A spark to light the flame

Rage Against The Neoliberal Machine


In Chile, Catalonia, Hong Kong and Lebanon and beyond, and across the western world, millions of citizens have increasingly taken to the streets to protest racist policies and policing, inequality, draconian laws, punitive fare / cost-of-living increases and environmental catastrophe that are the manifestations of the pathologies of our times.

In each country, the flashpoints are different, but they’re ‘bright flashes in a dark sky’. Across the world, citizens are taking risks to make a stand for power and for change. In some countries they risk life, limb and freedom, and in the west they mainly risk comfort and security, but people are reacting to complacent, complicit and sometimes corrupt governments in unprecedented protests of scale.

An Associated Press article ‘We’re talking ‘bout a global revolution’ suggests the international wave of dissent ‘raises fresh concerns over whether the liberal international order with free elections and markets, can still deliver on its promises’. The United Nations Secretary General Antònio Guterres said in a press briefing last week that across the unique situations prompting mass demonstrations, there are common underlying factors which constitute “rising threats to the social contract” between citizens and the political class. And that these show a growing deficit of trust between citizens and rulers across the world.

Indeed, the deficit of trust ratcheted forward on the cynicism meter here in New Zealand among those on the environmental left and the hundreds of thousands who took to the streets in climate change marches in recent times. The capitulation of the Prime Minister and the current government to the agriculture sector in the compromise that sees farming given an extended free pass on paying for its greenhouse gas emissions, disappointed many.

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Rather than standing with middle New Zealand, who took to the streets in their thousands, Jacinda Ardern stood with the Dairy Board in her announcement that in addition to the 95% dispensation on agricultural greenhouse gas emissions agreed with New Zealand First as part of the Government Coalition Agreement, the remaining 5% obligation is deferred for five years, beyond this Government and the next. The fact that it had the support of the Greens, New Zealand First, Labour, and foreshadowed a National Party position, shows the concentration of political views to the ‘extreme centre’, to adopt journalist Tafiq Ali’s characterisation of the neo-liberal consensus where both the Centre-left and the Centre-right collude to preserve the status quo – a dictatorship of capital that “has reduced political parties to the status of the living dead’.

No doubt the tribalist supporters of Jacinda Ardern who have suspended their capacity for critical reason, will argue that the compromise to New Zealand First and agriculture is the best we could have got. In that case, not only has Jacinda been outsmarted by Winston Peters and New Zealand First but she’s also been outplayed by capital. Because agriculture is not alone with its concessions – note the Stuff report this weekend that ‘free carbon credits worth billions of dollars will continue to be granted to other industries for decades’. The exemptions from paying for 90% of emissions provided to ‘Emissions Intensive, Trade Exposed’ companies such as the huge wealthy multinationals BlueScope Steel (for Glenbrook steel mill), Rio Tinto’s aluminium smelter and Methanex, and New Zealand’s Fletcher Building’s Cement plant will continue for almost a lifetime, with phase outs of only 1% to 3% out until 2040, distorting the emissions trading market and costing huge subsidies to New Zealand while subverting (making a farce of) zero-carbon goals. There’s no real evidence that pollution trading is an incentive to emission reduction, but this makes the myth of the efficient invisible hand of the market even more of a mockery. As a political strategy it’s certainly not meeting the David Lange standard of a principled stand in the face of monolithic giants. It makes grand statements on the international stage look like just more cynical politician talk. The deficit of trust comes closer to home.

Rightly, in mass protests, people around the world are showing they have little faith in the capacity of political institutions to deliver much needed reforms. Realpolitik Coalition compromises in New Zealand on this and so many issues show there’s limited capacity, not enough will. Tariq Ali says we need to ‘shed all illusions about the capacity of the rulers of the world to reform”. But maybe also in ‘progressive’ democracies, protests – even massive events such as the climate strikes, have become so routineised that they ‘fail to create a sense of urgency or crisis’ according to social scientist Mathew Clement talking to Al Jazeera’s Inside Story. The climate movement is ‘just another protest movement’, and political complacency about the demands and concerns of whole generations of New Zealanders are given less weight, and have less power, than those of the dairy sector and big industrial polluters, who are too big to pay; and too big for the government to call their bluff.

While the gambling empire Sky City’s subsidised ‘International Convention Centre’ has been aflame billowing black smoke across our CBD, exposing low paid workers to risk as well as the injustices they face, the Prime Minister has been keen to confirm the 2021 meeting of world APEC leaders will still proceed. When we think about the growing inequality, the disparate wealth and living standards, the desperation and frustration of APEC’s citizens, the environmental ruin from capitalist expansion, the ongoing neo-liberal and austerity measures that are now the norm for the extreme centre that are expressed in so many APEC nations including our own, (Budget Responsibility Rules anyone?), it’s clear indeed that ‘the liberal international order’ with its limited electoral choice, narrow political scope, and subservience to markets, and indeed this Government, are ‘failing to deliver on their promises’ at least to their people. Earnest politicians fail or are unable to deliver, and in this mature democracy seem complacent about mass protest.

The APEC forum meeting here must be a focus of action as we exercise our cosmopolitan responsibility as citizens of the world and stewards of the future. In the 1990s when the APEC forum last met in New Zealand, I was sitting after politics and philosophy exams as black suited secret service agents patrolled in Albert Park. You’ll find no prairie fire here boys, but you’ll find a spark.


  1. “…millions of citizens have increasingly taken to the streets…” not millions of resident colonists? Millons of CITIZENS…

  2. So Catalan independistas are protesting about “racist policies and policing, inequality, draconian laws, punitive fare / cost-of-living increases and environmental catastrophe”?? I don’t think so. The author would do well to research the Catalan situation better.

    • Chruskl If you read the article properly I did not suggest that every movement was protesting about every one of those causes but that the range of issues are expressed across different actions in different countries. That is a rather simplistic interpretation of what I said otherwise.

      • My point is that Catalonia doesn’t belong in your list. The demands of the Catalan separatists have nothing to do with neoliberalism, or much to do with any of the factors you mention. Catalonia is the richest part of Iberia, and the separatists regard the rest of Spain as bludgers. They will talk about their distinctive culture and language, but it’s really about the money – Catalans are perfectly free to speak their language and practice their culture within Spain’s multinational democratic framework. There are also plenty of separatists in Italy’s rich north, who view the south of their country in much the same way – they’re much less likely to succeed as they can’t really argue their case on the basis of language and culture (their regional languages are practically extinct, unlike Catalan).

  3. Ardern is boxing smart. No point on giving the Me Me Me Party a helping hand to winning the 2020 election. How will that help the long term goals of this Government? The will achieve absoulutely nothing in opposition.

    Make a few concessions and quieten the farmers who will be in full bleat mode next year with National on the sideline cheering them on. We got a glimpse of that with the water tax before the 2017 election which helped take all the wind out of Labours sail and stopped their impressive momentum. Ardern is not being outsmarted by Peters. They are both smart cookies who play their hand very well.

    Kenny describes it rather well.


  4. Finally an article here I can agree with. Yes you are dead right its neo liberalism or bust and lets ignore what the vast majority of people think. Well at least until 2020 that is but then hey we can still get them to vote for more of the same crap by making the half assed argument the other mob are somehow even worse when in fact its all much the same…..

  5. We must envision a new world and bring it into being. It will be very different. It will not be BAU, quite the contrary.

    • We are firmly locked into global markets and systems that cannot simply be replaced by wide arrays of protestors in various places calling for diverse wishful actions.

      There is not sufficient organisation and not enough unity on what needs to be done.

    • Joseph: ““Dairy Board”, single desk seller, mixed economy, those were the days”

      Ha! I noticed that, too. Gladsome days of yore, huh? A spot of the Rip Van Winkles on the author’s part, perhaps.

  6. Right on! The Woke Mob who’re aligned with the neolib-conservative-woke party have learnt only this … the masses are gathering and learning to protest, thats stage one. The next part of that is learning to take a beating from the state. Hence the introduction of the Gestapo Armed Government Militia Wagons patrolling the poor brown areas. The funny thing is the protestors are mainly from Woke urban areas who’re likely to have Labour/Gween voting mums & dads.
    So, when are those Militia Wagons going to be deployed in Grey Lynn, Pt Chev, Remmers, Epsom, Parnell ect…

  7. “In Chile, Catalonia, Hong Kong and Lebanon and beyond, and across the western world, millions of citizens have increasingly taken to the streets to protest racist policies and policing, inequality, draconian laws, punitive fare / cost-of-living increases and environmental catastrophe that are the manifestations of the pathologies of our times.”

    While it’s certainly true that there is restiveness in various countries at present, the rise of the internet in the 1990s and the resulting access to dissenting journalists’ (and diplomats’ – and academics’) reporting has taught me to be sceptical, both about the forces driving it, and the way in which the msm is reporting it.

    I’m a boomer; I grew up in an Irish Catholic family, so politics and what was going on in the world was the subject of dinner-table discussion among parents and older siblings. My earliest memories are of talk about the Korean war; my awareness grew from there. But – excepting the Watergate scandal, the Iran Contra scandal and the My Lai Massacre, events that the US couldn’t cover up – it wasn’t until the 1990s that I understood fully just how comprehensively we’d been propagandised by the msm since my childhood.

    As somebody has already pointed out, Catalonia is fighting for independence – separation – from the rest of Spain. The conflict there needs to be seen in that light.

    The situation in Hong Kong much more closely resembles the “colour” revolutions of eastern Europe (most recently in the Ukraine in 2013-14) than anything else. It harks back to that other attempted “colour” revolution, the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. And – even if we didn’t know that at the time – we now know that the CIA was behind all of those events, fomenting unrest. Note that in HK, much of the signage carried by the protesters is in English: that tells us everything we need to know about who’s behind the scenes, winding things up. Had the protests been entirely homegrown – as has been claimed – all of the signage would have been in Chinese characters.

    As for Lebanon – and Syria and Iraq, though I don’t think that you mention them – do not believe anything reported by the msm about anywhere in the Middle East. Including Al Jazeera, which – given the source of its funding – isn’t a commentator of record. The US and NATO have had their tentacles into that part of the world for many decades now (oil, don’t you know), and they have not the slightest intention of relinquishing it. So they – in particular, but not exclusively – the US, will continue to foment unrest, as an excuse to keep troops there. If your knowledge about, for instance, what’s been happening in Syria over the past few years, is derived from msm reports, including Al Jazeera, you’ll not have the least idea about the reality. Note that the US still has troops in Syria’s oil-rich area, so that it can continue to steal the oil, as it’s been doing for some years now.

    Chile does seem to be an exception (though given the US’s longstanding interference in the Caribbean and central and south America, it’s understandable that many of us are sceptical even about that) in that it is an uprising against the deadly effects of neoliberalism upon that society. See this:


    From the comment thread:

    “…the fakestream presstitutes ONLY whine about non-existent ‘police brutality’ in Hong Kong, even spewing hatred at a cop who fired on a terrorist thug as the thug was attempting to bash him to death or maim him with a ‘little’ steel bar as the ABC presstitute called it.”


    “…My rule of thumb: if the presstitutes either ignore or downplay mass protests going on; the Gilets Jaunes being a prime example, then you can almost bet your house on them being genuine anti neoliberal, anti establishment protests.
    If they repeatedly focus on ‘protests’ ad nauseum in countries that by Pure Coincidence happen to be demonised, designated enemies of the Anglo Zionist Empire, such as, ohhhh, let’s see, how about China; then you can also almost bet your house that those protests are fake, and being directed by NED, Soros, and Staff at United States Embassies.”

    Pretty much sums it up. Les Gilets jaune in France, by the way: straight up and down a protest against neoliberalism and the Establishment. Note how it’s scarcely reported now, even though protests are still going strong. I harbour hopes that they’ll succeed in tipping out of office that slimy little individual Emmanuel Macron.

    “…people are reacting to complacent, complicit and sometimes corrupt governments in unprecedented protests of scale.”

    Certainly not unprecedented in my longish life. Although the msm – suffering as it does from amnesia – would have us believe that. Again: don’t take at face value anything at all that you read in the msm. About anything much, in truth, but especially about international politics. Look around for dissenting views: they’re there to be found.

    • It will be ‘in the news’ today, perhaps for a few days, and then fade into the deep dark hole where other issues fade away into, no matter what protest and unrest there is.

  8. Do you think H.s.s.’ designing comes above the ‘designoid’ of evolution? Or is the former a slight device of the latter?

    Look below, deep below. The soul we haven’t looked to for 35 years. See CHILE.

    Simon Bridge’s deep shallowness, to match the Labour generation (apparently also) below me, in absolute terms.

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