On Luxon’s Muscovite Specter Speech Purportedly Haunting The Nation


Like various recent National Party leaders before him, Christopher Luxon appears to have a bit of difficulty Reading The Room.

It’s a remark of general application, however in this specific case the room in question is “a modest Moscow flat”.

Confused? So’s he. Why? Because The Numbers Don’t Add Up.

Luxon found himself in that modest Moscow flat at some point after he joined Unilever, and was touring the world meeting “management” of that company as he slowly edged his way up the soapy pole. It’s possible that I (and David Cormack, whom I note beat me to the idea for this piece) am in error about this, but I somehow don’t think that Luxon was in Moscow during the era of anything which might feasibly be termed “Socialism”.

Most likely, considering he joined the company in 1993 and spent the first few years based in Wellington (where, to be sure, he may have wandered down Cuba Street and felt a bit lost in both time and space), he probably ventured over to Moscow when he was based out of London from 2000-2003.

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Now if that’s the case, then I can certainly agree that he likely encountered quite the swathe of “misery” in that town – however, with somewhere between ten and thirteen years since the fall of the USSR, and up to a decade since the associated dismantling of the Soviet economic system … is it really fair to say that the “misery” in question was “created” by “socialism”?

I’m not so sure. I suppose it comes down to how much you blame the Soviet system for existing – and therefore providing the opportunity for undoing said system in a really, really damaging way. Which, perhaps not uncoincidentally, also saw a fairly massive-scale transfer of wealth from the state to a very small number of private citizens – whilst for ordinary Russians life got significantly worse. A bit of an interesting thing given Luxon’s major theme in yesterday’s speech was the apparent ‘necessity’ of several billion dollars of tax cuts which will only benefit the wealthy (that is – the top 3% of income earners), and which we can fairly assume to be accompanied by constraints in state support and spending.

In the five years from 1989 to 1994, average Russian life expectancy went backwards by nearly five years – that is to say, Russians died, on average, five years earlier under that phase of the Market’s unfurling as compared to under the previous Soviet system. Life expectancy wouldn’t recover to pre-1990 levels in Russia until 2011 – almost a full generation after the Market began to be rolled out in earnest. This compares rather unfavourably, it must be said, with the situation of the USSR from, say, 1950 to 1965 – where life expectancy relatively shot up from just over 50 through to just under 68 … and, I suppose, comparing either of those numbers to the average pre Soviet Union, which appears to have never made it past the early 30s.

We often do not quite adequately appreciate that for all its (numerous) faults, the USSR did manage to take an expanse of what would barely be Third World conditions today, and not only put a man in space less than 40 years later but also manage to make meaningful improvements in quality of life for its citizenry as well. We often fall into something of a trap of choosing to measure Soviet (and Russian) achievements in these spheres relative to a yardstick derived from the (theoretically) most materially abundant society on the planet – America; rather than appreciating just what kind of a ‘dirt floor’ the USSR built itself up from. In fact, not just a ‘dirt floor’ – but a floor on fire, when the immense devastation of the Second World War is taken into consideration.

The point is, by the late 1990s, it had become abundantly clear that the Market had not brought the fabled prosperity promised by the modern Western economics textbook. For many it was quite the opposite. Shortly before Luxon likely arrived in Moscow, for instance, unemployment was in double-digit figures – around 13% in 1999. Going back a bit further, we’ll just quote this paper from the British Medical Journal verbatim:

“The report Transition 1999 stated that suicide rates have climbed steeply too, by 60% in Russia, 80% in Lithuania, and 95% in Latvia since 1989.

But behind the self destructive behaviour, the authors say, are economic factors, including rising poverty rates, unemployment, financial insecurity, and corruption. Whereas only 4% of the population of the region had incomes equivalent to $4 (£2.50) a day or less in 1988, that figure had climbed to 32% by 1994. In addition, the transition to a market economy has been accompanied by lower living standards (including poorer diets), a deterioration in social services, and major cutbacks in health spending.

“What we are arguing,” said Omar Noman, an economist for the development fund and one of the report’s contributors, “is that the transition to market economies [in the region] is the biggest … killer we have seen in the 20th century, if you take out famines and wars. The sudden shock and what it did to the system … has effectively meant that five million [Russian men’s] lives have been lost in the 1990s.” Using Britain and Japan with their ratio of 96 men to every 100 women as the base population, the report’s authors have calculated that there are now some 9.6 million “missing men” in the former communist bloc. “The typical patterns are that a man loses his job and develops a drinking problem,” said Mr Noman. “The women then leave and the men die, first emotionally and then physically.”

So that’s what Luxon was in amidst when he “[remembers] sitting in a modest Moscow flat with a couple in their late 40s on a dark and snowy afternoon.”

Sure sounds like “actually created misery” – although other than the weather (it’s probably a bit hard to be cheery on a “dark and snowy afternoon”), there seems a curious lack of any mention for any then-contemporary causations for the malaise Luxon observed there at the time. Probably because it wouldn’t fit his narrative today.

What’s that narrative? A proverbial red flag. That Labour, having steered us remarkably well (if not, it must be said, always perfectly – they are human, as are we) through a global pandemic (which we are still traversing) through the judicious use of the powers of state effectively unprecedented in peace-time … are somehow “Socialists”. In fact, more than that … Soviet Socialists. Via inferency, aligned to “Moscow” – which, given events of this past week and a half, is a toponym which carries quite some additional ‘dark’ (and perhaps ‘snowy’) connotations to it.

Perhaps he wants to pick up from his previous big speech (curiously enough, also on the ‘state of the nation’) – the one in which he set out his belief that we ought to “sympathise with some of the issues being raised by protesters on Parliament’s grounds without being framed as condoning illegal behaviour or siding with anti-science conspiracy theorists.” I’m sure he could borrow a “Cindy Stalin” hammer-and-sickle adorned placard from some of his friends-of-friends from the fringier bits of Groundswell if he gets sick of trying to do the subtle thing with his rhetoric.

In any case, Luxon ought be careful about basing his ‘reckons’ for Middle New Zealand off one conversation in a Moscow flat. Polling has fairly consistently shown that a majority of Russians … actually think the Soviet system being dismantled was a bad thing. This isn’t some heavily manipulated and unreliable propaganda survey, either – other than the Levada annual polling on the question, you’ve also got the well-regarded Pew Research Center findings. In fact, especially according to the latter, the number of Russians who view the transition to the market system as being a good thing has been steadily declining year upon year – hitting about 38% in 2019 per Pew. Of additional interest is another pattern in the figures – it’s the people who actually grew up and lived under the Soviet system that are chiefly driving the numbers there. The young generation who had no experience of the Soviet system are the ones that are most likely to say they think the new market economy was a good move – as they’ve never known anything else.

But we are not here to make the case for (or, for that matter, against) the Soviet Union. It was a faraway country, with a culture and a system that bore little resemblance to anything we might find here in New Zealand – even the famed ‘Dancing Cossacks’ of a previous National election campaign are simply a two dimensional caricature. Much like Luxon’s rhetoric here, and no doubt pertaining to a great many things.

The point is a simple one. If Luxon wants to audition for the role of Prime Minister of New Zealand, he’d do a better job if the concerns he sought to represent were those of regular New Zealanders. Not 40something Muscovites some twenty-ish years ago who, as it turns out, may not have been all that representative of ordinary Russians even then.

There is a certain segment of the New Zealand body-politic – the armpit of democracy, we may perhaps call them, after the sounds they seem to make for jocularity-value upon talkback radio for puerile self-amusement purposes – who probably do, either genuinely or reasonably enthusiastically facetiously, believe that New Zealand ‘runs the risk’ of becoming some sort of “Communist” state. Or that there’s some meaningful coterminity to be evinced between Putin rolling armoured vehicles into Ukraine and the NZ Police deploying riot shields and a fire-hose against a protest featuring a literal dumpster fire last week.

Some of those were the sort of people so unduly concerned about “Communism” here in New Zealand and a creeping surveillance state with Orwellian characteristics, that they immediately chose to go and set themselves up a commune, in public view and with extensive round-the-clock live-streaming of their every move whilst attempting to redefine reality to fit on an hourly if not minute-by-minute basis. Often whilst boldly declaring their vigorous intent to defend our democracy … by ‘temporarily’ overthrowing it and potentially holding some very Soviet-Stalinist seeming Show-Trials into the bargain.

Luxon was quite rightly pilloried not all that long ago for attempting to wade into that particular ‘debate’ and designating ‘Well Both Sides Have A Point’ as an attempted ‘wedge politics’ against not only our Government, but also the broad majority of the people of New Zealand heartily unimpressed with that sad opposition-for-opposition’s-sake spectacle recently occuring in Wellington (I mean the protest-camp here, not the National Party for a change).

He’s probably – or, rather, his focus-groupers – identified a bit of a seam of disgruntlement out there in the electorate, one which is currently extant effectively as a few embers, but which his handlers hope could be blown upon to get it to grow and inflame into a more American-style political combustion with enough effort and spurious soundbitery. Something somewhat availed, for rhetorical-symbological purposes by the fact that the past week and a half’s developments in geopolitics appear to have put us squarely back in the 80s in various regards.

Expect, over the next year and a half, Luxon to continue to needle along exactly these lines in various subtle (or not-so-subtle) hues.

How effective will it be?

Well, that’s over to you.


  1. It’s a compelling piece Curwen. Luxon’s words are as vague. How effective will they be? Let’s see what it costs to exist in NZ towards the election. Both Smug Robertson and Refuse To Accept Ardern say there is ‘no cost of living crisis’. They should know, after all they do the shopping for those people who belive there is one. As we all know, people vote with their wallets.

  2. Jacinda and Robertson are stupid saying there is no “cost of living crisis here in NZ”, they are displaying their ignorance of how the lower socio economic groups are suffering. Housing prices and rents are going through the roof and the cost of food, fuel and basic essentials are steadily rising. Meanwhile the oil companies, banks, oil companies, and supermarkets are making record profits. Although most of this is beyond their control denying there is a problem makes them look stupid. John Key could get away with it as he had rat cunning and weasel words, however Jacinda is struggling to deal with these issues which are inherent in the NZ Economy created by the way we have structured the Food Distribution and Housing Sectors.

    • Neither Ardern nor Robertson would now what ‘cost of living crisis here in NZ’ actually means. They get paid no matter what, will keep their jobs no matter what, and then once removed from heir jobs will get perks no matter what. The same can not be said for the proletariat that can’t afford a loaf of bread once they paid their rent. Electricity is optional and for those with good incomes.

    • “rat cunning and weasel words” – seldom has Key been characterised so well.

      Luxon showed himself to be very slippery too when I heard Corin Dann ineptly trying to interview him on Morning Report the other day.

    • Ngungukai Wise words – very true. How can PM Jacinda and Fin (fishy) Minister Grant say there is No Cost of Living crisis. I didn’t hear them say that so take your word for it, (I get a sick feeling listening to our politicians).
      But the Labour Party knows its subjects so well that it can promise 10,000 houses being built when it knows that NZ doesn’t have the resources and trained personnel to do so, and also it knows that it has very limited hands-on opportunity as it has sold its soul and also its blood and muscle to private speculators. (Think Rumplestiltskin – those old folk tales are quite sharp analogies.) Why bother about humans, look what AI has looming for us. God help us as the Labour Party is not following the yellow brick road.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fh_h5Txndxg Should We Fear Artificial Intelligence? ft. Veritasium

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GVsUOuSjvcg We’re Building Computers Wrong

  3. Correct, Curwen as to when Luxon may have been in that flat in Moscow.
    Wikipedia shows him in London working for Unilever between 2000-2003, and it is from there he most likely visited Moscow

  4. And anyone having the fantasy that NZ is in danger of becoming a communist state has no notion of the ability and power of the US to prevent that by any means possible.Mind you, there were elements of the Parliament protest that showed signs of regime change playbook, with right wing factions really upping the ante and introducing violence as a tactic.

    • There were definitely some sinister/cunning elements involved/behind the Wellington Protest, probably from the Alt Right Groups who want Jacinda hung/drawn & quartered as soon as possible. According to friends who visited the site they did not witness the people that turned up there on the last couple of days. Unfortunately NZ is going down the same Rabbit Hole as other countries and it is dragging other disaffected innocent fringe groups with it. Young Maori got sucked into this Protest and ended up on the front lines against the Police probably not even understanding what they were doing there.

  5. well luxton should know it’s his lot who get the oligarchs brown envelopes…

    as for ‘no crisis’ I think the blairite is about to find what the limits of spin are and what her PR drones can and can’t do…it won’t be a happy realisation either.

  6. I would imagine Moscow in winter to be dreary and depressing no matter what political/economic system in place.

    And even in capitalist times, most Russians still live in ‘modest’ flats, thanks to a massive house building program carried out in the 1950’s.

    • 50s/60s/70s….ironically some of the stalin(many partly built by kraut POWs) and kruschovka blocs are in high demand…not so much the brezhnev ones it must be said but they exist.

    • I can imagine what it would be like in Kiev at the moment, it would be a c*** of a place, cold, wet, damp, missiles coming in no power, limited food supply and the threat of being flattened any minute by one of Putin’s missile’s, no thanks, I hope this gets resolved b4 their is further bloodshed. The poor Russian mothers with their son’s being sent back to Russia in body bags or buried in a paddock in a wheat field in the Ukraine, this is Putin’s War not the Russian People’s War. He will not be remembered fondly in Russian History.

  7. Unfortunately, Luxon will probably get away with his mangling of history, because the vast majority of Kiwis are pig-ignorant about Russia’s history.
    Under the Tsars, as under the modern ‘market economy’, and even under the socialism of the USSR (which raised Russia to the status of a super-power) the vast majority of Russians have always been poor by NZ standards.

  8. Francesca
    Whoopdeedoo, but People will not be analysing the accuracies of his travels to Moscow. But they will never forget these four words he spoke, especially now that Jacinda and Grant deny it: COST. OF. LIVING. CRISIS. It just happens to occur on this highly ineffective socialist govt’s watch – and there is your problem. All recent polls are reflecting growing unhappiness with this govt. Keep up the detective work though.

  9. I’m always amused how people on a couple of hundred thousand bucks plus can state baldly that there is no cost of living crisis, probably because we gave the beneficiaries another $18.46 a week or some other inane amount.

    • I know a government who said there was no housing crisis then attacked the new government on a housing crisis. The same supporters are now saying there is a cost of living crisis as if NZ is the only country suffering from inflation and a Russian government adding to it.

  10. Grant and Jacinda have no freaking idea that every time they deny things that are affecting the low income NZers who don’t have any option but to keep struggling on, they are fanning the kindling that is feeding the flames of dissent. The sparks have already ignited the kindling.
    Someone should ask them about inflation. Oh yes, that’s right it’s all imported and out of their control! How stupid do they think we are?
    Two POS politicians following the yellow brick road.

    • Problem is when they deny it, it makes them look really, really stupid imho.

      Bring back NZF ? Winston everything is forgotten, we forgive you.

  11. If National is the answer to the question, what is the question?

    What party displayed complete indifference to the plight of everyone doing it hard when they were in Government?

    What Party ran a low wage economy in NZ?

    What Party denied there was a housing crisis when things worsened dramatically under their watch?

    What Party only discovered child poverty days out from the 2017 election day?

    What Party adamantly believes their supporters are the only kiwis that work hard?

    What Party is ready and waiting to jump straight back into bed with China?

    What Party watched our health system in crisis due to woeful salary and safe staffing levels but refused to act while in Government?

    What Party stated reported crime was only increasing due to increased public confidence in crimes being solved?

    What Party creates policies that strongly favour their supporters at the expense of those that don’t support them?

    etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc and what Party strangled huge numbers of Kiwis financially and treated them with disdain…..and then called it a ROCK STAR ECONOMY?

    • What party got re elected for nine years.? You see TM not all those nine years were bad. You’ve got Bert’s thought process.

  12. Problem is when they deny it, it makes them look really, really stupid imho.

    Bring back NZF ? Winston everything is forgotten, we forgive you !!!

  13. There were definitely some sinister/cunning elements involved/behind the Wellington Protest, probably from the Alt Right Groups who want Jacinda hung/drawn & quartered as soon as possible. According to friends who visited the site they did not witness the people that turned up there on the last couple of days. Unfortunately NZ is going down the same Rabbit Hole as other countries and it is dragging other disaffected innocent fringe groups with it. Young Maori got sucked into this Protest and ended up on the front lines against the Police probably not even understanding what they were doing there.

  14. Great article – again – Curwen.

    And, just to prove that great minds do think alike, here’s the relevant chunk of my post for Interest.co.nz, tapped out on Sunday afternoon and posted on Monday morning. Enjoy.

    “This was not the speech of a serious – or even a very careful – politician. In his de rigueur castigation of Labour’s “socialism”, Luxon offered up the following anecdote:

    ‘I remember sitting in a modest Moscow flat with a couple in their late 40s on a dark and snowy afternoon. It couldn’t have been clearer that socialism – in terms of Government control of everyday life and lack of rewards for hard work – had abjectly failed and actually created misery.’

    Except that the Soviet Union blipped-off History’s screen in 1991 – when Luxon was still a university student. The earliest he is likely to have visited Moscow as an employee of Unilever was sometime after 1993. That would put his Moscow family squarely in the period of Neoliberal “Shock Therapy”. It was a time of accelerated social and economic collapse as millions of Russian workers lost their jobs, their homes, their pensions, and their hopes. The Yeltsin Years, when average Russian life expectancy actually fell.

    If you’re going to sing the damnations of Soviet socialism, it helps to belong to a generation old enough to remember it!”

  15. well spotted chris

    and under the neo-liberal regime fester subscribes to, many kiwis sit underfed in cold damp overpriced homes with no future so festers anal-ysis is off..innit?

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