Monday, April 30, 2012

A view of Oceania

The Oceania-themed issue of the long-running Kiwi literary journal brief is finally running off the press this week. I snapped the photo on the cover (click to enlarge it) of brief 44-45 last year, while standing on the doorstep of the Tongan Visitors Bureau in Nuku'alofa, looking down a concrete path through a pair of pillars topped with statuettes of (I think) Hikule'o, who was the goddess of Pulotu, an underworld, or otherworld, which might be reached, in pre-Christian times at least, through portals which appeared in cemeteries or on lonely roads at night. Hikule'o stares across Vuna Road, which is a pleasant seaside route that that gets jammed with cruising teenagers on Friday nights. Perhaps we could call it Nuku'alofa's answer to Auckland's Tamaki Drive.

On the far side of Vuna Road punters are sitting about at the Nuku'alofa Central bus station, protected from the January sun and from falling coconuts by a tin roof kindly provided by Digicel, a mobile phone network provider which began operations in the Carribean and has since been island-hopping its way through the Pacific. Digicel specialises in entering small, newly liberalised markets, and it celebrated its launch in Tonga in 2008 by bringing pop star Shaggy to play in Nuku'alofa.

Since last year Tongans have been able to pay their bills and transfer money overseas using the Digicel network. For people frustrated by a decrepit landline phone system and an erratic public service, Digicel has become a symbol of hypermodern efficiency. Digicel's only real local rival as a mobile network provider is the Tongan Communications Company, the royal-controlled outfit which relies for most of its revenue on its monopoly over landline services. For Tongans, then, choosing Digicel over TCC can be a way of expressing dissatisfaction with an ossified social structure, as well as with an ossified communications system.

The Tongan bus network operates according to an etiquette which is, at first, hard for outsiders to grasp. There are no bus timetables, and no scheduled arrival or departure dates. Generally, a bus leaving Nuku'alofa for the countryside will wait at the central station with its engine running until it has a respectable number of patrons, even if it has to wait for hours. The bus driver must not be paid until the very end of a patron's journey. Gaggles of giggling teenage girls are allowed, and perhaps even encouraged, to use up their  Saturday afternoons riding for free at the front of the bus playing local hip-hop out of bop-blasters. They ride   the same routes again and again, and never seem to stop giggling for long.

Beyond the gravel of the bus station is the scoria seawall of the Vuna waterfront, and the pale blue water of Nuku'alofa harbour, where ships carrying bananas and used cars have to zig and zag between islets of coconuts, rusting shipwrecks, and the rotten teeth of a coral reef. At the end of World War Two American troops marked their departure from Tonga by pushing scores of trucks, tractors, jeeps, and feld guns over the Vuna Road wall and into the warm shallow water. After occupying and forcibly modernising Queen Salote's peaceful kingdom, the boozy, trigger-happy Yanks were apparently determined not to leave any of the fruits of their industrial civilisation to locals. Out beyond the seawall, amidst the slowly disintegrating weapons of a half-forgotten war, Tongans go wading and foraging for seafood at low tide, leaving their SUVs and patched-up Valiants unlocked and running beside Vuna Road.

For me, at least, the photo on the cover of brief 44-45 embodies some of the complexities and contradictions which make Oceania a fascinating part of the world.

A launch party for brief 44-45 will be held soon in Auckland. If you're keen to come have a beer or bowl of kava, send me an e mail at and I'll offer directions.

[Posted by Maps/Scott]

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

John Ansell, lizard creature

I remember watching a B-grade sci fi movie where a race of evil lizard creatures landed discretely on Planet Earth and, using a strange trick they had learned on some other planet, began to take over the bodies of humans. Soon millions of the lizard creatures were wandering around living apparently normal lives as humans. Sometimes, though, a lizard's disguise failed for a moment or two - the blue eyes of a shop assistant suddenly turned a savage red, alarming a client, or a politician's tongue became forked and viscous as he opened his mouth to give an important speech. Because of these rather unpleasant lapses in disguise the lizard creatures were eventually found out, and driven back to their own corner of the galaxy.

John Ansell did a good impression of one of those sci-fi lizard creatures on national television tonight, when he appeared on Close Up to discuss race relations in New Zealand with Hone Harawira and Morgan Godfrey.

A veteran of the advertising business, Ansell is best-known as the author of the Iwi/Kiwi billboard deployed by Don Brash during the bitter 2005 general election. Ansell was enthused by Brash's denunciations of Maori nationalism and biculturalism, and when his hero took control of the Act Party last year he was employed to produce a new series of provocative advertisements. But the long-winded broadsides Ansell created against the 'Maorification of everything' were unpopular even inside Act, and the party quickly distanced itself from him.

Ansell may be out in the cold politically, but his rhetoric has only become more heated over the past few months. In comments on right-wing blogs and in intermittent but often prolix posts to his own website, Ansell has warned of the 'Maori tradition' of 'treachery', decried the National government as a bunch of closet Marxists, expressed sympathy with the idea that 9/11 was an 'inside job', and cast doubt on whether women possess the ability to be responsible voters.

A number of Ansell's statements have shown his sympathy for the conspiracy theories of New Zealand pre-history and history promoted by men like Martin Doutre and Kerry Bolton and organisations like the One New Zealand Foundation and the National Front. The likes of Bolton and Doutre claim that white people established a civilisation on these islands thousands of years before Maori, and that the remains of this civilisation are hidden by a coalition of Maori, scientists, historians, and civil servants. They insist that the same sinister coalition has hidden the true text of the Treaty of Waitangi from public view, and has in recent decades set about the 'Maorification' of New Zealand.

Ansell has never held public office or an elected position in a political organisation, has never worked as a scholar on New Zealand society or history, and appears never to have published much except vituperative blog posts. Ansell was put on Close Up not to provide political or historical insights, but to engage in a bun-fight with Hone Harawira. While the token 'moderate' Morgan Godfrey sat looking rather bemused, Close Up host Mark Sainsbury repeatedly invited Ansell and Harawira to fire at each other. Ansell was happy to let loose, and his first few verbal volleys would have had many conservative Pakeha viewers nodding and muttering agreement. He complained about the "appeasement" of Maori radicals and about the establishment of "special" rights for Maori, and called for a "colourblind" government in New Zealand.

Ansell's charges were unfounded. Maori radicals like Rua Kenana, Syd Jackson, and Tame Iti have traditionally been arrested, not appeased, by the authorities they have railed against, and institutions like kohanga reo schools and Maori Youth Courts represent not privileges for Maori, but specifically Maori ways to access universal rights. But Ansell's misperceptions are shared by many Pakeha, who equate their own history with New Zealand history and their own identity with New Zealand identity, and regard the state institutions they crafted as institutions designed for the needs of all Kiwis. Many Pakeha are still personally affronted by Maori who do not identify with Pakeha history, traditions, and institutions, and some perceive Maori institutions like kohanga reo as symptoms of separatism, rather than the products of a desire for equality.

After his initial rhetorical success on Close Up, Ansell showed a little too much of a very strange ideology. The well-seasoned and popular complaints about Maori radicals and separatists gave way to a blast of conspiracy theory, as Ansell claimed that the National-led government is in the process of turning New Zealand into "apartheid Aotearoa".

With the excitement of a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat, Ansell began to talk about the Constitutional Advisory Panel, an obscure committee set up last year to organise public debates on such burning issues as the royal honours system and the relevance of the Privy Council to New Zealand. The Constitutional Advisory Panel has no power to formulate, let alone implement, changes to New Zealand laws and institutions, and has widely been seen as a sop given by National to the Maori Party during coalition negotiations, and as a salary-earner for clapped-out politicians like Michael Cullen, John Luxton and Deborah Coddington.

Ansell assured Close Up's audience, though, that the Constitutional Advisory Panel is actually the tool John Key and Pita Sharples are using to turn New Zealand into a "communist, animist, and racist" state. The panel is apparently intent on creating a constitution which will outlaw private property, force all Kiwis to follow ancient pagan beliefs, and remove political rights from non-Maori inhabitants of these islands. Noting that he was speaking on the eve of Anzac Day, Ansell compared the coming Key-Sharples dystopia to the Nazi empire New Zealand forces fought in World War Two, and urged a new struggle against evil. The disguise of the fair-minded bloke had dropped; the weird lizard creature was revealed. Even Hone Harawira looked embarrassed by John Ansell's outburst, and Close Up's producers must have wondered whether they had taken their penchant for 'controversial' guests too far.

To his credit, Harawira refused to get down in the mud and wrestle with Ansell, and instead gently questioned the man's credentials and knowledge. When Ansell proclaimed that many Maori share his views, Hone wondered whether Ansell could name even three of his Maori supporters. Ansell fell quiet. After Ansell had banged on about New Zealanders losing their country to Maori radicals, Hone noted the thousands of Maori and Pakeha uniting to protest the sale of state assets and proposals for deep sea mining off New Zealand coasts by foreign companies. After Ansell had made his absurd link between 'Maorification' and Nazism, Hone discussed the experiences of his ancestors in the Maori Battalion during the First and Second World Wars.

It is not surprising that Hone Harawira was unimpressed by John Ansell's conspiracy theories, but I doubt whether even the more conservative viewers of Close Up bought into the notion that John Key is about to turn New Zealand into a communist, Maori-dominated, pagan society. With his half-dozen luxury homes and squillions of dollars in investments, John Key seems an unlikely Lenin. And National, with its overwhelmingly white membership and long history of rhetorical Maori-bashing, seems an unlikely surrogate for the Black Panther Party. Nor do the proscription of Bibles and the state-enforced hugging of trees on Sunday mornings seem likely in the near future in New Zealand. To all but a handful of viewers, Ansell's claims must have seemed otherworldly.

John Ansell's lurch from redneck respectability to purveyor of loony-fringe conspiracy theory reflects the intellectual difficulties of the far right in this country. Although Ansell and his co-thinkers are able to land isolated blows on their opponents by using rhetoric about 'Maori separatism' and 'special rights' that is popular with Pakeha, they are unable to formulate the credible narrative of New Zealand history and the coherent analysis of contemporary New Zealand society that are preconditions for building a serious  following for the far right.

Until the 1970s, the far right in this country was able to piggyback on the hegemonic view of our history, a view which Chris Trotter expressed very well in a column for the late Independent:

In the beginning were the Moriori – a primitive Melanesian people who were easily defeated and exterminated by a proud and warlike Polynesian race called the Maori. The arrival of Europeans profoundly disrupted Maori society, forcing their chiefs to seek the protection of the all-powerful British Empire. Almost alone among Britain’s colonies, New Zealand was founded peacefully and in good faith. The 1840 Treaty of Waitangi guaranteed native property rights and gave Maori the legal status of British subjects. Unfortunately, the warlike Maori tribes proved incapable of keeping the peace, and the British Government was required to subjugate them by military force. As the Moriori succumbed to the more powerful Maori, so were the Maori forced to give way before the more civilised Europeans. However, the dignity and valour of their Maori adversaries left a deep and favourable impression on the victorious "Pakeha" settlers. Convinced they were descended from the same Indo-European stock, the two peoples intermarried freely, producing a vigorous hybrid nation famed throughout the world for its racial harmony. 

For most of the twentieth century, the far right could happily assert that New Zealand whites were indigenes, by virtue of the martial victories of the nineteenth century and the interbreeding that had supposedly destroyed Maori as a distinct people. Opposition to Chinese and Indian immigrants and American movies and Marxist ideas could be justified with straightforwardly nativist rhetoric about the dangers of foreign pollution. The Maori seats in parliament and the Ministry of Maori Affairs could be condemned as obsolete. The march of assimilation could be cheered on.

For Maori banned from practising their traditional religion, from sitting on juries considering the fate of Pakeha, and from speaking their language at school, the assimilationist New Zealand that prevailed from the 1880s to the 1970s seemed anything but colourblind. The rise of Maori protest and the increased circulation of sensitive studies of New Zealand history made the old 'myth of New Zealand' described by Trotter untenable. As academic courses, official rhetoric, and the occasional law began to recognise New Zealand's binational nature, the racist far right found itself suddenly out in the cold. The sheer size of the Maori protest movement, both on the streets and in the universities, made the notion that New Zealanders constituted a single, harmonious race impossible to sustain.

Although a number of prominent Kiwi intellectuals, like CK Stead and Michael Bassett, emerged in the 1980s and '90s as critics of aspects of Maori nationalism, none of them has called for a return to the assimilationist policies of old. The National Party continues to engage occasionally in Maoribashing, but it is generally content, in practice, to try to coopt parts of the Maori renaissance, by making alliances with conservative iwi leaders and courting 'upwardly mobile' young Maori. National's coalition with the Maori Party, which nowadays mostly represents the Maori business community, exemplifies this strategy.

The far right has been struggling for decades to deal with the loss of its traditional narrative of New Zealand history and its traditional allies in the mainstream right. The claims by Doutre and Bolton about Celts, Phoenicians, and various other pale-skinned peoples reaching these islands and eventually being overwhelmed by Polynesians are attempts to give the far right a new narrative of New Zealand's past. Bolton and Doutre believe that their theories deprive Maori of the status as indigenes, and make the white dispossession of Maori in the nineteenth century a delayed act of justice. But Doutre and Bolton's claims are fantastic and poorly presented, and their connections to neo-Nazi movements, Holocaust deniers, and 9/11 Truthers hardly enhance their credibility. Attempts to explain the Maori renaissance of the last forty years as a sinister plot to impose communism, animism, and apartheid on New Zealand are similarly desperate. Conspiracy theories are generally a sign of intellectual failure, and the crackpot notions John Ansell has chosen to promote are no exception.

 [Posted by Maps/Scott]

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The once and future Mandelstam

During a conversation with an admiring Paul Theroux, the elderly Jorge Luis Borges insisted that peace seldom inspires great art. What memorable art, the cantankerous Borges asked, had stable, peaceful nations like modern Canada ever given the world?

Borges got bored easily, especially in the decades he spent as an old and blind man, and his claim that conflict and chaos are the seedbeds of art may have been intended as a provocation, rather than a serious argument. When we consider the masterpieces created by writers, painters, architects, auteurs, and even poster-makers in early twentieth century Russia, though, it is hard not wonder whether Borges might have had a point.

Men and women like Malevich, Pasternak, Khlebnikov, Akhmatova, and Eisenstein had to cope with three revolutions, the German invasion of their homeland, a Civil War, and first Tsarist then Stalinist dictatorship, and yet they managed to produce work which still resonates around the world today. How many of us, in the second decade of the twenty-first century, would be brave enough to predict that the feted artists of our era will enjoy the same longevity? Damien Hirst may have made a lot more money than Kasimir Malevich, but his images look derivative and trivial besides the great visionary canvases of the man who invented and then went beyond absolute abstract art. James Cameron may have bigger budgets and fancier gadgets than Eisenstein enjoyed, but his Titanic looks pretty flimsy besides the Marxist master's Battleship Potemkin.

Osip Mandelstam was perhaps the most singular of all the geniuses who flourished amidst the chaos of revolutionary Russia. Raised in St Petersburg by Jewish parents, he was one of the young modernists who sought to revolutionise Russian poetry in the first two decades of the twentieth century, by replacing the over-elaborate language and cliched imagery of nineteenth century trends like Romanticism and Symbolism with work that was both crisply phrased and elliptical. From the start of his career, though, Mandelstam had a fiercely idiosyncratic understanding of the modernist mission.

Since the early nineteenth century, at least, Russian intellectuals had been divided in their attitudes toward the wealthier nations to their west. Russian governments encouraged them to study abroad, and to appropriate some of the new knowledge and technologies which had appeared in industrial societies like Britain. But while some Russian writers and thinkers looked to the West for inspiration, others reacted against what they saw as the devaluation of their own culture and people, and tried to ground their work in the Russian countryside and peasantry. The conflict between Westernism and Russophilia was exemplified by Dostoevsky, who denounced the West as decadent and proclaimed Russia the cultural and spiritual centre of the world, yet spent years in the literary salons and gambling dens of Paris and Geneva.

The division over European modernity was replicated inside Russian radical politics, as groups like the Narodniks and the Social Revolutionaries advocated agitation in the countryside and the creation of an agrarian form of socialism, while the Bolsheviks insisted on the urban working class as the main agent of revolution, and on industrialisation as the way to a new society.

Like their forebears, the modernist intellectuals of the early twentieth century agonised over their relationship with the West. Some of them thought that Russia had to be ruthlessly rationalised and modernised, so that science and industry took the place of priests and the plough. Others, like the great Futurist poet Velimir Khlebnikov, insisted that the answers to Russia's many problems lay in the country's remote rural interior, with the folk stories and folk magic of peasants and nomads. After wandering deep into the woodlands and marshes of the east and also exploring dictionaries of various medieval Slavic tongues, Khlebnikov developed a dialect of his own called 'Zaum', which he thought capable not only of describing but also magically altering reality, after the manner of the imps and goblins which inhabit Russian mythology.

Osip Mandelstam opted out of the great debate between Westernising and Russophile intellectuals. Born in Warsaw to middle class Jewish parents and raised in St Petersburg, he was fascinated from an early age not with industrial northern Europe but with the ancient civilisations of the Mediterranean. Mandelstam's poetry brings together, in a strange but unaffected way, the turbulent Russia of the early twentieth century, with its barricaded streets and cavalry charges over frozen lakes, and the warm, pagan, sensual Greece of Homer and Aristophanes. The black soil of the ancient south is slipped under the blood-stained snows of revolutionary Russia. Mandelstam welcomed the overthrow of Tsarism in February 1917, and he was able to publish his poems and earn a living as a journalist during the first few years of Bolshevik rule, but Stalin's rise to power in the mid-'20s was a disaster for him.

Like so many megalomaniacal dictators, Stalin had appalling taste in art. He despised the avant-garde writing and painting which had proliferated in the early days of the Soviet Union, and he demanded that artists abide by the miserable propagandistic aesthetic known as 'socialist realism'. Suddenly the penalty for innovation was prison or death.

Late in 1933, during a walk through a frozen Moscow with Boris Pasternak, Mandelstam whispered the words to a new poem into his friend's ear:

We live, deaf to the land beneath us,
Ten steps away no one hears our speeches,

All we hear is the Kremlin mountaineer,
The murderer and peasant-slayer.

His fingers are fat as grubs
And the words, final as lead weights, fall from his lips,

His cockroach whiskers leer
And his boot tops gleam...

Pasternak turned on his heel, looked urgently at Mandelstam and said "You didn't say that - and I didn't hear it". Despite Pasternak's urgings, Mandelstam failed to suppress his criticism of Stalin, and in 1934 he was sent into exile in the small provincial town of Voronezh. Lonely and frightened, the poet had a mental breakdown, and attempted to redeem himself by producing the sort of 'Ode to Stalin' that was becoming popular amongst Soviet writers. But Mandelstam's aesthetic conscience kept interfering with his desire to placate 'the Kremlin mountaineer', and his poem evolved from a sonorous piece of grovelling into 'Lines to an Unknown Soldier', a long, anguished meditation on destruction and tyranny. Mandelstam was sent to a labour camp in Russia's far east in 1938, and seems to have died later that year. In a number of the poems he wrote in the last decade of his life the vast cold pine forest of Siberia is imagined as both sinister and somehow welcoming place. Like Homer's land of the lotus eaters, Siberia's taiga offers both sanctuary and oblivion:

The wolfhound age springs at my shoulders
though I'm no wolf by blood.
Better to be stuffed up a sleeve like a fleece cap
in a fur coat from the steppes of Siberia...

Lead me into the night by the Yenesey
where the pine touches the star.
I'm no wolf by blood,
and only my own kind will kill me.

Osip Mandelstam's continuing hold over readers far from his homeland is shown by the publication of a new book of English-language translations of his work. In a review of Ecco Press' Stolen Air: Selected Poems of Osip Mandelstam for the Washington Post, Michael Dirda quotes Mandelstam's claim that 'Only in Russia' is poetry properly 'respected', because only in Russia is poetry 'so common a motive for murder'. Borges might have smiled sadly at that piece of irony.

Mandelstam's poems have not been forgotten by twenty-first century New Zealand writers. In 'Ovid in Otherworld', the final, feverish section of his 2008 novel EMO, Jack Ross quotes Mandelstam at length, as he meditates on the connections between exile and creativity.

Hamish Dewe and I discovered Mandelstam as undergraduates at the University of Auckland back in the 1990s, and over the years we've swapped copies of various editions of his work, arguing over the merits of this or that version of this or that poem.

When Hamish edited the 43rd issue of brief last year, I took the opportunity to fling numerous submissions at him, and in return received the expected series of laconically enlightening criticisms. Here's one of the poems Hamish did accept for brief #33, along with his commentary:


pick up the radio set
carry it out of the living room
walk down your street
walk past the hairdressers
the delicatessan
the park emptied punctually
at half-past five
walk into the taiga
find the fir tree
the fir tree I

find the axe growing
like a smooth perfect branch
pull the axe from its wound
swing it into the earth
break open the permafrost's empty
treasure chest

bury the radio standing up
like a horse
and cover your work with pine needles

in three thousand years a Mapuche-Hungarian miner
will pick the radio from his day's dredgings
and remember a fossilised trilobite

he will lay his ear on the sodden cloth of the speaker
and hear Ulysses returning to Ithaca
in orderly hexameters

From: Hamish Dewe

I think it is better without the first lines, starting mysteriously in medias res. With the first lines, the first stanza begins to feel either slightly quotidian or perhaps a little Gogol-surreal (a feeling reinforced by the almost shamanistic repetitiveness of some of the phrasing (find the fir tree / the fir tree I / described // find the axe).

Mandelstam as a b-boy with a ghetto-blaster on his shoulder.

Isn't it 'delicatessEn'?

Without agency, in the guise of fate, Osip transmits the gossip of the wireless century (news that stays news) into the mestizo future.

Lift the carcass to your ear, imagine you hear the sea, across which the hero attempts home. At this distance, who remembers the names of the crew, or M's siberian jailers?

Walk out of the trivial, the familiar and hence unknown, into the oracular preordained wilds. Spend your years in the wilderness to return as the voice of Mosaic Truth.

The axe is surely a much better symbol than the sword (pulled out of the stone, or revealed from the still waters of the lake) for the people's Arthurian hero (the once and future Mandelstam!)

[Posted by Maps/Scott]

Sunday, April 15, 2012

From Samoa to Azawad

Over the past week or so I've been reading Pacific Prelude, a book Margery Perham based on the diary she kept during her visits to Samoa and Australasia in 1929 and 1930. Perham visited the South Pacific as an unknown young Oxford don, but by the time she prepared her diary for publication in the 1970s she was regarded, especially in conservative circles, as one of the foremost authorities on twentieth century British colonialism.

Throughout her career Perham was most concerned with Africa, where Britain maintained an unwieldy collection of colonies until the 1960s, but she had become determined to visit Samoa after reading about the Mau Rebellion against New Zealand rule over the western part of the archipelago. Angry at the Kiwi administrators who had turned up and imposed their authority during World War One, Samoan chiefs and half-caste traders had built the Mau movement around the slogan Samoa mo Samoa (Samoa for the Samoans).

The Samoan resistance to New Zealand rule is not difficult to understand. From the beginning, the officials and security forces Wellington despatched to Samoa showed a mixture of racism, incompetence, and arrogance. During the global influenza epidemic of 1918 a fifth of Samoans perished, because New Zealand officials had been too incompetent to quarantine ships arriving in Apia, and too proud to ask for medical assistance from the America administrators of the eastern island of Tutuila.

Later the New Zealanders had attempted to plant their Anglo-Saxon brand of capitalism in Samoa, by breaking up communal lands into individual plots and establishing special 'modernising' schools were local boys could be inculcated with bourgeois values. Samoan villages, with their apparently haphazard arrangements of fale and sprawling communal gardens, were forcibly 'tidied up' by the colonists, so that houses stood in rows before individual farmlets. Samoans who objected to the 'modernisation' of their society were rewarded with imprisonment or exile.

Like the Kingitanga movement founded decades earlier in another region of Polynesia, the Mau did not simply reject colonial authority, but created its own institutions to take the place of palangi power. Supporters of the Mau witheld taxes from the colonial government in Apia, and ignored the commands of the colonial police force. A well-organised Mau government was established at Vaimoso, a village beyond the southern edge of Apia, and policemen adorned in the blue and white colours of the Mau were soon seen throughout the colony. When New Zealand officials tried to leave Apia to investigate the rebellion they often found the roads blocked by huge logs and nationalists wielding clubs. Mass arrests failed to quash the movement, and by the time Margery Perham arrived in Apia in December 1929 the contradiction between the New Zealand state and the shadow state created by Samoans had become, for the colonists at least, intolerable. A few days after Perham's departure from Samoa, New Zealand forces would open a new phase in the struggle by turning a machine gun on a peaceful Mau march through Apia and killing eight men, including the movement's leader, the high chief Tamasese Lealofi. Samoans still refer to December the 28th, 1929 as Black Saturday.

Early in 1930 hundreds of New Zealand marines arrived in Apia, and began a series of raids on pro-Mau villages in Upolu and Sava'i, Samoa's two main islands. As the nationalists hid in the bush and mountains, their fale were looted and burned. There were more shootings of unarmed Samoans, and the colonial forces even attempted a primitive air war against the Mau, by flying planes low over the interior of Upolu, and letting marines empty their revolvers into the bush.

But years of repression failed to defeat the Mau, and after the election of New Zealand's first Labour government in 1936 the movement was legalised. Samoa became independent in 1962. Perham's account of her time in Samoa is both fascinating and infuriating. With its relentlessly jolly, relentlessly superior tone and its frequent salutes to the glories of the British Empire, her diary reads a little like the prose of Enid Blyton or Captain WE Johns. Perham seems to have seen Samoa's crisis as the opportunity for an awfully big adventure, and her excitement often made her recklessly insensitive. Shortly after her arrival in Apia she decided to take a walk, and soon found a road into the countryside:

I found that some trees had been felled blocking the road. I clambered over them. This obstacle appeared several times. I went on. One or two Samoans passed. They stared at me as if surprised but ignored my greeting. This seemed to me very odd for this courteous people. I went on further. I noticed that one or two of the men were wearing a navy-blue lava-lava with some white bands round the bottom, rather like our hockey skirts at Oxford. At last I came upon a large, round, open-sided hut rather like a bandstand. Inside a circle of men were sitting, all with the navy-blue banded skirts. I waved and shouted a greeting. They all turned around and stared at me but made no reply. So, feeling snubbed as well as puzzled, I turned around and walked disconsolately back...

What Perham describes is an unwitting visit to the Mau capital in the village of Vaimoso. The 'bandstand' at the centre of the village was the movement's parliament, and the men meeting there were likely some of the most senior chiefs in Samoa.

On another occasion Perham attempted to drive out of Apia late at night. Coming to a junction in the road, she noticed 'many torches', and then a crowd of Samoans 'standing beside logs, and ready to roll them' in her way. Perham had reached a Mau checkpoint, where she was stopped and questioned before being sent on her way. Writing up her diary the next day, she admitted being 'pretty hot' at having to 'submit' to the authority of the nationalists. Perham had as little regard for colonial hierarchy as she did for fa'a Samoa, and during her time in the islands she regularly buttonholed senior Kiwi administrators, asking them to describe and justify their policies.

But Perham's relentless curiosity did not bring her many insights into the crisis in Samoa. Although her diary criticises Samoa's administrators, she shares their imperiocentric worldview. Here is her account of one of her discussions with administrators:

We went on to ask, 'Ought these Polynesian people be preserved? ..Apparently strong and beautiful, they wither away before Western pressures. Long isolated in their islands...they have had no reason to contrive and struggle, still less to reason. Nowhere in the world is life easier, that is why they sing and put hibiscus behind their ears. But now we have caught them in the net of the world economic system, and their beautiful leisure is menaced by the hunger of the Western markets for coconut oil and by the bee-like perserverance of the imported Chinese...We decided in the end to save the Polynesians, partly on moral grounds and partly because we must still regard the charge of economic worthlessness not proven.

In this passage and many others in Pacific Prelude, Perham creates a dichotomy between Western-style modernisation and a sort of primitive stasis, and suggests that one or the other condition must be the fate of every society. She has no inkling of the complexity and fluidity of pre-contact Samoan society, or of the extensive contacts between the Samoans and other Pacific peoples in ancient times. Perham can only suggest, as a solution to Samoa's crisis, asking 'the expert, England' to add 'this small concern' to her vast imperial 'business'.

It is perhaps not surprising that Perham found the Mau incomprehensible. With its rural basis, its chiefly leadership, and its insistence that Samoans are capable of governing and developing their own nation, the movement could not be assimilated to her worldview. Instead of engaging seriously with the Mau, Perham dismisses it in her diary as the work of a 'difficult people' with 'an inflated sense of their own importance'. Such a people requires the careful but firm governance that only Britain can provide.

Perham showed the same habits of mind when she arrived in New Zealand at the beginning of 1930. After docking at Auckland, hitch hiking to Ngaruawahia, where she interviewed Princess Te Puea, and carrying on to Hamilton, where she found the locals 'as English-looking a crowd as you could find out of England', Perham caught a bus into the Ureweras with a group of Presbyterian missionaries. After a journey over mud roads and through a bushfire, she found herself at Te Whaiti, where 'dark, full-blooded...disreputable-looking aborigines' lived in 'hovels', and seemed wholly innocent of the English language.

As she met followers of 'Rewa' Kenana and learned, with the help of bilingual Maori and Pakeha missionaries, of the prophet's rejection of Pakeha authority, Perham realised that she had once again found herself on the frontier of Anglo-Saxon civilisation. 'I had never realised there such wild parts of New Zealand', she told her diary.

Perham's discussion of Maori Christianity and its links to anti-colonial resistance is a stew of snobbish misconceptions:

They told me of the prophet Maungapohatu he has built a great temple and a great pa...a last fool's paradise for his race. This is only one of several Maori sects. At Te Puea's place when I asked what sect their church was, they said, our own Maori sect, a hau-hau Church. I believe this is connected with the last Maori war, the Hau-Hau, when, in a reversion to a sort of biblicized savagery, the Maori went into war barking like dogs, hau-hau. (Incidentally a better interpretation of bark than our bow-wow?)

It is easy to laugh, today, at Margery Perham's Anglophilia. It is worth asking, though, how free we really are from some aspects of her worldview. We may no longer want the world to be run by ruddy-faced Englishmen in pith helmets, but how far have we journeyed, in the twenty-first century, from Perham's imperiocentric disdain for small nations on the fringes of modernity, and from her dichotomy between capitalist development and ahistorical stagnation?

This month the world has gained a new unrecognised state, as the forces of the Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA) have taken control of the northernmost two-thirds of Mali, raising their flag in the cities of Gao, Kidal, and Timbuktu. The MNLA's victories came during the latest stage in a decades-long war for independence by Mali's Tuareg minority. The Tuareg are a Berber people who have traditionally lived by herding and smuggling in the Sahara. After the so-called 'Congo conference' held in Berlin in 1884, at which European powers divided up Africa into colonial possessions, the Tuareg found themselves a part of the French territory of Western Sudan, which stretched from the deserts north of Timbuktu and Gao to the fertile flood plain of the Senegal River in the south. In 1960, when West Sudan became the politically independent nation of Mali, the Tuareg demanded a state of their own. They have complained, in the decades since independence, of discrimination at the hands of the populous south of Mali. Although Mali has been a democracy for most of the last two decades, its constitution prohibits Tuareg from forming their own political party, and from agitating for any sort of self-government. Now, in the aftermath of a shambolic military coup in the south of the country, the fighters of the MNLA have driven and ridden out of their desert bases and taken control, for the first time, of all of the historic territories of Mali's Berbers. The international response to their declaration of independence has been hysterical. France and other Western nations have condemned Azawad as an affront to 'regional stability', and a dozen or so African nations, including powerful Nigeria, have vowed to help the Malian state reconquer its lost northern possessions.

For both Western and African governments, the borders given to Africa one hundred and twenty-eight years ago at the Congo Conference are apparently sacrosanct, despite the fact that they were drawn up without any African input, and cut across ancient ethnic and linguistic boundaries.

The pious defence of nineteenth century borders by diplomats and politicians has been matched, over recent days, by an outpouring of mockery toward Azawad in the Western media. Under the sarcastic headline 'All Hail Azawad', New York Times columnist Frank Jacobs suggested that 'noone quite knows' where Azawad's borders are, and laughed at the pretensions of the Tuareg. In the US-based International Business Times, Palash R Ghosh was even more dismissive, describing Azawad as a 'non-existent state in a desolate, poverty-stricken wasteland'.

For analysts like Jacobs and Ghosh, Azawad is a perversely centrifugal enterprise. By seceding from an African state that was already obscure and marginalised, the Tuareg people are isolating themselves from the centres of twenty-first century economic and political power. Do they not realise how difficult they are being, and what a false sense of their own importance they have? It is certainly instructive to read the denunciations of the new state of Azawad alongside the diary Margery Perham created more than eighty years ago.

[Posted by Maps/Scott]

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The historian as DJ

As regular readers of this blog will know, I have a love-hate relationship with the internet.

The proliferation of suburbs of the web devoted to paranoid conspiracy theories, and the apparently endless 'news' items, at corporate sites like Yahoo and Hotmail, on the state of Kim Kardashian's bottom or Britney Spears' marriage fill me with a mixture of self-righteousness and despair, and make me wonder whether human civilisation might have reached an intellectual and aesthetic peak back in the 1980s, when I owned a twenty-four colour Amstrad computer and used a bright red rotary dial telephone rather than a modem to communicate.

When I visit New Zealand's most popular blog and find people arguing there for hours on end about whether Obama is a secret Muslim, a secret communist, a secret Kenyan, or all three, then I wonder if such a deep rot must have begun before the era of the modem. If Kiwiblog is the legacy of mass literacy, then perhaps the Gutenberg revolution and the Reformation were not such good things, after all?

But I can never quite convert to the curious creed known as primitivism. Every time I'm about to smash up my creaking laptop and take to the backyard with a trowel and potato seeds in an attempt to escape modernity I discover, more or less by chance, some strange and wonderful corner of the internet. Today, for instance, I somehow found my way to the doorstep of the online archive of the BBC's Desert Island Discs programme.

For seven decades now, the Beeb has been asking a series of famous and not-so-famous guests to imagine being sent alone to a desert island, and to consider what music and books they might bring with them into solitude. In between listening to excerpts from their favourite pieces of music, guests are asked generally good-natured questions about their life and work.

Despite or because of its whimsical premise, Desert Island Discs often makes fascinating listening. Politicians, writers, and academics who might watch their words carefully during a 'serious' interview relax and reveal themselves as they spin their favourite tunes in Bush House.

In November 1991, less than two years before his death, the British historian and political activist EP Thompson turned up on an episode of Desert Island Discs.

By the beginning of the '90s Thompson's health had been ruined by Legionnaire's Disease and several related illnesses, and during his chat with Sue Lawley, the long-time host of Desert Island Discs, he can often be heard struggling for breath. Knowing that his body was failing, Thompson had shelved the anti-nuclear activism which had taken up much of his energy in the 1980s, and devoted himself to finishing several books. When he appeared on Discs Thompson was hard at work on a study of his missionary father's friendship, early in the twentieth century, with Rabindranath Tagore, the Nobel-winning Bengali poet and critic of the West. He was also attempting to write up some lectures he had given in the 1970s on his brother Frank Thompson, who had fought in World War Two alongside Bulgarian partisans before being captured and executed in mysterious circumstances. As if the extraordinary lives of his father and brother weren't enough to keep him busy, Thompson was also at work on a book about his longtime literary and political hero, William Blake. Thompson's poor health and the nature of his books-in-progress meant that he became accustomed, in the early '90s, to looking back reflectively over his life and times. After a little prompting from Lawley, he tells the Desert Island Discs audience about growing up in his parents' 'radical liberal' Oxford home, where lunch guests included Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi, about commanding a tank brigade during World War Two, about his time in the pro-Moscow Communist Party of Great Britain and his decision to leave in 1956, after the exposure of Stalin's crimes and the invasion of Hungary by Stalin's successor, about the research that produced masterpieces of scholarship like The Making of the English Working Class, and about his decades of toil in Europe's anti-nuclear movement. Thompson's reflections on his life and works are punctuated by observations about the events of the late '80s and early '90s, especially the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the end of the Cold War.

Thompson is famous for popularising a 'history from below' which focuses on the experiences of weavers and mill workers rather than Kings and Prime Ministers. Unlike many of the scholars he inspired, though, he was never keen to use oral history in his books. Thompson accepted that storytelling is widely favoured as a way of preserving and transmitting history, but he believed that stories change uncontrollably as they pass from one teller to another, so that they quickly become unreliable. Thompson preferred to oral history the testimony of written documents - court records, letters, diaries, and so on. He recognised that these documents reflected the ideologies of their makers, and the prejudices of their times, but he believed that he could, through a process of 'interrogation', tease out biases and arrive at something resembling truth. Thompson may have mistrusted old stories, but he would have been happy, I think, to study the fragments of talk which we can preserve and transmit using modern technology. Like the nineteenth century documents Thompson loved to interrogate, and unlike a folk story, an audio or video interview can't be altered as it is transmitted. It therefore allows us to enter a particular historical moment.

Listening to Thompson's appearance on Desert Island Discs, we are able to enter a moment in history which has grown surprisingly distant. Speaking a couple of months after the fall of Mikhail Gorbachev and the banning of his Communist Party and a few weeks before the formal dissolution of the Soviet Union, Thompson argues that the peace movement he led played a vital role in defeating Stalinism and ending the Cold War, and looks forward to a better world where violence will be a less common way of settling disputes. Today, Thompson's claims for the peace movement seem dubious, and his hopes for the post-Cold War era seem misplaced.

As Thompson himself knew, though, snap judgments about the past and predictions for the future are both risky enterprises. The author of The Making of the English Working Class had no real desire to be a pop historian or a soothsayer. What is most interesting about Thompson's Desert Islands Disc appearance is the conflict between his sense of himself and the public legend which had, by the last years of his life, grown up around him.

As Sue Lawley repeatedly tries to present him as some quintessential left-wing firebrand - an incorrigible "fighter" who was wildly popular with radical students in the 1960s and '70s, and who has refused to mellow with age - Thompson becomes noticeably uncomfortable, stammering and muttering and eventually insisting that he believes that "politics and scholarship" should not mix, and that teachers should not "abuse" their positions by seeking to influence their students' opinions.

Despite his reputation as some sort of English Marcuse or Fanon, Thompson had a troubled, ambiguous relationship with the radical students he taught in the '60s and '70s. Thompson got his politics from nineteenth century Romantics and from English plebian movements like Levellers and the Chartists. His vision of the future relied heavily on the British past.

Thompson disdained the youth counterculture of the 1960s, with its drugs and odd clothes and odder music, and the 'Third Worldism' which saw young Briton radicals of the time idolising Che Guevara and Louis Althusser, rather than Blake and Morris. He rather unfairly denounced the youth uprisings of 1968 as a 'rich kids' revolutionary farce', and advised some of the 'hairy' and 'lazy' students he taught at Warwick University to 'join a really well-disciplined organisation, like the Officer Training Corps or the Communist Party'.

Thompson's misgivings about the radical youth of the 1960s and '70s reflect a broader unease with the world of the second half of the twentieth century. Thompson saw the period from the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War until the defeat of Hitler as a 'decade of heroes', when the creation of a new and better world was a real possibility, but felt that history had taken a wrong turn in the postwar decades. The pot smoking Baby Boomer students were only one aspect of a generalised decline.

It was in the clash between Thompson's romantic political vision and a less than romantic reality that his best work was forged. He was inspired to write The Making of the English Working Class, for instance, by the contrast between the heroic history of struggles against tyranny and capitalism in early nineteenth century Yorkshire and the apathetic society he found after moving to the West Riding in the late 1940s.

We can see something of Thompson's character if we examine the music he chose for Desert Island Discs. Sue Lawley might have presented him as a modern radical, but Thompson displayed no interest at all in the music that acted as a soundtrack for the protests of the 1960s and '70s. Instead of The Beatles or Dylan or the Stones, he reaches for Henry Purcell, who created an English form of classical music in the seventeenth century, and Peter Warlock, the Anglo-Welsh occultist who turned some of the more romantic poems of Yeats into songs and died in obscure and possibly sinister circumstances in 1930.

We are reminded of Thompson's involvement in the fight against fascism when we hear Paul Robeson's version of 'Peat Bog Soldiers', a song written by an inmate of a Nazi slave labour camp and taken up as an anthem by the armies of Republican Spain. Thompson honours his family's link to India with a song by Rabindranath Tagore - but he chooses to play Tagore's version of 'Auld Lang Syne', rather than some tune drawn from Bengali tradition. He favours popular music over highbrow symphonies and concertos, but he consistently chooses the popular music of the past over post-war fashions like rock and jazz. Musically as well as politically, Thompson resists easy categorisation.

[Posted by Maps/Scott]

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Hunting bugs

I've spent the last few evenings sitting at the computer and tormenting my good friend Michael Arnold. Michael is labouring to design and format the upcoming Oceania issue of the long-running Kiwi literary journal brief; I've been sending him lists of the typos I've discovered in the draft copy of the issue.

I've always found typo-hunting a little like spotting and slaying cockroaches. There's the initial dismay, when an unpleasant blotch is found despoiling a clean white kitchen wall or a page of carefully composed prose, followed by the satisfaction of pouncing upon and removing the intruder. As the toll of typos or insects mounts, there's a strange feeling of achievement, which is eventually tempered by the realisation that, no matter how assiduously one labours, a few pests will always inevitably survive, in cracks between walls and in the midst of fat paragraphs.

Occasionally, when I'm standing on an armchair aiming a rolled up copy of The Western Leader at a wall where a cockroach stands perfectly, unaccountably still - trying to be mistaken, perhaps, for the stain left by a finger or a fizzing beer can - I experience a surge of guilt. I think about the Jain priests of India, who supposedly cover their mouths with intricate wire meshes, so that they cannot commit the mortal sin of accidentally swallowing a fly or mosquito. I wonder whether I'm not depriving the world of something essential, by cancelling the life of another bug.

In the same way, I sometimes feel guilty about spotting and disposing of typos. Some slips in spelling are merely embarrassing, but others seem inspired. I'm not sure if typos can provide, as Freud thought they could, sudden insights into the psyche of their authors, but they can cause new ideas and images to burst through what were fairly dull sentences. Should I really ask Michael Arnold to change the startling and possibly profound phrase 'The penis is mightier than the sword' into the cliche its author intended to use?

Some of my most glorious typos have been mechanically induced. I remember sitting up late at night writing a worthy but dull leaflet for the Anti-Imperialist Coalition, sometime in the last months before the invasion of Iraq. The leaflet discussed a wave of strikes mounted by public servants in Pakistan, and discussed their repression by the government of General Musharaff. Once I'd finished the leaflet I filtered it through a spellcheck, tiredly and automatically made the recommended corrections, sent the leaflet off to the printers, and went gratefully to bed. The next day, at the protest march where the AIC's new message was being distributed to the masses, I got some curious looks from my comrades. "What's all this about a General Mascara?" someone finally asked. "Are you taking the mickey?"

The best book I read in 2011 was The Wild Places, the mountaineer and dendrophile Robert Macfarlane's account of a series of journeys to the woods, cols, skerries, marshes, and overgrown culverts which still exist in the interstices of the conurbations of modern Britain. Macfarlane celebrates Britain's tenuous wildernesses in prose eloquent and subtle enough to remind us of Updike or Joyce. Macfarlane's book is a celebration of Britain's human as well as natural history, and he loves to juxtapose words and phrases drawn from different phases in the development of the English language. Like Joyce, he has a marvellous ability to bring the complex, abstract Latinate jargon the Norman invaders brought to Britain after 1066 into dialogue with the simpler, rougher words of the older Anglo-Saxon dispensation. Like Heidegger, he delights in showing how certain words we think we know well have their origins far in the past, when they meant things and performed functions which are now unfamiliar. On my first journey through The Wild Places I often thought that I'd spotted a typo - until I checked the dictionary, and found that the likes of 'lenticles', 'wold' and 'sigil' were indeed real, if ancient, words. Like the forests it celebrated, Macfarlane's book seemed constantly to be renewing itself, by swapping a word for one of its predecessors or avatars or synonyms.

I wrote this typo-filled poem, which was included in Feeding the Gods, the book I launched last November, after marvelling at Robert Macfarlane's time-travelling sentences.

City Life

I am writing a hedge.
One word attaches itself
to another, hawthorn
to manuka, ragwort
to gorse. I am writing a walk
in the countryside.
I am writing the country,
hedge by overgrowing

You lean over my shoulder,
grub my sentences
like hedges. You lay words
like pegs
so walls can grow.
You mark out a corridor
with your conjunctions,
add doorways, prepositions.

I snatch back the pen
and change wall to wald,
change corridor to hallway
to holloway. I walk alone
through the country.

[Posted by Maps/Scott]

Monday, April 02, 2012

Lessons from Bradford

The latest issue of International Socialism, a quarterly journal of socialist theory features Christian Hogsbjerg's review of The Crisis of Theory, the book about EP Thompson I published last year with Manchester University Press.

One of the minor characters in The Crisis of Theory is Lawrence Daly, a Scottish trade unionist who left the Communist Party in protest at the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956 and became, along with Thompson, a leader of the inchoate but dynamic movement nowadays known as the Old New Left. During Britain's 1959 parliamentary elections Daly contested the seat of West Fife and won many thousands of votes, finishing third behind the Labour and Tory candidates. As Daly's de facto campaign manager, EP Thompson arranged for scores of young left-wing activists from English university towns to travel north and beat the streets of working class Fife.

Last week another maverick Scot took on the political establishment in a working class electorate with the help of young activists from London and the universities. Campaigning under the banner of the small Respect Party, George Galloway astonished observers by winning the Bradford West parliamentary by election. Bradford West had been a safe Labour seat since 1974, and some pundits wondered whether Galloway would get even five percent of the vote there. In the event, he won more than fifty percent, and finished ten thousand votes clear of Labour's candidate.

Galloway is known through Britain as an opponent of the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and his campaign in West Bradford was aided by supporters from out of town. But Galloway triumphed in Bradford because he got large numbers of locals to vote for the first time in their lives. A third of the West Bradford electorate is Muslim, and Galloway's denunciations of British imperialism in the Middle East played well amongst that section of the community (his unfortunate habit of praising Middle Eastern dictators he perceives to be anti-Western seems not have been widely noticed).

Galloway also appears to have won over the wider Bradford working class by counterposing an old-fashioned social democratic programme of increased state spending on welfare and jobs to the austerity measures favoured by David Cameron's government.

The shock result in West Bradford came at the end of a week when Cameron's government had endured several severe embarrassments. A secret recording revealed that the Tories were selling access to Cameron and influence over policy making to the rich, and a leaked memo showed that the party was deliberately trying to provoke a major confrontation with trade unions by stoking public fear about fuel supplies. Labour ought to have benefited from the troubles of the Tories, but instead it was trounced in Bradford. Many left-leaning members of Labour blame the party's poor performance on its continuing attachment to a political strategy developed in the early 1990s by Tony Blair and his allies. The Blairites believed that Labour's electoral success was dependent on getting votes not only in its traditional working class heartlands but amongst the middle and upper middle classes in the outer suburbs of towns like Bardford and in the south of England. Labour could rely on working class support, but it had to court the middle classes by abandoning old policies like the nationalisation of industry and the aggressive taxing of the rich and big business.

Blairism led to a long-term decline in Labour's membership and vote in depressed working class areas like Bradford. The class which had traditionally identified with the party felt estranged when it saw Blair and other leaders hobnobbing with the Murdochs and cutting company taxes. Britons with links to the Middle East were also incensed by Labour's support for George Bush's military adventures.

Since it lost last year's election the Labour Party has being trying to formulate a new political strategy. But Labour is divided into Blairite and anti-Blairite factions, and new leader Ed Miliband seems to lack the willingness or authority to plot a new course for the party. Fearful of alienating the middle classes Blair spent so much time courting, Miliband has echoed some of the Tories' talk about the necessity of spending cuts, and refused to call for the withdrawal of British troops from the Middle East.

Miliband's left-wing critics argue that, rather than trying to impress a section of the population that has gone over to the Tories, Labour should be reconnecting with its traditional working class base by promoting unashamedly left-wing, pro-union policies. The party should, they suggest, be happy to give up on the voters of commuter towns in Hertfordshire and Surrey in return for winning back the loyalty of the workers of Bradford and Sheffield and Hull. George Galloway's victory in Bradford West ought to bolster the arguments of these left-wingers. Galloway showed no interest in courting the middle class voters of the city, but instead went aggressively after the working class and anti-imperialist Muslims. Again and again he presented himself as a champion of the unions and the welfare state and an opponent of war in the Middle East. Support flowed his way.

There are some interesting similarities between the present political situations in Britain and New Zealand. Like the British, we in New Zealand have a Tory government which has lately been destabilised by a series of scandals. Like David Cameron, John Key is having trouble holding his government together and convincing the public that endless cuts in spending are any sort of solution to economic recession.

Like Cameron, though, Key benefits from a Labour opposition that refuses to go for the jugular. Under its new leader David Shearer, New Zealand's Labour Party is moving rightwards, in an effort to win support from the same middle class voters who obsessed Tony Blair. Polls show Labour lagging a long way behind National, despite the latter party's troubles. Critics of Shearer argue that Labour should be forgetting about the middle class vote, and instead trying to recover its support in South and West Auckland and other working class heartlands.

Although there are important differences between Bradford and New Zealand's cities, George Galloway's recent triumph does offer some possible lessons for Labour and other left-wing parties in this part of the world.

Galloway won because he was able to appeal to Bradford's trade unionists and to its anti-imperialist Muslims. In Auckland, Labour could have replicated Galloway's strategy by throwing its weight behind this summer's fight by the city's wharfies against deunionisation and mass redundancy. Instead of offering the occasional tepid speech, David Shearer could have made all his party's resources available to the wharfies, and raised their cause again and again in parliament. If he had done so, then he might have been able to share in the support the wharfies have gained from the public, and claim some credit for the victory they seem about to win.

Like Bradford, Auckland is home to a large yet marginalised community descended from relatively recently immigrants. Hundreds of thousands of Pacific Islanders live in the city, concentrated in the south and west. Although they have traditionally been supportive of Labour, Pasifikans have turned out in relatively low numbers in the last couple of general elections.

The Pasifika community still often feels alienated from middle New Zealand, and still frequently raises issues which no political party will champion. The sometimes capricious bureaucracy of Immigration New Zealand, which locks out Pacific Islanders with historical and family connections to New Zealand at the same time that it lets rich crooks buy their way into the country, is a perennial source of resentment in South and West Auckland. A party which championed the right of Samoans, Tongans, and other Pacific peoples with historic connections with New Zealand to settle here would become very popular in electorates like Mangere and Otara.

Auckland's Pasifika community is also dissatisfied with the city's education system. Tired of seeing their kids' native languages neglected in mainstream schools, they have set up institutions where the language of instruction is Polynesian. Despite academic studies which indicate the superiority of first language schooling, these institutions often struggle to receive recognition and funding from the state. Since the election of National in 2008, state funding for childrens' books in Pasifika languages has plummeted, making first language education still more difficult for the Pasifika community. Pasifika people have responded to this situation by creating the Leo Bilingual Pacific Languages Coalition, which now has thousands of members and holds public meetings in many parts of Auckland. Despite intensive lobbying, the Coalition was unable to win explicit support for Pasifika-language education from any party at the last election. A party which threw itself behind the cause of Pasifika languages would gain many supporters in Auckland.

Under David Shearer, Labour is unlikely to abandon Blairite political strategy by allying himself with trade unions in struggle and with Auckland's Pasifika community. Shearer and his advisers are aware that the middle class Pakeha voters they want to entice into the Labour tent have negative views about unions, and also dislike overt expressions of Polynesian culture.

But a party to Labour's left could learn from George Galloway's victory, and reach out to apathetic voters in Auckland and other Kiwi cities. The Mana Party has already played a leading role in the battle on Auckland's wharves. If the party gave similar attention to the Pasifika community's fight for language rights then it might begin to gain a mass base.

Footnote: before somebody turns up and accuses me of being a lackey of George Galloway or somesuch, let me link to this 2007 review-article for the Weekly Worker, where I took issue with the man's rather Stalinist understanding of the Spanish Civil War.

[Posted by Maps/Scott]