Friday, 26 August 2016

A Political King.

Birds Of A Feather: If Edward VIII had been a less enamoured sex-slave to Wallis Simpson and a more convinced fascist, it is entirely possible that he could have completely upended the British constitution. Royal words, and deeds, still matter - as the political impact of the Maori King's, Tuheitia Paki's, intervention earlier this week attests.
 
IT’S AN INTRIGUING COUNTERFACTUAL to contemplate. What if Edward VIII had been a less enamoured sex-slave to Wallis Simpson and a more convinced fascist? It is entirely possible that a highly politicised King, ably assisted by Winston Churchill (who, in real life, fought right up until Edward’s abdication speech to keep him on the throne) David Lloyd-George (Britain’s Prime Minister during World War I) and Sir Oswald Mosley (leader of the British Union of Fascists) could have completely upended the British constitution.
 
Early in 1936 Edward had given hope to millions of unemployed workers, and heart palpitations to the Conservative Government of Stanley Baldwin, by declaring that “something must be done” about the appalling poverty he had just witnessed on a royal visit to South Wales.
 
British monarchs were not supposed to say such things. But, let us suppose that Edward had continued to speak out against poverty and mass unemployment. Let us further suppose that his younger brother, George, the Duke of Kent, had used his contacts with Nazi-sympathising German aristocrats to forge an alliance with like-minded members of the British upper-classes? With the additional assistance of the brilliant outcast politicians mentioned above – all of them desperate to restore their dwindling political fortunes – a more intelligent and dynamic Edward VIII would have had every chance of successfully carrying-off a royal coup d’├ętat.
 
Even today there are elements within the British establishment who dread the ascension of the Prince of Wales. Unlike his remarkable mother, who has maintained the constitutional proprieties impeccably for the whole of her 64-year reign, it is feared that King Charles III may not be content to remain above the political fray. Imagine a King who tweeted? A King who to read his own Speech from the Throne? In the throes of another economic crisis, and unwilling to be ‘rescued’ by a political class they both despise and distrust, what might Charles III’s subjects not do?
 
What has prompted these musings on the residual power of the monarchy? Obviously, it was the extraordinary, and apparently impromptu, political observations of Tuheitia Paki, the Maori King. The latter’s disparaging remarks about the Labour Party, coupled with his de facto endorsement of the Maori and Mana parties, have garnered the Kingitanga movement considerable media coverage. It is a matter of some significance that, to date, media coverage has offered little in the way of criticism of the King’s actions. Maori and Pakeha journalists, alike, have not thought it necessary to condemn Tuheitia for stepping into the fraught arena of electoral politics.
 
The NZ First Leader, Winston Peters, has had no such qualms. “It is disappointing the Maori King has been used in such a sad way,” said Mr Peters. “There is no way his predecessor, the Maori Queen, would ever have done that.”
 
Perhaps not. But was his predecessor’s reticence born of what she perceived to be her purely ceremonial status? Or, was her silence on electoral matters merely a concession to the prevailing political realities of her reign. For the past 153 years, the Kingitanga has maintained a respectful distance from the Settler State. This is hardly surprising: military invasion and land confiscation tends to dampen even the most courageous people’s political ardour.
 
The Kingitanga’s long-standing recognition of the Settler State’s power to do it harm, indicated by its dignified silence, has been misinterpreted by Pakeha politicians as indigenous acceptance of the rules of constitutional monarchy. Like his British counterpart’s, the Maori monarch’s status is regarded as purely symbolic and ceremonial. That he or she might aspire to being an independent political actor, wielding real political power, is not something Pakeha New Zealand has seriously contemplated since 1863.
 
Much has changed since that violent period of our history. The Settler State is no longer the predatory beast that assailed the earthworks at Rangiriri. The need for Kingitanga reticence is not so great now as it was during the reign of Dame Te Atairangikaahu, King Tuheitia’s predecessor. In his keynote speech to mark the tenth anniversary of his ascension, the Maori King spoke of Maori exercising dual sovereignty over Aotearoa-New Zealand by 2025. This is less constitutional monarchy than it is constitutional revolution.
 
Royal words matter. If you doubt it, then just imagine the effect on Jeremy Corbyn’s fortunes if Queen Elizabeth II declared herself a life-long Labour supporter.
 
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 26 August 2016.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Sitting Down For Socialism: Jeremy Corbyn Infuriates The British Establishment - Again.

It Certainly Is Jeremy! The image of Corbyn sitting on the floor of a railway carriage, alongside the many other passengers unable to find a seat, sends a powerful political message about how strongly he identifies with the frustrations of every citizen forced to depend upon sub-standard public transport. That he so unabashedly links their frustrations with his party’s determination to renationalise the service is taken as proof of Corbyn’s readiness to be guided, not by the demands  billionaires, but by the priorities of the long-suffering British people.
 
RICHARD BRANSON, the billionaire owner of the Virgin Group, paints himself as a progressive, twenty-first century capitalist. With his trademark long hair and beard, and his very public concern for the environment, he has created a brand which suggests to the world, especially its younger inhabitants, that you can be a friend of the planet, make a profit, and have a tremendous amount of fun in the process.
 
Beneath the hip-billionaire image, however, lurks what can only be described as an old-fashioned, Mr Moneybags loathing of socialism and all its works.
 
Confronted with a video produced by Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaign-team, in which the Labour leader is shown sitting on the floor of one of Virgin Trains’ ridiculously overcrowded passenger services, Branson saw red.
 
Stung by Corbyn’s criticism of Britain’s privatised railway system, and rattled by his plans to renationalise it, Branson released security-camera footage, purportedly showing Corbyn and his crew walking past multiple empty seats, to the media.
 
Predictably, the conservative British press have had a field day. Corbyn has been painted as a liar and a cheat, and his Blairite opponents in the Labour Party have lost little time putting the boot in.
 
Unfortunately for Corbyn’s critics, a number of people who were on the same train as the Labour leader have come forward to corroborate his version of events. The apparently empty seats had, according to these witnesses, been “reserved” by passengers placing bags and clothing upon them for their friends – something missed in the Virgin Trains’ video on account of the elevated positioning of its security cameras.
 
Corbyn’s team has not been unduly fazed by Branson’s tactics. Alluding to a letter released by Virgin Trains, in which an attempt is made to justify its overcrowded services, Sam Tarry, Corbyn’s campaign director, was reassuring. “Some of you might have seen on social media today there’s been a little bit of a spat,” he told an East London Corbyn rally. “Richard Branson has decided he’s very upset about our not particularly radical plans to renationalise our railways, so he’s having a little pop at us […] I’d just say that’s very, very indicative – the establishment is absolutely petrified about what this campaign is about, what this movement is about.”
 
Corbyn’s rival for the Labour leadership, Owen Smith, was careful to keep his own response light-hearted. “My campaign remains on track.”, he tweeted. “Proud to be genuinely standing up for ordinary people.”
 
The entire episode epitomises the way in which the British Establishment and its media attack-dogs have sought to deal with the Corbyn threat. Not even Branson was prepared to argue that the privatised railways aren’t an inefficient and unreliable mess. But if the message is irrefutable, the messenger is not. Every opportunity is, therefore, taken to discredit Corbyn as both a human-being and a political leader.
 
It remains to be seen just how successful Corbyn’s enemies have been in undermining his support among Labour Party members and the broader Labour-voting public. If the tens-of-thousands of Britons who have joined the Labour Party over the past few weeks are any indication (most of them with the express purpose of voting to keep Corbyn at Labour’s helm) one would have to say that the Establishment hasn’t been very successful at all.
 
The image of Corbyn sitting on the floor of a railway carriage, alongside the many other passengers unable to find a seat, sends a powerful political message about how strongly he identifies with the frustrations of every citizen forced to depend upon sub-standard public transport. That he so unabashedly links their frustrations with his party’s determination to renationalise the service is taken as proof of Corbyn’s readiness to be guided, not by the demands of Tony Blair’s billionaire buddy, Richard Branson, but by the priorities of the long-suffering British people.
 
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Wednesday, 24 August 2016.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

The Treaty Settlement Process: Neoliberalism With Maori Characteristics.

A Good Deal? By laying the foundations of “neo-tribal capitalism” the Treaty Settlement Process interposed a rapidly expanding Maori middle-class between an impoverished Maori working-class and the Settler State's elites. Without the TSP, the huge transfer of wealth and resources from ordinary New Zealanders to those privileged elites could not have been accomplished.
 
WHEN THE NATIONAL GOVERNMENT OF 1990-99 came up with the “Treaty Settlement Process” (TSP) it created a winning strategy. No single state initiative has done more to pacify the principal casualties of the economic and social changes of the past 30 years. By laying the foundations of what Dr Elizabeth Rata calls “neo-tribal capitalism”, the TSP interposed a rapidly expanding Maori middle-class between an impoverished Maori working-class and the Settler State elites. Without the TSP, the huge transfer of wealth and resources from ordinary New Zealanders to those privileged elites could not have been accomplished.
 
By the time the Fourth Labour Government was voted out of office at the end of 1990, its neoliberal policies had laid to waste huge swathes of Maoridom. Whole communities had been devastated by mass lay-offs in the state-owned forests, Post Office and railways, as well as the privately owned freezing-works and car assembly plants. A disproportionately large number of these displaced workers were Maori.
 
The Treasury’s preferred method of dealing with mass unemployment was to let the jobless rot on a benefit. Retraining and re-employing redundant workers was deemed to be both cost ineffective and ideologically unsound.
 
The results were entirely predictable. In a frighteningly short period of time all the familiar social pathologies of poverty: drug addiction, child abuse, domestic violence, marriage breakdown and gang-related crime; began to unravel the working-class Maori suburbs of Auckland and Wellington. While dealing with these pathologies imposed a massive fiscal burden on the state, the alternative – an activist government intervening to create jobs and strengthen communities – was dismissed as unacceptable. The whole point of the Douglas-Richardson Revolution was to put an end to state interventionism.
 
The skewed ethnicity of this new “underclass” (as journalists were beginning to call it) did, however, present the new National Government with a problem. Maori nationalist sentiment had grown rapidly in the 1980s – most particularly in the agitation for tino rangatiratanga – Maori Sovereignty. The possibility that these radical ideas might be transmitted to and taken up by unemployed Maori was a source of considerable concern among Pakeha elites. A mass Maori uprising, inspired by tino rangatiratanga, could only be contained by the use of deadly force – a course of action that would almost certainly spark a civil war.
 
The TSP, by contrast, could serve as an effective diversion from the misery and anger gripping urban Maori. By nominating traditional iwi as the Crown’s key negotiating partners the Settler State offered a sense of historical continuity and by enlisting the talents and shifting the focus of Maori nationalist leaders it deprived the Maori underclass of the tino rangatiratanga firebrands who might otherwise have set it alight.
 
Even so, it was a near-run thing. The occupation of Moutoa Gardens in Whanganui in early-1995 balanced on a taiaha-edge between peaceful protest and violent insurrection. The Government of Jim Bolger and Douglas Graham (the minister responsible for the TSP) held their hand and the occupiers refused to be provoked. The Whanganui confrontation, which could so easily have ended in disaster, caused the Crown’s negotiators to redouble their efforts.
 
By the end of the decade the TSP was well entrenched. The multi-million dollar Ngai Tahu and Tainui settlements had demonstrated the awesome commercial potential of the neo-tribal capitalist model. The tribes’ corporate structures were offering employment to Maori graduates, and tribal scholarships were supplying the Settler State with the highly-educated Maori personnel it needed to give bureaucratic expression to the “Treaty partnership” which the New Zealand Court of Appeal deemed to have existed between Maori and the Crown since 1840.
 
The creation and consolidation of the Maori middle-class which the TSP and the partnership model facilitated has proved to be a shrewd investment on the part of the Settler State. It has been achieved at a fraction of the cost of effectively educating and gainfully employing the tens-of-thousands of untrained and unemployed rangatahi. Indeed, the transfer of wealth (in the form of Crown cash and resources) from the poorest Maori communities to wealthy tribal elites (the Iwi Leadership Group) mirrors neatly the transfer of wealth from the 99 percent to the top 1 percent of income earners that is the hallmark of neoliberalism globally.
 
The cost – a large urban Maori underclass in the grip of all the evils to which poverty gives rise – has not yet risen to the point where the Pakeha elites feel compelled to do more than refine and expand their techniques for social control. That the new Ministry for Vulnerable Children will feature a large number of middle-class Maori professionals, appointed to ensure that the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi are upheld, even as the children of Maori poverty are made the guinea-pigs of National’s “social investment” ideology, merely reinforces what an extraordinary success the TSP has become.
 
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 23 August 2016.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Let Sleeping Ghosts Lie.

Fighting For A Principle? At the Battle of Rangiriri, 1863, General Duncan Cameron's invasion force overcame the Maori King's defences at Rangiriri. It marked the beginning of the end of Maori sovereignty in New Zealand. In proposing to commemorate the New Zealand Wars, what does the Government hope Maori and Pakeha will remember? The "principles" their ancestors died for? We must hope not - lest the war begins again.
 
IT HAD TO COME, this official recognition of the dead of the New Zealand Wars. After four decades of constant revision, our nation’s story has reached the point where even those who fell in the battles that made it are summoned forth from the shadows. In recognising these ghosts, however, we must not deceive ourselves that the causes for which they fought and died will somehow remain unrecognised.
 
In announcing the Government’s intention to set aside a day to commemorate those who fell in the battles of one-and-a-half centuries ago, The Deputy-Prime Minister, Bill English declared that the time had come “to recognise our own conflict, our own war, our own fallen, because there is no doubt at Rangiriri ordinary people lost their lives fighting for principle in just the same way as New Zealand soldiers who lost their lives fighting on battlefields on the other side of the world”.
 
And what principle would that be, Mr English? The principle of dual sovereignty? – because that was what the Kingitanga represented. The principle of tino rangatiratanga? – in recognition of which the sovereign rights of Maori chiefs had been deemed inviolate under the Treaty of Waitangi? Or, was it the more general principle, recognised then, as it is now, that the military invasion and seizure of territory occupied by people who have not struck a blow against you is an international crime?
 
When teachers are asked to explain why 12,000 Imperial troops invaded the Waikato and the Bay of Plenty in 1863-64, how would Mr English have them reply? Should they tell their pupils that the Maori fighting force, against which this massive army advanced, struggled to maintain a muster of four-figures? And what should they say about the million Maori acres confiscated by the Settler Parliament? How should that be justified?
 
Perhaps these questions should be left for the Minister of Arts Culture and Heritage, Maggie Barry, to answer. She was, after all, the person who described the invasion of the Waikato, and the Battle of Rangiriri, as: “a deeply regrettable time in our history”. Speaking to those gathered to witness the repatriation of the Rangiriri battle-site to the Kingitanga on Friday, 19 August, she emphasised the significance of commemorating the New Zealand Wars: “It is important to us as a nation. At least as important as our World War I commemorations, if not more so.”
 
Much more so, Ms Barry. The formation of the New Zealand State was predicated on the full and final subjection of its indigenous people. In the two decades separating the signing of the Treaty, in 1840, and the invasion of the Waikato, in 1863, tens of thousands of mostly British immigrants had poured into New Zealand. In 1852, the British Foreign and Colonial Office responded to this influx by granting a large measure of self-government to the burgeoning settler population. The Maori tribes of the North Island interior countered by establishing the Kingitanga. While the Maori King’s writ ran, no more land would be sold to the Pakeha. To the London investors and Auckland land speculators who were chafing at the bit to turn this British “possession” into a paying proposition, such defiance was intolerable. New Zealand’s restless natives needed to be taught a lesson. General Duncan Cameron and his 12,000-strong army would be the teachers.
 
So what, exactly does Ms Barry find “regrettable” about the New Zealand Wars? That the Pakeha won them? That the confiscated lands of the Waikato, Bay of Plenty and Taranaki tribes went on to form the foundation of New Zealand’s economic prosperity? That the victory of the colonial forces, by removing the risk of further warfare, prepared the way for the breakneck development of the colony in the half-century that followed? Are these the consequences of the New Zealand Wars that the Minister of Arts Culture and Heritage regrets? Probably not.
 
So what, exactly, will Maori and Pakeha talk about on this yet-to-be-announced day of commemoration? Will the victors tell the vanquished how damned decent it was of their ancestors to let their ancestors kill so many warriors and steal so much land? Will the vanquished shrug their shoulders and say, “No worries, Bro, it was a long time ago”? And will the victors smile indulgently, slap the vanquished on the back, and say: “Quite right, Mate, it was, and we’re all New Zealanders now.”
 
We shall see. Of one thing we can be certain, however: the dead who have slept for one-and-a-half centuries beneath the disputed soil of Aotearoa will have a very different story to tell.
 
There is a reason why so many of the signposts to old battle sites are weathered and overgrown; why lichen has been allowed to obliterate the names of those who fell.
 
Sleeping ghosts, like sleeping dogs, should never be needlessly awakened.
 
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 23 August 2016.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Unionists Learn Which Words Not To Use: Ika Salon Hosts “From Strike To Like”

Don't Mention The Surrender! Richard Wagstaff, CTU President. The betrayal of 1991 is not something the CTU ever talks about. Like the Fourth Labour Government’s betrayal of its core beliefs in the late-1980s, the CTU’s not unrelated betrayal of New Zealand’s trade unionists over the Employment Contracts Act remains both unacknowledged and unexamined. That being the case, all the organising conferences in the world will not avail a trade union leadership that has internalised the logic – and the language – of defeat.
 
WHEN A TRADE UNION organising conference advises participants to avoid using such words and phrases as: “Workers”, “Inequality”, “Collective Bargaining”, “Strikes”, “Lockouts”, and even, God help us, “The Union”; it’s a reasonably safe bet that trade unionism is in trouble.
 
When New Zealand’s trade union “density” – i.e. “the proportion of paid workers who are union members” – falls from 50 percent to 18 percent in the space of just 25 years, “trouble” seems a pathetically inadequate description.
 
And, when only 9 percent of private sector workers belong to a trade union, the only appropriate word to describe the condition in which New Zealand unionism finds itself is “crisis”.
 
“Crisis” is not, however, a word which the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions (CTU) likes to use. Certainly its President, Richard Wagstaff, did not use it in his address to the Ika Seafood Bar & Grill “Salon” on Thursday night (18/8/16). Called “From Strike To Like” (an exceptionally appropriate title as it turned out) this latest dinner-and-discussion featured, in addition to Wagstaff, two Australian speakers: Mark Chenery from “Common Cause” and Madeline Holme from the service sector union, “United Voice”. Taking their cue from Wagstaff, their addresses were also resolutely upbeat.
 
The CTU was formed in October 1987 (on the same day the NZ sharemarket crashed). It brought together the hitherto separate peak organisations of the private and public sector unions, the Federation of Labour (FOL) and the Combined State Unions (CSU). Tellingly, the union leaders responsible for drawing-up the constitution of the new body decided to get rid of nearly all the democratic traditions built up over more than a century of trade unionism in New Zealand. The regional “worker parliaments” – known as the Trades Councils – were abolished, as was the tradition of holding large, delegate-based, annual conferences. Decision-making in the new organisation was instead placed in the hands of the leaders of the largest trade unions – about twenty individuals. They, and they alone, would decide the fate of the nearly half-a-million unionists affiliated to the CTU.
 
That it has taken the CTU nearly 30 years to hold its first organising conference (the reason why Wagstaff and the Australians were in Auckland this week) might strike some as a little strange. The passage of the draconian Employment Contracts Act in 1991 and the precipitate decline in union density that followed, must have suggested to at least some union leaders that a coming together of union organisers from across the country, to discuss what is, and isn’t, working at the shop-floor level, might be a useful exercise.
 
The sad truth of the matter, however, is that after 1991 many unions were only able to survive by gobbling-up the members of other unions. If they’d been corporations, the process would have been described as a ‘mergers and acquisitions frenzy’. In the grey bureaucratese of Kiwi unionism, however, the process was simply called ‘amalgamation’. It did not encourage co-operation.
 
That a coming together of organisers has finally happened bears testimony to just how parlous the position of New Zealand’s trade unions has become. Perhaps this is why keynote speakers to the organising conference – including Chenery and Holme – were received with such enthusiasm. The Aussie union movement has proved to be considerably more robust than its New Zealand counterpart and has happily embraced many of the techniques of political communication and persuasion coming out of the United States.
 
Coming up with suitable – i.e. less confronting – alternatives to the staunch phraseology of the picket-line is what inspired the list of “words to not use” with which this essay began. The research of American progressive Anat Shenker-Osorio, in particular, has been drawn on heavily by the Australian unions in an effort to “re-frame” the struggles in which their members are engaged. Holmes’ description of her own union’s fight to retain penal rates (oops, “weekend rates”) was particularly interesting in this regard.
 
The great risk here is that these purely tactical innovations will be mistaken for strategic imperatives. In its essence, trade unionism is an exercise in coercing a greater share of the surplus generated by a commercial enterprise than the owners of that enterprise, un-coerced, would feel inclined to distribute to their employees. There are ‘gentle’ ways to apply the coercive strength of a workforce, and there are not-so-gentle ways, but applied it must be if workers are to receive anything like their fair share of the wealth they create.
 
And it is here that we come to the matter which lies at the heart of the CTU’s weakness. In 1990, when the new National Government of Jim Bolger introduced the Employment Contracts Bill, the intention of the legislation was simple and clear: to legally eliminate the ability of workers to successfully coerce their employers.
 
Scores of thousands of New Zealand unionists marched and rallied against the Bill. At mass meetings across the country, resolution after resolution to stage a General Strike was carried overwhelmingly. At the summit of the CTU, however, the will to resist the bill by direct action was nowhere near as strong. Making full use of their power under the CTU’s undemocratic constitution, the union bosses voted 250,122 to 190,910 not to mount a nationwide stoppage.
 
At its first and most crucial test the CTU had failed its membership. It wasn’t just the National Party, or the employers, who were responsible for the collapse of unionism in New Zealand. The union leadership of 1991 must, itself, shoulder a very large share of the blame.
 
Not that any of this toxic historical legacy formed the slightest part of Wagstaff’s speech to the Ika audience. The betrayal of 1991 is not something the CTU ever talks about. Like the Fourth Labour Government’s betrayal of its core beliefs in the late-1980s, the CTU’s not unrelated betrayal of New Zealand’s trade unionists remains both unacknowledged and unexamined. That being the case, all the organising conferences in the world will not avail a trade union leadership that has internalised the logic – and the language – of defeat.
 
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Saturday, 20 August 2016.

Of Chinese Hares And American Hounds

Conflicted Loyalties: Clearly, the New Zealand Government is of the view that it can run with the Chinese hares, hunt with the American hounds, and neither superpower will think anything of it. China will go on underwriting New Zealand’s economic well-being, and the USA will happily pledge her military might to the maintenance of New Zealand’s national security. Yeah, right.

WHERE DID WINSTON PETERS find him? A Chinese immigrant with years of experience in the Auckland real-estate market and willing to write (in faultless English) a no-holds-barred condemnation of the growing Chinese influence over his adopted country? The only detail lacking was the immigrant’s name.
 
Until I read the Chinese community’s response to his critique, the author’s decision to express his views anonymously struck me as unfortunate. The fiercely resentful character of his compatriots’ replies, however, provided ample justification for his reticence. (Always assuming he was the author – and a genuine Chinese immigrant!)
 
As the novelist Eleanor Catton can attest, we New Zealanders do not respond well to criticism – especially from one of our most successful children. The Chinese, it seems, are no different.
 
But then New Zealand is not a fast-rising global superpower. If we become aggrieved and stamp our diplomatic foot angrily upon the world stage, then most of the international community struggles to contain its mirth. When our oldest “friend” in the Pacific region, Australia, is able to imprison and mistreat New Zealanders with impunity, what further proof is required that Kiwi feelings can be happily ignored by just about everybody?
 
China, on the other hand, is a fast-rising global superpower, with fast-growing armed forces and an economy the rest of the world simply cannot do without. Had the Chinese government not authorised a truly gigantic domestic stimulus package to off-set the contractionary effects of the 2008-09 Global Financial Crisis (GFC) then the global economy would almost certainly have ground to a shuddering halt. If we have forgotten, or, more likely, remained in complete ignorance of the crucial role China played, then the memory of the Chinese government is clear.
 
As clear as the ingratitude of China’s neighbours: Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia; who continue to assert their claims in the South China Sea. The Philippines government even had the temerity to seek an adjudication of its claim at the International Court.
 
The cold fury with which this decision was received in Beijing is difficult to overstate. The Chinese leaders understood that a third-rate power like the Philippines would never have dared to lodge such a claim without the backing of the United States. It was incontrovertible proof that the spots of the imperialist American leopard had not changed.
 
When the US economy was teetering on the brink of utter catastrophe, China had offered a steadying hand. But, China’s reaffirmation of its historic hegemony in the seas contiguous to its coasts, rather than eliciting Washington’s forbearance, was met with brute demonstrations of American naval power. In response, China stepped up the pace of its militarisation of strategic rocky outcroppings in the South China Sea. If the Americans mean to have a war – the Chinese were saying – let it begin here.

America was not the only nation the Chinese economy kept afloat during the GFC. Her vast markets absorbed New Zealand’s exports like a sponge, allowing its people to congratulate themselves on how well they, and their acutely vulnerable commodity-based economy, had performed.

The expectation in Beijing was that the quid pro quo for China’s economic support would be New Zealand’s diplomatic acquiescence. On the South China Sea, the very least we could do was keep our head down and our mouth shut. Beijing soon discovered that if the spots of the American leopard hadn’t changed, then neither had its cub’s.
 
Clearly, the New Zealand Government was of the view that it could run with the Chinese hares, hunt with the American hounds, and neither superpower would think anything of it. China would go on underwriting New Zealand’s economic well-being, and the USA would happily pledge her military might to the maintenance of New Zealand’s national security.
 
When the Philippines won its case in the International Court, the Chinese foreign ministry cocked its ear in the direction of Wellington. They did not like what they heard. Our Foreign Minister thought his carefully chosen words would appease both the Dragon and the Eagle. He was half right.
 
And now Winston Peters, a former New Zealand foreign minister, decides to pull an insultingly critical Chinese rabbit out of his “black op” hat. China could be forgiven for assuming New Zealand is relapsing into its traditional Sinophobia. China could be forgiven for bolting her doors until we learn better manners.
 
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 19 August 2016.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Nothing To Celebrate.

An Unjust War: New Zealand’s participation in the Vietnam War, no matter how marginal, represented a shameful capitulation to American pressure. It was an immoral war which we should never have joined, and the idea of “celebrating” its fiftieth anniversary should be repugnant to all thinking New Zealanders.

PHUOC TUY PROVINCE, VIETNAM, 18 AUGUST 1966. For a period of 48 hours, around one hundred soldiers from D-Company, Royal Australian Regiment, risked annihilation at the hands of a much larger force of Vietnamese guerrillas. Had it not been for the deadly artillery shells dropped upon the Vietnamese positions by Australian and New Zealand gunners, and the crucial air support supplied by the Royal Australian, and the United States’, air forces, the first serious engagement involving Australian and New Zealand forces in the Vietnam War could have ended in disaster. As it was, the 18 Australian soldiers killed in and around the Long Tan rubber plantation on 18 August 1966 only served to deepen the domestic divide between supporters and opponents of Australian participation in the Vietnam conflict.
 
Quite why the New Zealand Government has decided to “celebrate” the Battle of Long Tan which (the participation of Kiwi artillerymen notwithstanding) was an overwhelmingly Australian engagement, remains something of a mystery. Perhaps it’s because Long Tan represents one of the few examples of Australian and New Zealand soldiers engaging the National Liberation Front (also known as the Viet-Cong) more-or-less independently. As such, it makes it easier to represent the Vietnam War as just another of the many conflicts in which New Zealanders have fought, and its veterans as essentially no different from the participants in all our other wars.
 
Except, of course, that the Vietnam War was very far from being ‘just another’ war. It was the largest and the most destructive of a series of military conflicts waged to prevent the “spread of communism” in South East Asia.
 
That the people of Vietnam were fighting for their national independence every bit as much as they were fighting for communism cut little ice in Washington, Canberra and Wellington. The nations of the so-called “Free World” were convinced that the slightest sign of weakness in the face of national liberation struggles backed by the Soviet Union and/or the People’s Republic of China would only result in more and more of the world’s newly independent nations denying their markets to capitalist exploitation. To prevent that from happening the United States was willing to hurl at the unfortunate Vietnamese people all the non-nuclear weaponry it possessed. Millions were killed.
 
Vietnam was an unjust, ideologically-driven war of aggression against a nation of peasant rice-farmers, and the revulsion it created – especially among the young – gave rise to an international anti-war movement of extraordinary intensity. In attempting to defeat the Vietnamese, the US armed forces committed appalling atrocities and the US Government  revealed to the world America’s ugliest features. Eventually, the American people, along with the people of Australia and New Zealand, refused to back the war. With the withdrawal of American military support, the US puppet government of “South Vietnam” collapsed. By 1975 Vietnam had, at enormous cost, finally freed itself from the clutches of western imperialism.
 
New Zealand’s participation in the Vietnam War, no matter how marginal, represented a shameful capitulation to American pressure. It was an immoral war which we should never have joined, and the idea of “celebrating” its fiftieth anniversary should be repugnant to all thinking New Zealanders. Those who participated in the fighting for reasons of “adventure”, or on account of the “big money” offered, were a far cry from the conscript soldiers of the First and Second World Wars. Their participation in the conflict did, however, leave many of them physically and psychologically scarred. For that they deserve our pity, but not our respect. The cause they were fighting for was not a good one. It should be remembered only as a lesson in the perils of participating in imperialist aggression.
 
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Wednesday, 17 August 2016.