Shock Horror: Labour goes socialist under cover of Covid

Iwi checkpoint Northland August 2020

In a recent NZ Herald article (behind a paywall) ‘Labour takes revolutionary road towards state control’, Fran O’Sullivan claims that the Labour Government is reverting to state control of the economy behind the “smokescreen of Covid”. Really? Behind the Covid smokescreen comes the biggest bailout of private business in New Zealand’s history; $50b to rescue falling profits and subsidise payrolls. And now we are back to business as usual where the Reserve Bank stops QE and starts to raise interest rates to prevent inflation.  O’Sullivan doesn’t acknowledge this bailout because business is naturally entitled to the huge boost to its corporate welfare under the cover of Covid. This ‘state control’ was OK because, while junking moral hazard and abusing Keynes, it was necessary to keep business and profits alive.  

This is a strange socialism in the air when the Labour Government is firmly committed to defending kiwi capitalism. Coming after nearly 40 years of the neo-liberal rollback of the state, any move in the other direction will create visions of reds under the bed. Yet the beneficiaries of settler colonisation have short memories. They substitute founding myths to navigate their greed.

The colonised don’t forget. They know from bloody experience that the state was always at the centre of all economic change, and its main purpose was to take the land, build the roads and bridges and create the fiction of parliamentary democracy to oversee the capitalist economy. They know that Labour government cannot make the revolution we need, because it must manage a fragile and failing economy at the expense of the workers and poor farmers. The question is: who will pay the price for this failure to make a revolution?

The left side of history explains why the Ardern Labour Government has adopted a liberal policy of national capitalist development within the world economy, very much like that of the first Liberal Government (the LibLabs) from 1891 to 1912. The major difference is that the Lib Lab settlement in which labour and capital coexisted, state arbitration was used to stabilize a fragile emerging market. Today’s Labour is returning to a new liberal settlement to manage the fragile economy in a period of the terminal crisis of capitalism as the market fails to stabilize the national economy within the global economy. Of course the right is blind to their fate and screams ‘state control’! locked in the inertia of rotting global capitalism as it takes the revolutionary road towards socialism.

Never mind, the revolution is in the beer and Phil Twyford the commissar of socialist planning is the leading suspect. He is reported to be working ‘behind the scenes’ on a plan to return to the centralised state planning of the 1930’s Labour Government. Far from revolutionary when public works were always a huge hand out to business ever since the settler wars. But then comes Minister of Communism Nanaia Mahuta to attack local democracy by appointing Maori representatives to local bodies who can no longer be sacked by ‘democratic’ majorities in a ‘one nation’ referendum.

Even more alarming was Mahuta’s announcment of government’s proposal to take control of water from incompetent local bodies under the 3 waters plan. Clearly, here was a central government grab of ratepayers water assets and the end of the pork barrel system of allocating water rights. Bankrupt influencers, Seymour, Goff and Prebble led the charge for National’s back-to-private-water-rights-plus-habitat-destruction.  Then we add the Health reforms which will replace the 26 DHBs with 4 regional centres serving a national bureaucracy alongside a Maori Health central body. So not only are Labour centralising power at an alarming rate they are handing a rising share of that power to the Treaty Partners.

National responded to these threats of socialism-by-stealth to property rights with the predictable charge of separatism reminiscent of Don Brash at large. But this move towards separatism had hardly been swallowed and spat out before the king hit -the He Puapua discussion document was leaked to the National Party. An alarmed Judith Collins immediately saw reds in the bed and accused the government of having a secret plan to introduce a socialist Aotearoa, the deadly enemy of bourgeois democracy.

The dream of He Puapua is Maori self-determination, the essence of tinorangatiratanga in Te Tiriti. But since there is no ground swell of Maori for national secession, self-determination means a negotiated settlement to put the partnership between Maori and non-Maori on a more equal footing. Of course this negotiation will be in the hands of Iwi elites looking for more co-management in government to develop their assets. It couldn’t be otherwise given the aftermath of colonisation.

Tinorangitiratanga before colonisation was the rule of chiefs in the interests of the iwi collective. Tribal leadership since has remained in the hands of leaders who have to deliver in the interests of capitalist incorporations. But leadership that fails is replaced. Recent examples in the North are the roadblocks set up to protect communities from Covid and the recent rebellion against environmental controls over the use of collectively owned land. These examples are self-determination in action testing the laws of the capitalist state to serve the people. In the context of a collapsing global capitalism, a burning planet, and an ongoing pandemic arising from the destruction of habitats, renegotiated settlements with the state will, like all the previous ones, be token, and throw up new leaderships.

Even so, the rabid right reflex to such limited attempts at self-determination is to scream separatism as if Aotearoa is going to split from New Zealand along the great ring of fire. Just as Donna Awatare discovered soon afer she wrote her liberation manifesto Maori Sovereignty in 1981, self-determination under colonial capitalism will be mingy and strung out like the dole.  A Maori ‘capitalist’ class at the top table will change nothing so long as capitalism rules the world. Maori leaders incorporated into capitalism is not the ethno-nationalism Rata claims, but one competing faction among others within the national bourgeoisie that are all ultimately subservient to foreign imperialist powers.

The alarm raised by the parliamentary left that ‘Maori capitalism’ is implicit in He Puapua, betrays their illusions in a peaceful, race, class and gender free South Pacific Paradise. The same applies to the fair sharing of Maori language and culture in schools and media. The proposition that navigating by the stars in the Pacific was not ‘science’ because it lacked an astrolabe is the grotesque over-reaction of an academic culture shaped by centuries of Eurocentric civilising missions posing as universal science. Ironically, the exaggerated fear of Maori knowledge destroying universal science is a contradiction in terms since all science proceeds by trial and error to serve social objectives. 

What all this amounts to is the panicked retreat of the dominant, far from post-colonial culture, facing the terminal crisis of capitalism, thrown back into ‘culture wars’ between races, sexes, genders and nations, to mask the underlying class war. It is the bankrupt intellectual angst of the urban intelligentsia that joins the chorus of the more robust ‘howling’ of the rural gentry before the spectre of the holocaust.

Yet science rules OK behind our backs so long as it serves the essential needs of humanity. Where science is perveted by the special interests of ruling classes it is always challenged by the science of revolution. Today we need the science that seeks solutions to a global pandemic, the climate emergency and a global economic meltdown.Whether we succeed or not depends on the victory of science over anti-science.

That is why Marxists argue that science is a universal pre-condition for social existence, throughout history, right up to the present, and in the future. Societies fail for lack of science, when anti-science superstition rules. That is why there is no more important science than that applied to our survival. For Marxists that is the testing of assumptions and actions by class conscious workers struggling to overcome the terminal crisis we face. There is only one way to escape the holocaust alive and that is to harness the knowledge of the people of the land, where self-determination means collective ownership, to advance science and technology socialised by the working people, and put to work democratically returning humanity to nature before nature unleashes the Sixth Great Extinction.