Sunday, February 10, 2008

Hone vs Hillary

Here's an article on two recently deceased Kiwis (relax, Mr Devlin and co, neither of them was named Bernard Gadd) which Dave Bedggood has written for the next issue of Class Struggle, together with a response from Richard Taylor. Tell them what you think in the comments box. I haven't got time today, but I'll post my ten cents' worth about Hone and Hillary later in the week.

Who's a national hero then?

The one who famously "knocked off" Mt Everest and then spent the rest of his life 'nation building' in New Zealand, India and Nepal?

What about the other bloke, the boiler maker who, joined the Communist Party and wrote great working class poetry for fifty years?

When he died, Hillary got special newspaper supplements and dedicated programs on TV and Radio, and a state funeral. Tuwhare got a few articles and notices in the media and a special mention from the PM who loves 'the Arts'. But middle NZ did not queue in their thousands to be photographed viewing his coffin.

It says something sad about New Zealand that ordinary people invested such value in the humble beekeeper as their examplar of New Zealand before sport was mixed with politics and international brands.

What they forget is that in his day Hillary was sponsored by the British Empire. He played the role of the Kiwi colonial who scaled Everest 5 years after India's independence to become an instant Knight of the Garter. He was the handsome poster-boy for the British way of life even while he seemed to thumb his nose at it.

The humble bee-keeper became the model of the 'better Brit" in New Zealand. Such national pride when he beat the Brits at their own game and stole a march to the South Pole in his converted farm tractors. He converted the sponsors when he went to look for the 'Yeti' in the upper Ganges. His national fame wasn’t the celebrity of personal gain but selfless sacrifice. That’s why the Sherpas made him a God.

In New Zealand Hillary had to be a God too as he straddled an ever-widening social crevasse. On the one side the working class, on the other the ruling class.

He projected on the world stage the Labour Party ideology of 'nation building'. But this Labourist ideal was always utopian. New Zealand has not de-colonised, has not settled the Treaty grievances and land loss, still has the British Queen as head of state, and the SAS troops in Afghanistan kill freedom fighters on behalf of US imperialism.

Any embodiment of this impossible dream in the life of one man has to fail. We can understand why this must be so by looking at the life of the 'other' hero, Hone Tuwhare.

Tuwhare is the 'other' hero, a Maori in Aotearoa, the working class poet, who gives the rude ‘up yours’ to Labour's nationalist fantasy. Unlike the Nepalese, who survive as an independent Kingdom, his Ngapuhi iwi, has lost most of its land and some of its mountains. There are no Hillarys patronising this rural poverty.

Tuwhare does not leave his farm to climb mountains in other countries. He is separated from his mountain by empire and does not subscribe to the myths of de-colonisation. He trains as a boilermaker in NZ Railways and joins the Communist Party. He joins the movement for Maori self determination in the land march of 1975.

He rails against racism in NZ and South Africa. He sides with workers against the classless utopia. He takes his poetry into the factories, schools and the pubs. He leaves the Communist Party because he objects to the Red army invading Hungary in 1956. He rejoins and travels to China, and is expelled for some breach of Stalinist 'discipline'.

In one of his better-known poems, he laments the Maori figure standing in the gully at the bottom of Queen St and not beside Micky Savage on Bastion Point commanding the view of the Waitemata out to the Pacific. He rubs the nose of the prudish patriarchy in his raw sexuality. His is an art of insidious cultural resistance and his audience is the mass of workers who instinctively respond to his rude, honest, full-on fingering of capitalism.

That is the heroic difference; Maori self determination and the working class life disrespectful of bourgeois pieties, the cult of the individual, and the myths of national unity and international social welfare.

The working class heroes are those who fight the battles of workers and who sing the praises of workers. The bourgeois heroes are those who glorify the self-important citizen of ANZAC, defender of empire, the modern missionaries and standard bearers of barbarous ‘civilisation’. Hillary is a 'national hero' because he stands astride the class divide of the bourgeois nation and injects some humanity into the alienated individual in capitalist society.

Tuwhare is the working class hero because he puts a fist up to strike such myths and lies and reveals the true ideas and repressed feelings at the heart of existence. Centuries after the statues of Hilary have been drowned by the sea, the words and gestures of Tuwhare will live on.

Richard Taylor responds:

Excellently put. It puts in words my own feelings. I was annoyed that relatively little attention was payed to the death of a great poet and a member of the working class as against the rather conventional Hillary. Tuwhare is a working class hero and a hero (or perhaps a model or an inspiration) to young Maori (or young others - to anyone) and others in New Zealand - that he was socialist or a communist should not be downplayed by nervous or "politically correct" academics...

I never met Hillary - I have no doubt he was a great and decent fellow, albeit one who overdid the "White Man's burden" role. But I met Hone - he was a great character - we both worked - at different times - in the Otahuhu Railway Workshops. I also worked in many places similar to Hone - in other words with workers - and I protested the Vietnam War, Apartheid (when I was batoned in the face) along with him.

Once I read poem i used to perfom to him and he listened politely - and then gave a great belly laugh - which was OK. Different poets and cultures, but still we had much in common...I remember Hone reading a poem about the statue of the Maori warrior at university in 1991 or so, when I was there as an adult student. He was well received. I am reading his poetry just now.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did Hone ever repudiate communism?
Was he in the Maori Party when he died?

12:31 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is it fair to call the Taliban 'freedom fighters'?

3:15 pm  
Blogger Dave Brown said...

Taliban fighting for national freedom against US and NATO imperialists? Yes. Because imperialism is the main enemy.

Freedom fighters for gender equality? No.

The Taliban came into existence in opposition to the Soviet occupation and Soviet backed regime in the 1980s, supported by the US.

In this period I would not call them freedom fighters as they were a proxy for the US in its hot/cold war against the USSR which in my view was not imperialist.

While I support them against NATO, they are not to be trusted as sooner of later they will do a deal with NATO at the expense of the Afghan people. Only a revolutionary mass movement of the workers and peasants can truly free Afghanistan from imperialism.

Such prospects may seem far away, yet look at developments in Pakistan which has quite an influence on Afghanistan.,1319,0,0,1,0

8:51 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Taliban were (and are) indeed - the way to know if anyone is "good" is to see what the Imperialists don't like. As rule of thumb - if the British or US don't like something - or the more Clark etc don't like "it" - then it is probably good - or contains more "good" than we are told about.

The Taleban have been greatly misrepresented - in relative terms - the question of "Moslemic facism" etc is gigantic "red herring" - the view of them and others in that area of the world is greatly distorted by the US press and US agencies and our own press and Govt.

But it is complex -the precursors of the Taliban were supplied weapons by the CIA before the Russians invaded - to overthrow the Russian Imperialists (also the US wanted to head off the USSR) - however not as a major Imperialist power - or as a power as (militarily and economically)) strong as the US - the Taliban employed revolutionary methods and in many ways were very politically advanced. They completely defeated the USSR army; and the fighters in Aghanistan now will defeat the US Imperialist terrorists.

However - certain philosophies and ideas they have may seem alien to us - they are not "Marxists" or "for the working class" as such (they may be to a degree) -but their movement is revolutionary in a nationalistic sense - as the US revolution was...etc

But sections of them were also trying to do deals with the US - and the US with them on pipelines and gas etc.

The situation is not just one of "political surgery" - there are complex human issues at work here -NZ should keep right out of the place - we are taking part in a bloody and barbarous invasion of a sovereign nation - we are part of a world wide human tragedy.

The "real" criminals and terrorists include Bush, Clark, Goff etc

11:39 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The situation in Afghanistan is more complex than anonymous thinks.
The formation of the Taliban was the result of US backing against a pro-soviet (and non-fundmentalist Islamic regime).

This was 'bad' since the backward fundamentalist Taliban was being used as a proxy for US intervention against a progressive regime.

The progressive regime was then backed by the Soviet military intervention. Was this 'bad'?

Anonymous thinks so since s/he says that the USSR was 'imperialist' albeit not in the same league as the US. This means that the Taliban were fighting a national liberation struggle then as they are now. But this is wrong.

What was it about the USSR that made it imperialist? Only the most superficial non-Marxist arguments can claim that the USSR was imperialist, indeed capitalist even.

Superficially, the USSR was powerful, (even a superpower), but its ability to accumulate value was not based on the exploitation of wage labour in production, rather by the theft of workers value on the part of a privileged state bureaucracy.

Nor did it impose on its 'satellites' exploitative terms of finance and trade such as are imposed by the US front institutions such as the WTO, IMF, WB etc. Take COMECON and Cuba for a start.

The USSR was not capitalst nor imperialist, and its external relations were not primarily ones of economic dominance, but of building political alliances to maintain its security, and ultimately the security of the privileged bureaucracy.

So while the USSR wasnt capitalist if fell far short of being socialist. Trotskyists argue that the USSR was a degenerated workers state, with workers state property appropriated by a parasitic bureaucratic caste.

But so long as workers property survived, as Trotsky argued in The Revolution Betrayed in 1935, it remained a permanent threat to imperialism, and workers everywhere needed to defend workers property unconditionally from attack as the basis for building international revolution. That is, international revolution would be the only way to overthrow the bureaucracy restore the control of workers property to the workers.

Therefore the intervention of the 'Red' Army in Afghanistan in 1979 was a complex phenomenon. On the one hand it was defending a friendly government on its borders and thus defending its own workers property. On the other hand, the Red Army was also defending the parasitic bureaucracy, and therefore a workers' defence could not be complete while the bureaucracy survived in the USSR. So what position would revolutionaries take to the intervention of the Red Army?

The essence of the question was how to transform the Red Army intervention into socialism in Afghanistan and the USSR itself.

This would mean unity of the rank and file in the Red Army with the extension of the popular basis of the Afghan regime against the Taliban and its US backers. It was necessary to call for a Constituent Assembly of Afghan workers and poor peasants, defended by the Red Army, to create popular councils and a popular militia to transform the regime into a popular and socialist government.

Such a government would have had sufficient popular appeal to undermine the US/Taliban support of the mujadeheen and backward peasant elements. It would also have posed a threat to the soviet bureaucracy since it would have involved the ranks of the Red Army in building a model for worker, peasant, and military unity for the masses of the USSR, particularly in Central Asia, of how to throw out the bureaucracy.

Unless workers defended the Red Army intervention in Afghanistan, this possibility was closed off. But since the intervention was not a direct defence of workers property from attack support was not unconditional. The main condition of support necessary was that the ranks of the Red Army must support the fight for creation of a popular socialist government in Afghanistan.

Therefore the role of the Taliban against the Red Army and the USSR was not at all of the same kind as its current opposition to NATO. It requires a Marxist analysis of this difference to arrive at the appropriate programmatic response of the international working class.


1:31 pm  

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