The End of Capitalism, Māori Self Determination, and the future Socialist Republic of Aotearoa!

Aotearoa: Mass multiethnic protests against the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement. 2016

NZ was colonised by the British Empire in the mid-19th century. It remains a semi-colony since it has never had a war of independence to break from imperialism. Under a Treaty that promised self-determination and equal rights, Māori were subordinated to capitalist society as an oppressed people. Colonial political institutions since have moved on from war, through assimilation, to treaty settlements, in the attempt to buy consent in the hope of a ‘grand settlement’. Yet Māori remain a colonised people whose fate is sealed so long as capitalism rules. Self-determination for Māori will be possible only with the unity of Māori and Pākehā workers in ending capitalist rule and building the socialist republic of Aotearoa within a federation of socialist republics of Polynesia.  

White ‘Settlements’

The failure of colonial attempts to completely subordinate Māori resistance to oppression by war and assimilation led to Treaty ‘settlements’ which fall far short of recompense for the massively destructive consequences wrought by the original colonial Treaty ‘settlement’. Today, the gap between ‘settlements’ remains the principal fault-line that destroys any illusion that NZ is a post-colonial or decolonized society.

That is why the main fracture between the two main capitalist parties in New Zealand, Labour and National, is over power sharing with Māori in Government. The liberal Labour Party sees the need to ‘honour’ the Treaty by giving Māori a larger role in ‘co-governance’ over the distribution of economic resources. The policies that flow from this are derived from the belief that co-governance between Māori and Pakeha is consistent with Treaty obligations of ‘self-determination’.  

Chris Trotter claims this liberal position has thrown up an extremist Māori Nationalism that creates a race-based power grab against the right of “one person, one vote”, in effect an ‘Ethno State’. Māori nationalism has generated its opposite political reaction in the National Party, even more so in the minor right-wing party, ACT, rejecting co-governance as ‘separatism’, as a threat to democracy and ‘one law for all’, and a betrayal of the dominant pakeha white nation. 

In Trotter’s view both ‘extremes’ can be moderated by a political movement of the center, such as a ‘grand coalition’ between the major parties, based on an equal citizen vote for “peace, unity and democracy”. This idea is echoed by the centre-right Michael Hooton and centre-left Bryce Edwards. But such an outcome was never possible under capitalism, particularly today when it is facing its imminent demise as a system. It is a reactionary utopia that diverts our attention and squanders our efforts from what is necessary to arrive at the possibility of a peaceful, united and democratic resolution. 

There is no comparison between radical white supremacy and radical Māori nationalism. The former represents the past and present evils of class society and settler colonisation, while the latter represents the ending of class society and the transition to a future egalitarian society. Let’s set the historical context of the struggle over the past and present that shapes the future of democracy. 

Democracy represents ruling class power

First, we need to see that ‘democracy’ is not some universal, timeless concept of one person, one vote. It is a reflection of the social relations of production that prevail at any given time. The history of democracy reaches back to the ancient commune in the time hunters and gatherers before the rise of class society around 10,000 years ago. The democracy of the ancient commune is that of the egalitarian non-class relations of production that characterised society before the rise of class society.

Democracy today has its origins in the French Revolution and the victory of the bourgeoisie over the feudal aristocracy. It is bourgeois democracy, corresponding to the exploitative capitalist social relations between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Formally, all individuals who buy or sell in the market are citizens. Actually, bourgeois right is the right to exploit labour for profit. Today that class society with its bourgeois form of democracy is doomed to destroy humanity unless we overthrow it and build a future society that reaches beyond the limits of bourgeois democracy towards the democracy of a new commune.

How does bourgeois democracy relate to Māori self-determination? Since British colonisation the struggle for self-determination is to win a bourgeois right – national independence. In other words, bourgeois citizens vote to form nation states to defend their private property and conduct of business. This is expressed in the Treaty as the equal rights of citizens Pākehā and Māori, implying Māori would self-govern their own land. But this impression was fraudulent since colonisation dictated the separation of Māori from the land. At the time of NZ’s ‘Treaty settlement’ the British Empire denied bourgeois democracy to all those who did not qualify as ‘citizens’ since they were not owners of private property. Clearly Māori, Women and most white settlers did not qualify.

Bourgeois Democracy

Not until the late 19th century were propertyless workers admitted to bourgeois democracy as citizens when the right of wage workers to sell their labour-power became defined as a property right. Women had to wait much longer to win that citizenship by achieving legal independence if not economic independence from their spouses. Māori, who lost most of their communally owned land during colonisation, and who worked as members of the reserve army of labour, did get a token citizenship and political representation with the creation of Māori seats, and won formal citizenship only when they became members of the permanent labour-force after World War 2.

So bourgeois democracy, naturalised, normalised and formalised as ‘one person, one vote’, has always excluded those who did not own private property, or substantively sell their labour power as a commodity on the market. The formal equality of bourgeois democracy was always an ideological façade hiding the fundamental class inequality between those who owned the land as a means of production, and those who were landless and forced to sell their labour power to subsist. This formal democracy masked the actual material inequality until the end of the post-war boom and onset of a long depression in the 1980s unleashed class struggle between capital and labour and burst through onto the surface stripping the façade away.   

It follows that the struggle for bourgeois democracy today between those who are its victims and those who are its beneficiaries is futile unless the social relations underlying that democracy are transformed by socialist revolution. Māori nationalists who fight for the realisation of bourgeois democracy may win more token settlements which are perceived by white racist, separatist, supremacists as a mortal threat to their private property rights. Yet nothing short of a social revolution will resolve the right to self-determination, so it follows that bourgeois democracy must be overthrown in order for workers’ democracy to live. How will such a revolutionary transition be possible?

The revolutionary transition

Māori nationalism is essentially about tino rangatiratanga or self-determination. This was the promise of the Treaty, almost immediately over-ridden by the drive of settlers to turn Māori land into their private property. Today, self-determination means de-colonisation to a level of self-governance of their own land and resources that meets the common needs of the working people, or it means nothing.

Can this be won as a peaceful, united resolution conceived by He Puapua as co-governance? Or will it require a challenge to the class relations supporting the bourgeois state? Māori who currently believe that self-determination is possible in New Zealand today will learn from their struggle that they have to go beyond bourgeois democracy to workers’ democracy to de-colonise Aotearoa.

How far Māori go to realise self-determination will depend on the mass support of working class Pākehā and Pacifika against the resistance of the bourgeoisie and its hangers-on. Such a multi-ethnic class alliance will be the first step towards self-determination including succession, and this democratic right remains active in post-capitalist society. So, what are the conditions arising from the past and present that can facilitate the end of capitalism and the creation of a peaceful, united and democratic future?

The most pressing condition is that global capitalism is in a terminal crisis, and out of that crisis comes the promise of revolution. Economic slump, pandemic and climate catastrophe are destroying the material basis for human survival. There is no way that the capitalist ruling class fighting for its existence can make workers and poor farmers pay for their rotting system by conceding bourgeois democratic rights and social equality.

The class struggle between the two main classes will not be united or peaceful. It will force those on both sides of the divide to unite and fight each other. Only one side will be democratic representing the will of the revolutionary movement. This will see the big majority of workers and their allies unite for revolution, against the minority of land owners and their middle-class allies, who turn to fascism to defend their class interests by means of counter-revolution.  

The Māori/Pākehā democratic alliance

An alliance of Māori worker plus Pākehā and Pacifica workers will be the big majority and it will be capable of reviving new forms of social relations of the original commune as the way out of capitalism’s terminal crisis. That means building mass democratic organs to debate, vote and act on the basis of workers’ democracy. The alliance can activate the substance of the Treaty in de-colonising Aotearoa alongside workers fighting globally against the destruction of nature and humanity as capitalism attempts to make the poor masses pay for its terminal crisis with ever-worsening pandemics, ecological collapse, stagflation and wars.

The argument is often raised that the class differences among Māori disqualify self-determination since the ‘capitalist’ leaders dictate the will of the people. Fear is promoted of an ‘ethno’ state where the Māori minority oppresses the Pākehā majority.  This claim is based on a racist neo-colonial mentality which condemns the majority of Māori as dupes of their ‘leaders’. Moreover, it accepts that leaders have sold out to the colonial practice of forcing iwi to ‘corporatise’ and have turned their backs on tino rangatiratanga of the Treaty. When the mainly Pākehā defenders of the white settler colonial capitalist state label of Māori self-governance as an ‘ethno’ state it is blatant hypocrisy.

Tino rangatiratanga in pre-contact Māori society was exercised in the interests of the collective and not a separate ruling class. Today this social relation is still alive on the Marae and can be defended within the surviving institutions where leaders are elected and mandated by the people to work for their collective interests. Such a democracy that reflects that of the original historic commune can become the practical model for a new form of democracy that can unite all races and classes in the future.

That leaves the minority white supremacist-led fascist movement made up of sections of the middle-class, small businesses, ‘kith and kin’ and lumpen workers. These elements will become the fascist fodder of finance capital to defend their ruling class interests from the perceived threats of Māori nationalism, migrant workers and globalisation. Of course, these threats become paranoia in the minds of the petty bourgeois whose ‘world view’ stops at NZ shores and resents anything alien to that patriotic mindset.

The state bureaucracy, and its repressive forces, the police and military, will split over de-colonisation along the lines of the rising proletariat vs the declining petty bourgeoisie. It is important that the progressive majority organise self-defence against the state and paramilitary forces, appealing to the interests of sympathetic personnel to join the fight for Māori self-determination based on class unity, racial equality and the democracy of the future commune.

Lessons of the Commune

The Māori/Pākehā bloc based on majority votes and election of recallable delegates will draw on the history of the commune, and that of pre-contact Māori society. It will also draw on the history of socialist revolutions in the 20th century and learn their lessons.

The most important lesson is that of Marxism. Revolutionary transition is not automatic, or spontaneous, but planned and organised by those who understand why the history of class society has reached its dead end. Capitalism is in the end stage of terminal crisis. The exploitation of the working masses and of nature as a whole now threatens to destroy the basis for human existence making the return to the commune both necessary and possible. We call those who carry this knowledge in their hearts and their brains communists!

When co-determination is already being practiced routinely over rivers, over settlements like Te Urewera, central govt and local government, in many ways foreshadowing the emergence of a new workers’ democracy, it is not too hard to envisage a united and socially democratic revolution against colonisation and for Māori self-determination, ending the rule of dying capitalism and creating the conditions for a return of the new commune in harmony with nature.