Tuesday, July 05, 2011

WAI262 and the anti-historians

I hate to sound like one of the handwringing, bone carving-wearing middle class Pakeha liberals who so torment Michael Laws, but I have been rather depressed by the response of many members of my volk to WAI262, which is the unfortunately dour nickname of the monumental new report from the Waitangi Tribunal. Charged with considering the impact of colonial and postcolonial governments on Maori culture and indigenous flora and fauna, the Tribunal has spent twenty years reconstructing much of the human and natural history of these islands and subjecting that history to a series of analyses.

I had imagined that National Party and Act politicians and right-wing commentators would give WAI262 a cursory read and then dismiss the document, but I was wrong: the likes of Don Brash and Muriel Newman have condemned the text as a dangerous waste of money without having bothered to read even one of its thousands of pages. Her Majesty's 'opposition' has preferred to subject the Tribunal's report to what Italian communists used to call 'the critique of silence'. The Labour Party seems to think that its researchers are better employed chasing after trivialities like the costs of John Key's bodyguards than in reading one of the widest-ranging of all Waitangi reports.

Those politicians and commentators who have opened WAI262 seem to have skipped straight to the handful of passages where the various scholars involved in the project make recommendations for changes in Crown policy and practice. This sort of skim reading is not at all new: anyone who relied upon media reports and Hansard for their knowledge of the work the Waitangi Tribunal has done over the past thirty years could be forgiven for thinking that the body has spent its whole twenty-five year existence doing nothing but issuing a stream of instructions to government departments. In reality, the vast majority of the pages in almost every Waitangi Report are given over not to policy points but to scholarship. For me, at least, the real strength of the Tribunal's work lies in its scholarship, not in its recommendations, which have always been circumscribed by realpolitik and the nature of the New Zealand state.

Some of New Zealand's finest historians, legal scholars, and natural scientists, from Judith Binney to Geoff Park to David Williams, have worked for the Tribunal, and the reports issued by the body have added immensely to the resources available to anybody who wants to investigate the history of this country. Some of the Tribunal's texts, like the Te Urewera Report of 2010, bring previously-unknown oral traditions into the light, and thereby add another dimension to our understanding of the past; others, like the fat and fascinating Kaipara Interim Report of 2006, use piles of obscure written documents - property titles, court hearings, frayed maps - to reconstruct the contested history of their corner of the country; still others, like the Rekohu (Chatham Islands) Report of 2002, include mostly well-known primary material, but synthesise that material in a new way, by advancing new theories to explain the patterns of past events.

The tendency to read only the recommendations of the Waitangi Tribunal Reports reflects the instrumental attitude that New Zealand's political class takes toward the work of historians, and towards scholarship in general. Research is reduced to its ends, and historians and social scientists are supposed to supply facts and statistics and predictions which can be carried like props into theatres of debate like the parliamentary chamber or the press conference. The texts produced by the Waitangi Tribunal, with their frequently generous lengths, juxtapositions of different historical viewpoints, and complex historiographical syntheses, are ill-suited to the rituals of contemporary Kiwi politics. That is one of the many reasons why they should be read.

Footnote: In his initial response to WAI262, Maori blogger Morgan Godfrey observes that the recommendations at the end of the text 'relegate Maori to secondary partners' with the New Zealand state. For reasons which I can't quite discern, though, Godfrey argues glumly that Maori have to accept that 'we cannot be recognised on our terms'. The Samoans, Niueans and Cook Islanders didn't have to live with Pakeha colonialism; why, then, should Tuhoe, or Nga Puhi, or Whanau a Apanui?

The New Zealand state is a product of British and Pakeha capitalism, and many of its institutions, including its legal system, are tilted against most Pakeha, as well as against almost all Maori. The violence with which the state intervened on the side of employers against Pakeha workers during the Great Strike of 1913 and the Waterfront of Lockout of 1951 can be compared to violence of events like the invasion of Maungapohatu in 1916 and the attack on Parihaka in 1881. Both Te Whiti's followers and the 'Red Feds' who asserted themselves in 1913 found that the machinery of the state was being operated by the Pakeha capitalist class - by runholders, property speculators, and the owners of industry. The state serves the same class today, even if a small minority of that class now has brown skin.

It might be argued that an independent Maori state is not a viable prospect in New Zealand, because of the lack of a Maori majority over contiguous areas, but as Bolivia and Venezuela have shown over the past few years, it is possible to construct a 'multi-national' legal system and constitution within a single state.

Events in Venezuela, where the indigenous population is a tiny minority, suggest that such change can be supported by a non-indigenous majority, if it is shown that the minority and the majority have the same interests. In Venezuela landless non-indigenous peasants have repeatedly joined forces with indigenous peoples in battles against foreign-based agribusinesses like the British-owned Vestey cattle company and against mining companies. Both peasants and Amerindians have wanted to lay their hands on land that had in many cases either been appropriated or obtained for derisory amounts, and that was being either left to waste or despoiled. With the help of a sympathetic government, large areas of land have been won back from foreign businesses and shared out between the peasants and the Amerindians.

Of course, New Zealand is a very different place to Venezuela, and the Pakeha majority retains deeply conservative attitudes towards most Maori-related issues. But there have been a few instances in recent times where groups of Pakeha have identified their own interests with those of so-called 'Maori radicals'. The campaign against ironsand mining on the western Waikato and King Country coast, which has largely passed under the radar of the mainstream media, has brought together Maori nationalists with Pakeha surfers and boaties. In the eastern Bay of Plenty, Whanau a Apanui is apparently attracting some sympathy from local Pakeha for its campaign against oil exploration. In my local neighbourhood, a branch of Unite made up almost entirely of Pakeha low-paid workers and beneficiaries took to the streets to campaign for Hone Harawira during the recent byelection.

In Raglan and in the Bay of Plenty, Pakeha have been able to see that Maori nationalists are a much smaller threat to them than multinational corporations backed by the might of the New Zealand state; in West Auckland, Pakeha members of Unite understand that they have more in common with the unemployed and low-paid Maori workers of Moerewa and Kaitaia than they have with John Key and Don Brash. Given the intensification of the global financial crisis in recent weeks, the rightward trajectory of this National-Act government, and the mixture of socialist and Maori nationalist politics being advanced by the Mana Party, it is by no means impossible that larger groups of Pakeha might decide to follow the lead of the Waitemata branch of Unite.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Mana Party is the brainchild of the reformist left that sees the time is ripe to challenge Labour and mobilise against the New Right. Leading players include leader Hone Harawira, Chairman Matt McCarten, Maori lawyer Annette Sykes, pakeha radical Sue Bradford and pakeha activist John Minto. They are all democratic socialists or reformists who see social change being won through trade union and parliamentary struggle. They see that there is a rising tide of opposition to the NACTs but no Labour Party fightback. There is a danger that young workers, especially Maori youth who face terrible unemployment, family breakdown, alienation and self-destruction, will bear the brunt of the rabid extreme rightwing agenda that another NACT government will unleash on the working class.

The Mana party is the ideal vehicle to rally workers both Maori and non-Maori against these anti-worker attacks. Harawira’s mana with Maori workers survives despite his taking his grassroots activism into parliament. Harawira organised the 2004 Foreshore & Seabed (F&S) Hikoi. It was a great move but instead of staying on the streets it headed for parliament. It got co-opted by Turia who resigned from Labour and used her by-election victory to launch the Maori Party (MP) and join forces with National to defeat Labour's F&S Act. At the time we argued that instead of going to parliament Harawira should have taken his fight into occupations of the F&S that could be supported by Maori and non-Maori workers thus advancing the unity and strength of the labour movement. After nearly 3 years of sitting in the anti-worker/ anti-Maori NACT/MP govt Harawira finally reached breaking point and resigned. His break with the MP and forming Te Mana to force a Te Tai Tokerau by-election, created the opportunity for leftwing reformists to act.

9:30 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Harawira has a history of activism as a Maori nationalist. This led him into the Maori party where Maori nationalism was the uniting force. But Te Mana has appeal to non-Maori youth and other activists too. Has Harawira realised that Maoridom is divided along class lines that he must represent Maori workers against the MP representation of iwi capitalism? Perhaps he now agrees that only a united working class can advance the interests of Maori workers. This realisation would sit well with that of Matt McCarten, the Maori President of Unite union, and Mike Treen, the pakeha National Secretary of Unite. Unite under their leadership has recruited around 8000 young lowpaid workers in the last 5 years many of them young Maori and Pasifika as well as recent immigrants.

Te Mana is the ideal vehicle to project Unite’s politics into parliament. McCarten is a tried and true politician who took the Alliance into a decade of parliamentary dead end deals but still has huge mana with political activists. Mike Treen, a long-time supporter of Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez, argues that Te Mana is a progressive step towards the overthrow of NZ capitalism. He offers a more hard left alternative to the dominant parliamentary focus of Mana seeing socialist revolution as the ultimate goal of its program. Treen therefore offers to young activists turning left the scenario that paints Mana as a radical breakthrough in NZ politics.

Te Mana has already got several strong political demands including the (re) nationalising of power, water and housing; an end to asset sales; and end to the 90 Day Fire at Will Act; and a Hone Heke tax (sometimes called financial transactions tax) that would replace GST. On the face of it these are anti-neoliberal demands. They are more against the new right’s market politics than against the capitalist system itself. They are similar to 'anti-capitalist' demands that try to make the market serve socialism. Many of today's left reformists look to China’s brand of ‘market socialism’ as an alternative to capitalism. For example the Castro brothers and Hugo Chavez are seen as building ‘market socialism’ influenced by China, though Chavez calls it ‘21st century socialism’ and the Castro brothers see it as defending Cuba's 20th century 'socialism'.

The problem is that this perspective is unreal as China’s ‘market socialism’ has nothing to do with socialism.

9:31 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Uktra-left poppycock...why do you love hate?

10:58 pm  
Blogger Marty Mars said...

"Given the intensification of the global financial crisis in recent weeks, the rightward trajectory of this National-Act government, and the mixture of socialist and Maori nationalist politics being advanced by the Mana Party, it is by no means impossible that larger groups of Pakeha might decide to follow the lead of the Waitemata branch of Unite."

I agree with this and really hope that it comes true.

I have just read the factsheets from the Wai 262 report and the strong 'partnership' theme is evident - I'm not sure how that works with self determination and have blogged about that and my thoughts on kaitiakitanga used throughout the report - I just can't see the responsibilities of kaitiakitanga being fulfilled without the power and authority to fulfill them.

These reports should create nationwide discussions and be given the weight they deserve and hopefully that will happen, eventually - it may even be happening now :)

I see The Mana party as being a good vehicle to represent many people from any ethnicity and background and that is why i have joined - I decided i had to walk the walk as well as talk the talk. I really believe we are seeing the birth of a 'historic' movement that will bring about real change. When you look at the agenda of national in terms of their telegraphed attacks on the disadvantaged in society, who else has the intensity to stop them or even slow them down? The Mana Party kaupapa can accomodate varied ideologies because they can align with the base values like equality. Very much a, 'time will tell' one though, and it will be a very interesting next few months.

On another note Maps, I have been thinking about Bill's question on what shape and form maori self determination might take - luckily as an older student I have chosen a couple of papers this semester on this very topic. I hope i get some good insights and eventually be able to offer some answers to that perplexing question.

11:32 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

Kia ora Marty,

the Mana Party's rise seems to have gotten Pakeha leftists thinking hard about tino rangatiratanga, and about how Maori nationalism might relate to left-wing politics. Virtually all the country's half dozen or so small Marxist groups seem to have gotten involved in Mana in one way or another, and one of them, the Auckland-based Socialist Aotearoa, seems to have quite a high profile inside the new party. It's also good to see that there are Pakeha social democrats from groups like the moribund Alliance Party who are jumping aboard the new waka.

The Marxist attitude to nationalism has quite a long and tangled history. Marx talked about the struggles of peoples like the Irish for self-determination, and told socialists that these struggles had to be supported, but he and Engels could be dismissive about the desire of some peoples, especially in the Salvic world, for national independence. Engels wrote a foolish essay which attempted to disitnguish between 'historic' and 'non-historic' nations, and which argued that only the former deserved independence.

Later Rosa Luxembourg and Lenin argued over whether the Polish struggle for independence should be supported. Luxembourg, who had Polish origins, took a hardline attitude, arguing that nationalism was a distraction from class issues and made bosses and workers take the same side. Lenin's view was that there were real historical and material reasons why people identified with their nation, and that these reasons couldn't be wished away. He recommended that socialists support national liberation struggles in oppressed nations, with the proviso that socialists in these countries maintain their independence from the bourgeois parts of the national liberation movement, and advocate socialism as the only way to bring true independence. The idea was that socialist ideas would spread during the course of the national liberation struggle.

New Zealand Marxists have argued in recent decades about whether Maori constitute a nation, like, say, the Palestinians, or whether they are instead a disadvantaged minority, like, say, the Melanesian population in Queensland, or the Pasifika population in this country. The debate has centred on the criteria which a people have to fulfil to be considered a nation. Opponents of the notion that Maori constitute a nation have argued that a Maori nation didn't exist before the arrival of Europeans (I agree with this claim), that Maori never created a set of national institutions during the struggle against colonialism (I disagree -look at Kingitanga, the parliaments of the 19th century, and so on), and that Maori today have been to a large extent integrated into the general population (I disagree with this idea, largely because of the limitless ignorance of and prejudice towards Maoritanga which I've found amongst my fellow Pakeha).

One key debating point has involved the question of a Maori state. Where, the critics of support for tino rangatiratanga have argued, would the borders of such a state lie? How could such a state have a Maori majority?

I feel that the preoccupation with a completely independent Maori state is misguided because it ignores the actual character of Maori nationalism over the last hundred or so years. It seems to me that South American indigenous rights activist Jose Aylwin's notion of a 'multi-national state', which he shared with mostly-Maori audiences during his tour of the country back in 2009 (I blogged about his appearance in Auckland) gets a lot closer to capturing what many advocates of tino rangatiratanga seem actually to mean by the phrase.

12:19 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Of course, New Zealand is a very different place to Venezuela, and the Pakeha majority retains deeply conservative attitudes towards most Maori-related issues."
thought you said this was about the far right?

9:02 pm  

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