The struggle at Ihumātao was a radicalising moment for a lot of people. Our organisation was involved, in many different forms, in supporting the occupation – but many people who just existed in the orbit of Ihumātao have been what older generations of activists call “conscientised”. Ihumātao demonstrated a flaw of capitalism to many people, and for many this has drawn them into revolutionary politics. Māori struggles are clearly important to our ongoing task, which I think our slogan clearly sums up. We are for liberation and socialism. But how are Māori struggles related to communism? Even as a Māori communist, when someone asks me “well what will communism mean for Māori,” I stumble a little. Thankfully, we aren’t the first people to try to work out whether the socialist movement cares about colonialism. Indeed, this argument was the cause of one of the earliest and most vicious splits in the 20th-century socialist movement.
We will have to dig up the grave of a very old argument, but I will try to keep our tomb-robbing brief. Ho Chi Minh sums things up really well for us in this short article. Essentially, the world socialist movement was split in two over the question of imperialism. The center- and right-leaning factions were ambivalent about imperialism, and cared little for the fate of the peoples colonised by the developed capitalist countries. The left-leaning factions argued that capitalism specifically depended on the exploitation of colonies and that opposing imperialism was essential if we were going to win. Ultimately it was the left-leaning factions that won out, leading to the founding of the Third Communist International and a policy for communists around the world to support the national liberation struggles of colonised peoples. Decolonisation struggles in Vietnam, Angola, Ghana, the Congo, Indonesia, Ireland and many other places all received the backing of socialists.
I bring this up to show that Marxists have never been content to simply say “our fight is with the bourgeoisie, full stop” and leave things there. Of course our fight is with the bourgeoisie – fuck those guys – but we’re fighting against a capitalist world order that is increasingly dependent on north-south exploitation. The bourgeoisie lives by sucking the blood of the global south’s oppressed nations, and we’ve always fought to break this exploitation in order to free the world and weaken the capitalist enemy. Any time socialists have tried to ignore national oppression, as the chauvinists of the Second International did, they have proved their own irrelevance and faded into shameful obscurity.
We’re clear that national oppression is something we need to care about if we want to win. As Marxists, this puts us now in a weird position. Being in a weird spot, people end up thinking some weird things in order to get out of it. We can start with this question: are we for the liberation of oppressed nations, or are we for the elimination of the capitalist class? The question is one of political priorities, but considered too simply, people can contort themselves into all kinds of awful tangles trying to decide what to do. As revolutionaries in Aotearoa, whose world has been shaped by the expropriation of Māori land, it is vital that we don’t fall into the most common of these distortions. This is the claim, which I’m sure you’ve heard someone or other make at some point, that “we’re all part of the working class anyway, so what relevance do particularly Māori issues have for socialists?”
Let’s break our ‘friend’s’ argument down a little and see what it’s proposing. We are, indeed, all part of the working class. In Marxist terms, this is saying that there is a contradiction between the capitalist class and the working class. This is absolutely true. We can even use our eyes and see this contradiction – just look at the difference in life outcomes between the people who own capital and the people who sell their labour. Working people are poorer, hungrier, live in worse homes, have more health problems, and have worse overall life outcomes than those who live off of rent, interest, or profit. This is because, as we all know by now, capitalists depend on the extraction of surplus value from the labour-power of workers in order to exist. In this sense, half of what our ‘friend’ is saying is true. It’s in the second half, however, where they trip over their own ass and fall into the gutter.
If we’ve established that there is a contradiction between capitalists and workers, our ‘friend’ goes one step further and argues that there is not a contradiction between Indigenous people and settlers. For this to be true, we would need to be unable to find any difference in how Māori and Pākehā relate to the process of production. This is where our ‘friend’ starts their short journey to the puddle, because we can tell this isn’t true.
As with when we looked at the contradiction between capitalists and workers, we can start with a merely empirical evaluation. Do Māori people and Pākehā people have basically identical life outcomes? The answer, as we all already know, is no. Of course not. Māori die younger than Pākehā, are more likely to be sent to prison than Pākehā, receive lower wages than Pākehā, and are more likely to be unemployed than Pākehā. These facts show that the disparities between Māori and Pākehā are far from just cultural. These are directly economic factors, they concern the particular relation that Māori have to the process of production. Our lower wages show that Māori receive a lower price when we sell our labour-power, in other words, as a population we are subject to imperialist superexploitation. Our disproportionate unemployment rate shows that we are used to bulk out the relative surplus population – that army of potential workers held in reserve, desperate for employment, competing for jobs and therefore driving down wages across society as a whole. The first two points show that not only is the contradiction between Māori and Pākehā real and material in the Marxist sense, it also has deadly consequences for our population.
So this is the tangled knot we find ourselves in. Both contradictions are real. There is a contradiction between the interests of capitalists and workers, and there is also a contradiction between the interests of Indigenous people and settlers. What do we do? This is the knot our clumsy friend has tried to chop through, with embarrassing results. Chauvinists acknowledge the first contradiction, but try to ignore the second. This is for a variety of reasons. Some are just, themselves, racist. Fuck these people. Others are understandably unsure of what the task of building socialism on stolen Māori land can even look like, and so forgive themselves of responsibility for doing it by pretending we don’t exist. Still more people just haven’t understood that the national oppression of Māori is central to the existence of capitalism in Aotearoa. Neither excuse is a very good one, and we have to gently but firmly correct these ideas when we see them.
I’d like to introduce the concept of antagonism to help us explain how to handle the two contradictions. Mao Zedong argues that “antagonism is one form, but not the only form, of the struggle of opposites.” What he means is that as contradictions between groups, factions, and classes develop, they can change from non-antagonistic to antagonistic forms and back again. Mao says for example that “there is a difference between workers and peasants and this very difference is a contradiction, although, unlike the contradiction between labour and capital, it will not become intensified into antagonism or assume the form of class struggle.” Workers and peasants had different, even opposed interests. Yet, Mao argues, this contradiction does not necessarily have to take the form of a struggle by one to overcome the other. Rather, peasants and workers should instead ally, despite their differences, in order to eliminate the capitalist system. A contradiction existed between workers and peasants, but it was the contradiction between capitalists and the worker-peasant alliance that Mao argues was the antagonistic one.
Likewise, we say that there is a contradiction between capitalists and workers, and between Indigenous people and settlers, but that it is the first of these which is an antagonistic contradiction. The contradiction between capitalists and workers is antagonistic because the capitalist class cannot exist as a class without exploiting and extracting from the working class. To be a capitalist is to exploit workers: there’s no way to broker peace with a tapeworm. The contradiction between Māori and Pākehā is a consequence of the national oppression of Māori that is necessary to the imposition of capitalism, and can be resolved as we dismantle the capitalist system and make our way towards communism. Our responsibility as socialists, tauiwi and otherwise, is to follow through on this promise without backsliding into chauvinism.
This final point is the most important one. We are dealing with national oppression, meaning that the exploitation of Māori as a population is a conscious and deliberate economic strategy of the bourgeoisie. It makes no sense, then, for our ‘friend’ to argue that capitalism has naturally and automatically erased the distinction between Māori and Pākehā. On the contrary, the distinction between Māori and Pākehā is a very productive one for the capitalist class. Even though we accept that the primary contradiction of our time, the antagonistic contradiction, is between capitalists and workers, we have to approach the contradiction between Māori and Pākehā with the same consciousness and deliberateness that our enemies do. The contradiction between Māori and Pākehā has been made on purpose. We must unmake it on purpose.
What does this mean for our actual political practice? It means that we need to speak to the Māori working class. It means that we need to be a party for a working class which we know is already divided, in more ways than I’ve pointed out even here. And it means that we need a political form which deliberately dismantles the national oppression of Māori, even as we continue our long hīkoi to communism.
Nations in the South Pacific have benefited from Cuban medical aid and medical training programmes for their people, including Kiribati, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Tuvalu and Nauru. If this bill passes, it would effectively empower the United States to threaten these nations into cutting ties with Cuba, to the detriment of their people. Access to healthcare and education is a human right, and the USA, apparently not content to deprive its own population of these rights, is now attempting to inhibit access for Pacific Islanders and peoples globally.
This bill has drawn harsh criticism from Caribbean nations. During Covid-19, there was a lack of medical support from richer countries such as the United States. Global Americans reports that “The decision of CARICOM states to invite, at one point, more than 500 Cuban medical personnel into their respective countries, was pragmatic.” It is their right to decide who to accept support from, and not the right of any other nation to dictate that.
New Zealand is a Pacific Island nation that has played an ongoing role in colonising and underdeveloping the Pacific, extracting resources, cheap labour, and dictating the terms for economic and diplomatic relations. We have a responsibility to right those wrongs, and stand up for Cuban and Pacific self-determination. To do that, NZ must do more than passively vote against sanctions at the UN, and we can do more.
The NZ government must insist that local banks, financial institutions, and transport companies refuse to apply these sanctions.
The United States occupies a dangerous role as the global hegemon. If its power and influence in world affairs continues to go unchecked, our own self-determination and democratic rights could be at risk in the longer term. Any meaningful efforts to decolonise this land, affirm tino rangatiratanga, and socialise the economy, would land us in very hot water with an imperialist superpower that has a long track record of funding and instigating regime change operations in countries that don’t play ball with them. By playing their game on their terms, we risk losing what rights we already enjoy, including access to cheap off-brand medication that undercuts the profits of US pharmaceutical companies. But we all have so much to gain through socialism. We gain a future that we’re in control of, and not just those who can afford to buy influence, where profit will never take priority over the people. We gain democratic communities, democratic control of our workplace, housing, food security, and community infrastructure for the benefit of everyone. Socialism strengthens our bonds with each other, with our communities, with our society, and with working people all over the world.
By standing up for the self-determination of people in other countries resisting imperialism, we’re standing up for ourselves and for the future we want to build and live in together.
The content of our Justice Programme was informed by attendees of two public hui in Auckland and Wellington in December 2018, as well as justice organisers and thinkers. This is the third of six sections analysing the state of class warfare in Aotearoa, and laying out a plan for building a movement for liberation and socialism.
Any justice system in Aotearoa must be firmly rooted in Te Ao Māori.
While the settler-colonial state of Aotearoa makes some attempts to put a Māori face on its monopoly on violence; incarceration, policing and long-term punishments are antithetical to Māori concepts of Utu, or equitable balance when dealing with social harm. Only a system of justice which places community and interpersonal satisfaction with the results of justice at its core can address the vast scale of social harm across an entire nation.
Incarceration is both inhumane and counterproductive. Prisons must be abolished.
Incarceration is a recent phenomenon, with imprisonment for fixed sentences only becoming common in the last two centuries. All of the available evidence points towards mass incarceration as the greatest single cause of recidivism and recrimination, as well as a major barrier to rehabilitation. Prisons must close if we are to progress as a society.
Crime and interpersonal harm stems from material conditions.
A major barrier to any meaningful attempt to address social harm is the idea that crime is the result of an inherent evil within certain people. A new justice system must recognise this as nonsense, and that as social creatures, any interpersonal harm we cause is the result of social conditioning just as much as it is the result of individual agency.
Rehabilitation should be free and accessible to the whole community.
Constructive aspects of prisons and policing are not inherently tied to the system of mass incarceration. We should not take an “ambulance at the bottom of the cliff” approach to social harm: rehabilitation programmes, education programmes, and mental health services must be made available to whole communities, rather than just inmates.
The New Zealand Police must be abolished.
The defining characteristic of the Police is their monopoly on violence. The Police exist to enforce colonial property relations, as can be seen by their disproportionate response to any threats to property in Aotearoa, compared to their lackluster response to true interpersonal harm. This force, with one foot in the past era of colonial armed constabularies, and one foot firmly clamped down on the neck of the future, must end.
Communities should have access to both internal and external means of conflict resolution.
Communities and local authorities must have access to both internal and external means of justice depending on the situation at hand, as well as the agency to democratically determine what responses are appropriate. Communities may opt to either address crime and social harm using tools and skills available within the community, or they can use the tools and skills available outside the community on matters that the community can’t address.
Justice must first be sought on a voluntary and transformative basis.
When it comes to true interpersonal harm, the colonial justice system can act as a barrier to a mutually agreeable, transformative solution. Transformation, as opposed to restoration, implies a structural change has occurred, or power dynamics have been negated, as opposed to a return to a status quo whose material conditions may have given rise to the instance of harm in the first place. Coercion must be used only as a last resort when all attempts to facilitate a mutually agreed upon solution fail.
Justice must centre the person or community that has been harmed.
The colonial justice system acts to enforce an extremely individualistic model of crime and interpersonal harm. Punishment, followed by rehabilitation and reintegration is a model that completely bypasses victims of harm. New justice systems must allow for community or interpersonal satisfaction with the terms of accountability, reparations, and reintegration, rather than the blunt and clumsy tool that is state-mandated punishment.
What is Justice?
Justice is a concept with a lot of different meanings. For some, Justice is a simple process of crime and punishment, locked in a permanent spiral of recrimination and built up around a deep-seated cultural myth of a war between order and chaos. For others, Justice would mean a righting of past wrongs, a process of both healing the gaping wounds in land and people, and building new social structures to prevent future injustices. For many, however, Justice is simply an impossibility, something that no-one has ever seen, let alone experienced for themselves.
The current capitalist global economic system doesn’t permit the extension of concepts of Justice beyond the resolution of petty interpersonal disputes. This is necessary because in order to justify the persecution of only certain segments of the population, they must first be taken out of their context as members of cultural groups, classes, identities, religions and families. Only once an individual has been completely stripped of their social context can they be charged with a crime, because crimes under capitalism are the exclusive domain of free individuals.
Why is this? What stops the courts from ruling that the defendant was a victim of circumstance, economic and social pressures, or other factors that stripped them of the agency to do anything but the crime in question?
If a court were to acknowledge the existence of crime beyond the scale of individuals, it would mean having to reckon with the concept of injustice between economic classes, of crimes against whole cultural groups, of crimes of one gender against another, of social crime. Capitalist courts may make some attempts to address this glaring contradiction, but these are typically heavily controlled, measured and insignificant responses. To take one recent example, a drug manufacturer can engineer an opioid epidemic that garners their shareholders approximately $30 billion in profits. Once a class-action lawsuit is filed, they pay $600 million in damages1. Capitalist courts, as a rule, are structurally incapable of addressing the ongoing violence between exploiters and the exploited.
Why then do we talk about Justice at all when it was clearly a concept created for the sake of the slave-driver, the feudal lord, and finally the capitalist oligarchies? It’s because there exists a massive gap between the ideals of the exploiters and their own practices. The capitalists may have been the ones who pushed the hardest for concepts of equality amongst all individuals, of individual rights, of international laws, of Justice. But it was also they who did their best to destroy these concepts by making a mockery of them. It’s now up to us to fill the massive void between the aspirations and applications of Justice by instituting true equality, true rights, true internationalism, and finally impose a Justice upon capitalism for which we make no apologies.
The state of Justice in Aotearoa.
In order to understand what true Justice would look like in Aotearoa, we have to look at the ways “Justice” is currently used and abused in order to enshrine inequality, cultural genocide, and settler-colonial property rights in law.
The founding myth of the New Zealand state is that our foundational legal document is the Treaty of Waitangi. This is untrue. The basis of New Zealand’s justice system is in earlier feudal law and the laws of the first capitalists of Europe – the Doctrine of Discovery2.
The Doctrine was one of the first examples of de-facto International Law. In the Catholic world, this Doctrine was first put into place in the form of Papal Bulls (decrees) affirming the rights of Catholic monarchies, particularly the Iberian states, to claim any non-Christian lands in the name of Christendom. After the Protestant reformation these Bulls were replicated in Secular law as the sovereign right of Monarchs to claim any land deemed Terra Nullius, or otherwise inhabited by people deemed less than human (The foundations of these laws are discussed further in Appendix Ia).
The sovereign right of the British Crown was the basis on which Captain Cook claimed Aotearoa for the British Empire, as well as the basis on which British companies and settlers flocked to Aotearoa in an effort to beat the French colonists who were also seeking to dominate the last non-European nations of the South Pacific. A series of Supreme Court rulings in the United States during the late 18th and early 19th centuries codified the Catholic Bulls and Protestant standards of sovereign law into a unified Doctrine that applied to all European powers and their breakaway colonies, setting a precedent in public international law3.
The Doctrine was not displaced as a foundational law of colonisation by the Treaty of Waitangi, in fact it was reinforced by the signing of the Treaty. The fraudulent and intentional translation discrepancies between the Treaty and its Māori equivalent, Te Tiriti ō Waitangi, meant that the Treaty only served to legalise the processes of extractive capitalism and land appropriation that had already begun under the first settlers and the New Zealand Company4.
What followed was even more unjust: even if the fraudulent Treaty were legitimate, its terms would still have been repeatedly violated by the actions of innumerable settlers, companies, and the New Zealand state, particularly during the massive punitive land appropriations of the Grey governorship. Māori land, even that which was protected by the supposed foundational legal document of New Zealand, was confiscated and invaded at an astounding rate.
While a small portion of the Treaty violations against Iwi have been remunerated through Treaty settlements since late last century, they also serve as an illustration of our point in the section above: Capitalist legal authorities cannot meaningfully rectify crimes beyond the scale of the individual, unless this takes the form of purely symbolic or inadequate compensation. Iwi that have received settlements recieved only a tiny portion of the total economic profits gained through treaty violations (the full cost would have easily bankrupted the New Zealand state unless it was paid in the form of ongoing reparations). There were also no provisions to ensure that settlement money would reach the members of the community most affected by colonial violence and dispossession. Indeed, settlements often further entrenched the colonial order by creating a buffer between the most dispossessed Māori and settler-colonial capitalists in the form of a Māori capitalist class5, whose interests would align more closely with developers, landlords, and other agents of colonialism. Finally, Treaty settlements were used as a covert way of convincing Māori to sign away any potential legal right to challenge European Sovereignty.
So far we have discussed the farcical and deeply unjust foundations of colonial law, but these are not aspects that most people come into contact with on a daily basis. The main form of contact most people have with the justice system comes in the form of petty property laws (which make up the vast bulk of the legal code), and the enforcers of these property laws – the New Zealand Police. The signatories of Te Tiriti ō Waitangi actually encouraged the enforcement of kāwanatanga (to some this translates to Crown Law, but not to others), as they believed stricter laws around petty property disputes would serve to regulate the incredible lawlessness and violence of the earliest settlers. These signatories intended for kāwanatanga to be applied mainly to the most invasive elements of Pākeha society6, but they could not have foreseen the total replacement of Tikanga with kāwanatanga, as well as the vastly disproportionate use of kāwanatanga against Māori, the violence of the constabulary, or the racial bias of the courts and lawmakers.
As Pākeha settlements grew, so did the influence of Crown Law. Māori communities, initially subject to community justice and tikanga, instead became “royal subjects,” subject to the laws of the colonisers whether or not they were Treaty signatories, and whether or not their respective signatory understood at the signing that Crown Law would be applied to Māori. The armed constabulary supervised the expansion of the scope of colonial law with a brutality, inhumanity and malice that only 400 years of European colonial ideological development and racial “science” could produce. Instead of a society based on legal equality between treaty partners, the New Zealand state instead imposed a direct copy of the British judicial system and Westminster system of lawmaking, replete with the prisons and constabulary to enforce this new order.
Having discussed the foundations of the current legal system, it seems almost irrelevant to discuss the crimes of individuals. Instead we should be focusing on the injustices of the current system – the vastly disproportionate rates of Māori imprisonment, the increased rates of recidivism encouraged by expanded prisons, the addiction issues that stem from incarceration itself, the violence of the New Zealand Police.
In light of this, it’s hard to even begin meaningfully talking about individual crime. Suffice to say that every human society in history has in some way reprimanded individuals for theft, murder, rape, or really any form of social harm that was not otherwise permitted or necessitated by their economic and social structure. What distinguishes “criminals” in Aotearoa is that they have been prosecuted under a legal system that has no distinguishable legitimacy. It is a sham system, made up of brute force and fraudulent documents, and while working within its frameworks may be necessary or even helpful to a revolutionary decolonial movement, we can’t lose sight of this fact. It is on this basis: a recognition of the inherent illegality of our legal system, that we now discuss our demands and resolutions.
We must continue the legal struggle against capitalism, even as we live under it.
While the foundations of the national and international laws we are subject to are undoubtedly based in colonial violence, as we discussed in the section What is Justice? the ostensible values, ideals and goals of the capitalist legal system are completely compatible with our own, they are simply never put into practice. The result of this contradiction is that there are many lawyers and lawmakers who seek to uphold the values of Justice, even if they are structurally prevented from implementing it. Through such people, victories for workers and colonised peoples can and have been won through the very frameworks put into place by colonial violence. Even though securing these often temporary or minor victories for workers and indigenous peoples isn’t inherently revolutionary, the legal struggle (i.e. the struggle to put in place and maintain laws that protect workers and colonised peoples) has sometimes provided revolutionary movements with a secure set of conditions from which to build movements. Examples of this include the 1973 ohu scheme, which if pursued fully would have provided socialist and Māori activists with a series of rural areas to work from7.
For this reason we advocate for greater involvement and interaction between revolutionaries, lawyers and lawmakers wherever our goals align. While true change can never be implemented by legislating it into place, lawyers and lawmakers can help people to survive long enough to start thinking about systemic change rather than what to feed their families. Welfare and work reforms can and should be pursued, as we have discussed, alongside these legal battles against prominent capitalists and firms. The recent effort to fund the legal defense of Renae Maihi against billionaire capitalist and white supremacist Bob Jones is an excellent example of a worthy cause to mobilise around, so as to protect the right to speak out against Billionaires without being sued8.
Using the tools of the legal system against the very forces that put it into place doesn’t constitute a compromise of values, nor a legitimisation of colonial law. It is simply a pragmatic reality that anti-colonial, anti-capitalist lawyers, and sometimes lawmakers, are worthy comrades, and in many cases are already doing good work by providing legal counsel to arrestees of NVDA actions, opposing sales of Māori land, and supporting workplace rights and safety legislation. It is also true that both the judicial and parliamentary systems are quite capable of forcing these individuals to compromise their values, and as a result our alliance is not unconditional.
In some cases it may even be prudent to strengthen the existing state apparatus in terms of its ability to enforce restrictions upon the bourgeoisie, however we should be careful not to simply increase the overall power of the state. A call to increase police funding so that they may establish a white-collar crime unit is an example of something we should not support, as it increases the overall resources the police have at their disposal to fulfill their main goal – the enforcement of property law. Such increases in state power invariably backfire on workers, even if it is towards an ostensibly progressive goal. Compare this to a call to increase legislative powers to combat abusive landlords, something that would actually decrease the overall repressive power of the state as it would draw resources away from state apparatuses which specifically target workers and dispossessed people. As a general rule, increases in state powers or funding should never be supported unless they are structurally incapable of backfiring on us.
We must support the self-organisation of imprisoned workers in penal slavery, as well as the general prison population.
A growing class of workers in Aotearoa work in conditions that are best described as slavery. They work for less than one dollar an hour, or sometimes nothing at all. Some even work for private companies for upwards of 40 hours a week with practically no pay, while others are punished for pointing out safety concerns, or asking for bathroom breaks.
These workers are victims of the New Zealand Department of Corrections, which under the “Working Prisons” programme has managed to implement a form of slavery under the guise of a liberal-democratic governmental policy since 20019. This may at first appear to be hyperbole, after all, Corrections has stated that “inmates cannot be compelled to work or study” in accordance with the International Labor Organization’s Forced Labour Convention10. However in the same statement, the department also said that prisoners will “face penalties if they do not take part” and that any prisoner who is not currently undergoing addiction treatment would effectively be coerced into working up to 40 hours per week for no pay. We do not understand how this could possibly be defined as anything but slavery.
Even more farcical is the “Release to Work” programme, the “market-oriented” alternative to “Working Prisons” where penal slaves are effectively loaned out to private companies. While the programme is ostensibly an upskilling project intended to provide inmates with better job prospects upon release, the “market wages” these workers receive rarely filter down to them after they are forced to cover their own transport, tools, and clothing costs, as well as a cut of their pay that goes directly to the Department of Corrections of up to $250 per week. Compared to the prisoner working units, these penal-slaves-for-hire are much less common as most working prisoners (90-94%) prefer to work within prisons.
Since 2014, these programmes of penal slavery have been implemented at every prison in Aotearoa. Perhaps counterintuitively, many prisoners actually prefer forced labour to life within the general population, since penal slavery often means they can go outdoors for a greater part of the day and enjoy a degree of privacy. The greatest tragedy of the “Working Prisons” programme was that it somehow made slavery the prefferrable option, compared to the mind-numbing boredom, loneliness, and abusive surveillance of non-working units.
The counterintuitiveness of organising within prison conditions means that the robust self-organisation of prisoners is the only way forward in terms of securing better conditions, living wages, or an end to inhumane practices like solitary confinement in prisons. Much of this organising is already underway but goes unseen, and in order to assist this we must make the most of channels of communication between different prisons. Involvement in prisoner penpal networks (such as the Prisoner Correspondence Network) and proliferating prisoner newsletters would greatly assist in organising and sharing conclusions between different prisons. From this basis, we can begin working towards organising committees among prisoners, such as the US Incarcerated Workers Organising Committee11, using tools such as the prison strike, which was used to great effect across American prisons in 201812.
This is one of many ways to reintroduce politics into prisons, a space which is designed to strip away political agency from those who enter. While incarcerated people do have some rights under the law, Corrections regularly finds ways to undermine what few rights they do have, and absolve Corrections officers of their responsibilities to act within guidelines and laws13.
Aside from the economic struggle within prisons, we must also speak of these ways in which the prisoner is reduced from a political and social being into a non-political being that is only incorporated into the legal system through their exclusion from it14. A first step is the act of deregistration from the voting register. This is an issue that incarcerated people have organised around before in New Zealand’s recent history15, a struggle which may yet lead to the overturn of legislation passed in 2010 that disenfranchised all sentencedprisoners16. If this effort is successful, prisoners who are serving short-term sentences (three years or less) will attain the right to vote. So long as the New Zealand courts can determine whether we have the right to vote, those in power have mechanisms to ensure they cannot be held accountable by classes of people. Voting is thereby reduced to a conditional privilege that can be stripped from citizens at the discretion of the state.
However, the right to vote every three years does not mean people have true political power, and the ruling classes have other ways to deprive people of political power, including the deprivation of knowledge. Not only are political initiatives by prisoners cracked down upon17, public education efforts are difficult as well.We must work to make revolutionary theory and literature accessible to prisoners, and hold Corrections to account as it deprives incarcerated people of the literature and resources to take political action. Incarcerated people are regularly engaged with political action, whether these are collective civil court cases, or struggling for their complaints against a Corrections officer to be heard and taken seriously. Outside organisations can work productively with incarcerated people and their families to support and give visibility to these efforts.
We must demonetise the justice system.
The current justice system is structured in such a way that the rich can effectively buy their way out of jail time or other punishments. This is a result of both design, and a result of the monetisation of certain aspects of policing, particularly traffic offenses.
There is significant evidence that the policing of minor traffic infringements, such as fines for speeding, does not actually increase road safety by any meaningful margin18. Instead these schemes are a means of providing supplementary income for Police forces precisely because fines have a minimal impact upon infringements, and therefore constitute a stable revenue stream.
Fines for traffic infringements, as well as petty property offenses, constitute one of the most noticeable and routine ways that the Justice system disproportionately affects the poor. Minor traffic fines can easily cost as much as a whole week’s food budget for a beneficiary, while providing very little disincentive for middle and upper income earners. The monetisation of Justice can be felt even more profoundly in situations where money can be substituted for jail time. Petty property crimes, such as trespassing, can result in fines of up to $1000 (about three fifths of the median cash savings of people in Aotearoa)19 or three months’ imprisonment20. This essentially means that anyone with $1000 to spare can trespass with virtual immunity, while someone without $1000 will receive a 3 month sentence – more than enough to ruin job prospects or any chance at future economic security.
For these reasons, the Justice system serves as a systemic barrier to class aspirations, as it is one of many social factors that exert a constant downward force on the class position of any individual. This downward force is multiplied, depending on how close a person is to rock bottom.
The court system is also monetised in such a way that the rich can effectively buy their own form of justice as they see it. Expensive lawyers can be bought by the rich, while the most basic legal expenses can bankrupt the poor. This has led to the contemptible practice of capitalists starting punitive civil cases against those who oppose them, simply because they know that their opponent can’t afford legal fees. Billionaire property tycoon Bob Jones’ defamation case against Renae Maihi is just one recent example21.
Finally, there is the most systemic, invisible form that the monetisation of Justice takes. Not content with being able to buy their way out of minor infringements and court cases, capitalists also routinely buy the laws themselves. While the New Zealand state routinely achieves low scores on metrics such as the Corruption Perceptions Index, this is mainly because corruption is extremely hard to quantify beyond perception alone. More developed countries such as New Zealand rarely allow for the most obvious forms of corruption, such as bribery and blackmailing, but more socially accepted forms continue to thrive to the point that they are a feature rather than a bug in the system. Of particular relevance to New Zealand is the concept of Influence Trading, wherein capitalists do not buy out lawmakers directly through bribery, but rather by monopolising public access to politicians through paid lunches, charity events, and other public events which require paid entry22. Influence trading is so prevalent that it is indistinguishable from normalised political routines such as lobbying. On the other hand, sometimes influence trading is so nakedly corrupt that it is indistinguishable from blackmail, something commonly seen in cases wherein capitalists threaten to withdraw investments in key industries unless lawmakers play ball. This was the case when filmmaker and aspiring oligarch Peter Jackson effectively pressured the New Zealand state to illegalise unionisation in screen industries, by threatening to move his productions overseas23.
It is through these methods of limiting punishments, buying out court cases, and trading in influence to rewrite laws, that capitalists continue to tailor the Justice system to their needs. While totally removing the influence of money on the Justice system is impossible without a total rupture with the current state apparatus, there are several measures we can push for even as we are forced to engage in a system that was never meant for us. Demonetising the Justice system is one of many campaigns that could weaken the ability of the state to provide cover for corruption, and would weaken the class solidarity felt between capitalists. This is because once Justice is applied on the basis of greater class equity, it can create situations in which the capitalist state is forced to prosecute capitalists themselves in ways that might actually be felt.
In practical terms, demonetising the Justice system would mean scaled fines based on a percentage of income rather than flat rates. It might also mean a public fund levied to provide for the legal fees of those under a certain income bracket. Finally, toughened laws around access to politicians would have at least some impact on influence trading, especially if this was pursued on the basis of a broader demonetisation of law rather than as campaigns against organised crime, or for national sovereignty, as previous anti-corruption legislation has been framed24.
The bourgeoisie are experts at circumventing laws that confine their influence, or limiting the corruption that they spread. None of the measures described above would end corruption and disproportionate punishments for the poor, but by providing some semblance of a barrier to crimes committed by the richest members of society, conflicts and contradictions between capitalists and the state can arise which may be exploited.
We must first limit, and finally overcome, the power of the New Zealand Police.
The New Zealand Police are the primary barrier to any and all progressive social movements in Aotearoa. Any permanent positive step that is initiated by community action, be it a movement towards indigenous land rights, a movement for workplace democracy, or a movement for housing rights, is inevitably going to contradict the primary goal of the Police: the protection of private property rights and the enforcement of petty property law25.
Anyone who doubts that this is the primary goal of the Police should be shown the numbers. Every major deployment; every spike in expenditure; every mass arrest performed by the New Zealand Police has been conducted not for the sake of public safety or the protection of individual rights, but in response to social movements that threaten property. Thousands of officers, often flown in from all over the country, were mobilised in response to Nuclear Free protests, to Bastion Point, or during the 1981 Springbok tour. More recently, hundreds marched to defend weapons conference halls, city streets, or vast empty fields at Ihumātao. Such numbers are never mobilised to protect individuals or communities, only the right to make profit.
For these reasons, one of the highest priorities for a revolutionary movement is to undermine and weaken the public image and capabilities of the New Zealand Police.
Compared to any other aspect of the state, the Police have the most independence from lawmakers, indeed they function in such a way that lawmakers have virtually no means of impacting the police beyond increasing or decreasing their funding. The Police are also unique in that they have an almost unlimited ability to increase their own capabilities and pursue their own militarisation, thanks to the complimentary role played by the New Zealand Police Association, a “union” which largely fights to increase the power of its members’ employer, often citing vastly overblown safety concerns or pushing fear-mongering narratives in the media.
The only factor which sometimes limits the extent of Police militarisation in Aotearoa is the potential for negative public relations. Many of the increased powers that officers seek inherently result in situations that generate bad PR: More Police firearms directly correlates with more unjustified shootings; more officers patrolling the street directly correlates with more arrests; more unjustified prosecutions leads to more resentment in the community. The Police recognise that bad PR is often the greatest barrier to increased powers and privileges, and consequently put more funding into advertising and public relations than any other arm of the capitalist state. The Police media team is the busiest and most well-funded of any Government department, dealing with over 200 media requests and interviews per day26. Police recruitment and public relations advertisements are omnipresent in Aotearoa, pushing the narrative of the Police as responsible and compassionate caretakers of New Zealand society, acting in partnership rather than opposition with civilians, and pursuing “Safer Communities Together.”27
The vast gap between the desired public image of the Police and their structural role in society is a result of class and cultural disparities. This vast PR apparatus is not designed to mask the ongoing violence and institutional injustices of the Police from those most affected – this would be impossible. Instead the goal is to make the most violent, desperate and ugly aspects of the capitalist system invisible to certain upper strata of the working class and the bourgeoisie by putting them behind a blue wall of Police PR. This serves to further divide working people and beneficiaries from one another by separating them into a social and anti-social element: one which sees the Police as protectors of the peace, and another which sees them for what they truly are. Only by uniting these two elements can the Police be challenged in any meaningful way.
For these reasons, attacking Police PR opportunities has been one of the most effective agitational strategies when it comes to limiting their reach. Campaigns to obstruct “pinkwashing” (attempts to add a queer-friendly sheen to Police violence) at Pride events pioneered by No Pride In Prisons, later known as People Against Prisons Aotearoa, have been some of the most effective forays into this strategy28.
Once the myth of Police benevolence is shattered, the real role of the Police becomes clearer to many more people. Contrary to popular belief, the Police have changed little since the newly monied oligarchs of the 19th century first hired armed men to patrol their properties29.
However, encouraging a broader shift in our societal understanding of the Police isn’t the only strategy we can use against the Police; there are other reforms that can be pushed for in the present moment. Chief among these is the disarmament of regular Police officers30, who currently carry Bushmaster M4 assault carbines as standard issue within patrol cars, as well as less lethal weapons such as tasers on their person. As discussed previously, the Police are only limited by PR when it comes to increasing their own capabilities; however, the image of “community-oriented” policing is important to them, meaning that measures to increase Police firepower may be introduced in an atmosphere of social crisis, only to continue well after the crisis has ended.
This is what Naomi Klein has called the “Shock Doctrine,” in which social crises are used and abused by the state to introduce draconian legislation or massively increase repressive force31. One example of this is the introduction of Armed Response Teams in the period after the 2019 mosque shooting, in which the atmosphere of social crisis created by fascist terrorism was used to massively increase the firepower of the police in predominantly Māori and immigrant communities32. Since this doctrine has proved successful so far, we can predict that the Police will steadily increase the firepower available to them whenever national crises arise. Breaking this cycle would be a matter of calling out the Shock Doctrine whenever it is employed by the Police. If the public can put a name to the phenomenon, then it appears all the more manipulative and obscene.
With significant effort and public pressure, the Police might even be forced to adopt the appearance of a disarmed service. This has been achieved in some capitalist countries such as the United Kingdom, where only specialist response teams and counterterrorism officers are armed33. This is not disarmament, as even though the total number of guns would be reduced, the Police would still maintain a total monopoly on violence through their armed specialist teams. Truly disarmed Police is an oxymoron, and an impossible demand, however reduced gun use would still mean vastly fewer Police shootings, vastly safer communities, and an improved quality of life for targeted communities such as those which are currently being terrorised by roving vans of paramilitary men in Auckland’s Counties Manukau, Hamilton and Christchurch34.
We demand an end to all inhumane practices within prisons.
People incarcerated in Aotearoa are routinely forced to endure inhumane conditions and practices. Not only are New Zealand prisons severely overcrowded, but every single incarcerated person is required to undergo invasive strip searches, and many are held in conditions that constitute solitary confinement, although the Department of Corrections denies that solitary confinement is used at all35.
By their very nature, prisons isolate incarcerated people from their friends and whānau, ties of emotional support which have been proven to reduce reoffending36. This isolation is exacerbated by draconian rules around visitation and receiving mail, lack of access to phone calls, and the fact that many prisons are located in remote places which are only accessible by car and may be hundreds of kilometres away from an incarcerated person’s friends and whanau.
Prison staff are trained to show little respect for prisoners’ privacy and dignity. The degrading practice of strip searching is commonplace upon arrival37, and solitary confinement is utilised as a form of punishment; taking an extreme, highly traumatic and often irreversible toll upon a person’s mental health.
While many people in Aotearoa consider harsh punishments to be necessary to contain criminality within prisons, what is remarkable is the total lack of evidence that any of these brutal practices fulfil their ostensible goals. Time and time again, the state’s justification for these measures can easily be proven to be hollow and meaningless when investigated38. Strip searches, essentially a state-mandated form of sexual assault deemed a necessary evil for finding contraband, only uncover a statistically negligible amount of illicit items39. Isolation units, indistinguishable from solitary confinement practices criticised by the UN, are deemed necessary so as to protect prisoners from other inmates or prevent suicide, however in practice the majority of isolations are punitive rather than protective.
There are no humanitarian justifications for extreme punishments within prisons, no matter what the Department of Corrections may say40. These measures are instituted for control, degradation and psychological torture, in order to break down prisoners into more managable subjects at the expense of their mental and physical health, and their chances at rehabilitation.
We demand an end to isolation from families, strip searches, life sentences, double-bunking and solitary confinement, as all of these practices are a violation of human rights and are incompatible with rehabilitation or social reintegration.
We demand a moratorium on construction of new prisons.
In response to the inhumane conditions that arise as a result of prison overcrowding, double-bunking, understaffing and under-resourcing, the Department of Corrections, as well as some NGOs, have called for increased funding for DoC, and the construction of new prisons as a means of solving overcrowding41. This is misguided in the extreme.
A well-known principle of microeconomics is that increased supply will result in reduced demand. However it is also true that increased space for demand will create a demand of its own. This is known as induced demand, a phenomenon more commonly observed in traffic planning, wherein adding additional lanes to a road can actually increase congestion42. On the surface, this phenomenon may not seem to apply to prisons. After all, even if the overall demand for prison beds increases, surely the Police wouldn’t simply arrest more people for the sake of economic necessity?
Unfortunately the complexity of the criminal justice system, and the degree to which private companies are embedded in the construction of infrastructure and even the creation of laws (as described above), results in just that: an overall increase in convictions. Whether it is due to added political pressure from lobbying groups like the Sensible Sentencing Trust, New Zealand Police Association, or private prison multinationals like Serco, incarcerations typically increase wherever new prisons are constructed43. In the United States we can see how this feedback loop can reach frightening proportions, with the demand for prison labor and filling private prison beds leading to prison companies holding entire state legislatures to ransom unless they increase the rate of incarceration44.
For these reasons we demand an immediate halt to all new prison construction, even when it is under the guise of “humane” prisons (as these still contribute to the demand for new beds in less humane prisons)45. The only evidence-based means of reducing prison overcrowding is to reduce the rate at which petty crimes result in prison sentences, and to repeal acts such as the Bail Amendment Act 2013 that massively increased the number of prisoners on remand46. If total transformation of the criminal justice system is not an immediate possibility without transforming property relations, then at very least we can demand improvements to overcrowding through the most straightforward manner imaginable: reducing prison sentences.
We must develop techniques of addressing social harm through restorative and transformative justice.
The dominant ideology within the New Zealand state’s court system is Retributive Justice, with some allowances for Restorative Justice processes in special circumstances. Retributive Justice is undoubtedly the most widespread way of thinking, in all non-indigenous societies at least, when it comes to punishment, rehabilitation, and the satisfaction of the victim and state47.
Retributive Justice is a concept that can be found in societies dating back thousands of years. Within the framework of socialist anthropology (see Appendix IIa. of the Work and Welfare section), Retributive Justice could be said to be symptomatic of the Advanced Theocratic Chiefdoms mode of production, under which slavery, organised religion, and the state begin to dominate society. Texts from this period are considered foundational to capitalist liberal-bourgeois states of the Western European Christian type, in particular the Bible and Greco-Roman philosophy. The best examples of this philosophy of law can be found in biblical law, expressed as the principle of lex talionis, “an eye for an eye,” and in the work of the Roman philosopher Cicero’s De Legibus, in which proportional retribution is considered a form of natural law which transcends history and human thought48.
As capitalism grew to become the dominant mode of production across the world in the 18th and 19th centuries, Retributive Justice found new theorists in the form of Enlightenment thinkers like Immanuel Kant, who argued in Metaphysics of Morals that:
“Judicial punishment can never be used merely as a means to promote some other good for the criminal himself or for civil society, but instead it must in all cases be imposed on him only on the ground that he has committed a crime.”49
In short, Kant’s principle can be interpreted to mean that Justice is not conducted for the sake of society or for the sake of the criminal or even the victim, but for the sake of the rule of law itself. This way of thinking still has many proponents today, and is an excellent illustration of how capitalist oligarchs view law and state violence: as something not necessarily in service to them, society, or victims of social harm, but something that must strengthen itself for its own sake so as to pursue transhistorical goals of ensuring a balance between order and chaos, a total and unconditional maintenance of any status quo.
This view of Justice for its own sake is often contrasted with more Utilitarian forms of Retributive Justice which aim to balance a perceived need for punishment with the needs of a society to heal and reintegrate its members. This was common amongst prison reformers of the mid-20th century, who reached this position through their conclusion that personal agency was an insignificant factor compared to social conditioning and biology, and therefore punishment was a less significant factor in combating recidivism than rehabilitation. However this Utilitarian-Retributive philosophy did not challenge the underlying assumptions of Retributive Justice, and these two schools of thought drifted in and out of favour in the Philosophy of Law community, washing in and out with the twin tides of liberalism and conservatism in capitalist society.
All of these schools of traditional Retributive Justice proved to be totally unsustainable when working in tandem with neoliberal states. Starting in the 1970s, US lawmakers announced a “War on Drugs” policy (see discussion below) which led to a sharp rise in prison populations. In the 1980s the war escalated, and as part of an overall shift towards privatising government infrastructure under the neoliberal revolution, private prisons were established to supplement overcrowded public prisons. Both the “War on Drugs” and the prison privatisation measures were copied by many US-aligned states during the 1980s, including New Zealand50. Everywhere that this system has been established, prison populations massively increased, leading to a widespread disillusionment with Retributive Justice in the Philosophy of Law community51.
In direct response to the clear failure of Retributive Justice under neoliberal capitalism, Howard Zehr published his book Changing Lenses–A New Focus for Crime and Justice. While the term “Restorative Justice” had been coined much earlier52, Zehr was recognised as the first to develop a comprehensive system of thought around the term. Of particular interest for decolonial socialists in Aotearoa is Zehr’s use of concepts borrowed from Māori conceptions of Circle Justice (Utu), stating that:
“[I]n many ways, restorative justice represents a validation of values and practices that were characteristic of many indigenous groups, whose traditions were often discounted and repressed by western colonial powers.”53
Restorative Justice is structured around facilitated meetings between the victim and perpetrator, wherein both parties can discuss the incident in question and reach conclusions about who was harmed and how. Based on these shared conclusions, both parties can work out a means of resolving the harm done, whether it is through the actions of the perpetrator or through some form of compensation. However this is not the only form that Restorative Justice can take, in fact there are many variations, since Restorative Justice is not a set of procedures but rather a developing field of philosophy as applied to legal practice. One thing that most of these systems have in common is a Victim-Offender Dialogue (VOD) in which the perpetrator is given an opportunity for moral development (understanding why their action was harmful), is forced to understand the impact upon the victim, and has the opportunity to learn about or even modify their punishment, and in doing so see the punishment as legitimate and proportional. In turn, the victim has a more active role in the Justice process, is less likely to feel helpless, and can shape the way in which the perpetrator is punished to better suit them or their community. The result of Restorative Justice programmes is a moderately reduced rate of recidivism, and a vastly increased chance of the victim being satisfied with the outcome54.
This philosophy of law has even been applied on the scale of harm between whole nations and cultural groupings. One example of this, which is particularly illustrative of how Restorative processes might look after a political revolution, is the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission55. The TRC was one of the first attempts at nationwide Restorative Justice, and sought to provide opportunities for communication, accountability, and amnesty concerning the racist Apartheid regime that had ruled South Africa with immense violence for the previous four decades. On one level, the TRC was an unprecedented success in that it effectively recorded the testimony of thousands of victims, elicited statements of accountability from former officials, and made the crimes of the Apartheid regime a matter of public record. On another level, the TRC completely failed the activists killed or disabled by the regime, failed the families of victims, and failed to address ongoing structural inequalities, as it was outside the mandate of the commission to demand compensation or reparations, to meaningfully punish the Apartheid police and military, or to demand that Apartheid officials had to be held to account beyond simple admissions of guilt.
Indeed even on the scale of individual-on-individual harm, Restorative Justice practices have been rightly criticised by many former participants and practitioners, largely because of the ways Restorative Justice must be contorted and restricted in order to fit the needs of a capitalist state56. Since many Restorative Justice practices are implemented in the context of limited supplementary programmes to traditional Retributive Justice, Restorative Justice practitioners are often pressured to mete out additional punishments that were not asked for by the victim, or otherwise apply some of the principles of Retributive Justice, so as to avoid accusations of “soft” sentencing, or the closure of programmes due to Police or public pressure. Where Restorative Justice programmes touch on structural problems or require the accountability of large companies and state entities, the opposite is true, and the programme cannot be completed because punitive measures against the powerful prove to be impossible, or the programme lacks the resources or mandate to enact deeper change.
For these reasons Restorative Justice is no magic bullet that will completely reform the Justice system. It requires a total transformation of the dominant political and economic order before it can even hope to be implemented on the required scale, and even then it is not a perfect system for dealing with complex social harm on the interpersonal level. Any large-scale implementation of Restorative Justice would require the supplementary implementation of a similar practice: Transformative Justice.
Transformative Justice is an emerging philosophy of conflict resolution that takes many of the principles and goals from Restorative Justice but takes it out of the courtroom or jailhouse57. It typically deals with a more thorough investigation into the root causes of social harm beyond just the evidence and feelings of the parties involved. It does not categorise the parties involved into a victim and perpetrator, nor does it force these parties to meet in person, in stark contrast with Restorative Justice, which often emphasises face-to-face communication. There is also very little pressure to return to a particular status quo, as the process accepts that “closure” is often impossible. Instead, parties are free to disagree with one another, and it is completely possible for one party to continue to seek retribution upon the other, or for a party to come to the conclusion that they perpetrated harm, but feel no remorse. The parties then work with the community to envision a desired outcome for all parties (often some form of compensation, or the removal of one party from a community) and put supporting structures in place to work towards that outcome.
In doing so, the goal is to avoid social pressure to forgive, or apologise, when that is not the sincere decision of either party. This can be a potential problem in Restorative Justice, as it is largely oriented around the perpetrator and their rehabilitation, and the victim can feel pressured to accept a new status quo or forgive the perpetrator in order to conclude the process. Transformative Justice removes the distinction between perpetrator and victim, as well as the pressure to conclude the process. It also removes a great deal of idealism from Justice, as it is a fundamentally realist and pragmatic approach that is built around a communities’ de facto understanding of justice rather than subordinating legal processes to the validation of societal ideals. The practical result of this is that outcomes can appear unjust to outside observers, but appear just to those most affected by social harm and their community.
The degree to which Transformative Justice can or should be implemented is heavily tied to our material conditions. A Transformative Justice process, if conducted improperly, or even conducted properly but in a context of inadequate public education, could result in practices that appear indistinguishable from, or worse than, Retributive Justice. This is therefore a system of justice that should be implemented as a means of investigating future justice solutions, providing public education, and developing a more full body of thought. These processes, by their nature, can’t always be successfully implemented by outsiders, untrained practitioners, or state entities, and must be developed and initiated by survivors and affected communities.
What is fully clear, however, is that Transformative Justice, when conducted in a manner initiated by survivors, has proven to be greatly effective in dealing with the extremely complex emotions and social situations that arise from crimes such as sexual assault and child abuse. Excellent work has been done by survivor-initiated organisations like Generation Five in the United States, which develop Transformative Justice processes for survivors of child sexual abuse (CSA), who feel that the current punitive justice system’s approach to such crimes are more for society’s gratification than meeting the needs of survivors58.
No one system of Justice can accommodate every emotion brought on by social harm, every statistically negligible case of a truly inhuman sociopath, nor every potential social conception of Justice. However by adopting proven systems of Restorative Justice as a basis for a new Justice system, supplemented by opt-in Transformative Justice programmes for cases of egregious interpersonal harm, we can develop a basis in Philosophy of Law for a socialist system of Justice.
We must recognise and combat the epidemic of traumatic brain injuries among prisoners.
The public health system and the criminal justice system of the New Zealand state are inexorably linked, both in terms of the late-capitalist mental health crisis, and also in terms of basic physical treatments and outpatient support. Both mental health factors, and physical injuries, particularly head trauma, vastly increase the chance of workers and beneficiaries being arrested and imprisoned.
Studies have shown that nearly all long-term prisoners suffer from some form of brain injury. This startling fact was acknowledged by the chief science advisor for the justice sector, Dr. Ian Lambie, in January 2020, when a study of Christchurch Women’s Prison inmates showing that 94.7% of prisoners had suffered repeated head injuries, with all reporting at least one, was cited in a government discussion paper59. An earlier 2015 study, which had a much stricter criteria for recording traumatic brain injuries, recorded 46% of prisoners as having TBIs, however the authors acknowledged that given the strict criteria, the number was likely much higher. This study was also more thorough in recording contextual information, and from it we can see that the rate of TBI increases with the severity of punishment, Māori were the ethnic group most likely to face criminal proceedings after suffering a TBI as children under 10, and the most likely cause of TBI (44%) was by assault or “other form of contact with a person.”60
The study did not record how many traumatic brain injuries were inflicted by Police or Corrections staff, indeed no recent studies have been conducted into head trauma inflicted by corrections staff or Police due to the sheer difficulty of pursuing police brutality claims through internal Police investigation or the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA). The IPCA also does not collect data on Police-inflicted head injuries, however this is not to say they are not a regular occurance. Police are not required to give information to the IPCA upon hearing a complaint unless the claimant pursues the claim independently. On top of this, of 2,592 total IPCA complaints, and 191 Police Brutality complaints received in 2018 (the most recent annual report), only 72 resulted in investigations. This can be explained by the underfunding of the IPCA, which has faced increased complaints every year since 2013/14, as well as decreases in participant satisfaction61. Since no reliable measure of Police-inflicted head injuries exists, despite several buried high-profile complaints against Police, including one 2019 incident where a man was repeatedly punched in the head on the Police’s own helicopter camera62, we are forced to make conclusions based on anecdotal evidence. Many of our own members have suffered concussions at the hands of Police, to the point that we could say that untreated concussions are a standard form of punishment for short-term arrestees. This no doubt has some impact upon independent findings that the rate of traumatic brain injuries increases in relation to the severity of criminal punishment.
Head injuries are, aside from the mental health crisis, perhaps the greatest invisible epidemic under Capitalism. Data on traumatic brain injuries in Aotearoa is somewhat hard to interpret because of the disparities with international studies on the rate and causes of TBIs. The main measure for TBIs used in studies is the number of TBI-related claims made with the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC), however the ACC’s own TBI Strategy Action Plan states that most people (61%) with TBIs do not realise they have suffered brain damage or do not make an ACC Claim. A 2013 study confirms this drastic underreporting, citing an annual rate of 790 TBIs per 100,000 people in Aotearoa, which given our current population would mean roughly 38,000 TBIs annually63. Domestic reporting on TBIs has concluded that 11% are workplace related, however this is based on the flawed ACC statistics, and contradicts international studies which have concluded that roughly a quarter of TBIs happen at work64.
Given these factors – the likelihood of police-inflicted head injuries, the extreme rates of incarceration for those suffering from head injuries, and the vast number of workplace head injuries – it is worth considering the possibility that TBI-related incarceration is not simply a tragic accident, but a tool of class control that has developed out of the necessity of state violence in upholding capitalism and the sheer inability of the state to investigate itself. It is also remarkable that this state of affairs has received very little media attention, and no major calls for reform apart from a few internal discussion papers. This is just one example of how all moral standards are waived when discussing Punitive Justice: we have to reckon with the fact that the paradigm of crime and punishment places us in situations where punishments are cumulative and can expand upon themselves exponentially. A workplace accident can lead to a disability, that inherently increases the chances of prosecution by the criminal justice system, which can in-turn lead to the exacerbation of that disability65. The recursive and self-perpetuating aspects of the capitalist justice system are the greatest examples of mass-torture in history, and will only conclude once we break the endless cycle of Retributive Justice under capitalism.
We must completely change our approach to drug and alcohol rehabilitation.
The history of drug criminalisation is extremely rich and of great importance to socialist conceptions of history. We have included extensive additional information in Appendix II.
The criminalisation of specific drugs has an extremely long history of being a tool of racial oppression within New Zealand, as well as being a tool of international imperialism. The first act to prohibit the sale of drugs in Aotearoa was an oddity for its time, as it took place in a period known as “the great binge” in which drug use was largely unregulated, socially accepted, and in many cases medically recommended. It is therefore telling that the first drug prohibition targeted a specific ethnicity as a source of moral panic, given the enormous quantities of drugs consumed by the Pākehā middle and upper classes.
This was the 1901 Opium Prohibition Act, which explicitly targeted the sale of Opium to Chinese migrants. This act was the result of a tragic series of events that started in 1888, with a movement within the Chinese community itself that begged the Government to better regulate Opium traders, who had historically targeted the Chinese community ever since the British Empire imposed a massive, predatory Opium trade upon mainland China in a series of wars some decades earlier. This plea was ignored for 13 years, until fears grew of Opium addiction spreading to Pākehā, and an emerging Chinese petty-bourgeoisie threatened Pākehā trade66.
The State realised that this request from addicts for better regulations could be turned against the Chinese community and used as a tool of repression. Instead of the ban on predatory Opium traders and better regulations that the Chinese had hoped for, the Act instead singled out Chinese buyers as the group to be criminalised. This tragic episode exemplifies a common theme in the capitalist approach to drug regulation: the legitimate needs of addicts in search of better regulation, health, and addiction services are instead used against them in pursuit of control and profit.
This was but one exception to a period that could otherwise be characterised as the golden age of legalised and unregulated drug markets. However, this is not to say that total legalisation during this time was superior to our current system of heavy criminalisation; far from it. There was a total lack of effective addiction services, and while the general medical consensus was that addiction was a public health issue, there was no real incentive for Governments to intervene while drug manufacturers were reaping massive profits, and drug use could be used, as in the Chinese example, as a tool of racial control and even international imperialism. For this reason, there was little criminalisation of drugs during this period, apart from basic consumer safety laws to discourage “quackery” (the common term for dishonest pharmacists).
It wasn’t until the 1920s that moral panic around recreational use of narcotics grew. In particular, newspapers began to cover in graphic detail the decadent drug scenes of Sydney, London and New York. This began an ongoing trend of New Zealand drug policy being propelled forward not by any specific domestic conditions (in 1927, a government minister stated that addiction issues were barely noticeable in Aotearoa), but rather by international pressure on the New Zealand State. All New Zealand drug laws from 1912 to 1975 were a reaction to international obligations, very rarely mentioning any pre-existing addiction issues at home67.
Based on an international resolution in 1912, opium importation began to be controlled across all ethnicities (it was perfectly legal for any non-Chinese person before this point). From 1919 the prohibition extended to other opiates and cocaine. From 1924, growing most drugs was prohibited, although sale and consumption continued. Only in 1927 were most of the restricted drugs of the 21st century regulated, and even then, cannabis and heroin were imported on a large scale for medicinal purposes until 1955.
Global imperialist attitudes towards narcotics began to shift in the 1950s and 60s. While up until this point, narcotics in the west were a rarity – the subject of much moral outrage but very little illicit consumption – changes in the overall direction of the global drug trade began to influence capitalist policy. In short, the War on Vietnam created the conditions for a dependent population of opiate users in the US, and the moral panic which followed created the conditions for a “War on Drugs” that started in America but quickly became global. We discuss this in more detail in Appendix IIa.
If the War on Drugs was a reaction to such a specific set of material circumstances in the US, why then would the New Zealand state enact its own piece of War-on-Drugs-inspired legislation in the form of the 1975 Misuse of Drugs Act? As we established earlier, New Zealand drug policy was always a reaction to international pressure up until this point, and domestic conditions didn’t really matter compared to the State’s perceived need to toe the line set by the Imperial powers. The US War on Drugs was tied to a corresponding piece of international legislation: the 1971 UN Convention of Psychotropic Substances, championed by the US and UK as well as many of the under-developed colonial nations that felt they were unfairly punished by earlier restrictions on organic narcotics while developed nations continued to produce synthetic drugs. The New Zealand state was a signatory to all UN drug laws, and so the 1975 Act was in part, a ratification of the UN Convention.
However, unlike earlier pieces of legislation, the 1975 Misuse of Drugs Act was not only a reaction to international standards, but was also a response to a minor increase in domestic drug consumption. Aotearoa was no stranger to the cultural phenomena of the 1960s in which LSD and cannabis use was a common theme, however this was largely a cultural import and had little-to-no impact on addiction, but it nonetheless produced a moral panic. The New Zealand state had been a minor participant in the imperialist wars in Southeast Asia, and the small but continuous deployment of 500 or so troops until 1972 might explain the only major uptick in heroin consumption in the early 1970s, resulting in the first known cases of illegal heroin smuggling, which in 1974 resulted in 24 criminal cases68.
As a direct result of this policy there was a major shift in the criminal justice system as a whole. By copying the US model of drug policy, knowingly or unknowingly created the conditions for an explosion in prison populations. In the US, this was a desired outcome (see Appendix IIa.), however in Aotearoa it is impossible to tell how much lawmakers understood that the War on Drugs was a cynical ploy to destroy opponents of the state by, as Nixon advisor John Ehrlichman revealed, “associating the [anti-war left] with marijuana, and the blacks with heroin.”
Drug users filled the prisons to a degree few could have imagined. By 2013, it was revealed that the number of prisoners serving sentences for the most petty drug crimes (possession of small quantities of illegal drugs, or possessing paraphernalia), had grown to be roughly equal to the number of prisoners serving major sentences. In terms of filling courts and generally increasing the demands placed upon the Justice system this was much worse, as most minor convictions resulted in punishments other than imprisonment69. This is despite the fact that most people in Aotearoa consider minor drug use, especially cannabis, to be an accepted part of society. It is ridiculous to hear a state complain of prison overcrowding, when a large percentage of prisoners have committed only the most victimless of crimes.
But what of genuine social harm caused by drug use? While half of drug-related imprisonments are genuinely victimless, there is still an epidemic of assaults, overdoses, and family violence resulting from addiction issues, and we do not wish to minimise that. The two main recreational drugs aside from alcohol and caffeine consumed in Aotearoa are cannabis and methamphetamine70, and it is the latter that accounts for the vast majority of cases of real social harm aside from alcohol. We go into greater depth about these drugs in Appendix IIb. but the solution to all cases of real social harm starts with the same first step: legalisation71.
Total legalisation of drug use, while retaining some limitations on supply, is a well-tested solution to drug-related social harm. Portugal, which totally decriminalised all drugs in 2001, is often held up as a world leader in drug policy and harm reduction, but this is a more complicated story than it is often portrayed internationally. From 1933 to 1974, Portugal was ruled by a Fascist government that heavily suppressed education, as well as drugs, as a technique of social control. By the 1980s, the newly created liberal-democratic state of Portugal was in the midst of a health crisis brought on by the sudden liberalisation of drug markets and lack of public education or harm-reduction facilities, conditions that created the worst heroin and HIV epidemic in the European Union. The 2001 decision to decriminalise all illegal drugs was an abrupt and unprecedented change, and was largely not expected by harm reduction activists after several decades of slogans such as “Drugs are Satan.”
Decriminalisation was simply a first step. Alone, it simply stabilised the opioid crisis, rather than solving it. It also created a new legal code that was better in some respects, but hideously contradictory in others, forcing use of drugs into the open, while forcing production and exchange further into the shadows. What was much more effective was the associated reallocation of funds from criminalisation efforts towards harm reduction programmes, a gradual process that took over a decade. Today, Portugal has widely accessible drop-in-centres for addicts, featuring “psychologists, doctors and peer support workers (themselves former drug users) [who] offer clean needles, pre-cut squares of foil, crack kits, sandwiches, coffee, clean clothing, toiletries, rapid HIV testing, and consultations – all free and anonymous.” This focus on broad-scale peer-support-based harm-reduction was what ensured the long term success of the Portuguese experiment, with HIV transmissions falling from 104.2 new cases per million in 2000, to 4.2 cases per million in 2015. The Portuguese example also shows the limitations of decriminalisation under Capitalism: harm-reduction experts cite a poor rate of improvements since the drastic step taken in 2001, as the State is reluctant to take any second leap forward ahead of the rest of the capitalist world. Portugal is yet to follow up its decriminalisation programme with a legalisation and regulation programme, which local experts suggest would be the only way to eliminate the remaining health issues associated with addiction72.
The relationship between socialists and drug reform should be based on three pillars: analysis of the international drug trade and how this is used by states (see Appendix IIa); total legalisation of all substances; and a reorientation away from criminalisation and stigmatisation of addiction towards peer-support-based harm reduction to be conducted across communities. The first pillar is important because it forces us to consider drug addiction as a historical phenomenon, intertwined with imperialism and internal social control by capitalist states. The second pillar is the basis on which all internal programmes must be based, as only then can addiction be accurately measured and addressed, and stigmatisation reduced to a point where addiction services are no longer hampered by public perceptions. The third pillar is the tool with which addiction can be eliminated for good, through a gradual process based in the solidarity between users and the social conditions they find themselves in, overseen by professionals who understand that addiction is a medical and social issue rather than a crime or personal failing.
The social consequences of a successful addiction abolition campaign would be wide-reaching. Prisons would no longer be a site for the self-perpetuation of addiction, as addiction would no longer be punished by increasing proximity to factors conducive to addiction. There would be a drastic decrease in the number of incarcerations for victimless crimes like possession and use of substances73. Child safety would drastically improve and the breakup of families would decrease in regularity. Drug use would no longer be attached to heavily racialised stigmas that perpetuate colonial and paternalistic ideologies. These are just the most obvious results of such a programme, and in many ways we will only see the full scale of the social harm the last 40 years of the War on Drugs has caused once we start to clear it away.
We must abolish the unitary court system and replace it with courts that are answerable to communities.
As we have noted in the sections on Restorative and Transformative Justice, non-adversarial courts, and Māori approaches to justice, there are already reasons why a single, centralised system of courts is inadequate for the needs of a decolonised, socialist Aotearoa. But before we can make a substantive argument for the division of legal power into several layers without them still referring back to a higher court that determines legal norms, we should first analyse the causes of our current situation in which all law practiced in Aotearoa is by default, an expression of a single source of power.
This legal power is the sovereign, an amorphous, composite being that should not be confused with the actual British monarch herself, but rather everything that the crown represents. We discuss this at length in Appendix Ib. but in short, the western legal tradition is built upon a concept of power which flows from a transcendent and transhistorical idea or unknowable divinity, which flows through the sovereign (a being that manifests not only in kings, but parliaments, senates, and other democratic bodies), whose power is conditionally delegated to representatives. From this sovereign body flows all biopolitical power; the power over life and death; the state’s monopoly on violence.
This conception of power as something that exclusively flows from the top down, in fact from the highest high to the lowest low, is something that all current state powers have in common. Whether it is power invested by a people’s assembly, a divine entity, or a liberal-democratic mandate, this top-down idea of power as something that starts with the power of the state over life and death is something that is both incompatible with our decolonial goals, and irrelevant to the needs of local communities when dealing with the vast majority of socially harmful acts.
For this reason, a revolutionary system of justice would be built from the outset not as a continuation of a centralised legal authority, but as a series of parallel bodies that may share resources and delegate authority to one another, but which ultimately do not derive their mandate from a higher, centralised authority, rather from the individuals in their jurisdiction.
It would be a mistake to call this process “decentralisation” as this has a number of connotations we do not necessarily mean. For example authority can be decentralised through delegation, but would still be a manifestation of a higher authority. The inverse is also true: authority can be highly centralised, but beholden to distributed will of individuals. A society can be hierarchical but decentralised, decentralised but undemocratic, undemocratic but non-hierarchical, and so on74. There are a number of false dichotomies presented in most discussions of decentralisation and so for our purposes we might describe this process as the distribution of authority between layers of power.
This division of authority into layers is what Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk-Iroquois) theorist Taiaiake Alfred cites as one of the key features of indigenous or decolonial systems of law, and we can see this in Māori circle justice75. Each layer is able to re-litigate the decisions of others, and is able to come to conclusions that are binding in the sense that they bind layers above themselves to an agreed outcome, rather than binding to those below themselves. To put this in an analogy based on western systems of law, it would be as if a collection of courts with local jurisdiction could bind the supreme court to a decision, rather than a supreme court binding all lower courts to its findings. The specific functioning of such a system which Alfred describes is similar in some respects to the models of restorative and transformative justice, and non-adversarial courts we have described in other sections, but what is more important is the ways that these layers interact in order to preserve a firm, voluntary system of justice76.
Fear of jurisdictional conflict is a major barrier to a number of projects for justice, in particular for indigenous groups, or groups suffering from internal conflict who do not wish to appeal to the capitalist police and courts. In both cases, the capitalist state will fear that its own justice system is being subverted by groups using alternative means of conflict resolution, and may demand relitigation in one of its own courts, or will treat communities seeking alternative justice solutions as accomplices in any crime committed. This intense fear of losing the unitary qualities of a state justice system is something rooted in the foundations of Retributive justice (the Kantian idea, discussed above, that justice must always be pursued for its own sake in order to authenticate government), and has produced a situation in which any attempt to provide alternatives to the Retributive system either have no actual powers to enforce outcomes, or are so indistinguishable from the standard courts that the distinction doesn’t matter. Examples of this abound in situations where capitalist states establish indigenous or community self-policing authorities, only to have them function as eyes and ears for the regular police. A particularly egregious example can be found on US Indian Reservations, where Tribal Police are only allowed to arrest fellow first-nations people, and must call US Federal Police, often many miles away, if any non-indigenous Americans commit crimes on reservations77.
Instead of each layer having a clear geographic or legal boundary to its power (the conventional meaning of jurisdiction), these layers would only have decision-making power over those who consent to their legal procedures. While one method must be chosen, this is not the false voluntarism of capitalism (in which there is usually only two choices: labor or death), but a substantive range of legal solutions that are not constructed in order to uphold a social ideal, but are constructed out of the active participation of communities who determine situational and context-based rules. This is something that cannot be achieved while retaining notions of capitalist sovereignty and legal unitarianism, as a capitalist legal system can only respond to jurisdictional conflict by clumsily subordinating conflicting systems into the same unitary model, as we have seen in the Northland “Matariki” courts, which are actually very standard Retributive-Adversarial courts with some small changes78.
As an example of how these jurisdictions would be defined, we can imagine a situation in which social harm (an apparently unprovoked assault) is committed in a suburb of Ōtepoti. In this imagined community, there are a number of broad social conflicts due to the transitional nature of the local economy, but despite the issues, each suburb has managed to set up conflict resolution committees run by elected mediators, with some outside help from justice experts who travel in from the city. The case of social harm is brought to the committee, who decide that the circumstances involve mental health issues they feel are beyond their level of understanding. Both parties are given a few options for solutions: they can work with a one-on-one mental health expert before going through a facilitated meeting (a restorative approach), or they can convey their needs to the committee without a meeting, who will then conduct an investigation and work out a solution based on providing barriers to contact between the two people (a transformative approach). They may even feel that the capabilities of the local committee are lacking and opt to seek a different group of facilitators, or the committee can appeal to other layers of power for help. In the end, the process only concludes when the elected committee, the mental health expert, and both parties are able to establish a new normal for the future. This is the essence of providing a non-unitary, voluntary model of justice.
Once we develop a system of law which is not based on preserving a unitary model, issues of jurisdictional overlap and conflict will fade away. This is because the renewed focus on power as something that flows from constituents, rather than a sovereign body, means that jurisdiction can be determined by the participants in the legal system.
We must move away from adversarial court systems towards a system that rewards investigation and collectively-determined conclusions.
The criminal court system of the New Zealand state, like most court systems that evolved out of common law, is an adversarial or party-based one, in which Parties present their evidence to a decision-maker, who must impartially assess evidence without conducting investigation of their own. It is also a system which has largely failed to achieve its ostensible goals of impartial assessment and just sentencing that is conducive to a lower rate of reoffending79. Better court systems have been developed even under the current economic order, and implementing these would simply be a matter of political will.
Several alternative systems have even been implemented by the New Zealand state, wherever the main adversarial system produces morally questionable results that are unpalatable or damaging to the authorities involved. These are the Specialist Criminal Courts, which either modify the main adversarial system to lessen its negative effects, or supplement the main adversarial system with small-scale “non-adversarial” systems. In terms of effectiveness they vary greatly, with some, such as Northland’s so-called “Matariki Court,” only providing a band-aid solution added on to the existing courts, while others, such as the Tāmaki “New Beginnings” court and Pōneke court of “Special Circumstances,” have seen much more concrete successes due to the fully non-adversarial systems they use8081.
Both the “New Beginnings” and “Special Circumstances” courts deal exclusively with urban homeless populations, with the aim of improving the material circumstances that lead to offences. While this is a noble aim, it is hampered by the fact that these courts are still expected to deliver a (lesser) punitive outcome, and the crimes they deal with are often petty property crimes rather than anything a socialist society would consider socially harmful. Nonetheless, even within the limitations of bourgeois law, these courts have seen considerable success, with the Tāmaki court reducing re-incrimination by 66%, imprisonment by 78%, and hospitalisations by 78%82.
The success of these systems lies in their investigative nature. In contrast with the adversarial or party system, these “inquisitorial” systems do not result in one sides’ case being interpreted to be true or false, but rather the court itself is empowered and encouraged to conduct its own investigation into the broader context surrounding social harm. The court then works with other governmental welfare bodies to see what structural barriers it can put in place to make social harm less likely. This is a form of Restorative Justice, which we discussed in-depth in previous sections83.
Under capitalism these approaches are limited in their capabilities, often running into budgetary, bureaucratic, and socioeconomic barriers when it comes to uplifting people out of homelessness (the sheer lack of houses being built is one example). However the fact that such successes have been possible should empower us to imagine non-adversarial, socialist, and democratic systems which will not be constrained to specific socioeconomic groups, nor will they be constrained by limitations of vision, or punitive ideology.
Such a socialist non-adversarial system would apply the same principles of social upliftment not just to homelessness, but to all society. It would be empowered to conduct more far reaching investigations into the context of social harm, rather than being limited to the evidence submitted by parties. It would not be strictly presided over by judges, as in inquisitorial systems, but democratically-determined local bodies could be substituted in cases of social harm that stretches across classes or communities. In all, we believe this to be a clear case of a more just system, existing as a kernel of hope within a larger, unjust system, and we would be foolish to not use this existing body of research, evidence and experts in the construction of a socialist society.
We require a system of legitimising revolutionary acts and ensuring they are conducted in a just manner.
The historical experience of revolutionary expropriation, the seizure of capitalist property, is one of extreme violence, desperation, and in many cases, civil war. The capitalist classes have succeeded in convincing many that the blame for these most gruesome aspects of revolution falls squarely on workers and revolutionaries throughout history. In fact, they have almost exclusively been the domain of the forces of reaction – the police, military, and paramilitaries – in response to threats to private property.
This powerful piece of ideological misdirection plays on our moral sensibilities, and has led many people to conclusions that form a barrier to dissenting thought. Why even talk about a revolutionary rupture, they think, when I can’t imagine myself, my co-workers or my friends, rioting, burning, or killing our way to a utopian ideal? Surely this is something only the most desperate people in the most horrible conditions would think of doing?
There is some truth to this – after all, it’s often those who are the worst off in society who are the first to think about simply taking what they need – but in general, worse conditions are just that: worse. We can’t simply wait for things to get worse before people will take action, for quite often, worse conditions sap all of the energy out of those thinking about change, and force them to focus on survival.
Faced with prevailing narratives of gruesome revolutionary violence, a far more common response than accelerating the worst aspects of capitalism is a tendency towards incremental reformism – the idea of using the pre-existing capitalist state apparatus and legislature to expropriate property. This is a path of thinking that has led leftist states, who secured power through social democratic means, to expropriate property from the capitalists by passing laws nationalising industry and resources, rather than conducting expropriation through force. In many examples, such as in Salvador Allende’s path to socialism in Chile, this has even involved the full financial compensation of the capitalist class for the seizure of their property. Many thought there could be a completely peaceful path to socialism, if we played by the rules of the capitalists – winning a liberal-democratic election, then passing laws to nationalise the means of production, while justly compensating the capitalists for their trouble.
In the case of Chile, the September 11 coup, the murder of Allende, and the subsequent fascist-neoliberal dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet put an end to these hopes84. The lesson of Chile’s experiment is that we cannot legitimise revolution to capitalists by showing, without any doubt, that it is the democratic will of the majority and that no crimes have been committed by their standards. Socialism is, by definition, incompatible with the goals of international capitalists, and they will find no shortage of mercenaries capable of putting things back as they were. Whether or not violence is used is irrelevant, as to a capitalist all threats to their property are violence. This was seen recently when white South African farmers had their stolen land confiscated and were justly compensated, only to successfully convince many people around the world that this was tantamount to white genocide85.
This is the challenge of thinking within the context of a unitary system of laws and morals. Revolutionaries who seek to be moral, upright and legitimate often can’t help but shape their legitimacy through capitalist legal and moral standards. Instead, they either achieve nothing, or whatever “legitimate” actions they undertake are nonetheless considered crimes by the international capitalist class.
If these three paths – sudden insurrection, accelerationism, and reformism – aren’t realistic, how do we summon the force necessary to wrest our future from those who don’t wish to give up their power? We believe this is a question that puts the cart before the horse. Instead, we should be thinking of how expropriation should be conducted in a just and legitimate manner, one which in no way necessitates preemptive violence on our part, but which does not leave us defenseless against reaction either.
By legitimising the process of expropriation, we mean going directly to assemblies of the people and establishing a collective definition of what is and isn’t legitimate, in direct opposition to the unitary legal system. These legal assemblies would be part of a broader programme of building up institutions of the working class, such as unions, renter’s associations, and alliances of beneficiaries, which are able to offer alternatives to the unitary capitalist state systems. To create such assemblies would achieve three things: establishing new standards of legitimacy through discussion and research, developing viable alternatives to state institutions, and challenging the unitary system of law, a pillar of the state’s monopoly on violence.
Therefore, the chief concern in the process of expropriation is not violence, but justice. Not a just transition on the terms of capitalists, but a just transition as workers see it. This process is not mutually exclusive with simple coercion and force. In fact, these would still be major factors, but by conducting confiscation according to new standards of legitimate conduct, we can avoid the twin problems of undermining a future justice system by building it on a foundation of pure force (a state of exception; see Appendix Ib), and seeking legitimacy on the capitalists’ own terms.
In terms of the actual processes of expropriation and defense such assemblies would devise, they would likely need to consider the historical problems that expropriative projects have faced. These are direct state violence, scorched earth programmes, capital flight, underground exploitation, human capital flight (brain drain), capital strike, blockades, embargoes, and infiltration. Direct violence, infiltration, blockades and other acts of war are beyond the scope of our programme, so instead we will talk about the challenges which can be overcome with the help of a justice system.
Scorched earth, capital flight, capital strike, and embargoes are some of the likely short-term challenges to expropriation. By scorched earth, we mean the destruction of the means of production before workers can seize them. Capital flight is the evacuation of assets or currency from an economy where conditions for capitalist investment are declining86. A capital strike is when corporations pull investments out of a country to increase their bargaining power87. Embargoes are an act of solidarity between international capitalists to collectively refuse trade with a nation undergoing revolution.
Even extraordinarily mild measures by liberal or social-democratic governments have been met with these weapons in the past. As we write, mining giant Rio Tinto is holding the New Zealand state to ransom, threatening a capital strike over the government’s reasonable request that they move toxic waste from their aluminium smelting facility at Tiwai Point out of the Southland town of Mataura88. One of the major steps backwards in union rights of recent years, the introduction of the “Hobbit Law ” restricting the unionisation of screen industries, was also a result of threats of a capital strike89. This massive power that international companies hold over the state would be one of the first things to change under a socialised economy, which is better able to make up for any shortfalls in investment from overseas, and which can contract to absorb losses without causing systemic collapse. The bizarre constructs of international corporate law, which afford corporations rights somewhere between those of an individual person and a sovereign nation, would no longer apply, and so a socialist system of justice would not be restricted in violating these “rights.”
While some of the threats international capital might levy against a socialist Aotearoa would fall flat, others would present a very real problem. Sabotage of the means of production, through destroying or relocating productive machinery, would be a severe danger that could cause shortages and immiseration after an attempted expropriation90. Therefore, the legitimate seizure of these means would need to be coordinated and sudden, and conducted with the full backing of workers and beneficiaries.
Longer term issues would also create compounding issues if they are dealt with through states of exception or other illegitimate measures. “Brain drain” or human capital flight is one of these issues. This was the tendency of individuals who had undergone a socialised education and achieved qualifications to travel to capitalist nations with the hope of securing highly paid jobs. Whether or not these people achieved their goals is irrelevant91 as it was a real material incentive for many valuable individuals to leave countries with socialised education systems. The response of soviet-aligned state-socialism of the late Cold War period was to either impose heavy leaving fees upon emigrants to recoup perceived losses of investment in education and welfare, or to simply close borders and harshly enforce them, as was the case with the infamous Berlin Wall. Both solutions are incompatible with our current age of climate refugees and weaponised immigration – the use of refugees for political capital and bargaining between states – and as such, rather than a legal barrier on movement, we must allow free movement and create economic or social incentives for highly educated individuals to stay, such as favourable research conditions and funding, or transitional systems of payment. Research has shown that emigration actually has a net positive effect on the sending country92, meaning “Brain Drain” is something of a misnomer, and some have proposed that emigration constitutes “Brain Gain”93, however it should be noted that these studies were conducted in situations without major ideological and propaganda conflict, and in situations where emigration is largely due to political affinity with more reactionary states, any potential benefits for the people of the sending country are reversed94. Therefore it may be necessary to differentiate between positive emigration for educational and economic reasons (which should be encouraged, albeit with incentivised repatriation), and negative emigration for the purposes of benefiting from capital flight, imperialism, or overseas worker exploitation.
The final long term issue that a socialist system of Justice would need to combat would be the continued exploitation of workers in underground conditions, or the continued operation of international industries and markets which exploit workers of other countries95. These are the greatest challenge to any socialist project and would be very difficult to detect in the context of economic transition. All of these practices would be considered highly illegitimate in the context of the justice assemblies we describe above, and all people in Aotearoa would need some means of reporting abuses against workers, and access to the resources required to combat these tendencies. As we discussed in the Work and Welfare programme section, the current New Zealand state can’t even stop conditions of illegal slavery in our fisheries, and so we would need a new means of investigating and enforcing workplace rights that is based on both well-resourced investigation, and worker self-reporting to a centralised database.
Whatever system of establishing legitimate conduct and ensuring Justice we implement, we can never allow continued abuses of worker rights, or the continued hoarding and wastage of markets, to continue in a post-revolutionary period. Creating a Justice system that is voluntary and does not rely on coercion does not imply that we should not fight tooth and nail to eradicate abuse and social harm, just that we need to first establish the boundaries of legitimate conduct, with active participation from communities, prior to the use of force in revolutionary projects.
We must recognise that the ideology, and sometimes structures, of punitive justice linger on even in revolutionary societies.
Criminality and punishment is a duality maintained not only by the actual institutions of state violence, but also through an ideology of punishment that has been passively absorbed and internalised by many workers and beneficiaries. Even those who have been most abused by Police violence often believe themselves to be the ones at fault, or have been otherwise convinced, consciously or subconsciously, that criminality is something inseparable from who they are. The most courageous and knowledgeable of people might stand up to police violence and state overreach, and they might understand the inner workings of the state and how it reinforces the dictatorship of capital, but even then some will still go on to perpetuate an ideology of punitive justice in their own lives, families, and organisations.
This is the insidious way in which state ideologies permeate through everything that we might create. So long as Capitalism remains the dominant economic mode of production, the ideologies of state violence and repression are to some degree, inescapable, albeit only in the sense that it is impossible to have thoughts and actions which are not influenced by these ideologies in some way. It is still possible to consciously identify and reject these manifestations of dominant ideology as they arise in our minds, and in the minds of our friends and families.
History shows us that although many revolutionary societies were able to eradicate the economic base (those capitalist enterprises which pay for the advertisements, articles, and think-tanks) which generates regressive ideology, these ideologies did not always die along with the conditions that allowed them to exist96. Ideologies can go on existing long after they have any real reason to do so, lingering in a half-life composed of the memories, writings, and actions of those who were exposed to them. It therefore follows that no new understanding of Justice will spread through society overnight, and no sudden rupture will be enough to change the minds of everyone that liberal-democratic understandings of crime, punishment and policing must be discarded immediately. Any mass change in ideology has to be argued for long in advance of the rupture that might allow for it to become dominant, and long after as well. The new Justice can’t simply be imposed upon people with the same force as the old, they must be convinced.
Revolutionaries would have to show leadership and restraint when it comes to Justice, as the combination of a deteriorating capitalist state, a resurgent workers’ power, and a still dominant ideology of punitive justice would be perfect conditions for mob justice. This would be a phenomenon just as bad as the most repressive capitalist justice system, as it would be guided by all of the same ideologies, but without the legalism and restraint required for it to be sustainable. Furthermore, these situations have shown themselves to be given to a violence and impulsiveness that makes societies vulnerable to fascism and sheer force as a substitute for legitimacy.
This also means that there cannot be a “people’s militia” which would maintain a total monopoly on legitimate violence. While the ideal of police abolition was alive from the very first socialist projects, the practicalities of force, legitimacy, and unitary justice, caused many societies, in particular those based on the Soviet model, to create forces that were police in all but name. Often called “militia” in an attempt to distinguish them from bourgeois police, this concept of socialist policing did often lead to many improvements over capitalist police forces as a natural result of changing their primary objective from the protection of private property to the prevention of social harm, but this did not challenge the concept of unitary justice or necessarily democratise the enforcement of laws. Democratically elected and publically recallable positions offer a vastly more accountable system of enforcement, and these would be an extension of the non-adversarial court system, which requires an investigative body97.
Whatever influence revolutionaries possess in a period of crisis, paranoia or mutual suspicion should be put towards forgiveness, restraint and amnesty. Democratically mandated and legitimate forms of Justice need time and community involvement to be put into place.
True Justice in Aotearoa would mean a renewed commitment to international Justice.
What we currently call “International Justice” is anything but. International Law is a patchwork of contradictory, unenforceable or easily ignored laws, conventions and regulations that range from archaic vestiges of feudal and papal law (such as the Doctrine of Discovery, described above), to laws put in place by the capitalist great powers to further entrench their dominant positions.
To see how Aotearoa would fit into a new system of International Justice, we first have to acknowledge that International Law is currently always subordinated to imperial power. Justice institutions such as the International Criminal Court may every so often convict war criminals and profiteers, but only in situations where imperial power is able to back it up. A warlord from an impoverished nation may well be guilty of their crimes, but their conviction would be a farce if conducted by a system that is completely incapable of prosecuting those with greater power, who may have either propped up, or fought proxy battles against that warlord. To illustrate the inability of institutions such as the I.C.C. to pursue true justice, the court is unable to prosecute anyone from the United States, as the US state retains the legal right to militarily strike or invade the Hague should the court ever go against it98.
As such, when we talk about International Justice, we do not necessarily mean upholding commitments to organisations with aspirations to global jurisdiction. The courts such as the I.C.C. invariably seek harsher sentences on opponents of imperialism, while the few enforcement agencies that do exist, such as Interpol, often pursue those fleeing from illegal repression as if they were criminals. One example of this is Interpol’s tacit support for the right-wing coup in Bolivia that took the form of an investigation into ousted indigenous leader Evo Morales99.
Instead, Aotearoa should seek to be a global force for a new kind of International Justice, which focuses not on councils of the most powerful nations, but rather the most overlooked and impoverished nations, as well as sub-national cultural groups. Such an international body would not be restrained by institutions such as the UN Security Council which exist to protect the most powerful nations from being outvoted by the general assembly, and would instead be focused on constitutional equity, protection of indigenous peoples, and resolution of international disputes. Simply instituting structural protections against unilateral and unjust actions would not be enough to protect all people from international crime, imperialism, and extractive capitalism, but it would be a vast improvement over existing international bodies.
Once some semblance of International Justice has been achieved, and imperialism is no longer the greatest threat to liberatory experiments across the world, international bodies would be required to legislate and enforce the total disarmament of militaries, as well as whatever vestigial police forces, extractive or ecologically destructive industries, and exploitative enterprises may still exist in a world that has acted upon a realisation of the truly apocalyptic destructive capabilities of capitalism.
We must move towards a Justice system based on Whakapapa and enforced through Utu.
This section is supplemented by Appendix IV. which contains visual aids and charts to help with cross-cultural understanding.
Meaningful involvement of Māori concepts in a Justice system comes up against two main barriers: the limitations of operating under a capitalist state apparatus which is inherently opposed to indigenous systems of governance, and the limitations of a sovereign-unitary ideology of Justice, which is a transhistorical issue that began with the development of the first states100.
This first barrier can be seen in the current manifestations of concepts borrowed (or more accurately, stolen) from Te Ao Māori in the criminal justice system. These are the ‘tikanga’ programmes within prisons, and the supposed ‘tikanga’ courts such as the Northland Matariki Court101. These programmes are instituted out of the need for the justice system to legitimise itself in the eyes of a multicultural society, and overcome the negative perceptions that arise out of the perpetual issue of unresolvable structural racism on all levels of the Justice system, such as the disproportionate rates of Māori imprisonment.
On one level, tikanga programmes within prisons may help some prisoners with establishing cultural and interpersonal connections. According to the Department of Corrections these programmes are integrated under the “Te Ihu Waka” (bow/tip of the waka) framework, which are “structured around the four kaupapa of manakitanga [sic] (hospitality), whānaungatanga (attaining and maintaining relationships), rangatiratanga (autonomy) and wairuatanga (spirituality and wellbeing).”102 The contradictory nature of speaking of rangatiratanga within a prison run under Crown law should be apparent to most. However, even the most beneficial aspects of these programmes are undermined by their use as a form of social control: placements in these programmes are highly limited, with only an estimated 5% of imprisoned Māori able to access them, and even this level of access is restricted based on prisoner compliance and discipline – the programmes are a privilege that can be taken away, as part of a carrot and stick approach to control103.
The timidity and clumsiness with which Corrections implements “tikanga” programmes can be explained by the Retributive Justice ideology that all prison models must adopt to some degree under capitalism, in order to perpetuate a class of undesirable workers (a permanent reserve army of labour) and enforce social control. This social and class control-based approach to justice is incompatible with tikanga, a set of cultural norms developed by a society without fixed classes.
The second barrier that prevents Māori concepts from entering the justice system is the sovereign-unitary model of law, which we have described in detail elsewhere. This is the idealisation of systems of law which are universalist, totalising, transhistorical and pursued for their own sake rather than the sake of society or the parties involved. This is the dominant ideology not only in capitalist systems of law, but also some proposed or historical socialist systems of law. The sovereign-unitary model by its nature cannot tolerate any jurisdictional conflict, as any alternative model of law would by its very existence undermine the legitimacy of unitary law, and would challenge the notion that legitimate power can only flow from the biopolitical power of the sovereign body (see Appendix Ib.).
We can also see this ideology manifest in essentially good-willed attempts to model the inclusion of indigeneity into an idealised model of Justice. For socialists who support the national self-determination of minorities, which is certainly more liberatory than absolutist sovereignty and homogenisation, this leads to the practice wherein indigenous or minority groups are afforded limited autonomy, within a broader framework of a sovereign federation of states. This was the case with indigenous groups within the USSR, and was even afforded to non-indigenous minority groups in (failed) attempts at artificial autonomous zones such as the Jewish Autonomous Oblast. These historical examples show the limitations of retaining sovereignty-based federative models while maintaining an ideal of national self-determination, as it creates a contradiction between a unitary national interest of the federation, and the national interest of minorities who lack access to the creation and enforcement of laws and justice. Although it wasn’t the primary reason for their collapse, these historical soviet-type societies inadvertently created the conditions for national chauvinism and conflict, which can be seen in the “Great-Russian Chauvinism” of the Brezhnev era, or the national conflicts that developed in the Balkans during the collapse of the Yugoslav federation.
Therefore, Māori concepts of justice should not be subordinated to a more powerful “default” system of courts or enforcement, as in doing so we would continue to perpetuate a sovereign-unitary model of justice104. Tikanga is not an optional addendum to a more conventional western system, it should be a guiding principle spread across a multi-layered system of law. To compartmentalise it into a separate system with no impact on western laws, or to create courts modelled off of the default (European) system with ostensibly “tika” aspects, is to eliminate the threat to sovereign colonial law that alternatives represent.
This is not to say that a dual system of conventional courts and Utu on an equitable basis could not be a transitional situation that arises out of the practicalities of implementing Utu in a modern context, as well as institutional inertia. However, this transitional model should not suggest that either system cannot intersect or impact one another, nor should it suggest that the western model is a default system which must receive more resources and structural power.
But what do we actually mean by implementing Utu on a structural level within a system of Justice? Indigenous systems of being and organisation are easy to reduce to meaningless platitudes about balance, respect, gratitude and welcoming, and this is partly why states will strip them down to these qualities when using them for public relations opportunities. The values of hospitality, attaining and maintaining relationships, autonomy, and spirituality and wellbeing cited by Corrections are certainly important qualities in Te Ao Māori, but just as important is the tenacity and force with which major injustices and violations of these values would be dealt with. We do not seek to make a paper tiger out of Māoridom, as one of the chief conditions on which any power is given to Māori under the settler-colonial system is that it can be rescinded at any time without recourse. Instead, balance – the driving principle of Utu – should also mean that imbalances may be righted by force should the need arise, and any dual system should not be built upon the monopoly of violence of one side or the other.
Another key aspect of including Māori concepts within a system of Justice would be maintaining the right to self-determination of hapū. In the era of treaty settlements and trust boards, hapū have largely been subordinated to the will of iwi, which the settler-colonial government prefers to deal with due to the greater ease of centralised administration over larger groups. As such, any court, committee, or justice circle may elect to deal with social harm on an intra-hapū basis, or represent parties in cases of inter-hapū conflict with individuals who can speak for hapū as a whole. Self-determination in pre-colonial Aotearoa was not expressed in terms of national or iwi interests, but by the decisions of hapū. In an example cited by Moana Jackson: “If Te Rarawa wanted to make decisions for Te Rarawa, they never travelled down to Pōneke to ask Te Āti Awa for permission.”105
The interests of hapū would be balanced with the principle of whānaungatanga, which implies a subordination of personal or familial interests to the interests of society as a whole106. Whānaungatanga, which we saw feebly characterised by Corrections earlier as “attaining and maintaining relationships,” is better characterised as an ironclad obligation between all members of social groups, to allow for contradiction, discussion and difference of opinion without coercion, but to ultimately forge these qualities into a greater whole. Those with knowledge of socialist history might draw parallels with the historical aspirations of socialist parties to similar ideals. These principles combined to ensure a degree of consensus in all decision-making, although not total unanimity, an important distinction since consensus decision-making has become associated with total subordination of the majority to the minority, whereas this would be totally out of step with a pre-colonial understanding of whānaungatanga.
If we were to replicate aspects of this multilateral form of decision-making in law, what then, of the various manifestations of sovereign power in our current system of lawmaking and enforcement? Would the judges, members of parliament, and other bodies with the ability to act unilaterally be done away with completely? In part, yes, but leadership would still have a place, and to understand this we should look at the closest point of comparison to these colonial agents of sovereign power, the rangatira and ariki.
This is what Matike Mai call the Māori “site of constitutional power,” or the conduit through which the concept of power flows. While the European sovereign body is the conduit for unknowable and transcendental power, expressed as a biopolitical power over life and death, this Māori equivalent instead draws power from whakapapa, which means both genealogy and a balanced regulatory system between dualities (old and new, people and ecology, etc.)107. Whakapapa is in turn enforced through Utu, the active effort to maintain balance and reciprocity. The sum of all of these parts can be expressed as mana and rangatiratanga, loosely meaning social standing (although the true meaning defies easy classification) and self-determination respectively. This complex structure is illustrated in Appendix IVb.
The specific executive powers of ariki and rangatira are situated at the highest level of diplomacy, war, and conflict resolution. They are expected to be chief negotiators and representatives for their communities, as well as the catalysts for Utu and Whakapapa, the maintenance of balance in terms of specific conflicts of interest as well as more abstract contradictions. However, while there are superficial similarities to agents of sovereign power, there are important differences in constituency and ideology, namely that for the most part, rangatira only possess influence over a small group of people with direct genealogical ties to one another, and they are ideologically bound by the principle of whānaungatanga. This means that as far as can be understood, in pre-colonial society conflict between rangatira and their constituent hapū was rare to nonexistent. Ani Mikaere notes that:
“The presence of balance necessarily negates the concept of dominance and itscorollary, subservience… The word… rangatira, provides a clear indication thatMāori leadership has nothing to do with the assertion of power by one (or some) overothers. With “ranga” coming from the word “raranga” which means “to weave” and“tira” referring to a group, it is apparent that the task of the rangatira is literally toweave the people together.”108
From this, we can see that rangatira and ariki are not a direct analogue of agents of sovereign power, with executive power by virtue of their mandate, but rather facilitators of whānaungatanga tasked with building a degree of consensus and ensuring that decisions are made on a multilateral basis. By contrast, sovereign bodies are defined by their ability to act unilaterally, outside of the law, and as a result of a mandate that transcends the understanding of their people, rather than a mandate built out of the decisions of those people. Taiaiake Alfred confirms for us that this form of power is something that can be found across all indigenous societies, or at least those which possess a similar economic base to pre-colonial Māori, saying that:
“The indigenous tradition sees government as the collective power of the individual members of the nation; there is no separation between society and state.”109
Where State power in the Socialist sense (armed and organised bodies in defense of class interests) does arise, it is not based on the suspension of all other socially-determined laws. The executive does not, as it would in a sovereign-unitary system of law, declare an emergency and gather additional powers, cutting itself off from civilian decision-making and enforcing law for the sake of law as a last bastion against existential internal threats. While internal contradiction does indeed exist in such societies, and is in fact fostered for the sake of making more holistic decisions, it is not a contradiction between class interests but a reflection of social harm in a more transhistorical sense. Internal conflicts that do arise are ones that we can assume any society might experience, such as petty theft of items with sentimental value, violence borne out of ill-considered anger, or contravention of socially-established law. Contrary to the popular image of Utu as a violent process, these imbalances were mainly resolved by rangatira confiscating or destroying personal possessions. When existential threats did arise, as in the case of foreign colonisers, or other iwi undergoing rapid and violent social transformation in the case of the Musket Wars, then a call to war would be made and normalcy suspended, but usually on a voluntary basis – calls to war were seldom universally heeded.
Why is it that we should adopt Māori approaches to Justice, and how do we do so in a world that has largely rejected or subsumed any alternatives to sovereign-unitary models of power and law? These questions should be a constant point of reflection for socialists, especially given the dishonesty, conscious or unconscious, of many ostensible attempts to decolonise institutions, states, parties, or private companies.
We do not propose a decolonial solution to Justice problems out of a legalistic sense of obligation that comes with being a Tiriti partnership organisation, nor do we propose it as a transitional demand to gain leverage over Māori proletarians’ dissatisfaction with settler-colonial governance, with no real expectation that these solutions will be implemented. To use Māori concepts is neither a Tiriti obligation to be dutifully observed without enthusiasm or critical thought, nor some sort of gift or concession to Māori whom we imagine to be grateful for being included in some way.
We propose a decolonial solution out of recognition of the real value that Māori concepts present to a socialist workers’ movement, especially with regards to concepts of justice and sovereignty. This is because for all the genocide, denial of culture, and deliberate rewriting of history, Māori society is one of the very few in the world to have only been introduced into the capitalist global system a few centuries ago. While no longer in living memory, a society that, while it would be idealistic to call purely communist, was certainly not capitalist, feudal, or slave-owning, is only a few generations removed from today, and is alive in what remains of Māori oral and written history.
Actually implementing a Māori-influenced system of justice is another matter, and aspects that appear inapplicable to modern contexts may require substantial changes in the mode of production in order to make sense. It would be a mistake to think that there needs to be a transitional period in which rediscovery of Māori approaches to justice and a broader socio-economic revolutionary approach to justice would need to be kept separate, for fear of one contaminating the other – one is not possible without the other. Public education about Māori concepts may not, from day one (if such a day could be said to exist), be up to scratch in order to introduce all relevant Māori concepts into a justice system for all society with some degree of democratic consensus. We expect the full implications, and our understandings of these implications, of a Māori system of justice to emerge slowly out of the interspersion of changes to the economic mode of production and a broad socio-cultural revolution and reappraisal of Māoritanga. From day one, a system of justice should borrow whichever Māori concepts are applicable to modern contexts, provided that in doing so these concepts aren’t reappropriated outside of their original meanings, as has been the practice of Corrections in the current era.
What is clear is that a basic understanding of Utu should guide any system for the enforcement of Justice, as balance and equity is key from the outset of our project. So too, should any system of judgement or lawmaking be guided by the practices of historical rangatira and ariki in upholding whakapapa (which we mean in the broad sense of the regulation and resolution of dualities). Finally, socialised decision-making as a whole must reflect whānaungatanga, not as a loose set of values, but as a resolute principle of conduct in which decisions must be based on some degree of consensus, and individual interests should be balanced with the interests of broad groups. Through this we can create a new understanding of Justice, not confined to a system of law and punishment, but as a guiding principle of nationhood, self-determinative governance, and social conduct.
Appendix I: Law in Settler-Colonialism
Ia. The development of colonial law under early Capitalism
Many activists for Tino Rangatiratanga, such as Professor Margaret Mutu and Tina Ngāta, have identified the beginning of colonial law with the passage of Papal Bulls under the reign of Pope Alexander Sextus in the 15th century110.
The context of these laws is the transition from more decentralised systems of feudal economics, towards the period of Absolutism, or highly centralised monarchies which had a codependent relationship with the emerging capitalist classes.
Under early European feudalism, sometimes referred to as the tributary mode of production, monarchs had a very small base of power, usually no more lands and armies than the nobles they nominally ruled over. By contrast, the Catholic Church was a supremely powerful entity which taxed all European lands directly, and was by far the largest landowner in its own right. The Bishop of Rome, the Pope, even had his own ‘kingdom,’ the Papal State, in central Italy, which was able to dictate laws to catholic monarchs from the Iberian peninsula to the frontiers of the latin west in the Baltic. This desire to spread the power of this broad cultural-religious grouping manifested in the Crusades, which deeply entrenched the idea of a cataclysmic battle between Christendom and the Saracens (a term for Muslims borrowed from ancient roman descriptions of levantine peoples) and this influenced European political and legal traditions for the next several hundred years111.
However this battle was one of cultures and religions, not of nations and races, concepts which only emerged during the Enlightenment, the philosophical and cultural upheaval that followed the victory of the bourgeoisie in the 18th century. Therefore, we cannot say that the origins of colonial ideology can be found in the Crusading period. It wasn’t until more powerful, centralised states emerged in the late-feudal period that the first foundations of colonialism were laid, as crusading came to be a chiefly financial and political exercise112.
In the Iberian peninsula, the Crusader mentality of a cataclysmic battle between Christian and Saracen was more pronounced than elsewhere. In contrast with other European states, Iberia was a multi-ethnic society in which Muslims, Jews, and Christians coexisted to some degree for centuries, acting as the main gateway for Islamic philosophy (a mix of greco-roman platonic thought from Alexandria, and the traditions of Arabia) into the west, where it formed the foundations of the western philosophical tradition. Muslims, first from the Maghreb and later possessed of an indigenous Iberian Andalusian culture, had settled amongst the Christian kingdoms early on in the history of Islam, and it was not until the Crusading period that major inter-cultural warfare was fought. The Christian kingdoms of Galicia, Portugal, Leon, Castile, Navarre and Aragon engaged in a process of systematically dividing and conquering Muslim emirates (theocratic states), known as the reconquista. By the end of the 15th century, the various Christian states had accumulated great wealth from their conquests, and had centralised into the kingdoms of Portugal-Algarve, Castille-Aragon, and Navarre. Castille-Aragon was a union of the “Catholic monarchs” Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Spain, who were renowned for their ostensible commitment to the Catholic church, and wished to show it by launching a latter-day crusade against the sole remaining Muslim community in Iberia: the Emirate of Granada. If the later Papal Bulls were the first exercise in De Jure colonialism, the conquest of Granada was the first De Facto attempt. Many of the later hallmarks of colonialism were established here: the Andalusians were subject to wholesale genocide, Islam was completely erased from the land, and even non-Muslim minorities were subjected to the violence; Sephardic Jews were forced to leave Iberia soon after the fall of Granada, as an idea of a purely Christian Iberia had gained traction113.
At the same time, the Iberian pope, Roderigo Borgia, was installed as Pope Alexander VI. Anxious for support against his rivals in France and Naples, the Pope sought an alliance with his fellow Iberians, whom he hoped would support him in future conflicts. This, as well as the renewed fear of Islam in the form of the Ottomans, and the news of lands ‘discovered’ by Christopher Columbus, was the context in which the first “Alexandrine Bull” Inter Caetera was signed114. This gave Castille-Aragon the right to invade new lands in the Americas, however, even by the standards of the time, the legality of the Bull was questionable115.
Portugal-Algarve had earlier been granted Bulls which invested them with land and slaves in Africa, the first of many to come in the later Atlantic Slave Trade. Again, this bull Dum Diversas had been justified out of fear of Islam (the Ottomans had seiged Constantinople the year before), and used the language of the Crusading period to justify what was essentially a new practice: conquest and enslavement for profit rather than moral or religious obligation. The Bull granted the right to enslave any Pagan or Saracen and commit them to “perpetual servitude.” Slavery had long been uncommon among Europeans up until this point, but this was to change. These pro-portuguese bulls, such as Dum Diversas, conflicted with Inter Caetera. Portugal-Algarve and Castille-Aragon both believed that the Pope ought to establish more laws granting lands to the two kingdoms in order to maintain balance and peace in Iberia. In 1494 the Bulls were consolidated into the Treaty of Tordesillas which gave the Iberian Kingdoms control over one half of the world each, under full recognition of Catholic law116.
By the time major Protestant naval powers had emerged in Northern Europe, chief among them the emerging empires of England and the Netherlands, the Papal Bulls were no longer relevant. Protestant nations had discarded all existing Catholic law, and had replaced the Pope as head of the Christian church, either through legal separation of church and state, or by creating a joint head of state and church, as was the case in England. This meant that new lands were to be conquered not under the grounds of religious investiture but through the legal mechanism of sovereignty.
Even though the Papal Bulls were largely superseded by other legislation, or were entirely unrecognised by most nations, they continued to linger on in a half-life of convenience. Because of the vagaries of international common law, once a legal precedent for any action is set, it can be used as a justification for this action any time in the future. Whether or not anyone accepts this citation is a matter of military might. For this reason, the Papal Bulls were cited as recently as the Indonesian annexation of West Papua, the Chilean claim to the South Pole, and the Argentinean claim to the Falklands117.
It is because of this law of convenience and might that Papal Bulls are sometimes cited even in the courts of modern Liberal Democracies. Since the law has never been repealed, it even has relevance for Aotearoa, and many indigenous leaders continue to demand that the church rescind the doctrine118.
This is because the Bulls were cited in a series of US Supreme Court lawsuits, which contributed towards the so-called “Doctrine of Discovery” as an accepted part of public international law. These late 18th and early 19th century legal decisions were the result of a concerted effort by land speculators to ensure that no indigenous nation would be able to claim sovereign title over lands desired by whites, and instead merely held a right of occupancy that could be rescinded by a lawful buyer. This racist supreme court decision from colonial america has never been rescinded, and still forms a foundational part of international law. The Doctrine was used to deny first nations peoples in the US the right to prosecute those outside their tribe in rulings as recent as 1978 and 1990119, and as public international law would theoretically apply to Aotearoa.
The Doctrine does not even stand up to critique from within the very limited framework of international law. The Papal Bulls never applied to or were cited by Protestant nations such as the British Empire, and so there was no universal recognition of this law until the US decision. It also contravenes an earlier standard of public international law, Ius Gentium, which held that indigenous peoples lawfully exercised land ownership and the jurisdiction of chiefs, based on the “intrinsic dignity of man.”120
While the Doctrine continues to be theoretically applied to this day, the only real way for socialists to combat its influence is to seize the power required to denounce the law with some meaningful public support and backing. A more immediate aspect of decolonising law is to look at the construction of sovereignty, which we examine below.
Ib. The construction of sovereignty
This appendix owes much to the work of New Zealand communist theorist Ben Rosamond, whose thesis Sovereignty, Countersovereignty, Rangatiratanga provides a basis to our analysis of sovereign power.
In our justice and constitutional transformation sections, we talk extensively of the figure of The Sovereign. But what is this Sovereign, and why do we talk about it even in the context of countries without monarchies?
The nature of Sovereignty as a dominant legal and ideological construct means that whether or not states actually possess a Sovereign, such as a king or queen, is irrelevant as the position is merely implied by the existence of a vast body of historical precedents, political theory, and international laws. From its earliest conceptions, Sovereignty was never conceived of as requiring a literal Sovereign, but rather all of the structures around this being. The Sovereign is therefore a stand-in for whatever mechanism of absolute authority is required to suit the conditions of the state, whether it is an actual monarch, a president, or a council of elected officials121.
The western legal tradition of Sovereignty begins with Roman law, which divided state power into a number of qualities. Auctoritas, or personal political authority derived from charisma and respect, is contrasted with Potestas, the political authority derived from one’s position in the legal or political system. The sum of all Potestas within a political system is the monopoly on the use of violence, Imperium, the right to command the military to kill others122.
In the idealised Roman republican system explained by Cicero, the Auctoritas of charismatic elected officials such as senators must exist to balance the dispassionate and violent power inherent within Potestas. To Cicero, having all Potestas contained within one person, such as a king, would throw out this balance, and would result in state violence being used for the illogical purposes of the individual123.
In Cicero we can see parallels between Roman thought and the contrast between liberal democracy and more authoritarian capitalism. In this analogy, both an authoritarian dictator and a more conventional legal system possesses Potestas, the sum of which constitutes Imperium, which is analogous to sovereignty. The only difference between these two dictatorships is that one is dispersed among a bureaucracy , and the other is concentrated in an individual. Both systems have a pyramidal structure, in which higher ranks can veto lower ranks, and it is this pyramidal structure that is a precondition for sovereignty. Whether or not there is a literal human sovereign at the head of this pyramid, the tip still exists.
In time, Auctoritas, Potestas, and Imperium all became concentrated within one individual, the Roman Imperator124. This Emperor became the model for many sovereigns that followed, and the memory of the absolute power possessed by the Roman Emperor became a vital part of the superstructure of Feudalism. Feudal petty-emperors, such as the Carolingian (French), Holy Roman (German), Byzantine (Greek), and Muscovite (Russian) emperors all claimed to wield these qualities of Auctoritas, Potestas and Imperium, but in actual fact their bureaucratic and economic systems were vastly more decentralised and inefficient than those of the Romans. The material realities of rulership in Europe had changed to a point where the incredible disparities in primitive accumulation between nations, which created conditions for massive slave economies built on conquest in antiquity, had evened out, and power was necessarily dispersed amongst thousands upon thousands of petty landowners125.
It was not until new changes to the mode of production began to be felt in the late-Feudal period that the qualities of absolute power could manifest within one ruler. Rural populations, which had grown in the early-Feudal period in order to serve the interests of evenly dispersed petty landowners, had been vastly reduced by the Black Death. As a result many peasants’ labor became much more valuable overnight, with some even earning wages or entering the ranks of the merchants. Guild economies amongst the burghers, the artisans and manufacturers within the towns, had developed in the wake of new production techniques, and were now producing much more than subsistence demanded. Trade developed between towns, and individual wealth began to be determined not through land ownership but through control of the flow of commodities. Power and money was now centralised within the great cities, as it had been at the height of the Roman Empire, and new kinds of ruler were needed to effectively exercise control over the new urban populations.
This was the context in which French polymath Jean Bodin first coined the term ‘souveraineté.’ Bodin wrote his masterpiece Six books of the Commonwealth after experiencing 16 years of civil war between Catholic monarchists and Protestant Huguenots, a war that had been fought along the lines of regional and feudal allegiance rather than national identity. Bodin attributed the religious wars that were sweeping Europe to the decentralisation of power that had occurred in the early-Feudal period126. To Bodin, without the centralisation of these powers within a figure with absolute power, no peace, and therefore no reason, could ever prevail. He summarised this power as:
“the most high, absolute, and perpetual power over the citizens and subjects in a Commonwealth … This power must be incontestable within the borders of a nation, outside of any imposed limits, the presence of which would suppose a power higher than that of the sovereign and undermine the claim to absolute authority. The only being with authority over the sovereign is God, and the only authority that can limit the sovereign’s powers is His, as written in divine and natural law. This absolute power enables the sovereign to pass any laws, to appoint representatives to carry out his will, to declare war, and to make peace. In effect, the sovereign is outside any temporal law, even those of their own making … the prince is acquitted from the power of the laws.“127
Even though he wrote in an age of monarchs, with very few examples of alternative forms of government, Bodin actually prefigures the understanding of sovereignty that would become dominant in liberal-democratic states of the Capitalist era. He proposes hypothetical systems in which the sovereign body is instead composed of democratically-elected officials, or a council of powerful men128. Once again, the actual form that the sovereign body takes is irrelevant, it is the structure around the sovereign body that gives it power and allows for absolutist government.
Writing in more recent years, Italian theorist Giorgio Agamben ties Roman law and Bodin together, along with Thomas Hobbes and modern writers like Walter Benjamin and Carl Schmitt, into a cohesive narrative of the development of sovereignty. Agamben cites several common elements within conceptions of the Sovereign figure, which we might summarise as:
i. Paternalism of power
Cicero, Bodin and Hobbes all identify a connection between the head of the family, the Roman patria, and the power of the Sovereign. Cicero is first to use this analogy, linking Auctoritas to the role of elder children, and Potestas to the role of the father129. Bodin identifies the Sovereign as a product of natural power dynamics found in the family, in which the father is the head who is not appointed but rather comes to power through natural processes130. Hobbes sees power as the result of natural rights to self defense through the exercise of power over life and death in the self, which extends to the family as a whole in the case of a father, and to the citizens of a state in the case of a sovereign131.
ii. Power over exceptions to the Law
Agamben uses examples from the Roman law of homo sacer (sacred man) and Nazi Germany to describe how the Sovereign is able to excersise total power over life and death by deciding when and where a person is outside of the law. The Sovereign retains the right to strip a person of their rights under the law, reducing them to “Bare Life,” a totally unprotected, inhuman state wherein the person’s interactions with the state are no longer conducted in terms of legal punishment, but rather pure force, enacted regardless of law132.
iii. Paradoxical internality and externality
Agamben uses examples from the work of Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt to explain how the Sovereign is both within the law, and outside of it. Both men agree that the Sovereign is that which determines who is inside of the law, and who is outside of it, and is therefore both within and outside of the law himself (since this same state of exception cannot be applied to the sovereign recursively)133. Returning to the Roman duality of Auctoritas and Potestas, Agamben describes the Sovereign initiating the state of exception as Potestas overruling Auctoritas, or legal power overruling power established through consent (to act unilaterally)134.
iv. Right of total suspension of Law
In Roman law this is called the state of iustititium, or the ability for the senate to declare a state of emergency in which all laws are suspended, and all citizens and officials are granted any powers they wish for the sake of defending the state135. The Sovereign’s power of Auctoritas is used to disestablish or reestablish the basis in legitimacy required to suspend all law, leaving all citizens in a state of exception. For Agamben, like Walter Benjamin before him, this state of exception is largely the norm, with extrajudicial killings a normal occurrence in most countries.
Appendix II: Socialist perspectives on drugs
IIa: Origins of the War on Drugs
From the beginning of the 19th century onwards, the vast bulk of the global drug trade had taken place between trading ports in India and China controlled by British merchants, exchanging Indian-grown opium for Chinese-grown tea. Throughout the 18th century the British East India Trading Company had cultivated markets of tea-drinkers in India and opium addicts in China, typically through sponsoring illegal smugglers in the latter. This created the conditions for an intra-Asian circular trade, in which all profit could be siphoned off to British shareholders, at the minor expense of causing history’s largest addiction epidemic and immiserating millions of Chinese. When the Qing Empire banned opium smugglers, the British twice defeated them with their massive navy funded, in part, by the largest drug cartel of all time, they then used these defeats to secure contracts (known as the “Unequal Treaties”) for acquiring the treaty port of Hong Kong. By the early 20th century, most European powers had treaty ports of their own in many Chinese coastal cities, with most becoming new centers for the opium trade. Opium was at this point synonymous with the Chinese national identity, and was a substitute currency in many areas.
This changed in 1949 with the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, which under the newly victorious Communist Party of China enacted the first successful ban on opium in China. The capitalist Kuomintang, which established a government-in-exile in Taiwan, sent their vast supplies of opium south into what is now Myanmar, where large armies of US-supported Kuomintang exiles had set up a base of operations to continue resistance against the PRC, to be funded through a huge network of opium farms: the “Golden Triangle.” This new center of the global drug trade was largely limited to Southeast Asian markets, and what little opium could still be funneled into southern China, but this was to change in the following decades.
The Kuomintang narco-armies declined in influence throughout the 1950s as various unreliable drug barons they trained, such as Khun Sa, began to challenge them. US-sponsored drug lords such as the Laotian Hmong general Vang Pao began to control large parts of the Golden Triangle as part of CIA fundraising efforts for the “Secret War” against the Pathet Lao movement in Laos. This was the beginning of the CIA’s involvement in the global drug trade, which started with Air America flights being used as a smuggling front for Hmong drug lords136, and would eventually grow into the more well-documented CIA drug smuggling operations in Latin American countries like Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, and Venezuela, some of which continue to this day.
The Laotian conflict took place at the same time as the comparatively well-known imperialist war on Vietnam, and the two conflicts would often overlap. The proliferation of opiates grown in the Golden Triangle into Saigon, where most US Troops spent their rest and relaxation time, would have profound effects on the overall orientation of the global drug trade. Drug addiction became a major issue amongst US and allied forces, especially heroin addiction, which increased exponentially after the Saigon government cracked down on cannabis, forcing soldiers onto other drugs to deal with untreated PTSD. Based on interviews with US Army surveyors in 1971, heroin use rates were between 10 to 25% of all US GIs, with some units reporting 50%137.
It can’t be overstated what a profound impact this had upon the global drug trade. For the first time, massive addiction epidemics were no longer contained to the Third World. For over two centuries, European colonial powers had cultivated an East Asian market for narcotics, and had profited both in the financial sense and in terms of power-projection. The CIA’s use of Hmong-grown opium to fill its black budget (finances it did not have to disclose to the public), was just the latest example in a long line of clandestine western profiteers that stretched back to the late 18th century opium smugglers funded by the East India Trading Company. What had changed in the 1960s however, was that for the first time, the narcotic addiction epidemic spread to a massive population of white Europeans. The moral panic that followed was therefore the culmination of two centuries of fears that drugs would “orientalise” a white population, as we saw while discussing the 1901 Opium Prohibition Act in Aotearoa, and these narratives were only reinforced in the context of Cold War rhetoric about a final showdown between East and West.
The panic in the US developed slowly, as initially the military attempted to suppress information about the magnitude of the epidemic. Of 12,000 soldiers who sought treatment for addiction, the military only treated 3. The remainder continued to be addicted and massively increased the domestic demand for narcotics in the US138. By 1971, the first limited public acknowledgement of addiction issues was made by Congress, and President Nixon declared drug abuse “Public Enemy Number One.” This was simply a continuation of rhetoric that had started based on an earlier moral panic about (comparatively harmless) hallucinogens like LSD in 1968, however this time Nixon funded a massive public awareness campaign based on celebrity endorsements, which did very little to combat addiction, but did result in the popularisation of the phrase “War on Drugs,” and would mark a sharp uptick in the number of drug-related incarcerations.
But why would Nixon focus on a PR campaign and tougher penalties without funding major addiction services or anything which public officials knew might make a real impact? The answer lies in an inflammatory 1994 interview with Nixon’s chief domestic advisor John Ehrlichman, who said:
“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”139
From this we can see a major paradigm shift in the attitudes around the drug trade expressed by the ruling class in the 1960s. No longer were drugs a reliable tool of international colonial domination that could be safely contained within the Third World, instead a domestic market for drug consumption in the Imperial Core (the most developed nations) had risen, not among the upper and middle classes as before, in the “Great Binge” period, but rather among the lowest rungs of society: internally colonised populations and the declassed elements (see Appendix Ia of the Work and Welfare section). Drug production and prohibition would therefore need to shift from being a purely international system of subjugation, to also being a system of domestic social control that could be used to repress internal surplus populations and reinforce class stratification.
In conclusion, we might divide the history of drugs under capitalism into three key eras:
i. 1780 to 1949: the era of Narcotic Colonialism, in which the vast bulk of drug trafficking was conducted in order to create circular trades among Asian nations, and to perpetuate imperialism and weaken major non-European powers. The era began with opiate smuggling conducted in China with a view towards creating a mass market for opiates grown in India, at the behest of the East India Trading Company. After the Opium Wars, this underground trade was conducted openly, and any Chinese force that resisted was crushed mercilessly. In this period, the main market for opium was largely contained in China, with smaller markets elsewhere in Asia. In the west, opiates were commonly used in medicine and were very loosely regulated, however moral panic was limited since alcohol was seen as much more damaging, and narcotic addiction was largely contained to non-white populations. The period ended with the establishment of the People’s Republic of China.
ii. 1950 to 1970: the era of Narcotic Transition, in which the previous trade relationships and methods of subjugation were overhauled, and a new system slowly fell into place. The effective ban on opiates in China shifted opium production into Southeast Asia (The Golden Triangle) and Southwest Asia (The Golden Crescent). Narcotics came to be grown by criminal warlords and narco-armies rather than states, and global intelligence agencies began to realise the efficacy of using off-the-books drug trafficking as a supplementary income for black budgets. Facing a massive decline in demand from China, drug traffickers attempted to find new markets, first creating local dependent populations, and finally trafficking into the imperialist nations via their armed forces. A corresponding cultural change in the west made drugs a permanent part of youth culture, and new markets developed among internally colonised peoples such as Black Americans.
iii. 1971 to Present: the era of the War on Drugs, in which the moral panic produced by the orientalisation of western populations in the previous era created the conditions for massive social stigma for drug users, mass incarceration, and heavily racialised battles for social control over workers, the unemployed, and internally colonised populations. All western nations introduced heavily punitive laws for possession and use that did little to contain supply, but effectively criminalised demand, creating a feedback loop wherein more criminalisation led to worsening conditions, which led to more demand for drugs, which led to more supply, and more criminalisation. Imperialist wars, which were once fought to protect drug traffickers, were now being fought using the rhetoric of the war on drugs (such as the wars in Panama, Colombia, and Afghanistan).
IIb: The history of specific drugs in Aotearoa
As we discussed in our first section on drug reform, the only major period of illegal heroin use was linked to the end of the war in Vietnam in the early 1970s. This had all but disappeared by the 1980s, while whatever opiate addiction that continued was tied to abuse of legal opiates like prescription morphine, “homebake” (refined codeine), and opium tea made from poppy seeds (the only potential source of opium permitted by the 1975 Act)140. The New Zealand state’s criminalisation of opiates is therefore more of a historical anachronism rather than something that has ever had a measurable impact on supply.
Stigma around “drug-seeking” behaviour, on the other hand, arguably has a greater negative impact on society than opiate abuse ever had in Aotearoa, as it prevents chronic pain sufferers from getting adequate treatments, and has produced a situation where medical practitioners prescribe Tramadol rather than more effective prescription opiates, due to its cheap costs and lesser stigma, despite its far worse side-effects, addictive qualities, and the well-documented negative effects the Tramadol market has on the Third World (such as the Tramadol addiction epidemic in Nigeria, and corresponding use by Islamist militias as a tool of social control)141.
Legalisation of opiates would therefore involve a resumption of all medicinal opiate use, as was the case before 1955, potentially with a publicly-owned source of supply, since we would need to avoid the twin evils of contributing towards illegal producers in the global south, or initiating a capitalist free-for-all by relaxing restrictions on doctors purchasing opiates through private companies. This was the case in the US, where the opiate addiction crisis was linked not to illegal heroin, but to legal oxycontin (a slow-release opiate pill) dealt out freely by corrupt doctors. Purchases from private manufacturers would therefore need to continue to be restricted, so as to avoid creating the conditions for these “pill mills.”
ii. Chemically non-addictive drugs
This includes drugs which are regarded as relatively harmless, such as Cannabis, LSD, and organic hallucinogens. While it would be a stretch to say they are totally harmless, they have a very low corresponding social cost which is much less noticeable compared to legal drugs like alcohol. As we have seen, these drugs are prohibited due to a range of international pressures, historical moral panics, and efforts to enforce social control based on race or class142. That being said, efforts to legalise these drugs under capitalism have lead to a perverse injustice of their own, such as in the US where legalisation of cannabis in many states has been less of a win for civil liberties, and could more accurately be described as a case of enclosure in which private companies have displaced small-scale growers and dealers, who are still criminalised to much the same degree, and on the same heavily racialised basis, as they have ever been. For this reason, we support the total legalisation of such drugs, which should be pursued without any continued excessive criminalisation of un-licensed producers. Consumer protections can and should be enforced, however, as should addiction and harm-reduction services, since such substances are still psychologically, if not chemically, addictive. Alcohol addiction treatment would be upgraded to the same standards, since it has similar addictive qualities. Aotearoa has some relatively well-regarded outpatient services for alcohol addiction, but our inpatient (institution or hospital-based) services are widely regarded as inaccessible to those on low incomes, and are generally beholden to the questionable practices of private rehab companies and charities. All addiction services would therefore need to be reformed as publicly-owned institutions.
There is another class of drugs that exist purely because of drug criminalisation. These are synthetic alternatives to more commonly-known drugs, such as synthetic cannabinoids, synthetic cathinones (alternatives to MDMA), and NBOMe (alternatives to LSD). These were typically developed in labs to be chemically similar to the drugs they intend to mimic, but just dissimilar enough to circumvent legislation. Because of the ad-hoc nature of their development and the fact that they are usually cheaper, and therefore cut with the drugs they mimic, synthetic alternatives are much more dangerous. While these drugs should also be legalised so that harm-reduction can take place in the open and social stigma can be reduced, this should be conducted with the end goal of reducing the market for such drugs and preventing mis-labelling143.
Finally there is a class of drugs for which there is a medical and scientific consensus around the social harm caused to communities. This includes potent amphetamines like meth, which is the only illegal drug that has had a truly widespread detrimental effect on communities in Aotearoa144. Methamphetamines were initially used as a legal stimulant, several times more potent and fast acting than any previously known stimulants. The rapid onset and intense rush provided by meth made it ideal for use as a wartime drug, given to soldiers in order to increase their ferocity and speed of attack, and decrease their critical thinking skills and empathy.
The earliest and most enthusiastic adopter of the new drugs was Nazi Germany, which manufactured methamphetamine under the brand name Pervitin, and made it standard issue for military forces from 1939 to 1942, leading to some speculation that it contributed to both the inhumanity and the speed of early Fascist armies. By the end of the war, all military powers apart from the Soviet Union were regularly providing amphetamines to their frontline troops, making it the first drug-fueled war. The use of amphetamines in the Second World War was dwarfed by the scale of amphetamine use by the imperialist forces in the War on Vietnam, in which more speed was consumed than all armies of 1939 to 1945 combined, with 225 million tablets consumed in just three years at the height of the war. For this reason, as with heroin use, it would be fair to link widespread amphetamine use to participation in the War on Vietnam.
However, it wasn’t until the 1990s that high-potency crystal methamphetamine began to replace low-potency amphetamine sulfate pills or powder. The latter had been somewhat available thanks to old diet pills, wartime “go-pills,” and certain prescription medications, but crystal methamphetamine was better suited to mass production, typically in gang-owned labs. Meth, and to a lesser extent, Cannabis and Ecstasy, began to be associated with gangs in Aotearoa, which due to the basis of some drug-producing gangs in working class Māori identity, added a pronounced racial element to the criminalisation of methamphetamine.
Aotearoa’s drug-producing gangs fell into a cyclical, and in some ways co-dependent relationship with the Retributive Justice system. The more working class Māori communities were stigmatised and immiserated, the more drug-producing gangs came to be the only viable form of class mobility for Māori youth. The more these gangs grew, so did the production of drugs like meth in order to fund the expansion of gangs; drugs which have a high social cost and stigma that further immiserated communities. For this reason, drug-producing gangs in Aotearoa follow many of the same laws of expansion and growth, and parasitic development at the expense of working class communities, as the petty bourgeoisie. They have many of the same class interests as the petty bourgeoisie, albeit with additional social stigma and criminalisation that ultimately creates a closed market and decreases competition or regulation. The overall character of drug-producing gangs in Aotearoa is therefore a mirror image of the capitalist class, and moreover one whose development is accelerated and is especially pronounced in its social harm.
This situation could not have developed without the criminalisation of methamphetamine use and the attached social and racialised stigma. While we are no friends of drug-producing gangs, it is nonetheless immensely hypocritical of the New Zealand state to focus so intently upon criminalising gangs and using them as a general social scapegoat for the inability of the state to support Māori communities. Legalising methamphetamine use, while redirecting the funds used in criminalisation towards harm reduction services such as needle exchanges and safe-use facilities, would immediately take away the primary cause of gang-related drug production, and end this heavily racialised social conflict for good.
We should also pause to clarify that this position on gang production of methamphetamine does not mean that we are necessarily an anti-gang organisation, nor do we think that the moral panic of the last twenty years around methamphetamine use is justified. Several gang-led initiatives to distance gangs from drug-production have been successful and should be supported by socialists, such as the Manawatu Mongrel Mob Kingdom’s attempts to end meth production and use of fascist symbols among their members. We also acknowledge that much of the rhetoric around meth is overblown and used as cover for increased Police repressiveness, and in fact there is evidence that meth use has been going down since 2011. Despite this, capitalists and landlords continue to use meth panic to push for disproportionate restrictions on renters, workers and beneficiaries, such as the 2018 law that landlords may evict tenants for meth contamination with very little evidence, a law that cited the social costs of meth ($364.2 million annually). To talk of the social cost of meth in order to support a restriction on renters is laughable, when the total social cost of cold houses and mold inhalation caused by landlord neglect could be as high as $5 billion, and causes 1,600 deaths annually145.
Appendix III: Apparatuses of the capitalist state
IIIa. Ideological State Apparatuses vs. Repressive State Apparatuses
State Apparatuses are now a common part of socialist theory, proposed by French marxist Louis Althusser in his 1970 essay Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses146.
While earlier socialists such as Marx had theorised about a superstructure of capital, which included the state, ideology (which to marx had a strictly negative connotation), and various other institutions such as academia and civil society clubs, his work in this area was limited as all of his efforts were first to be spent describing the base of capital, the most fundamental economic conditions such as the mode of production, which gave rise to the broader superstructure intended to mask and reinforce the base. It was not until the work of Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci that a more holistic analysis of the superstructure was made, which he termed the theory of cultural hegemony. Marx had used this word (from the ancient Greek word for leadership) to describe the way the worldview of the ruling class was used to dominate others. In Gramsci’s theory, this worldview seeks to justify the social, political, and economic status quo of the society as if it were a natural and normal, inevitable and perpetual state of affairs that always has been so147.
Gramsci’s solution to this was to urge worker’s movements to create consciousness about the false nature of bourgeois cultural hegemony, and poke holes in its claims to trans-historicism by pointing to a new cultural hegemony of the future: that of the proletariat. Once this base of proletarian culture is built, by fostering the local culture of workers and encouraging working class intellectuals, only then can the party seek to form alliances without compromising its own nature. This construction of proletarian culture he termed the war of position, which was to be followed with war of manoeuvre, the creation of conditional class and organisational alliances to defeat the bourgeoisie in detail.
This theory was highly influential, and was seen by many socialists as an excellent description of the superstructure, on which theory was severely lacking. This theory was also unfortunately misinterpreted, as many European communist parties used it as a theoretical basis for Eurocommunism148. Cultural Hegemony, they thought, could only be overcome by abandoning the revolutionary economic struggle entirely, and shifting into cultural and political critique as either parliamentary political parties, or media organisations. This proved to be a dead-end of thought, and most Eurocommunist parties declined within a few decades, or completely sold out their original ethics.
Althusser agreed with Gramsci on many things, but believed that there were more structured and well-defined ways to characterise Cultural Hegemony into distinct areas of struggle. He divided previous theories about the base and superstructure into distinct categories, starting with the Infrastructure and Superstructure:
This is Althusser’s term for what previous authors called “The Base,” it might also be called the mode of production. This is made up of three factors:
These are the organic elements of production: the workers, their skills, and their training.
The inorganic elements of production: machines, tools, software etc.
The social dynamics which allow for capitalist production, namely the interactions between boss and worker.
These are elements which do not serve a direct economic function, but are nonetheless funded or allowed for by the Infrastructural Elements in order to justify or mask them.
This is the more concrete, conscious superstructural world, that of the state, laws, and political parties.
This is the more abstract, unconscious superstructural world, that of belief, values and morals.
Althusser goes on to say that these latter superstructural elements are themselves created by another structure, the State Apparatus. The more concrete aspects of the superstructure are built and maintained by Repressive State Apparatuses, while the more abstract aspects are built and maintained by Ideological State Apparatuses.
Repressive State Apparatuses are typically strong and coherent state agencies with a centralised command structure and ability to use violent force. These include the military, police, and intelligence agencies, which we analyse further in the next sub-section.
Ideological State Apparatuses are much less unified and cohesive, and use violence only as a secondary quality. Althusser describes their method of operation as part psychological, as they are intended to subtly push an individual towards a particular worldview through ostracisation, ridicule, and repetition of myths. The most dominant form of ISA in early capitalism was the Church, which appealed to spiritual salvation to control workers. In later years, the Church was replaced by the School and University.
Althusser might be misinterpreted as saying that ISAs are purely cynical and oppressive, but this is not true. Unlike RSAs, these apparatuses are highly decentralised, and are not watched over closely by the ruling class. Workers sometimes fight for their interests through engaging with the ISAs, especially those which are influential but ostensibly politically neutral such as schools and churches, and this is one of the chief areas of background class-struggle under capitalism (struggle which occurs with or without consistent input from the organised revolutionary left). This can be observed in many public schools in developed nations, which through the concerted efforts of many teachers, are not a pure reflection of coercive state power, and can instead sometimes offer counter-narratives to students.
IIIb. Capabilities of the Repressive State Apparatuses of New Zealand
i. Military capabilities
The New Zealand Army
The Army is the most obvious example of a Repressive State Apparatus within the New Zealand State as it holds a theoretical monopoly on the use of violence on the international stage. During colonisation, the military and constabulary were nearly identical in their function (the extermination of dissident Māori) and so the force was not established as an official army until 1909149.
Because of the geographical isolation of Aotearoa, the New Zealand military has always been an order of magnitude smaller than the military of most nations. Limited in capabilities, it has rarely taken anything more than a supporting role in the conflicts between imperialist powers. In the First and Second world wars the military was integrated into the forces of the larger antipodean dominion: Australia. In Vietnam, the NZ military was little more than a handful of artillery batteries and troops supporting the larger imperialist force, and this is a role it has pursued to this day.
The NZDF was forced to transition away from its role as a supporting actor in a larger imperialist force during the last stage of the Cold War. US imperialist policy was directly opposed to Aotearoa’s nuclear free movement, and facing civil disobedience at home, Prime Minister David Lange forced the Army to back down from forward positions across East and Southeast Asia (particularly Singapore). This chain of events eventually led to New Zealand’s suspension from the ANZUS (Australia-New Zealand-United States) defence treaty. This relative distance between Aotearoa and the broader imperialist military order continued until the late 2000s, when the ANZUS treaty was partially resumed150. Since then NZ troops have continued to be deployed to the Middle East and other sites of imperialist warfare.
In terms of the threat the NZDF faces to revolutionary movements within NZ, we find difficulties in accurately assessing the willingness of Army personnel to intervene on political matters. Since 1990, there has been an effort to distance the NZDF from parliamentary control, and as such, like the Police there is very little that elected officials can do to control the Army other than increasing or decreasing budgets. There was also a substantial effort by the army and intelligence agencies to oppose the Lange governments’ concessions to the nuclear free movement in the 1980s. Finally there is the matter of fascist infiltration of army structures, with at least 2 cases of known fascist aspiring terrorists since 2019151.
While it remains a comparatively small volunteer force, the NZDF is very well funded, with a budget of roughly $4.2 billion152. It has roughly 6,400 personnel, but regularly keeps tabs on the recruitable population that can be conscripted in the case of an emergency, with about 2 million potential recruits. In terms of equipment, the Army is lightly equipped compared to most capitalist militaries, but nonetheless has stocks of 8,800 of the most modern rifles (MARS-L), and keeps vast quantities of rifles from the 1950s (the L1A1) and 1980s (the Steyr AUG) with up to 20,000 in storage. The pride of the army are a fleet of 105 NZLAVs (New Zealand Light Armored Vehicles) which have seldom been used in combat (apart from one blown up in Afghanistan), more often being deployed within New Zealand to assist the Police or for PR stunts (such as the “rainbow tank” in the 2019 Wellington International Pride Parade)153.
It may seem unlikely to suggest that the NZ Army would repress a civilian movement within Aotearoa, but we do not suggest this without precedent. The NZ Army has been alarmingly willing to assist Police with its NZLAVs, even in situations where they constituted comical overkill. They supported Police operations in response to a domestic shooting in 2009, and were used in a bizarre show of force aimed at discouraging looting after the 2011 Christchurch earthquake. Their most recent policing usage was in 2016 in Kawerau, where they supported another Police siege.
Another alarming aspect of the NZ Army, apart from its tendency to be infiltrated by Nazis, is its insistence upon maintaining the capability to rapidly raise a reserve conscript force in the case of an “emergency,” with 2 million potential conscripts of whom up to 28,000 could be armed.
The Royal New Zealand Air Force
The NZ Air Force has few capabilities in its own right, but supports other RSAs in a logistical and transportation capacity. The RNZAF, like the Army, frequently supports police with military equipment, such as allowing the Police Special Tactics Unit to use its NH-90 Helicopters154.
The RNZAF has very few combat capabilities, but is in the process of ordering 4 P-8 Poseidon aircraft, which are capable of Anti-Submarine Warfare. This is part of the US military’s “Pivot to Asia” programme initiated under Obama, in which the RNZAF is projected to play a role in the force-projection capabilities of the US Navy in the event of an attack upon China.
The RNZAF also fields a small unit of armed military police.
The Royal New Zealand Navy
Of the three main military components of the NZDF, the RNZN has the greatest civilian policing role. The stated goals of the RNZN include maintaining New Zealand’s influence over Pacific neighbors (since any unrest would affect the New Zealand state’s interests and pacific migrant populations in Aotearoa), and the patrolling of New Zealand’s exclusive economic zone, a vast stretch of territory that the RNZN patrols constantly.
The RNZN has two dedicated warships, which carry the largest weapons in the arsenal of the New Zealand state. These include 127mm rapid-fire cannons that are designed for bombardment of the shore with high-explosive shells. It also has four patrol vessels, two with machine guns, and two with 25mm autocannons. Finally, there is HMNZS Canterbury, itself armed with cannons and machine guns, which is intended to carry helicopters.
The RNZN is expected to respond to unrest in the Pacific, but would also support the NZ Police in maritime matters, as the Police have few boats.
The New Zealand Special Air Service
While technically a part of the NZ Army, the NZSAS acts with a degree of independence, and deserves a separate mention because of the NZ State’s tendency to use the NZSAS for their “dirty work.” The NZSAS is by far the force most complicit in imperialist crimes globally.
The NZSAS was formed based on tactical knowledge gained in the Second World War wherein semi-independent regiments capable of clandestine warfare were deployed from the air behind enemy lines. The unit was formed in 1955, after which it was immediately sent to assist the British genocidal campaign in Malaya. Their tasks included demographic control of targeted populations, and the elimination of the Malayan Races Liberation Army, an anti-racist, anti-fascist organisation initially formed to oppose Japanese fascist occupation. The NZSAS has mythologised this campaign, and refers to these first SAS men as “the originals.”155 This pattern of being used in pro-colonial wars continued in Borneo, Thailand and Vietnam.
The NZSAS were the subject of renewed scrutiny after investigative journalists Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson published their findings, based on interviews with Afghan locals, that the NZSAS had launched unprovoked attacks upon the villages of Naik and Khak Khuday Dad in Afghanistan, in an apparent revenge-killing, which included indirect fire into civilian houses and calling an airstrike upon the villages156.
The NZSAS are also trained to respond to domestic threats to the state. They are in charge of training the Armed Offenders and Special Tactics units of the NZ Police, and were even called on to shoot prisoners during the Mt Eden prison riots, although the prisoners surrendered at the sight of NZSAS personnel with bayonets drawn157.
ii. Intelligence capabilities
The Directorate of Defence Intelligence and Security
Little is known about this fourth arm of the NZDF apart from its small budget of $1.4 million. The DDIS did play a significant role in the military’s efforts to salvage the ANZUS treaty by pressuring the Lange government to drop the Nuclear Free Policy in the 1980s, essentially by attempting to terrify numerous government officials with threatening security briefings about foreign nuclear arsenals. It can be assumed that the DDIS plays a strong behind-the-scenes lobbying role within parliament to increase defense budgets through fear-mongering about foreign military capabilities.
The Government Communications Security Bureau
The GCSB is responsible for all signals intelligence in New Zealand, which means the surveillance of all people in Aotearoa across phone, email, social media, or radio. The omnipresence of the GCSB means it is probably the most infamous security agency in Aotearoa, and is also the most interconnected New Zealand intelligence agency in terms of its connections to the CIA, NSA and other notorious imperialist agencies.
The GCSB operates New Zealand’s most active imperialist bases, at Waihopai near Blenheim, and Tangimoana near Palmerston North. These are part of the “Five Eyes” network, or ECHELON, a programme between the US, Canada, Australia, Britain, and New Zealand started in the Cold War to monitor Soviet diplomatic communications, which has now expanded to include all electronic communications. The connection between Waihopai and ECHELON was first established by Green MP Keith Locke158, while Tangimoana has been a known part of ECHELON since a 1984 investigation by activist Owen Wilkes159. Waihopai tracks signal intelligence using two large radomes, and is believed to monitor “phone calls, faxes, e-mail, and computer data communications.” Since 2007 it also probably tracks satellite data. Tangimoana is a comparatively low-tech facility that monitors all radio transmissions in Aotearoa.
Due to the work of journalists such as Nicky Hager, and the work of the Anti-Bases and NZ Ploughshares campaigns, there is a degree of public knowledge about the purpose of these spy stations. The GCSB has also been marked by poor operational security and a large number of controversies about its operations. In 2013, a leaked report to the Cabinet Secretary revealed that the GCSB spied upon at least 85 people in Aotearoa illegally (i.e. without a warrant)160. Later that year, the GCSB Amendment Bill supported by Prime Minister John Key gave the GCSB the right to share information with other government bodies such as the New Zealand Police, despite the opposition of all other political bodies in Aotearoa at the time.
In 2015 it was revealed that the GCSB was operating a major spying ring in nearly every smaller country in the Pacific. Later that year, leaks released by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden showed spying operations against much larger powers such as Vietnam, China, India, Pakistan, and several unspecified South American nations. Other breaches of diplomatic communications security were also revealed, such as a secret spy installation within the NZ Embassy in the Solomon Islands, and wiretapping of the Chinese Embassy in Wellington161.
The danger of the GCSB is twofold: their total omnipresence across all modern forms of communication, and their incompetence. Their erratic qualities mean they target people almost at random, but never those who would genuinely cause mass terror (for example, the GCSB had no information in the lead up to the March 15 2019 shooting despite substantial online footprints). Their participation in what began as a Cold War covert intelligence programme means that there appears to be a strong anti-leftist bent to their activities, above and beyond what might be expected from a state agency.
For these reasons, leftists in Aotearoa should always assume that unsecured channels are being listened to by the GCSB. The agency appears to do very little targeted intelligence observation that could overcome encrypted chats (such as through viral keyloggers) and so we can assume that even poorly encrypted platforms are safe to a degree. We should also remember that although most electronic information is being collected, little of it is being analysed, and so electronic information gathered on us will most likely be used in hindsight or as evidence rather than pre-emptively.
The National Assessments Bureau
The NAB has no investigative powers of its own, and is more of an intelligence aggregate service that provides briefs to ministers. Like the DDIS it has historically lobbied ministers to increase the funding and power of the intelligence and defense sectors.
The New Zealand Security Intelligence Service
While the GCSB is rightly feared for its omnipresence, the NZSIS is seen as more of a joke than a threat to anyone it investigates. Despite a budget of a hundred million and three hundred staff, the NZSIS is probably one of the most unprofessional and ridiculed intelligence services in the world.
An analogue to other foreign intelligence agencies such as the CIA or Mi6, the NZSIS is primarily focused on information security and counterintelligence, meaning that rather than proactively searching for intelligence it is geared towards defending the intelligence gathered by more competent agencies such as the GCSB.
The main danger the NZSIS has posed to the left historically is their incompetence in investigating the far right or other international intelligence services operating within Aotearoa. The NZSIS turned a blind eye to illegal Mossad (Israeli intelligence) operations in 2004 and 2006, and failed to stop the attack on the Rainbow Warrior by French agents in 1985. Like other agencies, it also failed to gather any information on fascists within Aotearoa prior to the March 15 2019 shooting.
The Special Investigation Group
Formed as part of the global panic in the wake of September 11 2001, the SIG is another secretive group that has been subject to intense public scrutiny. It was formed in order to centralise counter-terrorism assets between the NZDF, NZSIS, GCSB, and NZ Police, with most personell being recruited from the Police.
The SIG was not publicly acknowledged until 2008, when it was revealed that it had been paying informants within several leftist groups. Christchurch man Rob Gilchrist was revealed to have been paid to spy on Greenpeace, Iraq war protestors, student associations, and animal rights and climate change campaigners. Subsequent reports showed that the Union movement was also targeted162.
From this we can see that SIG was entirely oriented towards investigating the left, acting as if left-wing terrorism was ever a major threat in Aotearoa. This was all the more laughable when we consider that the majority of these groups were strictly pacifist in nature.
It is unclear whether the SIG still operates, as most information is from before 2011. Due to the high level of secrecy it is certainly possible. The paranoia the Gilchrist case subsequently caused in the left arguably caused more lingering damage than the infiltration ever did, and we should be mindful of that when concerns are raised about informants.
iii. Policing capabilities
Regular constabulary of the NZ Police
Much of what we have already written applies mainly to the regular NZ Police officers, which are organised into 12 decentralised districts headed by superintendents, who answer to a police commissioner. Each district has a degree of autonomy, and so Policing practices vary across Aotearoa.
There are roughly 9,000 sworn Police officers in Aotearoa, and it is these 9,000 individuals who are the most common representatives of sovereign power that the public interact with. They act as agents of intimidation and fear, and are responsible for the vast majority of civilian injuries and deaths at the hands of the state.
From 2003 to 2012, 91 deaths were caused by the NZ Police. 10 were cases of neglect and subsequent suicide, 7 were caused by beatings, 7 were caused by lack of adequate medical treatment, 3 were caused by untreated overdoses, 7 were shot (including one bystander hit by a stray bullet), and the remainder, a total of 57 people, were killed in Police pursuits163. The IPCA has not commissioned a similar enquiry into police-related deaths since this time, but evidence suggests the rate of deaths has increased.
These deaths can be attributed, in part, to two factors. One is the structural position of Police within a state of exception, a legal construct in which they are above the law from the moment they suspect a crime. The lack of any real oversight means that even outside of pursuits or other exceptions to normality, police often ignore laws, as evidenced by the common sight of police vehicles parked in the middle of the road.
The other factor is the endless ability of the police to lobby for increased protections, increased punishments for those who assault police, and increased weaponry. This is usually done through the lobbying efforts of the New Zealand Police Association, the industry “union,” which advocates for the “safety” of officers. This is despite the greater danger faced by many other workers, from ambulance workers, to psychiatric nurses, to construction workers, who all face risks to their life on the job. The difference is that none of these other professions are sacrosanct in the eyes of conservatives, and above the law in the eyes of the state.
Of all the agencies and organisations listed here, the Police are most likely to use violent force against opponents of the state or even the most benign and peaceful of protestors. The Police are desensitized to violence against civilians, and are trained to use force as an almost unconscious reaction to danger. Nothing in this world is more dangerous than a particularly cowardly Policeman.
In terms of their equipment, many people in Aotearoa think the NZ Police are a “disarmed” force, or at least they did until 2019. In actual fact the NZ Police have been armed to the teeth since 2005 when all regular officers were granted access to military-style select fire automatic carbines, the Bushmaster M-4. Since then, NZ Police vehicles have routinely carried military weapons to their rear, as well as pistols in the footwell of the passenger seat. Police also have less-lethal weapons such as pepper spray, batons, and tasers.
While it has managed to avoid such a reputation, the NZ Police is actually a highly militarised “US-Style” Police force, with many of the military capabilities foreign forces are routinely criticised for. As discussed above, the Police regularly use armored vehicles loaned from the army, helicopters loaned from the RNZAF, and have specialist military weapons as standard issue. This makes the NZ Police one of the more militarised and dangerous Police forces in the world, in stark contrast to their community-oriented image.
Other capabilities of the regular police include the Police Eagle helicopter unit, flying Bell 429s with a range of cameras and surveillance equipment, and two catamarans for maritime policing.
Armed Offenders Squads
While the regular Police are already highly militarised, the AOS is virtually a small army. In addition to the military rifles and pistols of regular police, AOS officers routinely carry high-powered sniper rifles, grenade launchers, and shotguns. For the most part, AOS officers have been incredibly over-equipped for the tasks they are called upon to perform.
The AOS is made up of around 300 or more officers in 17 squads of 12 to 30 officers. Initially intended for extreme situations involving mass shooters, the AOS squads were instead called out roughly every 3 days, usually for routine police work. It is hard to imagine how terrifying this would have been for the individuals involved when black-clad men in full body armor appeared at their door.
Since 2019, using the March 15 2019 shooting as justification, AOS units began conducting round-the-clock patrols in predominantly migrant or Māori communities. Armed to the teeth and riding in black SUVs, these “Armed Response Teams” have caused unprecedented fear and intimidation in the communities they operate within.
Special Tactics Group
While the AOS is staffed by part-time personnel, the STG is an elite group of 32 full-time officers drawn from the AOS. They are the only Police unit to use fully-automatic weapons, carrying MP5 submachine guns. They are also highly integrated into the NZDF, training with the NZSAS and using RNZAF helicopters in their operations.
The STG was infamous for its use against activists in the 2007 Urewera Raids in which the STG terrorised the remote town of Ruatoki for several days, and at one point searched a full school bus with weapons drawn164. The STG was again called on in the bizarre 2012 raid on Kim Dotcom and other Megaupload executives, notable for the fact that an elite militarised unit was called on to conduct a general search warrant in an intellectual property case165.
Some former STG officers are on the record as later going on to join the SIG (Special Investigations Group), a unit which has exclusively targeted leftist organisations.
Given the STG’s historic role as a very large hammer for very small nails, there is a good chance that any new socialist movement, or even another random school bus, will one day have its doors broken down by this crack team of armed specialists.
The Diplomatic Protection Service
The DPS is another fully armed section of the NZ Police, and is responsible for protecting foreign dignitaries and diplomats, as well as the Prime Minister. The DPS is known for being heavy handed in its treatment of protesters, especially when they oppose visits by foreign officials.
The Cook Islands Police Service
The CIPS enforces the New Zealand State’s sovereignty over Kūki ‘Āirani. While nominally independent from some aspects of the New Zealand State, the CIPS is one example of a state agency that is virtually controlled from Wellington. The 100 officers of the CIPS are militarised to a high degree, but reflect their lesser status with regards to the NZ Police in terms of pay, with an annual salary of just $14,000. The CIPS is also the only civilian arm of the New Zealand State to operate a military vessel, a small gunboat mounting a 20mm cannon.
IIIc: Ideological State Apparatuses of New Zealand
Althusser lists the key Ideological State Apparatuses as:166
i. The religious ISA (the system of the different churches),
In Aotearoa this would chiefly mean the Anglican, Catholic, Presbytarian and Methodist Christian churches, with most other religions comprising 1-2% or less of the population167. The Christian right, the main oppositional aspect within this ISA, is small but vocal, primarily aiming to reinforce the state’s oppression of women168.
ii. The educational ISA (the system of the different public and private ‘schools’),
Aotearoa’s schools, as discussed earlier, do not always lend themselves to the cynical framework of analysis provided by the ISAs as they are generally secular, generally apolitical, and provide high basic outcomes169. This is due to the efforts of educational reformers who have had some success in getting colonial counter-narratives into curricula, maintaining strong unions for educators, and pushing for generally progressive socio-culturalist educational theories to become standard practice170. However, the structure of schools, the school day itself, the regressive behaviourist foundation of NZ schooling, and racial-colonial legacies171 all offer challenges, constituting the opposing force within this ISA.
The domestic life of workers and everyday political struggles between family members and friends. This is an important site of political struggle that is often overlooked, but is often invoked in the most abstract terms by traditionalist fascists and conservative-liberals as “family values.”173 This term deliberately flattened and homogenised the diverse family structures of Aotearoa, and put them in service of a conservative political agenda. This tendency can be counteracted by re-politicising family spaces, and raising awareness of diverse families.174
The sovereign-unitary court system, of which we have described throughout the Justice section, which might be presented as a clash between Retributive-Adversarial theories of justice, and Restorative-Non Adversarial systems.
v. The political ISA (the political system, including the different parties),
This is mainly the parliamentary system and the political theatre of two party liberal-democratic systems which offer a choice of either progressive-liberal or regressive-liberal parties every election cycle176. While this is still a site of real political struggle in some cases, it is merely one among many, and over-emphasis on this ISA serves to contain political struggle to its very limited channels177.
vi. The trade-union ISA
This includes the many aspects of political struggle within trade unions which we have discussed in greater detail in the Work and Welfare section.
vii. The communications ISA (press, radio and television, etc.)
The most important aspect of this ISA has come to be the many news sites of Aotearoa, such as the NZ Herald, Stuff, RNZ and the Spinoff among others, and the means of distributing their information via links on social media. Political struggle occurs in this ISA through editorialising and monopolising news coverage, and through opinion pieces (the “commentariat”)178.
viii. The cultural ISA (literature, the arts, sports, etc.).
This includes most aspects of political life not discussed elsewhere. Since humans are intensely social and political beings, art and recreation necessarily become key areas of political expression and struggle. Sports in particular has an incredible history as a space for political struggle in Aotearoa, as exemplified by the Springbok Tour179.
Appendix IV: Illustrations of Māori concepts of power and justice.
These appendices have been compiled based on the works of Matike Mai Aotearoa180, Angela Ballara181, Ranganui Walker182, Michael King183, Joan Metge184, and Ani Mikaere185. Additional definitions were sourced from the Te Aka Māori-English, English-Māori Dictionary and Index, and from the OA Māori Caucus.
IVa. Māori terms vs. common translations vs. full range of connotations in te reo Pākehā.
Relevant Māori Term
Words in te reo Pākehawhich convey the full connotations of the term as it would have existed in pre-colonial society.
Solidarity, Kinship, Mutual strength, Good-faith engagement, Respect for differences, Respectful debate, Desire for consensus, Willingness to make concessions for others’ sake
Lineage, Layered structures, Horizontality, Proper order of being, Recitation of specific genealogies, Balance, Relationship between dualities, Dialectical structures
Seeking reciprocity, Seeking balance, Resolving injustice, Righteous anger, Equitable restructuring, Redistribution of power or possessions
Appraisal of individual interests in relation to a group. Recognition of hapū and whanau interests, Self-determination, Layered distribution of power, counter-sovereignty
Social standing, Mandate, Ability to establish consensus, Ability to interpret wairua, Just representation, The community made manifest within the individual
IVb. A diagram of the relationships between pre-colonial Māori social constructs
This article was originally posted by Karin from Frankfurt iL on the online debate website of interventionistische Linke, a German radical socialist organisation. We greatly appreciate the work of Sabine Schneider from Tangimoana/Manawatu who translated the original text to assist radicals in Aotearoa.
What to do in times of Corona?
Because a virus rattles society what previously seemed inconceivable suddenly becomes possible. A comrade in Frankfurt has given some thought to the windows of opportunity this might open up for the radical left and how it could – and ultimately must – use them.
Welcome to a new reality. We’re not in an exceptional situation that is temporary – even though we might want to believe it. The Corona regulations are not geared towards ensuring that nobody gets infected. This would be simply impossible. Instead, an attempt is made to aim at the small gap between full utilisation and total overload of the treatment capacities and to slow down or accelerate the infection rate exactly to this level. There is no such thing as a current Corona crisis and then a post-Corona time. We are in a cyclical Corona crisis, in which political measures, such as curfews, a ban on contacts, shut downs, a ban on public meetings etc. are likely to be used time and time again at least until a vaccine has been found.
During these On-and-Off times something will form a sediment that is likely to stay with us: Our indifference toward things that are repeatedly introduced and then suspended, our lack of opposition, the logic of actions that anchor in our minds – all this will have a lasting impact on our political stance and our concepts of the political in general.
Some leftists believe the shut-down policy also leads to Corona holidays for us as leftists. Others are constantly busying themselves in local initiatives to establish and broaden solidarity-based supply models. Others try to fight the impending precarisation (through layoffs, debts, uncanceled rent payments, etc.) by looking to put pressure on housing corporations, employment agencies, or argue for a Corona-basic-income. Still others talk about the pros and cons of the state of emergency aka police-enforced contact ban (sic!). What has been neglected so far is foresight. And a fundamental debate about what is currently happening in our society, what potential for conflict lies beneath and/or is being shifted, and how a (radical) left should position itself politically and strategically.
A few ideas to think about, be inspired, and act upon:
Politics are back
In the Corona crisis, everything that couldn‘t even be thought before can suddenly be decided politically. Nationalisation, constraints on the property rights of landlords, abandonment of the Hartz IV1 sanctions regime, to name just a few examples. After 30 years of depoliticising political decisions, politics suddenly returns and we recognise that the world is how it is because it is decided politically. This is important to note, because we often forget this fact. Mainly because it isn’t anchored in common sense.
During the time of the antiglobalisation movement many (not just the left) had the idea that another world is possible, whereas, in fact, everyday life had not changed much at all. In contrast, the situation now is extremely unstable. The enforced restriction of movement could actually bring capitalist globalisation to a standstill. At the same time, the left itself has largely lost sight of the political big picture and is content with demanding the improvement of day-to-day life. We – ourselves – must always insist on politics, on imagining the possible. We must find the strength to reclaim politics. For ourselves and for others.
Many hope that political concessions, such as the so-called “easier access” to “Grundsicherung”2 can’t be reversed that easily and that people won’t allow it to be taken away. Lots of good and justified demands are aimed at this. However, thinking back to the [TN: 2008] financial crisis and the “summer of migration” [TN: 2015], we have seen how the hard-won financial and social relief has been destroyed by the socialisation of debts, the expansion of European deportation proceedings, and the practise of national isolation. We know any progress that now may have been made will not remain because it only came about within the context of an exceptional situation. Wherever money is now handed out a repayment plan is already waiting in the wings. The next thing after coping with the health crisis is not just the economic crisis – but also austerity.
We simply must see this coming and we must prepare for a situation in which, at best, we hold on to achievements and, at worst, join the battles against austerity and try not to lose all of them. For this, we cannot wait for a non-existent post-Corona time. We need to develop a strategy right now.
For these struggles, we must also prepare for a situation in which we will have a heavily restricted infrastructure. Leftist coffee shops, coffee collectives, bars, clubs, companies, festivals, book shops, as well as many medium-sized and small companies owned by migrants – in short: All places where rent has to be paid or debts have to be repaid either will be badly damaged or won’t survive the Corona crisis at all. This doesn’t just mean they are no longer open as social and maker spaces (this may also apply to club rooms), but also that the literature and debates preserved there are no longer accessible. To make matters worse, the funding these places have created for our work will disappear. With it, the last nooks of alternative life (i. e. different life/work combos) will also disappear, or at least reduce. It’s not just the Left, but we, too, will become much more susceptible to blackmail and structural “bourgeoisification” than during the past 30 years. Therefore, we must also prepare to re-grow our backbone and with it the prerequisite for radical subjectivity.
Neutrality as a weapon
An elusive adversary in the above dispute is the ideology of political neutrality. It is one of Neoliberalism’s central anti-communist characters that we have incorporated socially and individually over the past 30 years. This is synonymous with the negation and depletion of the political. Regarding Corona, this means that the drastic and serious measures described above do not appear as political action, as the subject of negotiation and change, but as crisis management. As neutral, even technocratic crisis management.
For us, there are advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is that the current crisis management is explicitly not right wing. This doensn’t mean it cannot become so, nor does it mean that the previous measures were all justified, positive and without alternatives. That’s not what I’m talking about. Crisis management is “neutral” because its foremost aim is to implement and enforce “public health” measures that are deemed reasonable. Of course, what is reasonable can be assessed differently, but is predetermined to be without any alternative by experts, such as the Robert Koch Institute (RKI)3. But of course, this “neutrality” is quickly debunked when Germany decides to stop exporting medical equipment and when it is without question that educational and cultural institutions are the first to be closed – not factories. The neutrality of crisis management quickly turns out to be the neutrality in the logic of capitalist socialisation.
The disadvantage of this “neutrality” is the logic reproduced by this mode. True political action pretends to be pragmatism, insight into necessity, or means-end rationality. The current crisis management is propagated as being without alternatives and the more efficiently it is enforced, the better, and the fewer people will die. China is a role model for unparalleled crisis intervention. Here, crisis management is not designed to be authoritarian, but structurally, it encourages the depletion of politics via the TINA model (“There Is No Alternative”) and thus strengthens tendencies towards authoritarianism. In this mode of “rational and reasonable” measures, politics as political action is no longer visible. These measures appear as immediately obvious, just like the Black Zero4, or the unity of all political parties, the harmonisation of the political sphere, or the downgrading of parliaments to rubber-stamping organisations.
So we experience again how politics happens without it taking place. However – a requirement for rebellion and social change is the idea that political action decides how our society is set up and that everything can be changed. In the Corona crisis, this prerequisite for uncovering the capitalist absurdity – like the profit-oriented health system, flights with empty seats to retain the airline slots, exclusive trade negotiations on the sale of the vaccine, having to work, but not being allowed to visit friends … – might actually lead to something. That’s why we have to deal with it. We must expose the inner workings of the belief in neutrality and actively push it back. Especially in our own minds.
Man does not live on bread alone
The couched goal of the current interventions is to “preserve the highest good: life”. This is a genuinely left-wing position, which so far had to be defended against all those who are now harping on about it. It would be absurd to take offense. Nonetheless, we have to question the idea of the life that is being defended here. Life is more than just survival. For a very long time, the left has criticised Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: First grub and ethics later. Rightly so. In my opinion, a left-wing position must be to reject the reduction of our interests, to reject the notion that life is just survival.
Life always carries the risk of dying and allows measures to reduce this risk, not to take it, or to consciously defy it (bicycle helmet, drugs, high-risk sport, accidents, illnesses, resistance). What we deem important about life is sociality, doing things that bring us joy, fulfillment, pleasure. For a time, we can do without many of them, maybe even all of them, but not permanently, not for months, neither individually nor socially. I’m not saying that Corona is the same as not using a bicycle helmet. I want to show that ensuring survival has a price. One we should name and discuss.
There is no such debate in a political primacy of survival, which is – on top of everything – depicted as being without alternative. For example, a process of situational, but also long-term cultural depletion of society will be accepted (post-Corona, the culture and media will be considerably decimated and look much more mainstream). This, too, will spawn various forms of brutalisation and leave its traces.
At the same time, the mode of socio-cultural restriction is mainly informed by previous ideas of normality, by what constitutes a “normal life”. Physical distancing is much more compatible with a bourgeois existence that consists of work, nuclear family and three friends, than with other forms of living and loving. The current regulations on prohibiting contacts illustrate this. Walking to a partner you’re not married to might have to be justified to the police. But is it any of police’s business how I relate to people? Why should I even justify myself at all? I am being denied the right to analyse and decide. In the policeman’s mind, it’s a question of normativity whether I can see her/him or not. The standard that is applied to the current measures is therefore one we as the left absolutely have to criticise.
This isn’t about refusing to contribute to Corona prevention. It’s about not negating the discrepancy between meeting friends and still going to work in favour of the completed shutdown. Our answer has to be more complex. As a (radical) left we have to start a debate about what a (good) life (for everyone!) means and what socially vital work has to be done to achieve it. Based on this question and in contrast to the previous measures, deliberating and determining appropriate actions would open up completely new lines of discussion – for example, about the questions of reproductive work, or the needs satisfaction not in line with the normality of capitalist socialisation. Such a debate would help us to fulfill our main duty: To open up the space of the political and the utopian. To make it imaginable. To fill it and thus to reclaim it for us and in the minds of everyone.
Moralism, guilt and solidarity
The current debate on Corona is largely moralised and individualised and wants to be free from contradictions. State measures must be followed without question. Or, in some cases, they are completley rejected as Corona hysteria. Both positions have the same attitude, but different points of view. What is lost is the contradiction between solidary practices and physical distancing, between prohibited mutual assistance and permitted paid help from strangers, between working and meeting friends, between solidarity within and solidarity at the borders. What is lost in all this is the moment of careful consideration, which can always have different outcomes. The idea that people are able to consider carefully and have the right to come to different results is replaced by the idea that there shouldn’t be any variance in it. Whoever steps out of line is guilty. This is based on contempt for the masses, which is the assumption that if people deliberated and decided for themselves, the majority would act irresponsibly. We, the left, should not adopt such an approach.
Everyone’s individual responsibility should ensure that the weaker are protected. Thus, we are called upon to show solidarity. Many among the left not only share this appeal, but also actively promote it. #Staythefuckhome pointedly suggests responsibility for the death of others through one’s own perceived self-centered behaviour. This doesn’t mean individual action or behaviour doesn’t matter. It is one of the core beliefs of a left that any action (also individual action) has meaning. Nevertheless. It presents quite a number of problems.
On the one hand, invoking individual responsibility as a hegemonic discourse conceals the fact that our society is set up to be unequal, i. e. not everyone has the same, not the same opportunities, resources, etc. It also hides the fact that the reason why we must currently chose between those who live and those who die (in the case of ventilators) is contrived because it is based on a shortage of goods/services/opportunities/access geared towards maximising profit and competition, and that these goods don’t really have to be scarce. Most people will not die of Corona, but from a lack of material resources, from a lack of hygiene, from a more harmful, because cheaper lifestyle, from a lack of health insurance, etc. The focus on individual responsibility marginalises criticism of the structure of our society. It blames individuals for everything that is to come, thus encourages depoliticisation of the debate and undermines our outlook on change.
On the other hand, the term solidarity is reinterpreted. The leftist idea of solidarity is a collective, indivisible one, which can’t be pitted against each other. By pointing out that solidarity with the weaker consists in giving up individual privileges (to be allowed to go out) solidarity is de-collectivised and (unintentionally) structurally pitted against the interests of other needy groups. Sacrifice is not an active deed of solidarity. Neither is flooding social media with statements. Albeit unintentionally, it undermines the left’s present concept of solidarity. Also, because this solidarity is exclusive and Eurocentric. Not only do calls for help go unanswered from Moria, Rojava or Gaza, who have declared they do not have sufficient resources to deal with Corona – no hygiene products, no ventilators, no staff, no hospitals, sometimes not even running water.
Continuously and structurally, our way and form of life ensure that people die (and not just a few). Our way and form of life demand that we permanently decide and select what is worthy living and unworthy living (at national borders, in camps, in government departments). Governments and the media demand morality and solidarity, all the while the “normal” dying to which we have become accustomed has never sparked solidarity. That they demand it now and with such vehemence exposes what it is really all about: This time, we are the ones who die and the call for solidarity with the weaker is actually an expression of fear for our own survival. This is not the solidarity we mean.
Why is this important? Solidarity is one of the most central terms to explain why we are leftists. It presents us with some major challenges when the social understanding of solidarity changes, or narrows.
So what to do
1. Ability to act. Basically: Keeping our infrastructure accessible, changing and establishing our communication. Creating new co-ordination structures. Speeding up our ability to respond. Learning to completely rebuild left infrastructure.
2. First things first. The lists of demands already exist. We have to use the current situation and use pressure to gain what can be gained and not to lose sight of the coming fight against austerity.
3. Stimulate rebellion. We are used to finding answers for unusual situations. We’re good at that. In other situations, we (in a broader sense) have already shown creativity and the courage for rebellion (claiming back the streets against blanket bans etc.). Now we are faced with a completely new reality. But here, too, are opportunities to overcome the silence. We have to acquire and spread courage and we have to experiment. What about demos with spacers and face masks and gloves. It has never been easier to cover your face. Radio ballet, synchronised forms of running, jumping, a demo without actually staging a demo. Distance mandate and contact ban are observed. And breached at the same time. We also need to gain more experience with digital resistance practices, organise server crashes, etc, without ever giving up the physical public sphere.
4. Orient politically. Filling the blank space of our intellectual and strategic ability for orientation. For ourselves and for others, we have to broaden our horizon and continuously point out what is politically possible and that it is possible. It is important not to repeat the same old discourses, but to remove morality and insert the political. We have to shape an ideological response against depoliticisation, neutralisation, individualisation and blame. We have to create and defend sociality.
So far, the policy of the iL5 is heavily geared towards learning, raising awareness and towards the processes of change in mutual practices, in political processes, in the struggles etc. These processes are taken into our daily life and from there permanently change our view on the world. Nothing wrong with that. At the same time, we know that common sense experience rarely leads to a system of ideological coordinates, but for the most part remain piecemeal and contradictory. This means, although people have good and empowering experiences with us and our iL practices and struggles, the majority does not change the ideological neutrality figure, or the political void. Often, a person doesn’t even perceive or articulate the objectively existing contradiction as such.
It is right and important to continue to relate to social conflicts, i. e. to agents who need us as allies because they lack the collective fighting experience. Day-to-day, however, we must not limit ourselves to this level of common sense, but we must lead an ideological debate against the figure of neutrality and individualisation that is both ostensible and aggressive. This is the only way to address that the issue here is decision making. Rethinking what politics is, that the world is how it is because of active decision making, and that the structure of our society can be decided anew at any time. This is the antithesis of the active depoliticisation of the ideological neutrality figure.
At the same time, we have to focus on the utopian. We must fight for the closure of the camps, asylums, and deportation prisons. We must expose the cruelty of the functionality of capitalist globalisation. We must show utopian, yet obvious alternatives. Nothing less will do.
The content of our Work and Welfare Programme was informed by attendees of two public hui in Auckland and Wellington in November 2018, as well as anti-poverty and labour organisers. This is the second of six sections analysing the state of class warfare in Aotearoa, and laying out a plan for building a movement for liberation and socialism.
Capitalist work practices are alien to Aotearoa, and through indigenous work practices we can give mana to the whenua.
Māori have been working the land for over seven hundred years, and during that time gradually developed sustainable work practices that have been erased through colonialism. Any discussion of work and welfare in Aotearoa begins with an earnest investigation of the practices of tangata whenua.
Everyone should have access to all that labour creates, regardless of work status.
While it is true that workers are entitled to all that we create, the same is true of those who can’t work, or those who are made superfluous. The labour of many is necessary to construct a better world, but our ultimate goal is to reduce the amount of time spent on work while ensuring the prosperity of all.
Automation should serve our needs, not their profits.
No worker should live in fear of losing their job through automation or other aspects of the cyclical crises of capitalism. All automation under socialism is conducted to serve the people.
Our liberation requires the liberation of workers globally.
Any gains of socialism are not just for people in Aotearoa, and are ultimately meaningless without sharing those gains everywhere. If higher standards of living are achieved here, but rely on the subjugation of other nations’ workers through imperialism, then that is no victory for us. Only though opposing imperialism and organising across nations can we emancipate all workers.
Our labour should not be directed towards endless economic growth.
Capitalism is predicated on the idea that markets can grow indefinitely, and there is always a new resource or people to exploit. Economic growth for its own sake must end, as growth and productivity are meaningless to socialism wherever they become disconnected from human need.
Our workplaces should be democratic.
Each workplace is its own petty kingdom under capitalism, with each boss, no matter how benevolent, in total control of their worker’s lives. No society can proclaim to be democratic while this dictatorship exists, and so socialists must always strive for a workplace where workers determine their own fates.
All work that meets human need should be recognised.
Across the world, women toil without wages, without recognition and without reprieve in households to maintain and reproduce labour. These reproductive labourers form one half of the system which allows capitalism to exploit new workers and regenerate the old each day. Even when women are allowed to leave the home and enter the waged workforce, they are forced into underpaid industries, including healthcare and hospitality roles, as a lower stratum of workers. All of this work is valuable to society on a scale equal or greater than jobs traditionally held by men, and our economic system should reflect this.
Wherever there is a human need, there is work.
It is utterly illogical that our society should have an unemployed army of labourers, perfectly willing to work but punished for a lack of accessible jobs. Capitalists require this surplus labour force to fill gaps in the economy, yet workers without jobs are lied to and told they are worthless. In truth, there are as many jobs as there are needs, but only those which serve capitalist interests are deemed worthy of paying a wage. Unemployment is impossible under a socialist society which recognises that the number of workers can rise and fall in proportion to human need rather than profit motives.
The state of work and welfare in Aotearoa.
Note: As socialists our positions on labour and production are extremely important to our proposed political path, and we require solid definitions of all aspects of the economic system. Since so much theory could be written on the subject we have included several appendices that can be found at the end of this section.
Capitalism was brought to Aotearoa in the boats of dozens of explorers, privateers, gun-runners and whalers who settled here, alternately displacing or integrating into established Māori communities, and bringing with them countless diseases that would cause the first series of mass deaths among Māori.
With these frontier men came hundreds of trade muskets; poorly-made firearms that were given in return for the food and hospitality of their Māori hosts. These guns, along with new potato farming methods, and European innovations like slavery and plantation agriculture, caused a technological revolution of greater speed and ferocity than Europe’s bronze-age collapse, migration period and industrial revolution all rolled into one. This massive upheaval in Te Ao Māori, combined with the growing communities of Europeans with their existing developed capitalist society, signalled the beginnings of capitalism in Aotearoa (see Appendix III).
In the century and a half since, capitalism has transformed Aotearoa from a land of great abundance with some of the most egalitarian communities in Polynesia, into one where all of our natural needs are hypothetically met, only to be replaced by needs that have been socially created. We now have the ability to provide even more for each person in Aotearoa, and yet the limitations imposed by markets prevent us from legally providing each person with what they need.
In recent decades, the contradictions in capitalism have become more pronounced than at any time since the Great Depression. In the 1980s, the fourth New Zealand Labour government brought in countless neoliberal reforms in the same vein as those occurring in the US under Reagan and the UK under Thatcher. This was done with the ostensible goal of ending the deficit crisis of the Muldoon government, but in most cases the doctrine of severe austerity, denial of welfare, and minimal spending has remained. Even the global economic crashes in 1987 (‘Black Tuesday’) and 2008 caused no change of policy, instead causing the tightening of austerity and restrictions on worker’s rights.
The resentment and alienation that this particularly unfettered form of capitalism breeds has led to corresponding fascist murmurs. Right-wing parties including ACT, the National Party, and New Zealand First, are leaning more and more into a fascistic support-base, dogwhistling to the alt-right movement. NZ Labour and the Green Party are deeply opportunistic, prone to compromising with the Right, and not up to the task of pulling the pendulum left.
Now as we write in 2019, we are experiencing a resurgence in the workers’ movement, spurred on by a large number of strikes in both public and private sectors. Union membership is up, but is still dismal compared to earlier figures. This bizarre situation has one solution – a revitalised relationship between the socialist and workers’ movements in Aotearoa, so that we may meaningfully address the widening inequality and social collapse we are experiencing.
This programme section details the means by which we hope to contribute to this workers’ movement. We will also talk about the democratic unions, workplaces, and communities needed to bring this about, and the endless cycle of capitalist crisis that necessitates a new workers’ movement.
All of our proposed interventions necessitate massively strengthened unions.
In calling for a renewed economic struggle on every level of society, it is important to note that we exist in a period of severe retreat across the globe, one which is only recently showing signs of rebirth. Union membership plummeted after the imposition of neoliberal economic reforms through the 1980s that were followed by the catastrophic 1991 Employment Contract Act which ended the practice of opt-out unionisation. Union density, which was comparatively healthy at 70% prior to the act, has now plummeted to around 15-20% today. While notable exceptions to the rule exist, especially the large nursing and teaching unions, most unions in Aotearoa have followed the same course as the rest of the capitalist world; a rapid decline into organisations that are incapable of fighting for much more than regular pay raises to account for inflation or cost-of-living increases without actually increasing the buying-power of workers. In real terms, wages have not increased for three to four decades, and this is largely the result of capital’s successful assault on the union movement.
We are not, however, calling for a simple return to how unions might have looked half a century ago. Even when they were powerful enough to fight for meaningful pay rises and worker safety legislation, the unions of yesteryear were not immune to Pākehā chauvinism, and sexist, homophobic and anti-immigrant rhetoric. Despite being at the forefront of many progressive fights, most unions in the period of compulsory unionism existed to provide benefits to a specific strata of workers, to the exclusion of colonised, indigenous, and conquered peoples globally1.
What we require for a reinvigorated union movement in Aotearoa is not an attempt to reclaim a lost social democracy of the past, but a movement for all workers that looks towards the future and has the density and power to back the will of its members.
Strengthening unions from the outside will require considerable time and effort, and will take the form of simultaneous attempts to supplement existing unions and build up other working class organisations. We have to be careful about this process, as even the largest socialist organisations can find themselves totally subsumed by the day-to-day work of union organising, incapable of broad-spectrum organising outside of the economic sphere. Efforts to recruit for and organise with unions have to be carefully balanced with other activities and analysis, otherwise we could find ourselves becoming perfunctory or compromised, and slide into the all too common role of controlled opposition.
We must work to repeal all Anti-Union legislation.
A necessary step in any such programme would be campaigns to repeal specific anti-union legislation such as Section 81 of the Employment Relations Act, which gives an incredibly broad definition of strike action that includes practically any deviation from a normal workday, such as go-slows, black bans on persons or products, work-to-rules (fulfilling the bare minimum stipulated in a contract), reducing normal output and refusing to do overtime. In the past, even media statements from workers that were seen to have harmed their employers’ profits have been considered strikes. While this doesn’t mean these actions are illegal, the effect of this definition is a situation in which workers’ freedoms are severely limited, and nearly any action they may take, spontaneous or otherwise, can be punished with severe fines or by an employer lockout2.
In addition, reason for strikes must always be given, and only 2 reasons are deemed legitimate: a breakdown in collective bargaining and immediate health and safety concerns. A vast number of injustices and violations of employee rights exist as legitimate motives for a strike, but which are deemed illegal under this legislation. In particular, sympathy strikes, strikes for political purposes, such as human rights in other countries, and general strikes (perhaps the greatest weapon of the working class) are all cited as examples of unlawful strike action
Section 82 also gives employers an equal right to undertake lock-outs in order to compel a striking workforce to accept a particular collective bargaining agreement. This results in the shameful practice of capitalists locking out workers and denying them wages, despite the clear difference in power dynamics between harming an employers’ bottom line and harming a workers’ ability to provide food for their whānau. Lock-outs can also be applied to specific workers, in order to break up strikes by dividing the workforce. Scab labour is also effectively legalised provided the scab was already an employee prior to the strike. Scab labour can also be brought in from outside provided the employer can cite “safety concerns.”
Such legislation is a long-term barrier for any workers’ movement capable of providing a real threat to the interests of the capitalists. In particular, laws against solidarity strikes and general strikes deny worker’s their most powerful weapons and only real means of affecting systemic change3.
Unions must become political forums
It has become common-sense in some unions that unions exist primarily to deliver gains to their members, and that any additional political agendas run counter to the purpose of their union and risk alienating their membership. This logic of avoiding risks out of fear of losing our grasp on what few unionised workers remain is based on a flawed understanding of what working people respond to.
Workers are not a homogenous mass of people who care only about their working conditions and income. Workers are fundamentally more varied and diverse in their interests than other classes, as it is in the interests of capital to stratify the working class into subsections with competing interests. Workers are divided in terms of gender, politics, race, income and other means.
While some organisations have sought to either ignore these divisions, or worse still, adopt reactionary rhetoric in an attempt to prevent new divisions from occurring, we recognise that each new division is a response to current material circumstances imposed by capital, and are just as real as our unifying class interest – liberation. Only through being responsive and adaptive to current conditions can we raise awareness of unifying class interests as well as specific liberatory interests.
Unions which navigate this problem by avoiding making political statements outside of the realm of parliamentary politics, out of fear of alienating their base, instead make the mistake of failing to build a base.
Unions in Aotearoa weren’t always like this, and in fact intervened in several historical struggles out of a sense of solidarity4. For example, the Federation of Labour (FoL) acted against the Vietnam War and played a vital role in persuading the Labour Party to take a stronger stance on opposing the war and New Zealand’s involvement in it. In 1976, the FoL imposed a five-week ban on handling cargo to and from South Africa following the Soweto Uprising, just one of many examples of the unappreciated role of unions in the global anti-apartheid movement. In 1978, when Māori land protectors were evicted from Bastion Point, workers in the country’s meat plants walked off the job in protest5.
Only by allying themselves with specific liberatory interests can unions excite workers and convince them that unions stand in unconditional solidarity with them, rather than a purely economic solidarity that exists only to ensure their continued existence.
Unions have also historically been structured along craft/professional lines rather than industrial lines, which has often provided a barrier to working class unity. By unionising workers on craft lines, the union maintains rather than challenges the division of labour within the working-class, contributing to workers identifying with their profession rather than the rest of the class. This allows capitalists to more easily play off different professions of workers during strikes and industrial disputes, where one profession in a workplace goes on strike while the other profession does not. One recent example of this was the difficulties healthcare workers experienced in cooperating with each other during strikes over the past couple of years, in part due to the proliferation of different unions. Separating unions along professional rather than industrial lines was also the main tactic used to crush the largest union movement in Aotearoa’s history, when in 1924 the Alliance of Labour was split up by the First Labour Government who succeeded in forcing the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants to leave the AoL (an inter-industry association) and form the Railway Tradesmen’s Association (a craft-specific association), a split which led to the Alliance’s demise.
By re-orienting unions that have been based on specific professional interests towards solidarity with their respective industries and workplaces, we can work towards a more genuine and viable form of worker solidarity.
Democratic workplaces begin with democratic unions.
While we aim to be of service to any union in need of assistance with recruitment, picket enforcement and strike organising, our allegiance must be to the working members of the union rather than union officials or hierarchies. Across the capitalist world, many union administrations have become professionalised and corporatised in order to become bodies that manage the relationship between workers and capitalists, rather than organisations of the working class which exist to fight for our interests67. This is no accident. Bosses and states know that without political leadership, the economic leadership of the unions can be easily misdirected or constrained into perfunctory roles that exist to moderate only the worst excesses of capitalists. Our role should not be to help prop up any such organisation.
The good news is, the seeds of better unions exist even in the most compromised and corporatised unions around today. The day-to-day economic struggles of workers generates brilliant organisers, agitators and thinkers, such as the crucial but often unacknowledged work of thousands of shop-floor delegates across Aotearoa. Capitalism’s regular injustices provide us with a steady stream of such militants, who through their connections with other workers are able to come to some, if not all, of the correct political conclusions. Attempts to democratise unions via organising the rank and file have already begun in Aotearoa, such the Health Sector Workers’ Network operating within the New Zealand Nurses’ Organisation, and should be supported8.
It is through organising with union members directly, rather than connecting with them only through their management, that unions can be pushed in a more radical direction. Combined with more democratic methods of selecting union officials, we could begin to see unions that are worthy of their members, rather than organisations that stifle and constrain them in places. Through open democratic discussion of leadership we can even make inroads into fighting against reactionary misogynist or xenophobic attitudes that still prevail over some sectors of the union movement, and create unions that are safer for all workers.
Such democratic unions are a necessary requirement for any actions against businesses and the state broader than just those for minor wage adjustments. Once the courage of the most organised and militant workers is reflected in the union movement as a whole, we might see solidarity strikes, strikes in response to political struggles, or even strikes as a tactic for revolutionary agitation begin to emerge.
Where workplaces cannot be legally unionised, informal workers’ associations are necessary.
The neoliberal period of the last 3-4 decades has provided ample opportunities for lawmakers to punish unions and prevent a return to the levels of unionisation required for meaningful worker’s economic power. The National Government’s Employment Contracts Act of 1991 was a fullscale attack on union access and coverage, and was never fully repealed by the following Labour Government, which replaced it with the Employment Relations Act 2000. Specific sections of the working class are much more affected by these laws than others. The ‘Hobbit Law’ imposed for the sake of Peter Jackson and Warner Bros’ film empire, for example, has had flow-on effects that have greatly hampered the unionisation of the entire screen industry, from film to video-gaming.
Although harmful to the movement as a whole, the need to organise outside of the law is not new. Throughout the early twentieth century, certain union activities were de-facto illegal as a result of the close collaboration between the state and business. Strikes in this period were often illegal, and these were often broken up with great violence, sometimes with military or paramilitary assistance. In response to harsh conditions, unions were forced into clandestine modes of organising. One thing that is often forgotten, however, is that organisations using essentially illegal organising practices were still effective at unionising new workplaces. To take a fairly recent example, the New Zealand Prostitute’s Collective (prior to the Prostitution Reform Act 2003) was required to organise using illegal or clandestine methods that were ultimately effective at raising awareness and imposing the political power of sex workers under very difficult circumstances.
A clear path for organising sectors that traditional unions can’t becomes apparent when we consider that socialist organisations not formally linked to any unions are not subject to the same legislation or consequences that prevent unions from more bold activities. We are in a position to be able to hand out recruitment materials to workplaces where union organisers aren’t welcome, and in instances where no union can operate, we are able to make unofficial solidarity organisations.
There are industries which are particularly suited to this practice. Legal but severely unregulated workplaces such as fishery workers, day-labourers, migrant fruitpickers, and even hospitality workers are often not able to organise through conventional means due to the precarity of their industry as a whole, but could benefit from unofficial associations that can organise walk-outs and informative materials. Screen workers are completely prevented from joining official unions, but could clandestinely be organised as associations with the aim of improving conditions and wages through strength of numbers.
Where strikes cannot take place legally, illegal strikes become necessary.
Strikes which are undertaken without notice, or without the official approval of union leadership, are known as “Wildcat strikes.” The Employment Contracts Act 1991, and its replacement the Employment Relations Act 2000, impose a series of severe penalties for unionists who undertake such actions, as well as for strikes in solidarity with other industries, or strikes in support of land rights campaigning and environmental actions (“green bans”). However, potential loopholes exist, and many of these actions are still undertaken or able to be undertaken by courageous union members.
The strength of a wildcat strike is in its unpredictability and its ability to circumvent the normal bureaucratic inertia of an employment dispute process. Bosses know this, and so such actions are heavily repressed as part of a broader trend towards defanging union movements. Unionists are required to give “sufficient” notice before a strike, but this is open to interpretation and should be put to the test. It is also possible to give notice for a long period of potential actions, but only strike on certain days, thereby keeping employers on their toes and preventing them from using the normal strike-breaking methods. Already, unions such as FIRST, Unite, and even the PSA are utilising these tactics.
We recognise though that movements aren’t built just through utilising legal technicalities, and that we also need to openly challenge unjust laws. Socialist organisations that exist outside of unions are necessary for this fight, as if we operate correctly we can give plausible deniability to unionists and prevent them from being incapacitated by fines. Using wildcat tactics, whether this is with the implied approval of leadership or not, will likely be a key element in breaking the deadlock imposed by repressive labour laws and making solidarity strikes and green-bans a legal possibility.
These are not ideas that must be brought in by socialists from the outside – unionists with a social conscience already do most of these things. At the land rights struggle in Ihumātao, unionists acting outside official channels effectively won over traffic management, truck drivers and security workers on the spot, just as unionists were able to do at Bastion Point a generation before. Making connections between these individuals who resist bureaucratising tendencies is important when some union leaders are sometimes more involved in enforcing current labour laws than they are in trying to repeal them.
Momentum can only be built through victories.
We have seen in the past that momentum can only be built from small-scale struggles that increase in ambition with each passing victory. We shouldn’t be afraid of starting small campaigns wherever the overall level of union activity is low, especially in places that are too marginalised or remote to be the focus of major unions. As well as being an active union member in their own workplace, whether or not it is a well organised site, each member of Organise Aotearoa should take a keen interest in supporting workers in other workplaces they are close to. The work of building unions in our own workplaces and building connections between workers close to us should be a priority above other prematurely ambitious projects. The worker’s movement in Aotearoa is inundated with would-be leaders but is primarily lacking in the level of working class self-organisation necessary to push for major objectives.
As in all western nations, our theory is vastly more advanced, or at least more convoluted, than our practice, and our primary goal should be to bridge that gap.
Economic struggles only succeed through coordination with Political and Social struggles.
Purely economic (or “economist”) struggles are doomed to failure, or to redirection into ineffective or liberal strategies. This is to say that a strategy for worker’s rights that is exclusively focused on workplace reforms can never bring about systemic change, as that would require a political and social element in order to be successful.
However under Neoliberalism, all forms of political struggle have become atomised, or separated from one another. Unions are denied the right to strike in solidarity with political struggles, political parties are incapable of improving the role of unions, and social activism has been systematically stigmatised and seen as the realm of the irrelevant, ostracised, or dispossessed elements of society.
This has lead to a situation where we aren’t only in danger of the economic struggle being alienated from the social and political, we’re in danger of all three being incapable of coordination amongst one-another. Part of this lies in the absence of any mass-based socialist organisations with an interest in broad-spectrum activism, but it is also reinforced through laws, social convention, and redirection into ineffective forms of politics and activism.
Overcoming this requires several things: a renewed mass-based socialist organisation, a re-politicisation of unions, an expansion of social activism into worker’s rights, and breaking the stranglehold of parliamentary politics over the union movement.
A programme of direct-action interventions supplements strike actions.
Hard pickets, where workers shut down sites by physically preventing the use of scab labour, are one form of direct-action that is already used by most unions in strikes. Unionists on the ground recognise that hard pickets are by far the most effective way to hurt the bottom-line of employers, and improve their bargaining position. However in Aotearoa, hard pickets are sometimes ineffective due to inexperience, police intervention, and lack of membership density.
Police are not allowed to simply break up a hard picket, but officers will often attempt to do just that, counting on members not knowing their rights9. We have found in past struggles that educating members vastly improves the chances of a picket succeeding on the crucial first day. On the other hand, members sometimes underestimate the rapidity, stubbornness and heavy-handed clumsiness of a Police response, thinking that designated Police-liaisons and negotiations are enough to keep the police from breaking up strikers. Only by matching the police for rapidity of response, strength of numbers, and sometimes stubbornness, can police be reliably countered.
In addition to hard pickets, a programme of direct-action interventions undertaken by groups outside of the union can improve the bargaining position of workers, and expand the possibilities of strike actions. Unions can’t always survive the media backlash and potential fines of undertaking a direct-action campaign of their own, but solidarity groups often can. Direct action in support of unions was once a major part of socialist organising, in particular during the United Federation of Labour and Alliance of Labour period of the last century (c. 1908-1924)10.
Beneficiaries Unions will help us fight for a benefit at the living wage and an end to sanctions.
In prior periods of class struggle and economic depression, unions for the unemployed or those on welfare have been instrumental at keeping unions strong, and class consciousness alive, during periods of high unemployment, despair, and self-interest driven by necessity. In the 1930s, Aotearoa was home to a thriving movement of unionised unemployed workers who organised themselves with the help of socialists, and developed methods of both surviving the tough times, and organising against the capitalist world order that created them. The National Unemployed Workers Movement (N.U.W.M) was created in 1931 in response to an unemployment rate of over 16% and a growing number of rural work camps for the unemployed where conditions were rapidly deteriorating. The N.U.W.M advocated for strikes, pickets, and direct action in response to these conditions, and successfully agitated against growing police violence at the time11.
Whereas a worker’s union fights an employer for increases in wages and workplace safety, an unemployed worker’s union fights against the capitalist state for increases to the benefit and public healthcare. While it doesn’t have the ability to collectively withhold labour, the greatest weapon of a worker’s union, there are other forms of collective action which an unemployed worker’s union can employ, as it is not bound to the same laws as unions, nor are its members able to be threatened by losing work.
The collective bargaining power of the unemployed worker’s union stems from a direct-action campaign aimed at disrupting the normal functioning of government. This can include disruption of government offices, demonstrations, sit-ins, and pickets. However, the greatest strength of an unemployed worker’s union is its ability to build links with the rest of the organised labour movement. These organisations must be encouraged to grow and develop into formidable fighting forces.
We must end the dehumanising, colonial, and punitive aspects of WINZ.
After a trial period in 2012, the Social Security (Benefit Categories and Work Focus) Amendment Act (2013), championed by the then-National-led government, scrapped several permanent benefits and replaced them with 3 main ones. Many beneficiaries found themselves cut off from their usual disability support services, and forced onto unemployment benefits. The Act included many measures against “welfare dependency” as well as a renewed focus on pushing people into work12. This happened at the same time as measures intended to push people away from WINZ offices, and into part-time casual work and the IRD13. This act was closely followed by the Social Security (Fraud Measures and Debt Recovery) Amendment Act (2014), which added to the new, work-focused, and deeply punitive atmosphere of WINZ by conflating welfare dependency with fraud, and making beneficiaries pay for administrative errors out of their own pocket.
These measures are just the most recent in a long line of efforts to punish workers for a lack of jobs, or their disabilities, or childcare requirements. Since the 1980s, successive governments have increasingly penalised anyone for making use of WINZ services, and have considered welfare to be an easy target for austerity, given the bipartisan nature of its dismantlement. Misogyny was also key in selling these policies, as the constructed image of “welfare queens,” and irresponsible single-mums was used to justify extensive punitive and anti-fraud policies. Some of these policies, in-turn, took a misogynistic turn, such as financial consequences for being unable to identify a father, or the extremely harsh potential penalties for entering into a relationship, defined as a mere two weeks of partnership.
On its surface, Work and Income NZ, or WINZ, is meant to provide temporary relief for the unemployed in their search for new work, assist students in their studies, and provide additional assistance to disabled people and the elderly. However, anyone who has spent time in a WINZ office knows there is an additional purpose: punishment.
Various capitalist states have learnt to impose welfare systems upon the reserve army of labour which are by their nature unpleasant, invasive, or degrading for their clients. This is designed to minimise the degree of freedom workers have over the work they take, as desperate people will take any job. If unemployed workers have too much freedom over their working conditions, the reserve army of labour doesn’t fulfil its social function of being able to fill any gap in the labour market.
In addition to this, governments in the neoliberal era are constantly under pressure to cut basic services or privatise them in order to keep up with the debt, trade deal restrictions, and diplomatic obligations imposed by the neoliberal global system. States are increasingly pressured into signing off their right to privatise services, and so there is no means by which this trend can be reversed. The result is rapidly shrinking budgets for welfare globally, and the New Zealand state is no exception. In our lifetimes, these budgets will be slashed again and again, in order to make room for an increasingly spartan state comprised solely of the executive, military and police. We need to fight to retain, deepen, and expand the current system of social welfare, without giving up our vision of its eventual obsolescence.
We should reject regressive, perfunctory or temporary solutions to crises.
Capitalism is locked in an eternal death spiral of crisis, from its beginning until its end. The fact that these crises have never been enough to break the hegemony of global capital is the result of capitalism’s extraordinary ability to create temporary solutions to crisis which are able to delay, but never completely halt, the next crisis.
The mechanism by which crises constantly occur is explained by Karl Marx. In short, periods of rapid capitalist growth, in which the working classes produce huge surplus values for the capitalist class, allow the capitalist class to invest large sums into machinery which assists production. This machinery takes the place of real workers (automation) and so the actual amount of work being put into the end product is reduced. This reduction in the wages being paid to workers then allows even more profit to be created, drawing more and more investment. Paradoxically, this greater efficiency with which the capitalist class can exploit us actually leads to reduced profits. This is because the actual human labour (organic composition of capital) decreases, and more and more machinery (otherwise known as “dead labour” or inorganic capital) of increasing complexity and cost is required to take its place. Overall, this produces a tendency for the rate of profit to fall.
When investors see that there is less return on their investment, they begin to pull their investments away from the industry in the midst of this production crisis, and put it into other areas. This creates a collapse in the industry which leads to greater unemployment, and workers who are now too poor to buy consumer goods. This is a consumption crisis, a situation where the capitalists have too few consumers to buy their products.
Once there is both a crisis of production and consumption, capitalists are neither able to invest in new markets, nor offset this loss with increased consumer spending. When no industries are worth investing in, the capitalist responds by withdrawing all investments. The result is a market crash, as we saw in 2008.
However market crashes aren’t so bad for all capitalists, often they present opportunities to the biggest capitalists where they can buy out their competitors, or hoard their wealth until the crisis is over. They are also able to employ thousands of newly unemployed workers at vastly reduced rates thanks to the rapidly expanding labour market.
As the crash ends, the number of human workers in productive industries rises. Bankrupt companies are written off or bought out by larger ones, who reopen workplaces. Workers go back to their jobs, albeit for reduced wages, and they are now able to resume consumer spending. Fictional capital created through speculation is also written off, further increasing the value of real investment in production.
Finally the cycle starts over, the capitalists begin replacing their new workers with machines, and the mistakes of the past are forgotten.
Of course this cycle isn’t always as clear-cut as that. Most of the time, capitalist states intervene to delay parts of the cycle. Sometimes they increase welfare and spending (this is what is generally termed Keynesianism) in order to delay the consumption crisis, other times they compensate businesses for their lost capital (fictional or otherwise) through huge bailouts at the expense of their citizens. The result is that capitalist crisis isn’t a rule, it’s a tendency. We cannot say that New Zealand will experience crisis this week or next year, but we can say with utmost certainty that economic crisis will happen again, and for easily foreseeable reasons.
Because of the inevitability of crisis, we can’t afford to delude ourselves into thinking that we have somehow escaped the cycle, or that we can escape the cycle while still under the dictatorship of capital. Many socialists in history have thought that through good governance and timely interdictions by worker-influenced states, capitalist crisis can be tamed. We do not believe that any capitalist state can tame crisis, as it is an immutable symptom of capitalism.
Similarly we believe that most ‘solutions’ to crises are a distraction to the workers’ movement, and while they may allow for temporary increases in the quality of life of some workers (often at the expense of others), this is usually meant as a means of appeasing or pacifying movements which would otherwise seek to remove us from the cycle of crisis entirely. Examples of this include appeals to the postwar social democratic compromise between capital and labour initiated by the first Labour government, or similar overseas compromises such as the New Deal or Keynesianism.
We need to constantly analyse and find points of leverage over the capitalist system.
As Marx and Engels said, under the dictatorship of capital “all that is solid melts into air.” By this we mean that capitalism produces environments for us that are constantly changing, where all traditions are eroded, and new ones are created overnight. Our economic situation one day is never the same as the next, and for these reasons, socialists need to be constantly analysing the newest developments in capitalism in Aotearoa.
Our programme cannot account for all possible changes in the economy, or the social relations it creates. We can at this moment make the broadest predictions about the way capitalist futures will unfold, for example we can predict that capitalist crisis will continue to occur so long as there are no massive ruptures in the “base” of our society (the social relations whereby workers are exploited by capitalists). We can predict that the bourgeoisie will go to any and all ends in order to perpetuate itself and avoid the existential threats that come with a crisis. We can’t however, predict the exact ways that the bourgeoisie will seek to avert crisis, other than it will be a mix of stratification, austerity and welfare.
In order to fight the most recent trends and stay ahead of the looming crisis, we need to build workers institutions dedicated to educating ourselves and our comrades about capitalism, so that we can best understand the means by which we can defeat it.
We must fight against attempts to minimise or undermine worker’s victories.
Throughout our history, workers and unionists have fought for basic rights that have outlasted the ordinary cycles of crisis. While some reforms were never intended to last, others, such as worker safety legislation, weekends, right-to-strike laws and more, have survived thanks to the constant vigilance and militancy of workers’ movements.
For this reason we reject so-called “accelerationist” notions of deliberately allowing the existing institutions of the working class to be destroyed by neoliberalism and fascism. Workers do not spontaneously rise up in response to worsening conditions when those conditions are imposed on the bosses’ own terms and without the strident opposition of socialists and unionists. Capitalism’s eventual subsumption by crisis can never be accelerated by our own inaction and passivity, or worse, active support for our own destruction.
Wherever workers’ rights are under attack, we will fight back. Anything less would rightly be seen as a betrayal.
We will combine the economic, political, and social struggles into a revolutionary path.
While it is relatively easy to say what can be achieved by socialists under capitalism, and what could be achieved in a post-capitalist world, it is comparatively harder to say exactly how workers will come to power in a capitalist world. Past movements hold some clues, but ultimately the experience of socialism has to be tailored to suit the specific conditions in each nation. In Aotearoa, our revolution will never be a repeat of 1848, 1917, or 1959. Nor will it be fought by the same sorts of organisations, or charismatic leaders. Each new revolution produces new revolutionaries, and by attempting to replicate the past, rather than learning from or memorialising it, we will only ever come across as out-of-touch and irrelevant to the contemporary movement.
In short, we wish to provide a real, existential threat to the bourgeoisie in the long-term. Not a short spark of revolutionary anger to be snuffed out by police violence, nor a broad movement of workers that is ultimately compromised by placing too much faith in leadership or political candidates. Both “actionism” and “gradualism” have their flaws, but they constitute a false dichotomy and ultimately we need to combine them into tactics that are reactive to current conditions, and pre-empt neither state violence nor working class apathy. Where there is energy for substantive change we will seek it out, and where there is inertia and defeat we will seek alternative paths.
In the earliest stages, we would seek to build up working class institutions on the local scale – tenant unions, workers’ unions, mutual aid schemes, campaign groups and the like. We would add our energies to existing movements for positive change, while not shying away from organising our own movements. Mass action would be supplemented by the direct action of small groups, and vice versa – we see these as neither mutually exclusive nor separable from one another.
While some groups talk of mass movements as ethereal things that arise spontaneously, we understand that they are created by the often unrecognised work of hundreds of people. While it is true that they cannot form at the beck and call of small activist groups, it is also true that mass movements aren’t simply untethered beasts to be ridden atop of. They must be built from the ground up through harnessing the energy and momentum of one another. It isn’t enough to say that history will provide us with opportunities. We have to actively seek out opportunities to put forward a socialist position. If people see a group hijacking a movement they will reject it, but if they see one building it from the ground up, then for them it will have earnt the right to speak with the authority we socialists so often assume.
One tactic alone will never be enough to bring about a structural change in Aotearoa. We can’t march our way to revolution, nor can we blockade our way there. A programme solely constituted of strategies suited to a mass movement is of as little use as a programme that can only be carried out by a cell of dedicated activists. Sensing the moment with humility and respect, we wait for the appropriate time to put forward our ideas to large numbers of people, or retreat from the spotlight, as the case may be.
When working class institutions have been built up to a certain point, we would also put into place institutions for workers to govern themselves. This would begin with services outside the realm of what the capitalist state can provide for workers, such as transformative justice institutions to fill gaps in what our legal system oversees (see the Justice section), or alternatives to collapsing state services, such as mutual aid schemes for those kicked off the benefit. This would be a programme of the gradual delegitimization of the capitalist state through the creation of what is effectively a “government in exile” within itself. We could not hope to somehow totally fill all of the functions of the bourgeois state with all of its resources, but this would provide a degree of community assistance and survival skills in the context of overall economic or ecological crises. Precedents for these “dual power” systems can be found in the various “underground states” that arose near the end of the Second World War – governments of the people formed under incredibly harsh conditions, that managed to partially or fully liberate nations where the bourgeois powers could not. Workers’ dual power has also been implemented during the Russian, German and Spanish Revolutions and the Bienno Rosso14.
We must ensure workplace accessibility and the rights of disabled workers.
Disabled workers make up a large part of the reserve army of labour. They represent many of the lowest-waged workers in Aotearoa, and many are forced out of the workplace completely, without a stable benefit. As many as 90% of autistic workers are unemployed15 even though autism is not considered adequate grounds for a permanent disability benefit. Instead, with the exception of a small number of vision or mobility impaired people, most disabled workers in Aotearoa are expected to find work, despite their extremely low chances of finding any.
Disabled workers find themselves in a maze of conflicting expectations. They are told that self-worth must be derived from their productivity, and yet at the same time they are denied the possibility of meaningfully contributing to society. These contradictory expectations can only be resolved by a shift towards labour conditions that are constructed around abilities, and production for the sake of a wider community, rather than productive output for an employer.
There also exists a phenomenon of capitalist enterprises specifically set up to create “accessible” workplaces, so as to get access to cheap labour from desperate beneficiaries via Workbridge, as well as government subsidies for hiring disabled workers. Overseas this phenomenon has become even worse, with severely learning disabled people being used as sweatshop labour, even in the most developed nations16. Using charity as a cover for exploiting disabled workers is a practice that must be ended for good, and once again relies on the notion that self-worth must be derived from productivity for an employer. Total pay equity, and access to full workplace benefits, is the only way forward on this struggle.
We must democratise production, and provide for all.
For us to achieve control over the work that we engage in and over the products of our labour, we must end the class relations of Aotearoa, where there are workers who engage in labour for the capitalists, those who own and control the means of production. This class division will only end through the democratisation of workplaces.
Over the past 150 years of class struggle, our fellow workers of the world have demonstrated how to democratise workplaces during revolutionary periods. They have done this through seizing ownership and control of the means of production from the capitalist class. This seizure – expropriation – has occurred in different ways depending on the circumstances. In cases where capitalists flee their workplace once a revolution begins, our comrades have taken over the workplaces and establish democratic structures to continue production while also creating socialist relations. Where capitalists remain, fellow workers have engaged in strikes, sit-ins and other forms of non-violent and violent direct action to force capitalists to give up ownership and control of the workplace17.
In this revolutionary period, our fellow socialist political organisations have engaged in direct action alongside the rest of the working-class to ensure the capitalists’ defeat. In addition, they have participated in workers’ meetings and have used their theoretical analysis and political experience to discuss with their fellow workers about what should be done to continue the revolution domestically, spread it globally, and ensure that it results in a socialist society.
Wherever fellow workers have expropriated the means of production from the capitalist class, they have formed workers’ councils. While they have had different names and different structures depending on the revolution (be it communes, Soviets, factory committees, and so on), they have all shared common features. Workers decide what to produce, how to produce, and how to distribute products through directly democratic workers assemblies. In some cases, these assemblies have included not only the workers of that workplace but also service users, consumers, and the community. Given what has previously been said in this section of the programme, we support the latter to ensure the democratic control of production and distribution by the entirety of our class18.
To implement these decisions around production and distribution and to coordinate between different workplaces, our fellow workers in these assemblies have elected councils of delegates. These delegates are different from representatives in that they are given mandates to implement specific decisions. If these delegates fail to implement these mandates, they can be recalled from their position through a majority vote of the workers. Through electing delegates to delegate councils at the local, regional, national, continental and eventually global levels, we can engage in the democratic planning of production, distribution, investment and innovation to serve human needs rather than to make profits for a ruling class19. While we can to some degree predict the political mechanism by which economic decisions will be made democratically, the specific planning mechanisms these democratic bodies will use are dependent on the post-revolutionary material conditions. Various planning models exist which past movements have put into practice, such as “cybernetic” (or automated) planning systems, direct democratic planning systems, or various mixed systems20.
If workers around the world are able to join together and abolish the capitalist world system, the result will be a final stage of socialism, where there will be no states or classes, as the means of production will be owned in common under democratic control. In this system, production will be for use, and distribution will be according to need without using money or markets. The ultimate goal of socialism will be to ensure the free and full development of the capacities of everyone so that we may all satisfy our needs, wants and desires in harmony with the rest of the earth.212223 Though it will take an immense, unprecedented, effort to get there, this is our ultimate goal.
Appendix I: Class characteristics of Aotearoa.
Ia: The “déclassé” elements and “Industrial Reserve Army.”
We reject wholly the notion that there exists a “lumpenproletariat,” a term used by historical marxists to describe a parasitic class of people who have no class-consciousness, and exist by leeching off the working classes. These “lumpenproletarians” were, according to earlier writings of Marx and Engels;
“…Vagabonds, discharged soldiers, discharged convicts, runaway galley slaves, swindlers, charlatans, lazzaroni, pickpockets, tricksters, gamblers, procurers, brothel keepers, porters, literati, organ grinders, rag-pickers, knife-grinders, tinkers, beggars; in short, the entirely undefined, disintegrating mass, thrown hither and yon…”
These classless elements were vestiges of the class-relations of Feudal societies, aligning with the lower parts of the ruling classes to disrupt or repress worker’s movements. Whether such a class existed in Aotearoa is beyond the scope of this Appendix, though some have identified this class with the strikebreakers brought in to quell the great strikes of 1913 and 1953: rural workers given a stick and an above-average payslip to beat up industrial workers. It is the unpredictability and ease with which such a class could be bought out that concerned earlier socialists, but it is this fear and hatred of the “lumpenproles” that has meant that much of the written material produced about them has an uncomfortable similarity to the ways current conservative writers describe the unemployed, disabled, and segregated parts of society. This is a similarity of form rather than content, as although we can’t fault the socialists of Aotearoa’s past for fighting with such mercenary strikebreakers, we should recognise the danger of using such rhetoric in current conditions.
It’s also true that there no longer exists a class of rural Pākehā day-labourers willing to come down to the towns to beat up unionists for a sack of money. Marx was correct when he described such people as a class that originated out of antiquated feudal labour-relations, and just as Aotearoa has no peasant class, we have no class that could be called a “lumpenproletariat.” To use this archaic rhetoric now would be to invite reactionaries, conservatives and fascists into the movement, as they would waste no time in using our terminology to attack beneficiaries, sex workers, prisoners and the formerly incarcerated, immigrants, Māori, and disabled people.
Instead we need to look to a different aspect of socialist analysis to describe people excluded from normal class relations. A tradition more concerned with understanding the position of unemployment and immigration in the grand scheme of worker’s oppression than it is with further ostracising poor people.
By 1867 Marx was no longer describing classless people using moralistic, and at times reactionary terms, but was instead focusing on the legislation and economic conditions that forced workers into destitution, and the role that this class was forced into in order to devalue the wages of all workers. This class was the “Industrial Reserve Army,” a group of erstwhile workers who were forced into unemployment so that they may fill gaps in the workforce in times of plenty, and work for little to nothing in times of hardship. This class of people was forced into a contradictory condition in which they are both required by capitalists in order to give some flexibility to economic conditions, while at the same time ostracising them and blaming their work ethic for their condition. We see this now in reactionary news sites and their constant attacks on beneficiaries and disabled people, blaming them for laziness while never acknowledging the simple fact that there are vastly fewer available jobs than there are unemployed.
This class of people is essentially indistinguishable from other workers, despite forming the lowest strata of the working class. We will go over the other strata in the next part of this appendix.
In addition to workers who can’t work, there are also people who are incapable of work, or denied normal work through employment conditions, abuse, oppression, conviction, and immigration status. Such people in unsteady work or on benefits deserve our full support and should never be ostracised or separated from worker’s struggles. The discriminatory policies of Work and Income NZ, Immigration NZ and successive neoliberal governments are the primary site of struggle for such people and it is in the interest of all workers to see these repressive institutions destroyed. We will go into more detail on workers with convictions, immigrant workers, and Māori workers in our sections on Justice, Internationalism, and Decolonisation respectively.
Socialist thinkers such as Franz Fanon revived the the discourse around classless people in the middle of the twentieth century, breaking with tradition in describing this class as “ready, capable and willing to revolt against the colonial status quo for liberation.” He identified a different form of classlessness that existed in colonial societies, which was different to the more unpredictable classlessness that existed in Western nations, one which was in the process of transition into industrial working class relations through coercion by imperialist states.
The state of New Zealand, as a settler-colonial nation, is in a special position with regard to where we sit in the divide between Core and Periphery, Coloniser nation and Colonised nation, First and Third world, etcetera. Contained within us is a contradiction, a racial segregation whereby several different living conditions, or several different “worlds” exist, which interact with modern imperialist finance capital in different ways. This has produced what some thinkers have called a “Fourth-World” society, wherein nations of Māori and nonwhite immigrants exists with segregated living conditions in an otherwise First-World society.
This segregation has produced a situation in which a nonwhite, colonised “déclassé” element has a national interest in revolution, and engages in this struggle out of cultural and economic reasons. This is not to say that Māori and immigrant communities are not without contradiction, or without individuals with an interest in upholding colonialism (see Appendix IV), just that the nonwhite déclassé and nonwhite workers have a unified interest in creating an anti-colonial, anti-imperialist, and revolutionary society in Aotearoa.
Ib: The working class in Aotearoa.
Most socialists can agree that the working class in any capitalist society is comprised of workers who sell their labour to an employer, and receive a wage in return. However the nuances and contradictions of what the working class is have never ceased to divide socialists. Given the huge amount of misinformation about what constitutes the working class, it seems easier to start with what the working class isn’t:
i. The working class isn’t just industrial “direct” producers:
Workers that directly take part in the manufacturing industry are increasingly rare in European and settler-colonial nations, as these industries are usually outsourced to the cheap labour of nations subject to imperialism, or are heavily automated so as to reduce the number of waged labourers. As a result, most workers in Aotearoa exist to support direct producers through reproductive, supplementary, or administrative labour. These are known as “indirect” producers, although their jobs are often just as difficult, unsafe and subject to petty tyranny as direct producers. To create a mass-based socialist organisation means working with both direct and indirect producers, rather than idealising one or the other as “real workers.”
ii. The working class isn’t predominantly white, or male.
Sometimes, reactionary writers refer to the working class, with the implied assumption that they are referring exclusively to white people or men. Anyone who has spent a second in the labour force of Aotearoa knows how ridiculous this assumption is, and yet it persists.
iii. The working class isn’t only the employed.
As we discussed in Appendix Ia. the working class overlaps with non-workers, in the form of a labour reserve, or unemployed workers who are willing to work, but have been forced out of employment due to the constant expansion and contraction of the capitalist economy. In addition, many workers, especially women, perform countless hours of domestic labour without pay, even though this reproductive labour contributes towards direct production (See Appendix V.).
iv. The working class isn’t exclusively poor.
The highest stratae of the working class often convince themselves that they have transcended class, and have become “middle class,” even though this term is essentially meaningless. Workers with savings, some invested capital, strong support networks and several safety nets are rare, and frequently the furthest from class consciousness, but are still workers insofar as they sell their labour to an employer and receive a wage in return. These stratae of workers are often given privileged positions at work, or have convinced themselves that they are “self-employed” when in fact they are just contract labour. At times they are given what anthropologist David Graeber calls “Bullshit Jobs,” relatively meaningless jobs which perform reflexive labour, ie. jobs which exist to ensure other workers do their jobs, such as administrative or management jobs. These exist to marginally increase productivity, but also as a form of corporate welfare which allows capitalists to delay the consumption crisis in their industry by increasing the buying power of workers (see Appendix IIb.16)
v. Working class isn’t a cultural identity.
Another way in which class position is obscured is through the reduction of classes into a handful of cultural signifiers and measures of intelligence. Working class identity has become strongly associated with certain countries, socio-economic areas, or even accents, while other countries, especially settler-colonial nations, are seen to have transcended class by overcoming traditional cultural signifiers of class. On the other hand, class can also be seen to be something that is negated by possessing characteristics of another, for example: a worker stops being a worker the second they rent out any capital. Both of these understandings of worker-identity are deeply vapid and flawed – a worker is a worker insofar as they perform labour for a capitalist, and a capitalist is only a capitalist insofar as they reap the benefits of investment. Various shades of grey exist in between, and are best understood through seeing work as an act rather than and identity.
Part of the confusion about what a worker is stems from the fact that the working class is the most diverse, divided, and distracted of all the classes in a capitalist society. Part of this is due to deliberate or unconscious misinformation by the ruling classes, and part of it is due to the autonomously-occuring divisions in social, economic and political relations that arise out of technology and the ephemeral nature of capitalism.
It is extremely easy for socialist organisations to adopt reactionary rhetoric when they see fissures and divides forming in the working class. Some react by blaming social phenomena on ruling-class conspiracies, while others react by adopting “class-reductionist” politics where existing divisions in the working classes are ignored. In both cases, such organisations ironically deviate even further from the path to a unified working class by blaming other stratae of workers for the divisions imposed upon them.
The autonomous process of capitalism, such as the need to undercut wages, as well as deliberate or unconscious efforts by the ruling class, produces a tendency whereby workers are divided into stratae based on aspects of their identity, with very little mobility between stratae.
In Aotearoa, this stratification is overwhelmingly based on immigration status and ethnicity, thanks to the settler-colonial nature of the New Zealand state. Low-quality healthcare and hospitality jobs are overwhelmingly filled by women and migrants. Industrial labour and work in trades is overwhelmingly performed by poorer Māori and Pākehā men. Intellectual labour, administration, and other white-collar jobs are the exclusive domain of the highest strata of Pākehā workers, with a small amount of room for minorities with prestigious degrees.
These stratae are obscured by overlapping divisions and occasional exceptions to the rule. The biggest exceptions to this stratification are in entertainment and the arts, where diversity is consciously or unconsciously promoted to further obscure the situation.
In all of these cases, we believe that the path to uniting people based on their class position, rather than their specific experience of oppression or their strata within their class, lies not with ignoring differences between workers, nor with valourising, idealising or othering the working class. Workers are contradictory, and contradictions shouldn’t be overlooked – racism, sexism and other oppressions within the workers’ movement are extremely divisive in the long term, and it is absurd to claim that pointing these divisive elements out is itself divisive. Movements which have excessively valourised or idealised groups of workers, or worse still, idealised their imperfections, have always ended in failure. Talking to people where they’re at, and dealing with contradictions when and where they arise (rather than preemptively or belatedly), has always proven to be a better strategy.
We must also be careful not to prioritise the needs of the higher stratae over the lower, or over the needs of international workers. The higher stratae of workers in the developed capitalist world are easily deluded into thinking that their interests lie with international finance capital’s ability to continue the oppression of workers in poorer nations, or perpetuate colonial relationships in settler-colonial states. Even more insidious is the idea that workers in developed nations can achieve their goals through the creation of effective welfare states and strong unions without resolving the contradictions of imperialism. We consider this to be false: imperialism created the conditions for marginally better treatment of workers in European or settler-colonial nations, but a victory won at the expense of others is no victory at all.
Ic. The ruling class, or Bourgeoisie.
Compared to the cultural, ethnic, gender, political, and moral diversity of the working class, the ruling class is vastly more homogenous. The ruling class are those who own the means of production, whether directly as in the case of medium-large business scions or indirectly as in the case of large investors. While they constantly compete amongst themselves, they stand united and with total class-consciousness when it comes to pushing back against economic threats from below. Their totalising cultural norms are a mish-mash of ideas pilfered from the Feudal aristocracy and modern working classes alike, while their form of morality is presented as universal values, stripped of historical context, or meaningful alternatives. Their world is one denuded of history, culture, and vision, and they can only continue to exist by stealing ideas, cultures, economic value, and meaning from those below them.24
In Aotearoa this class, as in all other capitalist countries, is vastly over-represented in politics and media, and all efforts are made to normalise the extreme disparity between their worldview and ours. Challenges to their free-reign over all that exists, such as Māori land rights or worker’s movements, are quashed with violence and extreme prejudice.
In Aotearoa, as in other settler-colonial states, the existence of the ruling class is minimised wherever possible, with individual members taking on cultural aspects of working class people and downplaying the impact of their wealth. The differences between the individual members of the bourgeoisie, their companies, and the labour of their employees, is similarly downplayed through oblique references to the desires, needs, and social necessity of the “business community.” It is seen as completely benign for this community to directly influence media, politicians and others when in actual fact this is the enforcement of the dictatorship of capital.
If we are to survive the next few decades, this parasitic class’ rule over us must end.
i. On the Petty-Bourgeoisie
There also exists a specific subsection of the Bourgeoisie that deserves its own mention because of the differences in its interests and approach to workers rights. The Petty-Bourgeoisie refers to small-scale capitalists, landlords, and others who profit off the labour of others, but who may sometimes struggle, or partially support themselves with their own labour. Examples of these may include landlords who work for a living but possess second houses for supplementary income, dairy owners who employ their family members, or small-scale farm owners who may have a few seasonal labourers, but no sizeable workforce or secondary properties.
It is difficult to put a finger on exactly where a person ceases being a member of the petty-bourgeoisie and enters the bourgeoisie-proper, as there is no concrete distinction aside from the size of their investments and workforce. The distinction is further complicated by the fact that many petty-bourgeois individuals think of themselves as working-class because of cultural affectations, while members of the working class believe themselves to have entered the petty-bourgeoisie because they are self-employed or independent contractors (who sell their labour and are economically exploited like anyone else). They are also sometimes confused with the professional-managerial class, another intermediate class which in actual fact is a slightly elevated strata of the working class.
The petty-bourgeoisie has areas in which its interests intersect with both bosses and workers in some places, but in other areas their interests are totally distinct. They are some of the worst abusers of workplace rights and safety legislation, as well as child labour laws. This is because the petty-bourgeoisie often employs their own friends and family, and will use personal relationships as leverage in a way that the more distant big-time capitalists will outsource to managers. For these reasons, the petty-bourgeoisie is often the first to oppose any change in workplace laws, as these have a more pronounced impact on their bottom line, which bigger employers can usually take in their stride. In other areas, the petty-bourgeoisie may have interests which align with workers, such as opposition to monopoly capitalism and its child, imperialism, albeit often with nativist or reactionary undertones.
For these reasons, a revolutionary movement may sometimes exploit the contradictions between the petty-bourgeoisie and the big-time capitalists. Under very specific circumstances workers movements, typically those in the global south, have even made alliances with sections of the bourgeoisie (creating a National Bourgeoisie, a section of this class opposed to the imperialist-aligned Comprador Bourgeoisie). However, in a settler-colonial context such an alliance is fraught with danger due to the nativist, reactionary, and anti-immigrant rhetoric that so frequently accompanies petty-bourgeois opposition to outside influences.
In Aotearoa there have also been frequent calls for an alliance between workers and farmers, based on the idea that the agricultural petty-bourgeoisie somehow has fundamentally different interests to the rest of their class. This is based partly in an appeal to the historical alliance between the workers’ movement and the peasantry, however to identify the modern agricultural petty-bourgeoisie with a semi-feudal class of tenant farmers is ahistorical to say the least – our solidarity is with farm labourers and the rural poor, rather than the farm owners themselves.
Appendix II: The nature of production in Aotearoa.
IIa. The nature of the New Zealand Economy
As a settler-colonial state, the New Zealand economy doesn’t fall neatly into commonly used national categories of development, such as “undeveloped,” “developing” and “developed.” These categories tend to refer to primarily agricultural, primarily manufactorial, and primarily service economies respectively.
Another commonly used method of economic categorisation is demographer Alfred Sauvy’s Three Worlds Model (often confused with Mao’s Three Worlds Theory which we will not discuss as it pertains mainly to mid-century China), which splits the world into the First World, composed of western nations, the Second World, at the time composed of Soviet-aligned nations but which now commonly refers to “developing” nations like China, and the Third World, composed of all other nations. Again Aotearoa’s situation is more complex, and we would do well to understand Chief George Manuel’s concept of a “Fourth World” when referring to Te Ao Māori, which is to say a nation within a “First World” settler-colonial nation with Third-World living conditions.
These systems of categorisation insufficiently address the conditions in settler-colonial states, which have economies somewhere between First and Third World or Developed and Undeveloped nations. These economies are based in the exploitation of colonial peoples, through land expropriation, as well as the exploitation of imported colonial labour throughout the early stages of development. Like European nations, they have high standards of living and technological development, but not through their own means, rather through historical client-state relationships to powerful Empires. In Aotearoa, this took the form of our relationship to the British Empire until the Second World War, and with the United States since 1951.
In European First World nations, a comfortable level of development was achieved by the ability to delay consumption crises by offloading large surpluses onto the colonies, which could absorb excess savings. In Settler-Colonial nations this same process happened internally, as states were able to offload surpluses by investing in developing new land and oppressing indigenous peoples to acquire more.
Finally, Settler-Colonial nations have continued to be subservient to European capital, or the capital of more established Settler-Colonial nations such as the United States. This has continued well past the period of direct colonial control into the present, but this is an economic rather than political relationship that is reflected in the types of industries present in New Zealand.
Since pre-capitalist times, states have expressed their domination of others through outsourcing primary industries to remote client states. The Romans outsourced their grain supply to Ptolemaic Egypt; the Portuguese Empire outsourced their agriculture to Morocco, and now Australia and Europe outsource much of their dairy industry to New Zealand. This is because secondary industries (manufacturing) produce products with a greater amount of labour time invested into them, while the primary industries which extract the resources necessary for manufacturing, or the food required for workers, often take up huge tracts of land with relatively little return on investment.
While the composition of the settler-colonial economy is quite similar to that of a Third-World or undeveloped nation, with its emphasis on agriculture, the living standards for the highest strata of workers and the bourgeoisie is comparable to European nations. This is because the Settler-Colonial economy pushes the more unenviable jobs on indigenous peoples and immigrants, who often have vastly subpar living conditions, or are denied access to basic services. Through this mechanism, as well as the tendency towards stratification of the working class in order to reduce wages (see Appendix Ib), Settler-Colonial economies are able to maintain the cultural expectation of First-World conditions by creating an invisible “Fourth World” of racialised or colonised labour.25
IIb. Primary, productive and indirect productive industries in Aotearoa
The following is an analysis of key industries which are relevant to workers’ movements in Aotearoa, due to acute struggles within the industry, or the key roles they play in the New Zealand economy. We have separated these into primary industries (those concerned with resource extraction), productive industries (industries which produce commodities), and indirect productive industries (those which are involved in the social reproduction of labour, or which somehow support the production cycle or the state).262728
Primary (extractive) industries.
Agriculture is a key industry in Aotearoa as it is the 7th largest employer, and 10th largest industry, but also the most rapidly shrinking industry, with constant value losses of a quarter of a billion between March and June 2019, and volume losses of two thirds of a billion.
In the past, socialists in Aotearoa have incorrectly assessed small-holding farmers to be a revolutionary class in the same vein as the peasantry was in early 20th century movements. We hold this to be ridiculous, as most farmers are still employers and small-scale capitalists, albeit ones who are at risk of being pushed into the proletariat. We predict that the shrinking of agricultural industries, which has continued over the last few decades, will cause increased urbanisation and strain on the already delicate housing market, along with increases in rural poverty and the devastation of smaller communities. We must prioritise the needs of newly unemployed rural workers rather than their defunct employers during this transition. History shows that disaffected rural youth can easily be led in the direction of fascism, and while socialism remains contained to the cities, the countryside is left open to fascist organisers and opportunists who will rejoice at our inability to connect with people across the town/country divide.
In doing so we should not make assumptions about the degree of traditional conservatism amongst rural workers. It is no longer the 1930s, where white New Zealanders worked on small farms with minimal assistance. In 2019 agriculture is a mass employer of many immigrants and Māori workers whose interests align with ours, if only we apply correct and relevant organising tactics to their workplaces. The greatest mistake would be to assume a degree of reactionary rhetoric in the countryside by misidentifying our base with the former rural landowning class.29
Like other countries in our region, mining in Aotearoa is a very small employer with roughly 5000 workers. It is also a massively profitable industry with an annual revenue of $2.4 billion. This, as well as the vast level of capital investment in mining, implies to socialists that the rate of exploitation in this industry is extremely high.
Like Australia, our mining industry has a relatively low rate of unionisation due to high wages and employee benefits. Perhaps paradoxically this is because of the extremely high rate of exploitation in mining due to mass automation and a corresponding increase in productivity and low number of human workers.
The results of this low level of unionisation have been catastrophic, with mining disasters such as Pike River in 2010, which took the lives of 29 workers, directly caused by inadequate safety and inspection regulations. There are simply no workers institutions which are able to push for better safety laws without an increase in mining unionisation.
The task for socialists is difficult, as mines are often remote, closed to organisers due to safety restrictions, and out of contact with unions. We must politically agitate for better treatment of these workers, and remember that even though workers might be well paid this doesn’t mean that they are not being subjected to extraordinary exploitation.
Fisheries are a growing industry in New Zealand despite the extraordinary environmental damage they cause. Officially, fisheries are a relatively large employer, with a tidy profit of $2.2 billion annually, but these official figures don’t take into account the massive foreign fishing fleets based here, especially huge ocean going trawlers from South Korea and Japan which fish in international waters.
Since so much of the industry takes place in heavily unregulated places, out of sight of law enforcement or unions, there can be no doubt that the dismal conditions reported by fisheries workers are merely the tip of the iceberg. Everything from slavery to sexual assault has been reported on these ships, with a major scandal from 2012 to 2014 resulting in marginally improved fishing regulations.30
Locally owned fisheries are somewhat better than foreign trawlers, with many owned by Iwi (see Appendix IV). However given the extraordinarily poor history of workers’ rights on the high seas, these should never be free from the scrutiny of socialists. We must make connections with fishery workers and ensure that the level of abuse that has come to light over the last decade is never repeated.
Forestry, as well as its associated manufacturing industries such as paper, wood, and furniture, is an important industry, employing a sizeable portion of the rural workforce and powering some of the few industries with their entire production cycles taking place in Aotearoa. However like the other primary industries it has a negative effect on the environment, and relatively poor work safety and work quality.
The forestry industry has also managed to secure massive stimulus packages from the Labour government under the guise of “environmental” legislation. The “One Billion Trees” policy exists primarily to benefit large pine plantation owners, with insubstantial incentives for switching to native plantation trees like Manuka. Meaningful changes in forestry must include the establishment of better work safety legislation, and making pine plantations considerably less common.
Like mining, petroleum is a small employer with massive profits, implying a greater level of automation and exploitation in the industry. The industry is largely based off the coast of Taranaki where off-shore rigs were developed from 1968, however Aotearoa is home to one of the world’s oldest oil industries with the first land-based rig opening in 1865.
The location of this industry in Taranaki has naturally caused a great deal of conflicts with local Taranaki Iwi, some of the most historically downtrodden Iwi in Aotearoa. Recent oil prospecting licenses imply that the industry will soon rapidly expand across many previously untapped areas. When that time comes, socialists must stand with Māori leaders against this extremely devastating and invasive industry.
Due to the deleterious effects of oil and gas on both the environment and indigenous communities, our efforts should be put into advocating for a transition to industries with transferable skills, such as offshore wind-farming.
6. Materials manufacturing
The bulk of the traditional manufactories in New Zealand, of the type that Marx would have been most familiar with when discussing the relations of production of the 19th century, are simple factories for processing materials, such as plastics, metals, textiles, wood and food manufacturing.
These are simple to understand industries where a raw material in taken, worked upon by both living workers and “dead labour” (machinery) thereby adding additional value to the end product. This end product is then sold for a value greater than the total sum of wages paid to the worker.
Since this is a process that allows for easy explanation of why and how workers are exploited, manufactory workers are natural allies of socialists, so long as we don’t make the mistake of mischaracterising them as the blue-collared, overalls-wearing white male workers of Dickensian fiction. Manufactory workers are also the source of some of the key private-sector strikes of recent years, such as the Sistema plastics strike in 2018.
Overall we can expect manufactory workers to retain a high level of militancy, especially when socialists make active efforts to organise with them.
7. Machinery manufacturing
Machinery manufacturing is a considerable industry in Aotearoa, which covers the creation of machines like tractors, cranes and factory tools. The mechanics by which these are created is similar to the process described above for materials manufacturing, except instead of the end products being made into products to sell to consumers, the products are sold to other capitalists to be used in production. These constitute the “means of production” which we socialists so often express our desire to seize.
Another common phrase used by socialists is to “build up the productive forces” of a country, by which we mean producing enough of these productive machines so that all workers may have access to the means by which we can provide for everyone. One of the few benefits of capitalism is that it allowed us to develop these productive forces, which we now seek to put to use for all people, rather than just capitalists.
Indirect productive industries.
8. Healthcare and social assistance
Healthcare and social assistance is the largest employer in Aotearoa, with roughly 190,000 to 200,000 workers in the industry. It encompasses all stratae of the working class, from relatively well-paid doctors, professional nurses, to a largely immigrant labour force of aged-care workers, precarious workers in in-home care services and support work.
As a result there are many contradictions among healthcare workers, and many false antagonisms that are exploited by their employers. They are also represented by unions which consider themselves to have different interests, and different strategies when it comes to dealing with bosses.
However, no one doubts the necessity of this work, or the often courageously self-sacrificing nature of many healthcare workers. Unfortunately it is this nature that has often made organising for fair deals difficult, as employers are able to moralise over the fate of patients.
Basic wage improvements are a priority for socialists willing to fight for this heavily exploited workforce, as our healthcare workers are horribly underpaid compared to other nations like Australia. Healthcare has been the site of both public and private sector strikes in recent years, with many workers becoming militant in the face of failed negotiations. This is a key area of interdiction for socialists as we are able to offer structural reasons behind the difficulties faced by frustrated healthcare workers.
Retail is the second biggest employer in Aotearoa with roughly 190,000 workers. Tasked with selling the end result of productive industry, retail workers are often paid minimum wage in casualised and precarious jobs.
Retail also has a low rate of unionisation thanks to the relatively high turnover of workers. This makes the creation of lasting links between unionists difficult.
Raising public awareness, and pushing for legislation to limit the casual nature of retail work, work begun during the Zero-Hour contracts campaign of 2015, seems to be the priority for socialists looking to organise in this industry. Better union representation is a prerequisite for more direct interdiction in this industry, and limits on casualisation are a prerequisite for better union representation.
10. Scientific and Technological services
Scientific and Technological services are the fourth largest employer, and largest industry in Aotearoa by GDP. This reflects the extremely high level of automation and complexity in an industry primarily concerned with computing. As we have learnt in looking into other industries, this implies a greater level of exploitation among the workforce – higher wages are paid to compensate for the huge values created for employers, while lowering the chances of a corresponding rise in unionisation.
Tech industries are often poorly represented in the unions movement, and sometimes ignored by socialists. This is perhaps because of the very indirect nature of their relationship to production–If they ‘produce’ only immaterial lines of code, how can they be considered as workers?
This misconception is based on two things – an incorrect understanding of what materiality is (computing data is still represented by tangible physical phenomena within the computer, even if we can’t see it), and an incorrect understanding of indirect productive work. Tech workers are often key components in developing the means of production through software for productive machinery, or assisting with administrative aspects of industry, or assisting with social reproduction of labour.
In Aotearoa some parts of the tech industry, especially those connected to film or gaming, are categorically denied the right to unionise thanks to the “Hobbit Law” which prohibits the unionisation of all screen industries. Repealing this law would seem to be a priority for socialists wishing to organise in this industry.
Education plays a crucial role in the social reproduction of labour. It is the place where workers are trained in the use of basic workplace skills to assist with their employability, and are ingrained with a bit of bourgeois morality and ideology. However aside from these functions, education also has a positive impact on many workers’ lives, as through education the span of acceptable social mobility under capitalism is broadened. The teaching profession also attracts a certain type of genuine idealism and progressiveness that can at times counteract the more cynical side of the education system.
Organising among teachers and students is an excellent way of harnessing the boundless energy of younger generations, however there are also some pitfalls for organisers. Past socialist organisations have become too invested in university politics, becoming distanced from the wider political world. On other occasions, they have poached young students to join organisations, without fully explaining what they are getting into before using their energies.
Any socialist organising in the education system must be primarily based around improving conditions for teachers, improving the quality and distribution of services, and counteracting harmful ideologies within educational spaces. If we are to organise with students, then let it be in support of their own initiatives such as the School Strikes for Climate, rather than our own.
Construction is the 6th largest employer, and 4th largest industry by GDP in Aotearoa. The conditions within the construction industry are best understood in relation to the housing crisis (see the Housing section).
The construction industry in Aotearoa is experiencing a boom thanks to the housing crisis, but with this expansion, the industry has not seen a corresponding rise in unionisation. A construction union comparable to the militant CFMEU in Australia is nowhere to be seen, and construction workers continue to experience poor pay, safety standards, and casualisation.
As a growing industry it is of a high priority to socialists seeking to organise precarious workers. Aotearoa has vastly poorer conditions for construction workers compared to our neighbors, and socialists must fill the void left by the relative absence of unions in this industry.
13. Transportation and Warehousing
Transport and warehouse workers work for the 11th largest employer, and 8th most profitable industry in Aotearoa. This industry is concerned with the transport and storage of industrial goods, such as the massive quantities of raw resources we export, and the considerable produce from manufactories.
It is also an industry with a historically high level of militancy. Waterfront workers, perhaps the most important transportation workers, were at the helm of two of Aotearoa’s biggest and most militant strikes: the 1913 Great Strike and the 1951 Waterfront Strike, both a source of massive confrontations with the state which nearly brought the capitalist system to a standstill.
As with most other historically militant workforces, transport workers have been subjected to sweeping automation, stratification through immigrant labour, and casualisation.
This was a crucial conquest for the New Zealand bourgeoisie, as transportation workers have access to crucial “nodes of production” such as port facilities, warehouse districts, airports, and more. The bulk of New Zealand’s resources, consumer goods, and machinery pass through these nodes at one point or another, meaning that control of these nodes effectively grants control of vast swathes of our industry.
This is therefore a key area of socialist interdiction. Organising workers here creates the conditions for extremely effective solidarity strikes with other industries, as transport workers frequently have even more control over goods production than the workers producing those goods.
14. Government/State workers
Government or State workers is an extremely broad category, which encompasses some industries we have already covered. What we intend to discuss are those government workers who do not contribute to production at all, or which are purely tasked with upholding the functions of the state and its monopoly on violence.
Government workers who do not contribute to socially useful forms of administration, nor production, cannot be considered as workers who can easily be won over to the socialist cause. This is not to say that they never will, just that their economic interests will always be tied to the perpetuation of bureaucracy and the security forces of the state.
The state, which is to say, the most fundamental and irreplaceable parts of government, are the army and police. We will go into the police in more detail in the Justice section, suffice to say we do not consider them comrades.
The New Zealand Defense forces are perhaps more complex, as many socialists consider capitalist militaries to be excellent spaces for socialist organising. This is a view forged from the experiences of socialists fighting in the First World War among vast conscript armies of poorly-trained workers, who could easily be won over to the socialist cause. This strategy is somewhat outdated in an age of professional armies, fully trained and indoctrinated in support of the State, and fully integrated into the command structure of imperialist nations. While a degree of organising is possible, it must first and foremost be along anti-imperialist and anti-war grounds, as many soldiers come to experience these phenomena firsthand. It may also be possible, as has been done in the past, to organise amongst auxiliary workforces in connection with the military, such as naval engineers, but again this must be conducted along anti-imperialist as well as any demands based on working conditions.
Our main means of organising with the Police and military must always be to ask them to quit their jobs.
15. Finance, insurance, rental, and real-estate
These industries are concerned with trading in highly speculative commodities, where the line between real and fictional capital is blurred. This professional class of workers are often paid on commission, or with other incentives intended to tie their economic interests with those of their employer.
This workforce is difficult for us to organise amongst, as they provide few socially useful services, and are mainly contracted out to manage the interests of the bourgeoisie for them. This is not to say that organising them is impossible, but it is simply not the best use of our time.
16. Reflexive labour industries
Large segments of the service and administrative industries are devoted to a form of work that cannot be said to contribute to production in any meaningful way. These are jobs which are primarily concerned with eliminating problems created by other workers, administering administrators, triple-checking editors and so on. This work employs thousands of people who cannot seriously be said to understand what it is they do all day.
The emergence of this kind of work in the 1970s led sociologist Jürgen Habermas to coin the term reflexive labour which refers to “labor applied to itself with the aim of increasing the productivity of labor.” Habermas claimed that this form of labour effectively counteracted Marx’s proposed Tendency for the Rate of Profit to Fall (TRPF), as it allowed for unlimited increases to productivity, as well as the indefinite delay of consumption crises by creating a class of dedicated consumers. Of course this was proven wrong by the succeeding few decades of economic crisis. Marx showed that increases in worker productivity actually accelerate the cycle of crisis by decreasing the organic composition of labour, meaning that the idea of workers mutually increasing one another’s productivity is flawed (see the above section We should reject regressive, perfunctory or temporary solutions to crises).
A similar theory proposed by anthropologist David Graeber popularised the term “Bullshit Jobs,” which refers to jobs pursued for no logical reason, that serve no purpose beyond solving problems created by bullshit jobs. He blamed this on a “puritan-capitalist work ethic,” but this doesn’t explain the structural reasons behind such jobs.
What is readily apparent is that this reflexive labour force exists. We believe that this is because First World nations have effectively created a form of corporate welfare for the highest stratae of workers. Workers employed in order to be consumers, and to create demand in order to stave off consumption crisis. Any efforts to organise such workers must be based on realising the sheer absurdity of their situation.
17. Sex work
We consider sex work and associated industries to be work. Assertions that sex work is somehow structurally different to exploitation in other industries are based in a false or moralistic understandings of capitalist social relations, or else a misapplied concern for victims of sex-trafficking.
Legal sex work in Aotearoa takes place in brothels, which while still exploitative in economic terms, are vastly safer than street work. The New Zealand Prostitutes’ Collective has done groundbreaking work in legalising this part of the industry, whereas in other countries sex work is performed in vastly worse conditions.
We support sex workers in any economic struggles with brothel owners, as well as against the delegitimising and ostracising forces in society that would push them back into street work. Any interdiction by socialists into the sex industry must first and foremost be led by sex workers.31
In the long term, we must also work towards the full unionisation of Sex Work, however the precarious nature of this work, as well as the comparably better conditions in Aotearoa compared to other countries, means that this would be a process that would need to involve international struggles and new improvements in local conditions.32
IIc. Trans-national production in Aotearoa.
Explaining the various industries involved in the New Zealand Economy is insufficient if we wish to get a full picture of the capitalist world we inhabit. As a country that is fully entangled in the web of international capitalist relations, the production occurring in this country is but a fraction of the total sum of productive relations we come into contact with.
As discussed in Appendix IIa. Aotearoa’s land use is largely devoted to agriculture and primary industries, while our biggest industries are in the service sector. The economy possesses a mix of characteristics from those found in Third World nations, to those found only in the First World. One of these First World characteristics is that the bulk of our manufacturing has been outsourced to countries with considerably worse wages and labour laws.
The plight of international workers is therefore inexorably tied to our own. The global systems which push manufacturing onto colonised workforces are perpetuated by our local bourgeoisie, and by fighting them we can help workers who are in much worse conditions than ourselves.
This process is elaborated in the Internationalism section.
Appendix III: A history of Capitalist development in Aotearoa.
Written with the assistance of Dr. Jason Smith, professor of archeology and lifelong Communist agitator. Organise Aotearoa would like to thank Dr. Smith for providing his life’s work free of charge in the name of international solidarity.
IIIa. Note on anthropological terminology.
In this appendix we will be using the terminology of Dr. Jason Smith in describing the various modes of production in historical and future societies. This is a mix of the terminology used by Engels in On the Origin of the Family and more modern anthropological terminology in order to account for more recent archeological knowledge around the Chiefdoms period, which Engels referred to as Barbarism. These are:
1. Original Communist
Egalitarian societies based on a lack of scarcity or accumulation. Family structures are decentralised around small, tightly knit units equivalent to whānau and hapū.
2. Simple Chiefdoms
A small amount of scarcity in turn prompts a small amount of accumulation to account for “lean times.” Communities still live with relative equality, but may appoint leaders to look over the surplus. They may centralise into broader family units equivalent to iwi, but individual families are still free to come and go.
3. Advanced Theocratic Chiefdoms
Communities passively control the movement of families around the centre via religious practices that promote social unity. The process of accumulation is no longer just for lean times, but is actively pursued and socially controlled by appointed leaders. Family groupings have now grown into meta-groupings equivalent to waka.
4. Tributary Societies
The centre no longer permits the free movement of families to and fro, and enforces its rule militarily. Communities are now detached from family groupings, and are instead organised around landowners who pay tribute to the centre. Religion now strictly enforces unity through threats of apostasy. Accumulation is so great that traders begin to buy and sell small surpluses between each other.
The power of the small traders of Feudal societies has now become so great that they can buy and sell whole nations. The tributary landowners are supplanted or sidelined by this bourgeoisie, and their tenant farmers are displaced into cities en masse. Mass industry takes the place of small artisans and traders. The centre has now grown into a bourgeois state with its own police force to protect private property from the workers, who now produce all things in society.
The workers realise that they are the ones who produce all things in society, and that the bourgeoisie is entirely unnecessary. They overthrow this ruling class, and set about dismantling the state they have created. The workers are now free to produce only what they need, and have enough free time to rapidly expand the technological horizons of humanity.
IIIb. Original Communist Societies to Simple Chiefdoms.
Prior to contact with Europeans, Māori had established a lasting, stable, and peaceful presence on the previously uninhabited islands of Aotearoa. This society began with migrations from Hawaiki (a term for homeland, which likely included Ra’iātea in the Society Islands) to Aotearoa around 1288 A.C.E. landing at Wairau bar in the northeast South Island. More recent research may yield earlier dates, but we do know that whenever they landed these Polynesian settlers brought complex shell tools with them from Eastern Polynesia.33
These settlers were in the middle of what is known as a broad-spectrum revolution. A stage in which Original Communist societies begin to develop enough advanced paleolithic tools and cultural knowledge to make use of all the natural resources available to them, as well as cultivating their own resources through agriculture. These settlers were adept at farming bush kūmara and taro, but the abrupt change from tropical conditions produced a degree of scarcity. Māori instead began the year-long harvesting of native bracken fern roots and cabbage trees, which would be the main staples of the Māori diet up until colonisation.
Seasonal shortages of kūmara and taro created the conditions for a degree of accumulation. As in other societies, this began with the creation of storage pits, in this case for storing kūmara tubers over winter.
IIIc. Simple Chiefdoms to Advanced Theocratic Chiefdoms
The necessity of accumulation produced the conditions for a transition into a new mode of production. The egalitarian selection of rangatira was partially replaced with a mix of hereditary, democratic, and mana-based systems of socially selecting rangatira. Both tāne and wāhine could become rangatira, but they now had to prove their ability to protect their whānau, as limited warfare over accumulated resources was now a possibility.
As the iwi developed as a more defined social structure, a division of labour occurred amongst the constituent hapū. Some hapū became dedicated warriors, some managed trade between iwi, and others handled major projects like constructing marae. The main contradiction in this kind of society is that individual members and whānau may leave whenever they wish, taking resources or labour power with them.
This created the conditions for a unifying system of spirituality. As iwi transitioned into advanced theocratic chiefdoms, this spiritual understanding, the study of the `atua and their connection to individuals, was spread through increasingly complex oral histories. Recitation of whakapapa back through centuries became a measure of mana. Appreciation of whaikorero, waiata, carving, and tā moko grew as arts became an important aspect of social cohesion.
Concurrently, rangatira came into a degree of competition for land and resources. This led to the creation of fortified pā, which dot the landscape across Aotearoa as lumps and bumps across hilltops. Nonetheless, Māori society is mischaracterised as a “warlike culture” when in actual fact, conflict was relatively limited, and restricted by seasonal harvests, right up until the musket wars when revolutions in agriculture allowed for standing armies to form.
The reason we begin this section with an overview of Māori productive relations is because capitalism was imposed upon an existing advanced society with a degree of accumulation. There is a tendency to misrepresent Māori society either as wholly “savage” and undeveloped, or on the other side of the coin, represent it as an idyllic vestige of “noble savagery” in which people lived in harmony with pristine nature. Both of these misconceptions serve to reinforce colonial ideology.
The existing state of societies in Aotearoa was crucial to the process of colonisation. If it weren’t for the hospitality of rangatira, several early colonists would have never survived their first year. Without the existing massive agricultural projects at places like Ihumātao, cities like Auckland would have taken many more years to establish. Capitalism didn’t simply wipe the slate clean and start from the ground up; the speed by which it took over Aotearoa can also be explained by its ability to incorporate pre-existing productive forces.
Capitalism’s expansion across the world is frequently a subject of romanticisation about the “hard men” who tamed frontiers and set the foundations of the settler-colonial societies we inhabit. Just as the “Wild West” was tamed by mythologised outlaws and ranchers, so too were the first pre-treaty contacts between European capitalism and Te Ao Māori marked with a sort of frenzied frontier spirit that unleashed the roughest parts of western society onto Aotearoa.
These first whalers, gun runners and privateers are rarely discussed compared to the Europeans who settled in the post-treaty colony. However they were fundamental to the introduction of capitalism well before more established official colonies began. They included men like Charles de Thierry, who sold the first trade muskets to Hongi Hika, in return for what he thought was the right to establish his own kingdom here. Unbeknownst to either of these men, these muskets, as well as new farming techniques, would create the conditions for the musket wars that obliterated traditional family structures and limitations that had prevented large-scale warfare in precolonial times. The European traders and gun runners flocked to take advantage of newly emptied and devastated Māori lands, or took temporary Māori wives in order to coerce them into signing away lands. The settlers mainly conducted peaceful trade, unlike more violent colonial conquests elsewhere, but it was this trade in muskets and more efficient European agricultural goods that caused what amounted to a genocide as severe as any which occured in Australia or the Americas.
Of course the wild dreams of early settlers were put to rest with the establishment of European officialdom and colonial authority. In order to end the chaos of the Musket Wars, the British colonists offered the Queen’s peace and protection in return for a farcical partnership, and in doing so end French plans to expand their colony at Akaroa. We discuss this further in the section Constitutional Transformation.
With the most powerful obstacles to colonisation pacified, the imported state apparatus from Britain was free to impose capitalism on Aotearoa as it had already done in so many lands. The process of dividing up collectively-held land into private property (the enclosure of the commons) was also imported from Britain, where the process had concluded some decades before. Walls and fencing began to dot the landscape and divide it into parcels to be valued, bought, and sold.
However there were also contradictions within the colonial establishment. It soon became clear to Māori that they were deceived by the Treaty, and as a result, Hone Heke fought the flagstaff war to prevent illegal incursions into Ngāpuhi lands. Governor Robert Fitzroy, who since 1843 had conceded some legal rights to Māori, was replaced by the brutal, absolutist rule of Governor George Grey.
A competing capitalist power, and remnant of the more unrestrained capitalist expansion of the pre-treaty period, was the New Zealand Company, which saw itself as something of a private state power. In 1845 and 1846 the Company had proposed splitting the colony in two. Britain’s Colonial Secretary rejected the proposal, but the company promoted vigorous attacks on its opponents including the British Colonial Office, successive governors of New Zealand, and the Church Missionary Society (CMS).
The company assumed Governor Grey would support a more aggressive policy of land acquisition, and launched a private invasion of Ngāti Rangatahi lands in the Hutt Valley. Grey moved troops into the area in 1846 but they were defeated by Māori guerilla tactics, and the campaign was inconclusive.
This campaign was also the cause for some of the first acts of solidarity between settlers and Māori against the state. Grey had to contend with several newspapers that voiced their dissent about the shamelessly capitalistic invasion of the Hutt, and the dishonest practices of the missionaries and New Zealand Company men who had started it.
Grey took pains to tell the Māori that he had observed the terms of the Treaty of Waitangi, assuring them that their land rights would be fully recognized. In the Taranaki district, the Māori were very reluctant to sell their land, but elsewhere Grey was much more successful, and nearly 33 million acres (130,000 km²) were purchased from the Māori, with the result that British settlements expanded quickly. In 1852 the capitalist state had expanded to fully administer Aotearoa with the New Zealand Constitution Act establishing central and provincial governance.
Immediately before Grey’s re-appointment as governor, there were rising tensions in Taranaki based on the correct assertion that Waikato iwi had never signed the farcical Treaty and were a separate nation. Eventually this brought the Redcoats to Waitara in the First Taranaki War. The war lasted from March 1860 until 1862 and was fought by more than 3,500 imperial troops brought in from Australia, as well as volunteer soldiers and militia, against Māori forces that fluctuated between a few hundred and about 1,500. The war was continued in 1863, when Grey launched his war with an invasion of the Waikato. The strategy was to take control of the heartland of the Kīngitanga. The war brought thousands of British troops to New Zealand: 18,000 men served in the British forces at some point during the campaign, and brought the colonial authorities to the verge of bankruptcy. The innovative tactics used by Māori minimised casualties, and Te Kooti and Titokowaru had the colonial government and settlers extremely alarmed with their series of military successes.
Between 1865 and 1869 it became clear to the British Colonial Office that the campaign was pointless and would bankrupt the colony. Regiments were returned, and when Grey attempted to delay them he too was removed. In 1869 Governor Sir George Bowen called off the search for rebel rangatira and the result was a Māori victory against incredible odds.
After the wars, some Māori began a strategy of passive resistance, most famously at Parihaka in Taranaki. Most, such as Ngāpuhi and Te Arawa continued co-operating with Pākehā. For example, tourism ventures were established by Te Arawa around Rotorua. Resisting and co-operating Iwi both found that Pakeha desire for land remained. In the last decades of the 1800’s, most Iwi lost substantial amounts of land through the activities of the Native Land Court. This court had ostensibly been set up to give Māori land European-style titles, and to establish exactly who owned it. Due to its Eurocentric rules, the high fees, its location remote from the lands in question, and unfair practices by Pākehā land agents, its main function turned out to be allowing any Māori to sell their land without restraint from other tribal members.
By 1881, despite the military defeats by Māori guerillas, capitalism had become fully established in the colony. A labour force of some half a million European settlers had been imported. As the Pākehā population grew, pressure grew on Māori to sell more land. Land was not only an economic resource, but also one basis of Māori identity. There was a connection with their tūpuna’s bones, and land was used communally under the mana of rangatira. Pākehā accused Māori of holding onto lands that would better serve those who would develop them fully, and this logic continues to the present day.
After 1840, only the government was allowed to purchase land from the Māori, who received cash. The government bought practically all the useful land and resold it to the New Zealand Company, which used it to promote immigration, or leased it locally for sheep runs. The Company resold the best tracts to British settlers, so corruption was the order of the day. What Company ledger profits which actually made it to the books, were then used to pay the travel costs of immigrants from Britain. Because of the vast distances involved, the first settlers were self-sufficient farmers, with capital to spare for livestock and tools. By the 1840s, big sheep stations were exporting large quantities of wool to the textile mills of England. Farmers settled in the central region on either side of Cook Strait, and at Wellington, Whanganui, New Plymouth and Nelson. These settlements had access to some of the richest plains in the country.
In 1862, refrigerated ships appeared, and farming towns developed into regions of small-scale farming and meatpacking. Outside of these compact settlements were the sheep runs. Pioneer pastoralists, often men with experience as squatters in Australia, leased lands from the government at the annual rate of £5 plus £1 for each 1,000 sheep above the first 5,000. The leases were renewed automatically, which gave the wealthy pastoralists a strong landed interest and made them a powerful political force. In all between 1856 and 1876, 8.1 million acres were sold for £7.6 million, and 2.2 million
acres were given free to soldiers, sailors and settlers. Gold discoveries in Otago (1861) and Westland (1865), caused a worldwide gold rush that more than doubled the New Zealand population in a short period, from 71,000 in 1859 to 164,000 in 1863. The value of trade increased fivefold from £2 million to £10 million. This prompted Premier Julius Vogel to launch an ambitious public works project based on speculative investment from the homeland.
Growth did not match speculation, and Aotearoa experienced its first taste of the capitalist cycle of crisis. The long depression from the late 1870s through to the early 1890s was an accident waiting to happen. Some argue that the depression began earlier, in the late 1860s, as the quarrying of limited resources and the war economy ran out, but that the underlying sluggishness of the 1870s was obscured by unsustainable borrowing.
The slump was precipitated by the collapse of the City Bank of Glasgow in 1878. This led to a credit contraction in the City of London, then the center of the world’s financial system, which reduced the credit available to New Zealand. With many activities dependent upon credit and landowners heavily over-borrowed, a credit shortage compounded the effects of a falling wool price.
There was much hardship, with sweatshop-type exploitative labor conditions in the factories, a lack of jobs for rural workers, and farmers going bankrupt. Harry Atkinson, the dominant colonial treasurer during these years, got a reputation for cutting government expenditure. As always, the capitalists see little choice but to retrench themselves safely and shift the burden to workers, who are sent to the street without any means of support. By 1895 an increase in jobs, lowering of prices, and increase in investment created the conditions for a return to economic boom.
Trade in frozen meats and wool grew in accordance with the boom, and public works projects allowed the rural bourgeoisie to flourish. An urban petty-bourgeoisie developed in the early years of the 20th century, imposing its will onto the huge workforce of packers and dockworkers in the cities through full use of the repressive apparatus of the state. Dairy farmers became important in areas where no wool could be grown.
The North Atlantic economies moved out of depression in the mid-1890s. Refrigerated exports became significant as the British seized on the new high-quality food New Zealand farmers produced. Under a Liberal government, New Zealand went into a boom that lasted until about 1920. As hard-rock gold, native timber and kauri gum became depleted, pastoral-farming products became a 90+% share of exports by 1950. Māori were completely left behind by this boom as they could not enter the capital-intensive markets of dairy and wool farming.
In the Post Second World War period, New Zealand gravitated away from a market based purely in British consumption to one based in worldwide export. This situation of an agricultural export economy continued until the 1970-80s, when the collapse of the British market thanks to the establishment of the European Union (and subsequently cheaper mainland European agricultural goods), as well as tension with US Imperialism thanks to the Anti-Nuclear movement, meant that the New Zealand state encouraged a shift away from an export economy towards one that mixed agricultural exports with a high-tech, light industry, and services based economy.
This situation continues to this day. Capitalism has been in place for nearly two centuries, and with it the mass exploitation of Māori and the millions of immigrant labourers imported by capitalist enterprise. It is also a country marked by a political stagnation and erosion of basic freedoms common to the rest of the neoliberal capitalist world. Any further economic, political and social developments in Aotearoa will be as the result of a renewed movement for socialism.34
Appendix IV: Te Ao Māori and Capitalism.
Written and approved with the assistance of the Organise Aotearoa Māori Caucus.
Support for a return to total Tino Rangatiratanga is often incorrectly characterised as a willingness to hand over authority in all its forms to Iwi as they currently exist, or to establish a form of Māori capitalism. This relies on an incorrect understanding of the historical development of Iwi since colonisation began.
As we discussed in Appendix III. Capitalism was imposed upon Aotearoa through both a brutal political and military campaign to establish white settlements, as well as the more insidious and unintentional transformation of the social relations within Māori society.
The technological revolution implied by the first trade muskets from Britain, and potato seeds from Australia brought aboard Hongi Hika’s waka in 1821, led to a near total disintegration of Māori whānau structures and the social allocation of mana. Even today, we understand tīkanga only through the fragments left behind after colonial violence shattered the full picture. To apply a modern, fragmented understanding of Māori law to the full economic implications of decolonisation, without adapting to current conditions, would be to alienate many Māori.
This view also misunderstands the relationship between Māori capitalism, and European capitalism. The existence of an indigenous capitalist class is something unique to Aotearoa, but it isn’t something we should celebrate. It was primarily created as a buffer between the crown and Māori workers, and should be seen as such: another colonial imposition, rather than something that arose out of Māori nationalism.
This buffer class was created through treaty settlements and trusts, themselves only a paltry sum compared to a century and a half of violent extraction of value from tāngata whenua. These settlements were designed to never reach the poorest members of Iwi, instead it dulled the contradictions between colonised and coloniser, by creating a parasitic class whose interests conditionally align with the colonial bourgeoisie, depending on how many table scraps they recieve.
This contradiction was thrown into stark contrast at Ihumātao, where it wasn’t a case of Iwi capitalists developing land, nor the colonial bourgeoisie unilaterally seizing land. Instead, developers formed an alliance with small-time Iwi capitalists, promising them access to 40 houses out of 480 if they would use their mandate to sell out their own whanau. Through this process of coercing permission out of Iwi leaders, the capitalist development of Aotearoa can continue unhindered, even if it tramples Tino Rangatiratanga in the process.
Of course this ploy didn’t work. The crown and the colonial bourgeoisie didn’t give working class Māori enough credit for their ability to spot the glaring class contradictions within Iwi that allowed this sham to go ahead.
Affirming Tino Rangatiratanga is a means for socialists to fight against capitalism, provided it is not interpreted in an overly simplistic way that implies a mere replacement of leaders without throwing out the whole colonial capitalist order. Tino Rangatiratanga is also about empowering the poorest members of Iwi to throw out their comprador bourgeoisie and attempt to piece together the pre-capitalist social relations that were taken from them with a view towards developing new socialist relations of production.
We oppose Iwi capitalism, as well as those who imply that it cannot be disentangled from a movement for true Mana Motuhake. We stand in support of the Māori movement for decolonisation, which necessitates socialism if it is to ever be implemented.
Interactions between Te Ao Māori and Capitalism are further elaborated upon in the Constitutional Transformation section.3536
Appendix V: Feminised Labour in Aotearoa.
Written and approved with the assistance of the Feminist Caucus of Organise Aotearoa
In New Zealand and globally, women perform a significant amount of unpaid, underpaid, and under-recognised labour, including service work, domestic work, and childcare. This division of labour by gender forms the basis for patriarchy, where men’s social, political, and economic status is elevated above women, and the relationship between men and women, including working class men and women, becomes one of exploitation.
Patriarchy is a flexible system, constantly shifting as conditions change. Patriarchal relations as we know them did not exist prior to colonisation and the development of capitalism in New Zealand. Different genders did generally perform different kinds of work, but this work was socially valued, regardless of who was performing it, and women were not bound to performing feminised labour in the way they are today. Colonisation brought with it a system of patriarchy, and Māori women suffered a significant loss of economic, political, and social power, the effects of which we see today.
During the time of Keynesian social democracy in New Zealand, patriarchy was primarily organised through a breadwinner model, where women and children were financially dependent on their father, who received higher wages for his labour. Full employment, strong trade unions, and welfare policies allowed for an economy where one working man’s wage was enough to support a family. Economic dependence kept women trapped in often unhappy marriages, and there was an ideological superstructure that took the form of social stigma attached to unmarried women, queer women, and women who left their husbands. The law allowed for husbands to hold power over their families with impunity. Marital rape was only outlawed in 1985, and a culture of victim-blaming for rape and domestic violence forms the ideological superstructure for “keeping women in their place” – economically dependent on their husbands.
This was not a universal model. Women have been working all throughout New Zealand’s capitalist history on lower wages than men, though many were expected to leave their jobs once they were married. It was however, the ideal model. A woman’s ideal place was as a wife and mother, and this is what women were conditioned to “aspire” to. Now, we have new hegemonic femininities, which creates a more complicated situation. Women are everywhere in the workforce now. A new ideal of the independent career woman who is in control of her sexuality, her finances, and her life has emerged – the woman who can “have it all”. This is a liberal feminist ideal, and it excludes just as many women, if not more, as the conservative ideal of the wife and mother. Most working class women today can be neither of these things. We must work to survive, but we are certainly not independent or empowered in our workplaces or relationships.
Global feminist and revolutionary movements have played a significant role in winning women rights and privileges that many today take for granted, especially in western countries, but patriarchy has not disappeared. It has simply reorganised itself under the new neoliberal paradigm. Divorce, homosexuality, and single parenthood has less stigma attached to it, but one working person’s wage is no longer enough to sustain a family. The loss of worker’s power instigated by the Fourth Labour Government has created a new family model in which intimate partners become economically dependent on each other in order to survive, and keep their children fed and clothed. The gender pay gap has been eliminated on paper, with the Human Rights Act outlawing employment discrimination based on gender, but in practice, it still exists. Women are less likely to be promoted, and are more likely to work in underpaid, undervalued industries such as care work and hospitality.
A culture of workplace bullying and sexual harassment is so normalised that it’s expected for anyone working in hospitality, as well as other industries. In service work, such as retail and hospitality, you are not only selling a product; you are also representing a company which is in competition with other companies, so it’s expected that you provide your customers with a good experience, otherwise there is a real risk they will withdraw their patronage and go somewhere else. The mantra “the customer comes first” directly comes from the competitive nature of capitalism, and creates a power imbalance between workers and clients or customers, which clients or customers may exploit. Service workers not only sell products, goods, or services, but their emotional labour as well, managing their presentation, mood, and emotions often under stress and in workplace conditions which are not conducive to a positive emotional state, to ensure that their customers are happy. Fail to do so and you face consequences from the bosses and management.
While workplace bullying and sexual harassment is rife in hospitality, no industry is free from this culture. Even among trade union staff, who are tasked with advocating for and protecting worker’s rights, there is a widespread culture of misogyny. Misogyny is everywhere. It shapes every workplace, and must be actively fought against in every industry – especially in the union movement, whose job it should be to promote and model a healthy, positive workplace culture and workplace relations.
Most unpaid reproductive labour continues to be performed by women, who take on a “second shift” in the household. Women are overrepresented in work that involves a duty of care to others. Empathy and compassion is weaponised by employers against workers, to manipulate care workers to work longer hours because if they don’t, it’s the patients who suffer. Compassion becomes an instrument for employers to exercise control, understaffing their workplaces and underpaying their workers. The same tactics used by violent and controlling partners, leveraging the wellbeing of children and pets to manipulate their partners into putting up with an unsafe home environment.
The fight for workers’ liberation is intimately tied to the fight for women’s liberation. A socialist programme would seek to untangle the economic dependence of women to men, would raise the value put on feminised labour, and remove the sole burden of childcare.