Hōne Heke chopped down the flagpole with the British flag at Kororāreka four times (July 1844-March 1845)

All the old shit flying around the Treaty, everything that is not about Māori land rights and the necessity to nationalise the land to restore them, is immaterial. Ann Salmond documents what Māori chiefs said about the Treaty.  They knew from experience that missionaries and settlers coveted the land as their private property. Yet they were promised chiefly sovereignty over their land; and their land rights protected by the Queen. They had the right to sell to the Crown which would stop land being wrongly taken.  That promise was never kept. That was the fraud then and now and will remain so until the Treaty is honoured.

 Marx on why Māori lost their land

The war in the north in the 40’s was the first land war as chiefs protested the fraudulent failure of the Governor to protect their land rights. Hōne Hekes symbolic felling of the flagpole at Kororāreka (see graphic) speaks volumes. Then, in 1852 the Queen signed off the Constitution Act granting the settlers a colonial state with the power to dictate land policy. Self-rule meant white rule only as those with private property had the right to vote.

The state began to create legal ways to privatise land, often creating rifts within hapu and iwi, leading inevitably to the Kingitanga and the organised resistance to fraudulent land sales. The settler state then declared such resistance to the colonial state land grab to be rebellion, and the pretext for war to take the land.

Marx in Capital Vol 1 chapter 33 published in 1867 writes that the white settler colonies reveal the truth hidden in the home countries, that capitalism must create the conditions for capitalist production – the privatisation of land, creation of a landless labour force, and capital to invest in the exploitation of labour power.

In Chapter 31 Marx also shows his long-standing interest in the whole process of ‘primitive accumulation’ necessary for the “Genesis of the Industrial Capitalist” at the expense of indigenous peoples.

E.G. Wakefield’s ‘Systematic colonisation’ planned to transplant capitalism fully assembled in the settler colonies by buying land, and artificially creating a labour force with NZ Company land priced ‘sufficiently’ to force workers to work for capitalists until they could afford to buy land. In reality the plan collapsed and gave way to the wild Southern frontier of decades of land wars against the indigenous people for land.

The Crown’s right of pre-emption might have slowed down the theft of the land if the state had honoured chiefly sovereignty. Instead, the colonial state became the wholesale land agent. In the 1850s Grey defrauded the chiefs, sold land cheap creating a free for all to set the price of land to meet the growing demand of the hordes of settlers escaping unemployment and destitution at home.

TDB Recommends

Marx depicts this wild frontier in the fate of John Peel of the Swan River in Australia. Having imported capital, machines and labourers to assemble a capitalist venture, he found his labourers owed him no loyalty and ‘shot through’ to the bush to claim land to work for their own subsistence.

Far from ‘transplanting’ capitalism to the colonies, the settler colonies became a state managed “free market” where white settlers and their colonial state collaborated to dispossess Māori and set up as self-employed peasant farmers. The second land war from the 1860s to 1880s followed inevitably as the numbers of settlers increased the demand for land which Māori chiefs would not sell.

Now the reality that British imperialist policy was driven by the laws of capitalist development is revealed. For the colonial state to create the necessary conditions for colonial capitalism, it was necessary to privatise property, remove Maaori from the best land, create a landless labour force, and build a state which legalised this process and the military enforce it.

By the turn of the 20th century all the best Māori land was converted into private property, the people of the land, now labourers, subsisting on what was left of their land.

Marx on the nationalisation of land

Marx had a lot to say over the importance of land rights in the struggle to end capitalism and build socialism. The privatisation of land under capitalism becomes a barrier to the further development of the forces of production and raises the demand for land nationalisation.

Historically it was no accident that the predatory white settler wars against indigenous peoples was to privatise their common land. That is exactly what the tribal chiefs did after the fall of Rome when they setup tributary societies based on extracting rent from the peasantry.

Most of the feudal landed gentry had no incentive to increase labour productivity on the land. Those that did made the transition to modern capitalist agriculture throwing the surplus peasantry off the land into industry as wage labour or the reserve army of the unemployed.

As Marx explained, white settler colonisation was the result of this ‘destruction of the commons’ which created a surplus population who then migrated and grabbed the land off the indigenous peoples as their means of subsistence.

As we have seen, the failure to transplant the social relations of capitalism in the colonies ready-made, led to an expanding warlike frontier as waves of new settlers arrived hungry for land. The settler colonial states, freed from the direct control of the mother country, created a peasant family mode of production,from which rent would be extracted by the global capitalist mode of production.

What is named the Peasant Family Mode of Production (PFM) in Development of Capitalism in New Zealand, arises at the expense of the Māori Lineage Mode (MLM), but both are subordinated to the Capitalist Mode (CMP) in its extraction of rent (the labour value produced on the land).

Both submodes struggled to evolve, but the MLM faced a disadvantage as it has lost its best land. It becomes a source of cheap labour for the growth of the PFM creating a basic class division between the white petty bourgeoisie and Māori subsistence surplus labour that persists to this day founded on land theft justified by a racist ‘civilising mission’ culture.

Meanwhile the PFM divided into poor, petty bourgeois and capitalist farmers as the majority faced debt or bankruptcy while a minority increased their share of the rent by employing farm labour.

We can now explain why the ongoing debate around the Treaty is immaterial so long as Māori land rights are not the objective. If the fraud is the expropriation of communal land as a result of the land wars, then that stolen land must be returned to the Māori owners.

So it is time to dispense with the political theatre of Waitangi Day set aside for rehearsing old arguments about the Treaty unaware of the subterranean rumbles of the ongoing clash of modes of production.

The Māori leader who came closest to Marx in understanding that the colonisation of New Zealand was part of an international assault on indigenous peoples to subordinate their societies to imperialism, was Te Whiti o Rongomai. He saw the theft of the land and its money price as a necessary condition of the capitalist mode of production, and his solution was equally clear – occupation of the common land of hapu and iwi to defend the Māori lineage mode of production.

Today the minimum demand to honour the Treaty must be the abolition of private property in the land through its nationalisation by the state. This would confront the petty bourgeois racist culture head on and allow the majority to determine land policy by means of leases with conditions that respect Māori collective use of the land, and the respect for nature in the face of climate catastrophe due to global warming.

Towards a Socialist Polynesia

Of course, this is expressed as honouring the right of Te Tiriti for self-determination which in the Māori context means tino rangatiratanga. We have written about de-colonisation at length from the 1970s on. We argued for Māori self-determination in Towards a Socialist Polynesia (1982) in response to the impact of the Springbok tour and Donna Awatere’s book Māori Sovereignty which shuns Marxist analysis of land rights for a petty bourgeois cultural critique of white racism.

What makes ‘honouring the Treaty’ even more explosive today is the wave of radical Māori youth coming up against a reactionary white supremacist political barrier fuelled by the terminal crisis threatening global capitalism.

As that crisis is unloaded by the ruling class onto marginalised workers, poor farmers and youth, the contradiction breaks through the surface of society as the class struggle over land rights. That struggle will unite all workers and empower them to end capitalism and build a socialist world.

Forward to the Revolution!



Dave Brownz is TDBs Guest Marxist blogger because every Left wing Blog requires a Guest Marxist Blogger 


  1. I don’t think your title is straight to the point and helpful. It’s a fraud! It is apparently a desire to shock people into thinking about Te Tiriti. But it is a negative come-on. I would expect something like – ‘Why the Treaty confuses some, convulses others – What it’s good for we claim! That sets a better tone – something for everyone, and not a put-off or put-down I think.

        • Imagine if Cuba had been allowed to trade freely and wasn’t embargoed – the only reason socialism fails is because nobody gets rich and we can’t have that – maybe you should learn Mandarin and read Confucius – the Han socialists and the Russian socialists are telling you otherwise – the Vietnamese and Cook Islands are too.

          bob the parrot


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here