Garrett flunks history, again
Garrett, though, has always considered himself as a rare and important thinker. With a self-confidence which is almost touching, he has for years now been producing letters to editors, op-ed articles, and blog posts that offer his views on subjects as differently abstruse as Polynesian horticulture, the evolution of New Zealand's constitution, and the demographics of 1970s India.
Garrett was forced to resign from parliament last year, after a dissident faction of Act let the media know that their party's fire and brimstone law and order spokesman had a carefully-hidden conviction for identity theft. The media gleefully spread the news, and Garrett's political opponents solemnly pronounced him unfit for public office. Garrett's crime was bizarre - he scoured a graveyard for the stone of a deceased child, stole the child's name and then used it to gain a passport - but it seemed to me no stranger and no more sinister than some of the writing he has exposed to public scrutiny over the years.
Back in 2007 I criticised an opinion piece Garrett had written for the New Zealand Herald about Tuhoe history and the iwi's desire for autonomy. Garrett's article blamed economic underdevelopment in Tuhoe Country on Maori indolence and incompetence, and mocked the notion of a Tuhoe nation or autonomous region. For all the confidence of his prose, Garrett seemed unaware of the long history of Tuhoe self-determination in the nineteenth century, and of the willingness of Dick Seddon's Liberal government to acknowledge this autonomy early in the twentieth century. Garrett also seemed unaware of the long history of attempts by Pakeha governments to block economic development in Tuhoe Country - of the refusal to build roads into the Ureweras, despite Tuhoe offers of land and labour for that purpose, of the refusal to fund schools and other services properly, and of the locking up of Maori land in parks created by Wellington bureaucrats.
Last year, in one of a series of blog posts and comments which argued for a state-funded sterilisation programme to be established in New Zealand, Garrett hailed the eugenicist policies of the Indira-Sanjay Gandhi dictatorship which ruled India in the mid-70s.
As I noted in a reply to Garrett, the 'voluntary' sterilisation programme run by Sanjay Gandhi was actually aimed aggressively at lower caste Hindus, Muslims, and political enemies of the Gandhi dictatorship. EP Thompson, who travelled through India during the last months of the dictatorship, described 'operating vans' speeding through the streets of the cities; when the vans stopped, young men were bundled aboard them and vasectomised, whatever their protests.
Indians still remember and despise their government's crude attempt at population control, but Garrett pronounced it a 'success', and suggested it could be replicated in New Zealand.
Public disgrace and departure from parliament have not diminished Garrett's desire to share his political and historical insights with his fellow Kiwis. Just a few days ago Garrett left a series of comments at the right-wing Kiwiblog website. Garrett used Kiwiblog to warn of the danger of 'Maori thugs' taking control of New Zealand's beaches, and to criticise Green Party MPs like Catherine Delahunty and David Clendon for their excessive sympathy to Maori culture.
Garrett decided to garnish one of his contributions to Kiwiblog with a little historical allusion:
Delahunty is an reconstructed communist of the worst kind, and Clendon is one of those clowns who wishes they had 50% instead of 5% Maori blood…as an aside, when mad Delahunty sprinkes her speeches with te reo, Hone [Harawira] could hardly conceal the contempt and derision on his face…he quite clearly regards the Greens as the same kind of useful idiots Lenin thought trade unionists were….
When he praised the Gandhi regime's sterilisation programme Garrett was at least discussing a real historical event. When he tries to drag Lenin into his diatribe against Maori, though, Garrett is using a completely false quote.
There is a myth, which has its origins in the frosty early years of the Cold War, which holds that Lenin referred to Western supporters of his Bolshevik revolution as 'useful idiots'. The phrase is supposed to illustrate Lenin's ruthless cynicism: it suggests that the Bolshevik leader would take support, whether in the form of favourable propaganda or cash, from left-wingers living abroad, but would be happy to thrown these kind souls into a gulag if they were ever foolish enough to settle in the new society he was building.
Yet the phrase 'useful idiots' appears nowhere in the fifty-odd volumes of Lenin's essays, articles, pamphlets, speeches, and marginalia. The phrase appears, instead, in They Never Said It, a collection of 'fake quotes, misquotes, and misleading attributions' edited by Paul Boller and John George.
David Garrett's latest historical howler is in some respects doubly impressive. He has not only used a well-known fabricated quote, but he has managed to depart from the normal interpretation of that quote, by claiming that Lenin was referring to trade unionists rather than to foreign sympathisers. Garrett not only can't get his facts straight - he can't even, it seems, lie competently.