Maori Socialism versus Maori Capitalism?

Woe be it for me to venture into the minefield of Maori politics on Waitangi Day. Yet the ructions around “Escortgate” at Te Tii Marae got me to thinking that perhaps there is more to the story than arguments within Ngapuhi and the inevitable displays of division that seem to mark the yearly event. At risk of stating the obvious, it is not just about different forms of identity politics.

Instead, what may be on display is the fundamental conflict between what might be called maori socialism and maori capitalism. By that I mean maori identity superimposed on a class base. Maori socialism is a view that is working class and lumpenproletarian in perspective, while Maori capitalism is propertied and bourgeois in orientation. The Hareweras and the Mana Party are a good examples of the former while the Maori Party and entities such as the so-called “Brown Table,” to say nothing of numerous trusts and boards, constitute examples of the latter. The conflict between them is not so much rooted in personalities, iwi and hapu (although there is clearly a strong element of that), but in fundamental differences in economic perspective and the proper approach to the Pakeha-dominated socio-economic and political status quo.

To be clear, I am not referring in this instance to pure forms of socialist or capitalist thought. Communal and egalitarian beliefs are as strongly represented in maori economics and society as are ownership and hierarchy. In the realm of Maori politics it seems that hybrid approaches rooted in one or the other ideological perspective have come to dominate political discourse. But the broad division between “Left” and “Right” seem fairly distinct.

The “militant” (although it is not truly that), “socialist” (although it is also not really that) approach is to largely reject the Pakeha rules of the game as given while working on what generously can be called a war of position strategy: raising consciousness amongst subaltern groups within whom lower class maori constitute the core around which issues of praxis are addressed. In this strategy alliances with Pakeha leftists are feasible because the ideological line vis a vis the common class enemy is roughly the same.

The “moderate” (phrased nicely) capitalist approach is one of pragmatic accommodation and incremental gains within the elite system as given. Alliance with Pakeha elites is possible given the division of potential spoils available in a system constructed by and for elites, but which increasingly has the potential to be colour and ethnicity-blind. Here the strategy is also one of a war of position, but in this case from within rather than from without.

Needless to say, there is some blurring between the two (e.g. Mana plays within the institutional rules of the political system and the Maori Party is not averse to relying on extra-institutional means of getting their point across). There are also significant agent-principal problems on both sides.

Even so, it seems that the main source of conflict within maoridom is grounded in class orientation and its corresponding strategic approach as much if not more than anything else. Put vulgarly in leftist terms, it is a conflict between the staunch and the sell-outs. Put bluntly in capitalist terms, it is a conflict between losers and realists.

From a practical standpoint, the underlying class differences are more difficult to resolve than other aspects of maori identity. It is in the Pakeha elite interest to keep things so.

Given my ignorance of Maori politics I could be wrong. I defer to Lew, Anita and more informed readers in any event. My intent is not to stir.  Instead, this post is written as an inquiry rather than a statement. Your views on the issue are therefore welcome.

5 thoughts on “Maori Socialism versus Maori Capitalism?

  1. There’s an added dimension, that even Maori capitalists are not above appealing to pakeha leftists, usually by claiming that Maori, when empowered, will deliver an outcome that’s egalitarian/environmentalist/in some other way preferable to pakeha leftists as an outcome. When this outcome isn’t consistantly delivered, pakeha leftists usually don’t notice.

  2. As Dr Elizabeth Rata and Jamie Bellich have described in their writings there was a strong entrepreneurial spirit and trading/business record (to Australia etc.) amongst some Māori during the colonisation takeover period.

    The spirit of Māori collectivism also runs strong to this day as many unionists involved in a dispute would know. Our post colonial situation with all sorts living here now, not just Māori iwi and pākehā shakes it up a bit and you have to be on your political game to keep up.

    For instance the Iwi Leaders Group helped resolve the Talleys lockout. A number of that ILG are out and out capitalists and it was not a unanimous position. (Other ILGs seem to keep springing up too, as in the Far North to aid Mayor Wayne Brown’s mining initiatives).

    But while there is a capitalist control and model what is the “Māori” economy supposed to do? And this goes to the core of identity and class politics.

  3. Pablo: In my view there is no reason to apologise for a lack or perceived lack of knowledge of Maori politics.

    It is highly likely / probable almost everyone in the country (including Maori citizens) are often overwhelmed at the continuing machinations & whirlwind changes of those dynamics. And it makes life very interesting.

    I read your columns with great interest and come away to ponder and reflect on your analysis.

    Your writings are challenging at times as you weave, introduce & compare concepts of citizen-hood from countries and places (not experienced) to life in New Zeal-land.

    To ease/overcome any perceived ‘cultural divide or regrets’ Rob McLeod’s 2005 seminar to the NZ Treasury may be helpful.

    Dame Joan Metge’s 2004 seminar – where she eloquently analysed the background to the oft-quoted phrase ‘We are one people’ – to have a broader application ‘We many peoples together make a nation’.

    Which is what we (and that includes you) are.

  4. Much thanks Chris.

    It is ground upon which I tread lightly. The links are very useful.

  5. The truth as I see it is that we all need to belong to something, that’s why there are gangs, people join the police or some other organization. Being Maori when most of you genetic material is European it to attach to a thread of belonging which is so natural for humans. We create wars and conflict on abstract ideas. I see myself as Scottish as a thread to a past I can belong. There are forces in power that use this known human trait and to encourage what is known a Maori’s to assert themselves but in reality there is a bigger priority and fish to fry. Any creation of division in a society is a good thing for some that have an end game. Maori’s beware, you are just as disposable as others have been when your usefulness passes it’s use by date.

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