By Joshua James. Originally published by Salient, student newspaper of Victoria University of Wellington.
I should warn the reader, I’m a Marxist. Unashamedly and unapologetically. I believe that groups in society are oppressed, marginalised and disenfranchised by the capitalist class in order for them to keep their profit margins high and revolutionary thoughts low. I’m also Māori, albeit not visibly: I’m a light skin from Ngāti Whātua. I grew up as Pākehā as possible, but have recently started to learn Te Reo Māori and have recently added Māori Studies as a major in my degree.
Marx opens The Communist Manifesto with the line “the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles”, and that is most certainly true for our post-colonial history. There is the myth that the first settlers to arrive in Aotearoa wanted to escape the class system that existed in England; however, I would suggest that they moved here to set up their own class system – with them at the top and Māori at the bottom. These settlers, some of my whom are my ancestors, exploited Māori and our taonga and sent the profits back to the European continent. We saw European powers doing this to all of their colonies: they export raw goods from their colonies on the cheap and turn it into goods to either consume themselves, or sell it back to their colonies at a premium. This is capitalism in practice, profits at, any cost. The exploitation of Māori was only possible once the Crown and private companies had alienated Māori from the land – this was done through an influx of settlers, confiscation of land, and buying Māori land at vastly undervalued prices. Once Māori had little land ownership, it was easy for the capitalist class to further their exploitation, because Māori had lost their ability to ‘live off the land’ i.e. they had to partake in wage slavery just to get by.
It is only partially useful to use Marx to look at the history of our colonisation and exploitation; we must also use his theories to look at the future for the Aotearoa we could live in. Under Marxism, we could have Iwi and Hapu having autonomous kaitiakitanga of our taonga and resources. We would no longer be wage slaves. There wouldn’t be any 40-hour working week, because we would only need to work as much as we needed to to get by. The degradation and degeneration of our environment would also cease – no companies would be allowed to pollute, because under Marxism, there is a recognition of taiao. This isn’t some sort of silly dream: this is a very possible reality. It would require a combined Māori and Pākehā effort to rise up against the hand that feeds us (even as it robs us). For all Māori to truly live a good life, we must absolutely reject capitalism and its notion of profit before people and the planet. Capitalism can’t be tamed or restrained, only smashed by the workers of the world.