The Jobs Summit and how we respond to the Nat’s strategy

Philip Ferguson

Misjudging the Nats

Most of the left, both organised groups and the wider milieu of individual leftists, still really believe there is a fundamental difference between Labour and National.  While the Workers Party have never argued that they are exactly the same, we’re probably the only people who really believe – and act in accordance with the belief – that they are fundamentally the same.  They are liberal bourgeois parties; largely made up of urban, socially-liberal, middle class individuals.  Their goal is to manage the capitalist system.  Politically they’ve converged around liberal economics and liberal social policy, although both have some more blatantly right-wing social policies around issues like law and order.

 For much of the left, however, the Nats remain seen as some backwoods social reactionaries, a la Piggy Muldoon era.  And, economically, they are seen as unchanged since the 1990-93 period.  An especially crude representation of this view of the Nats was summed up in Socialist Aotearoa’s response to last November’s election: that a Nat-Act junta was now in power.

 We have always challenged this demonisation of the Nats and done so for three reasons:  one is that it always lets Labour off the hook; the second is that it’s just not an accurate analysis of what the National Party is in the twenty-first century.  The third reason is that it is devoid of any Marxist analysis of modern NZ capitalist society and the politics that the economic system requires. 

 This brings us to the Nats’ strategy for dealing with the slump and how we deal with the state-employer strategy.

 For much of the left, it’s all very simple: this is the biggest slump since the 1930s, the Nats are evil capitalist hacks who will create mass unemployment to drive down wages and slash workers living conditions and rights in order to revive the system.  Yet none of this actually corresponds with reality.  It’s possible that this will become the worst slump since the 1930s but, at present, it isn’t – and that is especially the case in NZ.  People who were around when the postwar boom ended, or in the aftermath of the 1987 crash, will have direct experience of worse economic situations, for instance.   

Moreover, in NZ, unlike the USA and some other countries, the banking system has held up – not one significant bank has yet gone under and there is no indication that any of them are about to.  A layer of finance houses went to the wall, beginning before the current international downturn and there may not be much more to shake out there.  It seems the main impact in NZ will be the impact of the global downturn in terms of the shrinking of export markets (real economy), continuing decline of property prices (artificial economy) and possibly a growing reluctance of people to spend money in department stores, car yards, restaurants etc in a more fearful economic environment.  While banks may be reluctant to provide credit to businesses, a key priority of the government is to ensure this doesn’t happen and that businesses continue to be able to access credit.  While the Nats were not exactly enthusiastic about the establishment of Kiwibank, they’re probably all quite pleased now that Kiwibank exists and that Jim Anderton was there to do the job for capital when a lot of capitalists didn’t recognise it as being in their own best interests to have a state-owned (and therefore pretty secure) bank.

 But surely the downturn means there must be attacks on the working class?  This is certainly the case, but there is more than one way to attack the working class.  In the 1980s the whole NZ economy faced seizing up – indicative of a more serious crisis than the current one! – and the only way out of that for capital was what might be called the ‘slash and burn’ approach.  Chunks of capital had to be let go to the wall, jobs had to be shed on a massive scale, the NZ dollar had to be devalued, potentially profitable chunks of the state assets had to be sold off; other state assets, while remaining in the hands of the state, had to be commodified – ie state services and goods produced to be sold for a profit or at least to break even.  This is because the old state sector was a drain on surplus-value – it was underwritten by the surplus-value produced in the private sector.

 But slash and burn has its limits.  Wages and working class consumption levels were reduced, union organisation was largely destroyed, a chunk of inefficient capital was wiped out and the state sector was dramatically changed.  Yet all of this – the ‘Rogernomics revolution’ – failed to usher in a new period of dramatic and sustained growth in the real economy.  Instead, the artificial economy expanded to bloated levels and, when it crashed in 1987, became a huge drag on the real/productive economy, which meant NZ’s overall economic performance throughout the 1990s was fairly mundane and sluggish.  NZ productivity growth after the Employment Contracts Act  fell well behind Australia’s, for instance.  Employers here increasingly relied on making workers work longer and harder for relatively less – expanding what Marx called absolute surplus-value.  Private capital investment in new plant, machinery, technology and research & development remained lower than almost anywhere else in the OECD; it had to be topped up by the government and, even then, total new investment remained fairly low.  This meant that real growth did too.

 Over a period of time, just as Keynesianism became discredited by its inability to solve the problems attendant with the end of the postwar boom, so neoliberalism became discredited by its inability to foster dynamic, sustained growth in the real economy.  Thus while Roger Kerr continues to pop up from time to time, most of the smart money, especially in the real economy, have moved beyond neo-liberalism – a trend largely un-noticed by most of the NZ left.

 What has emerged instead is the dominance of some level of understanding of the importance of the real economy and of the limits of slash and burn.  Ironically, it’s someone who made his fortune in the artificial economy who is leading National in a clearly non-neoliberal direction, John Key.  (In fact, even Brash has been talking over the past year about the importance of investment in the real economy.)

 This understanding on the part of business interests and their political front – the government – is a key reason why there was a Jobs Summit.  The capitalists, especially the ones who operate primarily in the real economy, and the Nats, actually do want to preserve and expand employment.  The left repeating the mantras which were true about the 1984-1993 period simply won’t cut it and will just make those who repeat the mantras look daft.

 National Party (and wider capitalist) strategy to deal with what is clearly a serious economic downturn has to be closely analysed, using the tools of Marxism. 

 One thing we need to note is that attacks on the working class take different forms at different times.  There is an attack already being mooted, but it’s a more sophisticated attack than coming to get the working class with a big hatchet.  The approach laid out at the Jobs Summit is this: this is a serious economic downturn, the way out of it is for all of us as Kiwis to pull together, to spread and share and bear the pain together, and we’ll get through it.  So, instead of simply laying off ten percent of the workforce and cutting the wage bill that way – with all the longer-term drawbacks that represents for capital (and the potential social upheaval and conflict) what they are mooting is the idea of a chunk of the workforce working nine days instead of ten – and, of course, only being paid for those nine days.  The state then will then underwrite workers’ upskilling on the tenth day, or pay a small top up, so workers will get something out of it too.  This is both clever politically and, in terms of the interests of capital today (as opposed to their interests in the specific conditions of 1984), clever economically.

 It’s clever politically because it brings the population together in an economic crisis, promoting a kind of liberal kiwi nationalism (pulling together, helping your mates, doing the right thing, etc) instead of promoting class differentiation and conflict and therefore makes it far harder for the left to attack.  It’s clever economically because it cuts the wage bill while maintaining (and even upskilling) a workforce for the next upturn.

 This approach by the capitalists and the Nats also means that they will want to keep the union leaderships on board rather than just totally sideline them, as occurred in 1984-1993 when even the most toady union leaderships got scant reward for their toadiness.  The fact that CTU leader Helen Kelly was invited to play such a prominent role in the Jobs Summit, while Roger Kerr was reduced to being a mere workshop participant, indicates whom they see as important and desire to cultivate.   

Furthermore, among the 20 key ideas that came out of the Jobs Summit not one involved any further deregulation of the labour market.  When a few business figures attempted to raise this issue, they were taken into a private room and told, apparently quite forcefully, that they were out of order in raising this and there was no way the Jobs Summit would discuss for a minute the issue of further deregulation of the jobs market.

 That’s not to say that the current approach will never change; it may change if the economic situation deteriorates substantially.  But collaboration/inclusiveness/shared suffering is the name of the game at present. 

 Arguing against the slash and burn policies of the fourth Labour and National governments was straightforward and easy – the arguments didn’t succeed because of the weakness of the far left, widespread illusions about Labour, and the success of the union bureaucracy in stifling resistance/struggles.  Arguing against the different form today’s attacks on workers take will be harder.  On the positive side, the organisational-political obstacles – a large Labour Party and a large and powerful union bureaucracy which protected Labour and the capitalist system – are far, far weaker.  There is also the example of a small, but inspiring union/campaigning alternative in Unite.  Also, winning hard arguments represents much more political progress in breaking people from capitalism than winning soft, easy arguments.

 We’re clearly in for a complicated and challenging political period.  If we succeed in making clear, clinical analyses and acting on them, keeping our nerve, continuously promoting an anti-capitalist perspective and not lowering our horizons, then a new period of growth of our organisation, most particularly among workers, is possible.


  1. Don Franks says:

    I had some debate along these lines at a mainly leftist social function last night. The discussion arose over the sacking of former ACC chairman Ross Wilson. This soon developed along the lines of “ah- the National party, here they come again, they just can’t wait to put the boot into the unions etc etc. ” I raised the high placement of top union officials at the Employment summit and the presence of John Key at the latest NZCTU Productivity seminar as examples of National’s practice to the contrary. I said National could easily have said that in the current economic circumstances a minimum wage increase would cost jobs, and the public would have mostly accepted that. Reminded them of the havoc wrecked by the 4th labour government. The problem, under Labour or National was capitalism. There wasn’t really any counter argument, but I was conscious of not making any converts. Lifelong habits of selectively blaming economic woes on the whims of a few pathologically malevolent individuals die hard.

  2. Very good but I just had to make the point that the Workers Party appears to be largely made up of urban, socially-liberal, middle class individuals too. Or am I being rude.

  3. I don’t think you’re being rude, but I think you are incorrect. Last Friday I called one of our members to make sure she hadn’t lost her job in the latest round of redundancies at the factory she works at- the same one I worked at before my no-job-security temp “assignment” ended.

    Being urban isn’t a bad thing, most workers in New Zealand are urban, nor is there anything wrong with being socially-liberal. As for middle class, that can certainly influence your economic politics just as being urban can influence your social politics, but that doesn’t mean it has to. Theres a quote from Noam Chomsky that I think is appropriate;

    “The more privilege you have, the more responsibility you have. For example, if you are a couple, working an 80-hour week to put food on the table for the children, your responsibility is less than if you had a degree of education, freedom, opportunity, resources, and so on.”

    If the Workers Party ‘appears to be largely made up of urban, socially-liberal, middle class individuals’ it is because these individuals are the ones with the time and resources to be activists.

    (the point of the phrase in the article is of course, to say that the National Party isn’t made up of conservative farmers)

  4. //(the point of the phrase in the article is of course, to say that the National Party isn’t made up of conservative farmers)//

    Or lawyers…

  5. Barrie (AWSM-Personal Capacity) says:

    “While the Workers Party have never argued that they are exactly the same, we’re probably the only people who really believe – and act in accordance with the belief – that they are fundamentally the same.”

    You have overlooked anarchists. We also argue for fundamentally equating the main political parties and act accordingly. As pointed out in the quote, they are organisations that function as managers of the capitalist system. They may agree or disagree over tactical issues and aspects of emphasis, but on the basics they have no argument.

    An important area anarchists would part company with the WP on, is the question of political parties of ANY stripe being capable of bringing release from this current system and replacing it with something less oppressive. I accept your claims to being genuinely interested in getting rid of this system and I do find your analysis on target a lot of the time. However, I would include the WP among those offering a ‘solution’ that won’t ultimately get us where we need to be.

    Anyway, interesting article.

  6. Don Franks says:

    In my experience people calling themselves ‘anarchists’ vary quite widely in their assessment of political parties. Some are very consistent. To other anarchists the Green party and the Maori party are preferable to Labour and definitely preferable to National. Some anarchists inflate the inconsequential National Front as a most serious threat, when in fact, the Greens do far more to foster reactionary nationalism via support for ‘Kiwi made’ and ‘our peacekeepers’.

  7. John Edmundson says:

    Victor wrote:
    “I just had to make the point that the Workers Party appears to be largely made up of urban, socially-liberal, middle class individuals too.”

    I’d be interested to know what prompted Victor to think the WP is “largely … middle class.” Even given the pretty nebulous definition most people have of what middle class really means, I’d be hard pressed to find many amongst the people I know in the WP. Most of us are in decidedly working class jobs. I sure don’t feel very middle class!!!

  8. Barrie (AWSM-personal capacity) says:

    Anarchists do distinquish between the parties and see they are not the same in the results their policies have. Thats realistic and its possible to establish empirically what those results have been,to some extent at least. It also allows a flexibility of analysis and hence there are variations between anarchists over the relative merits of the parties. Thats only to be expected, given that we dont have a party ‘line’ to follow.

    However, none of the above loses sight of the fundamental understanding that all the parties are managers of capitalism. Its also a long way from actively endorsing, working for one or voting for a party.

    I don’t think any anarchists have said the NF are a serious threat on a macro level (at the moment). A lot of work has been done in dealing with them at a grassroots level though. I can’t see anything wrong with that. It certainly makes more sense than the complete abstention towards them that the Workers Party take. The degree of emphasis placed on dealing with opponents is important but thats qualitatively different from entirely ignoring them, which is shortsighted in my opinion.

  9. Don Franks says:

    We’ll just have to agree to differ about the NF. In some quarters, like Indymedia there is an ongoing obsession with the NF, which in my view is a major source of sustenance for them .
    I don’t agree with Indy posters that this tiny group of semi literate white racists threaten to repeat a Nazi type movement. They are unable even to articulate their white racism openly, because that form of crude racism is not socially acceptable anymore. A real substantial New Zealand fascist movement could only succeed with New Zealand characteristics. I repeat, the current local nationalism comes in the form of ‘buy kiwi made’ and support for ‘our peacekeepers’. This is not fascism, but its thoroughly reactionary and a roadblock in the way of workers liberation. Its also unrecognised as such by many leftists.

  10. Barrie (AWSM-Personal Capacity) says:

    You are right about agreeing to disagree, so to finish off:

    Indymedia covers a number of topics, its not a single issue anti-fascist website but its true to say it does mention the NF. I wasn’t sure if by “them” you meant Indymedia or the NF getting sustenance from the coverage(or is it a mutually reinforcing thing in your view?)?

    It does not follow from the NF and its allies being tiny that they should be ignored. Even if they never grew from their current level of membership, their ideological nature and activities are harmful enough in themselves that effort should be made to resist them. Like I said previously however, its true the AMOUNT of effort should be proportional to the threat (ditto choice of tactics) and its true they aren’t the main enemy at the moment.

    I agree that any crudely mimetic Nazi movement is unlikely to succeed in an NZ environment to the degree that they gain power or a share of power.This is something their more clued up members recognise. I think some kind of suit-wearing populist variety of ‘post’-fascist movement has more chances of succeeding (e.g.Nick Griffins political trajectory in the UK), especially in a time of economic down-turn. You would then see the even more explicit elements riding on those coat tails, as has happened in Italy in recent times, for example.

    I agree on the need to oppose ‘little kiwi-ism’ and economic nationalism (whether subjectively autarkic in aim or ‘just’ selectively protectionist). Its a dead end, creating the false impression local workers have more in common with the bosses than they do with other workers who are either located overseas or originated elsewhere before coming here. The struggle is global.

  11. John Edmundson says:

    For me, the obsession with fascism exhibited by some on the left (and not just anarchists) is that it actually makes it harder for them to realistic and objective about politics more broadly. So not only are Kyle Chapman and co elevated to a place of importance well beyond their real strength, but everyone else on the right gets to be a fascist too. So John Key’s a fascist, Rodney Hide’s a fascist, the Nat/Act government is a junta etc. (I think it’s quite possibly true that, as they claim, Joe C and SA don’t really believe that but they play to it anyway.) I really think that stopping obsessing about fascists under the bed is a critical step in getting to see what’s really going on in New Zealand politics, which is that ACT are of marginal importance and National is a liberal bourgeois party not all that different from the Labour Party. In the end that position gives left cover to lesser evilism and the Labour Party.

  12. John Edmundson says:

    Of course, in case it’s unclear, “that position” in my last sentence refers to spotting the fascist.

  13. Like Philip I am suprised that the Nationals have not adopted the slash and burn policy this time in government. I think that there are a number of reasons for that (1) as Phil mentions that in the nasty ninties the left was hoplessly unorganised.(2) With PC technology the left can be far more organised.(3)A recession may confront the government with an unprecedented number of unemployed who are more ‘with it’. These are the reasons that the Key government has to adopt a softly-softly approach.

    I can’t imagine dr. Brash adopting such a pragmatic approach. However that doesn’t mean that the Nats are getting more left. everyone knows where they stand with them, they fly the blue flag!

    Labour is a blatantly capitalist party and yet it flies the red flag, still! I too think that they have been let off the hook far too lightly.

    A while back I was visiting the National Front website (for a joke) and they seem to have a lot of respect for the anarchists. I rather pity those people they would be the most unemployable, uneducated and marginalised yet they adopt a reactionary dogma that will in the end only serve their undoing, history has proven that. It’s a cruel irony that they are the people who need the left cause the most. They are no threat at present but there are the ‘garden veriety’ of fascist who are far more dangerous, people like John Banks(who kicked out pensioners fron their rental accomodation)Michael Laws and Mike Moore who would like to ban NF patches.You may think great but where would that tyrade end? Green flags? Red flags? material bans on notice boards, the 4am knock on your front door? etc.etc.

  14. Barrie (AWSM-personal capacity) says:

    John: I agree its a mistake to use the word ‘fascist’ as an epithet for anyone to the Right of Labour. Its also a straw figure as a complaint because I just don’t know anyone seriously interested in political analysis who really does that.

    Paul: What gives you the idea that the NF respect anarchists? In 25 years of researching and encountering fascists face-to-face I have never experienced anything that shows respect for us. Which is what you would expect, given that we are diametrically opposed to them.

    Your lumping together of John Banks, Michael Laws and Mike Moore as “garden variety fascists” is a good example of why the word shouldn’t be thrown around to label anyone in power who happens to do something you don’t like. Its inaccurate and lazy thinking.

  15. John Edmundson says:

    Barrie wrote:
    “John: I agree its a mistake to use the word ‘fascist’ as an epithet for anyone to the Right of Labour. Its also a straw figure as a complaint because I just don’t know anyone seriously interested in political analysis who really does that.”

    I wouldn’t say Socialist Aotearoa are not serious. I also find that trend amongst posters on Indymedia who would self identify as serious and as part of the anti-capitalist movement. I’ve been jumped on there from a great height for daring to challenge the flippant use of the word fascist. So I think the phenomenon is real; larger I suspect, than the actual fascist threat…

  16. John Edmundson says:

    “Like Philip I am suprised that the Nationals have not adopted the slash and burn policy this time…”

    We in the WP aren’t “surprised” by this. Back when Brash was made leader we argued that his appointment was out of step with the real nature of the party. His status as ex-Reserve Bank governor appealed to a party desperate to get back into power as the “Natural party of government. His appointment was like a last twitch of victory for the Muldoonist social conservatives. Of course it could reemerge but I think it’s unlikely.

    Slash and burn on the other hand could well reemerge whether the party wants it or not if the recession deepens enough.

  17. Barie I agree anarchists probably are the antithesis to the NF, I was only observing their comments and being ignoramases their opinions are often eronious.
    The dictionary here states that Fascism is the “authoritarian nationalistic movement of Italy or any movement like this ” Collins and the Oxford “Principles and organisation of Italy anti- communist revolution of 1922:such action elsewhere”.
    That incedent mentioned was the ‘March on Rome’conducted by Moussilimi and his gang of thugs after roaming around northern Italy on an orgy of looting and burning down houses of suspected socialists and communists!! what is of note here is that nobody opposed Il Duce in fact he was secretly supported by wealthy merchants and local body officials like the Mayors and councillors of northern Italy.
    It seems to me that there are two parts of fascism overt and covert historically Il Duce was covert until he reached Rome when he was invested with the power as Prime minister by the king of Italy. Then his power was overt.
    The situation I am referring to is that the NF crowd who are out of power are openly “overt” fascists, those who are in power (ah la John Banks) are “covert” fascists and would never admit to being ‘fascist’. Now wasn’t it true that John Banks had evicted pensioners from their council rental dwellings in order to sell off those properties? And what about his law and order agenda? And those people who sleep in the streets making his city untidy? If that isn’t fascism mate I don’t know what is!!!!!

    John: fair comment.


  18. Philip Ferguson says:

    Paul Drake:
    “Like Philip I am suprised that the Nationals have not adopted the slash and burn policy this time…”

    I wasn’t in the slightrest surprised that they didn’t adopt the slash and burn method. We have said for a number of years, including when Brash was elected leader, that slash and burn had outlived its usefulness.

    They’ve seem to have made about all the productivity gains they can, for instance, using the method of making workers work harder, longer and faster.

    The biggest single problem in the NZ economy, in terms of capitalism, is the underinvestment of productive capital – that is, investment in plant, machinery, technology etc (and research and development) and, instead, the diversion of capital investment into the financial sphere.

    That is what Key and English and their advisers, such as the NZ Institute, are trying to address. The Business Roundtable, by contrast, isn’t even particularly aware that it is a serious problem – this is why the BR isn’t of much use to the government these days.

    Philip Ferguson

  19. Philip Ferguson says:

    Thanks Barrie for your comments. My original article was remiss in exempting *some* anarchists, such as AWSM, from the idea that Labour and National are fundamentally the same.

    In relation to Victor’s comment about the class nature of the WP membership, this seems odd. There are only about two or three active members of the WP who earn over the average wage and both of them have three-four economic dependents. I don’t think either of those members would earn much above $50,000.

    Almost everyone else is a worker or a student. A few years ago, I was the sole white collar worker in the Christchurch branch; every other active member was a blue-collar or manual worker. And, while I was a white collar worker, I was on less than the average wage and had spent many years as a manual worker.

    Moreover, the two or so active members we have who might earn a little over $50,000 come from working class backgrounds. One of them is an ex-freezing worker.

    So, no, we’re not made up of middle class individuals and I can’t see that anyone familiar with our activists would think we were.


  20. Barrie (AWSM-Personal Capacity) says:

    John: I’ve just gone and had a quick trawl through the Socialist Aotearoa website and the only reference I could find to fascists was in relation to events in Bangkok. I would accept their use of the word in that context was problematic. When it comes to Nat-Act, the terminology Socialist Aotearoa employs does seem stridently apocalyptic. The use of the word ‘Junta’ is also erroneous and unhelpful. Like I said, I can’t see them using the actual word ‘fascist’ to apply to NZ though.

    As for Indymedia, your point about people self-identifying as serious is a big caveat. Just because they see themselves that way, doesn’t make it so. In fact, given the anonymity and open access of what the site allows, its hard to take a lot of the stuff or people on there seriously.

    Paul:I agree John Banks is politically odious in his actions. These actions may be all sorts of things (e.g. uncaring, reactionary) but I think you have a long way to go in showing that this is part of a fascist agenda. I mean FASCIST, really? I just don’t see any evidence that he secretly wishes to establish a militaristic one-party dictatorship based on a highly stratified racial, gender and class hierarchy etc. Besides which, Banks is such an ego monkey that he has never struck me as the sort of person who does ANYTHING covertly.Hes a rich guy who has a certain constituency he plays to and pretty much goes about openly putting in to place policies they like. Hes a fairly standard politician, hardly the second coming of Mussolini.

    Phil: Thanks for your response. I have always thought it a cheap shot to hold up the class nature of members of left groups as a sign of hypocrisy. It seems more important to me to look at where peoples sympathies lie and what their actions are, rather than where they have come from. Most of us are just selling our labour to the small minority who run our lives.

  21. Barrie; I take your point but both dictionaries described fascism as ‘authoritarian’ which makes for a very broard interpretation. Last year I read a biography of Mussolini and a lot of people would be suprised to learn that he was secretary of a socialist party that later became the Italian Communist party. A lot of Italians thaught Il Duce was a caring humane man of the people until the world situation changed and the industrialists got him into their pockets. You have to remember that when Il Duce’s marched on Rome it was far from ‘military’ most were teenage delinquents armed with clubs and base ball bats etc.

    You say I have a long way to go to establish that Banksey is a fascist well he is an ex-cop are not police militaristic in their thinking? Then consider the operation that the police embarked on the so called ‘terrorists’, raids first on the people of the Uruweras’s and activist groups around the country a couple of years ago. Don’t you think that had a political agenda? And was Banks there to give a helping hand? Then you have to consider his ambitions for being mayor of grater Auckland. That is more power than most MP’s!! Then you would have to consider the current recession and how deep that will get!
    How will Banks react when people get turfed out of their homes and jobs en-mass and start taking to the streets? There are plenty of parallels between Italy in the 1920’s to 30’s and new Zealand today.

    You are looking for an exact black and white definition of fascism wich is commendable but I don’t think that it exists. Nazi’s yes they were definately absolute in their racism and politics but during the 20’s and 30’s the Italian Fascist party had often worked in with the Liberals and conservative parties.
    Franco was more politically astute and chose not to throw his hand in with Hitler and Spain remained neutral through the war. Does this meen that Franco was more conservative than Hitler? Franco’s mother was jewish and remember Gaurnica and the civil war!! Yet Franco survived the war years and certainly was percieved by the post war allies as being a bit more ‘conservative’.

    How these maniacs are percieved is often a universe apart from who they really are, and who they will become. I will still stand by my definition of ‘garden veriety’ as a keen gardener I observe the plants that look like carrots, and the root is exactly like a parsnip but they are really hemlock (that poisoned Socrates) and if they are not observed they thrive among the carrots and take over waiting for some idiot to partake.

    If one fails to recognize the grey fascist hiding among the army of grey suits then one is in very serious trouble.

    Yours respectfully


    I have changed my mind about Mike Moore I was being a little too harsh.

  22. John Edmundson says:

    The characterisation that Paul is attempting to make in relation to John Banks is a perfect example of what I have been saying, and which Barrie considered a ‘strawperson”. What Banks is exhibiting is a typical populist capitalist response to an economic downturn. Of course fascism is a form of capitalism so there is a kind of sliding scale, but if Banks is a fascist, we need a new word to describe people like Mussolini, Hitler, Franco etc. As I said, calling a capitalist politician a fascist simply because s/he does what capitalists do lets “nice” capitalists, and therefore capitalism as a whole off the hook. What’s more politically accurate (and politically useful too) – saying Banks is a fascist or Banks is a capitalist? In my mind if you’re trying to build an anti-fascist movement calling him a fascist might be useful, even if it’s not accurate. But if you’re trying to build an anti-capitalist movement then calling him a capitalist is not only more accurate, but also more helpful. I don’t see a need for an anti-fascist movement in New Zealand at the moment, but I do want to build an anti-capitalist one. And I think that building that movement should be done on the basis of honest accurate claims, so I won’t be tempted to call Banks a fascist.

  23. Barrie (AWSM-personal capacity) says:

    Paul:You may be right that the dictionaries you used both label fascism as authoritarian and it does indeed entail a broad definition. On that basis alone, you could make a case for saying that a large portion of the worlds regimes (past and present) are fascist, which waters down the definition to the point of uselessness. Which is why you have to go beyond a single factor when defining something as complex as a political ideology. Admittedly thats a tricky business and has kept academics busy in search of an elusive ‘fascist minimum’ definition for years, but it is a necessary task if you want to retain any meaningful analytical use for the word.

    You’re right that Mussolini began his political career as a socialist (and was even editor of their newspaper). The fact he was a Socialist and that fascism drew its ideological and material support from a wide range of sources is what makes it difficult to define and was a element in its ultimate lack of success in my opinion. For example, they found support from aristocrats, lumpen elements, ex-soldiers, declasse intellectuals like Marinetti and the futurists, militant syndicalists etc. First they were programmatically republican then they worked with the monarchy, a pseudo-radical corporate state structure existed but real power lay with the bosses, some factions were anti-clerical but they had a pact with the vatican, different Ras quarrelled over jurisdictions etc. A big chaotic mess, which is ironic given their claims to represent ‘order’.

    I don’t think anyone ever thought of Mussolini at any stage of his life as a caring man. His attitude towards women was always pretty brutal, for example.

    I agree the so-called March on Rome was not military in a clasic sense of a coup organised by members of the army or even a well organised civillian militia. The partial definition I offered said they were militaristic, meaning they valued an extreme military ethos as something that should permeate society entirely. Once in power they tried to militarise the whole of society as well as actually using the army for imperialist ventures abroad e.g. Abyssinia, Spain.

    Its true the fascists partly had to operate with other political tendencies in order to get stuff done, at least in the early years of the regime. This has more to do with the political and historical realities pre-dating their existence than it does with the fascists aspirations, which were certainly towards a totalitarian state (it was Mussloini who coined the term, afterall).

    Its true that its hard to find a ‘one size fits all’ definition of fascism. Any definition has to be both precise enough to be useful but elastic enough to work beyond a single case.

    Franco is probably best not thought of as Fascist. Its true he did incorporate explicitly fascist groupings such as the JONS/Falange in his coalition of forces, but once his rule was consolidated after the civil war, these factions were effectively side-lined. Francos instincts and ideas (such as he had any) were more towards a ultra-conservative or reactionary dictatorship than fascism. The fact his mother was Jewish is an interesting quirk but not directly relevant. I’m not sure what point you’re making about Guernica & the civil war.

    Its true that perception and reality are often not the same in relation to (well, lots of things really) political ideologies and their promoters. Its important to be careful when using terminology and trying to do our best to define and refine things as well as we can, in order to determine what the reality is. Slapdash labelling of somebody may make the accuser feel good and may satisfy the casual observer, but isn’t doing good service to the goal of a sound understanding of a phenomenon. Thats especially important when you want to counter that trend or ideology. You can’t do that till you know what you are really dealing with.

    Must confess I dont know a lot about gardening.

    Yes the urewera raids had a political motive behind them. The state has to justify its more dubious aspects by creating enemies (real or imagined) and yes I’m sure Banks was cheer-leading for that. I imagine the fact he is an ex-cop also predisposes him to accept the use of violence by state agencies. Its also true he would like the role of mayor in a super-city arrangement (his comments on the radio the other day were a wonderful exercise in false modesty). Lastly, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he unleashed or permitted a cop riot on the streets in the future. Im sorry though, I see nothing in this signalling a covert plan to break with the existing elite consensus on how politics is done in this country. There are historical precedents for this stuff and we aren’t living in a fascist state.

    John: I agree with the bulk of your last post. Just a few minor areas of difference though: I DON’T think labelling Banks a fascist is useful if you are building an anti-fascist movt OR an anti-capitalist one. As you said inaccurate as a description of him and therefore as i see it, not much use to either kind of movt.

    I do think there is a need for an anti-fascist movt on the simple grounds that a) fascists exist b) everything ideologically and in practice about fascism and allied movts is hostile to the sort of things I value.

  24. OK Barrie please enlighten me how would you define a person like Mr.Banks? Because that ‘type’ seem to pop up everywhere don’t they from the village biggot to the local headmaster and yes if I should accept that they are not ‘fascists’ is there any guarantee that they are not fodder for any future movement like fascism?
    I agree that there should be an anti-fascist movement but I would like to know your definition of fascism and who you think to be such candidates that accurately fit’s that definition.

    Yours Respectfully


  25. Matthew Cunningham says:

    Paul Drake:
    It is important to distinguish between fascism and conservatism, nationalism, authoritarianism, or any other form of ‘ism’ commonly associated with fascism.

    One of the problems in providing a concrete definition of what fascism ‘is’ is the fact that, since the end of the Second World War, ‘fascist’ has become the favourite moniker to brandish against any group perceived to be to the right of the user’s current political position (or, on occasion, to the left). To quote George Orwell, “the word ‘Fascism’ is almost entirely meaningless … I have heard it applied to farmers, shopkeepers, Social Credit, corporal punishment, fox-hunting, bull-fighting, the 1922 Committee, the 1941 Committee, Kipling, Gandhi, Chiang Kai-Shek, homosexuality, Priestley’s broadcasts, Youth Hostels, astrology, women, dogs and I do not know what else… almost any English person would accept ‘bully’ as a synonym for ‘Fascist’”.

    There are, however, a number of great works being produced by historians that better elucidate what fascism was (and is). Broadly, it was a totalitarian nationalism aimed at forging a national unity through the concept of national rebirth and regeneration under an authoritarian leader. Fascist leaders aimed to transcend the perceived divisiveness in existing party politics as well as the conflict inherent in emerging left-wing/workers movements; as such, they were as equally anti-conservative as they were anti-liberal. In fact, fascism appropriated much of the anti-capitalist rhetoric of socialist movements (often in an attempt to undercut the working class support inculcated by communist or laborist movements). To wield it within the same category as conservative movements aimed at preserving the status quo rather than replace it through violently revolutionary means is inappropriate.

    I recommend the works of Stanley G. Payne – in particular, his ‘History of Fascism’ provides a number of generic criteria under which a ‘fascist minimum’ can be ascertained. Roger Griffin’s works reinforce the idea of ‘palingenesis’ or national rebirth that lies at the centre of the fascist ethos; furthermore, his compilation of primary source readings in a volume titled ‘Fascism’ is a very valuable resource.

    Alternatively, for some definitions “straight from the horses’ mouth”, you could look at Benito Mussolini’s ‘The Doctrine of Fascism’ (which is available online), Alexander Raven-Thompson’s ‘The Corporate State’, Oswald Mosley’s ‘The Greater Britain’, or Eric Campbell’s ‘The New Road’.

    There can be no doubt that fascism has been well and truly discredited for the horrible deeds it wrought in the Second World War, which makes it all the more important that it not be misapplied to movements that do not warrant the term.

    Cheers, Matt.

    P.S: Who would have thought there would be something that John Edmundson and I agree on!

  26. Barrie (AWSM-personal capacity) says:

    Paul: I would describe Mr Banks as a mainstream politician who often uses populist rhetoric designed to appeal to ‘the little guy’ in opposition to vested interests and the supposed liberal elite.

    He has done nothing in either word or deed to break with the paradigm that the rest of the establishment work within. Yes he does represent (both in himself and in his constituency of follower) a certain ‘type’. There is no guarantee that they would not be fodder for a future fascist movt. The key point being FUTURE fascist movt, since Banks isn’t the leader of one and i don’t see any other current politician in NZ as filling that role either.

    As i said in my previous posts, its a tricky business defining a ‘fascist minimum’ and academics who are hugely more qualified than me, have been struggling with it for years. In many ways its easier to say what it isn’t,than what it is :)

    I’d second Matt and put Payne and Griffin near the top of a list of reccomended reading looking at the taxonomy of fascism. I would add the work of Zeev Sternhell which has been controversial but is interesting and challenging for the way it looks at elements within left-wing thought that may have contributed to early fascism. As for fascist theorists themselves, I’d suggest checking out Yockeys ‘Imperium’ and Evolas ‘Revolt Against the Modern World’. Their writings are tedious and in Evolas case pretty esoteric in terminology, but I think they are worth reading for the influence they have had on post-world war II fascists.

    My own working defintion meshes well with Matts.I would additionally emphasize that fascists pursue the mythos of a state-society with a highly stratified hierarchy concerning class, race, gender, sexual orientation etc.This stratification is part of the project of regeneration. Certain people are to be “put in their place” or excluded entirely from the volksgemeinschaft or ‘peoples community’ as defined by the fascists themselves. The fact that the criteria used are not genuinely objective, is no impediment in their own minds when it comes to putting plans into practice e.g. “I decide who is a jew” (Goring). Again, its an aspect that makes them tricky to pin-down ideologically but also highlights the threat this represents.

    Hope that helps?

  27. Thanks Mathew I will look up those books your definition should be used in the bloody dictionary if they can’t pin it down then who can? Correct me if I am wrong but wasn’t Mosley one of the fifth columnists during the war?
    Barrie: I will finish this post tomorrow night I have just been called away.


  28. Matthew Cunningham says:

    Paul Drake:
    Definetely check out those books, they provide far better definitions than I ever could. I particularly like the introduction to Roger Griffin’s ‘Fascism’ reader – in it, he defines the core characteristic of fascism as being a sort of spiritual palingenesis, around which the secondary characteristics of anti-liberalism, anti-conservatism, nationalism, totalitarianism, authoritarianism, corporatism etc. are arranged.

    Mosley was interned during the Second World War by the British Government, although he professed loyalty to the nation. He was the leader of a party known as the ‘British Union of Fascists’ which, despite its relative obscurity, espoused one of the most thoroughly defined platforms of fascism out of all the fascism movements I am aware of. Hence why I recommended his book, and that of Raven-Thompson.

    I should add that there is a definite distinction between fascist movements and fascist regimes. Fascism as conceived by Mussolini was a dedidedly evolutionary process, stressing ‘action’ rather than a solid political platform. Hence why the first fascist manifesto, published in 1919, called for universal suffrage, equal rights for women, and many other things that most people would in no way associate with fascism! It is this evolutionary process of change, combined with a complete disdain for anything resembling party politics, that makes fascism so hard to define.

    A great case study to look at is the Montreux Conference in 1934. It was organised and attended by representatives from various fascist movements around the world in an attempt to develop a universal definition of fascism that could facilitate a ‘Fascist International’. After much heated argument, the conference came to the conclusion that about the only thing they could agree upon was the fact that they had very little to agree upon.

    Cheers, Matt.

  29. Barrie (AWSM-Personal Capacity) says:

    One of the things that distinguishes Mosley from other fascist leaders, is he actually had prior experience in government, though admittedly in a minor position (another difference being his class origin).

    He is also a good case of the phenomenon Matt describes of disdain for party politics, given that he switched between the Tories, Labour and then the New Party (a kind of transmission belt on the way to full blown fascism) before becoming a fascist. Mosley was a representative of the younger generation who had fought in WWI and wanted change above all else and was happy to use almost any vehicle that could bring it.

    I think in Mosley’s case he was such an arrogant character that hubris wouldve destroyed him sooner or later anyway, even if he had succeeded in mainstream politics. Thats why attempts by one of his first modern biographers, Skidelsky, to say Mosley was the ‘lost Prime Minister’ that Britain never had, don’t stand up I reckon. He was talented though. There is no doubt for example,that(though he sounds old fashioned now), Mosley was one of the greatest political orators of the 20th century. Compare his speeches to those of other domestic fascists such as William Joyce or Arnold Leese, and you can see he was in a different league of ability.

    Yes, the idea of a ‘fascist international’ was a great oxymoron.

  30. Thanks Barrie; I will see if the Selwyn District Libery has those books and I will promise not to call them ‘fascists’ if they do!! I will also ask them to provide a list of the books I read last year as I can’t remember the author of the ‘Mussolini’s Rise to Power’. In case you were wondering where I got the term ‘garden veriety fascist’ from and that was from one of Maurice Gee’s books called ‘Live bodies’, he attempted to use this saying to describe the main character’s son who was practicing pure usuary, selling mortgages etc and I remember questioning the context in which this definition was used. I have a very high regard for Maurice Gee’s work so maybe I was accepting this on face value. It seems that the dictionaries are vague on this issue and so are the literati.
    What I was originally getting at was that I don’t consider the National Front with their patches, swastika’s and banners parading the streets strutting their stuff and flying their flags on their front lawns much of a threat as history has discredited their cause and as long as they are visable thay can be observed.
    If Michael Laws out-laws them as he wants to do with the gangs, then they won’t be so visable. This is why I value freedom of speech and expression so much. Which is why I am casting my aspersions on authority figures within the system because they tend to be more camourflaged.

  31. John Edmundson says:

    You’re right Paul. Mainstream politicians are much more powerful and don’t need to be fascists to be the enemy. “Common and garden variety” capitalists are bad enough :-)

  32. Barrie (AWSM-Personal Capacity) says:

    I reckon Dennis Mack Smith is a good read and his is probably the standard introductory biography of Mussolini.

    I haven’t read Gees book but I’m aware he is a well respected writer. Do you think it was Gee himself who thought that an apt description, or was it something he just put into the mouth of the character?

    I would agree that any explicitly Nazi or Fascist group like the NF is unlikely to get their hands on national level political power. I still think they should be actively opposed. Even if they stayed at their curent level of membership (in numbers and type of member), their ideology and actions make them a threat on a micro level and thats bad enough. The question is what form that opposition takes tactically and how much time and resources to put into that.

    As I said in one of my previous posts, I think the real danger comes from suit-wearing ‘post-fascist’ types like Nick Griffin and the BNP in England. I can’t help thinking that portions of the left have been out smarted tactically in finding a way to deal with them. When you have skinheads marching down the street, its not too hard to figure out what to do about them. What do you do though, when they wear suits, stop marching, modify their language for public consumption and generally become more media savvy?

    I’d also agree with your and Johns comments about the difficulties of dealing with the mainstream politicians. They can be slippery customers. Thats why I think that if we at least get our labels right, we have a better chance of tackling them too.

  33. Barrie I agree get the labels correct and I think that it would be best to get all the left parties on board in this campaign and lobby the dictionary and academic institutions.

    So how do we term or dear ‘friend’ the mayor of Auckland? Is he a conservative, authoriterian, imperialist or just a plain b#$%&*d? Yes it would be accurate to term him ‘authoritarian’ yet that would imply respect, and I don’t have any respect for such people at all. The same with ‘imperialist’ I am sure such egoists would wear crowns of laurels and togas at fancy dress parties.

    I would like to see a definition that implies catharsis, a metaphor for the proverbial rotten egg!!
    It is important that people have such expressions to vent their anger and unfortunately the term ‘fascism’ seemed to fullfill that roll.

    As for Gee’s book “Live Bodies” as I remember it could have been the father describing the son wich I suppose lets the author off the hook. I think the father was an Austrian immigrant escaping the ‘anchulus'(when Hitler annexed Austria 1938) and ended up being a POW at a camp just outside Wellington. He married a Kiwi woman and was sucessfull in a bakery business and twenty years later his son operated a business selling debt to those in the lower socio-economic class. A business his father found distastefull. You wouldn’t think that the father who experienced nazi/fascism? first hand would term his son ‘garden veriety of fascist’.
    His son being a usurer, half Jewish would in my mind be the sort of fellow fascists would like to see six feet under. Maybe I am being a little pedantic,that aside it is a brilliant book and well worth a read.
    It also revealed the anti-semetic attitudes prevalent in NZ society in the way the father’s inlaws re-acted
    to his intention to marry their daughter.

    Yours respectfully


  34. Barrie (AWSM-Personal Capacity) says:

    Paul: Some good ideas in there. I agree of course that the tinpot caesar of Auckland deserves no respect and that some form of abusive label is required. I like the old Captain Haddock expression “misanthropic cylocanth”. It captures the idea of him being against people and having out of date ideas at the same time.

    Thanks for detailing the Gee book. It does sound interesting.

  35. Hi Barrie
    I am reading another good book by Donna Tartt “The Little Friend”, It is all about life in the southern states of the US, though her first book “The Secret History” is much better.

    Would there be any such thing as a ‘misanthropic imperialist’?


  36. Barrie (AWSM- Personal Capacity) says:

    The southern states are an interesting subject matter. What time period does the book cover?

    Yeah I reckon an imperialist has to be a misanthrope by definition.

  37. I get the impression that it was the late 1970’s and early 80’s it was certainly after the Vietnam war. One of the characters in the book is a red neck ex-Nam veteran who sets up a methamphetamine lab but tends to dip into his merchandise a bit too much.That part of “Little Friend” is a bit Copperhead Row theme.
    The main character is 12 year old Harriet who wants to kill this fellows brother. other than that my lips are sealed.


    I have just caught up with my friend who has been living in New York and she could not believe how tightly segregated that city is. For example if you are white and you wanted to live in Harlem you will stand out in the crowd.

    The South has a lot of culture it has the lions share of America’s literature Mark Twain, Tennessee Williams, Earnest Hemmingway, Truman Capotee, Harper Lee,James Baldwin? and Mary whitakar etc. etc. I am thinking of a film that came out writen by a black woman, I think it was auto biographical sorry-blanc.

    I get the inpression that the South is changing for the better largely due to the policy of busing that took place in the 60’s.

  38. Barrie (AWSM- Personal Capacity) says:

    Actually New York has long had a form of de facto segregation. The largest race riot in the 19th century happened there in 1863 during the civil war. The large Irish population didnt like the idea of being conscripted to fight to free blacks, so they went on a lynching rampage. New York state even had branches of the KKK at its height in the 1920’s. Things arent as (pardon the term) black and white as an evil South .v. enlightened North as some people make out.

  39. Barrie; I think that you have hit the nail on the head there!!

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