Hone should be complemented, not condemned
Over at Bowalley Road, Chris Trotter has pointed out that Hone's oath reflects his commitment to a 'bi-cultural Aotearoan republic'. Chris' sympathy for Harawira, in this and several other recent posts, has agitated some of his left-leaning readers.
A number of these readers have argued that Hone's support for the Maori version of the Treaty is inherently anti-democratic, because the Maori version of the document promises to protect the autonomy of chiefs. Here's how one dissident explained his preference for the English version of the Treaty, which he interprets as placing Maori under the control of the British Crown:
[M]any Maori and most Pakeha (myself again included) would object to Te Tiriti's reactionary, feudal principle of Tino rangatiratanga being imposed on us. Amongst other things, this would be an assault on our most precious Taonga as equal members of the human species, a principle for which a very large number of New Zealanders have laid down their lives. Our constitutional monarchy, whilst also obviously reactionary and feudal in form, provides us, in practice, with a reasonably effective way of fudging the harsh choices that a republic would force on us.
The view of New Zealand history encapsulated in this comment seems to me extraordinarily sanguine. It is no good citing the words about equal rights in the English version of the Treaty of Waitangi as though these words alone proved that, despite certain regrettable errors and a few unpleasant incidents, Maori and Pakeha have generally lived happily and harmoniously together since 1840.
The historical record contradicts such a whiggish narrative of progress. All too often, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries alike, Maori were offered the 'right' to assimilate completely to Pakeha culture, and to give up their land. If they did not gratefully accept this 'right', then they were held to be enemies of British values, and were regarded with contempt. (There are numerous nineteenth century examples of newspaper editorialists and mainstream politicians advocating the physical extermination of the Maori, on the grounds that they had failed to assimilate to British civilisation.)
Just as it is wrong to assume that the universalist language of the English version of the Treaty automatically implies something progressive, so it is a mistake to assume that the reference to chiefly autonomy in the Maori version of the Treaty means that every advocate of tino rangatiratanga is a proponent of 'feudalism'.
Tino rangatiratanga may well have implied chiefly abuses of power in 1840, at the tail-end of the Musket Wars, but one hundred and seventy years of thought and action have surely given us a variety of ways of interpeting the term. It is hard to imagine Wiremu Tamihana or Eva Rickard or Hone Tuwhare as an enemy of democracy, and Hone Harawira is not a twenty-first century incarnation of Hongi Hika.
It's not only at Bowalley Road that leftists are dissenting from Mana's Maori nationalist agenda. Oliver Woods, who was a leader of the RAM Party, which contested the 2008 election on a left-wing platform, has made his lack of enthusiasm for Hone's new organisation clear:
The unionists and working class activists...are biting their lips and hoping that on top of the very Maori nationalist focused identity of the party, there will be socialist policies. Those who felt let down by the Maori Party, I suspect, should get ready to experience that same emotion once more. Hone Harawira is going in to this election wanting to ruin the Maori Party, which booted him out...Mana is a revenge vehicle to take over the electoral territory of his former bosses. Its primary lens is race...
This year Woods is giving his vote to Winston Peters' New Zealand First Party, which has been one of the most vociferous critics of Hone Harawira and his new organisation.
But Hone's dream of a binational 'Aotearoan republic' is not, as Oliver Woods and the dissidents at Bowalley Road suggest, something foreign to the left. Socialists ought to be able to agree with Hone that the state, far from being some natural, neutral, historically inevitable entity, is the outcome of a series of often quite violent struggles, and tends to represent the interests of the victors of those struggles.
The New Zealand state was crafted by a settler capitalist elite in the midst of sometimes desperate battles against Maori nationalists like Tawhiao and Te Kooti, and was later refined to deal with challenges from organised labour like the Great Strike of 1913 and the Waterfront Lockout of 1951.
Not surprisingly, given the characteristics of the people who made it, the New Zealand state is rigged to act against the interests of both Maori and organised labour. The state was on the wrong side of picket lines in 1913 and 1951, and on the wrong side of the barricades at Bastion Point.
And it's not only at times of political crisis that the state shows its essential character. The contempt with which the victims of the Pike River disaster and their families have been treated over the past eight months shows up some of the institutionalised power imbalances in our society. Grieving families wanted a sustained effort to recover the miners' remains from Pike River, but the property rights and lobbying power of the mine's owners trumped their feelings. The miners' union wanted to be part of the initial response the disaster, but the police froze them out. The committee set up to inquire into the cause of the disaster includes representatives of mining companies, but not a single trade unionist.
Hone's stunt in parliament last week was an attempt to draw attention to the fact that the New Zealand state has a pronounced ethnic-national character, and to promote the idea of a binational rather than a Pakeha-chauvinist state. But the oath Hone tried to swear included a reference to 'the dispossessed' of New Zealand as well as to The Treaty, and this phrase can be seen as his nod and wink to the socialists and trade unionists who have rallied round his new party.
Socialists should take Hone's hint, and complement his call for the reorganisation of the New Zealand state on binational lines with their own proposals for a fundamental change in the class character of that state. We should argue that
the reform of the anti-Maori features of the New Zealand state will mean nothing if it is not accompanied by the empowerment of 'the dispossessed'.
The sad story of the Maori Party shows what happens when the quest for tino rangatiratanga is divorced from the politics of the left. After asserting that class politics have nothing to do with Maori advancement, Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples have led their party into an alliance with National and Act. A party supported by the poorest section of the Kiwi population has voted for budgets which cut taxes for the rich and slashed spending on community education. The Maori Party's hammering in the recent Te Tai Tokerau byelection was inevitable and well-deserved.
On the other hand, the victories won in recent years by both indigenous peoples and organised labour in Venezuela and Bolivia show that national liberation movements and class politics can cohere powerfully.
In Venezuela, indigenous tribes and workers' and peasants' groups have staged hundreds of occupations of idle land held by multinational companies, and much of the occupied land has become their property, as the state has been pressured into creating institutions which prioritise the needs of people over capital. Indigenous groups have been allowed to set up their own governments, and peasants have set up cooperatives and, sometimes, collective farms on their new territory. Urban workers threatened with job losses have learned from the example of the countryside and taken over hundreds of businesses. In Bolivia similar events are occurring, as the indigenous majority asserts itself after centuries of marginalisation. Drawing on New Zealand traditions like Te Kauhanganui, and perhaps also on recent events in Bolivia and Venezuela, Hone has called for the establishment of a parliament to represent the Maori nation. Like Hone's abortive oath last week, this proposal is an unabashed challenge to the uninational character of the present New Zealand state.
Why don't socialists complement Hone's call for a Maori parliament with a call for a workers' assembly? We could argue that, like Maori, workers are neglected by the existing parliament, and that workers' interests need to be championed by an independent body elected through organisations like the unions.
Like Hone's call for a Maori parliament, the demand for a workers' assembly has no chance of being granted in the current political climate. The demand might well, however, stimulate discussion about the class nature of the New Zealand state, the institutionalised discrimination against organised labour, and the parallels between Maori nationalist and socialist politics. It might enrich and enliven the political discussions Hone and his new party have already prompted. It would certainly make a good deal more sense than Oliver Woods' endorsement of Winston Peters.
Footnote: in the original version of this post I wrongly identified a 'Victor' who had made several negative comments about Hone at Bowalley Road with the trade unionist and former Alliance co-leader Victor Billot. My apologies to comrade Billot: as someone who has often been mistaken, on the basis of my name, for an ice skater or a jazz saxophonist with a cheesey moustache, I ought to have been more wary about jumping to conclusions. Thanks to Bryce Edwards for pointing out my blunder.