The Conspirators


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ON THE EVENING of 11 June 1903, a determined group of Serbian army officers shot their way into the royal palace in Belgrade. Hearing the gunfire, King Alexander and his wife, Queen Draga, hid themselves in a secret room adjoining their bedroom. Inevitably, the pair’s hiding place was discovered and they were brutally murdered – shot and hacked to pieces by at least a dozen assailants. The King’s and Queen’s blood-soaked bodies ended up several floors below on the palace lawn. The jubilant killers celebrated their night of butchery with champagne.

This horrific tale of political blood-lust was compounded by the complete failure of the Serbian authorities to apprehend and prosecute the individuals responsible. The crime, which shocked and sickened the whole of Europe, went entirely unpunished.

The conspirators were always confident of getting away with their crime. Had his rival, Alexander, not been murdered, Serbia’s new King, Peter, would have remained crownless. The assassination plot similarly allowed the hitherto suppressed Radical Party to restore the kingdom’s liberal constitution and become Serbia’s next government. The newspapers, no longer subject to Alexander’s censors, were also reluctant to criticise the conspirator’s actions. Just about everyone, it seemed, had a reason to let the matter drop.

Only a handful of Serbs were prepared to describe this new, regicidal, Serbia honestly. Founded upon treachery and murder, it was a political and legal abomination. But the few brave souls who went further – demanding that the regicide conspirators be brought to justice – were themselves assassinated.

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And so the conspirators embedded themselves ever more deeply in the organs of the Serbian state. Their leaders were not only untouchable, but they were also convinced that as “the saviours of the nation” they had an unimpeachable right to control its destiny. Secretive and increasingly influential they steadily expanded their power to become a virtual state-within-a-state: a cancer on the Serbian body politic that its official leaders were too frightened to remove.

In June and July 1914, the official Serbian state’s failure to move against the regicides of 1903 proved fatal to the peace of the world. Indeed, nearly 100 years later, the consequences of the conspirators’ murderous acts – which led directly to the outbreak of the First World War – are all around us.

THE UNTOUCHABLE CONSPIRATORS responsible for the 1903 murder of the Serbian royal family, and again, eleven years later in Sarajevo, of the Austrian Archduke, Franz Ferdinand, and his wife, Sophie, are described in the opening chapters of Christopher Clark’s excellent new book, The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914.

Reading about these events, I began to wonder if something similar hadn’t happened here. Like the unpunished Serbian regicides, have the ideological extremists who launched the neoliberal revolution of 1984 been permitted to create and expand their own “state-within-a-state”? Is it possible that, for the past thirty years, a neoliberal equivalent of the Serbian ultra-nationalist secret society, the “Black Hand”, has been intimidating New Zealand’s democratically-elected leaders and dictating official government policy?

It is certainly true that a great many people and institutions benefitted enormously from the brutal murder of social-democratic New Zealand.

The immediate beneficiaries of the neoliberal conspiracy were the companies and individuals who precipitated the speculative run on the New Zealand dollar in the weeks leading up to the snap election of 14 July 1984.

The run was started by the “inadvertent” leaking of Labour’s plans to devalue the currency by a whopping 20 percent. For those in possession of overseas funds it was a sure-and-certain one-way bet. All they had to do was wait until the Muldoon Government fell and collect their winnings.

So incensed was Muldoon by this bare-faced economic blackmail that he refused to follow the incoming government’s advice. A financial crisis rapidly morphed into a full-blown constitutional crisis. After hours of rising tension, Muldoon’s colleagues collectively prevailed upon their leader to back down. The proposed 20 percent devaluation was duly effected.

The speculative run on the Kiwi dollar cost the New Zealand taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. Determined to find out why, the newly-elected MP for Sydenham and Chair of Parliament’s Finance and Expenditure Select Committee, Jim Anderton, launched an investigation. After just a few hearings, however, the Committee’s inquiry was shut down. The Labour Cabinet didn’t like where it was going.

But if currency speculators were the first to be rewarded by Labour’s sudden conversion to neoliberalism, they were by no means the only ones. With Muldoon’s controls on interest rates, prices and wages now targeted for destruction, money-lenders, retailers and wage and salary earners all stood to benefit from the old order’s demolition.

David Lange and Roger Douglas were hailed as “saviours of the nation”.

Meanwhile, the true conspirators slipped quietly away from their jobs in the Treasury and the Reserve Bank and took up key strategic positions elsewhere in the civil service. Some ended up in the newly corporatized state departments, the business sector and right-wing think tanks. Many more reached out to the heads of New Zealand’s largest companies and drew them into the rapidly unfolding neoliberal revolution. Newspaper editors, broadcasting bosses and working journalists were similarly recruited to the cause of rapid and far-reaching change.

By the early 1990s these neoliberal networks had become so extensive, and were wielding so much influence over New Zealand society that dislodging them would have required a counter-revolution of equal thoroughness and power.

Neoliberalism had permeated and reshaped every major institution in the land – from the universities to the trade unions. Even at the levels of primary and secondary education the ideology was hard at work. The business-funded programmes of the strongly neoliberal New Zealand Enterprise Trust made sure that every Kiwi kid got a go at playing business entrepreneur.

So powerful had the original conspirators become that not even prime ministers could master them. When David Lange finally realised the nature of the beast he’d unleashed, his own caucus refused to help him drive a stake through its heart. National’s Jim Bolger also paid a high price for attempting to restore “the decent society”. Not even his coalition with Winston Peters’ NZ First Party could save him from the wrath of Jenny Shipley and her true believers. With the fate of her predecessors clearly before her, Helen Clark was careful not to alter the default settings of the neoliberal state.

And so we remain enthralled to what has become an unchallengeable economic and social orthodoxy. Neither the stockmarket crash of 1987, nor the Asian Crisis of 1998, nor the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, has shaken the faith of the conspirators. Evident economic failure in the form of mass unemployment, rising child poverty, homelessness, massive public and private debt, a collapsing manufacturing sector and a rapidly deteriorating natural environment is simply construed as proof that what New Zealand needs is not less neoliberal shock-treatment – but more.

Like the Serbian regicides of 1903, New Zealand’s neoliberal conspirators of 1984 have thwarted every attempt to stand them in the dock of history.

The world paid a high price for Serbia’s unwillingness to bring evil men to justice.

New Zealand, too, is paying a high price. The steady deterioration which neoliberalism has wrought in the quality of our national life cannot be remedied until we New Zealanders rediscover the collective courage to confront and hold accountable the conspiratorial minority who, for nearly thirty years, have enslaved us to their fanaticism.


  1. Fabulous ! Just fabulous Chris Trotter ! Dead on the money , expertly written and unlike my own bungling attempts at revealing just such the atrocity , not one fuck word to be seen . Those scumbags you write so eloquently about must be flushed out by a Royal Commission of Inquiry and tried for treason surely . What else can be done ? They can’t be allowed to get away with what they’ve done to us and our country . God ! I have tears in my eyes . You have no idea how utterly exonerating your Post has been for me . I’ve been preaching exactly that for thirty years now to people who’ve had no idea what I’ve been talking about . I’ve barely had any idea myself . I just had a deep sense of foreboding about where we were going as a wealthy and modern country . I feared the worst . Welcome to the Gurgler . And those bastards sold us down it ! It’s mind boggling to be accurate . 99% of crime , poor health , can’t catch a train because there isn’t one , Hospital waiting lists , outrageous food prices , outrageous housing costs , prisons stuffed to capacity , third world diseases , good young people barely able to support one child in a land plump with riches , the list can and does go on . And it’s all their fault ! It’s their fault ! It wasn’t an accident ! They did it deliberately ! They destroyed their own country and by default ruined good Kiwi lives for their profit and their narcissistic egos . They have to be brought to the courts . If there’s a shred of justice left , they must be made to atone then imprisoned ! Or hung . I’m happy either way . Well done Chris . Oh , by the way . Isn’t Shipley one of those heading up the Ch Ch rebuild ? Isn’t roger douglas still hanging upside down , furled in his wings in the dungeons of the ACT party ? Donny Brash ? Where’s he ? Looked under your bed ? That’s traditionally where monsters lurk . The more aware people become , the faster change will follow . If there is a God , then Bless Him / Her / It for the Internet !

      • “Does anybody else feel this view is over the top and a little disturbing?”
        Nope. What I find disturbing is the widely held view amongst those in power, in the media, and also in the labour caucus that there is no alternative to the current neoliberal dogma.
        Great article Chris, and Countryboy, I share your anxiety.

        • You don’t think imprisoning or hanging people because they implemented policies after they were elected is disturbing then?

          • Nope, not when those policies are against what the people want and cause the country to be worse off and they were told that they would do so.

          • If you read the comment, I only said that I share the anxiety. To clarify, I am not in favour of the death penalty.
            But I think that the point that Countryboy was making is that the people responsible for causing enormous damage to the social and economic fabric of this country are, by and large, immune from the consequences of their policies. I didn’t take him literally, but felt he was overstating to make a point. But maybe he wasn’t.

          • That wasn’t totalitarian Gosman. Just accepting that the people who willfully act against the best interests of the country be treated as the treasonous scum that they are.

  2. Good stuff Chris.
    Time for a book or three rather than on-line ghettos or tomorrow’s fish and chip wrappers.

  3. Nice, Chris. Funny how some of these same ideologues are now ripping off the people of Canterbury, these day. What is it about this ideology that makes those who hold it so dear – kick the shit out people when they are already down? Is it that liberal, western, white thinking has some fundamental flaw entrenched in insecurity? Mmmmm, oh well time will tell.

    • Is it that liberal, western, white thinking has some fundamental flaw entrenched in insecurity?

      Yeah, there is – the sociopaths and psychopaths rise to the top.

      It’s the problem with a society based upon a dog eat dog philosophy such as neo-liberalism. Those people who are willing to screw over everyone else will inevitably do so, so as to enrich themselves and as they do so society becomes poorer. We’ve seen this over the last 30 years as poverty has increased in NZ, the rich have significantly richer and we have government, economists & banksters telling us that we can’t afford more.

      We can afford more but the economic system won’t allow it because it’s designed to put all the wealth into the hands of the few.

  4. ” until we New Zealanders rediscover the collective courage to confront and hold accountable the conspiratorial minority”.
    I am interested to hear the ways this can be done.
    The Labour Party does not present an alternative to liberalism and is still in the thrall of a caucus that believes in this ideology.
    No other party is big enough to force through a counter-revolution.

    • I am as grumpy as anyone about Labour’s passivity, but I am also aware that with the weakening of the union movement, the degrading of jobs, the endless attacks on beneficiaries, etc, they no longer have a strong power base behind them, and the vacuum no doubt gets filled by neo-liberal lobbyists.

      In England, some people are trying to get a pan-left movement going called the People’s Assembly, which would not be party affiliated, but would hopefully prove able to apply collective political pressure. I think we need something like that here, but do not know how one might get the ball rolling.

  5. WW1 Nothing to do with the politics of the Balkans. That just made a nice cover story.

    Britain and France had to contain Germany and dismember the Ottoman Empire before Germany completed the Berlin to Baghdad railway and started importing oil from Mesopotamia (Iraq). Thus, the first engagement of British troops was in Mesopotamia, long before anything happened in Europe. WW1 was a resources war, as most wars are.

    Yes, neoliberalism has stranglehold on NZ society -well most of it. There are still a few oldies around who can think for themselves and know it’s all a scam designed to enrich opportunists and looters at the expense of everyone else. But 90% of the populace are completely clueless, I’m afraid.

    THIS MUST ALL END VERY, VERY BADLY, since the consumerism the neoliberals promote so heavily is progressively destroying the geochemical systems that make life on Earth possible for humans (and other mammals).

    Fortunately the next round of global economic collapse is not far away.
    With Cyprus having been bandaged up and put back in its basket (basket case), Portugal has just been carried into triage, nearly lifeless and needing a ‘blood transfusion’. Next week it’s a toss up between Slovenia and Ireland for ‘blood transfusions… with Spain, Italy, France and Japan bleeding to death in the corridor. Britain, Holland, Germany and the US are only feeling rather ill at this stage.

    • How come those countries that follow more government led development like France are doing much worse than those which have a more neo-liberal approach?

    • The Ottoman empire didn’t enter the war till November 1914. By this time the British army had already been engaged on the continent of Europe against the Germans for a couple of months.

  6. This piece knocks the ol’ socks off, Chris, great stuff. I read this in bed before getting up and will now spend the rest of the day at work feeling farmed, and a little frightened about it!

  7. What is wrong with currency speculators? If the market fundamentals are not as they think they are they will be burnt. The reality is that they are making money due to stupid restrictive government policies.

      • They get rich off the back of interventionist wrong headed statist policies. It is like the black market in the former Soviet Union. A stark reminder of the limits and failure of their system.

  8. So that explains why everytime New Zealanders vote against neoliberal government they get another one, the present being the most feral of them all.

    I was disappointed David Lange resigned. It seemed rather cowardly.

    I noticed Jim Bolger was talking about devolving power towards regions only months before he stopped being PM. He seemed to be heading towards an more anarchist political philosophy.

  9. Reading that article, my first reaction was: ‘at last, somebody has noticed.’ I didn’t know any better in 1984, but being rather close to unfolding events during 1986-7, I could see very easily where things were headed, and every goddam prediction I made at the time has come to fruition but at an even greater magnitude than I guessed at the time.

    The loonies took over the asylum, informed by Neo-Classical Economics as preached by the likes of Milton Friedman and Fritz Hayek and absorbed by the likes of Thatcher, Reagan, Douglas and Richardson. and why should such academic claptrap have caught the ear of the rich and powerful?

    Licence to loot. That’s all it ever was. There was at least one wise man in New Zealand in 1987 who, when asked his opinion of where this country was heading, observed, ‘It’ll make a few people very very rich; a few more will probably break even; the rest will lose.’ I wish I could remember who this far-sighted gentleman was. it agreed fully with my own prognosis at the time.

    So New Zealand had been an idiotocracy since 1975; a kleptocratic idiotocracy since 1984.

    But this isn’t happening only in New Zealand. The form of predatory capitalism attendant upon soi-disant Neo-Liberalism (read: Palaeo-Authoritarianism) is global. I hope like hell the Immanuel Wallerstein is correct, as a result od which maybe what we are seeing and hearing is the death throes and dying moans of capitalism.

    I’m not holding my breath.

    • I recall, by the way, about mid-way through Muldoon’s tenure of office, discussing with some friends who were paid up members of the Labour Party.

      Though devoutly wishing to see the back of Muldoon, they expressed deep concern to me about what would be the result if Roger Douglas got control of the Finance portfolio, and they weren’t that chuffed about the prospect of David Lange’s leadership neither. They were probably wrong about Lange – he turned out to be not another Muldoon. But, man, did they have Douglas pegged.

      Sometimes I wonder what might have happened had Labour won (as by rights they should have) in 1978 or 1981, when Bill Rowling led the Party. I had and retain a lot of respect for him – certainly more than he was receiving at the time.

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