From Israel to the Pacific
I want to apologise for my improvised and often tipsy responses to the many fascinating responses my post drew - I went to an unprecedented number of art launches last week, and made sure I took good advantage of the free booze.
I want particularly to apologise to Wellington anarchist and anti-racist activist Asher Goldman for having taken so long to reply to his careful discussion of the history of Zionism and its possible relevance to contemporary Polynesian nationalisms (you can find Asher's contribution about halfway down the comments thread).
I have argued that the nationalist movements which won independence for Samoa, Niue, and the Cook Islands from the New Zealand state were in certain important ways progressive, and that Tuhoe nationalism might well have similarly progressive features, if it gets a colonial state off the back of an indigenous people. Asher argues (if I understand him rightly) that the example of Zionism and the state it created shows that all forms of nationalism, including Polynesian nationalisms, are reactionary, because they simply replace one set of oppressors and exploiters with another. Along with his fellow anarchist Fydd, who contributed a thoughtful analysis of Tuhoe experiments with capitalism to last week's discussion, Asher believes that the creation of a nation state is a spur to the development of capitalism. As an indigenous 'comprador' bourgeoisie replaces an old colonial elite, the same people who were oppressed by the old order are dispossessed of their land, proletarianised, and exploited. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Whilst I don't have Asher's knowledge of the history of Zionism, I find the thread of his argument about the history of that movement credible. I disagree, though, with Asher over the relevance of the history of Zionism and the depredations of the Israeli state to Polynesian societies like Samoa and Tuhoe Country. I don't see that there is a parallel between the content of Zionism and the content of Polynesian nationalisms, and I don't agree that national independence has always tended to strengthen capitalism in the Pacific.
I can't see how the sad trajectory of Zionism, which began as a voice of a horribly oppressed European minority and became the ideology of a brutal neo-colonial state, has any obvious lessons for Polynesians who use nationalist slogans. It seems to me that Zionism was always very different from the nationalism of, say, the Samoans, because it proposed founding a nation on land possessed by another people. The Mau movement used the slogan Samoa mo Samoa (Samoa for the Samoans), and fought to remove colonial administrators; the Zionist movement may have used the slogan 'A land without people for a people without land', but it was actually advocating, rather than opposing, colonialism.
I think that the Highland Scots who settled in certain areas of Australia and New Zealand - Gippsland, Waipu, and the McKenzie Country, for examples - in the nineteenth century offer a better local parallel to the story of Zionist colonialism. The Highlanders had been driven off their land by the English and lowland Scots, because their largely pre-capitalist, tribal way of life contradicted the logic of the market. The British bourgeoisie wanted to destroy crofting communities, with their long and intricate histories and cultures, and replace them with sheep farms and deer parks.
The Highlanders were undoubtedly an oppressed group, but when they reached their own 'lands without people' they often turned oppressor. In Gippsland, for instance, they waged a war of extermination against local Aboriginal peoples which is only now being documented in all its horror. Although the Highlanders-turned-colonists did not form their own state, nor even, in most places, retain their cultural distinctiveness, their journey from oppressed to oppressor surely parallels that of Zionist Jews.
Asher rightly notes the speedy emergence of class divisions in Israel, where the Jewish bourgeoisie that controls the state uses nationalist and anti-Arab rhetoric to disguise its exploitation of working class Jews. I don't see, though, that there are many parrallels between post-independence economic development in Israel and the sort of development that has been seen in Polynesian nations like Samoa after independence.
The expulsion of vast numbers of Palestinians from the new state of Israel in 1947 and 1948 gave capitalism a boost there. Large areas of land which had once been held under customary title by Palestinian tribes suddenly fell into the hands of Israeli capitalists. This land was often converted to freehold title, and sold to Jewish settlers. In Samoa, Niue and the Cooks, though, independence from the New Zealand state meant the retention of land held under customary title. Samoa's Mau movement had been formed largely because of the attempts of New Zealand colonial administrators to weaken customary title and break up blocks of collectively-owned land. The slogan 'Samoa mo Samoa' reflected the Mau's determination to resist the encroachment of capitalist property relations. When Samoa was finally granted independence, the Samoans inserted a clause in their constitution protecting land under customary title. Samoan independence represented the defeat of the plans of New Zealand imperialists to foist capitalist development on the society they saw as their rightful possession.
Today, the neo-colonialists of the IMF and Australasia want to destroy the legacy of the Mau by breaking up the collectively owned land and doing away with customary title. They argue that Samoa must become a much more capitalist country if it wants to survive in the twenty-first century. In other Polynesian nations like Tonga and the Cooks the IMF and Australasian imperialists preach the same message.
I agree with the Pacific radicals who have rejected the arguments of the IMF, Canberra, and Wellington, and called for an alternative form of development rooted in the retention of collectively-owned land and resources. I think that the elderly Marx's famous letter to Vera Zasulich, which suggests that pre-capitalist forms like the peasant commune can be the basis for socialist development in Russia, offers interesting parrallels with the writings of Pacific intellectuals like the late Futa Helu, who argued that his fellow Tongans had to 'put the horse before the cart', and use traditional, collectivist forms of social organisation as the basis for a type of economic development that reflected the needs of the community, not the needs of the market.
In the post which began last week's debate, I warned about the tendency of the Pakeha left to interpret the complex history of the Pacific using inappropriate foreign models. It seems to me that Asher's attempt to to suggest a parallel between Zionism and the national liberation movements of Polynesia is a good example of this tendency.