The thread on the post about the Honduran coup made me realise that there is much misapprehension about coups and military regimes. I shall attempt to clarify the key terms and concepts involved.

Coups are the forcible resolution of a conflict between elites. They stem from the failure to resolve said conflicts within civilian institutional boundaries. They are not revolutions.

Revolutions are mass-based armed collective action leading to parametric change in society. Parametric change involves fundamental economic, social and political change beyond the change of regime. Revolutions are mass mobilisational; coups are demobilisational. In the 20th and early 21st century the only regimes overthrown by armed revolutions have been oligarchic authoritarian, with the collapse of the Eastern bloc being a mix of mass based collective resistance (not always armed) mixed with elite fracture in favour of reform. Hence they have been called by some scholars “peaceful revolutions,” although there is considerable debate about the authenticity of their revolutionary character. No democracy has been overthrown by a revolution (although some have been created by them), but many a democracy has  fallen to a coups.

Coups can be hard or soft depending on the amount of mass mobilization preceding the coup and the degree of repression involved in the military intervention. The equation is simple: The more there is mass based collective action, particularly armed collective violence, the harsher the coup. The harsher coup, the more militarised the state will become after the coup, and the higher the degree of repression of regime opponents. Thus student riots, middle class demonstrations and wildcat strikes will invite a modicum of repression, whereas guerrilla attacks or civil war will invite a far more deadly form of military intervention.

Military rule has two variants: ruler and arbitrator (or mediator) military regimes. Ruler military regimes are rule by the military as an institution, with a defined ideological project and no time limit on their tenure in power. The ideological project has specified economic, social and political objectives, which means that ruler militaries often have a specific class coalition underpinning them. The Latin American military-bureaucratic authoritarians of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s were allied with the export bourgeoisie, finance capital and foreign MNCs (as examples think of the Pinochet regime in Chile or the Argentine, Guatemalan or El Salvadorean  juntas of the 1960s and 1970s), whereas the Arab military developmentalist regimes of the 1950s through the 1990s were allied with the secular domestic bourgeoisie and urban working classes (think Nassar in Egypt, Saddam Hussein in Iraq and post-Kemalist Turkey prior to 1980). The Burmese junta is a contemporary example. Note that although civilians may be present in ruler military regimes, and they may even have parties, parliaments and civilian courts as legitimating facades, it is the military as an institution that ultimately governs.

Ruler military regimes often come to power after their prior failures as arbitrator military regimes. Arbitrator military regimes only intervene in politics in order to restore a broken institutional order after a period of conflict. The military approach to intervention is much like a “time out” given by parents to bickering children, although in this case the bickering is between civilian elites and their political representatives. The arbitrator military sets a time table for withdrawal from power and demands that the civilian elites put their political house in order less there be a more severe intervention down the road. The military has no ideological project of its own and prefers to return to its security functions sooner rather than later, understanding that the major internal problem of being in government is erosion of its combat skills (which is the Achilles Heel of ruler militaries that stay in power for extended periods of time, since rather than training for combat, officers become military bureaucrats whose major activity is issuing edicts, writing memos and answering the phone. That invites attack by adversaries).

For much of its recent modern history Honduras has been governed by ruler military regimes (following on oligarchic rule in the 19th and early 20th centuries). After the installation of democracy it has attempted to professionalise in order to better serve the national defense (and recalling that it lost the soccer war with El Salvador). In the 1980s the US cast a blind eye on the counter-insurgency campaign conducted against local Marxist and Maoist guerrillas in exchange for allowing the stationing of counter-revolutionary forces and US advisors on the border with Nicaragua. The US currently maintains a military force of 600 troops (mostly special operations and counter-narcotics detachments) at a Honduran military air base in Soto Cano. In the 1990s the US pushed hard on the Honduran military to remove itself from politics altogether, making a variety of military assistance programs contingent upon it doing so. Until a week ago the Honduran high command upheld its end of the bargain.

It should be noted that in a small country like Honduras the elite is very interbred. Military commanders are related by blood to political leaders, high ranking clergy, large landowning families and the rising urban noveau riche. The officer corps cannot escape, even at dinner conversations, the bickering of politicians and other influential civilians. Thus the pull on them to intervene emanating from these civilians is unusually strong, and almost always in favour of protecting elite interests against “socialist” threats.

The current coup is, therefore, a variant or sub-type of the arbitrator military regime. The military removed President Zelaya and his government and allowed the installation of his designated civilian successor (and opponent), Roberto Micheletti, after Congressional and Supreme Court requests to do so. It maintains a strong presence on the streets of Tegucigalpa and the border regions, but has not resorted to blanket repression, arrest, detention and murder of Zelaya supporters (although some deaths in clashes have been reported), nor has it imposed a state of siege (although a state of emergency is in force). It has not militarised the state apparatus, has not assumed a larger governmental role,  and other than on specifically security-related matters, prefers to have the new civilian government do the talking. The speed in which it intervened and withdrew is a novel twist on the arbitrator military story. By all measures this has been a relatively benign coup.

But a coup is a coup, and by the standards of the OAS and international community in general, an illegal usurpation of the popular will as expressed through regular elections and civilian political institutions. Therefore, the military command should have resisted the move (and civilian entreties), as military upholding of the constitution means simply to abide by it, not necessarilly act as the guarantor of its enforcement. It will now be interesting to see how the political negotiations over Zelaya’s fate work out, but whatever the outcome and whether Zelaya is allowed to return to Honduras or not, he is finished as president. The one good thing to take from this political farce is that the Honduran military command apparently underestands, even if only out of self-interest, that its days as a ruler military are as over as are Zelaya’s dreams of re-election.

Clayton Weatherston put a knife in his bag, went to his ex-girlfriend’s house and stabbed her to death. He admits to all of that but he is pleading not guilty to murder, and s169 of the Crimes Act means he may only be found guilty of manslaughter. s169 says that blaming her is a defence, it says that if she provoked him and he killed her it is not murder.

It sounds far fetched, but it’s happened many times before. In 2006 Tevita Noa was found not guilty of murder; he had beaten his wife to death with a cricket bat after finding explicit photos on her cell phone. Amsheen Arif Ali stabbed Colin Hart five times, only manslaughter because Hart had made sexual advances toward him. Phillip Edwards bashed David McNee in the face 40 times, stole his car and possessions and boasted about it afterwards, only manslaughter because McNee, paying Edwards for sex, had touched Edwards’ anus.

s169 enshrines blaming the victim in law – it says that in New Zealand a man may beat a woman or a gay man to death as long as it’s their fault, her fault for wanting to leave, his fault for being gay.

In 2007 the Law Commission recommended the repeal of the section and … nothing.

Earlier this year Simon Power’s office told me

I expect to consider these proposals later this year, and will assess, at that stage, how any reforms of this nature might fall within the Government’s current legislative priorities.

But … nothing.

So, if you want to live in a country which doesn’t enshrine victim blaming in law, write to Simon Power and ask him to repeal s169 of the Crimes Act, ask him to treat the murder of wives, gay men and ex-girlfriends as murder.

[Many thanks to Idiot/Savant who has kept this issue on the agenda]

National are, true to prediction, privatising health provision. Also true to prediction they are doing so in a way that gives all the wins to the private sector and keeps all the financial risk for the taxpayer. Private providers may look low cost, but that’s only because they transfer huge amounts of cost to the public sector in terms of both management and back-stop services.

To give an example of a well known issue with private providers, every hip operation has a low very chance of complications leading to the patient spending time in an ICU.

When we cost public provision of a hip op we cost in a part of the cost of public ICU services. When we cost private provision we don’t, but we have to pay for the public ICU costs on top of the private hip op charge. That’s the first issue with the private provider efficiency – they rely on expensive back stop services being provided by the public sector. So we screw the costing model so that the private provider can make a profit off every hip op that goes well, and the public system ensures them against additional costs for the unavoidable not-so-good outcomes. Privatise the profit, socialise the loss!

The second is that there is additional cost in transferring a patient with complications from a private provider to a public ICU – we’re not only screwing the cost model to the benefit of private providers, but we’re actually incurring extra costs to do so.

Third problem? No matter who actually does the surgery “bureaucrats” are required to manage the provision, the eligibility, the bookings, the payments, etc. If one region uses eight small private providers then while each provider might look cheap and light on management there’s going be a team somewhere in the public system making sure that all the patients are allocated and treated, that the contracts are negotiated and the bills are paid and so on. Again, more inefficient that a single large provider responsible for both allocation and provision, again designed to make the private sector look lean and efficient, and the public sector bloated with bureaucrats.

Why, when so many other countries have proved that private healthcare provision is neither cheaper nor more effective thanpublic provision, when our largely private primary health provision is failing to meet demand, and when it is obvious that the private sector would only involve itself in healthcare so it could turn tax dollars into a tidy profit, is National pushing on with privatisation?

Part of the answer is ideological blindness, but part is also the make up of National and its closest friends. The links between National and the private healthcare lobby go back decades. In recent times the fundraising, personal and lobbying ties between National and the Private Hospitals Association are well documented in The Hollow Men, and a quick glance through the list of current National MPs shows just how entwined they remain, from Michael Woodhouse (ex-President of the NZ Private Surgical Hospitals Association), to Jonathan Coleman (a consultant in the medical sector) the list of Nats with personal interests in the profiteering of the private healthcare sector is deep and long.

Between ideology purity and self interest it looks like we’re on a long journey to inefficient expensive and ineffective privatised healthcare courtesy of Tony Ryall, John Key, and friends.

[This borrows from a comment I made on this thread at The Standard. Marty G has some great analysis on just how much of the current National spin about healthcare costs is … just spin]

Convincing the Police we have a right to protest

datePosted on 13:01, July 4th, 2009 by Anita

It is good to see that – after a 12 year battle – the right to protest in Parliament grounds is finally being reaffirmed. The short version is that in 1997 the then speaker Doug Kidd authorised the arrest of 75 people protesting against education reforms in Parliament grounds and later trespassed them all. It has taken 12 years for the speaker’s office and the Police to finally agree to apologise and pay compensation.

It is frustrating that in a supposedly open democratic society there are so many example of the Police and authorities trying to stifle dissent, and that it takes many years and many costly lawyer hours to get to a point the courts finally make them back down. Recent examples that spring to mind are people being arrested and prosecuted for writing in chalk on a footpath, using a loud hailer and blowing a whistle again on a public footpath, and burning a NZ flag (which required a High Court appeal). If you’re interested in more examples I found this article while I was checking I remembered the chalk incident correctly.

In theory the Police are there to protect our rights, including our right to participate in democratic protest, but it frequently feels like their main goal is to protect the dominance of the current power elite. It was interesting to see this scenario appear in the ethics training material the Police have developed since the Commission of Inquiry into Police Conduct (driven by the Police rape trials)

Ethical dilemma example 7
I would like to imagine this is a sign of a turning tide, and the Police will now be protecting our right to protest, but recent examples of deliberate and exploitative infiltration of protest groups, and the use of defenders of torturers like Mark Lowenthal by the Police for training and advice is hardly a good sign. Do these recent examples pass their own test?

NZ Police SELF test

Thank you, Lyndon Hood

datePosted on 11:38, July 3rd, 2009 by Lew

Your s59 referendum decision-making flow-chart is a thing of beauty.

L

The bloodless coup that ousted Honduran president Manuel Zelaya this past week has been universally condemned by the UN, OAS, EU, major human rights, civil liberties, academic and policy organisations, as well a scores of individual countries throughout the Western Hemisphere and beyond (although I have not found any public record of NZ’s response, which makes me wonder about the Key government’s attitude towards such things). Approval of the coup has been limited to the Zelaya’s opposition in Honduras, Republican bloviators and reactionary chickenhawks such as those that infest the threads at places like DPF’s blog (although DPF himself has speculated on the legitimacy of the Honduran coup, he stopped short of endorsing it). For these intellectually challenged folk, Barack Obama (rather than the US State Department or US government as a whole) has sided with Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro in defense of another socialist authoritarian and against “freedom” (as if the US stance was the end-all and be-all of regional politics).  Since I am not smoking the type of left handed cigarettes that produce such hallucinations, let me clarify the facts of the case, then offer some thoughts on the subject of coups in general since I have lived through a few and have studied them as part of my professional life. What is clear is this: the coup ended 15 years of peaceful electoral politics in Central America and is only the second in Latin America in the last 25 years (the other was against Hugo Chavez in 2002 and lasted less than a week). Since these were the longest periods in Latin American history free from overt military intrusion in politics, it is a sad event on that score alone. But was the coup justified?

Manuel Zelaya is a populist who was elected by a comfortable margin in 2006. He campaigned on a predictable platform of anti-elite reform (even though he comes from the rural landowning  elite himself), and by all accounts was popular with the majority. But this year, as his constitutionally mandated term office came to its conclusion, he lobbied for a constitutional reform that among other things was believed by many to include unlimited term limits on the presidency (which would allow him to run again). This constitutional jury-rigging proved successful for Chavez in Venezuela, and some thought it was this model that Zeleya was following.

If so, the trouble for Zelaya was that unlike Chavez he did not have a supplicant Congress, compliant judiciary or allied military backing his plan. Instead Congress, the Supreme Court and the military all resisted the move. Although it may be true that these entities are dominated by elite interests and therefore not so much opposed to Zelaya as what he represents, they were, under the existing Honduran constitution, within their rights to resist his pressure to that end. Confronted by that resistance, Zelaya went public with demands for a non-binding referendum on whether a constitutional reform was necessary (the referendum was scheduled for the day after the coup), and in the week before his ouster had marched with several thousand supporters on a military base in order to take possession of balloting papers stored there. That appears to have been the final straw (as a direct challenge to the corporate integrity of the armed forces), and within days a Supreme Court justice signed a writ authorising his arrest by the military on charges of treason and fraud. His arrest and deportation followed hours later.

Contrary to what conservatives claim, in opposing the coup no country is siding with Castro and Chavez out of ideological affinity. All 34 member nations of the OAS have condemned the coup and refuse to recognise the new government, as has the UN General Assembly (in fact, OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza accompanied Zelaya to New York in order for the latter to make his case to the General Assembly). Under provisons of the 1991 “defense of democracy” clause inserted into the OAS Charter (resolution 1080, which was supported by the Bush 41 administration and which includes provisions for the establishment of a Unit for the Protection of Democracy in the event democratic stability is threatened in any member state), and the 2001 Interamerican Democratic Charter, a 2/3 majority of the Permanent Council of the OAS can vote to suspend member status to any state in which a democratically government is overthrown by force. Resolution 1080 was used to justify the multinational military intervention in Hait when the democratically elected Leftist government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide was overthrown by the military junta led by general Raul Cedras (which was also the first time in regional history that the US intervened against a pro-US military government in support of an anti-US democratic government). The IADC was invoked against the Venezuelan coup-mongerers in 2002. Hence, rather than evidence of some commie sympathies, US and other opposition to the coup is firmly grounded in international law, regional treaty obligations and multilateral institutions.

The Honduran military points out that it has not assumed power and no one died in the action against Zelaya. Instead, Zelaya’s constitutionally designated successor took his place and the Supreme Court declared the whole process to be legal. Elections scheduled for November will proceed apace. Point noted. We shall call this, then, a “soft” coup (as opposed to the 1973 coup that ousted Salvador Allende in Chile or the 1976 military coup in Argentina).

The problem for the Honduran military is that the action was overkill given the circumstances. Ousting a democratically elected president because he is pushing for a non-binding popular referendum is a bit much when other avenues of recourse, such as his arrest by the police or tax authorities on civil or criminal charges, could have allowed him his day in court and averted the situation now unfolding. Given a range of less drastic options, why would the military make the coup move?

The answer lies in the military’s internal organisation and external threat perception. Unlike many advanced democracies, Honduras still has a military charged with internal as well as external security functions. This is a carry-over from the authoritarian days when leftist guerrilla forces operated within Honduran territory (when some of the current military commanders were junior officers blooding themselves for the first time). It is evident in the use of military personnel for police functions such as traffic control (roadblocks) in regions deemed to be of military sensitivity (such as along the Salvadorean and Nicaraguan borders). It is evident in the internal focus of military intelligence, and in the use of para-military units to supplement regular police forces. Thus, internal conflicts between civilian political factions become, by definition, threats to national security, especially when they involve the spectre of mass social unrest. Since the military is encharged with responding to internal threats, it did so after considerable in-house debate and consultation with civilian elites.

The other reason for the coup is that it sends a message. That message is squarely directed at Hugo Chavez. The Honduran military (along with the Guatemalan, Salvadorean and US militaries) is concerned about the inroads Chavez has made in Nicaragua now that former Sandinista commander Daniel Ortega is back in the presidency of that country. Remember that Chavez has purged the Venezuelan military of career professional officers in favour of partisan cronies; has opened military ties with Russia and Iran;  has purchased massive amounts of weaponry disproportionate to the threat environment in which Venezuela operates; and has formed armed civilian militias as an instrument of social and political control. Chavez may have his legitimate reasons for doing so, but that is not what matters in this instance : the Honduran military perception of his actions is all that counts.

The Honduran military fear is that he is now exporting these concepts elsewhere, not only to Nicaragua (which has been receptive to his overtures), but also to El Salvador, where a moderate Left leaning government with ties to the old FMLN guerrilla movement has recently been installed (although it shows no signs of radicalization along Chavez-inspired lines). Worse yet, Zelaya had agreed to join the Chavez-organized ALBA regional trade network in spite of Honduras’ membership in CAFTA, the Central American Free Trade organisation, which was seen as indicative of his future orientation should his proposed constitutional reforms get passed. Whether or not there is truth to these concerns (and it would appear that a considerable element of ideological paranoia has been overlayed on traditional Honduran military concerns about the security of their borders given the behaviour of their neighbours–remember the 1979 “soccer war” between El Salvador and Honduras), the fact is that the Honduran military want to make clear that it will not tolerate the “Bolivarization” of Honduras. Even if Zelaya is restored–and I suspect he will, especially since the OAS has given Honduras 3 days to reverse the coup–that message has been received and understood by all concerned.

As for coups in general. I shall not address coups against oppressive authoritarian regimes, such as the 1974 Revolution of the Carnations led by Left-leaning mid-ranking officers against the remnants of the Salazar regime in Portugal (and which led to democracy). The justification for such coups should be obvious (except, perhaps, to the chickenhawks).

Instead, let us consider under what conditions a coup against a democratically elected government is justifed. I can only think of one. That is when a freely-elected government suspends democratic rights (including elections, civil liberties and rights to fair trial), imprisons and kills its opponents, outlaws competing political parties, censors or closes down the media, destroys opposition (or “suspect”) organisations, and in general assumes an authoritarian character once it is installed in office (NOTE: to my mind nationalisation of foreign businesses or private property is not a justification, although fair compensation and legal disputation is expected).

Anything short of that is no justification for a coup (which means that the Honduran coup is clearly unjustifed), but military inaction in the face of such behaviour is a recipie for tragedy at home and abroad. The best example of the latter is the rise of the National Socialists from the ashes of the Weimar Republic, where Hitler and his gang of thugs used their electoral victory and ideological appeal to destroy German democracy (an event crystallised, literally, in the Kristallnacht of November 9-10, 1938). He then turned his sights abroad.

There is only one regime in Latin American that comes even remotely close to satisfying the conditions for a legitimate anti-democratic coup, and there is still some way to go before the criteria for a recourse to arms will be justified: that of Hugo Chavez.

The Pirate Bay – sold!

datePosted on 20:30, June 30th, 2009 by Lew

Swedish company Global Gaming Factory X claims to have bought The Pirate Bay, in a press release declaring the acquisition. At the same time, they purchased Peerialism, which has developed “peerialistic” content-sharing models; new models which keep content-owners as happy as consumers. Or so they reckon. The purpose of the acquisition appears to be a move away from a content distribution model of questionable legality and toward a “third way” model of sorts.

We would like to introduce models which entail that content providers and copyright owners get paid for content that is downloaded via the site, ” said Hans Pandeya, CEO GGF. The Pirate Bay is a site that is among the top 100 most visited Internet sites in the world. However, in order to live on, The Pirate Bay requires a new business model, which satisfies the requirements and needs of all parties, content providers, broadband operators, end users, and the judiciary. Content creators and providers need to control their content and get paid for it. File sharers ‘need faster downloads and better quality, ” continues Hans Pandeya.

I don’t know how credible this all is; there’s no indication on the site that anything has changed. But if the news is legit, it is a major blow to the free content movement and the agenda which opposes rampant corporate control of information (about which I have written before). It could show that the fiercest ideological outlaws, people who have laughed in the face of legal and financial threats for years, are motivated by money after all. It also shows, perhaps, that losing a major lawsuit isn’t always a bad thing: it’s hard to see TPB, which has virtually no staff, assets or anything other than brand recognition being sold for SEK60m (NZ$12m) before the lawsuit and its Streisand Effect.

Edit: It’s now official, though they use the word “might” in a way the above-linked press release doesn’t.

Despite the price tag, that’s apparently not the point:

TPB is being sold for a great bit underneath it’s value if the money would be the interesting part. It’s not. The interesting thing is that the right people with the right attitude and possibilities keep running the site.

They also roll out a good lick of market-libertarian rhetoric in their favour:

On the internets, stuff dies if it doesn’t evolve. We don’t want that to happen. We’ve been working on this project for many years. It’s time to invite more people into the project, in a way that is secure and safe for everybody. We need that, or the site will die. And letting TPB die is the last thing that is allowed to happen! If the new owners will screw around with the site, nobody will keep using it. That’s the biggest insurance one can have that the site will be run in the way that we all want to. And – you can now not only share files but shares with people. Everybody can indeed be the owner of The Pirate Bay now. That’s awesome and will take the heat of us.

Just a bit too pat. My skepticism about their motives stands.

L

The class element in recent Middle Eastern elections.

datePosted on 10:17, June 30th, 2009 by Pablo

Lost in the chorus of outrage over the Iranian election results and subsequent repression of protest is the socio-economic cleavages evident in the polls. The same is true of the coverage of the Lebanese parliamentary elections held two weeks earlier.  It is therefore worthwhile to examine this dimension.

President Amadinijhad represents not only the militant Islamicist ideological wing embodied in the Revolutionary Guard and the paramilitary Basij, who are now purportedly in a power struggle with the clerics in the Guardian Council over the direction of the post-revolutionary leadership movement. Amadinijhad also represents, both in tone and demeanour, the urban working and rural classes. Against him are poised the supporters of Mir Hossein Mousani, a former Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs who his supporters and Western analysts see as a reformist. He is also a millionaire who receives his support from the urban bourgeousie, secularists, the better educated and university students. In most aspects he is not discernably different from Amadinijhad with regard to major policy issues (such as the civilian nuclear energy program), but he does represent a modernizing element within the revolution, one that is more secular, more technologically savvy and more attuned to Western mores than the mullahs and Revolutionary Guards (at the elite level) and the working classes (at the base) that see Amadinijhad as a bastion against corrosive secularisation of the revolutionary ethos.

The election was a referendum not on Iran’s foreign policy (which the West is obsessed about), but on Amadinijhad’s economic management, which by any measure is poor and which, like in any other country, occupies the attention of the mass electorate. Iran is a net oil importer that cannot feed itself in spite of its large land mass and variegated geography, access to the sea and ample fresh water. It was also a contest between the cell phone and twitter generation and the rest, since only 30 percent of Iranians have access to computer facilities and less than half have access to cell phones. Clearly, Amadinijhad and the mullahs underestimated the power of cellphone and computer access, particiularly when the regime itself is now dependent on computer services and cell phones in order to conduct its daily business (which practically speaking means that universal shut downs or denials of service are nigh impossible). 

My belief is that Amadinijhad won the election, but by a narrow margin that spooked him and his supporters who felt that a close vote would undermine the face of strength and unity they wish to present to the West with regards to the nuclear progam, support for Hamas and Hezbollah and foreign relations in general, to say nothing of their relationship with the Sunni Arab world. Unfamiliar with the subtleties of vote fraud so well refined in advanced democracies, the Amadinijhad government–which controlled the balloting–padded their lead too much and hand counted votes too quickly to be credible. Hence the uproar.

But the genie is out of the bottle no matter what happens. Amadinijhad is dead in the water as far as having influence and leverage at home and abroad. In terms of foreign policy, he cannot purport to be the representative of any consensus vis a vis relations with the West, which undermines any bargaining position he hopes to maintain on key foreign policy issues (simply due to the lack of acknowledged majority support for his views). Domestically, the Revolutionary Guard and Basij has been sent a clear message that their ideological project is not shared by a wide swathe of Iranians. Moreover, the class divisions that precipitated the election crisis will not go away just because the government quells the protests. Thus, whether or not the West would like to intervene in the post-election process (a move that has never been proven to be successful over the long-term), the class conflict underpinning the electoral dispute will continue so long as both sides play the dispute in zero-sum terms. In the measure they do, they risk the possibility of civil war, since significant elements in the conventional military (particularly in the more technologically or professionally oriented branches of the Air Force and Navy) will not follow Revolutionary Guard orders to kill their own people  (if nothing else because the officer corps and non-commisioned officers are part of the middle classes), and because the “real” military will be needed to quell any mass revolt. In the measure that the Amadinijhad and Mousavi factions cut a deal and marginalise the Revolutionary Guard and Basij pustchists, the clerics and conventional officer corps will back them. The question is, can they reconcile the class conflicts in a political compromise that is mutually binding, universally acceptable and stable over time?

In Lebanon, Saad el-Hariri assumed the mantle of his assassinated father Rafic and gained a majority in the June 7 parliamentary elections, winning 71 of 128 seats . Hezbollah, led by Hassan Nasrallah, won 57 seats and accepted the outcome. Hezbollah represents the working class and Shiia vote in Lebanon; Hariri represents the Sunni, Christian, Druze, secularist and bourgeoise vote. The West applauded the result and urged Hariri to proceed with his father’s anti-Syrian and anti-Iranian project, which includes marginalising (and criminalising) Hezbollah. Understanding the realities on the ground, Saad el-Hariri has opted instead to form a  national unity government that includes Hezbollah because he apparently understands that class, not religious conflict, is what drives many to support the Shiia extremists (who deliver on their promises of social services far better than any of their pro-Western counterparts).

 What is remarkable is the unmentioned premise for Western political support in a Middle Eastern (or any other)  election: defense of upper class (read capitalist) interests at the expense of all others. To be sure, religious, ethnic and cultural conflicts are bound up in these electoral contests, but one thing remains clear: even in societies rendered by such superstructural forms of primary identification, it is class that drives the major political divisions, and it is class interest, capitalist class interests specifically, to which the West responds most favorably when it comes to electoral outcomes. All of this is obvious: for the West it seems electoral democracy is not so much about the freedom to choose but about the “freedom” to choose bourgeoise leaders who uphold the national capitalist class interest as well as an affinity for Western economic orientation and macroeconomic logics (in spite of the obvious debacles such orientation has produced in both the developed and developing world). The response to Hamas’s electoral victory is an indication of that view, above and beyond its problematic approach to violence, Iranian connections and  non-recognition of Israel. 

I should note that the current trend in both elections indicates a move away from religious militancy and towards moderate-secularism, which to my mind is a good thing. It also represents a specific repudiation of Shiia militancy, either in the form of the Revolutionary Guard ideology or the perspective of its Hezbollah and Hamas proxies in Lebanon and Palestine ( fully understanding the local conditions underpinning their respective support), something that will undoubtably comfort elites in the Sunni Arab world.

For the social democratic Left the elections pose a conundrum: who to support? The “bad guys” (at least in Western eyes) are supported by the working masses and rural poor; the “good guys” are supported by elites and other propertied groups as well as well-meaning sorts such as intellectuals and artists. The class line does not suffice to chart a course of response to such situations. For social democratic governments, this poses a major problem; for right wing governments such as that temporarily governing NZ, it does not. Thus the question begs: when confronted by this type of class conflict viewed through the prism of contested elections, does the democratic Left (in government or in opposition) choose democracy over class interest or vice versa? If so why, exactly? If not, why not?

On Thursday last week Brendon Burns, a Labour MP on the primary production select committee, posted on Red Alert about pig farming. More precisely he said he was horrified by sow crates, and he’d had a little dig at the Minister about MAF’s Chief Vet. So far so average, aware of issues, making political mileage, but there might be more… 

So we asked, a whole bunch of comments on Red Alert and a whole bunch on a related post on The Standard, we asked “What is Labour going to do?”

You see this is an area where Labour, although in opposition, could make a real difference right now. All they need to do is say with conviction “Within two months of Labour next winning an election and leading a government we will introduce the necessary small change in legislation, and big change in the animal welfare code to ban sow crates etc[1], we would have the changes in place in our first 12 months, they would come into force 2 years later”. So every single pig farmer in New Zealand, because they might not support Labour but they know Labour will lead a government again, will know when they plan a new piggery or do maintenance on an old one, that they should make the necessary changes now, because it’s cheaper to do it now that retrofit later. So if Labour stood and and said it with conviction, the conditions of pigs would start changing – not as fast as they should, but some pigs would live less horrible lives in 2010.

But anyway, back on with the story, commenters asked what Labour would do, suggested changes that could be made, and Rochelle even offered a private members bill she’s drafted.

Brendon Burns and his Labour friends? Not a peep, not a word, not a comment. So on Saturday I bumped the post, and got a reply from Brendon Burns:

Might be that other Labour MPs are onto this but I am happy to receive suggestions on amending legislation and have a look.
And, btw, MPs are eating free range pork (and chicken.) I asked a question of Bellamys months ago and they have assured me, via their suppliers, that no sow-crate pork is used, none imported and all free range.

Yeah, that’s right, we’ve already offered a private members bill, and the best he can do is say Bellamies don’t use sow crated pork and chicken. 

But y’know he might just have forgotten to read any of the comments, so I posted another comment to check that he has actually got a copy of Rochelle’s bill and… silence.

Perhaps Labour has a Plan, and will be announcing their animal welfare policy any day now. Sadly, however, it appears that, for Labour, the suffering of pigs is nothing more than an opportunity for political point scoring.

How decidedly average.

 

[1] Where etc includes all the cruel things done to intensively farmed pigs and chooks.

Brogressives and fauxgressives

datePosted on 14:51, June 27th, 2009 by Lew

Chris Trotter doesn’t want to debate, which is good, because there’s really no point to it – his arguments and mine are at cross purposes because we differ on a key point: whether support for independent self-determination for power minorities is necessary to call oneself a ‘progressive’. Chris doesn’t think so. As far as he’s concerned, Māori self-determination is a nice idea, so long as it doesn’t try to take a different line to the honkey Marxist agenda which he misdefines as ‘progressivism’. If that were the case, then this “well-meaning but misguided political naïf” would need to turn in his cloth cap. But progressivism hasn’t ever just been about the white working classes dictating the political agenda to other power minorities; it’s never held that the needs of all power minorities be crushed by the worker solidarity agenda. That’s why my previous post was directed at the “Marxist left”, not at the progressive movement. I’m ok with not being part of that clique – comfortable, as Danyl Mclauchlan said, having no ideological flaws that a few decades digging canals in Fiordland wouldn’t set straight.

The progressive movement has been about power minorities supporting each others’ political agendas against those who would keep political power in the hands of patrician elites. Diversity is a political strategy. You should support peoples’ right to make their own political decisions, even if you disagree with those decisions, because if you don’t you could find support for the right to make your own political decisions to be somewhat lacking. So while Chris is playing the No True Scotsman game, I can play, too: if you don’t support the rights of indigenous people to determine their own political destiny, you’re not a progressive. More in the nature of a slogan: if you’re not a brogressive, you’re a fauxgressive.*

Until we can come to some sort of sense on this matter there’s no point in continuing the discussion. Chris, by his repeated denial and denigration of indigenous rights to political self-determination, criticising the independence of the Greens from Labour, and in denying that women ought to be free from sexual predation as of right, seems well on his way to becoming one of those conservative baby-boomers which are the subject of his latest column. For shame.

Edit: I withdraw and apologise for the redacted paragraph above, as a response to Chris’ justified complaints about my conduct here. This wasn’t up to the KP standard, and I’m sorry for that. I’ve replied to Chris in the comments of his thread on the hope of more meaningful engagement.


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 I have with this sell-out / kupapa / brown tories / haters & wreckers line of argument.

Imperial Zeppelin, first:

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?
[…]
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.

I both agree and disagree, but this gets to the nub of the matter: power minorities need to drive their own political agendas. My view is that while neither the Labour party nor the māori party perfectly represent their nominal constituencies, they are nevertheless best-placed to advocate for those constituencies. Nobody else can do it for them; the degree of their success or failure will or ought to be be reflected in their electoral support.

Relic:

how about a quote from V.I. Lenin to back up the bus a little-“politics are the concentrated expression of economics”

This is precisely what’s wrong with the Marxist approach. Going back to a higher authority than Lenin, I consider politics to be the ‘master science’ – the discipline which governs which other disciplines are considered worthwhile. Far from being just economics, it encompasses religion, morality, ethics, war, epistemology, identity, history, actual science and more to boot. Politics is how people organise themselves in society. There are many referents of political identity, and it is for each individual to choose their own primary identity. Marxists who say it’s only economics tend to be those who, ironically, care mostly about money and the power which it brings.

The Maori Party is led by the likes of Prof. Winiata and embodies the hierarchical inclinations of certain tribal elites.

And the Labour party doesn’t embody the hierarchical inclinations of academic and public servant elites? Let’s not pretend that any party in parliament is actually a workers’ party – in the democratic systems we have, credible political vehicles are by necessity elite-dominated. So all you’re saying is that you prefer elites of one flavour to those of another.

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.

This is a much better point, but (like other criticisms of the māori party, it rests on two false premises: first, that Māori don’t know what’s best for Māori; and second, that Labour are substantially better.

Second issue first. With the Foreshore and Seabed Act, Labour did more damage to Māori access to resources, mana whenua status, equality before the law and collective resource control than any government of any colour had done for the better part of a century. The passage of that act was the most recent shot fired in the war of colonialism, which told Māori that they were not entitled to due process and redress in law, as other citizens were; that they had no right to even try to assert mana whenua rights to historic resources no matter how strong their claim; and that hapū-level ownership was not an option. And all this from their historic allies, whom Māori had supported without fail for generations.

It’s not that Labour had no choice, as they and their apologists claim – they had the choice of losing and retaining their principles and the loyalty of Māori, or winning without either. They chose the former, before the gauntlet was properly thrown down at Orewa, and subjugated tino rangatiratanga to political expedience, forcing Māori to once again lie back and think of Ingarangi in service of the ‘greater good’ which served the Pākehā majority. That was Labour’s decision to make, but the expectation that there would be no consequences was simply absurd, and speaks to the level of entitlement Labour felt it had to Māori loyalty. The māori party, more than anything else, was founded to demonstrate that government needs to earn the support of Māori, rather than enjoy it as of right, use it, and abuse it as convenience dicatates. So far it is doing that, though whether it will do so in the long term remains to be seen.

Many objections to the māori party decision to side with National focus solely on the losses, ignoring the possibility of gains or arguing that National have no intention of fulfilling any of their undertakings. It is true that National’s policies will probably inflict more acute economic harm on Māori in the short term, but there’s more to intergenerational indigenous politics than small-scale tactical gains and losses in economics, and the calculus is that short-term losses may be worth it for long-term gains.

The integrity of the tino rangatiratanga movement is just such a strategic gain. The first big test of the māori party’s strategy comes this Tuesday, when the Foreshore and Seabed Act review panel reports its recommendations to Chris Finlayson. Further tests will come in the next year as National and Labour begin to bid in earnest for the brown vote, supposing Labour begins to campaign at all. Even if the māori party is turfed out off parliament in 2011, if they have raised the importance and profile of kaupapa Māori politics such that no party in the future believes they can act as Labour did in 2004, they will have succeeded.

As for the argument that Labour policies help Māori because most Māori are working class and Labour policies help working class people, therefore all Māori should. This is simply a reverse ‘rising tide lifts all boats’ argument. The point is that Māori have different needs and, under the Treaty framework, different entitlements to the rest of the working class. A political movement which treats Māori simply as brown proles ignores this historical reality, and is an insult to all those who have fought for recognition and redress.

On to the first issue. After generations of relying on Pākehā elites to redress the abuses of the land wars and following, a group of Māori leaders have taken it upon themselves to develop a principled strategy to find redress by their own means. Some Māori have supported them, and if they fail to make progress toward that redress, or do so by sacrificing other, more important things (such as the kaupapa of collective ownership) then the party will (or should) lose that support. This is fundamentally the point: the decision as to whether the calculus described above is worthwhile for Māori is for Māori to make, not for “well-meaning but misguided” honkeys who want to co-opt the politics of tino rangatiratanga as part of their worker solidarity movement.

Self-determination is a fundamental component of liberty. If you approve of political self-determination only for those movements which serve your own political ends, you’re little better than the Iranian clerics, for whom any political candidate is acceptable, as long as they’re a Shi’a fundamentalist. Let a thousand political agendas bloom; that is the liberal way.

L

* With thanks to Melissa McEwan, whose blog is well and truly open for business again.

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