggle began in the early '90s as a response to the lack of progress in the '80s. Increasingly, indigenous groups allied themselves with the political left and organised labour, and made multinational companies which exploited the environment and ripped off local workers their targets. In several countries, the 'second wave' of struggle yielded unprecedented constitutional reforms, which recognised the special history of native peoples and promised protection for their cultures and languages. But these concessions did not lead to real gains, because they were cynically intended to placate indigenous peoples and break their alliance with the non-indigenous left.
In the second half of the eighties and early nineties the leaders of many newly democratic Latin American countries had adopted the set of neo-liberal economic policies nicknamed 'the Washington Consensus'. Under the guidance of the International Monetary Fund and Western governments and companies, these governments privatised state-owned assets, scrapped laws that protected trade unions, opened markets to Western goods, and cut state spending on education and health. The massive increases in poverty created by these policies undermined any gains that might have come through increased legal recognition for indigenous cultures and languages.
The third wave of indigenous struggle began when the disastrous consequences of the 'Washington Consensus' became clear in the late '90s. In nations like Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador, indigenous people once again allied themselves with trade unions and non-indigenous left-wing organisations, and mounted marches, occupations, and strikes to stop the privatisation of state assets, the disappearance of jobs, and the rollback of basic state services. Bolivia, for instance, was brought to a standstill, as protesters took over whole towns in successful efforts to reverse the sale of their country's water and gas to Western companies. The third wave of indigenous struggle has coincided with the 'pink tide' that has seen left-leaning governments elected across Latin America by people tired of failed policies of neo-liberalism. Jose Aylwin described how the leftist governments of Evo Morales in Bolivia and Rafael Correa in Ecuador have overseen the creation of new constitutions which give unprecedented recognition to indigenous peoples.
In Bolivia, where the indigenous Aymara and Quechua peoples together make up four-fifths of the population, the new constitution calls for a 'pluri-national state', in place of the old 'unitary state'. Where earlier constitutions foisted the Spanish language and the culture and institutions of Bolivia's white minority on the Aymara and Quechua nations, the new document insists that indigenous groups must be able to establish institutions inside the Bolivian state which express and respond to their own special histories and needs. The new constitution allows for Quechua and Aymara living outside Bolivia's big cities to set up their own, semi-autonomous indigenous governments, take control of their own resources, and follow their own paths to economic development, rather than relying on the tender mercies of multinational investors.
Members of Bolivia's traditional, white-skinned elite have derided Evo Morales as a 'bloody Indian' and claimed that he aims to turn the coutnry into 'another Cuba'. Attempts have been made to kill Morales, and peasants who support him have been murdered by right-wing militiamen. Professor Aylwin noted that the old elite needs to be defeated, if the fine words in Bolivia's constitution are to be turned into practice. 'Indigenous empowerment requires an economic base' he noted, before suggesting that the state needs to take more resources from local and Western capitalists so that they can be used for the benefit of Bolivia's indigenous majority.
Aylwin suggested that in Latin American nations with smaller indigenous populations than Bolivia and Ecuador it is harder to move from a 'unitary' to a 'pluri-national' state. While this remark is no doubt true to some extent, it ignores the fact that the most dramatic case of indigenous empowerment in Latin America in recent years has occurred, not in Bolivia or Ecuador, but in Venezuela, a country where indigenous people make up only about two percent of the population. Despite their small numbers, Venezuela's twenty-six indigenous peoples receive considerable attention in the Bolivarian constitution which was drawn up shortly after the election of Hugo Chavez in 1998. The eighth chapter of the constitution is devoted to indigenous rights, and begins with the following statement:
The State recognizes the existence of native peoples and communities, their social, political and economic organisation, their cultures, practices and customs, languages and religions, as well as their habitat and original rights to the lands they ancestrally and traditionally occupy, and which are necessary to develop and guarantee their way of life.
In the decade since the Bolivarian constitution was approved by referendum, the Chavez government has turned rhetoric into reality by throwing its weight behind the indigenous communities in Venezuela's countryside. The government has returned swathes of stolen land to indigenous peoples, built schools which offer indigenous children instruction in their own languages, and taken the side of indigenous groups when they have been threatened by miners. Venezuela's first-ever Ministry of Indigenous Affairs has been established along with a special Indigenous Parliament and a network of communal councils designed to run indigenous affairs in indigenous communities. It is not surprising that indigenous people have been strong supporters of the Chavez government and that many of them have joined his United Socialist Party.
It is a pity that Professor Aylwin did not discuss the recent history of indigenous people in Venezuela, because events in that country underline his point that the empowerment of indigenous people and the move from a uni-national to a pluri-national state has to involve economic as well as political change. Indigenous people have made big steps forward in Venezuela, despite the fact that they make up only a small percentage of the population, because the Chavez government has followed a left-wing policy programme.
Chavez was elected on the back of popular anger at the Washington Consensus and neo-liberalism, and he has confronted both Venezuela's economic elite and big Western companies. He has taken control of Venezuela's massive oil wealth from the rich, and channelled it into health and education programmes which help the working class and peasants who make up the majority of Venezuela's population. His government has also seized idle land and factories and put them to use for the benefit of workers and peasants.
Chavez's left-wing policies have made him very popular and have raised living standards and health and literacy levels amongst Venezuelans. Indigenous people have benefitted from Chavez's policies because they belong to the poorest parts of Venezuelan society. Chavez's government has been able to hand land and local autonomy to indigenous groups because it has taken land and power from big Western companies and from the idle rich.
The lessons of Venezuela hold true for the rest of Latin America. The country which has come closest to Venezuela in meeting the demands of its indigenous peoples is Bolivia, and it is no coincidence that the Morales government in Bolivia is also following a left-wing economic programme.
Chris Trotter could certainly have learnt much from listening to Jose Aylwin's lecture. Trotter has a background in left-wing politics, and helped to found the New Labour Party and the Alliance back in the late eighties and early nineties, but he has consistently refused to accept that the politics of tino rangatiratanga have any place on the left. Trotter believes that Maori demands for biculturalism and binationalism 'divide' the working class and confuse the left, but the example of Latin America shows that indigenous groups can work towards the transformation of society in alliance with trade unions and non-indigenous organisations. Trotter has expressed admiration for Hugo Chavez, yet the commitment of Chavez to the autonomy of indigenous peoples stands in contrast to his own fear of biculturalism and a binational state.
Yet it is not only Pakeha who can learn from Jose Aylwin's account of the recent history of Latin America. Aylwin's discussion of the incompatibility of neo-liberalism with indigenous rights and of the necessity of left-wing economic restructuring to indigenous empowerment should be warnings to supporters of the Maori Party's alliance with National.
Just as some neo-liberal Latin American governments tried to co-opt indigenous groups in the '90s, in order to make their policies of privatisation and cuts in social spending more palatable, so National is trying to co-opt the Maori Party to get support for its neo-liberal policies. The Maori Party has already voted for a budget which gave big tax cuts to the rich while at the same time drastically cutting adult education classes used by the poor. Now the party is considering giving its support to the part-privatisation of ACC and an Emmissions Trading Scheme that makes ordinary people pay for the pollution produced by big business.
National has always been the party of New Zealand's economic elite, and its policies are designed to meet the needs of this elite, at the expense of workers and the poor. The Maori Party's leaders hope for some concessions from National, but none of these concessions can atone for the damage that National's policies are doing to the Maori Party's natural constituency. If the Maori Party continues to support National's neo-liberal programme then it will lose its foothold in parliament.