By Ian Anderson, with contributions by Joel Cosgrove (Fightback Wellington).
“When fascism comes to America, it will not be in brown and black shirts. It will not be with jackboots. It will be Nike sneakers and smiley shirts.”
-George Carlin, comedian
On Waitangi Day 2014, the NZ Herald ran a “protest-free” edition, proudly announcing this editorial decision with an image of a raised fist.
The Facebook page Wake Up NZ (with around 10,000 likes) reported the fist as a “white power” symbol, associated with far-right groups including Right Wing Resistance and the National Front. UK leftist tabloid the Morning Star echoed this assertion, in an article reprinted by popular Australian paper Green Left Weekly.
Some responded that the raised fist is a broader symbol, also used by black power and leftist groups. Socialist Aotearoa is probably the most known group in Aotearoa/NZ to use the fist as their main logo, albeit in yellow. It’s entirely possible that the editors of the Herald intended the fist to symbolise dreaded ‘protest,’ by indigenous and radical forces.
Whatever their intention, the message was racist. By filtering out militant anti-colonisation politics, the Herald editorial team endorsed a colonial vision of Waitangi Day.
In fact, editorial choices made by the Herald in part reflect the difference between liberal racism and the straight-up fascism of white power groups.
The National Front deny that Māori are the tangata whenua, the indigenous people of Aotearoa/NZ, instead relying on pseudo-history to argue that Celts came first. By contrast, the Herald coverage accepted a kind of tokenised, ceremonial Māori indigeneity.
Instead of protest action, the Herald’s Waitangi Day photo gallery depicted the militarist dawn service on Waitangi grounds, a celebration of the Pākehā treaty – the treaty that guarantees Crown ownership, not the legitimate (dishonoured) treaty which guarantees absolute chieftanship to tangata whenua. Ultimately, the NZ Herald does more to advance white power than some bonehead1 with a swastika.
While groups like Right Wing Resistance insist on ‘white pride’ and ‘white power,’ using separatist language, politicians and opinion-makers largely insist on ‘one law for all’ and ‘one nation,’ hiding the domination of one nation by another (see Grant Brookes, Waitangi Day, Te Ra o Waitangi – What does it mean today?). This capitalist domination is legitimised by a layer of corporate iwi leaders (see Annette Sykes, The Politics of the Brown Table).
In light of this liberal racism, fascist and white power groups can appear as a relic, a reminder of politics that were supposedly defeated last century. In Spain and Germany, the 20th century growth of fascism was initially supported or tolerated by much of the international ruling class, particularly because fascists were willing to get their hands dirty killing communists. Nowadays in Aotearoa/NZ, white power groups are considered unfashionable in polite company.
In some ways this historical irrelevance is an illusion; fascism may be unfashionable when liberal democracy is serving capitalism just fine, but when the ruling class are threatened by the spectre of communism, the liberal mask comes off.
In Europe in the 21st century, since the global financial crisis, fascist groups have grown. In the UK, the British National Party (BNP) made a bid for respectability, winning seats in elections, while the English Defence League (EDL) remain street-thugs. Greece’s Golden Dawn openly assaults migrants, leftists and queers, with backing from much of the police. In a situation of economic and ideological crisis, the battle between the far-right and the left can play a major determining role.
However, the situation is different in Aotearoa/NZ. Although we have experienced a decades-long growth in inequality, this country was relatively sheltered from the shock of the global financial crisis. There is also no substantial left or radical workers’ movement to defeat (something Fightback, and other groups, aim to change). There is no sign that white power groups are growing substantially here, in part because the ruling class currently has no need to support their growth.
This is not to say we should tolerate white power groups. In Ōtautahi/Christchurch, Right Wing Resistance (headed by Kyle Chapman, former head of the National Front) have a tangible presence in the community, leafleting houses and intimidating people of colour. In 2012, their annual White Pride Worldwide rally attracted a reported 90 people, marching unchallenged. In this context, it is absolutely necessary to confront fascists in the streets and stop them marching; in 2013, counter-protestors easily outnumbered the White Pride Worldwide rally. Anti-fascist rallies resonate widely in Christchurch precisely because Right Wing Resistance has a tangible presence.
It’s also necessary to clarify that fascism is unwelcome in progressive spaces. In 2013, media revealed that a youth who vandalised Jewish gravestones had previously marched with Occupy Auckland, bearing a skateboard marked with swastikas. In Occupy Wellington, the (successful) struggle to get consensus on banning the National Front initiated a more general debate over ensuring that Occupy was an anti-oppressive space. For any kind of progressive politics to flourish, intolerance of white power groups must be an agreed bottom line.
However, confronting white power groups can become a ritual for the left, disconnected from wider reality.
From 2003-2008, the National Front attempted to march on the cenotaph in Poneke/Wellington, annually on Labour weekend. Each year progressives resisted this march.
The largest mobilisation was in 2004, after attacks on Jewish gravestones (and NF support for a church led anti-gay march). Hundreds of counter-protesters mobilised and chased the NF out of parliament grounds, led by a large contingent of ‘anarcho-fairies’, dressed in pink tutus, chasing the scattered NF remnants back to the railway station. From then on the annual mobilisations became much more formulaic and predictable, with a slowly dwindling number of counter-protesters, and an organised police presence keeping the NF apart from the counter-protestors.
In 2009, the following comment was posted by ‘annoymous’ on indymedia.org.nz:
“[Counter-demonstrations against the National Front have] become nothing more than a annual ritual… I would very much doubt if many of the Anti-Fa crew would travel to say the Hutt Valley and protest outside the Hutt Park Motor Camp and do something useful and put pressure on the owners of the Motor Camp not to take bookings from these guys.
The time has come to re-evaluate the way we react to the Nationalist Flag Day protest and come up with fresh ideas rather than another pointless protest with more embarrassing arrests.”
In the end, the Hutt Valley Motor Camp cancelled the NF booking, forcing them to find other accommodation. However, with the annual confrontations fizzling out, there was no reassessment of anti-fascist strategy and tactics. As futurist Alvin Toffler is often quoted as saying, “if you don’t have a strategy, you become part of someone else’s.”
For Pākehā, anti-fascism can work to alleviate guilt. On the Facebook event for the Christchurch Rally Against Racism 2014, suggested chants include “Adolf Hitler was a d**k, fascist bigots make me sick.” The cathartic ritual of confronting an unpopular group of boneheads can underline how deviant, how marginal white power groups currently are. However, racism is embedded throughout our society.
Our ‘justice’ system is a case in point. Māori make up about 14% of the general population, and 50% of the prison population. Tagata Pasifika are also overrepresented in prisons. Criminalisation is not simply a matter of oppressed groups perpetrating more offences; Māori and Pasifika are more likely to be targeted for drug offences than Pākehā. Although Europeans make up the majority of overstayers, Tagata Pasifika are also more likely to be targeted for overstaying.
This is not a country run by Kyle Chapman’s mob. Aotearoa/NZ is a country run by (mainly) Pākehā who overwhelmingly support marriage equality, who work with the Māori Party and selected iwi leaders, who say they value the content of a man’s character (read; bank account) over the colour of his skin. The racism that keeps capitalism running here is a liberal racism, repulsed both by swastikas and Black Power patches.
In The People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn notes that early in the colonisation of North America, the capitalist state deliberately drew the ‘colour line’ to undermine working-class solidarity. In Aotearoa/NZ, Māori workers were the first to take strike action, in the Bay of Islands 1821, demanding to be paid ‘for their labour in Money, as was the case in England, or else in Gun Powder.’ In keeping with the racist pseudo-science of the day, Māori were portrayed as genetically inferior to Europeans.
By demonising tangata whenua – the most dispossessed, militant workers – capitalists undermine working-class unity. Bigoted Pākehā, most obviously those in Right Wing Resistance, play into this divide-and-conquer strategy. By clinging to meagre privileges, racist Pākehā workers prolong the system that exploits them. Racism is ultimately a structural matter, not just a matter of prejudice.
White power groups cannot be tolerated. However, confronting mainstream racism is also a necessary project. This project demands that we amplify voices ignored by the NZ Herald (one reason liberation movements need our own media). This project demands that we actively support and participate in struggles for self-determination, including the MANA Movement. This project demands that we weave our struggles together, recognise that all forms of liberation rely on eachother. Liberation demands that we recognise, in the words of Civil Rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer, that “nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”
1‘Bonehead’ refers to white power skinheads; not all skinheads are fascists.
- Racism in Aotearoa/NZ, Byron Clark
- Racist “Pakeha Party” ignores history, Thomas Inwood
- “Nazi-free Zone” : Anti-Semitism in the 99%, Ian Anderson
- A young migrant woman’s experience of work in Aotearoa/NZ, Wei Sun
- The treaty, the foreshore and seabed and tino rangatiratanga, Mike Kyriazopoulos