Neo-liberalism is naked capitalism. Liberal labourism is the ‘kinder’ more ‘progressive’ clothing draped over that nakedness. The Labour Party has always dressed up in pale pink overalls to disguise the ruling class suits underneath. But every crisis capitalism causes needs a neoliberal fix. The first Liberal labour Party of the 1890s used the state to coopt workers onto the stolen Maaori land and the landless into state arbitration to suppress the class struggle. When that failed and the Red Fed mounted a general strike in 1913 against the rule of capital, the Liberal Labour party responded by deploying the army. The Labour Party was born in 1916 to isolate and coopt defeated workers onto the parliamentary road. Today global capitalism is in terminal crisis, and once more the fear of revolution in the ruling class is real. In 1984 the the Labour party served to suppress the class struggle by imposing the counter-revolution on behalf of capital. Nearly four decades on, Labour is now reborn in the image of the first Liberal Labour government to complete the task of suppressing the class struggle and paving the way to fascism counter-revolution.
The revival of Liberal Labourism
The Neo liberalism of the 1980’s revived the liberalism of the 1880s, glorifying individual greed and the scramble for the settler kiwi dream of a private ‘section’ to escape the working class fulfilled in part by the first Liberal Labour Government. But dig deeper. History repeats. Go back to the early land claims in the North before and after 1840 and you can see that NZ’s development has been deformed from the onset of colonisation by privatising and speculating in land. The Treaty was a fraud. Maaori land was stolen against the articles of the Treaty, and the economy ever since has been based on the monopoly rentextracted by an expanding gentry on the backs of the peasants and workers.
The role of the state was, and is, as agent of capital. When the primary exporting economy faltered it was always subsidised the producers. As Marx told us and Fairburn phrased it in Dominion the national debt became the albatross around the neck of the working class. When depressions hit, one after another from the 1840s, right up to the current global terminal crisis, the state stepped in to bail out capital. Willis Airey nearly a century ago characterised NZ as a corporative proto-fascist state. That is a fascist state in waiting.
The Welfare state from the Fabians to the Blairites was no more than a pretty mask to hide the fact that labourite ‘progressive’ policies were always subject to ensuring the reproduction of the colonial economy as the expense of workers and farmers. Today this system is unchanged but racing towards its end game as it takes the ‘metabolic’ rift with the soil, that began when the Missionaries introduced ‘scientific farming’ to replace Maaori rotational cropping, to the destruction of most life on the planet. So the developmental curve of NZ under settler colonialism has been a long decline punctuated by several crises that were resolved by short recoveries only by the destruction of wealth and lives in imperialist wars.
What we face today is the accumulation of all that old shit in one chain of shocks and aftershocks that merge into the meltdown of the planet. There can be no recovery for capital or humanity. We need more than the panicked social democracy scrapping the bottom of its barrel of trinkets to keep alive the dream of equality. Face the reality. That dream was always a nightmare for those who lost their land and their lives to keep the colonial ruling class and its imperialist masters in control of the destruction of nature.
The frenetic infighting among workers over their share of this side-show in NZ is pitiful, yet it is a narrow Eurocentric take on the problem. Workers are now the vast majority globally, and the international working class is standing up as are the landless peasants against the prospect of their destruction and extinction. The ruling class now has no option but fascism. Time to wake up. Time to join the fight.
Exploding historic sexism
Liberal labourism is about reconciling classes, reaffirming the partnership with Maaori, and promoting equality between men and women, to keep the social peace. But this is impossible when capitalist society is founded on class, ethnic and gender divisions that can only deepen facing capitalism’s terminal crisis. The deepest division historically is that between the sexes. Women were the first historic class to have their labour exploited and their subordination imposed by patriarchal violence. This patriarchal relationship was reproduced in every class society since, pitting men against women to weaken the struggle against the ruling class. The position of women in society is the ultimate test of the capacity of the exploited and oppressed to overthrow class rule. There will no end of class society without the unity of the sexes in the struggle to overthrow patriarchal capitalism.
Liberal-labour first time round granted women citizenship with a vote in exchange for their support for prohibition. So the first wave of feminism enrolled women as respectable members of the popular front. The second wave of feminism under the Third Labour government won small gains in equal pay, abortion rights, legal status. In the NZ Human Rights Act women are as a ‘sex’ equal to men. Yet the patriarchy remains embedded in the ruling class and these mimimal reforms provoked an immediate backlash. As capitalism’s terminal crisis insists that the working class pays for the crisis, it needs to disorganise all resistance by any means necessary. All around the world we see women as the first and last line of resistance standing up against the violent attacks on workers and peasants.
Today in Aotearoa we see the new Liberal Labour Government about to pass a Bill that will in the name of human rights empower men to legally become women and enter women’s spaces violently to destroy their class solidarity with men. But even dressed up in liberal drag Labour will not be able to stop women from uniting with men to end their historic oppression, along with that of the indigenous Maaori, and that of workers and working farmers, joining forces to end capitalism and build a new socialist society.
Exploding historic racism
Essential to Labour’s liberal project is the move to reaffirm the Treaty partnership. The response to He Pua Pua by the rabid right sees it as a threat to Pakeha (meaning capitalist) rule. Yet this document is all about keeping up the appearances of Article 3 declaring Maaori and Pakeha to be equal subjects of the British Crown, i.e. bourgeois citizens. It cannot restore tinorangatiratanga over Maaori society without restoring Maaori society. If implemented it would empower the Maaori bourgeoisie and petty bourgeois to play a more significant role in the state apparatus to save capitalism, but do nothing for the majority of working class Maaori. The Treaty will always be a fraud perpetrated by the British empire during its colonial expansion until the time Aotearoa is decolonised.
Colonisation was part of the bourgeois revolution in the British empire. But already that bourgeois revolution in Europe was huddling in the arms of the aristocracy in fear of the rising proletariat. So the bourgeois revolution has long ago exhausted its historical mission and is now destroying the ecological conditions for human existence. Self-determination in the Maaori version of the Treaty was tinorangatiratanga. It meant chiefly rule within a lineage mode of production. The chiefs authority came not from above as in class society, but was ‘authorised’ from below by the people. Colonisation subordinated the Maaori lineage mode to the capitalist mode, stripping away chiefly authority and expropriating the land. Since the state cannot return privatised Maaori land without challenging a fundamental requirement of capitalism, subsequent Treaty Settlements have been limited to making Maaori and Crown equal partners under kawanatanga. This suppresses self-determination for constitutional power-sharing in the bourgeois state.
For Maaori self-determination today, a socialist revolution is necessary, not only against the landed gentry to return stolen land, but against the intellectuals whose Eurocentric reformist projects from Pember Reeves to James Belich, suppressed or converted Maori nationalists from Te Whiti to Donna Awatere to a project of reforming government. Against the reformist utopias of liberal intellectuals who argue for an equal partnership between Maaori society and capitalist society, now rotting on its feet, we argue that socialist revolution is both necessary and possible.
For Marxists, the original Maaori lineage (whakapapa) society was ‘original communism’, as economic and politics were governed by the lineage as a whole. That society cannot be recreated today, but its governing principles of collective work and shared product, as attempted by Te Whiti, is recorded as part of the history of the evolution of the commune towards the new communist society of the future.
Exploding historic class exploitation
Liberal Labour’s headline reforms such as Fair Pay Agreements are little more than a return to the State Arbitration of the 1890s. Workers struggle will be micromanaged by the Labour Department, the Labour Court, and the union bureaucracy, within limits to the right to strike set by the state. Like the earlier attempts under the Clark Government to undo the ECA of 1992, FPAs do nothing to empower workers and everything to empower the union officials as gatekeepers to worker militancy.
Just how tone deaf Liberal Labour is towards workers became clear when it announced a modest increase in public servants wages under $60,000, and a freeze in pay for those over $60,000. It retracted quickly when front line workers, nurses, teachers etc responded angrily. But nowhere did this dispute about fair pay mention that since workers produce all the wealth a genuine workers’ government would need to nationalise the means of production to arrive at a fair distribution of income.
Similarly, the proposal for worker insurance shifts from universal unemployment entitlements to an ACC-type dole scheme where both workers and employers contribute to a wage fund. Like Fair Pay Agreements, it is the share the employers are prepared to pay that will make this dole scheme dependent on workers productivity. Labour productivity is calculated as the rate of surplus-value produced by workers which ends up as profits. State arbitration and conciliation always holds down wages to maintain profits.
Just as in 1908, when the Court refused to pay a wage increase because falling profits did not justify it, workers must fight to break free of unions embedded in the state machine, and create new ‘autonomous’ unions that defend their class interests. While reborn Liberal Labour attempts to keep the lid on class struggle by denying its existence, this cannot last. The popular front of middle NZ with the ruling class to pave the way for fascism will not prevent workers from organising independently against paying for the combined capitalist economic, pandemic and climate crises.
Reborn Lib-Lab paves the way for fascism
There are those who persist in sowing illusions that capitalism can save itself and humanity. They sneer at the capacity of workers to fight for socialist revolution. They spin everything trickled down to workers to paint Liberal Labour as the best we can hope for. But workers always knew what they were looking for, and proved it by mobilising to make revolutions many times. The problem was that the bosses new this too and counter-mobilised to stop this knowledge turning into the reality. The revolutions succumbed to counter-revolutions sold to the masses by the priests of the liberal labour establishment.
They demonise Marx and Lenin for the sins that were committed by global capitalism using every means necessary to smash social revolutions that threatened to become world socialist revolution. They cover up the treacherous role of social democracy in aiding capitalism in the counter-revolution. Fabian socialism (and every form of parliamentary socialism since) was always prettifying capitalism, and pushing the lies of ‘social imperialism’ (socialism at home and imperialism in the colonies) to divert the masses into fighting its wars and paying for its crises.
The reborn Liberal-Labour Party in power today embodies that whole history from the SPD that collaborated with the fascists to kill Luxemburg and Liebknecht and smash the German Revolution, to the full-on abandonment of social democracy for neo-liberalism by the Fourth Labour Government. The second Liberal Labour Government is exposed as no different to the first, forming a corporatist-Fabian state in a popular front with capital, the petty bourgeoisie, and the arbitration unions, to target homeless workers, keep Maori landless, and re-introduce the ‘leg-iron’ of arbitration against the prospect of a reborn Red Fed.
The original Lib-Labs ruled for about 20 years in the attempt to reconcile class warfare. Ardern will try to do the same by marginalising and demonising resistance to that popular front, subordinating the working class to the reactionary petty bourgeoisie and paving the road to fascism.
But Liberal Labour cannot pretend to meet the needs of workers, Maori or Women, while openly making them pay the cost of capitalism’s terminal crisis. No fearmongering by the petty bourgeois intelligentsia and labour bureaucracy can paint Marx and Lenin as the historic villains when global capitalism rotting on its feet has no alternative but to destroy both nature and humanity.
For a Red Fed and a Revolutionary Party
This time round, as well as finding what we are looking for, the working class has the power to stand up and use its power to prevent all attempts to bury it in counter-revolution. Labour has always been the party of the national bourgeoise, of national capitalism, and now global capitalism, demanding that NZ deregulate the local economy and open up to world economy.
So, the failure to deliver cannot be blamed on Ardern being unprepared for government, or that NZ First was a handicap, or that the state bureaucracy has sabotaged Labour’s plans. After one term in office, and with a large majority, Labour can no longer use these excuses to hide the fact that it is a Liberal party that openly serves the capitalist ruling class.
Labour has no plan to transform the economy. The most it will do is tinker with the trappings of the state, badger the Reserve Bank, push for a bigger role for Maori self-rule, fiddle with income policy, housing, education and health, in a disjointed, fragmented way. But none of this will stop the working class paying for the terminal crisis we are in. Labour is all about appearance, not substance. No more exposed than in its alignment with the Greens as authoritarian liberals enacting as hate speech that which offends peoples’ feelings, and sex self-ID, where sex is subordinated to gender, empowering men in the name of human rights to change their sex, claim to be women and violate women’s historic struggle for equal rights.
Labour is now an authoritarian Liberal party, with a policy of class compromise that serves those who have the economic power – the bourgeoisie and the petty bourgeoisie. This as clear in the failure to confront Climate Crisis where policy posturing will not risk challenging the profits of the corporates or of the petty bourgeois landlords and small businesses.
The way forward for working people is not through the Labour Party or the CTU bureaucracy. The union bosses will push for the new labour law because it empowers them, not workers. That law will still express the original philosophy of the IC&A of 1894. That the state will pretend to reconcile labour, ethnic and gender divisions, while on behalf of capital conciliate and arbitrate an outcome to ensure that the working classes will never unite and expropriate the accumulated wealth stolen from labour.
Just as the Red Fed broke with the Arbitration Court in 1908 when it refused a wage increase, workers today have to break with Labourism and statism once again. Many are already organised in direct action against coal and mining and the heavy hand of the state over our lives. We need more grass roots unionism like UTU which is not scared to confront the bosses where they live. We need to find a way to stop the road lobby and industrial agriculture from putting more Greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Capitalism is breaking down, and our lives are in jeopardy. The time to build workers councils in every town and city to debate and organise the way ahead has come.
Dave Brownz is TDBs guest Marxist blogger