GUEST BLOG: Dave Brownz – Ihumatao: From Colony to Commune


Ihumātao began as Māori land used for gardening. After British colonisation in the 1840s it also supplied the settlers in Auckland. But the Treaty was a fraud and Māori land presented a barrier to capitalist colonisation. In 1863 it was confiscated and the people driven off the land as the settlers went to war against resistance to land sales. From that point on Ihumātao was swallowed up by Auckland as it burgeoned as the main entry point for Empire. In 1867 the colonial state sold the land to private owners, the Wallace family, who farmed it for generations until recently when it was sold on to Fletcher Building for new housing.

In 2016 a protest occupation led by rangitahi (youth) demanded the land be returned to Iwi in opposition to agreements made by some kaumatua (elders) with Fletcher Building to keep the land in exchange for homes for Iwi. Trespass notices and threats of eviction drew massive support. Government stepped in to halt building, the Tainui King, Te Arikinui Kiingi Tuheitia intervened as a mediator, but to date there has been no settlement of the dispute.

Any settlement that falls short of the full return of the land to the Iwi will be a compromise that props up private property rights at the expense of the Iwi right to communally owned land. The purpose of this article is to explain why the fight for the return of communal land more than a matter of historical justice for dispossessed Māori, but critical in re-uniting the people with the land and to bring an end to colonialism and the threat of human extinction.

Capitalism’s three foundation stones

Ihumātao signifies the collision of the colonial history of Aotearoa with Capitalism’s terminal crisis. The underlying contradiction between Maori communally owned land and land held as private property in the capitalist system is explosive. Colonisation introduced the three foundations stones of capitalism to Aotearoa. Marx called them the ‘Holy Trinity’ of Land, Labour and Capital. First, colonialism converts land from common ownership into private property where ownership allows the wealth of the land to be accumulated by the private owner. The land is not used unless it makes a profit (produces rent) by selling its product on the market. It cannot do so unless it can create ‘free’ labour and has access to capital.

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Second, private property introduced under capitalist colonisation separated the people from the land. Separated from their own means of subsistence (nature) they were “free” to labour for the capitalist land owners for a wage. Third, capital as money is necessary to invest in production to buy the raw materials and employ wage labour to produce the commodities to sell in the market. Karl Marx was clear how this “Holy Trinity” worked in the settler colonies. He referred to the case of Mr Peel who brought his money to Perth, Australia, bought stolen land and employed landless labourers, only to find that they deserted their jobs and went to settle on land they occupied for themselves. There was then no way he could profit from their labour so he ended up as a land agent speculating in stolen land.

The contradiction between communal and private land is explosive because capitalist ownership of land allows the monopoly of a scarce resource in the hands of a minority while the majority are deprived of land for settlement and production. Today this issue has become critical because of capitalism’s destructiveness and the impact of climate change cannot be stopped unless land is returned to communal ownership for the use of all as part of reuniting the people with nature.

Private property vs communal ownership

This explains why both National and the Labour-led coalition are refusing to risk setting a precedent at Ihumatao that could then allow claims on private property as part of Treaty settlements. In 1840 the Crown was ready to promise Maori ownership of their land unless they willingly sold it, but in practice condoned forced sales and engaged in confiscations so that today only around 3% of Māori land remains. The Crown cannot return privately owned land to its original owners without destroying one of the foundation stones of capitalism – the right to private property.

That is why a section of Maori leaders compromise with the Government in accepting the terms of Treaty settlements. Compromise with colonial regimes may be necessary at times for survival but it is important to understand what is at stake. Just as the land sellers of yesterday found themselves collaborating with Empire at a big cost to Māori development, today Iwi capitalists, such as the Tainui King and others Iwi leaders, compromise with global imperialism which is destroying nature and the survival of all of humanity.

So, the conflict over Ihumātao is a test case over which form of land use will prevail in Aotearoa – that of land as private property introduced by the settlers, and land as communal property as the basis of a classless, communal society. The lessons of the colonial wars over land from the 1840s onward culminating in the invasion of Parihaka in the early 1880s makes this clear. Te Whiti rejected the privatisation of land because it was not for communal use but for profit. He thought that land should remain in communal ownership and that its produce be exchanged without the use of money. For him capitalism as represented by the market and money were evil intrusions into Māori society which must be resisted. Idealistically he believed that his non-violent protest would resolve the contradiction over land ownership between the two worlds.

Such a stand against the settler society by the Parihaka commune became a refuge for many of the former fighters in the land wars, including Titokowaro. This was seen, correctly, as a rebellion against the foundation stones of colonial capitalism. There was no way that the settlers would observe the Treaty and tolerate communal ownership of land. That would scupper the whole colonial enterprise and the racist doctrine of the ‘civilising mission’. It is this racist, colonial tradition that is kept alive today by private landowners, corporates like Fletchers, Federated Farmers, along with their bourgeois State, the Law, the Government, and we must include, today, the Iwi capitalists who benefit from Treaty settlement profits at the expense of their own people.

Apologists for private property

It is not sufficient however, to expose the historic capitalist class interests behind the privatisation of land, it is also necessary to expose those paid ideologues who weave fanciful stories about why land theft is part of the march of civilisation. There is a long history of settler story-telling that talks about the progress of white settler colonisation going back to Wakefield and Governor Grey. Of course, these individuals were, and are, cynical apologists for capitalism solving its problems in Britain (economic stagnation, unemployment and crime, to name the most important) by selling the idea that white settlement was a benefit for all humanity. It exported ‘civilisation’ to the natives including an economic system held to be the most advanced in the ‘history of man’.

But isn’t it clear today that civilisation has yet to be tried, as Gandhi said, and that what passed for it in 19th century Aotearoa was, as Te Whiti maintained, ‘evil’? The Treaty ‘settlement’ process has righted the ‘wrongs’ of colonisation?  And hasn’t there been a Māori Renaissance and a healthy scepticism towards James Cook among others as benefactors of Māori?  Well, no. One cannot say that Māori became better off as beneficiaries of capitalism without using colonialist criteria. The celebration of White Settler Colonisation is still observed because it is contested terrain – specifically contested land rights.

If we look at the work of contemporary writers on NZ colonial history, we can see most remain apologists for white settlement, subject to the usual provisos of course about capitalist ‘excesses’, or even more slippery, ‘human nature’. Let’s take one prominent example, James Belich, who made an international reputation with his books on the NZ Wars, and won some fame with the TV series that followed. In his early work Belich does much to dispel the colonisers’ myths that Māori were ‘inferior’ to White Settlers. For example, they would certainly have defeated the settlers in warfare without the help of imperialist troops. But in his later book Replenishing the Earth, The Settler Revolution and the Rise of the Anglo-World, 1783-1939, Belich raises his sights and attempts to ‘replenish’ the British empires expansion in the colonial world as a ‘successful’ and therefore progressive extension of British capitalism.

Belich’s “Settler Revolution”

Belich sets out to prove that the British settler colonisation of other territories including Aotearoa was a ‘settler revolution’ that, because of its influence in creating the modern world, should be added to the other major revolutions, for example, the English (bourgeois) and Industrial Revolutions. He shows how the economic busts in Britain led to the export of settlers whose own economic activity in new lands led to further trade in commodities which fed new booms in Britain. Yet there is little new here that wasn’t understood by early British capitalists and their apologists such as Adam Smith. And it ignores Marx’s law of falling profits which drove the export of British surplus capital and people to new lands to establish capitalist production and create ‘super’ profits to restore those at home.

Sadly then, Belich’s “new explanation” of White Settlement as the ‘settler revolution’ is separated from the deeper history of capitalism as a global system. Inevitably, in the larger scheme of things, his ‘revolution’ was (and is) part of a global ‘counter-revolution’ that founded and expanded empire for profit at the expense of pre-capitalist peoples and the destruction of nature. This counter-revolution broke pre-capitalist peoples’ unity with nature and subjected them to capital’s drive to dehumanise them and destroy nature. Not only in Aotearoa/NZ where the Treaty was always, and is still, a fraud, but right around the world where indigenous peoples remain oppressed and unfree. And where imperialism occupies and dominates, by ruling directly, or through their client states, most of humanity still pays a heavy price for the barbarity of capitalist ‘civilising mission’.

Add to that indictment, the most notorious case of white-settler colonisation, the founding of Zionist Israel, as if to express the pure Orientalist scorn for ‘uncivilised’ peoples, at the same time as the decolonisation struggles for independence were under way. That is why White Settler Colonisation stands everywhere as a memorial to the expansion of capitalism at the expense of nature and human freedom. The only thing to ‘celebrate’ about it is the realisation that out of the failures of previous struggles for self-determination, workers and oppressed people of every kind will continue that struggle to win their freedom by means of permanent revolution and the free association of socialist republics on a global scale.

Towards the Commune

It is evident the black heart of the colonial occupation of Aotearoa/NZ remains in the privatised land at Ihumātao. The communal land was stolen as part of the separation of Māori from their land and the creation of capitalist private property. But beyond the injustice and the cost to Māori over the generations, the fate of the land is emblematic of the future course of Aotearoa. If the land remains in private ownership or is ‘nationalised’ by the Auckland Council and the central government, it is not restored as communal land. A token settlement with Iwi elders, might claim to return it as Māori land. But we have seen what ‘Māori land’ under the Treaty settlement process means, it remains incorporated within capitalism, and does not meet the needs of most Māori while it elevates Iwi ‘authorities’ as a new Māori capitalist class.

Any compromise on the terms of colonialism by either Settler or Māori institutions that serve to protect private property, whether as a state reserve, or in trust to a compromised Iwi leadership, would leave Māori separated from communal ownership. They would suffer the same fate as Parihaka, without even having the opportunity to follow Te Whiti’s example and fight to defend the land. The land would remain lost and so would the opportunity to demonstrate that communal land as a basis to contest and replace the ‘evil’ colonial system that over the centuries has come to the point of destroying nature and threatening human extinction.

What would Ihumātao mean if it won the stolen land back? It could combine Māori values of communal land with those of the wider working class in producing collectively rather than for private profit. The application of the knowledge and technology of pre-capitalist and capitalist society (all the result of workers labour) could combine the produce the embryo of a future post-capitalist society capable of restoring the unity between humans and nature.

That is why the struggle for the return of private land as communal land thrusts at the very ‘heart of darkness’ of White Settler colonialism/imperialism, its economic interests and its political institutions and cultural values.  We need a social revolution against all these fronts to succeed in turning private property into communal property. And there is a great unifying cause that can make this happen – the global crisis of collapsing climate and the revenge of nature. If we are to make the changes necessary to slow down, mitigate and even stop climate change we need to overturn the foundation stones of capitalism.

Overturning the foundation stones

The first is the private ownership of land, because without it, and production for profit, the whole speculative edifice of capitalism would collapse. It would mean Māori, Pakeha and all other workers, along with working farmers, who are the huge majority and the producers of wealth, uniting around a political program to collectivise the land to feed the people sustainably as global warming impacts. With their means of subsistence returned to them, workers and small farmers could then produce for need and not profit. Industry would be socialised so that its accumulated wealth becomes a fund for collective economic planning. Private banks would be socialised into one peoples’ bank to fund social production. The state’s defence of private property would collapse when workers and small farmers organised their own councils and militias. All this would be possible under new social relations that do not separate producers from the wealth they create when they are reunited with the land. But before that can happen the Commune needs to speak to the people.

Ihumātao can become the example that proves it is necessary to restore the land as communal property before we can completely change the rest of society. That we can build a new society based on communal ownership of all the essentials necessary to make a transition from capitalism to the commune. It could demonstrate that workers organised in collectives can decide democratically what resources are needed to meet the basic needs of the community, allocate them to production for those needs, and ensure that they are not destructive of nature. It can prove to workers and small businesses trapped by worsening economic crises, wars and climate collapse, of the necessity of transforming production, distribution and exchange to meet essential needs for food, housing, education, health and transport in Aotearoa, and to share locally, nationally and internationally in a world where the old order is dying and the new order is yet to be born. Only then would the Commune start to become the reality.


Dave Brownz is TDBs guest Marxist because every left wing blog needs a guest Marxist.


  1. Kia ora Dave
    I may have missed something there, but I read quite a lot about what Maori should do, but didn’t see anything about what you yourself intend to do. Do you have a plan of action by means of which Ihumaatao can be restored as communal land?

    • Gidday Geoff. I applaud what Te Whiti and Tohu did. I applaud the young women leading the struggle at Ihumaatao, which I see as in the spirit of Parihaka. What I am trying to do is show how the return and defence of Maori land as communal land rather than corporate land is capable of undermining capitalist private property, giving us a chance of building a united movement to overcome the catastrophic effects of the double economic and ecological crises facing us. I don’t have a plan of action for Ihumaatao but I believe the lessons are already there in the history of land struggles that lost. For example, at the time of the foreshore and seabed, we supported land occupations of the F&S backed by the unions and and united Maori, Pakeha and others to defeat the F&S legislation. It lost because it got diverted into parliament. We all have to play our part in that struggle since is a common struggle. As a Marxist revolutionary I support the right of Maori self-determination but believe that that will not be won short of a future socialist world. Here’s a few articles that tell you something about the part we have played and continue to play in this common struggle.
      There is much more where that came from!

      • The occupation strategy followed by Pania Newton and SOUL makes obvious sense and to date I think we can say that it has been effective.
        I understand that you are questioning the aims of the occupation rather than the strategy itself, and the aim as I understand it is to assure a future for the 32 hectares at Ihumaatao in which there is no housing or other development and the land remains more or less in its current state. That aim does not preclude central or local government or for that matter iwi ownership but if the dispute resolution is based on central government buying out Fletcher Residential, then one would expect the land to come under the authority of some part of the colonial regime.
        Should that be acceptable to us? I believe that it can be, because I see such a resolution as being a holding action on a piece of land that will in the future become a memorial to those who made such a vital contribution to the birth of our nation in 1863.
        The alternative would be for us to resume the mass occupation and defend Ihumaatao against all comers for as long as it takes – that is, until the fall of the colonial regime. I am prepared to do that if Pania issues the call, but I don’t necessarily think it would be a sound strategy for us to adopt.
        A holding position on Ihumaatao, even one that leaves it under colonial administration for the time being, makes more sense. That will leave us free to fight the regime elsewhere, in situations more favorable to us, and where the regime will have difficulty in effectively utilizing its forces. Ihumaatao could be held indefinitely but the cost would be high and I personally question whether it would be worth the price when we may have another acceptable option.

        • Gidday Geoff. I would use the term tactic if limited to the aim of the occupation at Ihumaatao as you present it, that of protecting the land in its current state. I would define land occupations as a strategy when they are aimed at the return of communal land.

          I don’t know if continuing the current occupation to advance that aim would be a good tactic or not in the light of other options without clarifying what those other ‘acceptable options’ might be.

          As a Marxist, my view is that other acceptable options would be ones that are more effective in mobilising direct, collective action, such as strikes and occupations, to advance the aim of replacing the current colonialist state/’regime’ with a socialist state based on communal land.

          • Kia ora Dave
            We still have communal/hapu/whanau land and the area of that communal land is increasing in some parts of the motu and within some iwi or hapu. Clearly the concept of “communal land” covers a multitude of tenures, forms and tikanga. Legally some is general title land farmed or managed communally. Some is Maori title land managed by trusts. Some is farmed commercially, and some used for subsistence agriculture, hunting and gathering. These lands are very important to their respective tangata whenua but usually not so interesting to the wider population.
            Ihumaatao is different. Because of its historical associations it matters very much to the entire nation.
            So while I would be happy for the tangata whenua to regain communal ownership of the land, I would not, for example, be happy to see it covered over with housing, factories or parking lots. My support for and involvement in the struggle is predicated on the kaupapa that Pania Newton and SOUL have articulated, which is that the land stays more or less in its current or historical state. Re-establishment of traditional mara kai, a marae and even a traditional kainga would be fine by me, but European/capitalist style development would not.
            The “other option” to communal ownership is where that aim of “current or historical state” is “secured” under the ownership and administration of the colonial state. That would not be ideal, but it would amount to a politically practicable holding action.
            Now if Pania and SOUL say “No, we will hold out for communal ownership” then the preservation of Ihumaatao will almost certainly become a fight to the death with the colonial regime.
            Because Ihumaatao is nationally important, I would be there, and so, I presume, would you, and if God wills that we die at Ihumaatao in defense of iwi and whenua, ka pai, it would be a great and glorious thing.
            But I am not advocating that. I favour a measured and patient approach in the certain knowledge that victory will be ours in the end, and that the time remaining to the colonial regime is to be measured in decades at most. A holding action at Ihumaatao will suffice.

            • Gidday Geoff, yes if Tania and SOUL decided to continue the fight to restore full Iwi ownership and control of Ihumaatao, I would certainly support it.

              Such is the global crisis and its impact on Aotearoa, where the economy is being further colonised by the TPPA etc., I am sure that it would spark a wider movement, and challenge the racist colonial mentality, much as we argued over the F&S confiscation.

              State ownership or management including ‘holding operations’ cannot hold for long while peoples basic needs are unmet. Occupations while declaring our strategic aims also demonstrate our ability to collectively organise and provide such needs. The inevitability of change, for me, is assured only as a result of such mobilisations and the lessons drawn.

              Working people need to shed any illusions they hold in Parliament and politicians, rise up and take over the economy so that they can plan for their basic needs being met. Occupations, and strikes in solidarity that reflect the will of working people are necessary tactics in that strategy.

              • Pania and SOUL have set out a kaupapa which appeals to “nga tangata katoa”. That is why they have been able to mobilize such wide spread popular support for the occupation of Ihumaatao.
                I believe that any attempt to change that kaupapa by putting the focus on “communal” (i.e. iwi or hapu) ownership rather than matters of national and civic interest (environmental, social and historical) would narrow the base of support and might actually alienate some current supporters.
                You, on the other hand, write “I am sure that it (i.e. a communal kaupapa GF) would spark a wider movement, and challenge the racist colonial mentality”.
                I will stay with Pania Newton on this one.
                If the hapu could restore communal ownership by purchasing the land from Fletcher Residential as a willing seller, no reasonable person could object.
                But if the kaitiaki leave it up to the colonial government to use “taxpayers’ money” to buy out Fletcher Residential’s interest in the land then reasonable people would expect that any such peaceful resolution should be in the direct interest of “nga tangata katoa” rather than of the hapu alone.
                So I think you are reading this one incorrectly Dave.
                It is better to keep nga tangata katoa to the fore. That in itself is a powerful challenge to the “racist colonial mentality” and our only way to victory over the colonial regime.

                • Gidday Geoff.
                  Perhaps. We shall see. I am not trying to change the kaupapa. I point out that govt buying the land for all NZers would dodge the issue of private property as the basis of colonial oppression, and certainly not challenge the white settler racism that justifies land confiscation. It indulges the fantasy that the Treaty can be honoured by the old ideology of “one people”. Don’t you see the historical injustice of the same settler state that confiscated Ihumaatao to give it to white settlers, giving it back to “the people”, but not the hapu and iwi. And led by the same Labour Govt that confiscated the F&S in the name of “one people”. The only serious challenge to settler racism is for Pakeha to join the fight to return privately owned land to the people from whom it was stolen.

                  • Private or communal land? It can be both. That is why I do not regard “private property” as either sacrosanct on the one hand or an abomination on the other, and that is why in some particular cases I have campaigned for the rights of private property owners (including my own rights and the rights of my whanau) and in other cases (such as the Fletcher Residential land at Ihumaatao) I suggest that those rights can be abrogated or curtailed for the greater good of society. That may infer a double standard, but I think if we were to consider the particular cases you would concede that my approach is not inconsistent.
                    A “moral” approach might be for the colonial state to return all confiscated land to the descendants of its original owners. However that would be a political, financial and administrative impossibility. We cannot turn the clock back to 1870. We have to move forward from here, and I suggest that we move forward as one people in the spirit of kotahitanga which is, as it happens, the kaupapa of the kaitiaki of Ihumaatao. In any case full restoration would give only the appearance of justice. It would not make us all truly equal or guarantee our right to a life on the land.
                    Pania Newton and SOUL have not demanded that title be returned to the hapu, (although that is clearly an option) because they have a broader perspective.
                    In the 1860s and 1870s the nationalist cause suffered a series of defeats in the wars against the British precisely because it failed to achieve the necessary degree of unity among iwi. To achieve final victory against the colonial state we need solidarity of Maori and Pakeha, Polynesian, Asian and all other peoples. In other words, we need to become one people in order to negate the divide and rule strategy of the colonial regime.
                    In reality the tikanga of “one people” or kotahitanga is incompatible with the preservation of the colonial state and colonialism in general. Therefore the regime must go, and in that process large areas of land which are under corporate as distinct from whanau or hapu ownership, will can be returned to the people.
                    By the way, confiscation was not actually “justified by white settler racism”. “White settlers” who were in sympathy with the Kingitanga also had their lands confiscated. The raupatu may have been driven by greed, but it was “justified” by the refusal of our people to give unconditional allegiance to the British sovereign.
                    The colonial state has never departed from its position, and we have not abandoned ours. It is an conflict yet to be resolved, but it will eventually be resolved entirely in our favour.

    • Geoff I replied to your question yesterday but it hasn’t appeared yet.

      Just it got lost in the silly season here is the gist.

      I don’t have an action plan for Ihumātao but support it as a step towards restoring stolen land as Maori communal land. The impending ‘settlement’ is likely to fall short of that, and the article explains why I think that is so.

      My reference to Parihaka shows that I don’t think that the return to communal land will happen unless it is part of a wider anti-capitalist movement that emerges to resist paying for the crisis of capitalism, including climate collapse. And that will not happen unless Maori land occupations win mass support across the whole working class and oppressed groups in Aotearoa and the Pacific.

      For example, the Foreshore and Seabed struggle for Maori ownership could only have succeeded if it were backed by mass occupations that challenged parliamentary rule as managing the continuing colonisation of Aotearoa.

  2. In Wellington the local iwi Te Atiawa were given Shelly Bay as a part of there treaty settlement.
    Atiawa management sold it off to developers even though the iwi were against selllng that ex NZ defense site and court action is being explored. Meanwhile developers are seeking to make mega millions with multi story apartment blocks that Wellington City Council is against.

    The leader of Te Atiawa was found corrupt and jailed but the deal was done. Under the table back handers are rife.

    Ownership gives right to mortgage or sell.
    Ownership is not a good model for community land or assets. Where there is money to be harvested corruption rules unless the land or assets are immutably invested into communal bodies in a way that they cannot be taken over or dispersed.
    Ownership of Foreshore or seabed without safeguards would mean loss of such to the public, wildlife and marine health in the long run. No national asset should be owned by a group without National management being a pert of the kaupapa. Protection of NZ’s resources is paramount and that includes land and water as well as social and communal amenities.

    • John. You assume that things might be different with ‘safeguards’ and ‘immutable’ rules for communal bodies to prevent corruption, without any change in the class base of the capitalist state. I don’t, whatever the formal arrangements, such land remains capitalist land because as you say it is “owned” in such as way as to further the production of profits. Today globally most ownership of land is ultimately that of the big banks backed by their national governments. Private property has been concentrated at the top. I would say this is corruption of a higher order, parasitical on the labour of others. Communal land that serves the interests of the people and their needs without profit or corruption would require a new type of democracy where the working majority rules their own lives.

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