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Identity is more than class

datePosted on 17:49, June 24th, 2009 by Lew

Marty mars, commenting at The Standard, nails down the problem with Eddie’s and IrishBill’s latest bit of anti-māori party propaganda in one brief sentence:

You cannot fix any class issue until the race issue is sorted and that won’t be sorted while you are still working everything from the class angle.

Until the Marxist left realises that Māori have their own political identity and generally don’t (won’t and shouldn’t) identify en bloc with non-Māori political movements which require their Māori identity to be subsumed by a transnational class identity, it can’t reliably count on Māori support, and can’t really consider itself an inclusive movement.

Substitute ‘Māori’ for other political minorities if you like – the internationalist movement will only be successful when it learns to accommodate diversity and turn it to political advantage, rather than trying to squash it.

The Clark Labour government’s fundamental inability to realise this (by passing the Foreshore and Seabed Act, most notably) is why the māori party is trying other options. They and their people have had seventeen decades worth of out-of-touch honkeys telling them how to achieve the sort of political and economic progress they want, and at the same time largely denying them the resources with which to achieve such progress. Time for a new strategy, and creating a bidding war between the two main ideological blocs doesn’t look like a bad one, to me.

Hone is right, though – the party is going to have to get a lot more than they have if they want to retain their people’s loyalty and not be seen, come 2011, as the Brown Tories.


13 Responses to “Identity is more than class”

  1. Anita on June 24th, 2009 at 17:56

    I don’t agree with marty mars’ assertion that race issues must be resolved first, any more than I’d agree with an assertion that class issues must be resolved first.

    Allowing the oppression and exploitation of any groups validates oppression and exploitation. IMHO they need to be resolved in parallel.

    But generally yes yes!! :) I totally agree that a purely class based approach will never succeed as its blindness to the diversity of experience and oppression continues the oppression of Māori, women, disabled, queer, etc.

  2. Lew on June 24th, 2009 at 18:01


    I don’t think his formulation requires on to be fixed first except on a very stict reading. Still, you’re right and the point’s taken.


  3. IrishBill on June 24th, 2009 at 20:05

    Firstly, it’s not my post.

    Secondly, you seem to have mistaken the marxist left for the Labour party. Along with many other members of the left I was stunned by the arrogance shown by Labour over the foreshore and seabed issue.

    I also have a low opinion of some of the Maori MP’s Labour have stood (alongside my low opinion of many of their non-Maori MPS) and I believe that more than a few of them were selected because they would not rock the boat.

    Tariana did rock the boat and rightly so.Helen should have listened to her rather than to the focus-groups that were being driven by Orewa rhetoric.

    But she didn’t and the Maori Party was a pretty good response to that. Many of us on the non-Labour Party Left strongly supported the Maori Party right up until they coalesced with National for the very reason that we saw that we shared a good number of issues. If you look at Maori statements from the last election on policies like industrial relations you’ll see that they are distinctly Left in aspect.

    Part of this is due to the fact that Maori are disproportionately represented in low-income demographics but it is also that the Left has a tradition of placing value on culture. Or at least more so than the right.

    Previously the worst I would have said about the Maori Party was that it was a bit woolly with policy details and tended to make decisions without thinking them through (They clearly still suffer from this as can be seen in Sharples’ recent comments on university entrance) but now I’d class this political naivety in the same terms as that shown by Russel Norman. By which I mean, it is, quite frankly, dangerous to the long-term goals of the Left and Maori.

    There is nothing wrong with a separate Maori political identity (and party), just as there is nothing wrong with a uniquely New Zealand Left identity (and I’m in agreement with Jesson that we need that also so please don’t call me a Marxist, it sounds so imported).

    The problem is it is hard to develop a strong Maori politically identity if you are aiding the implementation of policies that economically disenfranchise a large chunk of the people that subscribe to it.

  4. Lew on June 24th, 2009 at 22:16


    Firstly, it’s not my post.

    I included you for including the full press release with commentary, though on reflection that wasn’t really justified.

    I’m in agreement with Jesson that we need that also so please don’t call me a Marxist, it sounds so imported

    Heh, ironic that I should squash your political identity with such an argument. Nevertheless…

    Secondly, you seem to have mistaken the marxist left for the Labour party.

    I’m partly referring to the Labour party and its fellow travellers, but more broadly to all those people who expect class to trump all other identity aspects. This includes most of the Marxist left – the Workers Party [sorry, got the Socialist Worker rag and the party mixed up], RAM, big chunks of the trade union movement, and many Green supporters (though not, it must be said, the parliamentary Green party). And idiots like Chris Trotter, and a fair majority of the posters and commenters at The Standard who wish all those pesky poor brown people would just realise that they’ve got the same needs as all the poor white people so the left could get on with its grand plan of global domination.

    My big problem with this lot is that they’re the first to expand the definition of Marxism beyond its legitimate theoretical basis to something approaching “working for the downtrodden”, when what they really mean is “working for the economically downtrodden”; to this end they use terms like “false consciousness” which beg the very question of political identity, and presume to extrapolate the cultural and economic requirements of the 19th and 20th Century European working classes to diverse populations with widely divergent economic needs. Ethnocentric paternalism is ugly, even when it’s well-intentioned. The same goes for other politically downtrodden groups, as Anita alludes to.

    Many of us on the non-Labour Party Left strongly supported the Maori Party right up until they coalesced with National for the very reason that we saw that we shared a good number of issues. If you look at Maori statements from the last election on policies like industrial relations you’ll see that they are distinctly Left in aspect.

    Absolutely, and their voting record was much closer to the Greens’ than any others. I think if they’d begun colluding with Green much earlier on vote-splitting (trading electorate votes in the Māori electorates for party votes for Green) they could have made a go, but there remained a lingering distrust of the Pākehā Marxist left which made them gun-shy.

    Previously the worst I would have said about the Maori Party was that it was a bit woolly with policy details and tended to make decisions without thinking them through (They clearly still suffer from this as can be seen in Sharples’ recent comments on university entrance)

    I completely agree regarding the lack of policy nous – they’re noobs, by comparison, and although they have the best intentions, good policy is hard and required a staff of dedicated people with hundreds of years of cumulative experience to develop. But …

    but now I’d class this political naivety in the same terms as that shown by Russel Norman. By which I mean, it is, quite frankly, dangerous to the long-term goals of the Left and Maori.

    This I don’t buy. What you’re essentially arguing is that those parties should accept three years of nothing (like the Labour party must) in the hope of things being better after the coming election (presumably, when Labour wins). It’s a prescription for long-term dependence on a Labour party which hasn’t historically been especially sympathetic to the causes of either of those parties. While I don’t nurse any delusions of a great earth-toned coalition sweeping aside the primary colours and snatching power in 2011 (or any time forseeable, really) I would like nothing more than to see both those increase their policy and procedural skill base, establish broader parliamentary networks, and demonstrate to Labour that their favours must be won, not enjoyed as of right. For one thing I think the increased diversity of ideas will be valuable, and for another I think it’ll keep Labour honest and make them stronger in the long run.

    The problem is it is hard to develop a strong Maori politically identity if you are aiding the implementation of policies that economically disenfranchise a large chunk of the people that subscribe to it.

    It’s a trade-off; improved profile, competence and policy influence from being in government, and the demonstration that they can and will work with whomever they must.

    While I agree they haven’t made any substantive policy gains, writing them off so immediately is hardly just. Government and policy take time, and as the government progresses I expect they’ll get some decent policy gains. If they don’t, then that’s worth criticising, but two other factors are critical: the first is that the government was forming anyhow; and whatever concessions the māori party can get are going to be limited, and every little bit of influence they can have is influence which would have gone begging in opposition; second, and most importantly, they’ve demonstrated that Labour doesn’t own ’em, and will have to win back their favours. If they manage to create a Māori policy bidding war between National and Labour, then they win as a party and Māori win as a people. If they fail to do so, then quite frankly Māori aren’t much worse off than they were before.


  5. Lew on June 24th, 2009 at 22:28

    All that said, I actually do think the press release posted by IB in The Standard thread was fawning sycophantic drivel, and I agree there’s a lack of “critical distance”, as one commenter, put it between the māori party and National. However I don’t think it follows from that thet they’ve sold out – I think they’re playing to win over the long term, and they first need to demonstrate that they can play nice, even with the Nats.


  6. marty mars on June 25th, 2009 at 09:13

    Good points and go Lew! you and I are in alignment on this one (and many other ones I have to say)

    Anita raised a very good point that I have been mulling. Yes the comment I made was explicit and did include a time element. The context was the ‘sellout’ term which supposes that the maori party are letting down their supporters when I really don’t see that. The paradigm has shifted but the lines from eddie haven’t. The maori party haven’t sold out and their focus is still on maori, exactly as they have stated. I tend to think the purity of intent around the maori party is disturbing for labour.

    I agree with Anita that all and every injustice and oppression must be confronted. And I think that injustices and oppressions have to be dealt with collectively, or at the same time. They cannot be resolved otherwise. For oppressions and injustices to move/improve, requires a change in mindset and that change, when it occurs, is also the catalyst for further change and improvements.

    Thanks for the post Lew

  7. marty mars on June 25th, 2009 at 09:19

    Just a wee point. I don’t agree with everything the maori party does by a long shot, but i do enjoy their clarity of purpose.

    I want to see a left orientated government, but i cannot see labour having the humility to be able to pull that together. Which is irritating.

    Labour’s strategy of trying to split maori will backfire and cause them nothing but pain – plus it’s dumb! So perhaps time for another strategy meeting within labour to refine their lines regarding the maori party.

  8. reid on June 25th, 2009 at 23:09

    Labour under it’s last incarnation was obsessed with power from day one and its leader designed its policies accordingly.

    The MP became detached since it didn’t equate with said leader’s ambitions. (Says a lot about aforesaid leader, IMO, that she managed to squander at least a full half-century of almost total goodwill.)

    Meanwhile, the political subjects of the MP had not letup their demands.

    What choice did they have, given Labour’s (or more precisely Clark’s) rejection and secondly, would Labour have given them a better deal had they been re-elected in 09?

  9. imperial zeppelin on June 26th, 2009 at 12:07

    You cannot fix any class issue until the race issue is sorted and that won’t be sorted while you are still working everything from the class angle.

    Assuming the ‘you’ referred to is the reader, then okay…(with a slight amendment) class and race issues have to be sorted simultaneously. Along with gender issues and environmental issues etc.

    Where do the Maori and Labour Parties come into the equation? Both these political entities may well claim to advocate on class and/or race issues, but do they?

    How can they when both are willing captives of corporate prerogatives: when both are integral parts of a parliamentary system designed to protect business and market interests first and everything else second, if at all?

    Some might argue that their presence in, and ability to influence parliamentary political discourse to an extent is better than nothing. But is it good enough and will either ever deliver on race or class issues?

    The history of Labour Parties throughout the Anglo-Saxon world delivers a resounding ‘No’ in relation to emancipation of the working class. Why would, and how could we believe otherwise of the Maori Party in relation to race issues?

    It would appear reasonable to expand on Marty Mars’ statement and contend simply that race and class issues (along with all the others) will not be resolved as long as you leave the resolution to others; never mind others who are beholden to interests inimical to class, race, gender and environmental interests.

  10. Relic on June 26th, 2009 at 15:30

    If the term ‘Marxist’ is to be bandied about here, how about a quote from V.I. Lenin to back up the bus a little-“politics are the concentrated expression of economics” (collected works Vol. 9 “The Trade Unions and the mistakes of Trotsky and Bukharin).

    The Maori Party is led by the likes of Prof. Winiata and embodies the hierarchical inclinations of certain tribal elites. The capitalists via their primary parliamentary representatives National/ACT recognise the need to embrace the large and growing Maori economic sector, unlikely to be sold off overseas at this stage, and needing to be diverted from potential co-operative (socialistic) forms asap. Yes, there is the parliamentary numbers game but it is not the main prize as I see it. Getting Maori to embrace the colonisers kaupapa-private property relations, is.

    In any event ‘the misunderstood Maori Party, pushed around by frustrated leftists’ line just does not hold up. The MP is a construct that will ultimately be a waste of space for the genuine people currently supporting it. The statistics will be telling after three years of this government.

  11. […] column. For shame. Meanwhile, Relic and Imperial Zeppelin have posted good responses to my last post on this matter, which are worth responding to and which I think neatly illustrate the problems […]

  12. Keir on November 29th, 2011 at 15:13

    Hang on Lew, isn’t it the case that at the moment, the Maori Party has, broadly speaking, lost the confidence of Maori?

    If I were you, this would be the time I was desperately back pedalling the romanticist guff about the maori party-with-a-small-m and all that, and focussing more on less exciting but more reliable things like: minor coalition partner loses identity in major one! Because that seems to be the real important shift, and I suspect that in the long run that’s probably the Maori Party’s (a) problem and (b) salvation (when it happens to the Labour Party’s Maori MPs, as it inevitably will).

  13. Keir on November 29th, 2011 at 15:19

    Blargh. Ignore everything by me above — somehow I was under the assumption that this was posted, you know, recently, not, like, two years ago.

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