NZ is a neo-colony, nominally politically independent since it ceased to be referred to as a ‘dominion’ of Britain in 1945. Yet NZ never had a national revolution and its ‘dominion’ status was never repudiated. The ‘dominion’ has passed from Britain to the two giant post-war imperialist powers, the declining US, and the rising China. By definition, the political independence of neo-colonies is a lie, as they remain subordinated to their neo-colonial masters. What passes for politics in NZ remains determined by imperialism, expressed most directly through the politics of the various governments which hold parliamentary power. The upcoming October 2023 election provides an opportunity to analyse what power, if any, governments can exercise independently of imperialism. What are the limits to that independence? Does it make any difference that the Labour Party is more non-aligned historically, and today inclined towards China and the BRICS, while the National Party is historically aligned with the US? We argue here, that despite such differences, and the degree to which left and right centre governments are aligned with China or the US, in the last analysis it doesn’t matter. The only force that can liberate NZ from imperialism, East or West, is the revolutionary working class, as part of the global formation of Workers’ Governments, East and West, North and South.
NZ as a Neo-colony of Imperialism
To explain what us going on in NZ we have first to understand its position in the global economy. This is what sets the conditions determining its economic development and in turn its political and cultural dynamics. To survive, capitalism must increase its share of the wealth produced by labour. The definition of a neo-colony is a country which has formal political independence but remains dominated economically by one or more imperialist powers. For Marxists, a country that remains dominated economically cannot be politically independent.
The history of successive government in NZ proves this point. NZ has always been politically dominated by imperialist finance capital, that of Britain in the interwar period, and increasingly the US, and after the millennium China, in the post-war period. Since the end of the post-war boom profits have fallen and never recovered. The end of the boom in the 1970s exhausted the limits of Muldoon’s Keynesian economic nationalism, forcing the Lange government to impose its neo-liberal counter-revolution in the 1980’s. While neo-liberalism has increased the share of profits at the expense of the share of NZ workers – topped by the NZ$ 1 trillion transfer of wealth from labour to capital during the height of the Covid pandemic 2020-22 – it is not enough to save global capitalism’s terminal decline. US and Chinese imperialism have no option by to increase their exploitation of their neo-colonies, including NZ, downloading the cost of their terminal crisis onto workers and poor farmers.
In the case of China, NZ produces mainly raw materials with little processing. It sells milk products, raw timber, and allows China to invest in agricultural production with a similar level of processing. NZ imports mainly finished manufactures from China on the basis of competitive price. Is this no more than the normal operation of comparative advantage globally or does this amount to economic domination? It depends on the how much China is in the position to extract surplus profits from NZ both in NZs export to and imports from China.
NZ is also a neo-colony of the US – it has long been part of the Anglo-American Cold War story against Russia and China. While NZ is not yet committed to the inner security circle of AUKUS, the US dominates NZ security and political relations, sharing Western Eurocentric ‘values’ – ‘rip, shit and bust’. More recently it has invested heavily in tech startups and NZ state and corporate security and ‘cloud’ services (eg Amazon). NZ is taking a relatively neutral line on the war in Ukraine. It didn’t join with the other 5 eyes in Iraq or Afghanistan. It waits for the UN OK to send ‘peacekeepers’ or ‘trainers’. In terms of the economic reality shaping the political, the NZ bourgeoisie and petty-bourgeoisie are rent-seeking realists lackeys of US imperialism and increasingly of China.
The foreign policy of the NZ Labour Govt is primarily determined by trade favouring China and its BRICS partners while still aligned formally to the US lead Western bloc. Current government officials have made at least two visits to India to further trade relations (expand) and recently visited Saudi Arabia and the UAE for new bi-lateral deals. All are now members of BRICS which indicates Labour’s willingness to associate with the BRICS trading bloc despite pressure from the US – including the recent visit of US neo-con secretary of State, Anthony Blinken. While both major parties put profits first, National has long term political and cultural relationships with the US during the Cold War.
ACT (Association of Citizens and Taxpayers) was founded by Labour Party dissidents around Roger Douglas who resigned and formed ACT after failing to push the Lange Government to enact the full-on US led neo-liberal counter-revolution ultimately aimed at recolonising the Soviet Bloc. The failure to reduce Russia and China as pawns of the West didn’t stop the rot of US economic decline. Biden’s ‘neo-conservative’ proxy war against Ukraine to split Russia from China is its last desperate act to revive US imperialist hegemony. This warmongering threatens to escalate rapidly and draw NZ into a new world war. A National/ACT government in power would be more likely than a Labour led coalition to sacrifice trading relations with BRICS and cave into US political pressure to make war with China. To what extent will this different orientation in foreign policy towards East and West imperialist blocs, determine NZ’s domestic politics?
Governments Left, Right and Centre
The upcoming elections in NZ are designed to highlight the apparent differences between a Labour led left-centre government and a National led right-centre government? This makes good political theatre in which governments appear to serve the interests of conflicting classes. In fact, both parties historically have converged on the political centre representing the petty bourgeoisie and its modern ally the bureaucratic administrative middle class that together serve the bourgeois ruling class.
The popular belief that a National led coalition will be hostage to the ultra-right ACT party, or a Labour led majority be hostage to the Greens or Māori Party, actually works in the opposite direction. These ideological outliers painted as ‘extremes’ create the fear that tiny minorities will dictate the political agenda. Yet the reverse is the case. The ‘extreme’ minorities are locked into almost identical centrist majority governments which manage ‘middle NZ’ in the class interests of the national bourgeoisie and its imperialist masters. Meanwhile, the working-class majority becomes disillusioned in the parliamentary circus, disaffected in bourgeois democracy, and potential fascist fodder.
This is the classic argument for the popular front between workers and bosses which prepares the way for fascism. The Ardern coalition govt showed this. In its first term, NZ First’s centrist populist stance was the excuse used by Labour for not delivering on its ‘transformational’ election promises. In Labour’s second term the Covid pandemic saw the coalition make a huge wealth transfer from workers to capitalists on the pretext of stabilising the economy. If a Labour/Green/Māori Coalition wins in October 2023 it will be no less a popular front based on the woke, liberal middle class, in bed with corporate capitalism.
Would a Left centre coalition be the ‘lesser evil’ compared with a NACT victory? No. Both left and right blocs depend on not scaring the centre to prevent the ultra-left Greens/Māori and Ultra-right ACT from running the government. Yet the minority parties cannot dominate government when the centre is the centre of political gravity occupied by an electoral majority committed to liberal democratic capitalist government. Revolutionaries call liberal democracy ‘bourgeois democracy’ since all such governments are committed to the fiction of ‘democracy’ to hide the bourgeois ‘dictatorship’ of the ‘bourgeois’ ruling class.
So, while the ult-right ACT and center-left Greens express the politics of the disaffected middle-class and petty capitalists, both are ultimately directed at their common enemy – the organised and independent working class. Their parliamentary solution is the popular (or ‘peoples’) front between workers and the bourgeoisie in a national unity government. If the upcoming elections throws up such a popular front it is the outcome is likely to be a hung parliament where National and Act to form a government must enlist NZ First Winston Peters as king maker, reversing his role in the previous Labour coalition.
If the left bloc between Labour and the Greens needs the numbers to form a government, it will be the leftist Te Pāti Māori that will act as the ‘kingmaker’. It remains to be seen, in this eventuality, whether TPM will accommodate to Labour and Greens middle class or refuse Confidence and Supply and risk losing a vote of no confidence. The neo-liberal counter-revolution decimated organised labour particularly Māori, and created a whole new class of petty bourgeois now hostile to the working class. This accounts for the shift in Labour from a bourgeois workers party to an open neoliberal capitalist party during the 1980s. We argue that a party that incorporates workers and petty bourgeois capitalists together is a popular front party serving as the ‘shadow’ of the big bourgeoisie. That is why no genuinely workers party claiming to represent Māori and Pākehā can give such a popular front any political support without helping prepare the defeat of workers as a class. We can illustrate this danger when workers are fooled into voting for NZ First to prevent National from compromising with ACT in the hope that Peters will defend the interests of workers, Māori and Women.
NZ First Racist Populism
Peters is a scurrilous right-wing populist who loves to position himself as kingmaker in the centre of politics to keep governments of left and right honest. Despite his Māori heritage, Peters is an advocate of Eurocentrist white supremacy that defends the legacy of settler colonialism. His constituency is the aging ‘one people’ assimilationist rump scared of change under Left and Right governments which agree on woke post-modern capitalist globalism. Peters frightens his flock with his conspiracy theory that separatist globalism is caused by Marxist cultural wars over ‘race’ and ‘class’. Never mind that globalism is the face of the imperialism that dominates neo-colonial NZ and the mortal enemy of Marxism. Peter’s opportunism casts imperialism and Marxism as cultural warriors in bed together.
Behind this subterfuge, Peters real target is the white racists fear of racial ‘separatism’, that is ‘brown power’, as represented by ‘co-governance’ or ‘power sharing’ under Te Tiriti. Specifically, the culprit is the ‘Marxist Globalist’ UN token resolution on Indigenous Peoples’ Rights adopted by both National and Labour. National sat on the resolution and then dumped it when the red flag of the reactionary ‘one nation’ assimilationist crowd was raised. Labour, ever committed to Te Tiriti tokenism, tried to appease the woke left and legislate for the token co-governance, before sidelining it with the departure of PM Ardern, proving that under Labour, Te Tiriti will never be honoured. Not because Labour will probably be defeated this election but because it’s focus groups and the woke media both rejected co-governance.
However, it is women who have most to lose by voting for NZ First. NZ First has an ostensibly liberal position on women’s rights. It proposed the legalisation of abortion (2020) be put to a referendum. It postponed the undemocratic attempt by Labour and Greens to pass legislation implementing sex-self ID. Today, Peters has come out in support for women’s rights, especially to their own spaces such as toilets, and women’s sports. However, NZ First supports women’s rights from a conservative standpoint. It opposes men and women changing sex because that disrupts the historical relationship of the sexes in marriage and the family. Taken together, with its white supremacist patriarchal agenda, it supports traditional roles for women in which they are historically subordinate. If women vote for NZ First on the issue of Women’s Rights, it may get across the 5% threshold and enable a center-right popular front government to take power.
Te Pāti Māori, Women’s Rights Party, Workers Now!
TPM stands for the honouring of the Tìrìti O Waitangi. Yet the Treaty cannot be honoured without self-determination which means restoring iwi land rights, self-rule and political equality. No capitalist government left, right or centre, will grant Māori self-determination. This was proven when Labour, which had led the reform process on the Treaty in the 1970s, baulked over Māori ownership of the Foreshore and Seabed (F&S). TPM was preceded by Mana Motuhake when Matiu Rata rebelled against Labour’s neo-liberalism and joined with the NLP as part of the Alliance in 1990. TPM was formed in 2004 when Tariana Turia split with Labour over the F&S.
The correct position then was to reject parliament and occupy the F&S. Of course, TPM did the opposite becoming a coalition partner with the National Party of John Key for three terms! In 2011 Hone Harawira split from TPM joining with union leader former Alliance MP Laila Harre in a coalition of his Mana Party with the Internet Party of Dot Com! The Mana Party was a progressive left party, but as a mini popular front of Māori, unionists, and tech millionaires dissolved when Harawira lost Te Tai Tokerau in 2014. TPM was reborn in 2020 under the leadership of former Labour MP John Tamihere as treaty-centred and economically leftwing, calling for taxes on wealth and land speculation.
We recognise TPM today is a radical reformist party representing the interests of Māori as an oppressed people. Its leadership, while drawn from the labour bureaucracy and Māori middle class, is acting like the chiefdoms such as Te Whiti’s representing collective Treaty rights by raising demands that cannot be met short of an end to capitalist society. The demand for self-determination under the Treaty means the restoration of Māori land use rights, self-rule, and political equality. No capitalist government would enact them. TPM’s land tax on the unearned increment is in effect the nationalisation of the land as a use-value rather than a commodity producing rent. But for this to happen the end of money as capital, that is, no more than a measure of labour time, would demand a state bank replacing private banks. TPMs program calls for a Workers’ Government to enact economic equality based on equal shares in a planned economy in a socialist Aotearoa.
Similarly, the Women’s Rights Party and Workers Now! are radical reformist parties, in the tradition of the Suffragettes and women’s organised labour. Of necessity, women’s defence of the fundamental rights in the 19th and 20thcentury faces a counter-revolution in trans ideology, allowing men the legal right to be women and proving that the bourgeois right of free speech and association can only be realised by permanent or socialist revolution. These radical left parties of women and workers who have split to the left from social democracy should be given critical support by workers provided they don’t prop up a popular front with the Labour Party and the Greens. We call on these parties to reject any political endorsement of the ruling capitalist parties, including confidence and supply agreements, and to use parliament as Lenin, Liebknecht and Luxemburg advocated, as a ‘tribune of the people’ where communists stood to raise their revolutionary platforms for a Workers’ Government, to take power, overthrow the capitalist and patriarchal modes of production and to fight for socialism.
From Capitalist NZ to Socialist Aotearoa
We have argued that New Zealand is a neo-colony of imperialism, first of Britain up to WW2, and since then, of the US and China. We do not link the word Aotearoa to this neo-colony but reserve it for a socialist republic as part of a wider Pacific federation of socialist republics. To make the transition from neo-colony to socialist republic it is necessary to fight for the permanent revolution. From Marx in 1848 to Trotsky in 1940 permanent revolution means that it is the working class alone that can end capitalism and create the conditions for socialism. The fight to defend and extend bourgeois rights cannot succeed without the overthrow of the bourgeois ruling class, and its replacement by the proletarian ruling class.
Workers need an independent workers’ party with a transitional program. We have shown how such basic demands cannot be met by parliamentary means in this age of imperialism. In fact, what rights remain are being eliminated. No capitalist government, no matter how many indigenous, workers and women are in the cabinet since the centre ground committed to stable capitalism strangles any real resistance. Workers Now, and Women’s Rights Party are in the fight for a new mass workers party where both sexes, and all peoples, Māori, Pacific, Asian, African and European belong. He task of a mass workers party is to fight for workers’ democracy in a Workers’ Government based on the independent working class organisations of all workers and peoples.
The Te Pāti Māori is also in this fight. Despite its middle-class leadership, its fight for Māori self-determination cannot be realised under capitalism short of permanent revolution. All are staunchly defending basic bourgeois rights of Māori and women workers who make up the huge majority of the reserve army of labour. Yet this fight can be won only by breaking with the labour bureaucracy in politics and the unions, and with the bourgeoisie and its state machine. That is, breaking from the popular front regimes that tie workers to the bosses. These rights can be won only by the independent working-class party, uniting wage workers, contract workers, and unpaid workers, armed with its transitional program, as the only class capable of ending capitalism and building a socialist society in harmony with nature.
Dave Brownz is TDBs Guest Marxist because every left wing blog needs a guest Marxist.