Tuesday, April 27, 2010

What Kendrick Smithyman can tell us about Anzac Day

A year ago this week two members of the Workers Party burnt a New Zealand flag on a balcony at Victoria University. Joel Cosgrove and Alistair Reith had just intervened in a discussion by the Victoria University Students' Association about what attitude the organisation should take towards Anzac Day. Defying a chorus of boos and jeers, they had argued that Anzac Day is a celebration of imperialism and militarism, and that students' associations should not participate in any way in ceremonies to mark the day. In a statement issued later, Cosgrove and Reith explained that they had burnt the flag to underline their objections to Anzac Day. The men were not only opposed to historic conflicts, like the Vietnam War; they also objected to New Zealand's ongoing involvement in the US-led occupation of Afghanistan, which they considered an exercise in imperialism.

Although few students witnessed the balcony fire, the event was recorded on film, and broadcast on national news programmes. Soon Cosgrove and Reith found themselves the target of condemnation on blogs and on talkback radio shows, and the website of Salient, the magazine of the Victoria University Students Association, found itself inundated with angry comments. University authorities issued an order temporarily suspending Cosgrove and Reith from their studies, supposedly because they had created a fire hazard; the Workers Party held several small demonstrations in their defence.

Last April's flag burning can be considered an act of political frustration. A large majority of New Zealanders opposed the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, and Labour's refusal to supply troops for this invasion probably had a good deal to do with its re-election in 2005, yet there has been little public debate about, let alone dissension from, this country's ongoing involvement in the war George Bush launched against Afghanistan late in 2001. At least five thousand civilians died in the bombings and missile strikes that accompanied that invasion, and thousands more have died in fighting since then, as an unwieldy coalition of Western governments and local warlords and opportunists struggles to stabilise a country ruined by two centuries of imperialist military adventures.

Western politicians routinely present the post-invasion government headed by Hamed Karzai as a democratic alternative to the Taliban and to lawless warlords, but the regime's policies and its personnel tell their own story. The chief of staff to the commander of the post-invasion Afghan army is General Abdul Dostum, a veteran of the anti-Soviet Mujaheddin who is infamous for shelling the suburbs of Kabul, and for executing prisoners of war by locking them in sealed crates. Last year, in an attempt to court the support of Islamic fundamentalists, the Afghan government passed a Taliban-like law which allows men living in the Bamiyan province in the centre of the country to escape prosecution for rape, as long as they marry their victims. Bamiyan is, of course, the place where New Zealand troops and police have been deployed for almost a decade now, in 'peacemaking' and 'reconstruction' efforts that see them acting as muscle for Karzai's state forces. Joel Cosgrove and Alistair Reith deserved to be congratulated, rather than condemned, for trying to raise awareness of the real nature of post-invasion Afghanistan, and the real role of Kiwi forces there.

It is worth asking, though, whether Cosgrove and Reith's decision to burn a flag made discussion about Anzac Day and New Zealand foreign policy more rather than less difficult. The fire certainly prompted outraged reaction, but outraged reaction is not the same thing as informed debate. The following comment typifies the internet and talkback response to Cosgrove and Reith's action:

Anzac Day is not a day for politicking. Anzac Day is a time to remember the people who died to give these idiots the right to protest…

There is a contradiction which runs though communications like this one. The defenders of the flag insist that Anzac Day is a celebration of democracy, and of the wars that were allegedly fought to preserve democracy. At the same time, though, these champions of democracy proscribe any discussion about their interpretation of Anzac Day, insisting that the subject should be off-limits to 'politicking'. Anzac Day is to be a celebration of a set of pre-arranged meanings, not an opportunity for a discussion about those meanings. The proscription of political and historical debate on Anzac Day suits the New Zealand political class well. In the speech he delivered at last year's ceremony, John Key claimed that the young Anzacs who were dumped on Turkish beaches by British troopships were sent there to defend New Zealand’s democracy, when in fact they were pawns in a harebrained scheme of the gin-sozzled Winston Churchill, who cared far more about defeating the rivals of British imperialism than he did about democracy. Key went on to associate all of New Zealand's adventures abroad with the defence of 'freedom', and to urge support for the Kiwi mission in Afghanistan today. Nobody at the Anzac ceremony and nobody in the media saw fit to query Key's strange interpretation of the Gallipoli disaster, and his implication that the Boer and Vietnam Wars were struggles for 'freedom' - to do so would, presumably, have violated the 'spirit' of Anzac Day. Key is, after all, New Zealand's leader, and Anzac Day is a time for 'unity', not for thought and debate.

Joel Cosgrove and Alistair Reith hold a set of political beliefs which are diametrically opposed to those of our Prime Minister, and yet they share with him a certain approach to Anzac Day. Like the right-wing politicians who stand before the flag with their hands on their hearts, the young revolutionaries make Anzac Day the setting for a grand, uncompromising gesture - a gesture which precludes rather than encourages discussion about the meaning of the past. The burning of a flag is an act which it is only possible to support wholeheartedly or to abhor. The fire on the balcony at Victoria University was never likely to open a constructive dialogue between New Zealanders with different views about the meaning of our history.

Is there an alternative to the dichotomy between celebration and desecration, between flag waving and flag burning? Is a subtler, more ambiguous response to Anzac Day possible? These questions remind me of some of the discussions I had with members of the Returned and Services Association when I worked at the Auckland War Memorial Museum. I remember one elderly veteran of the Vietnam War who volunteered at the museum, and who used to enjoy stopping to chat with me on his way to his morning coffee break. This man would talk proudly of how he had followed the example of his father, who was a decorated member of the Maori Battalion, by joining the army in the mid-60s. When I eventually asked him whether any of his own kids had carried on the family tradition by joining the army, he gave me a look of surprise and exasperation, and explained that he would never be so stupid as to allow his children to fight in a war. Vietnam had, he explained, been 'a green hell'. He was an active member of the RSA because the organisation was helping with the treatment of the diverse physical and mental injuries his comrades had suffered in Vietnam. He took part in the dawn ceremony every year not because he wanted to celebrate war, but because he wanted to remember an event which had determined the course of his life. He did not approve of politicians who used the day to glamourise the wars of the past, or to justify the military adventures of the present.

Am I engaging in semantics when I suggest that there is a difference between celebrating and commemorating, and that Anzac Day might be turned from a celebration into a commemoration? Anzac Day ceremonies that were commemorative rather than celebratory would differ in two important ways from what presently occurs on April the 25th. In the first place, they would resist conflating attitudes to individual soldiers with interpretations of the conflicts in which those soliders fought. At present, both the jingoistic right and the anti-war left tend to assume that veterans must be judged by the character of the wars they fought. Conservatives refuse to consider the evidence for the absurdity and futility of conflicts like World War One and Vietnam War, claiming that do so would be to 'insult' those who fought at Gallipoli or in the Indochinese jungle; for their part, leftists too often respond with indifference, or even contempt, when the sufferings of the men who served as footsoldiers for imperialism in places like Vietnam are raised.

A commemoration would also differ from a celebration because it would not demand that its participants share a pre-existing interpretation of the events it marked. Instead of being dismissed as divisive 'politicking', discussion about the meaning of these events would be regarded as an essential part of the commemoration.

How do we think in a commemorative, rather than in either a celebratory or a completely derogatory way, about the great and terrible events of our past? I want to make a suggestion by examining one of Kendrick Smithyman's lesser-known poems. The piece was written on April the 25th, 1985, but was only published in 2002, when it appeared in Smithyman's massive, posthumous Collected Poems.


Only passing through, we weren’t committed.
I couldn’t sleep for spasms of coughing,
shut myself into the motel unit’s kitchen,
made cups of instant, read You Can’t Go Home Again,
squared up to a window and looked forward
to the dawn chorus. In the event,
a non-event:

uneasy change of state in light among clouds
where the sea lies, and a something more becoming
visible. Flat wet paddocks lay either side of the river
with no outcry. At the edge of town
with shelterbelt and orchard, you expect more
than this. What is it depletes?

Downtown at the state Highway and Main Street junction
They were already gathered by their multipurpose
memorial waiting for daybreak. This is handy
to the Anglican church where the martyr priest was
hanged, then butchered. Another campaign,
motives are obscured, they could barely scan
each other’s faces whatever words may be said.

Along the highway, over the flats, across
the unpredictable river carried (wayward,
inconsequential?) fragments, the Last Post.
It’s always hard to hear, distantly.

'Anzac Day' is an undramatic poem. The piece is set in the eastern Bay of Plenty town of Opotiki, on the morning of April the 25th. The poet-narrator has passed an uncomfortable night in a cheap motel; just before daybreak, he and his unidentified companion or companions drive out of town, passing a group of locals preparing for the Anzac Day dawn service. As they leave Opotiki, hearing the 'Last Post' in the distance, Smithyman and co are disappointed by the paucity of bird life on the river flats outside the town.

Compared to the elaborate, self-consciously serious works about April the 25th produced by Kiwi poets like Vincent O'Sullivan and Kevin Ireland, Smithyman's text seems slight indeed. Where is Smithyman's acknowledgement of New Zealand's long and tragic history of involvement in foreign wars? Where are his reflections on the meaning of one of the most important days on our national calendar? Why has he written a poem about Anzac Day in Opotiki, when he did not even bother to attend the town's dawn ceremony? Doesn't his poem seem more interested in ornithology than in human life?

The first stanza of Smithyman's poem might seem particularly odd, to anyone expecting a conventional exposition on the meaning of Anzac Day. Why does the poem open with a series of trivial, personal details? Does the poet really need to tell us about his 'spasms of coughing', about his cups of coffee, and about his reading? In 'Anzac Day', as in many of his poems, Smithyman obstinately refuses to differentiate between what seems trivial and what seems important. Smithyman often seems more interested in the apparently unimportant - in 'the unimpressive shard carried home from the dig', as he puts it in one poem.

Yet there is a method to Smithyman’s messiness. A good Smithyman poem is like an arch without a keystone - every detail works toward the effect of the whole, just as every brick in such an arch supports the other bricks. All of the apparently pointless details in the first stanza of 'Anzac Day’ tell us something about the poet's situation and state of mind. Smithyman's inability to sleep suggests his restive thoughts, and his seclusion in the kitchen of his motel unit suggests an isolation from his travelling companions, and perhaps from other people in general. You Can't Go Home Again is a posthumously-published novel by Thomas Wolfe about a young man who attains literary success in a big city by writing about the small town where he grew up. Of course, his success comes at the expense of his reputation in his home town, whose citizens do not appreciate having their secrets told to the world. Smithyman himself came from a small town in Northland, and wrote endlessly about New Zealand's regions. Despite or because of his background and his writing, he sometimes felt self-conscious when he travelled out of his adopted home of Auckland into regional New Zealand. Many of his poems worry about whether he has the right to turn the people of unfashionable parts of New Zealand into literature. Smithyman’s reading of Wofle’s novel rhymes with his feeling of not being ‘committed’ to the place where he find himself on the morning of ‘Anzac Day’.

In 'Not a Poem for Armistice Day 1966', which he published in the left-wing quarterly Comment at a time when the Vietnam War was beginning to kill Kiwi volunteers, Smithyman looked back without fondness at his own time in the military, remembering himself as a 'cog of an immense/organised incompetence', protesting that the conflict for which he was drafted 'was positively not/my war', and confessing that he had said, and continued to say, 'emphatic No to glory,/honour and valour'.

The teenaged Smithyman was called up for six weeks of military training in the middle of 1941; while he was in camp the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour, and he found himself conscripted indefinitely. Smithyman trained initially as an artilleryman, but in 1942 he requested a transfer to the Air Force, where he became not a pilot but a storeman. For three years, Smithyman's unit was marched and trucked across New Zealand, from Auckland through the Waikato to Levin, and then on to Nelson and Blenheim. At the beginning of 1945, when the invasion of Japan was being prepared, Smithyman and his comrades were finally informed that they were being sent overseas. Their top secret destination turned out to be tiny peaceful Norfolk Island, where they whiled away the last months of the war. In New Zealand and on Norfolk, Smithyman the soldier spent much of his time in storerooms, writing poems and letters while he pretended to process orders for petrol and cigarettes. A series of witty but melancholy letters Smithyman wrote to his childhood friend and fellow serviceman Graham Parsons express his sense of being lost and powerless inside a vast apparatus whose purposes he finds inscrutable:

We have seen virtually all things shattered. We are, those of us who think, sophists by birth and confirmed in the habit of doubt. What values can we take as permanent? Precious few out of our way of life. If we go back to the country and look at the soil for strength, we find it betrayed and betraying. At the best the humanist spirit of this country, of its roads, its paddocks, hills crops and waters, is a palliative and not a matter for life itself. I see little remedy or hope in anything, though I turn more and more to Communist philosophy as a chance. Chance we must reckon on, since so much has been born from it…

I’m so much a cog, I can’t see anything of the machine’s working because I’m still bound to the routine that signifies its action. Life, in brief, continues on a practically animal plane…

In an unpublished poem called 'Confessions of a New Zealand Opium Eater' Smithyman reveals that, despite his determined lack of soldierly valour, he did manage to suffer one ‘war wound’: perhaps as a result of the long periods he spent sitting in his storeroom, he developed a bad case of hemorrhoids, which he had to treat with an opium-laced ointment.

In 'Anzac Day' Smithyman catches sight of the volunteers for the dawn ceremony 'gathered by their multipurpose memorial'. Opotiki has two war memorials: a classical pillar inscribed with the names of local men slain in the two World Wars, and a War Memorial Park. In the years after World War One communities around New Zealand were divided by arguments about how to memorialise the young men who had died in the 'war to end all wars'. The newly-formed Returned Servicemen's Association argued aggressively for 'single-purpose' memorials, like pillars or crosses or statues. Many mayors and councillors, by contrast, wanted to use public money to create something more functional, like a bridge or a park or a school. Often a compromise of sorts had to be reached, and two memorials were created. Is Smithyman referring to Opotiki's park when he talks of a 'multipurpose/memorial', or is he making reference to the pillar that rises close to the park, with its tributes to the dead from two different wars? In many ways, Anzac Day is itself a 'multipurpose memorial' - it lumps the score or more foreign conflicts Kiwis have participated in together, and claims to remember them all.

Smithyman notices that the mustering place for participants in the dawn ceremony is 'handy/to the Anglican church' where the 'martyr priest' Carl Volkner was 'hanged, then butchered' in 1865. Volkner was a German Lutheran who joined the Anglican-controlled Church Missionary Service, travelled to New Zealand in 1849, and became Minister at Opotiki's Church of St Stephen the Martyr in 1861.

Volkner ministered in Opotiki during the invasion and conquest of the Waikato and the renewal of the Taranaki Wars. Although neither of these conflicts directly affected Opotiki, they destabilised the town and its environs, turning many of the local Whakatohea iwi against the Crown and driving refugees into the area. Volkner was not a man to remain aloof from worldy matters, and he often used his sermons to defend Governor George Grey, the primary instigator of the invasion of the Waikato. Worse, Volkner passed the names of local Maori he suspected of 'disloyalty' on to authorities during two visits to Auckland in 1864 and early 1865.

On the second of March 1865, a group of Maori who had adopted the new, insurrectionary Pai Marire religion confronted Volkner outside his church, hung him from a convenient willow tree, cut his head off, and smeared his blood on their faces. Volkner's corpse was eventually dragged to the pulpit of his church, where a Pai Marire missionary from Taranaki named Kereopa Te Rau gave an anti-Pakeha sermon and ripped out the clergyman's eyes. Kereopa named one of Volkner's eyes 'parliament' and the other one 'the Queen and English law', and swallowed them both. Kereopa, who was soon renamed Te Kaiwhata, or 'the Eye Eater', had lost his wife and several of his children when British troops burnt down a church full of civilians during the last stages of the Waikato War. The bloody missionary and his handful of Whakatohea followers soon fled into the Urewera mountains of the Tuhoe people, where Pakeha soldiers, militia, and adventurers followed them, often accompanied by groups of anti-Tuhoe Maori. Smithyman describes the chaotic nature of the fighting that the slaying of Volkner provoked:

motives are obscured, they could barely scan
each other’s faces whatever words may be said

Ever since Kereopa's flight into the Ureweras, those mountains have been, in the Pakeha imagination, an obscure and frightening region, hospitable to outlaws and hostile to civilisation. The repeated invasions of the Ureweras between 1866 and
1872, the attack on Rua Kenana's separatist community at Maungapohatu in 1916, and the 'anti-terror' raid on Ruatoki North by paranoid police in 2007 were all presented, by Pakeha politicians and editorialists, as attempts to bring the 'rule of law' to this dark corner of New Zealand. As one of the main northern gateways to the Ureweras region, Opotiki has long been considered by Pakeha as something of a frontier town – a place where order and chaos, civilisation and savagery, can collide, as they supposedly did on March the second, 1865. The murder at Opotiki was reported throughout New Zealand and in many parts of the British Empire, and Volkner was quickly turned into a colonial saint. For many Pakeha, the slaying confirmed the bestial nature of native New Zealanders, and showed the necessity of bringing the whole of the North Island under white control. For land speculators in Auckland and their political allies, the death of Volkner provided a pretext for the confiscation of one hundred and eighty thousand hectares of Tuhoe land, and sixty thousand hectares of the traditional territory of the smaller Whakatohea iwi.

When Smithyman writes of a 'martyr priest' he is thinking about the name of Opotiki's Anglican church, as well as the fate of the church's most famous vicar. Does Carl Volkner deserve to be considered a martyr, like St Stephen, who became one of the first tragic heroes of the Christian church after being stoned by a mob goaded by Saul? Smithyman does not offer a definite opinion on Volkner, but he does use his allusion to this German friend of the New Zealand state to make mischief with some of the usual oppositions associated with Anzac Day. On April the 25th, windy politicians and newspaper editorialists like to talk about the bond that Maori and Pakeha supposedly formed during the First and Second World Wars, when many of them fought together against German imperialism. Volkner, of course, was a German friend of the New Zealand state whose death helped divide, and arguably still divides, Maori and Pakeha. In 1865, Volkner's supposed bravery was inextricably linked, in the minds of Pakeha, with the supposed treachery and brutality of Maori. Volkner may have come from a non-British nation, and given his sermons in a thick accent, but as a white victim of brown 'barbarism' he was considered a fallen comrade by British colonists.

Smithyman's reference to Volkner reflects his refusal to separate New Zealand's modern history from the country's colonial origins. The New Zealand state and the RSA both define Anzac Day as an occasion on which New Zealand's involvement in overseas wars is remembered, and Anzac Day services therefore scrupulously avoid reference to the wars that raged across much of the North Island in the nineteenth century. On April the 25th wreaths are laid on memorials around the country for the relatively small numbers of Kiwis who served in obscure conflicts like the Malyan Emergency and the Borneo Confrontation, but no mention is given to the Maori and Pakeha who fought and fell on battlefields with names like Rangiriri, Orakau, Nga Tapa and Te Porere.

The town of Opotiki is built on land confiscated from Whakatohea in the aftermath of the killing of Volkner, and the 'flat wet paddocks' Smithyman finds around the town are the factory floors of a dairy industry that was established on confiscated land in the Waikato and Taranaki, as well as in the Bay of the Plenty. The Pakeha-dominated, pastoralist society that threw itself into both the World Wars could not have existed without the conflicts of the nineteenth century. How can we hope to understand our involvement in one set of wars, if we are reluctant to remember those that preceded them?

Smithyman was aware of the way that one war can be premised upon the results of another. In a late, unpublished poem he describes the journey of a train full of New Zealand troops across what seems like an exotic landscape, before revealing that, far from crossing some remote part of the world, the soldiers are being transported into the interior of New Zealand:

Star of the evening, beautiful star the soldiers sang,
as the train rolled on, into the King Country

Smithyman's poem probably remembers his journey to do basic military training at Waiouru Camp in the middle of 1941. The King Country’s name reflects the fact that it sheltered King Tawhiao and his fighters after they were ousted from the Waikato by Pakeha invaders in 1864. A de facto independent state, it stretched from southern edge of the Waikato to the northern edge of Taranaki, and was not opened to Pakeha until 1883, when Tawhiao made peace with the government in Wellington and returned from exile, allowing settlers to dismantle the forts which had been built along the rivers that marked the 'aukati', or border, of his old realm, and to disperse the militia that had staffed these redoubts. When they entered the King Country, Smithyman and his comrades were entering what was, not so long ago, a foreign country.

The New Zealand army into which Smithyman was inducted at Waiouru was built on foundations laid out during the wars of the nineteenth century. For instance, the Waikato Mounted Rifles and the associated Eighteenth Armoured Regiment, which became famous for their roles at Gallipoli and during the Allied advance through Italy during World War Two, grew out of the Fourth Waikato Regiment, which was a settlers' militia formed in the chaotic aftermath of the conquest of the Waikato. The young men who charged the Turks on horseback at Gallipoli and drove tanks toward Monte Cassino were the descendants of the settlers who rode on night patrols along the northern border of the King Country during the years of Tawhiao’s exile.

As a returned serviceman, Kendrick Smithyman could have a place of honour at Opotiki's dawn ceremony, if he chose to attend the event. He seems more interested, though, in the 'dawn chorus' of the local birds than in the service held by humans. He drives out of town, leaving his fellow veterans behind. Is he like the old soldier in James K Baxter's poem ‘The Fisherman’, who chooses to cast his line on a lonely piece of coast rather than subject himself to the pious rhetoric of a church service? Baxter's soldier does not fish to forget the war: he broods over the conflict as he stands by the sea, just as Smithyman thinks of it even as he drives out of Opotiki searching for birds. Both Baxter and Smithyman seem to be suggesting that it is better to remember an event like a war thoughtfully and quietly, in the midst of the natural world, rather than with elaborate public ceremonies and windy speeches.

The relaxed, almost raconteurial style of 'Anzac Day' is typical of the poems Smithyman wrote in the second half of his career. Where the young Smithyman often worked within strict forms, counting his beats or his syllables, the later model treated the sentence rather than the line or the stanza as his basic unit of construction. The lines of 'Anzac Day' frequently overflow, as Smithyman draws out an observation or emphasises a point. Although his manner may seem almost artlessly casual, Smithyman has designed his poem carefully, and is able to use rhythm to underscore his meanings. Consider these lines, from the second stanza of 'Anzac Day':

a something more becoming
visible. Flat wet paddocks lay either side of the river
with no outcry.

The second line quoted runs to fifteen syllables. The full stop early in the line is followed by four stressed syllables, which slow its pace down even further. The line's length and pace is entirely appropriate, though, given the images of a waterlogged, rather dreary landscape it contains. A torpid scene makes for a torpid rhythm. As he leaves Opotiki, Smithyman hears a tune carrying over the sodden landscape:

Along the highway, over the flats, across
the unpredictable river carried (wayward,
inconsequential?) fragments, the Last Post.
It’s always hard to hear, distantly.

The final line of 'Anzac Day' might seem, at first sight, to make only the fairly obvious point that the ‘Last Post’, like any piece of music, is hard to hear from a distance. But the comma that Smithyman places before 'distantly' perhaps encourages us to give his line an additional, more recondite meaning. Is the poet suggesting that it is hard for us to 'hear' - that is, to recognise and understand - the past 'distantly'? What could such a curious formulation mean?

Arguably, Smithyman thinks that to 'hear' the past 'distantly' is to place the events of the past within proper, and properly complex, contexts. As we have seen, Smithyman refuses to treat the battles and campaigns and wars which are remembered with such fanfare on Anzac Day as dramatically isolated, self-explanatory events, about whose meaning we can all easily agree. Instead, he insists upon placing the conflicts our memorials and dawn ceremonies remember within deep and ambiguous historical contexts. He 'hears' them 'distantly', not with the false clarity of jingoists and sloganeers. In its own modest way, 'Anzac Day' is an exercise in hearing ‘distantly', and a corrective to the simplistic, sensationalistic treatment of New Zealand history by both the right and (sometimes) the left. Note: due to the eccentricites of blogger.com, the spacing of some of the lines from 'Anzac Day' I have just quoted has not been reproduced accurately. Luckily, you can read the text intact at Smithyman's online Collected Poems. The version reproduced at the bottom of my post (click it and then use your magnifying function to read it properly) is a draft I found in the University of Auckland's wonderful Smithyman Papers.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Bill's next move

For the past decade or so, Kiwi music legend and writing machine Bill Direen has divided his time between Paris and Dunedin. In Dunedin, Bill has taught English at Otago University, played in various incarnations of his pet band The Builders, and listened to Philip Glass beside the fireplace; in Paris he has focused on his writing, which has embraced genres as differently demanding as the novel, the short story, the theatre review, and the academic paper, but also found time to keep a baleful eye on the right-wing, xenophobic administration of Nicolas Sarkozy.

In the middle of 2010 Bill will move once again from the ailing heart of France to the nation he once dubbed the 'South Indies'; this time, though, a prestigious literary award means that he will be taking up residence not in cosy old Dunedin but in the strange city of Auckland. I recently chatted with Bill about the state of French culture and politics, about his upcoming move to Auckland and the award that made it possible, and about his latest literary and musical projects.

SH: Could you tell us a little bit about the residency you have won?

BD: The residency is at the Michael King Writers’ Centre, Devonport, the only full Writers’ Centre in NZ and one of 90 or so around the world. It is funded by Creative NZ and run in connection with the University of Auckland. I will not be restricted to either creative writing or to research -- I make use of both in my essays and novels, songs and poems. The residency gives me a place to reside, too, so this time in Auckland I won’t be asking if I can kip down on your sofa, Maps and Skyler.

SH: You grew up in the Manawatu and (mostly) in the South Island, and you have only spent short periods of time in Auckland. How do you see the city, and the northern part of New Zealand in general? Is it an alien place? Kendrick Smithyman suggested once that the North and South Islands were separate countries...

BD: Yes, early childhood in the Manahatu and Wellington, but I was born in Christchurch and returned to South Island/Waipounamu for secondary schooling.
How do I see the city? Through a small window so far. The residency will help make that window higher and wider, and might help me to understand how people in Auckland have learned to live together. One of the great things about research is that you never know what are going to find.

SH: What do you hope to work on in Auckland? You are known as both a musician and a writer: will you be favouring one activity at the expense of the other while you're here?

BD: Yes. I will be concentrating on writing while in Auckland. And reading. The writing might include lyrics and poetry, and, as you know, research can be musical or poetic too. I’ll be working on a trans-generic novel and keeping notebooks as usual. I’ve never had the chance to explore Auckland library, so I’m looking forward to that. In October there’ll be an album release of texts written and recorded in Berlin in 2008, to musical accompaniment by musicians from four countries. The texts were published in brief 36.

SH: Will it be hard leaving Paris, the city you have made your second home?

BD: As you noted above, I have moved about quite a bit and have lived in a lot of houses and in the main towns and cities of South Island/Waipounamu and lower North Island/Aotearoa. Then I overcame a fear of flying and discovered the rest of the world! Leaving is never easy. I will be dealing with the subject of movement across the earth, migration, arriving and leaving in one of the writing projects this year.

SH: Can you tell us something of the political atmosphere in France at the moment? Media reports talk of the plummeting popularity of the Sarkozy regime and its neo-liberal 'reform' agenda...

BD: It is very difficult for immigrants in France. The economy relies upon them, and yet every year laws make it tougher for those working in France illegally. Every year there are the sad stories of stowaways who die trying to get into France, after having paid their life savings to some criminal for a trip to death. The French police were recently charged (by human rights groups) with picking people out of the crowd on the basis of their skin colour, to ask them for their papers (passport, right of residency, or work permit). They defended themselves, and are probably more discreet about it now. It’s never simple. Each country has its contradictions. For example, in France, since the revolution, it has been illegal to practice any form of discrimination based on racial origins. You will never be asked for your racial origins and if you announce them you are regarded as a some kind of racist! So organisations representing minorities (who might benefit from positive discrimination in New Zealand) would find it impossible to get funding in France.

New Zealanders are often astonished at the lack of government funding for French people on the basis of their various racial origins (and in spite of immigration-phobia, there is a magnificent complex mixture of origins in France, believe me). Some funding is now available for radio stations in the three ancient languages.

On the other hand, France has practiced positive discrimination in the trade sector, subsidizing losses, funding initiatives and practising a quota system. There have been arguments for and against this on all sides. So when it comes to liberal 'reforms', there are greedy players and those who argue the reforms will be better for "French people" (the French Socialist Party liberals, for example) and better for ‘France’ (usually the rightists). But there are anti-liberal currents, and they are getting stronger among the true left and extreme left groups. Divided, the left fell and smashed into bickering pieces. It is in the process of reorganising itself against a formidable opponent.

The formation of a united Centre-Left and True-Left wing movement may bring about a change of government next election. It's starting to sound as if I’m talking about the positions of a World Cup soccer team, but French politics IS incredibly complicated. Everyone has a position, and it is usual for people to state it clearly. There’s no sitting on the fence, and there are a lot of arguments.

SH: What is the position of New Zealand culture, or cultures, in France? Is there any awareness of our writers, our artists, our musicians?

BD: If New Zealand literature has been translated into French, it is read. The French are great readers, as New Zealanders are. This is something the two countries have in common, as Pierre Furlan (a French writer who resided in Wellington for a time) mentioned at a recent talk about New Zealand. But as for English or Maori, French people find it hard to learn English and they have really no knowledge of the ‘Maori’ tongues of French Polynesia (which are not so different from New Zealand Maori).

To be fair, English and French are so similar that it can drive a person crazy learning both. There are so many ‘false friends’, words which are spelt the same but which have completely different meanings in French and English. (And if you are learning French, there are the types of French to consider: argot, jargon, everyday, popular and refined -- as there are in English!) The attitude of Germans to English is parental, and I think they find it more logical, an easier process, to learn English. Even if this is an illusion, it helps them overcome the barrier to learning English. So the translation into appropriate French and the 2006 visit of twelve New Zealand writers (of different micro-cultural origins) helped to put New Zealand on the map, with free readings (by paid actors in French, and in English by the writers themselves) all over France. New Zealand was the country of honour at the annual Literary Salon in Paris. A lot of books were signed. But after the publicity splash and the double readings and the fanfares announcing a warming of relations between the countries, I heard little about New Zealand literature in France. Janet Frame is widely read in translation, and Mansfield is well-known. Patricia Grace, Vincent O’Sullivan, Karl Stead and some younger contemporary writers are making an impression, little by little. It will be interesting to see how they fare.

France has an extraordinary literary culture, and we know little of that. We both have a lot to learn about the other. This is partly why I founded a little cross-cultural magazine in 2006, called Percutio, which publishes work in English and in the language of origin on the facing page (in French, and in five other languages so far). It is an attempt to be a little less at the mercy of translators.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Walls and columns

I remember reading about a loquacious New York art critic's brief and unsatisfactory encounter with Jackson Pollock. After cornering Pollock beside a cocktail cabinet at a party, the critic asked the artist to explain the meaning of one of the vast 'drip' paintings he had begun producing in a freezing Long Island barn and exhibiting at Manhattan's hottest galleries. 'I've got nothing to say', Pollock reportedly grunted, between gulps of liquor. 'The painting is what it means'.

Jackson Pollock was never the most forthcoming of men, but his extreme reluctance to discuss his art seems to me to be justified by something beyond his taciturn personality. Novelists and poets work with words, and it seems appropriate that their work is dissected and discussed in words, but visual artists, who struggle with marble or chalk or quick-drying enamel, sometimes seem to demand a different sort of appreciation.

There is a certain type of visual artist whose work seems almost to insist that it be appreciated with silence, rather than with the comparisons and categorisations and quibbles of the critic. Anybody who saw critics and cataloguists struggling to say something useful about last year's retrospective by New Zealand's monumental minimalist Milan Mrkusich will know what I mean. For more than a month, Mrkusich's glowing, fathomless reds, blues, and yellows made Shortland Street's Gus Fisher Gallery into a sanctified space, a sort of secular cathedral; instead of simply acknowledging the spell of the old magician, though, our art writers insisted on trying to explain him away with dusty adjectives like 'formalist', 'high-modernist' and 'Jungian'.

I was both delighted and disconcerted when Ellen Portch recently asked me to write an essay for the catalogue that accompanies Wall, the exhibition she will be holding next month at Elam Art School's projectspace B431. I am a long-time admirer of Ellen's art, not to mention her kickboxing, but I was slightly uneasy about the prospect of describing the enigmatic, carefully-worked images she is known for in something as mundane as an essay.

My unease only increased when Ellen showed me the two dozen pencil drawings which she had given the collective title Wall. Ellen's new images of empty corridors and grey voids were so spare and so mysterious that they seemed almost to refuse interpretation. What could I possibly say about them? Before I could turn down the job, though, Brett Cross did what he does best - he put the boot in. Shouting down a crackling line from his new home and office in the hinterland of the Kaipara, Brett, whose company Titus Books is publishing the catalogue for Wall, told me to stop being a 'lazy literalist'. According to Brett, I had become too accustomed to academic and political discourses that 'lay meaning out on a plate', and needed to think 'on more of a tangent'. Brett was distinctly unimpressed when I suggested that certain types of art demanded a silent response. 'Silence is bullshit', he crackled down the line. 'What mysticism! You've been reading too much Heidegger!'

In between the jibes, Brett did make one very good point. He noted that a work of art which is cryptic is by its very nature open to many different interpretations, and therefore ought to stimulate rather than befuddle the minds that contemplate it. 'Think of those presocratic writers Ted Jenner is always on about', Brett shouted. 'Everyone disagrees about what those Greeks meant, because all they left were little fragments. You have to reconstruct the whole in your own mind. Use your imagination!'

Cowed by Brett, I soon wrote a three thousand word essay inspired by Ellen's eerie series of drawings. When I turned the text over to the boss of Titus, though, my relief quickly disappeared. 'What's this?' Brett asked, as he flipped through the pages I'd printed out. 'EP Thompson, Marx, enclosures, the industrial revolution - all your usual obsessions...you haven't even talked about Ellen's work!' 'Well, the last thousand words are about her', I replied rather forlornly. 'And I thought you told me to let my mind run free...' 'Yes, but this is the sort of stuff you're always talking about' Brett grumped. 'Why are you so predictable?'

Ellen was less dismayed by the catalogue essay than Brett, but we all agreed, after a couple of beers and a couple of proofreading sessions, that there was a danger that my discussions of the drawings in Wall might get lost amidst disquisitions on subjects like industrialisation and the problems of Marxist theory. Our solution to the problem has been to split the essay into two columns. The left column, which is called 'Notes on Walls', is all history and sociology; the right column, which is called 'Notes on Wall', sticks to describing and analysing Ellen's drawings. Readers can choose which column to consult first. I can't reproduce the split column on this blog, but I thought I'd try alternating a few selected paragraphs from 'Notes on Walls' and 'Notes on Wall' to give an idea of the effect of the column (I've italicised the paragraphs from 'Notes on Wall'). To get the full texts, and to see Ellen's extraordinary new drawings, you'll have to come along to her exhibition next month.

Excerpts from 'Notes on Wall' and 'Notes on Walls'

...Ellen Portch’s new exhibition plays on the ambiguous response that the symbol of the wall evokes in many of us. The more than two dozen drawings which comprise Wall are not intended to be easy to interpret. These cool, untitled, mostly unpopulated works are highly detailed and carefully structured, and yet we cannot readily identify a setting for them. The sharp, straight lines of the simplified structures they depict may remind us of the utopian blueprints of Le Corbusier, or of antiseptic sci fi dystopias like Andrew Nicol’s movie Gattaca. There might even be one or two locations in the real world – the windswept monuments of North Korea, or the lower layers of the nuclear disposal plants buried under the American desert – that resemble the scenes Portch has depicted.

...The fact that walls haunt the thought of so many modern philosophers and social scientists might seem surprising. It is, after all, fashionable to suggest that the modern era, and the accelerating process known as globalisation which perhaps represents the terminus of the modern era, have broken down the barriers between groups of humans that were long isolated by culture and geography, as new strains of technology and new flows of capital develop and interlink national and regional economies. When the unctuous Mike Moore wrote a book celebrating his work at the head of the World Trade Organisation he called it A World Without Walls.

To treat the drawings in Wall simply as depictions of an actual or possible outer world, though, would be to miss the possibility that they show us the inside of a human mind. When we gaze at the blade-like edges of Portch’s walls and floors, at the torches that stand like giant Bunsen burners on many of her walls, and at the vacuum that opens around the edges of her buildings, we may decide that a strange emotional drama lurks in these drawings of sterile, almost empty environments. Like Giorgio de Chirico’s lonely avenues and towers, Portch’s platforms, walls, and windowless rooms are full of humanity, even when they appear abandoned by humans.

It can be argued, though, that the wall has always been an instrument and a symbol of the modern era. Historians usually associate the beginning of ‘modernity’ with the industrial revolution, an event that was made possible partly by the Inclosure Acts which walled off large areas of the British countryside that were previously used as common land by that nation’s peasantry. As walls shut them out of their pastures and their woods, peasants were forced into burgeoning industrial cities. Used to working in the open air, they were forced to spend their days between the walls of new factories. High walls separated their slum dwellings from the fine houses of their employers. The bleak walls of prisons and poorhouses warned them of the rules of their new world. The experience of Britain’s peasantry was to be repeated in most countries of the world.

...Do Portch’s walls represent confinement, or safety, or both? The walls often occur near the edge of the drawings, framing a grey void that seems to open and spread towards them. Our eyes travel towards the walls in horror at the void, in search of something solid and detailed to rest on. The walls allow us respite from the vacuum, but they often also block our gaze away from it. They seem to trap us inside the drawings they frame. We flee to them, and yet they imprison us.

The wall is even more ubiquitous in the wealthy, supposedly post-industrial cities of the twenty-first century West. In the nineteenth century, hundreds or even thousands of men and women might work together on one factory floor; today, in the office blocks of London or Sydney or Auckland, they labour in isolation from one another between the walls of air-conditioned cubicles. Modern life has created walls of more subtle kinds. In an essay called ‘Time, Work-discipline, and Industrial Capitalism’, the great English historian EP Thompson described how modern humans have learnt, or been forced, to create barriers between different parts of their lives. Where the artisans and farmers of the past might put down their tools whenever they felt like resting, the modern worker’s time is regulated by clocks and employment contracts. Lunch breaks and holidays cannot be taken at random. Work and rest are walled off; home and ‘the office’ represent two different worlds. In one of the books that record his walks across contemporary Britain, psychogeographer Iain Sinclair observes that humans have become so accustomed to the rhythms of modernity that is as though ‘the enclosures have been repeated under our skins’.

The figures that appear in Portch’s rooms add to our disquiet. Like the figures in the paintings Portch has exhibited over the years, they look both life-like and unreal. Although they have been drawn meticulously, the figures lack individuating aspects. Some of them are defined only by the fact that parts of their bodies are missing. Are they replicants, or part-replicants, of the same human? Are they even human? The peculiar, anxious ambiguity which all of the drawings in Wall stimulates becomes particularly intense when we consider the poses and expressions of the figures in Portch’s later drawings. We see them moving about their strange rooms, but we are unsure about the meaning, let alone the motivation, of their movements. Are they exercising, or perhaps performing strange rituals, or simply writhing in pain?

The internal walls Portch depicts near the end of her sequence are even more ambiguous. We may initially feel a certain relief when we enter them, and escape the vertiginous spaces that open so disconcertingly in the earlier drawings, but their apparent lack of doors or windows soon becomes disturbing. Are they refuges, or places of imprisonment?

...Yet the walls which are such a feature of the modern world need not be understood in an entirely negative light. It can certainly be argued that many of us have happily consented to the building and maintenance of these walls. In the West, the chaos and misery of industrialisation led, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, to the rise of mass ameliorative movements, as workers organised trade unions and parties to put forward economic and political demands. Some of the more radical members of these movements dreamed of overturning capitalism and creating a society where a harmonious communal life replaced hierarchy and alienation.

In most countries, though, the vast majority of workers did not dream of knocking down the walls of industrial capitalism, but instead wanted to build new walls which might make their lives more pleasant. They did not want to live in communes, and share equally in the labour of maintaining society: they wanted to graduate from the crowded squalor of the slum to the tidy seclusion of the suburb, and from the noise of the factory floor to the calm cubicles of the office. When left-leaning governments attempted to ameliorate the worst features of capitalism in the twentieth century, they did so partly by building huge numbers of houses and apartments. For millions of workers, the walls of a council flat or low-mortgage house symbolised increased comfort and autonomy, not any sort of imprisonment.

The mental walls created by modernity have also been embraced by many of us. Devices like the cellphone, the blackberry, and the iPod have become popular because they increase rather than reduce the isolation of the twenty-first century human. Insulated aurally by our i pods and socially by the circles of acquaintances we commune with electronically via our cellphones or facebook, we can move through busy city streets or sit in a crowded bar without having to notice, let alone interact with, those who happen to share a piece of geography with us.

In one especially disturbing drawing, half a dozen of Portch's quasi-humans stand in a row on the edge of a burgeoning abyss. The artist does not make it clear whether the figures are preparing to leap into the spiralling grey vacuum, or whether they are guarding the approaches to the abyss, like ghostly versions of Salinger's catcher in the rye...

Friday, April 16, 2010

Has Kerry the Nazi cast a spell, or are our media watchdogs just incompetent?

Late last year the Broadcasting Standards Authority bewildered observers by upholding a couple of thoroughly spurious complaints that veteran Kiwi neo-Nazi Kerry Bolton had made against Radio New Zealand. Bolton, who is the author of books with titles like The Holocaust: a sceptical inquiry and a former member of groups with names like the National Socialist Party of New Zealand, had complained to the BSA because I had had the temerity to call him a neo-Nazi and a Holocaust denier on a Radio New Zealand programme devoted to the discussion of anti-semitism.

After subjecting readers to dozens of paragraphs of tangled syntax, tortured qualifications, and glib non-sequitirs, the Broadcasting Standards Authority's report refused to take a position on whether Bolton 'is or is not' a Holocaust denier. According to the BSA, I should not have been so bold as to attach the term to this country's best-known neo-Nazi. Chris Trotter summed up the sentiments of many of those who read the BSA's decision when he called it an 'outrage', and said that it raised serious doubts about the 'ethics and competence' of the organisation.

One bemused Australian blogger jokingly suggested that the BSA's bizarre decision might have been caused by the sort of black magic in which Kerry Bolton has often dabbled. As University of Waikato scholar Wilhemmus van Leeuwen has famously shown, Bolton attempted in the 1990s to fuse his neo-Nazi politics with Satanism by forming organisations with names like The Order of the Left Hand Path and by publishing magazines that mixed denunciations of inferior races with denunciations of Christianity.

If Kerry Bolton is casting dark spells from a dungeon somewhere in Wellington in the hope of corrupting Kiwi media watchdogs, then he seems to be having some success. Only a few months after the Broadcasting Standards Authority flushed its credibility down the drain, the New Zealand Press Council has upheld complaints Bolton made about an article which appeared last December in the Christchurch paper The Press. The Press Council has found that The Press was wrong to characterise Bolton as a member of the Nationalist Alliance, the gaggle of far right grouplets formed in New Zealand in the lead-up to the 2008 elections, and that it was also mistaken when it characterised him as a Nazi. To its credit, the Press has refused to resile from its claim that Bolton was a member of the Nationalist Alliance. The paper points to an April 2008 document establishing relations between the Nationalist Alliance and an Australian far right group, and notes that Kerry Bolton signed that document on behalf of the Nationalist Alliance. Bolton appears to have convinced the Press Council that he was not, in fact, a member of the Nationalist Alliance by removing the original April 2008 document from the internet and replacing it with a new document that does not feature his signature. Despite the fact that Australian anti-racist researchers have placed copies of the original, unaltered document online, the Press Council appears to have been taken in by Bolton's clumsy manoeuvre.

Bolton used similarly dishonest tactics to confuse the Broadcasting Standards Authority last year. After the BSA asked me for evidence of Bolton's anti-semitism and Holocaust denial, I pointed them to the many pieces he had written for the Adelaide Institute, the notorious neo-Nazi 'thinktank' whose Director Frederick Toben was sent to jail last year for hate crimes. Instead of owning up to his longstanding involvement in the Adelaide Institute, Bolton removed his articles and lectures from the organisation's website. Despite the fact that many other anti-semitic texts by Bolton existed on other parts of the internet, the BSA only visited the hastily-edited Adelaide Institute site. After failing to find anything by Bolton there, the BSA decided it would not be able to decide whether the man was a Holocaust denier or not.

I doubt whether many readers of this blog will demur when I suggest that Kerry Bolton is not exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer. His ability to spell two-syllable words and his aversion to tattoos may have given him a reputation as an 'intellectual' amongst his bonehead chums on the racist far right, but the stream of self-published books and articles he has produced over the past four decades have failed to convince the rest of us of the weight of his learning. Bolton's claims that white men discovered New Zealand thousands of years ago, that the Protocols of the Elders of Zion is a real historical document, that Stalin was a 'secret Jew', that the Out of Africa thesis is a plot by communist anthrobiologists, and that Hitler was a pleasant, peace-loving man could all be demolished by the average eleven year-old. How is it, then, that the buffoonish Bolton has been able to pull the wool over the eyes of first the Broadcasting Standards Authority and now the Press Council? Like Chris Trotter, I suspect incompetence, rather than black magic, is at fault.

I am pleased to be able to note that Radio New Zealand has not taken the BSA's outrageous decision lying down. Radio New Zealand prepared a special submission to the BSA early this year, in an effort to get the body to reverse its error. The submission featured testimony from several experts on anti-semitism, and extensive quotes from Bolton's writings, but failed to make the BSA see reason. Radio New Zealand is now planning to take the Broadcasting Standards Authority to the High Court.

What follows is the text of a document I supplied to Radio New Zealand when they were preparing their submission to the Broadcasting Standards Authority earlier this year. I'd be interested to see a response to it from anyone who sympathises with the recent decisions of the Press Council and the BSA.

Kerry Bolton: neo-Nazi, anti-semite, Holocaust denier

The charge of Holocaust denial is a serious one, even if it carries no legal penalty in New Zealand. I am satisfied, though, that the evidence available easily establishes that Kerry Bolton has been a Holocaust denier for his whole adult life.

According to sociologist Paul Spoonley's book The Politics of Nostalgia, which was issued by Dunmore Press in 1987 and remains the only published full-length study of New Zealand's racist far right, Bolton joined the National Socialist Party of New Zealand in the mid-70s, when he was still a teenager, and belonged to a string of similar organisations in the late '70s and '80s.

The National Socialist Party modelled itself on the organisation of the same name established by Hitler, and explicitly denied the Holocaust. In 1981 Bolton founded a group called New Force, which argued in favour of apartheid at the time of the Springbok tour to New Zealand, and which issued leaflets warning against Polynesian immigration and the 'bastardisation of white New Zealand'. In the same year Bolton established a neo-pagan religious group, the Church of Odin, which explicitly barred Jews from its ranks.

In 1997 Bolton was the founder of the short-lived New Zealand Fascist Union, and in 2004 he became the National Secretary of the National Front, an organisation that became notorious for its members' violent attacks on Somali immigrants in Wellington.

Bolton has complemented his political activism with a stream of rambling, often self-published books and articles on subjects that interest him. These texts offer much evidence of his history of Holocaust denial.

In The Holocaust: a sceptical inquiry, which he self-published sometime in the '80s, and which he continues to sell through his publishing house Renaissance Books, Bolton insists that the Holocaust was a fantasy created by enemies of Hitler and the white race. On page twelve of The Holocaust: a sceptical inquiry Bolton claims that Jews were placed in concentration camps because they were a security threat to Germany, not because the Nazis wanted to exterminate them. One page thirty-five of his polemic Bolton insists, in the face of all the evidence, that the Nazis allowed the Jews to administer the concentration camps themselves, through a system of elected councils. On page sixty-three Bolton turns to the bombings of Dresden and of Hiroshima in 1945, and claims that these acts, and not the Nazi treatment of the Jews, constitute 'the only literal holocausts' of World War Two.

Bolton wrote The Holocaust: a sceptical inquiry some time ago, and we might might wonder whether the text was perhaps a youthful abberration, something its author has since outgrown and now regrets. A look at a long, vitriolic 'Open Letter to the War Generation' which Bolton posted to the neo-Nazi Stormfront website in 2003 should dispel any doubts about the man's continued attachment to Hitlerism and Holocaust denial. Using arguments that recall his book on the Holocaust, Bolton's letter explains why the Jews deserved the Nuremberg Laws, the Kristallnacht, and internment in the 1930s:

German Jews were rounded up as enemy aliens, since their own leaders publicly declared "war" on Hitler the very year he achieved Government, 1933, at a time when there were few restrictions put on Jews. The Jews, under Samuel Untermeyer organised a world economic boycott to try and wreck Germany economically. Jews and their communist allies organised boycotts of shops that sold Germany goods. People were beaten up by Jewish-communist thugs if they tried to resist.

Despite its insistence on the evil of the Jews, Bolton's 'Open Letter' denies that they were ever targetted for mass extermination. The Holocaust is, apparently, a myth designed to denigrate Adolf Hitler:

So what was Hitler's "crime". And why is he still being demonised, even though his alleged "war crimes" have now been shown to have been inventions of Allied war propaganda (of the type that told Britons during World War I about the bayoneting of Belgium babies and the crucifixion of Canadian soldiers, etc.). Why is he still so feared?

It is because he inaugurated a new form of government that was based on the folkish community, where "the common interest comes before self-interest"? Youth were given a sense of purpose, were clean living, worked at a stretch of Labour Service regardless of class or family wealth. Even William Shirer remarked on the callow, unhealthy English youth, in comparison to the healthy vigour of German youth.

Bolton has not always chosen neo-Nazi venues like Stormfront to express his opinions. He has written many letters to New Zealand's mainstream media expounding his views on race, Hitler, World War Two, and the Holocaust. On the 9th of September 2003 The Listener carried a letter from Bolton which commented on the controversy surrounding Joel Hayward, the Canterbury University student who wrote a Masters thesis denying the Holocaust. An internal investigation found that the thesis had been poorly supervised and that it was full of errors. Hayward eventually recanted his views and accepted the reality of the Holocaust, but he has nevertheless remained a hero to many neo-Nazis.

Bolton's letter to The Listener defends Hayward's thesis by citing the work of a series of notorious Holocaust deniers:

[Listener writer Philip] Mathews fails to acknowledge the academic credentials of the revisionists he cites, doctors Countess and Toben. Proponents of holocaust orthodoxy claim that revisionism has no academic standing. Most spokesmen for revisionism are academics, or are qualified in relevant fields such as engineering and toxicology...

Where Dr Hayward errs is in his retraction of his conclusions. The original Leuchter investigation of the alleged Auschwitz gas chambers has been professionally replicated by Germar Rudolf, chemical analysis showing that there is insufficient cyanide residue for these buildings to have been used for mass executions.

Like the Adelaide Institute's Frederick Toben, who earned his recent term in an Australian prison with violent anti-Jewish outbursts, Germar Rudolf is an anti-semite whose 'research' is designed as a defence of the Hitler regime he reveres. Rudolf was convicted of inciting racial hatred in Germany in 1995 and was jailed again in 2007 for Holocaust denial.

Bolton has attempted to be more discreet about his Holocaust denial and his neo-Nazism in recent years. He likes to use euphemisms like 'revisionist' rather than the ugly term 'Holocaust denier', and he prefers to call himself a 'radical European conservative', rather than a Nazi or a fascist. But the essence of Bolton's thought has not changed.

In his 2005 self-published booklet Nazism? An Answer to the Smear-mongers, Bolton attempts to distance himself from 'Hitlerism', by which he means 'uncritical' reverence for the founder of the Third Reich. At the beginning of his text, though, Bolton makes it clear that he has not abandoned most of his old views, including his Holocaust denial:

We are not interested in jumping on a bandwagon with communist, capitalists, and Zionists by perpetuating slander against the German people. (pg 3)

The 'slander' which Bolton refers to is, of course, the claim that the Nazis killed six million Jews. Bolton complains that 'Zionist academics' are engaging in 'the continuation of wartime propaganda' when they teach and write about the Holocaust.

In his self-published 2006 booklet Red Alert: behind the smear campaign against Australian nationalists, Bolton endorses the views of a series of veteran Holocaust deniers, but chooses to call them 'revisionists', and to deny their anti-semitism:

As for the ready smear that to question aspects of World War Two orthodox history, which is called 'revisionism', the first to question the magnitude of the actions against the Jews, to take the most contentious eg of revisionism, were left-wing academics, the American Professor Harry Elmer Barnes, and the French Resistance hero and concentration camp inmate, Professor Paul Rassinger. (pg 24)

In this passage, Bolton attempts to present Holocaust denial, which he has given the euphemism 'revisionism', as the creation of respected liberal scholars unblemished by any association with the racist right. In reality, Harry Elmer Barnes was a onetime liberal historian who adopted far right views in his later years, and won notoreity for his explicit denials of the Holocaust. Paul Rassinger was a resistance fighter in World War Two, but in the postwar years he lost his old allies by becoming a denier of the Holocaust. Rassinger claimed to hold to the same views which had made him a resistance fighter, but he was widely disbelieved, and in 1964 it was revealed that he had written many articles for a neo-fascist journal called Le Rivarol under a pseudonym. Neither Rassinger nor Barnes' Holocaust denial ever enjoyed the intellectual respectability Bolton claims for it.

If we examine Bolton's book Thinkers of the Right: Challenging Materialism, which he self-published as recently as 2008, and which purports to be a series of potted biographies of twentieth century intellectuals like Martin Heidegger and New Zealand's ARD Fairburn, we find old prejudices alive and well.

In his book's chapter on the Italian Futurist poet and fascist Filippo Marinetti, for example, Bolton eulogises the short-lived Italian Social Republic which Benito Mussolini founded in the north of Italy after he had lost most of his country to partisans and Allied invaders. Bolton presents the Social Republic as an almost utopian enterprise:

The fascist faithful established a last stand, in the north, named the Italian Social Republic. With a new idealism, even former communist and liberal leaders were drawn to the Republic. The Manifesto of Verona was drafted, restoring various liberties, and championing labour against plutocracy within the vision of a united Europe.

In reality, the Italian Social Republic was one of the purest expressions of Nazism ever to exist outside of Nazi Germany. Hitler's troops propped up the state, Nuremberg-style laws prevented races mixing, and Jews were deported in their thousands to death camps north of the Alps. The Manifesto of Verona called for Mussolini's movement to return to its fascist roots, demanded the expulsion of Jews from Europe, and called for the continent's warring powers to unite and establish a single empire that could rule all of Africa and Asia.

No one who was not a committed neo-Nazi could write favourably about the Italian Social Republic. Bolton's support for Mussolini's last government, and his failure to mention the role of that government in the Holocaust, show that he still holds the views expressed so explicitly in his book The Holocaust Myth and in his 2003 letters to The Listener and to Stormfront.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Life as an uncle

In On Certainty, an unfinished book he composed between pints of sherry in the last months of his life, Ludwig Wittgenstein created a series of thought experiments designed to show what apparently strange beliefs human beings can hold. In one of the most famous experiments in On Certainty, Wittgentstein tried to rebut his friend GE Moore's claim that simple 'common sense' teaches each of us that the world certainly existed before we were born:

Men have believed that they could make rain; why should not a king [of some distant country] be brought up in the belief that the world began with him? And if Moore and this king were to meet and discuss, could Moore really prove his belief to be the right one?

If the example of Wittgentein's king resonates with us, it is perhaps because many of us have sometimes had difficulty in quite believing that the world ever existed without us. We know, of course, that the earth is four billion or so years old, that humans have walked the earth for hundreds of thousands of years, and that each of us has innumerable ancestors. Yet when we are young, especially, we find it difficult to appreciate properly what latecomers we are, and how much natural and human history has backed up behind us. Like the photos of the quaintly-attired great grandparents mounted on mantelpieces or in old albums, the time before we were born seems colourless and faded. It contrasts sadly with the vivid colours and giddy vistas that we remember from our early childhoods. We know it is absurd, but when we are in the flush of youth we can never quite dispel the idea that the years and decades and centuries before we were born were a sort of prehistory, a period designed to prepare in some obscure way for our birth. We create our own teleologies.

On Monday night, at about half past nine, I became an uncle for the first time. While my niece was making her slow but calm way into the world, or into the austere antechamber of the world that is a hospital birthing room, I was wandering around west Auckland, looking for a bottle of champagne and a fat smelly cigar to offer to her father. Because of the bizarre liquor licensing arrangements of Waitakere City, I ended up buying myself a packet of chewing gum instead. When I reached the hospital with Skyler, though, I was pleased I did not bear intoxicants. Nurses and midwives moved up and down the cosily panoptic spaces of the maternity wing with a quietness that seemed almost reverential; occasionally one of them paused, turned, lowered her head slightly, and disappeared into one of the dark rooms that opened off the proliferating corridors, as if she were ducking into a chapel to pray. It must be strange to spend five days a week witnessing an event which still, in our secular age, seems somehow miraculous.

A couple of friends have asked me whether I feel older, now that I am uncle. I can understand such queries. When I was a boy, the word 'uncle' summouned up images of frayed cardigan sleeves, sagging paunches, carelessly trimmed moustaches, and RSA lounges that smelt of stale cigarettes and the dregs of beer jugs. Uncles were old, slightly terrifying figures who told war stories, berated the All Blacks selectors, and lamented the advent of one-day cricket. They seemed to have existed forever, but it was hard to imagine that they had ever been young.

My niece is only one of a succession of children born to friends and relatives this year. For these kids, I will be a prehistoric figure: an obscure face in a faded, poorly-composed photograph, or a tipsy windbag who traps them them at a barbeque or a wedding reception and reminiscences about Richard Hadlee or the 1987 World Cup or the marches against the Iraq war. I find the idea of my own obsolescence liberating: it is, after all, a burden being young, and suffering from the delusion that one's life is consequential.

I don't have a poem for my niece yet, but I did write a piece a while back for Martin and Lou, two Franco-Spanish kids whose parents are old friends of mine. Martin and Lou lived with Skyler and me for a couple of weeks in September 2008. Lou was very small, and tended to communicate in hisses and slaps; Martin and I, though, created a barbarous patois, composed of the dozen French phrases I knew, the hundred or so English words he knew, and the five or six Spanish words we had both mastered. We talked endlessly in our impoverished language, becoming steadily more confused at one another's meaning. I suspect that my attempts to impress the nobility of cricket and the drama of the Spanish Civil War on Martin made me seem like a typical old windbag uncle. This poem celebrates the sense of irrelevance that children like Martin make me feel:

The Boulder at North Head

I kneel beside the boulder,
whisper in its mossy ear.
I instruct the boulder
in its solemn task.
I instruct the boulder
to stand still, and let the earth
the elephant grass
the gravel shelf
the tunnels and caves
the layers of andesite
roll under it -

to stand still,
as Martin and Lou forget about
their father's car, and the airport, and the plane aimed
home, to the land of schools and snow -

to stand still, as Martin and Lou chase their echoes
into the sunlight
and over the crest of North Head,
away from the gunpit
and the flat blue gulf,
and the gulls that blow about
like the paper that wrapped our chips -

to stand still, and to shudder
invisibly, at the first kick
from Martin's sandal,
to shudder secretly again
at Lou's friendly slap,
to take both children on its smooth black back
without sagging, without sighing
to know that one day this boy and girl will return
as an old man and an old woman
to find a boulder standing in the same place,

standing still,
letting the earth roll under it.

Friday, April 09, 2010

History, necessity, and the New Zealand Wars: a reply to Chris Trotter

There's an interesting contrast between two posts that Chris Trotter has recently made to his blog. In a post he made a couple of weeks ago called 'As Auckland goes, so goes the country' Trotter excoriates the bourgeoisie that established itself in Auckland in the nineteenth century. Trotter holds up Thomas Russell, the man who made large sums of money by speculating on lands confiscated from Maori after the invasion of Waikato, as a symbol of the mendacity of this capitalist class, which was as happy to pay Pakeha workers in the cities miserably low wages as it was to expropriate the land of Maori communities in the countryside.

It would be difficult to read 'As Auckland goes, so goes the country' without concluding that Chris regards the dispossession of Maori in the aftermath of the wars of the nineteenth century as an act of obvious injustice which ought to be condemned by historians. In a post he made last week, though, Trotter tries to argue that the loss of Maori land and sovereignty was ultimately a progressive phenomenon, and that historians and activists who have drawn attention to the dispossession and disempowerment of Maori have played a counterproductive role, despite their good intentions.

How can we understand the apparent contradiction between Trotter's posts? I would argue that it is a reflection of a wider contradiction amongst Western socialists, a contradiction that can even be found in the work of the most famous socialist of all, Karl Marx. In some of his best-known texts Marx salutes the progressive features of capitalism and hails the destruction of pre-capitalist societies by the industrialists and imperialists of the West, even as he draws attention to the negative aspects of capitalism, and predicts the ultimate downfall of the system.

The Communist Manifesto is a good example of Marx's conflicted attitude to capitalism: the text is best-known for its call for working class revolution in the advanced countries of the West, but it opens with pages of praise for the revolutionary features of capitalism, a system which Marx believes is abolishing 'the idiocy and backwardness of rural life' and bringing civilisation to 'the most barbarous of nations'. The Manifesto makes a coded reference to the Opium Wars which Britain had recently waged against China, in a successful effort to get that country to open its doors to trade. In articles written at about the same time as the Manifesto, Marx calls Britain's colonisation of India 'revolutionary'.

For much of his life, Marx believed that the imposition of capitalism was a prerequisite for the achievement of the socialist system he believed was superior to capitalism. He supported the imperialists who brought capitalism, with its factories and its railways and its splintering of communally-owned lands, to 'barbarous' countries like India and China, because he thought that capitalism represented a step forward for these countries. Only once they had passed through a 'stage' of capitalist development would nations like India and China be ripe for socialist revolution.

Towards the end of his life, Marx began to lose faith in his optimistic vision of socialist revolution following inevitably from capitalist development. He was upset by the failure of the Paris Commune of 1871 to inspire a socialist revolution across Western Europe. He was disturbed by the conservative hostility to revolution of an increasingly comfortable upper layer of skilled workers in nations like Germany and Britain.

In a series of texts written over the last decade of his life, Marx modified, and in some cases repudiated, his earlier praise for imperialism as a progressive force. In a preface to a Russian edition of the Communist Manifesto written the year before his death, for example, Marx deplored the way that capitalist 'development' was leading to the destruction of Russia's communally-owned peasant farms, and suggested that Russia did not need to experience all the horrors of capitalism before it could become socialist. For the late Marx, the communal forms of property that existed in societies like Russia, the Iroquois Federation, and Java could become the building blocks of an agrarian, indigenous socialism. But Marx never quite managed to reconcile his late enthusiasm for pre-capitalist societies with his early praise for imperialism, and his magnum opus, Capital, remained an unfinished, fragmentary work.

Chris Trotter can perhaps be described as a classical social democrat, of the sort that dominated the Second International that Marx's old ally Engels helped to set up in 1889. Classical social democrats like Karl Kautsky and Eduard Bernstein observed the steady rise in prosperity in late nineteenth and early twentieth century Europe, and decided that the increased stability and wealth of capitalism made it possible for workers to 'tame' the system, by extracting reforms from it. Ultimately, Kautsky and many other Second Internationalists believed, capitalism could be made to evolve into socialism, as workers won control of the levers of the state and of industry from bosses. The Second International disintegrated in 1914, when Europe's ruling classes went to war, the workers of the continent followed them, and the notion of capitalism as a stable progressive system seemed suddenly bankrupt. The ideas of the International have nevertheless had a long afterlife; it might be argued, for instance, that they found their way into the programme of New Zealand's first Labour government, and that they influenced the popular Alliance Party in the 1990s. It is not surprising that the leading theorists of the Second International were hostile to Marx's late criticisms of imperialism and his late claim that 'primitive' societies could achieve socialism without first experiencing capitalism. After the death of Engels in 1895, Kautsky became Marx's literary executor, and began to repress the great man's 'heretical' late texts.

Kautsky was both a sophisticated intellectual and a compassionate man, and he was well aware of the suffering that capitalism caused, in the industrial West as well as the 'barbarous' countries of the East and South. He wrote often about the greed of factory-owners and bankers, and about the misery of those who worked for the bourgeoisie in factories and on plantations. But Kautsky was convinced that, despite all the suffering it caused, capitalism played a necessary and progressive historical role. It destroyed old and 'barbarous' forms of life and brought peoples together in the working classes of new industrial cities, where they could form trade unions and socialist parties that could campaign for a better future.

Chris Trotter's belief that the defeat of Maori in the wars of the nineteenth century was ultimately progressive, despite the injustice and suffering it involved, seems to me to echo the views of Kautsky and other Second Internationalists, and the attitude that Marx expressed in texts like The Communist Manifesto.

Trotter is no fool: he is well aware of the dubious motives of men like Thomas Russell, and he knows that Pakeha rule and capitalist economics were imposed upon the Maori of regions like the Waikato at the point of a gun. Yet he believes that the 'unitary state' and united working class allegedly achieved by Pakeha victory in the wars of the nineteenth century were essential for the development of New Zealand, and for the development of the New Zealand left. Trotter believes that the union movement of twentieth century New Zealand, with its 'homogenous' character and base in the big industrial cities of the country, was ultimately a product of the nineteenth century wars, and he rails against 'revisionist' historians and politically correct politicians who have allegedly weakened and divided the workers' movement by stirring up Maori grievances based in the wars.

Yet, as we have noted, Trotter's view of history sometimes forces him to perform somersaults. He can slam Thomas Russell and the nineteenth century bourgeoisie as the greedy racists they so obviously were; but he must also applaud and defend Russell and his ilk, as the unwitting agents of progressive change. The contradiction at the heart of Trotter's thought has led to a great deal of confusion amongst his readers, and perhaps limited his influence on the New Zealand left. Many Kiwi leftists have enjoyed and appreciated Trotter's shrewd analyses of the New Zealand bourgeoisie, and his denunciations of the neo-liberal economic and social policies that have done so much damage to our country over the past quarter century; they are bewildered, and perhaps even offended, though, when they read Trotter attacking Maori activism and tino rangatiratanga in language that might come from the mouth of Don Brash.

Trotter's recent blog post might be read as an attempt to cure the contradiction which has plagued his thought. Entitled 'Apologising for Victory', the piece, which was published in the weekly Independent as well as on Trotter's blog, sets out to prove that the defeat and dispossession of Maori in the nineteenth century was inevitable, even though it was also, in the short-term at least, unjust. If Trotter can prove that there was no possible alternative to Maori losing their sovereignty and much of their land, then he can prove that there is no real contradiction in his view of history. If Maori were doomed to defeat at the hands of Pakeha, and New Zealand was predestined to follow the path it took in the twentieth century, then it makes little sense to rake over the ashes of conflicts like the Waikato War, and to talk about reviving a Maori sovereignty that had became obsolete long ago.

Trotter is hardly the first writer to suggest that nineteenth century Maori suffered a decisive and inevitable defeat at the hands of Pakeha. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century the inevitability of Maori defeat was taken for granted by Pakeha. James Cowan's monumental history of the nineteenth century wars, which was a standard work for decades after its publication in 1922, presents Maori as noble but melancholy savages, who were doomed to lose battles like Rangiriri and Orakau and destined to disappear from Kiwi society as the twentieth century wore on. In recent decades, a series of scholars have challenged Cowan's assumptions. James Belich's book The New Zealand Wars and the Victorian Interpretation of Racial Conflict, for example, examines a number of campaigns and battles, and demonstrates that Maori fighters and organisers frequently performed far better than Cowan and other scholars of his time had allowed. Belich and other 'revisionists' have shown that anti-Maori forces were defeated in important battles, that these reverses prompted panic in colonial governments, and that it was a combination of the presence of large British expeditionary forces and a certain amount of luck which eventually allowed the colonists to prevail.

Contemporary scholars have also exposed the differences between London and governments in Auckland and Wellington over the necessity of the wars against Maori. The Foreign and Colonial Office in London was sometimes less enthusiastic than Auckland and Wellington businessmen and politicians about the prospect of war, and about the dispatching of thousands of British troops to obscure battlefields in the Waikato and Taranaki. Even the British commanders entrusted with prosecuting many of the wars were sometimes less than keen about their task. General Cameron, who led the invasion of the Waikato in 1863, sympathised with his Maori opponents, and tried whenever possible to limit the scope of his army's operations.

Trotter ridicules the idea that the British-appointed governors who prosecuted the wars against Maori might have chosen to honour rather than tear up the Treaty of Waitangi, and insists that any British government which refused to give its full backing to the wars that Russell and co organised would have been thrown out of office by voters. Even if Britain had abandoned Aotearoa to its indigenous inhabitants, Trotter believes that other imperial powers would have descended and launched their own settlement programmes:

Britain’s colonial rivals would never have permitted 268,000 square kilometres of prime real estate, located conveniently in the temperate zone of the Southern Hemisphere, to remain in indigenous hands.

If Britain didn’t have the stomach to rob the Maori of their patrimony, you may be certain that France, Germany, Spain or the United States would have "taken up the White Man’s burden" with alacrity. And while, for Pakeha, a French Nouvelle Zélande may well have been an improvement on Mother England’s (as the recent hit comedy Le Sud wittily confirms) it would still have been a disaster for Maori.

Britain certainly wished to cling to its southernmost colony during the 1860s, but the Old Country's politicians and bureaucrats did not necessarily think that expropriating Maori and enriching Thomas Russell and his cronies was the only way to hold onto New Zealand. In many parts of its empire, Britain was happy to allow indigenous people to retain to much of their land and run most of their own affairs, as long as they relinquished control of strategic assets like ports, large towns and mines, and ritually recognised British sovereignty and superiority. White colonies like Rhodesia, Australia, and New Zealand were the exception, not the rule, in the empire.

In Fiji, one of its most important Pacific possessions, Britain was happy to run a minimalist administration, leaving most land in indigenous hands and letting chiefs run their own villages. New Zealand attempts to flood Fiji with white settlers were frustrated by British administrators in Suva, who were aware of the way Maori were losing their land.

Britain initially chose to underwrite the war against Maori, but by the end of the 1860s it had run out of patience and withdrawn its troops, leaving the government in Wellington unable to press home victories in the Waikato and Taranaki and seize areas like the King Country and southern Taranaki. Even after the formal 'opening' of those areas to Pakeha in the 1880s, a situation that the historians Richard Hill and Mark Derby have called 'dual sovereignty' persisted in many rural areas of the North Island.

Trotter's argument that Britain was inevitably and irrevocably committed to the wars of the Pakeha bourgeoisie is, then, problematic. It is easy to imagine London's pragmatic, penny-pinching bureaucrats refusing to grant requests for troops from their obscure and unprofitable colony before the end of the 1860s, and instead brokering some sort of deal which guaranteed British control over New Zealand ports and other important assets in exchange for Maori control of swathes of the country's hinterland.

Trotter's claim that other colonial powers would have seized New Zealand and inundated it with settlers if Britain withdrew is also problematic. Trotter names Spain, the United States, Germany and France as would-be possessors of New Zealand. In the 1860s, though, Spain was a basket case, the United States was consumed by civil war, and Germany did not even exist as a unified nation, let alone an imperial power. When Germany did eventually colonise parts of the Pacific, it showed little interest in reconstructing these possessions along European lines. German farmers and traders were actively discouraged from settling in Samoa by the colonial dministration there.

Only France might have been expected to colonise a New Zealand abandoned by Britain in the 1860s, and it is by no means certain that the French would have been interested in expropriating Maori and flooding their new colony with large numbers of settlers. The massive redistribution of farmland which occurred during the French revolution meant that French peasants were less likely to want to travel to the other side of the world in search of land than their British cousins.

Trotter downplays the importance of nineteenth century Tonga, which managed to avoid colonisation, by suggesting that the country consisted of little more than a few 'specks of land' in a corner of the vast Pacific. In fact, Tonga was an exceptionally fertile country with two of the best harbours in the Pacific and a highly strategic location at the centre of a great deal of sea traffic. Tonga's King Tupou the first kept his nation's independence by building the institutions of a modern state, including a well-drilled army, and playing rival imperialist powers off against each other. For half a century, the Kingdom of Hawaii was able to perform the same feat.

Tonga and nineteenth century Hawaii offer proof that Polynesian peoples could build their own states, negotiate their own way into the modern world, and resist Western imperialism. On a smaller scale, the Maori King movement which ruled parts of the North Island from the 1850s to the 1880s offers the same lesson. The Kingitanga established a set of institutions and a pan-tribal consciousness that survived military defeat and have persisted to the present day.

The King movement's economic legacy is also important. The Marxist sociologist Dave Bedggood has used the term 'Polynesian mode of production' to describe the hybrid economic system that flourished in the Waikato Kingdom in the 1850s and early 1860s, and which later thrived in the famous mini-state of Parihaka. The inhabitants of the Waikato Kingdom and of Parihaka held and worked their land in common, but exported their products to Pakeha capitalist enclaves like Auckland. They thus participated in the capitalist economy without sacrificing traditional forms of social organisation. The mills that dotted the Waikato and the Maori-owned schooners that arrived in Auckland and other cities laden with fruit and vegetables testified to the success of the Kingitanga's socialistic economic system.

Perhaps the weakest part of 'Apologising for Victory' is Trotter's attempt to attribute the 'Maori renaissance' of recent decades to the machinations of a few Pakeha intellectuals who have gone 'soft', become 'revisionists', and decided to divide Kiwis along racial lines. In truth, it is Maori themselves who have been behind land rights marches, the language revival movement, the campaign for kohanga reo, the protests against the confiscation of the seabed and foreshore, and the many other political and cultural aspects of the Maori renaissance. Contrary to Trotter's suggestions, Maori were never 'assimilated' into a 'united' New Zealand in the twentieth century: they held on to their history, to their marae, and to important parcels of land. Even if the King movement and other expressions of the desire for tino rangatiratanga were defeated militarily in the nineteenth century, they left enough of a legacy to ensure the reemergence of Maori as a major force in New Zealand society in the last quarter of the twentieth century.

It seems to me that Chris Trotter has failed to demonstrate either the inevitability or the ultimately progressive nature of the defeats that Maori suffered in the nineteenth century. The contradiction at the heart of his thought remains unresolved. Instead of trying to turn history into teleology, Chris might consider abandoning the rather Eurocentric vision of socialism held by his Second International forebears, and instead investigating Marx's late, wonderfully open-minded, determinedly anti-imperialist writings. Chris may discover that the sort of socialism that Marx advocated for 'undeveloped' countries like nineteenth century Russia has a great deal in common with the Polynesian mode of production pioneered by the King movement in the Waikato a century and a half ago.