Thursday, November 26, 2009

What Jose Aylwin could teach Chris Trotter

Last week, in an article published in The Independent, Chris Trotter compared the Maori Party to Adolf Hitler's National Socialist movement.

According to Trotter, the Maori Party's 'revolutionary nationalism' recalls the ideology of the Nazis, and the conflict between Hone Harawira and the party leadership resembles the split between Hitler and Ernst Rohm, the dissident Nazi who dreamed of a racially pure workers' state and was murdered along with his followers on the 'night of the long knives' in 1934. Just as Rohm became a liability to the more conservative Hitler, so Harawira has, according to Trotter, become a liability to Maori Party leaders Pita Sharples and Tariana Turia.

Trotter believes that the Maori Party as a whole is a liability to New Zealand, and that the mandated Maori seats which give the organisation a foothold in parliament should be abolished, before they lead either to a form of apartheid or to the break-up of the country.

Chris Trotter is not some crackpot blogger or letter writer with a tiny audience - he is a respected political commentator who makes appearances on radio and television as well as in the print media. His views on many issues are decidedly left-wing.

Sadly, the hysterical similies and dire prophecies of Trotter's article are representative of the disorientation that many Pakeha feel, and have always felt, in the face of the politics of tino rangatiratanga.

Although Trotter's article tries to draw a red line between the 'revolutionary nationalists' of the Maori Party and 'good' Maori politicians of the past like Apirana Ngata, the truth is that the Maori quest for self-determination is neither a new phenomenon nor a reactionary return to the nineteenth century. There is an unbroken thread which connects the pan-tribalism of nineteenth century innovations like Kingitanga and the Kotahitanga movement, the struggle of leaders like Ngata to keep their people's identity in the early twentieth century, and the more militant politics of the 'Maori renaissance' which began in the '70s.

Even the most conservative Maori leaders have sought to create and sustain organisations and institutions which express the special history and worldview of their people. Ngata was a convinced Tory who sat down in parliament alongside representatives of the Pakeha bourgeoisie, and yet many of his projects - his visionary, partly-realised scheme for the creation of large-scale dairy farms on Maori land, for instance - were an expression of the ideology of tino rangatiratanga.

The denunciations which Chris Trotter aims today at the Maori Party have their precedents in the '20s and early '30s, when Ngata's land scheme was criticised as race-based and corrupt, and in the nineteenth century, when independent Maori states like the Waikato Kingdom were characterised as 'rebellions' against the Crown.

For the great majority of Maori, and for the minority of Pakeha who support the politics of tino rangatiratanga, accusations of 'disloyalty' and 'divisiveness' have long been bewildering. Since the final shots of the Land Wars were fired at Maungapohatu in 1916, there has been no large-scale attempt by Maori to re-establish their old, independent states, or to establish new states. There has been the occasional proclamation of independence - Tainui activist Eva Rickard declared Whaingaroa independent in the late '70s, during the struggle to reclaim the golf course there, and a group of dissident Ngati Porou claim to have established a mini-state of their own near the East Cape in 2007 - but usually these have been publicity stunts by protesters, not serious attempts to break up New Zealand.

For Maori activists and politicians, tino rangatiratanga means not the dismantling of New Zealand but the establishment of institutions and practices that give the New Zealand state and New Zealand society a bicultural character. The outlook of most Maori nationalists was nicely summed up by Linda Munn, one of the designers of the tino rangatiratanga flag, in a recent interview with the New Zealand Herald. Munn said she was pleased that her flag would be flown from the Auckland harbour bridge on Waitangi Day, but that she wanted it to fly side by side with the 'old' New Zealand flag, which she considers a 'taonga'.

Over the last quarter century some of the ideas associated with tino rangatiratanga, like the notion of Maori-language schools, have been turned into reality, but many others, like the call by Tuhoe for regional autonomy or the idea of a Maori restorative justice system, remain remote prospects. One of the most important obstacles to the achievement of tino rangatiratanga is the sort of misinterpretation which is so strikingly displayed in Chris Trotter's recent article. As long as most Pakeha believe that tino rangatiratanga means race war and the breakup of New Zealand, they will be susceptible to the overtures of Maori-bashing politicians like Don Brash and Michael Laws.

One explanation for the failure of many Pakeha to understand tino rangatiratanga is their lack of knowledge of alternatives to the uninational, highly centralised state that has existed in New Zealand since the 1860s. We associate our system with democracy, and assume that any radically different system must be undemocratic. When Maori talk about subjects about regional autonomy and a separate justice system, many of us panic, and make ill-advised analogies to apartheid South Africa, with its patchwork of impoverished, corrupt Bantustans and separate beaches for whites and blacks, or Nazi Germany, with its ferocious obsession with race.

One man who can help us get a more accurate picture of what tino rangatiratanga might mean for New Zealand is Professor Jose Aylwin, of the University Austral de Chile. Aylwin has been a long-time champion of the rights of Chile's indigenous Mapuche peoples, and he is an expert on the situation of indigenous peoples across Latin America. Last week, at about the same time that Chris Trotter's exercise in hysteria was being published, Aylwin was taking the stage of the University of Auckland's Stone Lecture Theatre to speak about the ongoing refashioning of several Latin America states to meet the demands of indigenous peoples. Aylwin had been invited to Auckland by the university's Law School and by its Centre for Latin American Studies, and his lecture was attended by staff and students interested in recent changes in Latin America, and in the lessons which these changes might have for New Zealand.

Aylwin began his talk by noting that Latin America's indigenous peoples, which are divided into 400 or 500 groups, make up about a tenth of its population. Indigenous peoples are distributed unevenly across the continent: in some countries, like Chile and Venezuela, they form only a small part of the population, but in Bolivia they make up the great majority, and in Peru and Ecuador they are substantial minorities. Despite their cultural differences, and the differences in the sizes of their populations, the continent's indigenous peoples share the memory of conquest by Europeans, and face continued discrimination and economic marginalisation.

Aylwin argued that, since the 1980s, there have been three distinct 'waves of struggle' by Latin America's indigenous peoples. The first wave coincided with the democratisation of much of the continent, as the military dictatorships which had flourished in the '70s either imploded or were toppled by popular protest. As newly democratic countries like Brazil, Argentina, Nicaragua and Guatemala revised or replaced their constitutions, indigenous peoples demanded that their concerns receive legal recognition. Many of the indigenous activists took their inspiration from the campaigns of their counterparts in the United States and Canada, and from concepts of multiculturalism developed by intellectuals in the West in the '60s and '70s. In most cases, though, the response from authorities to indigenous protest did not go beyond tokenism.

The second wave of indigenous struggle began in the early '90s as a response to the lack of progress in the '80s. Increasingly, indigenous groups allied themselves with the political left and organised labour, and made multinational companies which exploited the environment and ripped off local workers their targets. In several countries, the 'second wave' of struggle yielded unprecedented constitutional reforms, which recognised the special history of native peoples and promised protection for their cultures and languages. But these concessions did not lead to real gains, because they were cynically intended to placate indigenous peoples and break their alliance with the non-indigenous left.

In the second half of the eighties and early nineties the leaders of many newly democratic Latin American countries had adopted the set of neo-liberal economic policies nicknamed 'the Washington Consensus'. Under the guidance of the International Monetary Fund and Western governments and companies, these governments privatised state-owned assets, scrapped laws that protected trade unions, opened markets to Western goods, and cut state spending on education and health. The massive increases in poverty created by these policies undermined any gains that might have come through increased legal recognition for indigenous cultures and languages.

The third wave of indigenous struggle began when the disastrous consequences of the 'Washington Consensus' became clear in the late '90s. In nations like Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador, indigenous people once again allied themselves with trade unions and non-indigenous left-wing organisations, and mounted marches, occupations, and strikes to stop the privatisation of state assets, the disappearance of jobs, and the rollback of basic state services. Bolivia, for instance, was brought to a standstill, as protesters took over whole towns in successful efforts to reverse the sale of their country's water and gas to Western companies. The third wave of indigenous struggle has coincided with the 'pink tide' that has seen left-leaning governments elected across Latin America by people tired of failed policies of neo-liberalism. Jose Aylwin described how the leftist governments of Evo Morales in Bolivia and Rafael Correa in Ecuador have overseen the creation of new constitutions which give unprecedented recognition to indigenous peoples.

In Bolivia, where the indigenous Aymara and Quechua peoples together make up four-fifths of the population, the new constitution calls for a 'pluri-national state', in place of the old 'unitary state'. Where earlier constitutions foisted the Spanish language and the culture and institutions of Bolivia's white minority on the Aymara and Quechua nations, the new document insists that indigenous groups must be able to establish institutions inside the Bolivian state which express and respond to their own special histories and needs. The new constitution allows for Quechua and Aymara living outside Bolivia's big cities to set up their own, semi-autonomous indigenous governments, take control of their own resources, and follow their own paths to economic development, rather than relying on the tender mercies of multinational investors.

Members of Bolivia's traditional, white-skinned elite have derided Evo Morales as a 'bloody Indian' and claimed that he aims to turn the coutnry into 'another Cuba'. Attempts have been made to kill Morales, and peasants who support him have been murdered by right-wing militiamen. Professor Aylwin noted that the old elite needs to be defeated, if the fine words in Bolivia's constitution are to be turned into practice. 'Indigenous empowerment requires an economic base' he noted, before suggesting that the state needs to take more resources from local and Western capitalists so that they can be used for the benefit of Bolivia's indigenous majority.

Aylwin suggested that in Latin American nations with smaller indigenous populations than Bolivia and Ecuador it is harder to move from a 'unitary' to a 'pluri-national' state. While this remark is no doubt true to some extent, it ignores the fact that the most dramatic case of indigenous empowerment in Latin America in recent years has occurred, not in Bolivia or Ecuador, but in Venezuela, a country where indigenous people make up only about two percent of the population. Despite their small numbers, Venezuela's twenty-six indigenous peoples receive considerable attention in the Bolivarian constitution which was drawn up shortly after the election of Hugo Chavez in 1998. The eighth chapter of the constitution is devoted to indigenous rights, and begins with the following statement:

The State recognizes the existence of native peoples and communities, their social, political and economic organisation, their cultures, practices and customs, languages and religions, as well as their habitat and original rights to the lands they ancestrally and traditionally occupy, and which are necessary to develop and guarantee their way of life.

In the decade since the Bolivarian constitution was approved by referendum, the Chavez government has turned rhetoric into reality by throwing its weight behind the indigenous communities in Venezuela's countryside. The government has returned swathes of stolen land to indigenous peoples, built schools which offer indigenous children instruction in their own languages, and taken the side of indigenous groups when they have been threatened by miners. Venezuela's first-ever Ministry of Indigenous Affairs has been established along with a special Indigenous Parliament and a network of communal councils designed to run indigenous affairs in indigenous communities. It is not surprising that indigenous people have been strong supporters of the Chavez government and that many of them have joined his United Socialist Party.

It is a pity that Professor Aylwin did not discuss the recent history of indigenous people in Venezuela, because events in that country underline his point that the empowerment of indigenous people and the move from a uni-national to a pluri-national state has to involve economic as well as political change. Indigenous people have made big steps forward in Venezuela, despite the fact that they make up only a small percentage of the population, because the Chavez government has followed a left-wing policy programme.

Chavez was elected on the back of popular anger at the Washington Consensus and neo-liberalism, and he has confronted both Venezuela's economic elite and big Western companies. He has taken control of Venezuela's massive oil wealth from the rich, and channelled it into health and education programmes which help the working class and peasants who make up the majority of Venezuela's population. His government has also seized idle land and factories and put them to use for the benefit of workers and peasants.

Chavez's left-wing policies have made him very popular and have raised living standards and health and literacy levels amongst Venezuelans. Indigenous people have benefitted from Chavez's policies because they belong to the poorest parts of Venezuelan society. Chavez's government has been able to hand land and local autonomy to indigenous groups because it has taken land and power from big Western companies and from the idle rich.

The lessons of Venezuela hold true for the rest of Latin America. The country which has come closest to Venezuela in meeting the demands of its indigenous peoples is Bolivia, and it is no coincidence that the Morales government in Bolivia is also following a left-wing economic programme.

Chris Trotter could certainly have learnt much from listening to Jose Aylwin's lecture. Trotter has a background in left-wing politics, and helped to found the New Labour Party and the Alliance back in the late eighties and early nineties, but he has consistently refused to accept that the politics of tino rangatiratanga have any place on the left. Trotter believes that Maori demands for biculturalism and binationalism 'divide' the working class and confuse the left, but the example of Latin America shows that indigenous groups can work towards the transformation of society in alliance with trade unions and non-indigenous organisations. Trotter has expressed admiration for Hugo Chavez, yet the commitment of Chavez to the autonomy of indigenous peoples stands in contrast to his own fear of biculturalism and a binational state.

Yet it is not only Pakeha who can learn from Jose Aylwin's account of the recent history of Latin America. Aylwin's discussion of the incompatibility of neo-liberalism with indigenous rights and of the necessity of left-wing economic restructuring to indigenous empowerment should be warnings to supporters of the Maori Party's alliance with National.

Just as some neo-liberal Latin American governments tried to co-opt indigenous groups in the '90s, in order to make their policies of privatisation and cuts in social spending more palatable, so National is trying to co-opt the Maori Party to get support for its neo-liberal policies. The Maori Party has already voted for a budget which gave big tax cuts to the rich while at the same time drastically cutting adult education classes used by the poor. Now the party is considering giving its support to the part-privatisation of ACC and an Emmissions Trading Scheme that makes ordinary people pay for the pollution produced by big business.

National has always been the party of New Zealand's economic elite, and its policies are designed to meet the needs of this elite, at the expense of workers and the poor. The Maori Party's leaders hope for some concessions from National, but none of these concessions can atone for the damage that National's policies are doing to the Maori Party's natural constituency. If the Maori Party continues to support National's neo-liberal programme then it will lose its foothold in parliament.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Why Unitec workers are right to strike

[Hi everyone, Skyler here. I'm posting a letter which I've circulated to various contacts in the union movement and the media. If you'd like to keep informed about the strikes at Unitec and other polytechnics and the wider situation of workers in the tertiary sector, then bookmark the website of the Tertiary Education Union...]

In support of striking workers at Unitec

I was dismayed by the one-sided coverage of the strike at Unitec on One News last Friday. One News failed to explain why staff at Unitec were taking industrial action, yet it relayed comments critical of the strike by the Chief Executive Officer of Unitec and a couple of students.

As a graduate of and former employee of Unitec, I understand students' frustration at not receiving their final grades. Nevertheless I believe it is Unitec's management, not its workers, who are to blame for the strike. Management wants staff members to increase their teaching load from 185 to 204 days each a year, but it is offering union members only a 1% pay rise over two and a half years in return. This pay offer doesn’t even keep up with the cost of living. By contrast, non-union staff have already received pay increases of 4% backdated to January 2009.

Unitec is discriminating against workers who exercise their democratic right and choose to belong to a union. If the discriminatory policies of Unitec management are allowed to continue then standards at the institution will inevitably suffer, as staff become overworked and internally divided. Withholding grades is a legitimate form of industrial action for staff to take, and it is being taken in the long-term interests of students.

When I studied at Unitec I had fantastic lecturers, and I also found the general staff were hard working and supportive. I would hate to see the quality of the service and lecturing decline. Staff are the greatest asset of any educational institution. If Unitec wants to be a top quality educator then it needs to treat its workers well. I wholeheartedly support the staff at Unitec and other polytechs and the industrial action they have been forced to take.

Cerian Wagstaff
Former student and staff member at Unitec
Vice President, University of Auckland Branch of the Tertiary Education Union

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Plagiarism: what Ihimaera could learn from Eliot

The unattributed borrowings from other authors in Witi Ihimaera's new novel The Trowenna Sea have become the literary news story of the decade in New Zealand, inviting a pompous editorial from the Herald as well as protracted arguments in the blogopshere. So far, though, the debate about Ihimaera's novel has been framed in a very unhelpful way.

It seems to me that Ihimaera and his defenders - many of whom, like the unctuous Vice-Chancellor of the University of Auckland, Stuart McCutcheon, seem to be motivated by professional interest rather than private conviction - risk doing considerable damage to the public understanding of literature with the arguments they are using. Ihimaera and his supporters keep telling us that his unacknowledged borrowings make up only a tiny fraction of the text of The Trowena Sea - the figure 0.4% has been bandied about, though I understand that this is an underestimation - and that if only the borrowings had been noted at the back of the book then there would be no need for complaint.

Most of Ihimaera's critics have not questioned the premises of this argument, but have instead insisted that his failure to cite all of his borrowings is an unforgivable sin, rather than a minor oversight. Stealing is still stealing, one of them said, even if the thief only takes a relatively small amount.

The implications of the terms within which the debate over The Trowenna Sea has been waged are clear. It is always wrong to borrow writing without attributing it, but if an author puts a note at the back of his or her book, then that author is free to take whatever he or she wants.

The consensus between Ihimaera's defenders and most of his critics obscures the most basic question we need to ask, in any case of literary plagiarism, namely what is the writer doing with the words he or she has borrowed? What damns Ihimaera is not the fact that he has taken the words of others without attributing them, but rather the uses he has found for those words.

For the past hundred years, at least, plagiarism has been a respected literary tool. The history of modernist and postmodernist literature is filled with examples of masterpieces created using the words of others. Long before Ihimaera was even born, novels like Ulysses and Under the Volcano and poems like Pound's Cantos and William Carlos Williams' Paterson were being hailed as classics, not despite but because of the uses which they made of pre-existing texts.

Perhaps the finest example of creative plagiarism is TS Eliot's long poem The Waste Land, which was greeted with widespread praise when it was first published in 1922. Eliot's poem is a multi-perspectival portrait of a Western civilisation thrown into crisis by the First World War and the political turmoil that followed the war: moving brusquely from one scene and character to another, it shows us the disappointment of the hopes of the men who went to war in 1914, the drab vulgarity of life in big European cities like London and Vienna, and the widespread loss of faith in Christianity.

Like a surprising number of the great modernists, Eliot was politically conservative, and he was fond of contrasting what he saw as the chaos and nihilism of the twentieth century world with the glory and harmony of the past. By taking fragments from the literature of the past and juxtaposing them with modern imagery and modes of speech, The Waste Land was able to suggest something of the cultural decline which Eliot saw everywhere in postwar Europe. Here is a passage from the fourth of the poem's five sections:

Sweet Thames, run softly till I end my song,
Sweet Thames, run softly, for I speak not loud or long.
But at my back in a cold blast I hear
The rattle of the bones, and chuckle spread from ear to ear.
A rat crept softly through the vegetation
Dragging its slimy belly on the bank
While I was fishing in the dull canal

In these lines Eliot juxtaposes a quotation from the sixteenth century poet Edmund Spencer with an evocation of a polluted industrial waterway that is so precisely vivid that it simultaneously disgusts and excites us. Just as the harmonious sixteenth century world has degenerated into the chaos of the twentieth century, so the 'sweet Thames' which Spencer had saluted in his 'Prothalamion' has become, in Eliot's imagination at least, a rat-infested canal. Eliot's sadistic talent for juxtaposition and his hypnotic yet fractured rhythms mean that even those of us who do not share his bleak view of modern life and his romanticised picture of the past usually find The Waste Land a harrowingly powerful poem. Although Eliot acknowledged a few of his sources in the archly playful footnotes to The Waste Land, he left many other borrowings unattributed. (Many of Eliot's peers were even less concerned with admitting their borrowings: his friend Ezra Pound, for instance, didn’t bother to write a single footnote to The Cantos, which includes thousands of excerpts from texts as different as The Book of Tao and the articles of the American statesman John Adams.)

If we followed the logic common to Witi Ihimaera and to most of his critics, then we would we have to fault TS Eliot for his unattributed borrowings, and ask Faber and Faber to remove The Waste Land from bookstores until the author's supposed blunders could be corrected.

The difference between the plagiarisms in The Waste Land and the plagiarisms in The Trowenna Sea is closely related to the different intentions of the two plagiarists. Eliot has appropriated the refrain of Spencer's 'Prothalamion' because he wants to make the author of The Faerie Queen into one of the voices in the large, discordant chorus that is The Waste Land; he does not want to assimilate Spencer's verbal felicities, but rather to present them to the reader alongside his own.

Witi Ihimaera's plagiarisms are both far less ambitious and far less noble than those of Eliot. Ihimaera seems to have borrowed attractive passages from other authors simply because they make his own prose seem more attractive. Rather than making some sort of original use of the passages he has borrowed - by juxtaposing them with dissimilar passages, for instance, or adding commentary to them - he has sought to insert them as gently as possible into his text. Indeed, Ihimaera appears to have 'tweaked' many of the passages he has appropriated, so that they fit more comfortably into their new contexts.

If Eliot is like the modernist architect who wants his building to bear witness to the origins of its materials, then Ihimaera is like the tasteless but conceited renovator who insists on painting over brick and plastering over iron fills.

What is unfortunate about The Trowenna Sea affair is not Ihimaera's public embarrassment - despite his high media profile and commercial success, the man has never been ranked amongst this country's first-rate novelists - but the misunderstandings about literary technique which are being perpetuated by those rushing to defend and attack the book.

The truth is that the validity of a creative writer's borrowings can never be predetermined by some set of rules decided by philistines like Ihimaera's boss Stuart McCutcheon. Even if they were copiously footnoted, Ihimaera's borrowings would remain objectionable; even if The Waste Land did not contain a single footnote, it would remain a triumph.

I have to admit, at this point, to having a personal interest in this matter: if the controversy caused by Ihimaera's new novel leads to the widespread belief that a writer who uses unattributed borrowings is some sort of unpublishable reprobate, then I will be in trouble, because a number of the poems in my 2007 book To the Moon, in Seven Easy Steps contain unacknowledged excerpts from other texts.

My book's title piece was written after I found a 1940s tome called The True Guide to Space Flight on the bookcase of the run-down Remuera mansion where I lived for a time when I was a Masters student. When I encountered this fancifully illustrated 'textbook' I was earnestly trying to study philosophy, and I was struck by the parrallel between the hopeless speculations of metaphysicians and the hopeless dreams of the conceptual astronauts of the '40s. The result was a prose poem with paragraphs like these:

Nor shall we get to the moon by giant aeroplane. An aeroplane uses the sloping surfaces of its clever propellers to lever itself through the air. Around the moon, though, there is no air. Nor, let us be clear, can swans, whirlwinds, wings of eagle or vulture, or balloons lift us anywhere near that mysterious, silently moving light.

Perhaps the problems we face are perennial. Problems, problematic views recede from the centre of concern, only to dominate later on. Aeroplanes take off, circulate, then fall out of the sky. Moons wax and wane, pass from palm to palm. Why won't theories stay refuted? Why won't problems dissolve, in this upraised glass?

I'm not worried by the fact that I can't remember exactly which of the words in this passage come from The True Guide of Space Travel, which words come from the stodgy philosophical tomes I devoured as a Masters student, and which words I wrote myself. I think that the poem's borrowings are justified, because of the new contexts and connections it establishes for what it takes.

In another poem that was included in To the Moon, in Seven Easy Steps, I juxtaposed sentences from a rather stuffy guide to typography with quite different registers of language:

Rules of Typography

The world is full of enchanting objects: Venus flytraps, lighthouses, candlewicks, diamond rings on severed fingers, a scrubcutter's hut in Pukemiro. Detail accumulates like capital. To be noticed, the text must draw attention to itself. (Strokes of the letters thicken, apertures shrink, serifs appear, fern tendrils wrap themselves around each capital.) To be read, the text must relinquish the attention it has drawn. (Fern rusts and crumbles, strokes and serifs fade; the reader nods and strokes his chin.)

It's easy for me to identify the borrowed words in this paragraph: the first part of the first sentence and the third and fifth sentences all have the absurdly serious tone which made me giggle when I opened the only study of typography I have ever attempted to read. The rest of the words were improvised by me, but they occupy at least two different registers. The second sentence in the paragraph is a parody of the dry dialect of Marxist political economy, while the parenthetical sentences succumb to the charms of surrealism.

Many of the poems in my book don't include quotes from other texts - not conscious ones, anyway - but I don't feel that these pieces are any way more 'original' or 'authentic' than the volume's title poem, or 'Rules of Typography'.

To the Moon, in Seven Easy Steps attracted seven or eight reviews, including one in the hallowed of pages of Landfall: all of them were positive, and none of them fingered me as a plagiarist. Under the new rules which both Ihimaera and most of his critics seem to be proposing, though, I presumably ought to turn myself in to the nearest literary critic, apologise humbly to the authors of The True Guide to Space Travel, and beg my publisher Titus Books to remove my volume from circulation until I can fit it out with a set of footnotes nobody will bother to read.

If I'm to be banished to the literary wilderness for my unattributed borrowings, at least I'll be in good company: some of the most original and important contemporary New Zealand writers appear to be guilty of the same crime as me. Ted Jenner, for instance, is no stranger to the unattributed quote. Jenner's recently-published collection Writers in Residence and Other Captive Fauna includes a series of poetic journals which record the decade he spent teaching Greek and Latin in Malawi. Ted's journals consist of observations of his adopted homeland, reflections on its problems and his own problems, and quotations - not all of them acknowledged - from writers who seem to shed some light on his situation. For all their borrowings, the journals are the original expression of an original mind.

Richard Taylor is another writer who would suffer unjustly if unattributed borrowing were proscribed. For over a decade now, Taylor has been working with varying levels of enthusiasm on a cento - that is, a poem composed of passages taken from other authors - called The Infinite Poem. Inspired by the modernist composer Charles Ives, who dreamed of creating an 'Infinite Symphony' that would absorb the work of others and go on after his death, Taylor has found passages for his poem in newspapers, chess manuals, novels, the books of other poets, and almost anything else that crosses his cluttered desk. Taylor's 2007 book Conversation with a Stone featured an excerpt from The Infinite Poem, but it did not bother to identify the sources of the material in the excerpt.

Instead of trying misdirect the debate The Trowenna Sea has prompted, Witi Ihimaera and his supporters should acknowledge that the real test of whether the book's borrowings are justified is aesthetic, not legal. And, if he wants to learn how to use other people's words creatively, Witi could do worse than pick up a copy of The Waste Land.

Footnote: long-suffering readers of this blog may remember a post back in 2006 about the controversy that the crude plagiarist Helen Demidenko's anti-semitic novel The Hand that Signed the Paper created in Australia in the nineties.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Was Ronald Hugh Morrieson really a goth?

In an article for The Independent which has also appeared on his blog, Chris Trotter discusses the controversy over Dargaville museum's claims that a pale-skinned 'Waitaha' people inhabited New Zealand before Maori. Trotter accurately describes the promoters of the 'Waitaha myth' as 'a curious collection of rogue anthropologists, pseudo-historians, New Age mystics, and old-fashioned racial supremacists', and suggests that the myth serves an essentially political purpose:

The Waitaha myth, like the Moriori myth before it, answers a number of urgent needs in its provincial Pakeha creators. It destroys the Maori claim to indigeneity. It reaffirms the historical superiority of European civilisation. And, by extending out the length of time civilised people have dwelt in New Zealand from hundreds to thousands of years, it renders Maori culture irrelevant. Most importantly, however, these new myth-makers reassure historically disoriented Pakeha that their cultural "connection" to these islands is far stronger than that of the brutal primitives who destroyed the wonder and glory that was Waitaha.

Light is the best answer to mould, and Trotter's article aims a bright light at a putrid idea which has festered and spread in relative obscurity over the last decade or so. Thanks to Trotter, thousands of Kiwis who would not be aware of the debates about pseudo-history in the blogosphere will have been forewarned about the untenable claims and unpleasant motives of pseudo-historians like Noel Hilliam and Martin Doutre.

While I appreciate Trotter's intervention against the pseudo-historians, and share his view of the political agenda of people like Hilliam and Doutre, I can't agree with some of the more general points his article makes about Pakeha New Zealand society. Trotter begins his piece by suggesting that the novels of Ronald Hugh Morrieson, with their 'pitch-black nightmares of small-town dysfunction' and sudden outbreaks of sexually-charged violence, say something essential about Pakeha New Zealanders. Pakeha are, in the opinion of Trotter, a 'prickly people, prone to sudden mood changes'. The source of our unease is, he thinks, geographical: 'alone' in our 'empty land', we have 'a murderous need to feel at home'.

Trotter believes that this need to feel at home drives us to construct reassuring myths, like the Moriori myth, which suggested that the people that Pakeha colonised were themselves colonisers, and thus somehow 'deserved' the invasions of the Waikato Kingdom and Parihaka, or the myth that, ever since the wars of the nineteenth century petered out, Pakeha and Maori have lived in harmony as New Zealanders. As the Moriori myth and the myth of good reace relations have broken down in recent decades, pseudo-historians like Doutre and Hilliam have laboured to erect new obfuscations in their place.

Trotter's view of Pakeha identity brings together two discourses which have at different times been popular amongst New Zealand intellectuals. His belief that New Zealand's isolation and small population have created a sort of existential anxiety amongst its non-indigenous inhabitants has its origins in the work that writers like Charles Brasch, Allen Curnow, and MH Holcroft produced in the middle decades of the twentieth century. In the essays of Holcroft and the early poems of Curnow and Brasch, the New Zealand landscape is, despite the best efforts of generations of white settlers, an eerie, alien thing which will not let its appropriators feel at ease, let alone at home. Physical alienation breeds social alienation, and in Brasch's much-quoted poem 'The Silent Land', the tight little colonial towns which sat beside harbours and rivermouths are as inhospitable as the landscape around them:

The plains are nameless and the cities cry for meaning,
The unproved heart still seeks a vein of speech

In one of his most famous poems, Curnow gazed at the skeleton of a moa in Canterbury museum and felt a kinship for the anomalous, ill-fated species. The poet seemed to despair of escaping the feelings of isolation and inadequacy New Zealand gave him:

Not I, some child, born in a marvellous year,
Will learn the trick of standing upright here.

Not all of Curnow and Brasch's readers shared their bleak vision of New Zealand. In the years after World War Two a group of young intellectuals based in Auckland aggressively questioned the idea that they lived in some sort of 'silent land', and denied being victims of geography. Growing up in the working class Auckland suburb of Point Chevalier, close to old pa sites, Chinese market gardens, and communities of Dalmatian immigrants, Kendrick Smithyman and his friends and fellow poets Keith Sinclair and Bob Chapman found talk of a 'silent land' incomprehensible. The young iconoclasts formed what they called the 'Mudflats School of Poetry', and contrasted it to the 'Empty Plains and Hills' school of Brasch and Curnow. Although Sinclair and Chapman lost some of their early interest in poetry - Sinclair became New Zealand's best-known historian, and Chapman eventually had the dubious distinction of being the country's first professional political scientist - Smithyman would develop the critique of Brasch and Curnow in both poetry and prose.

In his 1965 book A Way of Saying, Smithyman rejected the literary nationalism of Brasch and Curnow and put forward a fiercely regionalist vision of New Zealand literature and New Zealand society. Poems like 'The Silent Land' were, Smithyman insisted, part of a 'Canterbury myth', which had little or no relevance to the rest of the country. Smithyman was a scholar of Northland history and literature, and he knew that this part of the country, with its large Maori and Dalmatian populations, its hills covered in ancient earthworks, and its villages that had been continuously inhabited for many hundreds of years, could not be understood through the poems of South Island writers like Brasch and Curnow.

At the same time that Smithyman was writing his manifesto for regionalism, the Wellington poet and critic Louis Johnson was also taking issue with the literary nationalism of Curnow and Brasch. Johnson and his supporters claimed that poems like 'The Silent Land' underestimated the success that New Zealanders had had in adapting to their new environment, and ignored the vibrancy of cities like Wellington.

Literary nationalism has been out of fashion in New Zealand for decades. With the benefit of hindsight, the anguish of poems like 'The Silent Land' seems like an expression of the frustration of a small group of young intellectuals trying to establish a foothold in a relatively philistine culture, not an authentic representation of general Pakeha feeling.

Chris Trotter's vision of Pakeha New Zealand society owes much to the 'Canterbury myth', but it also borrows from a more recent and more fashionable view of our culture. Over the last decade or so, the term 'New Zealand gothic' has become popular amongst commentators on Pakeha art. The films, songs and books which best fit the term 'New Zealand gothic' were all created over the past thirty years, and consist of fanciful visions of small town and rural New Zealand. In films like the The Locals and songs like Don McGlashan's 'Passenger 26', urban Kiwis find themselves stranded in the sticks and left to the tender mercies of people who do not share their sophisticated, liberal tastes and prejudices. With its caricature of provincial New Zealand as the abode of inbred, often violent eccentrics, the 'New Zealand gothic' genre is an expression of the steadily increasing distance between urban and rural New Zealand.

Ronald Hugh Morrieson is often cited as the father of the 'New Zealand gothic', but his novels have nothing at all to do with the genre. His books are certainly violent, but they are also funny and frequently joyful, and his characters are lovable rather than monstrous eccentrics. Morrieson wrote to celebrate the life of his native South Taranaki, not to make it the butt of urban jokes.

Julia Millen's 1996 biography of Morrieson showed that he was a man who saw the flat country in the shadow of Mt Taranaki as his turangawaewae, and who hated and feared the prospect of travel. As a young man, Morrieson left south Taranaki to study at the University of Auckland; after only a few days in the strange city, though, he became desperately homesick, and returned to his beloved Hawera. Apart from a trip to Wellington to attend court and a disastrous appearance at a literary festival in Whanganui, Morrieson never left his native country again.

Both the 'silent land' myth of Brasch and Curnow and the fantasies of the 'New Zealand gothic' genre are the work of metropolitan intellectuals who are, at best, incurious about the particularities of life in the regions of New Zealand. In his life and in his work, Ronald Hugh Morrieson was a regionalist. If we want to understand him and his world, then we need to attend to Kendrick Smithyman's warnings about the dangers of airy generalisations about abstractions like 'New Zealand' and 'Pakeha identity'.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Report from the tank

I haven't posted here for a few days because I've been immersed in a contract job which has seen me researching employment agreements and writing up part of a draft contract for a trade union. I use the word 'immersed' deliberately: after reading my way through some very long model contracts, as well as the academic literature which interprets and critiques these contracts, I feel like I've been suspended for an unknowable period of time in a tank of dark lukewarm water as part of some sort of sensory deprivation experiment. Strange things have happened to my brain, as it floats through a warm murk of abstractions and qualifications.

The work I have been doing serves a good cause, and the people who commissioned it are splendid, but I can't help wondering what effects prolonged exposure to the language of lawyers might bring. I've always found the lawyers who rush up and down Waterloo Quadrant and Shortland Street obscurely terrifying: with their bulging folders, bulging eyes, and bulging foreheads they seem to me like lifelong victims of the method of rote learning which was long since abandoned in civilised schools. Even the Victorian schoolchildren who had to learn the names of every English King and Queen and the capital of every province of the empire seem to me to have had it better than the average lawyer: at least the kids were ingesting concrete, comprehensible facts, rather than flurries of abstractions grouped under bewildering titles like 'Burgess vs Burgess'.

I remember reading a critic compare the prose style of Kingsley Amis' late novels to 'an overloaded van with a defective exhaust pipe moving very slowly backwards down a driveway that is too small for it'. Some of the sentences I have been writing over the past two days have all the majesty of the late Amis.

If the elderly Amis had been able to pull himself together and get off the booze and pills, he might have been able to revise and improve the prose of his last books. In certain genres, though, there seems no alternative to writing badly. How can anyone produce a good draft employment contract without including flatulent abstract nouns like 'proficiency', ambiguous adjectives like 'satisfactory' and escape-route qualifying phrases like 'to the best of their ability'? To neglect these hardy perennials is to deny the people one is writing for the tactical advantages that imprecise, underdetermining language can provide.

The murky prose of employment contracts and industrial relations law has given me a heightened appreciation of the extraordinary particularity that the best poetry possesses. After a few hours scanning contracts I have been only too happy to climb out of the murky isolation tank and into the pointillist sunlight of Kendrick Smithyman and Tom Raworth.

I thought I would attempt to apologise for the prose I have been producing over the past few days by posting a poem which I published in hardcopy back in April in the
thirty-seventh issue of the literary journal brief. Some readers of brief have mistaken the poem for a piece of autobiography, or - even worse - for a short story, but it is neither, although it does contain the rudiments of a narrative and it is set on the farm where I grew up.

Shooting the Gods

Last night I saw my father for the first time in twenty years. That’s not so important. What’s important is that, one Saturday in 1987, I woke up early, and went outside to bowl leg-spinners at the carport’s brick wall. By the time my third delivery had been bat-padded through the hands of the grapefruit tree the wall was appealing against the light, and the pitch needed covering. By half-past eight the cattle stop was half-full and Mr Greegan was calling my mother to tell her not to drive me and the other country boys in the Papakura Junior Premiers to McLean Park. I grabbed the phone and invited myself over to Tom Greegan’s rumpus room. The cattle stop was overflowing as I rode out the gate.

Halfway up the hill I was stopped by a phone wire lying over Pa Road. Mr Menzies’ Land Rover was parked on the other side of the wire; Mrs Menzies leaned out its window into the rain and shouted at me to go home. I waved and turned around, but I didn’t go home. I rode back around the bend, lifted my bike over the farm’s boundary fence, and began to ride along the old cattle race. I could see the Greegans’ farmhouse from the top of the first of the two ridges the strip of mud climbed. I was halfway up the second ridge when I remembered the slaughtering shed. It hadn’t been used for many years, but when I was a small child I had watched a cow wander into the red corrugated iron building, and had waited for hours for the creature to stumble out again. When the front door had finally wheezed open my father stepped out alone, and waved me away with a huge red hand.

There was a bit of dirt beside the shed which Dad and the sharemilker had once used to bury a cow. The cow had died of some disease, and couldn’t be slaughtered, so there was nowhere for it to go, Dad said, except into the ground. I remember the sharemilker making a hole with his excavator so that Dad and a couple of farmhands could roll the cow in. One of the farmhands told me later that the sharemilker had started pushing the dirt in too soon, before the whole of the cow was in the ground. The creature was only buried up to its neck. It just sat there staring through the drizzle at us with its big calm eyes. The sharemilker swore at the cow, then got back on his tractor and swung the excavator at its neck. The head came half off, so that one of the farmhands had to do the rest with the slasher we used for thistles. When I ran home, Mum told me never to go near the slaughtering shed again.

I didn’t go near the shed for a long time, but I did tell standard three about the cow during Monday Morning News. Mr Purvis had smiled when I had volunteered for the first time to supply a news item, but he had stopped me before I finished, because Sonia Chiita had started crying into her desk. Mr Purvis explained to me afterwards that Sonia was a curry-muncher, and that curry-munchers believed that cows were Gods. It would have been better not to talk about the cow, even if Sonia had been sick that Monday, Mr Purvis added.

Dad got angry when I told him I’d shared the story of the cow, and even angrier when I told him about curry-munchers and their cow-Gods. After Dad had moved onto the farm he had burned the painting of Mary that Mum had kept over the gas oven, and thrown my sister’s Dad’s rosary beads into our toy box. Back in England Dad had been to Grammar School, and he knew parts of books off by heart. After I told him about Sonia Chiita Dad stopped pouring the gravy, and poured himself a whiskey instead, and said that curry-munchers were even worse than Jews, and nearly as bad as Catholics. There were too many flaming Gods, he said, and they were all dead. Later that evening, when Mum was putting my sister to bed, Dad made me write down some of the words he had learned off by heart. We have interred countless Gods in the mass grave known as mythology, he said, leaning back in his armchair as I crouched beside the coughing fireplace and scribbled in my Maths book. Oswald Spender wrote that, Dad said. Os-wald Spen-der.

That Saturday in 1987 I dropped my bike and walked through the rain towards the shed. I stopped outside for a few seconds, feeling the raindrops trickling like sweat down my brow and chin, then swung the door open and sagged backwards with fright. A huge cow sat staring at me through calm dark eyes. One of the panels in the back wall of the shed wheezed open and closed in the wind, and the rain sounded like hail on the wrinkled roof. I stared back at the cow for a second, then slammed the door shut, ran back to my bike, and pedalled quickly home.

Last night I dreamed I dropped my bike beside the race, and walked toward the shed across a paddock where cowpats floated in shallow pools of rainwater. Before I came close to the red corrugated iron, though, I had to stop and step quickly backwards from a small landslide of red mud. The opening was the length of three or four cricket pitches, and perhaps half as wide; as my eyes traced its edges it seemed to grow. At one end of the pit a row of figures stood with their backs to me. One of them had long silver hair; another wore a crude wooden crown; a third had ears as big as the man in the Mickey Mouse costume who handed out lollies at our school Calf Club Day. There was a sound like a tractor backfiring and the figures fell backwards, slowly and rather heavily, like actors performing a stunt that will be replayed at a higher speed. The deformed man rolled in my direction, until I could see the trunk that grew out of his face like the tube of a gas mask.

I looked up, and saw Dad and the farmhands assembling another row of victims, and reloading their hunting rifles. Dad gave a tight little smile before beginning another countdown. The pit, which had seemed bare when I first examined it, was filled with hundreds of corpses. On either side of Ganesh, the Elephant God, I noticed Zeus, with his huge beard of decaying watercress, and Maui, who had a half-finished grin on his handsome face. There were others I could see clearly, but could not recognise.

How many deities have I created and slaughtered? How many Gods and Goddesses have all of us interred, in the mass grave called mythology? Those are my questions, this morning. I did not think them in the dream. In the dream I continued to scan the pit, seeking out the huge calm eyes of the first God my father buried.

Friday, November 13, 2009

EP Thompson, live at Glastonbury

I'm pleased to be able to announce that Manchester University Press will be publishing The Crisis of Theory: EP Thompson, the New Left, and Postwar British Politics, a text which is based upon the PhD thesis I gave to the University of Auckland last year. It's an honour to get the thumbs up from Manchester, the third largest academic publisher in Britain, because it is particularly renowned for the works of history it offers the public.

I'm currently writing an introduction to The Crisis of Theory which makes the case for Thompson's continuing relevance today, sixteen years after his death and forty-six years after the publication of his most famous book, The Making of the English Working Class. In The Making Thompson introduced his readers to the notion of a 'history from below' - a history which investigates the lives and thoughts of ordinary people rather than Kings and Prime Ministers, and which interprets processes like industrialisation and modernisation from the perspective of the people who most directly affected by these changes. Thompson's radically democratic approach to history remains vastly influential, not only in his homeland but in North America, in Australasia, and in 'Third World' nations like India which are still undergoing the traumas of industrialisation.

Though Thompson the scholar is still a household name amongst historians, anthropologists, sociologists, and geographers, Thompson the political thinker and activist is a more obscure figure. His voluminous, restlessly intelligent writings on civil liberties, the danger of nuclear war, the case for socialism, the problems of Marxism, and the absurdities of Britain's ruling class are mostly out of print, despite their relevance to a twenty-first century world where the erosion of civil liberties, the fear of nuclear proliferation, and the follies of bankers and big companies are all hot button topics, and where the sharp leftward swing of Latin American politics has renewed discussions about the meaning and viability of socialism.

Thompson has not always been a relatively obscure figure amongst the general public. In the early 1980s, a survey found that he was the third most admired person in Britain (rather worryingly, he was beaten to the top two spots by Margaret Thatcher and the Queen Mother). At the beginning of the '80s the decision to deploy American Cruise missiles in Britain's leafy countryside set off a series of massive protests, and Thompson, who had been a leader of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament back in the late '50s, found himself in demand as an orator and as a pamphleteer.

Instead of the clipped, cliched phrases that most politicians serve up in their addresses to the public, Thompson the orator offered baroque, rolling sentences full of poetry and history. When he addressed one particularly large demonstration in Trafalgar Square, Thompson startled his audience by beginning his speech with a quote from William Blake, one of the heroes of his scholarly works, and went on to invoke the ghosts of great protest movements of the past like the Chartists, who demanded universal suffrage in nineteenth century England, and the Diggers, who tried to establish a rural socialist utopia in the revolutionary seventeenth century.

Thompson's approach to political theory was as original and as exciting as his approach to speech-making: to the displeasure of Tory technocrats and Stalinist bureaucrats alike, he insisted that politics should be about more than bread alone, and that a political discourse which was dominated by utilitarian thinking and short-term calculations was doomed to produce an alienated society and an authoritarian government. Like William Morris, another of his heroes, Thompson believed poetry should be taken as seriously as economics.

Thompson's public profile in the '80s is reflected in some of the details of a fascinating new site created to document the history of the Glastonbury Festival. It's hard to imagine any contemporary intellectual being invited on stage to wow the masses who descend on Glastonbury nowadays to hear acts like Bjork and Coldplay, but in the 1980s Thompson regularly spoke between sets from bands like Midnight Oil, The Pogues, The Boomtown Rats, and - of course - The Thompson Twins.

At the 1984 Glastonbury Festival, which has just been immortalised online, Thompson appeared early on a Saturday evening, after The Smiths and before the special guest star Elvis Costello. Admittedly, Glastonbury was a much more 'underground' event, with a much more political bent, in the '80s. Nevertheless, the fact that Glastonbury dairy farmer Michael Eavis kept inviting the sexagenarian intellectual back to his festival, year after year, is testament to Thompson's speaking skills, and to the fact that he had something interesting to say.

As I hope my forthcoming book will show, EP Thompson still has something to say to us today.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Mykeljon picks another loser

A year has passed since Mykeljon Winckel inserted an article called 'An Unpalatable Truth' into the Franklin E Local, the free magazine he publishes from the south Auckland rural service town of Pukekohe.

With its claim that a coalition of historians, museum curators and Maori activists conspires to suppress the fact that Celtic people landed on New Zealand shores thousands of years ago and founded a great civilisation, 'An Unpalatable Truth' certainly stood in contrast to the Franklin E Local's usual fare of advertisements for fertilisers, reviews of new tractors, and reports on pig hunts. And Mykeljon seemed to believe that 'An Unpalatable Truth' represented a scoop of historic proportions, which would propel him into the journalistic limelight: at the end of his rambling article, he suggested that his findings would lead to major changes in contemporary New Zealand society, as the truth about the past undermined present political arrangements based upon biculturalism and the Treaty of Waitangi.

If 'An Unpalatable Truth' has not caused a sensation of Watergate-like proportions, it is perhaps because Mykeljon's 'Deep Throat' was Martin Doutre, a self-proclaimed 'astro-archaeologist' who has for more than a decade been furrowing the brows of Kiwis with his strange claims about both ancient history and contemporary events. After I published a critique of 'An Unpalatable Truth' in the Scoop Review of Books Doutre emerged in the comments boxes to acknowledge his part in producing the article, and to make a series of increasingly odd comments about Maori, Jews, the Holocaust, 9/11, and leprechauns.

Under interrogation from philosopher Matthew Dentith, archaeologist Edward Ashby, and the distinguished writer and scholar Keri Hulme, Doutre claimed that there was no evidence of Polynesians ever making long sea voyages, announced that the ancient Egyptians were a Celtic people, saluted David Irving as the 'leading expert' in the field of World War Two history, proclaimed the Holocaust a Jewish myth, denied that Osama bin Laden was involved in the 9/11 attacks, and made a stream of other statements that called his sanity as well as his scholarship into question. It is not only at the Scoop Review of Books that Doutre has faced ridicule. In a separate controversy earlier this year in the New Zealand Herald, Doutre's claims to have discovered Celtic standing stones north of Auckland were dismissed as inane by a series of scholars, including the historian Paul Moon, who characterised Doutre as part of the 'lunatic fringe' of historical research. Moon's condemnation was particularly significant, because the Franklin E Local had cited him as a supporter of Doutre's views.

A year after Doutre's implosion, Mykeljon Winckel has been canny enough to find a different 'expert' to help with his new attack on the 'conspiracy' to suppress the true history of New Zealand's ancient white people. Unfortunately, though, his new article - which is called, with suitable pomposity, 'NZ History Fights for its Life: our country's secret shame' - is based on the fantasies of Noel Hilliam, a man with no more credibility than Martin Doutre.

A farmer from Dargaville with no training in history or archaeology and a tendency towards New Age mysticism and far right politics, Hilliam has long been treated with suspicion by both serious researchers into New Zealand prehistory and Te Uri o Hau, the tangata whenua of the northern Kaipara. Like Martin Doutre, with whom he has collaborated on a number of political and pseudo-historical projects, Hilliam believes that an advanced, spiritually enlightened civilisation of white people settled in New Zealand thousands of years ago and flourished, before a few 'primitive' Polynesians conquered them, took their women as sex slaves, and stole their carvings and meeting houses.

Hilliam's fantasies encounter the same problems as those of Doutre - the absence of any evidence of large-scale forest clearance in New Zealand more than a thousand years ago, the absence of any sort of human remains under the tephra left by the Taupo eruptions, the absence of evidence that Celts had ocean-going ships thousands of years ago, the absence of a prehistoric DNA link between Maori and Europeans - but these problems can be explained, by those with a paranoid cast of mind, by the machinations of the same sort international conspiracy that invented the Holocaust and staged 9/11.

Mykeljon's new article presents Hilliam as a 'warrior' for truth who is enduring 'abuse and ridicule' as he labours to uncover the story of New Zealand's ancient white race. In truth, though, Hilliam does a very good of ridiculing himself through his actions and pronouncements. Last year, for instance, he made a fool of himself by telling the media that he had located a German U boat off the coast of Northland. According to Hilliam, the craft had arrived in New Zealand secretly in 1944 and dropped off 'thirteen high-ranking Nazis', as well as a pile of 'loot', before being scuttled. Strangely enough, Hilliam was not able to keep his promise to reveal the location of the ghostly submarine to the media.

Hilliam has also attracted ridicule through his misuse of a prehistoric pou found on the Pouto peninsula south of Dargaville. Although even a cursory view of the pou reveals that it is distinctively Polynesian, Hilliam decided that it belonged to the 'Universal Peace Nation of Waitaha', an ancient species which lived on a distant planet before coming to earth, settling in Egypt for thousands of years, and eventually migrating to New Zealand via South America. The Waitaha 'nation' is in fact a South Island family called the Rukas which makes a few dollars taking flaky Californians on New Age tours of 'sacred sites' in New Zealand. In 1996 Hilliam held a bizarre ceremony with Patrick Ruka, a Waitaha 'elder', to 'welcome' the Pouto pou into Dargaville, a private institution he once had some influence over. The Dragaville museum has now distanced itself from Hilliam, and removed his 'Waitaha' pou from display.

Some idea of Hilliam's research methods is given by an article by his fellow pseudo-historian Gary Cook in the latest issue of Rainbow News, the New Age magazine that keeps Kiwis informed about the latest developments in venerable pseudo-sciences like numerology and astrology. Cook's article explains how he and his mate Noel wander the beaches and farms of the Kaipara, tuning in to 'spiritual' energies and making 'intuitive' discoveries of ancient wrecked ships and Celtic open-air temples. Of course, these 'discoveries' invariably disappear mysteriously before they can be shared with other, less spiritually enlightened researchers. Cook's ramblings are illustrated with a photo of Noel Hilliam standing on a Kaipara beach holding a piece wood up to this nose. Apparently this 'nose test' is his way of identifying the origin of wooden objects.

If Hilliam's submarine-hunting and New Age mysticism have earned him ridicule, his desecration of ancient burial sites in the Kaipara region has earned him the contempt of the Maori people who have ties to those sites. Hilliam is currently being investigated by the Historic Places Trust, which has received complaints that he has violated the New Zealand Historic Places Act of 1993 by entering burial caves and removing skeletons without permission. Hilliam's own boasts to the media suggest that he may be liable for prosecution under the terms of the Act.

University of Auckland Law Professor David V Williams is a man who is particularly familiar with the antics of Noel Hilliam. Williams, who is an expert on New Zealand legal history, has had a long relationship with the iwi which has been the target of Hilliam's vandalism. After reading the recent posts about Hilliam's activities on this blog, Williams sent us this e mail:

Greetings. When I was advising Te Uri o Hau during their Waitangi Tribunal hearings and Treaty Settlement negotiations in the 1990s tribal elders expressed a considerable degree of concern about the activities of Noel Hilliam and the people then running the Dargaville Museum. The Tribunal hearings themselves included a good deal of evidence about the pillage of sacred sites by an Austrian taxidermist and grave-robber, Andreas Reischek, in the 19th century. It always seemed to me that Hilliam was a modern-day Reischek. I am hugely appreciative of the fact that there are signs your intervention will at last bring an end to this disgraceful saga. Kia kaha, kia manawanui.

Prof David V Williams, University of Auckland.

Along with Edward Ashby, who has also been heavily involved in the recent attempts to expose Hilliam and end his interference with burial sites and with Dargaville museum, I appreciate the words of support from Williams, as well as the words of support I have received from Te Uri o Hau themselves.

Somehow I doubt whether Franklin E Local's new 'scoop' will make Mykeljon Winckel's name as a crusading investigative journalist. Mykeljon's attempt to turn the grave-robbing New Age fantasist Noel Hilliam into a hero is just as quixotic as his attempt to use Martin Doutre's bigoted ravings to overturn the findings of thousands of serious, ethical researchers into New Zealand's past. Until Mykeljon learns the difference between research and fantasy he should focus on selling advertising space to fertiliser retailers and writing reports on pig hunts.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Hone's not the only one who needs to change

Nearly six years have passed since Don Brash took the stage at the Orewa Rotary Club and told an overwhelmingly Pakeha audience that 'Maori racial separatism' was endangering New Zealand.

Brash's claims that Maori seats in parliament, state funding for Maori language schools, and the work of the Waitangi Tribunal were giving Maori an 'upper hand' in New Zealand society gave the National Party he led a huge boost in the opinion polls, and made race the focal point of New Zealand political discourse for the next year or so. Worried that its Pakeha working class base might be attracted to Brash's right-wing populism, the Labour government was soon hurrying legislation through parliament in a bid to forestall Maori attempts to claim customary rights to the coastline in the courts.

By picking on Maori who wanted to claim some rights over the coast they had lived beside for hundreds of years, and leaving the actual ownership of pieces of coastline by dozens of Pakeha individuals intact, the Foreshore and Seabed Act announced itself as the most openly racist legislation seen in this country since the Suppression of Tohunga Act. It was no surprise that the Act prompted a huge hikoi and a mass Maori defection from Labour to the newly-established Maori Party. The Maori Party represented the largest split from Labour since the formation of the New Labour Party in 1989. Like New Labour, which was formed by opponents of the neo-liberal policies of the 'Rogernomics' era, the Maori Party was a response to betrayal. Since Wiremu Ratana had wedded his religious and nationalist movement to Labour in the 1930s, the party had been able to count on Maori as some of its most loyal supporters. Helen Clark's government had thought nothing, though, of sacrificing these loyalists on the altar of right-wing populism.

Many trade unions and left-wing groups had taken part in the hikoi that protested the foreshore and seabed legislation, and leftists and unionists were in evidence at the big hui organised to set up the Maori Party shortly after the hikoi. The overwhelming majority of the new party's members were working class, and Maori trade unionists like Justin Taua and Syd Kepa argued that it should adopt a programme which was left-wing and pro-worker. In a leaflet which he distributed at one of the founding hui, Taua argued that the party could only be pro-Maori if it were also pro-worker, because the fortunes of Maori rose and fell with the fortunes of the working class. The Maori Party should therefore position itself far to the left of Labour, try to win formal support from the trade unions, and focus on activism on the street and in the workplace as well as on elections.

Even at an early stage, it was clear that socialists like Justin Taua were swimming against the stream inside the Maori Party. Tuku Morgan, a former member of a National-led government and an outspoken supporter of 'Maori capitalism', played a key role in the early hui which established the party's structure and constitution. The new party's MP and leader Tariana Turia had been treated so appallingly by Helen Clark and other senior Labour politicians that she had decided already that, Don Brash aside, National's leaders could be no worse. Many of the rank and file members of the new party had grown up in the 1990s, when the trade union movement had been a shadow of its former self, and media pundits had proclaimed the end of left-wing politics: consequently, the rhetoric of people like Taua and Kepa sounded alien and irrelevant to them.

At Orewa Don Brash, the wealthy leader of the traditional party of the Kiwi bourgeoisie, had claimed that the poorest section of the New Zealand community was somehow getting the 'upper hand' simply because it had won, after more than a century of protesting, a few modest victories like state funding for its language. Brash's arguments never stood up to scrutiny, and the boost he gave National in the polls was eventually reversed. Even if they approved of his Maori-bashing, working class Pakeha could see that he and his party advocated a return to the neo-liberal policies of privatisation, union-busting, and cuts in social services that had made the governments of Jim Bolger and Jenny Shipley deeply unpopular in the nineties. It was National, and not Maori activism, which was the biggest threat.

National was able to win power last year only after swapping the severe Brash for the affable John Key, who was at pains to tell Kiwis that the more extreme policies of the neo-liberal era would not be revisited under his rule. Key's political skills have helped his government retain its popularity through its first year, but it is becoming increasingly clear that his party has not abandoned its old agenda.

Key's Cabinet is full of retreads from the Bolger-Shipley era, and his Act Party coalition partner openly agitates for full-blooded neo-liberalism. Key's government has responded to the global recession by cutting state services and laying off state workers, rather than borrowing and spending to stimulate the economy as the Rudd government has done so successfully in Australia. The result will be a further downturn in consumer spending, and more layoffs in the private as well as the public sector. The anger which teachers and ACC clients have shown towards National in recent weeks is likely to spread, as the neo-liberal agenda Key has hidden with some skill becomes obvious.

On the surface, it might seem like the spectre of racial conflict which Don Brash's Orewa speech and Labour's seabed and foreshore legislation raised in 2004 has disappeared in 2009. John Key has, after all, repudiated Brash's statements, taken pains to induce the Maori Party into his governing coalition, and treated party leaders Turia and Pita Sharples with more respect than Helen Clark could muster for some of the Maori members of her Cabinet.

The Maori Party's supporters seem reasonably happy, so far, with their leaders' decision to forge a deal with National and Act. The party has been handed a few policy victories by Key, like the promised repeal of the hated seabed and foreshore legislation and some extra funding for Maori language schools. But these victories have come at a price of Maori Party support for National's wider programme. Hone Harawira did not even try to hide the disgust he felt at having to vote for the Key government's first budget, which gave the rich tax breaks while cutting funding for a number of important government services. The Maori Party has since offered its qualified support for National plans to open the Accident Compensation Corporation to market forces and to cut the amounts it pays out to accident victims. Acquiescence in further neo-liberal policies will surely follow.

The Maori Party has fallen into exactly the trap that Justin Taua and other left-wingers warned about in 2004. The party's leaders are trying to enact a pro-Maori agenda by allying themselves with an anti-worker government. Turia and Sharples seem to have forgotten that, because the vast majority of Maori belong to the working class, and most of them belong to the poorest parts of the class, Maori are inevitably going to be badly affected by National's policies.

The Key government's first budget savagely cut funding for community education programmes which have served thousands of Maori as well as Pakeha Kiwis. The hundreds of Maori who find their adult literacy in English classes cancelled are unlikely to be consoled by the news that Key has thrown some more money at Maori-language schools. National's budget also cut funding for industry training, a move which will disproportionately affect Maori teenagers, who already face an unemployment rate of 25%.

If the Maori Party continues to support National's neo-liberal programme then it faces eventually losing its voter base amongst working class Maori. Even worse, perhaps, it risks giving large numbers of working class Pakeha the impression that Maori really are getting the 'upper hand' in New Zealand, as Don Brash claimed back in 2004. If the cause of Maori nationalism is associated with a right-wing government that makes ordinary Kiwis worse off, then Kiwi race relations could be set back decades, as sentiments turn against that government and any group associated with it.

Although the left and the trade unions have made big steps in coming to terms with Maori issues in recent decades - most unions now have their own runanga, for instance, something that was unimaginable as recently as the seventies - they still harbour people who think that causes like the preservation of the Maori language and the recovery and resettling of stolen lands are an unnecessary distraction from 'meat and veges' workers' issues. (Chris Trotter is one well-known advocate for this economistic and rather Eurocentric brand of leftism, which is sometimes incorrectly associated with the name of Marx, and which forgets that, in our part of the world, it is non-European peoples who have actually succeeded in practising socialism.) By adorning a government which is enacting an anti-worker agenda with the rhetoric of Maori nationalism, the Maori Party is giving ammunition to those who would like to take the left and the unions back to the era before the Maori renaissance began.

The Maori Party has been embarrassed in recent days by Hone Harawira's taxpayer-funded jaunt to Paris, and by the arrogant, expletive-laden e mail he wrote in defence of his rort. But Harawira's blunders are trivial in comparison to the stupidity of his party's decision to try to enact a pro-Maori agenda from the inside of an anti-worker government. A few hundred dollars of public money and some off-colour language won't kill the Maori Party; complicity in National's neo-liberal policies eventually will. Hone's not the only one who needs to rethink his ways.

Friday, November 06, 2009

From Fort Hood to Broken Hill

The killing of a dozen off-duty troops at the Fort Hood base in Texas by Nidal Malik Hasan has both shocked and divided Americans.

Army officials and liberal pundits are suggesting that Hasan is a troubled man, who gunned down his comrades for essentially personal reasons; right-wing firebrands like Rush Limbaugh, on the other hand, are noting Hasan's Muslim faith and Arab ethnicity, and suggesting that he was attempting to wage jihad inside America's largest military base. Liberals are accusing conservatives of seizing on Hasan's actions to bash Muslims; conservatives accuse liberals of trying to ignore the evidence for a 'Islamist fifth column' in America because it does not suit their prejudices.

Is it really possible, though, to make the sort of easy distinction between personal and political motivations which both the liberals and the right-wingers seem to be insisting upon, when they consider Hasan's actions? If, as the liberals maintain, Hasan had been made suicidally unbalanced by racial slights, overwork, and the prospect of a dangerous tour of duty in Iraq, could his self-destructive impulses not have led him to the ideology of Osama bin Laden, an ideology which valourises the suicides of many disturbed men? And if Hasan was waging jihad at Fort Hood, can conservatives fairly ignore the grievances which may have lain somewhere behind his decision to take such action?

When I heard about Hasan's shooting spree in the dry centre of Texas I was reminded of a group of deserted rocks that Skyler and I visited a couple of months ago in the dry centre of Australia. White Rocks, which is the typically imaginative name Australians have given to a set of quartz outcrops on the edge of the silver mining town of Broken Hill, was the place where two Muslims were shot dead on New Year's Day 1915 after an extended battle with dozens of armed police.

Badsha Mahomed Gool and Mullah Abdullah were two of the hundreds of Muslims who had emigrated to Australia in the nineteenth century to drive camels through the Outback. Referred to by the Aussies as Afghans, although they came from territory which was then a part of British India and which is now controlled by Pakistan, the camel drivers eventually established communities and built mosques in several parts of the Outback. Abdullah had settled in Broken Hill, and become a religious leader of the Afghan community there; Gool had become an ice cream vendor.

On the first morning of 1915 Gool loaded guns and ammunition into his ice cream cart. He and Abdullah and hauled the unlikely terrorist vehicle to a spot overlooking the rail line that connected Broken Hill with the nearby village of Silverton. A group of miners and their families had chartered a train to take them to a picnic at Silverton; Gool and Abdullah opened fire on the carriages, killing three people, including a small girl, and wounding eleven. Waving a homemade Ottoman flag, the two attackers retreated to White Rocks, where they made their suicidal stand. In the aftermath of the New Year's day attack, a large crowd gathered outside Broken Hill's Trades Hall then marched to the town's German club, which had been closed since the outbreak of the war. After breaking down the door and helping themselves to the supplies in the club's bar, the miners lit a fire and stormed off toward an encampment of Muslim traders on the outskirts of Broken Hill. The police, who were on the wrong side of so many industrial disputes in the turbulent early history of Broken Hill, managed to form a cordon round the encampment and save the lives of its occupants.

Gool and Abdullah had opened fire on members of the most left-wing, anti-war community in Australia. Broken Hill was the birthplace of modern trade unionism in New South Wales, and a bastion first of the revolutionary syndicalism of the Industrial Workers of the World and later of the Communist and Labour parties. Many Broken Hill miners were critics of British imperialism, and the town voted heavily against conscription in the two referenda held on the issue during World War One. Gool and Abdullah turned a part of the Broken Hill community into a xenophobic lynch mob for a few hours, but their actions do not seem to have had any really significant lasting effects in the town. They did, however, give the government in Canberra an excuse to intern hundreds of 'enemy aliens' - Germans, Austrians, and Turks - for the rest of the war, the grounds of 'national security'. Perhaps the 'Battle of Broken Hill' shows us the way that seemingly minor personal grievances caused by exclusion and discrimination can turn mysteriously into an outburst of political violence. In a letter found on his body after the battle at White Rocks, Abdullah complained about unfair treatement from Australian authorities. He had been the halal butcher for the Muslim community in Broken Hill, but the racially discriminatory policies of slaughterhouses had forced him to work in the open air, and he had several times been convicted for unsanitary practices. It seems that Abdullah's experiences had angered and radicalised him, and that he had won the older Gool over to his perspective. The imminent Anzac invasion of Turkey, the heartland of the Ottoman Empire, may have have inspired Gool and Abdullah to turn their anger into action. The precarious place that Muslims enjoyed in Broken Hill society in the early twentieth century is shown by a visit to the town's vast cemetery. The relatively green, relatively well-tended sections of the cemetery belong to Christian sects - Anglicans, Catholics, Methodists, 'Non-conformists' - and to 'Secularists'. At the back of the cemetery, on a bare red plateau divided by the scrubby bed of a dry creek, the 'Mohammedan' graves can be found. Wood and good stone was expensive in isolated Broken Hill, and many of the graves in this section of the cemetery are improvised out of rough found stones, or out of the iron that was plentiful around the town's mines. Even on some of the marble gravestones, the Arabic script, which is so alien and so suggestive to Anglo-Saxon eyes - Anthony Thwaite compared it to flashing swords, while Don Dillo thought of pouring rain - has been censored by the red dust that blows endlessly through the Outback. A few grave plots seem about to erode into the creek.

Even in death, it seems, the Outback's first Muslims have been marginalised.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

From anger to paranoia: the case of Brian Reierson

Ideas can be likened to viruses. They can lie dormant, in isolation, for long periods of time, only to awaken and spread quickly when changes take place in the environment around them. Just as a virus which has lain dormant in a cold environment can come back to life and begin to spread when the temperature rises, so an idea which has been disregarded can suddenly become credible, even fashionable, due to changes in the economic and political climate.

Last year's financial meltdown has changed the economic and political climate of the West. The doctrine of neo-liberalism, with its emphasis on the inherent wisdom of market forces and the inadvisability of government intervention in the economy, has been shaken by the collapse of banks and companies which overextended themselves in the unregulated atmosphere of the nineties and early noughties. Governments which had previously preached the benefits of a hands-off attitude to the economy have been forced to wade into the mess left by the financial crisis. Banks and manufacturing giants have been nationalised on the orders of politicians accustomed to overseeing privatisation programmes.

The financial meltdown and the recession which has followed in its wake have reopened debates about the best way to organise and run an economy. For decades, the partisans of neo-liberalism had deemed such debates unnecessary; there was no alternative, they insisted, to the rule of market forces and the retreat of government from the economy. There are still those prepared to make such arguments - in New Zealand, for instance, Business Roundtable Director Roger Kerr is endeavouring quixtoically to blame the financial crisis on an excess of government regulation, rather than its absence - but they are no longer listened to so attentively.

Millions of workers have been thrown out of jobs during the recession that has followed last year's financial collapse. In the United States the official jobless rate has reached nearly 10%, and the number of real unemployed is estimated at an astonishing 18%. In New Zealand unemployment has reached its highest level since the late nineties.

As people search for an understanding of a system that has failed them, radical alternatives to the status quo are being debated with a new vigour. The virus of socialism, which was relatively dormant in most of the developed world for decades, seems to be reawakening in places. In Germany, for instance, sales of Marx's Capital have soared, as the Left Party does well in elections. In Japan, the home of the comic book, a manga version of Marx's magnum opus has been published, as the de-Stalinised Communist Party rides high in the polls.

But it is not only the ideas of the left which are gaining a new hearing today. Right-wing conspiracy theories, which scapegoat one or another minority group for the recession, are making a comeback amongst populations angry at rising unemployment. In Britain, the neo-Nazi National Party, which blames immigrants for ruining the economy, won two seats in elections for the European parliament held earlier this year.

Last year this blog noted the revival of an anti-semitic form of the Social Credit ideology amongst those who want to blame the financial crisis on the machinations of a sinister minority. In recent months, a man named Brian Reierson has made himself into a local spokesperson for this ideology.

Reierson knows first-hand about the failure of neo-liberalism. The sixty-four year-old drives a bus for a living, and has been active in the Auckland Tramways Union's ongoing campaign for a pay increase. Like other members of the union, Reierson was locked out of his worksite for days last month. He was one of the majority of drivers who voted to reject the inadequate pay offer from employers earlier this week at a massive meeting at Alexandra Park.

Reierson is entitled to be angry at a system which pays him pitiable amounts for doing an essential job. Unfortunately, though, his attempts to understand the system which has failed him have led him into the netherworld of right-wing conspiracy theory. In a series of statements sent to members of parliament and the media over the past few months, Reierson has argued that a tiny group of money-lenders are to blame for causing last year's financial meltdown. According to Reierson these money-lenders, who are led by the 'House of Rothschild', induced the United States government to set up the Federal Reserve Bank back in 1913. Ever since then, they have used that institution to control the world economy.

Reierson's nefarious bankers 'create money out of thin air', and then loan it to the rest of the world at exorbitant rates of interest. Supported by an elaborate cast of politicians, monarchs, and propagandists, including Queen Elizabeth and our own John Key, they direct the course of history, starting and ending wars and recessions at will. If their power was broken, then the world would be free, and prosperity would reign. Long-suffering readers of this blog will recognise the similarities between Reierson's views and those of the anti-semitic Social Creditors who tried to make Radio Live into a vehicle for their views last year.

Reierson's epistles to politicians and journalists have delighted New Zealand's parnoid far right. Clare Swinney, a professional conspiracy theorist who contributes often to Uncensored, the anti-semitic, Holocaust-denying website and magazine based in Auckland, hailed Reiserson as a visionary in a rambling article which she placed on the indymedia website yesterday. Swinney, who thinks that Jews control the movies and television we watch and that swine flu vaccines are a Marxist-Jewish-Illuminati plot to kill billions of people, linked Reierson's letters to a right-wing campaign in America to overturn Barack Obama's government, disestablish the Federal Reserve, and create a new, Judenfrei currency.

Reierson does not necessarily hold all the obnoxious views of Swinney and Uncensored, but his most recent letter shows that he has certainly been imbibing the ideas of the international far right. He asks his readers to study a long you tube documentary called The Money Masters: How International Bankers Gained Control of America, which presents the Rothschilds as the secret rulers of the world during the twentieth century. The fact of the family's persecution and exile from Germany during the Nazi era is tactfully ignored by the movie's makers.

Reierson also recommends a book called The Creature from Jekyll Island, by a man named G Edward Griffin. Griffin worked for George Wallace, the southern governor who broke with the Democratic Party over the issue of equal rights for blacks and won considerable support in the south when he ran on a pro-segregation platform in the 1968 Presidential election. Griffin is a long-time member of the John Birch Society, an organisation that has published and distributed millions of copies of None Dare Call It Conspiracy, a book that uses 'evidence' from explicitly anti-semitic sources - the pro-Hitler articles of Henry Ford, for instance - to argue that an international cabal of bankers was responsible for key historical events like the Bolshevik revolution and Hitler's rise to power.

After complaints from several readers, including yours truly, indymedia's editors decided to pull Swinney's article about Reierson, on the grounds that it had nothing to do with the politics of the left and that it discriminated against a minority. Proponents of Reierson's views have reacted to this censorship by characterising the man's critics as defenders of the big banks, and of the 'New World Order' in general.

I don't regret calling for the removal of Swinney's article, because I think it is important for the left to draw a firm line between progressive criticisms of capitalism and the sort of paranoid nonsense that Brian Reierson and others are promoting.

I doubt that anyone who visits indymedia regularly doesn't believe there are profound problems with the global banking system and with capitalism. For anyone on the left, such views come with the territory. There is a rich tradition of analysis and criticism of capitalism and its institutions produced by both the reformist left - we can invoke names like Keynes, Galbraith, and, today, John Ralston Saul - and the radical left. This left-wing tradition owes nothing to the bigoted conspiracy theories of the far right.

In contrast to the left, which argues that the capitalist system has serious faults and needs to be either reformed or replaced, the right-wingers Brian Reierson cites believe that capitalism is a fine system which has been perverted by the conspiracy of a minority which controls the banking sector. Often this minority is equated with the Jews, or a section of the Jewish people; sometimes it is referred to as 'the Illuminati' or given some other bogeyname. If only the dirty minority that controls the banking sector were disposed of, the right-wing conspiracy theorists say, then all would be well.

One of Reierson's supporters claimed on indymedia that Karl Marx was a Social Creditor, because Marx was a critic of the banks. Marx, though, rejected the notion that the problem with capitalism is the misuse of the banking sector; on the contrary, he explains in great detail, in volume two of Capital, that the banking sector cannot be considered apart from the rest of the capitalist economy, and that the crises which capitalism periodically experiences are caused by the inherent contradictions of the capitalist system, not by the conscious actions of a minority within a capitalist society.

If it showed us anything, last year's financial meltdown surely showed us that it is not possible to 'create money out of thin air'. The crisis occurred when banks realised that they extended far too much money to businesses that would not be able to pay that money back. Companies that had been subsisting on debt began to fold, as the property they owned and the goods they produced could not be sold. This sort of crisis of overproduction was first noticed in 1857 by Marx, and it has occurred many times since. It is inherent in the nature of capitalism, though it can be made worse or ameliorated by certain variables, including the actions of governments. It is not the result of a conspiracy by a group of bankers sitting in a beige room.

Although Western governments have been forced to break tactically with neo-liberalism to save banks and large manufacturers like Ford, they are not breaking with underlying neo-liberal assumptions when they formulate long-term responses to the recession. With the exception of Australia, which has borrowed more money to try and spend its way out of the crisis in the Keynesian fashion traditionally favoured by the social democratic left, the governments of the West are trying to 'balance the books' by cutting state spending on health and education and laying off state employees. This approach will deepen rather than reverse the recession, because it will depress consumer spending and lead to more bankruptcies and layoffs. It is notable that Australia is the only Western nation whose economy has grown this year.

While the paranoid right scapegoats vulnerable minorities for the crisis and insists that wealth can be created 'out of thin air', the left has been arguing that the people who created the recession should pay for it, and not the workers threatened with lay-offs and cuts in state spending on vital services. Indymedia is correct to refuse the fantasies of Reierson and Swinney, and to focus on arguments and actions of the left.