Reply To Juan F.
Philip L Ferguson
PLF13 at SPAMstudent.canterbury.ac.nz
Wed Sep 29 17:43:36 MDT 1999
>You certainly have pointed out that there were reasons for which the ban
>on US warships in NZ may be considered less than fully positive in all
>its effects. But I have a couple of things that are nagging at me:
>1) you say in effect that to have worked for the ban, however
>well-intentioned, was reactionary unless one did so in the context of
>fighting NZ imperialism, and that alone is the test of anti-imperialism
>in NZ. This bugs me because it seems to lead to a dismissal of popular
>mobilization unless they have in mind the totality of the context in
>which they are operating. Instead of saying "you've taken an important
>step forward, now take this next one", it seems to say "you've not come
>far enough, so forget you!. Whether that's what you mean, I don't know.
I haven't really said much at all about the people who campaigned for the ban.
They haven't been my main coincern in relation to the discussion that has
unfolded on the list. I've been more concerned with pointing out the
context in which the ban was put in place and why.
You may be interested to know, for instance, that the 'hero' of the ban,
the politician who has strutted the world being feted as the PM who made
the great contribution to world peace by imposing the ban, David Lange,
actually originally opposed the ban, while Richard Prebble, a leading
Labour MP and Hayek enthusiast, was in favour of it.
There was never anything radical about the ban. It was an integral part of
the overall political programme of the last Labour government, and very
useful - indeed necessary - to what they wanted to do. As I have said,
this was not just an ordinary Labour government which would typically
attack the working class and soften them up for the next Tory government;
this was a Labour government which, in economic terms, regarded Thatcher
and Reagan as softies.
They wiped out half the jobs in industry in the country, they increased
student fees by 600 percent (yes, 600 percent, the biggest increases in NZ
history), privatised every state asset they could, and turned the rest into
state enterprises run on profit-making lines, while preparing these too for
privatisation, they got rid of a mass of jobs in the public sector.
At the same time as 'liberalising' the economy, they promoted stuff like
the ban on US nuclear warships, political correctness, the Treaty industry
and a number of other things. It was part and parcel of the liberalisation
programme, everything would be commodified.
Each part of their programme has to be contextualised as part of their
As I also pointed out, the ban on US warships was crucial to them achieving
a mass *nationalist* consensus behind the government for both their
domestic programme of hacking the working class to bits and their foreing
policy programme, which involved stepping up NZ military intervention in
the Paicifc to levels not seen since WW2, opposing independence for New
Caledonia/Kanaky and French Polynesia, and leaning on the progressive
nationalist government in Vanuatu when it tried to establish diplomatic
relations with Libya and Cuba.
The NZ government remained absolutely committed to the US alliance and to
the containment of the Soviet Union and 'communism' and radical nationalism
in the Pacific region. The ban was an integral part of this policy.
Washington is often not especially intelligent in these matters, so threw a
wobbly over the ban and started threatening NZ exports etc, which meant
that the ban gained a radical veneer.
But like I pointed out, if Paris banned US warships from French ports, then
used the ban to advance its own interests more effectively abroad as well
as slash the working class at home, would we really argue that the ban was
a big victory for 'anti-imperialism'. No, I don't think so.
OK, now, in relation to the people who campaigned for the ban. The biggest
drawback to any really radical politics in NZ (and Australia) is the
strength of nationalism. People in NZ are not nationalistic in the same
kind of gung-ho sense associated with the British bulldog or the American
right. But the natinalism here in some ways is more insidious. People in
Australia and NZ believe that our countries are *different* from anywhere
else in the world - nationalism here claims that these are basically
classless societies, free of all the old evils of Europe, and even the USA.
Class consciousness is extremely weak, especially in NZ (it's a bit
stronger in Australia).
The bulk of the amorphous left here is absolutely riddled with kiwi
nationalism and this kind of 'exceptionalism'. This has been the case
since the late 1800s and goes back to how capitalism was built here, which
is a whole topic in itself. But effectively these illusions blight radical
politics and lead to a kind of radicalism which is really not radical at
all - it is just a slightly pinkish version of kiwi nationalism, and is
shared with the ruling class.
The people who camapigned for the ban were not inexperienced, raw young
people just awakening to politics. They were mainly long-time NZ
nationalists, people who consistently helped obscure the nature of NZ
society and who advanced the campaign in a way that continued to obscure
the nature of NZ society. That was why it was so easy for the government
to implement the ban - the government also wanted to obscure the nature of
NZ society, the government was also a kiwi nationalist government. (I
might add in relation to the nationalist 'peaceniks', they are still at it;
these are the same people who want NZ troops to be sent all over the place
Hostility to the US was always promoted in this country as a way of
avoiding facing up to the realities of NZ society, with NZ society being
regarded as the 'exception' to the normal laws of capitalism. In fact,
many of these people argued that NZ was neither capitlaist nor socialist,
but a lovely welfare state that avoided the drawbacks of either model.
Cutting through all this crap, and exposing the actual nature of NZ
society, is absolutely essential if any truly radical politics are going to
develop in this political backwater.
>2) You keep talking about NZ imperialism. To me, admittedly ignorant of
>the details and history of that part of the globe, that seems tantamount
>of talking about Mexican imperialism, if you know what I mean. Explain
Mexico is part of the 'underdeveloped' world, it's a Third World country.
NZ is part of the FIrst World. For most of this century, living standards
in NZ were about the third highest in the world. NZ agriculture was
possibly *the most* developed capitalist agriculture on the planet - or
certainly right up near the top.
The precapitalist society that existed here - Maori society - was destroyed
and modern capitalism built in a way similar to other white-settler
societies such as Australia, canada and the USA. This was very different
from Mexico and the rest of Latin America where the colonial powers (Spain
and Portugal) were still more feudal than capitalist and where capitalist
development was stunted and combined and uneven development took place.
Much of Latin America still contains relics of almost feudal relations
overlaid by imperialist domination.
Just as NZ was highly developed capitalistically in the economic sense, it
also got modern bourgeois democracy very early. Pretty much every male got
the vote by the late 1870s and women got the vote here in 1893. That alone
should tell you something about the developed and independent nature of
capitalism in NZ.
Although NZ was only grabbed by the British in 1840, and there were only
2,000 pakeha (whites) in the country at the time, as early as the 1860s the
emerging NZ bourgeosie was talking about establishing a vast South Pacific
empire centred on NZ. (The NZ bourgeoisie always looked down their noses
at Australia, which was seen as less 'civilised' because a lot of their
ealry settlers were convicts, impoverished Irish fleeing famine and so on).
In the late 1800s the NZ ruling class tried to grab chunks of territory in
the South Pacific, but because the French and germans were at it too, NZ
largely missed out. But they got the Cook Islands and a few rocks here and
there, then in 1914 they invaded Samoa and ruiled it for 50 years,
suppressing the Mau independence movement, gunning down unarmed and
peaceful demonstrators and so on. It was in the arly 1900s that Pacific
Island people started referring to NZ as 'the little Prussia of the
Although modern NZ really only dates from about the 1870s, NZ troops have
been abroad in 26 wars and interventions - from the Boer War to Korea in
the early 50s, Malaya in the late 50s, Vietnam in the 60s and 70s, the Gulf
War etc etc.
The NZ capitalist state is clearly an independent state run by and for the
NZ ruling class. They are an indpeendent bourgeoisie, not a subordinate
bourgeoisie or comprador class.
Come visit NZ some time, and you will see very clearly the differences
between a small imperialist country and Mexico.
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