Thursday, January 31, 2008

Bernard Gadd's quest for security

Yesterday I blogged about the Quest for Security crew and their apparent nostalgia for the 'old New Zealand' of the postwar 'golden years'. Nostalgia can prompt some fine poetry, but if it is translated into politics then it soon throws up all sorts of problems. I think that the last years of Bernard Gadd, the poet, educationalist, and longtime political activist who died recently - I've just been reading the obituary at Jack Ross' blog - show up this danger.

Gadd was in many ways a tragic figure. He came from a staunchly left-wing family, lived most of his life in working class South Auckland, and always tried to combine his commitment to writing with a commitment to political activism. Gadd was involved in many flagship left-wing campaigns, like the movements against the Vietnam War and apartheid, and in the '70s and '80s he wrote and published a series of pioneering books about Polynesian history for schoolchildren. He even wrote the first-ever novel about Moriori life. In the 1980s and '90s, Gadd was an energetic opponent of the neo-liberal 'reforms' that blighted his community and others like it around the country.

In the last twenty years of his life, though, Gadd became an increasingly bitter figure, notorious for his attacks on biculturalism, the Treaty of Waitangi, and the nebulous conspiracies of 'political correctness'. Often Gadd's polemics against these scourges would look back nostalgically to New Zealand 'as it used to be', before the wrong turn of the '80s.

It seemed, to me at least, that Gadd's hatred of the new 'identity politics' that had emerged in the '70s and '80s came from the same place as his hatred of neo-liberalism. Gadd thought that Maori and other 'politically correct minorities' were dividing the Kiwi working class with their talk of historic grievances and ongoing oppression. Why couldn't we go back to the '50s, when there was never any of this sort of strife? Gadd's views are not unique, of course: Chris Trotter has been broadcasting the same ideas to much larger audiences for years now.

I only realised the extent of Gadd's disaffection a couple of years ago, when I became editor of the literary journal brief. I suggested to Gadd, who was an inveterate submitter of manuscripts to the journal, that he send me an essay about contemporary Maori culture, and its relationship to the resurgence of Maori nationalism. A couple of days later, a manuscript arrived. I was expecting that Gadd would kickstart a lively but comradely debate, but the bitterness of his essay, and the fact that it was couched in pseudo-Marxist jargon, dismayed me. I was also amazed that Bernard, who had researched the history of the Chatham Islands for his 1987 children's novel Dare not Fail, would be shameless enough to deploy the myth of the Moriori as a pre-Maori people in his polemic.

I thought, and still think, that Gadd's vision of nineteenth century history, in which a super-efficient British capitalism overwhelmed a static, backward Maori society, was based on an ignorance of the achievements of the market gardening economy that was thriving in Maori-controlled parts of the North Island before the Waikato War began.

Gadd also seems blissfully unaware of the decades of economic stagnation that followed the dispossession of Maori in many areas, as the parasitic profiteers who had demanded the invasion of the Waikato failed utterly to use vast stretches of conquered land, and Pakeha soldiers-turned-yeomen were forced by debts and a lack of markets to walk off their plots. I grew up near the remains of Peach Hill, a postwar community of small farmers that completely collapsed a decade or so after being founded on land confiscated from Maori.

At a deeper level, I dislike Gadd's theory of history, which assumes that 'superior' societies must devour 'inferior' societies, until ruthless capitalist expansion mysteriously transmogrifies into beneficent socialism. Gadd's iron law of 'progress' can easily be used to justify the genocide of American Indians and Australian Aborigines, not to mention the conquest of 'backward' Iraq by 'advanced' America.

I decided that Gadd's essay would need to be accompanied with a reply, but I never got around to either writing or soliciting one. I'm going to post it here, so that readers can decide for themselves whether my comments about Gadd's politics are fair. Long-suffering readers of this blog will know that I've written repeatedly against the use of Marxist concepts to justify colonisation and the destruction of the cultures of indigenous peoples; if you need a rejoinder to Gadd's caricature of Marx as a cynical imperialist, then you can try this essay.

In his tribute to Gadd, Jack Ross talks of the man's feistiness, and his belief that 'Opposition is true friendship'. I'm sure, then, that Bernard wouldn't mind a bit of posthumous polemic!

A culture of history

New Zealand’s New Age of Post-Modernist culture in which slogans and assertions are intellectual currency brighter than logic, reason, fact, or debate has arrived. Discussion of the history of relations between Maori and the New Zealand state offers a striking paradigm of fashionable simple-mindedness. The assumption of control of these islands by the British is continually presented as a narrative of imperialistic culture clash in which brute power invaded a Rousseauean Eden. Indeed it’s become a slogan of Rightist politics that cultures will clash, a dogma ignoring several thousand years of cultural, language, religious coexistence with contests only when something arouses competition between sections of people. Not even imperialism in the sense of a take-over of territory and peoples necessarily arouses resistance.

If we take note of the suggestions of Marx and Engels (whose intellectually provocative ideas the New Age thrusts aside) to look at how a society makes its living in order to gain a clearer view of how that society functions and what its persistent features are, we are more likely to decide that 19th century New Zealand saw a contest of economic or productive systems. The more effective won out, installing its own institutions and society.

The early 19th century Maori economy was of miniscule social groups trying for self-sufficiency. The system was inefficient, constant conflict prevented anything as cohesive as a society being erected on the foundation of the production system, and famine was its familiar:

and today a rangatira
butchered a boy of six years
not a child a slave
starving in a general famine
who stole from his possessor’s kete
the woman’s father struck
with his hatchet the little head
but failed in killing
so tied a rock about the neck
and flung him in a pool …

it’s said the food perhaps
was tapu

[The missionary attends a little dying]

Even when a few hapu later became something like peasant farmers, they had no way of creating sufficient capital to reshape productive capacity to feed the burgeoning total population of New Zealand, let alone to afford necessary infrastructure for distribution or export. The predilection of Maori leaders for holding onto land to allow old ways to linger helped no-one, and right up into the 1880s various hapu were trying to sustain or improve their productive capabilities at the direct expense of rivals, rather than through thorough-going innovation:

which rangatira to follow?
whose karakia to believe?
which greed grip to fear least?
which victories, retreats,
deaths shall light us


The Treaty of Waitangi has been completely recreated by lawyers ignorant of history and how to study it, and by politicians careless of those issues. Instead of an instrument intended to soften inevitable effects of British possession on indigenes in the war zone that was New Zealand, the Treaty has been transformed into a formal agreement for partnership in government between rangatira and the Crown, a notion inconceivable to either side in the 1840s and of no relevance in the democratic ethnically pluralistic 21st century. Of course a treaty of any sort suited well the purposes of Maori groups whose possession of lands was in 1840 comparatively recent:

the treaty tribes:
old scribbles
of land courts
and tribunal reliance
on the tales of people
whose ancestors came upon us
barely before the pakeha

[forerunners: Moriori and so many more]

The civil wars of the 1860s were our version of enclosures, carried out with the same zeal, ruthlessness, efficiency, and indifference to the suffering of those evicted from their homes and lands. And yet, as Engels and Marx insisted, we can never understand the past and its effects on us if we don’t attempt to see it as it actually was. The enclosures of Britain and the transfers of land in New Zealand enabled capitalism to develop. And without that nothing now would be worth lamenting losing, save for claims of cultural attachment to various parts of the landscape.
Following the wars some of the losers showed themselves attentive students of change:

& afterwards Titokowaru
ebulliently priced
for pastoralists
the bushels
of his cocksfoot seed

[pastoral idyll]

Of course the effects on those who lost primary resources and on those who gained them are plain yet:

this time the red’s not
imperial Brits
only the people with maybe no
phone car job house
of their own
spills across
the places of the iwi …
and the roller-door-store
city blocks
around them the paddocks
tipuna owned
glow page upon page
with the emerald show
of wealth

[the atlas of deprivation, 2001]

It’s literary cliché in many societies that the world’s best inducers of guilt are mothers. They have been supplanted by a host of indigenous leaders whose skills at inducing in millions of middle-class descendants of settlers a sense of shame at the successes of capitalism and a conviction that present and future generations ought to pay indigene-geld to whoever’s forebears lost the economic competition to provide fruitfully for the nation.

At the very same time, the compensation and guilt hucksters are fervent not only for capitalism but for its positively 19th century reincarnation as a financially imperialistic global free market. I dare say Marx and Engels would have approved, pointing out that such people have aligned themselves with the dominant trends of modern capitalism, have flowed with the economic and fiscal tides. And would have nodded to see the tenuous 19th century iwi become capitalistic corporate entities and creating an entire contemporary warrior class of lawyers, entrepreneurs, politicians, consultants, and public relations gurus.

What the pair might have queried was the whereabouts today of indigenous and other organisations expressing both the frustrations of those exploited by the capitalists and a determination to make a new, improved, fairer productive system for New Zealand which enhances our humanness. I doubt if they’d be impressed by what they’d see instead: a Romantic desire to meander again in the days before the pakeha or in some imagined pre-capitalist Avalon (but with steel, stoves, cell-phones). And they’d be asking where are the writers, artists, musicians enthusiastic for the fact that any economic system is always the author of its incipient replacement ... though they’d recognise plenty of well rewarded writers and the rest whose works show no interest in any such conception:

a literary icon I’ll be
and seekers of fame’ll emulate me
and spend quite a while
in business-like style
extolling their works for a fee


Bernard Gadd


Blogger Oliver Woods said...

I always wonder how many dedicated followers of identity politics, Marxists, neo-liberals or any other dedicated followers of an ideology have read and understood 'Coming Up For Air' by George Orwell.

I feel for Gadd - and in many ways, I can fully understand with why he came to hold such unfortunate views on the myth of political correctness and the Treaty settlement process.

After all, it was the social liberals who have so staunchly defended both the libertarian revolution and the settlement of long-standing violations of the Treaty of Waitangi (and our move toward a multicultural society).

It is just unfortunate that Gadd's frustrations boiled over at the Maori rights movement that were only gaining influence in the 80s and 90s because of positive social progress, not because they allied with neo-liberals but because arguably the neo-liberals had driven them to finally fight for their own rights.

Let's not forget that (your blog being no exception) there is such a thing as the converse of nostalgia.

May he rest in peace.

11:39 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

This thing by Bernad Gadd seems pretty muddled. Reading it quickly it doesn't seem clear what
Gadd wanted. Did he like Maori - was he a racist and a mediocre poet - or did his poetry have some merit? What's this about Moriori - when I said I supported [the fact that there were] "crank" theories I assumed that the cranks in question were relatively uneducated - Gadd was educated - the Moriori did not precede Maori.

Reading what he has here -it seems to me he was simulaneaously for Maori, against Maori, for Capitalism, against it also, for progress, against progress of certain kinds, for x but against y, against iwi and tribes, for and against various ill-defined and abstract (fuzzy) ideas and slogans, but sees that the tribes referred to they were "ripped off" (but did he mean they were all cutting heads off and killing children so they deserved to be slaughtered?), not sure... it is almost as if, in his love and hatred of Maori and liberals and capitalism, he was kind of homogeneously schizophrenic - his poetry (in flashes is good - almost) (but overall it is not very good!) - but what he is or was saying here is beyond me...

Good thing you didn't publish him Maps - he sounds simply bitter, adn his bitterness and rancour probably stopped up or prevented his creative gifts...

I have to agree with you assessment of Gadd. He sounds like a crackpot.

But while Bernad Gadd is dead - I am alive - I am a great (living) and unbitter poet (which means I can get way with muddled thinking - unlike Comrade Gadd - deceased or not!!(it also helps to be alive!) ) - but more importantly it is my birthday tommorrow!! (well today - I was born 2 /2/48)

12:39 am  
Blogger Richard said...

Maybe I was wrong - maybe he should have been published in Brief - what I said yesterday looks rather harsh now...hmmm...

I have a comment on Gadd on Jack's Blog - The Imaginary Museum.
I reviewed some of his work - it had great possibility but he failed to clinch it I feel...

It is hard to get this mix of polemic and poetry right - whatever Gadd's views (for a writer the views may not matter - contra to a philosopher or a politician perhaps) - we are all subject to bouts of crankiness - he seemed to be struggling with form - maybe I am wrong maybe he was better than we thought....his forte was, or his main interest seemed to be, the Haiku or the Haibun etc

11:05 pm  
Blogger Dave Brown said...

Rather good I thought.
No stifling romanticism.
Looking reality in the face.
He's right to say that Maori society had no future without capitalism, a point that 99% of Maori would share today.
He's right to say that capitalism has no post-modern future without the artists and writers working for socialism, a point that 99% do not yet share.
So let's get on with it!
He is looking at dead ends, and his death lends weight to it.

9:53 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gadd - an assimilationist in left-wing disguise. There are a few of them around. Yes, some of use Marxist gobbledygook to disguise their racism. If Gadd was alive I'd ask him, Bernard, m'boy, if biculaturalism is bad, what do you want in its place, MONOCULTURALISM? EH?

It would be fun to watch Hone Tuwhare debate Bernard Gadd.


10:45 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

I used to think this "no future" without capitalism - the whole romantic "progress thing" - but am dubious ...postmodernism has been breath of fresh and decadent air into literature and other areas - it allows some flexibility from rigid logicians or "iron progressives" - who are sometimes almost fascist in their insistence on "logic" - but - the trouble is that postmodernism can lead to kind of detachment or "heartlessness" - I don't think postmodernism is a problem in itself - or any other "ism" -it is European attitudes towards Maori and others not of our culture - I actually feel nowadays that Maori were in many ways better and as advanced as we ever were or ever will be prior to any contact with the Europeans...our wonderful civilisation had perhaps only the seeds of decay and death...but all these views are subjective.

It seems for me impossible to remain a poet or an individual and be very consistently logical in political views - "politics" is in many ways too confining... I want to breathe!! After all - "sub specie aeternitatis - this will all pass - whatever we do or say.

But I will have a completely different view of things tomorrow probably!

Perhaps Comrade Gadd felt thus beseiged...and he lost his gaddinness!! His joie de gaudde!!!

So many dying these days - strangely I was only really affected by the death of Fischer the great American Chess player and extraordinary genius - even started a poem in praise (or excitement etc) of him - and a critique also - a strange and greatly misunderstood figure he was - but a giant with immense abilities...Hillary only climbed a mountain.

Tuwhare wrote on the side of the railway wagons as I did...I believe he was pretty partial to the odd drop of the sacred ichor was old Hone...

1:19 am  
Blogger maps said...

Gadd was a fierce opponent of the right-wingers who used the notorious 'TINA' (there is no alternative) argument argument to justify their 'reforms' in the '80s and '90s. He contested their claims that the choice Kiwis faced in that period was either the crisis-ridden society Muldoon presided over or the ruthless 'modernisation' represented by Rogernomics.

Of course, there were numerous areas of New Zealand society and the New Zealand economy which needed to change after voters tossed Muldoon out - but there was an alternative to what the Rogernomes practiced. I think all of us are agreed on that point.

Gadd's essay is, I think, a tragic document because it applies the false dichotomy and straw man arguments of the neo-liberals he despised to 19th century New Zealand history.

Gadd wants us to choose between pre-contact Maori society, on the one hand, and British imperialism, on the other. He makes imperialism synonnymous with development. If you don't accept the enclosure of Maori land and the imposition of British capitalism and culture then, according to Gadd, you are some hopeless Romantic who wants to go and live in an idealised bush Eden.

Gadd makes his highly simplistic opposition between imperialism-progress and anti-imperialism-backwardness into a prism through which he views 19th century New Zealand history. And, because his starting assumption is radically wrong, all his statements about he particulars of 19th century New Zealand history are also way off the mark.

Gadd does make a couple of asides acknowledging the brutal nature of imperialism, but he nonetheless regards it as inevitable and 'objectively' progressive. I'm very sorry, he says, but one can't make an omlete without breaking a few eggs.

But the truth is that, just as there were different and better ways of modernising New Zealand's economy and reforming its society in the '80s and '90s, so there were far better ways of modernising Maori society in the 19th century.
Imperialism 'modernised' Maori by killing 80% of them, taking swathes of their land, and driving them to the margins of the economy.

Just as the young Marx was wrong when he predicted British imperialism would modernise Indian society by bringing economic growth, so Gadd is wrong to think that imperialism modernised Maori society.

Before the wars of the 1860s-70s, Maori had been controlling the process of modernisation. Gadd claims that they were incapable of feeding the country on the land they owned, and that therefore, according to the 'iron laws of history' that Marx himself came to reject totally, Maori had to be expropriated by the British.

Gadd can't explain why in the early 1860s a market gardening economy was booming in the Waikato Kingdom, and feeding frustrated would-be settlers in Auckland and other Pakeha-dominated parts of the North Island. He can't explain why flour mills were going up everywhere, and
Maori were buying their own fleets of ships to deliver exports not only to Auckland but to Sydney.

The same sort of phenomenon was observed, on a smaller scale, in Parihaka in the 1870s and early 1880s. Parihaka, which even had street lighting before Wellington, was the envy of the settlers on adjoining lands. They looted the place when it was finally invaded by Crown forces.

Imperialism acted as a break on Maori development, as I noted in an article on the history of Tuhoe attempts to develop their resources in the face of alternating periods of neglect and sabotage from the state:

If Maori had been able to continue to develop the economic model represented by the Waikato and Parihaka, then they would have had been able to modernise under their own terms, adopting what they wanted from the rest of the world without being subjected to the sort of assimilation that was a feature of New Zealand state policy from the 1860s to the 1970s.

A lot of the pseudo-historians who claim that Celts or Chinese or little green men got here before Maori argue that aspects of Maori culture like carving and tattooing must have been taken over from earlier, superior civilisation. They can't see how Maori could possibly have produced such cultural treasures. Of course, their incredulity is based on racism. In much the same way, Gadd's refusal to believe that Maori could possibly have handled the process of doernisation without conquest and assimilation smacks of the same racist attitude.

8:41 am  
Blogger Richard said...

Maps - this is pretty much on the nail - I feel for Bernard - he had ability and we should respect each other - some of my remarks were a bit dismissive - this damn heat! - I don't think he was a racist (you don't say that, I know) the racism he inherited (not extreme) we all take on board to some degree - we almost all - as Europeans*

By that I mean we need to be "self-critical" - in sport - it has to be said we are simply - for example - not as good as Australia - history shows that (not that such a fact matters to me!).

Your point (points) is (are) good - when starting on some polemic as Gadd did - one needs to be aware of the provisional nature of one's first premises - everything has to be - "If we can assume...then this follows...NOT ...this follows because this WAS said or this is true...etc...")otherwise the whole argument becomes a hopeless mess -
each historian -and we are all such - has to acknowledge his /her subjective perspective -

Even Sinclair pointed out this side of NZ History - that the Maori provided huge amounts of food and provisions to Auckland and so on - and indeed they had shipping companies.

I see there is more on your latest post - cheers -

Richard the Mad.

*[(in fact all peoples seem to have a 'Me-or MY Country O-Centric Fixation' - Joyce stayed "for Ireland" (but out of it!! He literally feared would meet Parnell's fate - have lime thrown in his eyes ...not so silly considering the huge trouble he had with his own eyes and the craziness of the times) - and he was one of Ireland's biggest critics... a critic may be criticising from the point of view of wanting positive change is my point... ]

3:44 pm  
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