Crowdfund: Trans-Tasman socialist (e-)publication



Dear comrades and friends:

Since 2012, Fightback has produced media for the socialist and radical Left in Aotearoa/New Zealand. Our work has alsoreached outside this country; some of our material has been translated into other languages, and republished as far afield as Austria and Ukraine.

We’ve aimed to provide analysis and information which bridges the gap between the world of academic journals and the world of activists on the street. We’ve attempted to apply cutting-edge social justice theory to the everyday movements against capitalism and the capitalist, colonial, patriarchal state in this country.

We don’t uphold any particular ideological “dogma”. Instead, we have tried to synthesize the best that the Marxist tradition has to offer with the insights of the queer/trans, feminist, and tino rangatira literature.

In the past few years in particular, we’ve produced “special issues” (on WomenYouth activism and Pasefika activism in particular) which have not only solicited writing from outside the “usual suspects” of the Marxist left, but successfully fundraised so that contributors could be reimbursed for their work, something which is disturbingly rare even on the radical left.

But if you want all this to continue, it’s time to contribute. Fightback needs your financial support or we will cease to exist. It’s that simple.

Our most recent conference decided to make the push for Fightback to become a trans-Tasman journal of the radical and activist Left. In the modern era of free movement across the Tasman, “Australasia” is becoming a reality in a way it has not been since the 19th century. So many New Zealanders (tauiwi as well as tangata whenua) now live and work in Australia – and decisions made in one country increasingly impact the other, as the inter-governmental controversy surrounding the Manus Island detention camp shows.

We wish to crucially engage socialists from both sides of the Tasman – in particular, socialists from Aotearoa living and working in Australia – to continue the lines of analysis and directions of organisation which we have being pursuing. Beyond the dogmas of “sect Marxism”; beyond national boundaries; towards a genuinely decolonized, democratic, feminist and queer-friendly anti-capitalism.

This will cost money. In New Zealand terms, we will need at least $3,000 to continue our schedule of producing 4 print magazines a year, including paying writers for a Special Issue on Accessibility. Our minimum goal – $1,100 – would cover an online-only media project including an e-publication, also paying writers for the Accessibility issue.

The financial question is a political question. If what Fightback has been doing since 2012 is of value to socialists in Aotearoa/New Zealand – and if our vision for the future inspires people on both sides of the Tasman – then our friends and comrades simply have to put their money where their sympathies lie. Otherwise, the project will come to an end this year. It really is as simple as that.

If you like what we do, please support our crowdfunding appeal, to the extent you possibly can. And if you can’t support financially – please, raise your hand to help us with writing, web design, proof reading or the thousand and one other little jobs that unpaid volunteers have been doing over the last six years. We really look forward to hearing from you.


In solidarity,

Daphne Lawless

co-ordinating editor (NZ-based), Fightback

[Click here to pledge]


Book review: The Impossible Revolution – Making Sense of the Syrian Tragedy


Demonstration outside Syrian embassy in London – art by Hamid Sulaiman (source).

By Ani White.

As sectarianism and the far-right rear their heads internationally, it’s easy to forget the optimism of 2011. Those seeking to understand this trajectory must read Syrian revolutionary Yassin al-Haj Saleh’s essay collection The Impossible Revolution: Making Sense of the Syrian Tragedy.

A foreword by Robin Yassin-Kassab, who co-wrote the excellent work Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War, explains why this work is so essential:

 ” ‘They simply do not see us’, [Yassin al-Haj Saleh] laments. If we don’t see Syrian revolutionaries, if we don’t hear their voices when they talk of their experience, their motivations and hopes, then all we are left with are (inevitably orientalist) assumptions, constraining ideologies, and pre-existent grand narratives. These big stories, or totalising explanations, include a supposedly inevitable and ancient sectarian conflict underpinning events, and a jihadist-secularist binary, as well as the idea, running counter to all evidence, that Syria is a re-run of Iraq, a Western-led regime change plot. No need to attend to detail, runs the implication, nor to Syrian oppositional voices, for we already know what needs to be known.”

For many ‘anti-imperialists’, this disengagement is a matter of maintaining a clear ideology. Given the focus on the USA as the Great Satan, a situation where the USA’s role is marginal, where a supposedly ‘anti-imperialist’ regime perpetrates mass slaughter with the support of the Russian and Iranian regimes, is ideologically inconvenient. The retreat into conspiracy theory (depicting revolutionaries as foreign agents) serves to warp reality so it stays consistent with ideology.

Although this ideology claims the mantle of anti-imperialism, its proponents see people exactly as empires do; pawns on a global chessboard. To regain our revolutionary conscience, ‘anti-imperialists’ must learn from the ground up, through an allegiance with people rather than states. As a Syrian communist partisan of the revolution, Saleh’s work is crucial in this rethinking of the world.

Having spent 16 years in prison for his political activities, Saleh is an implacable opponent of the regime – yet as the so-called ‘conscience of the revolution’, he is also a thoughtful opponent, raising challenging questions for all who read. Most of the essays in this collection were written during 2011, capturing the spirit of the moment. Yet right from the start, Saleh also delves deeper into historical and structural questions to explain driving factors in the revolution. Later essays, from 2012-2015, provide perhaps the most significant sustained analysis of the revolution’s tragic collapse available in English.

Saleh’s analysis is both educational on the Syrian situation specifically, and a master-class in structural analysis generally.  An early essay outlines the class composition of Syrian society. Saleh identifies a ‘new bourgeoisie’ that is the base of the Assads’ dictatorship; the loyal intellectuals of the ‘Syrian Arab Republic’, who offer superficial opposition without questioning the fundamentals of Assad’s rule; an urban middle class, and a poor rural majority, who together formed the base of the revolution. Saleh suggests that the middle class and poor were united by an experience of work, in contrast to those who prosper without working. This gulf widened during the early 2000s, with the introduction of neoliberal reforms.

To explain how the Assads have maintained power, Saleh often returns to Assad Sr’s development of a brutal security apparatus, and an ideological apparatus centring on Assad himself. This fiefdom was inherited by his son. Saleh argues that this is a fascist state apparatus, a characterisation that is worth thinking through given the international rise of the far right, many in fact exploiting the Syrian refugee crisis.

It is commonly asserted that the Syrian revolution is discredited by sectarianism. In particular, the Sunni majority is often depicted as too sectarian to govern. Although it is a dangerous simplification, this view has a ring of truth as confusing sectarian warfare fills the nightly news: as Saleh grimly notes in his final essay, Syria’s war “promises to be an ideal specimen for the study of sectarianism.” In this disquieting spirit, the later essays consider the problem in detail.

Saleh famously distinguishes between the ‘neck-tie fascists’ of the regime and the ‘long-beard fascists’ of political Islam, indicating the way Syrians are caught between a rock and a hard place. However, he avoids the common simplification that ‘both sides/all sides are equally bad.’ He centrally contends that sectarianism is a political tool, not a matter of ancient identity. More specifically, sectarianism is deeply rooted in the Assadist regime itself.

Saleh’s final essay, the longest in the collection, roots modern sectarianism in the Assadist ‘neo-Sultanic state.’ This state opportunistically fosters sectarianism in various ways, all preserving a dictatorial power structure. Firstly, the ‘neo-Sultanic state’ fosters sectarianism with the elevation of Alawites, an Islamic sect of which the ‘Sultans’ (Assads) are members. Secondly, while the repressive apparatus (or ‘inner state’) is sectarian, the ideological apparatus (or ‘outer state’) maintains a kind of hollow secularism that represses discussion of sectarianism. Thirdly, the development of a corrupt ‘clientelism’ (bribes, favours for friends, and other forms of cronyism) that favours some sects over others.

Saleh argues that sectarianism is ultimately about class, providing cultural justifications for material hierarchies. In Syria specifically, the Sunni majority is dispossessed, and their poverty is blamed on their cultural ignorance.

In this repressive context, devoid of a common civil society, it is remarkable that the 2011 revolution saw such a flowering of non-sectarian sentiment. Slogans such as ‘Sunnis and Alawis are One’ defied the Balkanisation of communities fostered under the Assad regime.

To undercut the legitimacy of the uprising, Assad’s regime set out to stoke sectarianism. The regime carried out massacres targeting Sunnis well before the revolutionaries armed themselves, and infamously released many Salafists from jail.

Saleh refers to the growth of political Islam in this context as a kind of ‘militant nihilism’ – seeing the whole world as corrupted, withdrawing into an abstracted mental space that justifies all manner of cleansing violence. Nonetheless, Saleh maintains that this is only a defensive posture given the besieged and isolated position of the Sunni majority (note that this analysis does not apply to ISIS, who are essentially an occupying power not borne of the revolution).

With the increasingly sectarian nature of the conflict, many observers have returned to the confirmation bias which says Sunni Arabs are too backwards to govern, too easily forgetting what 2011 illuminated. While discussing the many sectarian ‘fiefdoms’ developing by 2013, Saleh clarifies: “The fall of the regime would not mean an end to the process of ‘feudalization’ – but there is no hope of stopping this feudalization without overthrowing the regime.”

Saleh promotes a democratic Syrian nationalism, as an alternative to both Assad’s Syria and an Islamic state.

This progressive nationalism is worth considering critically. Saleh suggests that only the revolutionaries truly adhere to the ideal of ‘Syria’, often implying their enemies are not truly Syrian (whether by citizenship or philosophy).  Assad’s regime is regularly compared to a colonial regime, and Islamists are depicted as fundamentally more international than local. These are compelling points, and everyone can probably agree that tensions internal to Syria have been exploited by various international actors. At one point Saleh suggests in passing that the ‘central bourgeoisie’ could also be considered an ‘external bourgeoisie’ due to its international trade. However, identifying the revolution with ‘Syria’ and counter-revolutionary enemies with ‘foreignness’ seems surprisingly Manichean for such a sophisticated thinker (and an ironic inversion of the Assadist propaganda that all rebels are foreign agents). Even if international forces exploit divisions in Syrian society, that doesn’t mean that all enemies come from outside Syrian society. Some may also question Saleh’s position on the Kurdish national question, apparently believing that a liberated Syria should include Kurdish territory under a single nation (though recognising linguistic and cultural rights), in contrast to the secessionist position held by the Kurdish leadership.

Conversely, Saleh’s nationalism is far from an unthinking adherence; rejecting the stifling culture of the Assad regime, he calls for the development of a pluralist Republican intellectual culture. Saleh’s nationalism is more Gramscian then jingoistic, seeking the development of a new civil society, and his ‘Syria’ is aspirational. For Saleh and other Syrian revolutionaries, ‘Free Syria’ holds the promise of a unity based on common citizenship rather than Balkanised sects. This vision stands in stark contrast to the Assadist form of ‘Modernization’, which treats the Sunni majority as children to be managed for their own good, rather than democratic subjects.

The Impossible Revolution is essential reading for anyone considering social transformation in the 21st Century. It should be read along with Burning Country (reviewed here).

Event notice: Aukati – Stop Racism! (TOMORROW)


October 28th is the commemoration date of the United Tribes Declaration of Independence, and the Land Wars. On this day we acknowledge the ongoing fight for tino rangatiratanga.

However, the white supremacist National Front has chosen this date for its ‘flag day’ march on parliament. The National Front deny that Māori were the first people of Aotearoa, among their other bigoted ideas. We will stop their mobilisation and reclaim this day for all who seek justice in Aotearoa.

Everyone who supports this kaupapa is welcome.


11.30-12pm: Karakia by Mike Ross, followed by speakers:
Arama Rata, researcher on indigenous-migrant relationships and Māori spokesperson for the Migrant and Refugee Rights Campaign.
Golriz Ghahrahman, Human Rights Lawyer and the first ever refugee elected to NZ parliament.
Karam Shaar, asylum seeker and PhD student under Victoria Doctoral Scholarship.

12-1pm: Blockade/stop the National Front
Featuring live music (confirmed: Alexa Disco, Brass Razoo)

[Facebook event]


Racial populism and the 2017 New Zealand General Election

winston peters immigration

By Ani White.

It’s understandable that many leftists are celebrating. After 9 years of Tory brutality, a change of government can feel like a breath of fresh air. However, the morning after the celebrations, we must take stock and critically evaluate the makeup of the next government, so we know what battles await us in the coming years. Laurie Penny described voting as choosing which enemies you prefer – this is a valid tactic, so long as we know our enemies.

It’s unfortunate that the next Labour government will feature Winston Peters in such a prominent role. Anecdotally, some claim that Winston’s anti-immigrant scapegoating is a thing of the past. However, simply searching Winston Peters’ twitter page for the keyword ‘immigration’ reveals a long series of negative tweets (see picture). When the New Zealand Herald published an article saying that Asian immigration numbers have been overstated, Peters responded by pointing out the Asian heritage of the journalists. Reducing immigration was a bottom line in his post-election negotiations. Perhaps Peters’ attacks on migrants are no longer noticed because they are so predictable.

Others who admit Peters’ racism argue that compromise is necessary for the parliamentary ‘left’, with Winston holding the cards. It would be easier to sympathise with this dilemma if anti-migrant populism wasn’t already a common ground between Labour and New Zealand First. Compromise is more of a genuine dilemma for the Greens. The party dropped James Shaw’s 1% immigration cap policy after criticism from the membership, had the best refugee policy of any party, introduced the first MP of refugee background to parliament, and generally stood on the most progressive platform of any parliamentary party. For those of us who voted Green in the hope that they would offer a more progressive coalition partner than New Zealand First, this coalition deal is something of a Pyrrhic victory.

Peters is a racial populist, both his in long-standing tendency to blame immigrants for all social problems and his opposition to ‘special rights’ for Māori (although thankfully, his opposition to Māori seats has not been adopted). Although certain elements of New Zealand First policy can be mistaken for left-wing – particularly the economic nationalism – both his economic and social policy seek to wind back the clock 50 years. Coming originally from National, Peters essentially advocates something like the National Party of the 1960s-1980s, during the heyday of both social democracy and conservative assimilationism. This is far from a forward-thinking programme for liberation today.

Ironically rural Māori are a significant section of Winston’s voter base. This reflects an international trend where isolated rural regions, with few migrants, tend to be more anti-migrant. Additionally, many Māori likely support his economic policies. Conversely, support in the Māori seats dropped from 12-14% in 2014 to 7-9% in 2017, likely due to Winston campaigning against Māori seats.

Racial populism often adopts egalitarian rhetoric.  The coupling of racism with economic populism is in some ways even more insidious than neoliberalism, as Indian Marxist Jairus Banaji explained in a commentary on India’s Hindu chauvinist ‘communalist’ movement:

Neo-liberalism disarms the working class economically, destroying its cohesion in an industrial, economic sense. Racism, communalism and nationalism… do the same in more insidious ways, destroying the possibility of the working class ever acquiring a sense of its own solidarity and of what it really is.

Racial populism diverts attention from the capitalist class who control resources, towards racialised targets.

A recent Spinoff article on New Zealand First’s national conference noted that much of the membership consider themselves anti-neoliberal, not consciously racist. Bluntly, those who support New Zealand First for economic rather than cultural reasons are being led down a dangerous blind alley. A Jacobin article by the same author asserted that a surge for New Zealand First would be a “significant realignment.” However, New Zealand First’s support has dropped since reaching up to 18% in the 1990s, so their popularity is nothing new.

The party’s determining role in New Zealand politics is less a sign of the times than a continuation of Winston Peters’ long-standing manipulation of MMP, with a similar scenario playing out as far back as 1996 (where the formation of the government took seven weeks). Whereas the similar-sized Greens clearly orientate themselves towards Labour, Peters makes a point of not deciding until one of the major parties offers him a good deal, clearly enjoying the prestige that comes with this role.

Although Winston’s manipulative ‘kingmaker’ game is nothing new for New Zealand politics, it’s particularly important that leftists give New Zealand First no quarter in the age of Trump. Left softness on racist right-wing populists is an example of Conservative Leftism, a tendency which throws oppressed people under the bus for the sake of simplistic anti-neoliberalism (see Daphne Lawless’ Against Conservative Leftism).

You cannot challenge capitalism while excusing racism. Capitalism is racialised; the dispossession of Māori was necessary to establishing capitalism in Aotearoa, and attacks on new (brown) migrants undermine working class unity. Winston Peters’ populism undermines the internationalist alliances needed for a truly liberating politics.

Labour ran on cutting immigration in the tens of thousands. This policy was nonsensical – Labour proposed to cut students and ‘low-skilled’ workers, citing strains on infrastructure – yet students and poor workers are unlikely to use motorways or buy houses. Most likely the policy was less motivated by rational policy considerations than a pathetic attempt to chase the anti-migrant vote, which New Zealand First already has on lockdown.

Policies of cutting immigration face opposition from business, which is unfortunately more influential than opposition from migrant workers and their advocates. Business leaders oppose immigration cuts for the wrong reasons – hoping to access cheap labour – whereas we say that migrants must have the rights of any worker, including the right to union representation.

Even if these nonsensical poll-chasing policies are not implemented, they widen the ‘Overton window’ – the range of acceptable political discourse. They make attacks on migrants more socially acceptable, and pro-migrant reforms less likely.

Labour’s capitulation to xenophobia follows an unfortunate international trend. The UK’s Jeremy Corbyn may have more Social Democratic substance than Jacinda Ardern, but he has unfortunately pandered to anti-immigrant politics (see Daphne Lawless’ article here).

After Labour’s sudden leadership shakeup, Jacinda Ardern’s campaign did not depart in substance from Andrew Little’s rather conservative campaign. She stuck to the policy of cutting immigration, and failed to stand with Metiria Turei against beneficiary-bashing. Despite superficially criticising ‘neoliberalism’, she did not commit to departing from neoliberal fundamentals when challenged. Similarly she talked up the threat of climate change but made no significant commitments to address it.

However, a relatively young, rhetorically sophisticated woman in the leadership was a welcome relief from the pale, stale male brigade that has dominated the Labour leadership for nearly a decade, attracting young liberals to the party. Conversely, Bill English lacked the personality appeal of John Key, leading National to defeat for the second time in his life.

A Labour government is usually slightly better than a National government. Except for the Fourth Labour government, Labour tends to spend more on social services than National, and work more closely with unions, among other social concessions. While this difference is marginal at a macro-level, we can’t totally deny any difference that results in fewer deaths by economic violence. For the anti-capitalist left however, no deaths by economic violence are acceptable, so a Labour-led government is not our horizon of possibility. Even the Greens remain limited to that horizon. Additionally, with Winston in the government, we can expect renewed attacks on migrants.

Ultimately, the parliamentary parties are all committed to managing capitalism. The left cliché that only collective direct action can stop the racist, capitalist juggernaut remains true. How to put this truth into practice in a principled, effective way remains the question.

Fightback’s election activity: Migrant and Refugee Rights Campaign

Fightback did not endorse any political party in 2017, instead supporting the Migrant and Refugee Rights Campaign (MARRC) alongside other groups.

MARRC ran an independent candidate in Wellington Central: Gayaal Iddamalgoda, a Legal Organiser for FIRST Union. Gayaal ran on the platform that “what’s best for migrants and refugees is best for everyone.”

Gayaal’s campaign offered a relatively mainstream platform to challenge electoral scapegoating of migrants and refugees. The campaign regularly cranked out press releases (see, criticising every party, and receiving coverage in mainstream newspapers.

Candidates’ meetings offered an opportunity to publicly challenge the major parties. In an electorate with Green Party leader James Shaw and high-ranking Labour MP Grant Robertson standing, we were able to challenge Labour and the Greens from the left.

One Labour MP, Hutt South’s Chris Hipkins, criticised his party’s policy when challenged by a member of the campaign at a candidates’ meeting.

The Rainbow Forum was the liveliest, with the audience asking challenging questions, shutting down the Conservative and ACT candidates without mercy, and wildly applauded Gayaal for outlining the intersection of queer and migrant rights.

The infamous Aro Valley candidates’ forum was also energetic, as children sprayed candidates with water pistols. Gayaal in the words of the Dominion Post “won cheers from the inner-city crowd with his message of welcoming migrants and ending capitalism.”

MARRC also organised a Migrant and Refugee Rights Forum with Gayaal speaking alongside other candidates. Around 100 attended. Emcee Murdoch Stephens (of the Double the Quota campaign) challenged candidates on the refugee quota, on proposed immigration cuts, and on a Living Wage for migrant workers.

Sponsored Facebook posts received significant interactions, including a campaign video that was viewed over 3,600 times. Unfortunately, the Facebook page also received waves of racist comments, which admins did not tolerate.

Gayaal passed 150 votes, beating the other independents and the ACT Party candidate, a modest victory in a campaign more intended for propaganda than parliamentary purposes. Victoria University’s polling booth had the most votes for Gayaal, confirming international poll results that show youth tend to be more pro-migrant.

We are in discussions about how to carry the Migrant and Refugee Rights Campaign through to 2018. If you would like to be involved or updated, please email us at


Pākehā Invisibility: Why does ‘migrant’ mean ‘brown’?


By Ani White and Kassie Hartendorp.

Note: This article was written directly before the 2017 General Election, so comments about party policy refer to that period.

Internationally, many white immigrants to non-white countries are not termed immigrants, they are termed ‘expats.’ Immigrant means brown, expat means white.

A similar dynamic plays out in Aotearoa. Pākehā immigrants1 do not describe themselves as immigrants. Many even object to the term Pākehā; we are simply “New Zealanders.”

Some may object that their family has been here for generations, but the same standard does not apply to brown immigrants. Asian people whose families have lived here for generations are assumed to be new migrants, not “New Zealanders.” At a candidates’ meeting I recently attended, a white woman asked an Asian candidate a question along the lines of “if you don’t like this country why did you come here?” She had no awareness of his family history; for all she knew, he was a third-generation migrant (as it happens, he arrived as a child, so didn’t have much choice in the matter). But his brown face marked him as a migrant, a ‘foreigner.’

Even though Europeans and Asians in New Zealand are both immigrants, Europeans are naturalised as part of ‘New Zealand’ and non-white migrants are cast as ‘outsiders.’

The New Zealand where Europeans are naturalised as the dominant population, and inheritors of land and resources, relies on a story that erases colonial history. Those who strongly defend the identity of ‘New Zealander’ very rarely acknowledge that before this region became New Zealand, it was Aotearoa. It was (and is) Te Ika-a-Māui and Te Waipounamu. It was (and is) a Pacific Island in Te Moana-Nui-a- Kiwa before it became a British colony. Many Pākehā prefer to forget this history.

The colonial state of New Zealand, set up by Pākehā immigrants, gets to determine who can come into this country. Indigenous approaches to manaakitanga (values of welcoming and hospitality) were violated, replaced with a bureaucratic edifice which categorises and profiles people hoping to cross borders. Institutions enabled by mass European immigration presume to dictate who can come next.

Ironically, a recent survey indicated that whereas only 28% of New Zealand citizens strongly agreed with the statement “People who want to live here should have to declare their commitment to the Treaty of Waitangi / Te Tiriti o Waitangi”, 40% per cent of recent migrants agreed (close to the 47% of Maori who agreed). The irony is underlined when ‘New Zealanders’ act offended at the thought of migrants ‘invading our country’ when many of their forebears actually invaded, at the mass detriment of Māori.

In certain respects, European migrants to Aotearoa have something in common with new Asia-Pacific migrants. We came here seeking a better life, with 19th century colonists escaping dire economic conditions. However, Asian migrants are not stealing land at gunpoint, as Pākehā did in the 19th century. Rather, they work in banks, cafes, on dairy farms, cleaning office buildings, their sweat oiling the nation’s economic growth, paid back in low wages and abuse. Even higher-paid, ‘high-skilled’ white collar migrants, supposedly more valuable than ‘low-skilled’ workers, still cop abuse.

Scapegoating of Asian migrants goes back to early colonisation. Chinese migrants during the Gold Rush were forced to pay special taxes, and chased out of places like Wellington. In the early 20th Century, the NZ Labour Party flirted with a ‘White New Zealand’ policy to match Australia’s ‘White Australia’ policy. More recently in 2014, Labour’s Phil Twyford controversially highlighted those with ‘Chinese surnames’ purchasing property. For all he knew, these people were long-term residents.

Yellow Peril scares are therefore deeply ingrained in New Zealand society. Noticeably, while many worry about Chinese investors buying up land, British and Americans who buy up land go largely unnoticed. International investors are also equated with migrant workers, as with the case of Twyford’s ‘Chinese surnames’, which again could either have been investors or long-term residents.

Rather than projecting all of New Zealand’s problems onto brown faces, perhaps Pākehā could reflect on the real sources of New Zealand’s problems. Migrant workers are not causing the housing crisis, or underinvestment in sustainable infrastructure. Labour is proposing to cut students and ‘low-skilled’ workers, not people likely to buy houses or clog up motorways. In fact, middle-class Pākehā are far more likely to buy property or use motorways.

In a recent minor controversy, National Party MP Paul Goldsmith implied that the slumlord problem was primarily an Indian problem. Yet about 80 MPs in parliament own more than one property. As a Pākehā MP in his 40s, Paul Goldsmith is a far likelier face for slumlord profiteering than the young Indian student he spoke to. As Migrant and Refugee Rights Campaign spokesperson Gayaal Iddamalgoda said in the Herald article on the topic, “if we’re serious about addressing the [housing] problem, we need to understand it’s a problem caused by slumlords and other profiteers, regardless of their surnames or the colour of their skin.”

Jacinda Ardern has recently softened Labour’s rhetoric about migrants, but maintained the policy of cutting 10s of 1000s of migrants. In that sense she is actually spinning a policy that was introduced by a Little as a xenophobic populist tactic. If she’s really worried about migrant exploitation, she should call for the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme to be radically reformed, or the international tertiary sector to be vetted for quality, rather than restricting free movement. It’s easier to pity the brown dairy worker than to confront the Pākehā farm owner who benefits from the exploitative RSE scheme.

Even Pākehā without the structural power of a politician, or a capitalist, often buy into these narratives. Facebook comment threads regularly complain of ‘real New Zealanders’ being shafted by ‘mass immigration.’ But if working class Pākehā are being shafted, they are being shafted by the powerful, not by migrants.

Wages are driven down because employers prioritise their bottom-line, treating social impacts as ‘externalities.’ Migrant workers do not want shitty wages. If Pākehā worked together with new migrants – for example in the Living Wage Campaign, which is supported by many migrant workers, and has won a number of victories – they could improve conditions for all workers, rather than competing in a race to the bottom.

For Pākehā to make things better, we need to get over our investment in defending ‘Fortress New Zealand’. In moments where anti-migrant rhetoric is high, we have the option to reflect on how we came to be in Te Moana-Nui-a-Kiwa ourselves. We need to recognise our status as coming from a history of immigration on this land, acknowledge who came before us, and find solidarity with those who want the same things as we do – housing security, living wages, the right to flourish and contribute to Aotearoa.

1We have used the terms ‘immigrant’ and ‘migrant’ fairly interchangeably, the article primarily concerns those who come to Aotearoa to live.


Free speech vs hate speech

greer foul mouth.jpg

By Ani White.

Recent months have seen a revival of debate about ‘free speech’ and hate speech. As readers are no doubt aware, antifascists in the USA mobilised to ensure white supremacists cannot march unchallenged. Mass mobilisation in Boston led to the cancellation of many white supremacist marches.

Commentators such as Chris Hedges declared suppression of fascism to be a violation of ‘free speech’ principles.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) defended the right of fascists to ‘free speech’, prompting the Onion headline “ACLU Defends Nazis’ Right To Burn Down ACLU Headquarters.” Philosopher Karl Popper once addressed this self-elimination as the ‘paradox of tolerance.’ Popper said that tolerance of intolerant ideas would ultimately lead to its own elimination: “Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance.”

The resurgence of fascism poses a special threat to democracy, the left, and to minorities. The contemporary US administration tacitly supports the white supremacist movement, so self-organised communities must defend themselves.

As an ultra-right movement, fascists perpetrate hate speech on every front; primarily racist, but also homophobic, transphobic, sexist, ableist, and so on. However, fascists are not the only propagators of hate speech.

It may be necessary here to define hate speech. Hate speech does not refer to anything inflammatory, or anything somebody disagrees with. Hate speech targets social minorities for abuse. Hate speech is violent, and nobody is obliged to tolerate violence, either psychological or physical.

The no-platform tactic, where activists refuse to host hateful speakers (or pressure an organisation to do so), was originally developed to stop fascists. More recently however, no-platform tactics have been controversially extended to others, particularly transphobic ‘feminists.’

Critics like Angela Nagle (author of Kill All Normies) accuse pro-trans and no-platformist activists of “tumblr liberalism”, aswell as denying “free speech.”

However, notions of ‘free speech’ and ‘liberalism’ are not well-defined by critics. When European radical liberals first fought for free speech, they meant the freedom to criticise the state. This sense of ‘free speech’ is still relevant, as states continue to restrict radical critics. This is an entirely separate issue from whether private citizens should tolerate violent groups, or whether private organisations should offer a platform for hate speech.

There is a further complication to historical notions of ‘free speech’, and of ‘freedom’ more generally. Under the liberal regimes that emerged after the French Revolution, freedom only meant individual freedom from the state. Karl Marx argued that this limited notion of freedom meant, in part, the freedom of the “egoistic” individual, the freedom from social restraint:

None of the so-called rights of man, therefore, go beyond egoistic man… that is, an individual withdrawn into himself, into the confines of his private interests and private caprice, and separated from the community… Society, appears as a framework external to the individuals, as a restriction of their original independence.

Ironically, critics of “tumblr liberalism” such as Angela Nagle argue precisely for the egoistic liberal ideal of freedom from the social world. This crude liberalism tolerates abusive alt-rightists as they increasingly run rampant, poisoning the well of free discussion (Nagle actively mocks those who focus on fighting hate speech, fascist or otherwise).

Controversy over transphobic ‘free speech’ has played out in New Zealand. In 2016, trans-exclusionary feminist blogger Renee Gerlich was refused a platform at Wellington Zinefest. In 2013, the Queer Avengers ‘glitterbombed’ transphobic feminist Germaine Greer. Greer has often been targeted by trans activists internationally, leading to accusations of suppressing ‘free speech.’

Defence of Germaine Greer often implies that her transphobic comments are ancient history. Yet Greer has consistently promoted transphobia over the decades, from caricaturing trans women in The Female Eunuch, to attempting to exclude a trans woman from a Women’s College in the 1990s, to describing trans women as “men with painted faces” during her 2013 visit to New Zealand. If Greer renounced her views and apologised, that may open the door to forgiveness and tolerance, but her continuing and unapologetic attacks on trans people are intolerable.

Even when Greer’s defenders acknowledge her ongoing hateful views, they do so in a confused way. The Australian socialist website RedFlag made two apparently contradictory claims about Greer’s views in an article criticising no-platformism:

Greer’s comments about the legitimacy or otherwise of trans women’s claim to the label “woman” are indefensible and utterly disrespectful… we must be able to distinguish between errant ideological currents within the left broadly defined, and the ideological representatives of the oppressors, which Greer is not.

On the one hand Greer’s take on trans people is “indefensible,” yet on the other she must be defended as part of the left. Is transphobia left-wing? Is bigotry acceptable on the left? Why do many leftists support no-platforming Zionists, but not transphobes? With friends like these, who needs enemies?

RedFlag’s reference to “errant ideological currents within the left” raises questions separate from the tolerance of transphobia in wider society. What sort of discussions should be hosted in left-wing spaces, with the ostensible aim of liberation from oppression and exploitation?

There is a certain amount of ‘soft prejudice’ that necessarily must be debated. For example, nationalist opposition to free movement is dangerous, but so strong within the workers’ movement that internationalists must debunk it rather than attempting to suppress it in every instance.

However, outright abuse cannot be tolerated. Hard racists who happily use slurs are not operating in the realm of reasonable debate. Germaine Greer is a ‘hard transphobe’, with entrenched views that have led her to actively harass trans women. Her hateful views are well to the right of contemporary mainstream liberalism and feminism. Tolerating these ideas on the left implies that outright abusive bigotry is acceptable.

Debate can only be constructive if blatantly bigoted ideas are shut down. If the left is stuck debating whether oppressive violence is acceptable, this hinders more complex debates about how to actually dismantle oppressive power structures. Meanwhile those harmed by oppressive ideas may drift away from the left, exhausted by the tolerance of hate speech, ultimately undermining the unity needed to transform society for the better.


Migrant and Refugee Rights Issue Editorial + Contents


This is excerpted from the latest issue of Fightback magazine. To subscribe, click here.

Ani White is a Pākehā postgraduate student/tutor in Media Studies, a member of Fightback, and the coordinating editor of this issue.

In the lead-up to Aotearoa/New Zealand’s 2017 General Election, Fightback and others have co- launched the Migrant and Refugee Rights Campaign. In the context of rising international xenophobic populism, and the failure of NZ parliamentary ‘Left’ parties to take a consistent stand for migrants, we considered this an important political focus.

The following articles were initially solicited as a part of the campaign. However, as they came together, it became clear that this discussion must be broader and more multifaceted than the theme ‘Migrant and Refugee Rights’ captures; the struggle must be rooted in an understanding of colonisation.

Arama Rata’s excellent article which opens the issue, on the problem of euphemistic discussion of racism, frames the fight against racism against the backdrop of Aotearoa’s colonisation. Relatedly, The Guardian’s David Wearing argues that British xenophobia is inseparable from the country’s colonial past.

This broader post-colonial perspective must frame and inform the street movement for migrant/refugee rights, which the remaining pages focus on – with articles on Brexit, the German far-right, the meaning of the monarch butterfly symbol, and finally the fight against xenophobia in Aotearoa/New Zealand.

The issue concludes with the kaupapa statement of the Migrant and Refugee Rights Campaign. Contrary to dominant discourse which pits migrants/refugees against the ‘white working class’, we argue that what’s best for migrant workers is best for everyone; universal cheap high-quality housing, Living Wages, the right to join unions alongside other workers.

You can find out more about this campaign at, or


  1. Watered-down biculturalism: How avoiding the ‘r-word’ undermines our liberation movement, by Arama Rata
  2. Immigration will remain a toxic issue until Britain faces up to its colonial past, by David Wearing
  3. Brexit, Democracy and Oppression, by Neil Faulkner
  4. The “Alternative for Germany”: A chronicle of the rise of a far-right party, by JoJo
  5. What do butterflies have to do with open borders? Migration is beautiful, by John Lee
  6. Migrants are welcome – leftist xenophobia is not, by Daphne Lawless
  7. Interview: Why Gayaal is standing for Wellington Central
  8. Myths about Migrants and Refugees
  9. Migrant and Refugee Rights Campaign Kaupapa and Demands

Right To The City issue Editorial

Right To The City

This is excerpted from Fightback’s latest magazine issue. To subscribe, click here.

Editorial by Daphne Lawless, a Fightback/MARRC member living in Auckland with her wife and daughter.

The growth of cities as the dominant social and economic form of human life on the planet is a distinguishing feature of the capitalist era. Before capitalism, cities were trading posts and places where the rich spent their wealth; but most wealth was produced in the fields, forests and mines of rural areas. This all changed with the Industrial Revolution, when the new factory cities began to be where wealth was produced as well as spent. Later, as industrial production shifted globally to the rising Asian economies since World War II, so the older developed countries shifted to “post-industrial” (information and knowledge-based) forms of production. Importantly, despite predictions that this would lead to a new de-centralisation, it’s been shown that information and technology workers produce more (and are happier) living, working and playing together in dense cities, rather than the isolated suburbs which sprang up during the cheap-oil eras.

All this just goes to show that cities aren’t going anywhere, despite some of the fond dreams of “back to the land”-ers, or the dreamers of suburban utopia. As long as big cities are where society’s wealth is produced, so (following Karl Marx’s political economy) that’s where the possibility of social revolution is to be found. Additionally, in the globalised era, the big cities are where the migrant workers and the refugees from war, poverty and climate change gather, interact with local workers, and thereby create a new global culture. Contrary to the reactionary musings of the “conservative left”, this cross-cultural intersection brings power and strength to the workers’ movement – if only that movement knows how to organise itself.

As Daphne Lawless pointed out in her 2015 article for Fightback – reprinted first up in this issue – big cities may (perhaps counter-intuitively) be our only feasible solution to the global climate crisis, as urban living (planned properly for need rather than greed) offers the cleanest and most efficient use of resources for both housing and transportation. Tāne Feary develops this idea further with his discussion of eco-cities and Transition Towns.

Aotearoa / New Zealand has no equivalent to the sprawling megacities to be found overseas. But we do have Tāmaki Makarau / Auckland, population 1.5 million and rising. So this edition of Fightback on Urban Revolution and the Right to the City makes no apology for concentrating on the “City of Sails”. We are privileged to run an extended piece from TransportBlog’s PeterNunns, in which he uses facts and figures to explain in detail precisely what kind of urban development a sustainable and liveable Auckland would need. Of course, the housing and public transport issues run together. We feature a piece from veteran South Auckland campaigner Roger Fowler arguing that zero fares (free public transport) is the revolutionary step that Auckland needs – with a few counter-arguments from TransportBlog’s Patrick Reynolds, to set us thinking.

Of course, development can never be thought of in the abstract. The current leadership of our city – with Phil Goff carrying on the general approach of his predecessor as Mayor, Len Brown – pays lip-service to bringing all Aucklanders along with the development of our new global city. But this has not been the history of what has happened in Auckland, where time and again the working classes (in particular the tangata whenua, as well as Pasefika and other migrant groups) have been made to pay for the dreams of their social betters. Daphne Lawless explains the intertwined history of Auckland’s “motorway madness” and the gentrification of the inner suburbs, which created an asset-rich Pākehā layer at the expense (in more ways than one) of Pasefika lives, and actually created today’s permanent gridlock. Two other writers expand on how this process is still going on, with Vanessa Day talking about the fight against dispossession by gentrification in Glen Innes, and Bronwen Beechey adding updates from Avondale, which could well become the Grey Lynn of the 21st century.

Turning to the rest of the country, Byron Clark lets us know about the wasted opportunities in Ōtautahi / Christchurch, where the post-earthquake rebuild has led to the same old suburban sprawl and petrol-driven traffic chaos. Patricia Hall contributes an eloquent plea for the cities of the future to be truly accessible – just as fighting racial and gender inequality benefits all working people, she argues, so fighting for accessibility is not just for the benefit of the physically or mentally impaired. Finally, Ani White looks back on a documentary from the 1975 Māori Land March, concentrating on the alliances between urban and rural tangata whenua that made it happen. With “back to the land” mythology still strong in the tino rangatiratanga movement, this is a timely reminder that the power of indigenous people in the globalised era lies in the cities as well.


The “Alternative for Germany”: A chronicle of the rise of a far-right party


Nationalism is No Alternative

German anti-fascist group Nationalism Is No Alternative/NIKA (Source).

By Jojo, a Fightback subscriber based in Germany.

22 April 2017: I am sitting at an intersection somewhere in Cologne, together with other antifascists. It is cold, wet and we had to get up early, but people are happy as news has reached us that other roads are blocked as well, and members of the “Alternative for Germany” (AfD) are having a hard time reaching their party conference. Nevertheless, it is quite likely that the AfD will enter federal parliament after the elections this September. It will be the first time a party to the right of the Christian-Democratic party (CDU) and the liberal party (FDP) will enter federal parliament since the 50s. So how did we get here?

2013: The AfD is founded. From its beginning, it gets a lot of media attention that helps it to gain  support. Their focus is on financial policy: the AfD criticizes the government’s reaction to the Euro-crisis (supporting Greece with money, but only in turn for brutally enforced austerity). However, the AfD does not criticize this from a standpoint of solidarity with the Greek working class (as the leftist Blockupy network did), but from the standpoint of the German middle- to upper-class tax payer who does not want their tax money being spent on the Greeks. This program is also reflected in the party’s personnel: Its leader and founder is Bernd Lucke, a professor of economics.

The AfD has already developed a program on immigration, demanding stricter rules, but this is not yet the main focus. In the federal election this year, the AfD gets 4.7%, but because of the 5% threshold does not enter parliament.

May 2014: The AfD enters the European Parliament with 7.1%. During the year, they also enter several regional parliaments in Germany.

October 2014: In Dresden (a town in what used to be the GDR or East Germany), 350 people rally under the slogan “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident” (Pegida). They continue demonstrating every Monday, like the opposition in the GDR from whom they also take the slogan “we are the people”. Their numbers will grow to over 10,000 in December. Though they are not formally connected to the AfD, these are also people who would self-identify as ordinary citizens and not as Nazis, but who nevertheless promote a racist agenda. If the AfD is the parliamentary wing of the shift-to-the-right in Germany over the last few years, Pegida is the extra-parliamentary wing. However, they present themselves as a bit too radical for large parts of the AfD, so the party has no clear position on Pegida and will continue to argue about this issue during the coming years.

4 July 2015: At a conference, the party votes for Frauke Petry as the new leader, replacing Bernd Lucke. Lucke leaves the party and founds another one, which will not be as successful as AfD. This split marks a shift in how the party presents itself: While Lucke wanted to have a serious, bourgeois party and his focus was mainly on currency-politics, Petry represents the new AfD, which is far more populist and more openly xenophobic, racist and anti-feminist. With this shift, the party’s electorate also changes: While they still have cross-class support, more and more working-class voters vote for the AfD. Their support also grows in the former East Germany.

August 2015: Thousands of migrants, many of whom have fled the civil war in Syria, come to Germany over the Balkan route. Crowds of people welcome the migrants at the train stations and many organize in networks of refugee support, filling a gap left by the state. This shows that there is still a big portion of people that do not see migrants as potential enemies – is this a basis for a successful struggle against the AfD?

29 September 2015: The federal government reacts to the summer of migration (which is also called the “refugee crisis” in  mainstream discourse) and to far-right mobilisations with the “asylum package I” – speeding up the asylum process, declaring more countries “safe” (so people can be deported to them) and stopping the announcement of deportations (now refugees will be arrested and deported without any prior notice). In 2016, package II follows. Just like in the 90s, the centrist parties (now including the Greens) react to the far-right by adopting its policies.

New Year’s Eve 2015/2016: In Cologne, groups of young men sexually harass women in the main train station. Many are of North-African or Arab nationalities, which will in the following weeks and months be used in racist discourse to portray North-African and Arab men as sexual predators. The far-right including the AfD, that is otherwise strictly anti-feminist, discovers women’s rights for their agenda – these rights can now be defended against migrants. Feminist and leftist groups will answer with a demonstration on International Women’s Day under the motto “our feminism is anti-racist”.

31 January 2016: The communist alliance “Ums Ganze” (“everything is at stake”) has called for a nation-wide meeting of anti-racists and antifascists in Frankfurt. Activists discuss what to do in this situation – so far, many antifascists have felt rather paralysed by the rise of the AfD which they could not prevent. After the meeting, UG launches the campaign “Nationalismus ist keine Alternative” (NIKA, “Nationalism is no alternative”). NIKA is an open campaign and a label that groups can take up to relate to each other. NIKA instigates a lot of small creative actions that do not need many activists but are good for publishing on social media.

The hope that those who showed solidarity for migrants in summer 2015 could be mobilised to join the struggle against the AfD and against asylum packages I and II will only partially be fulfilled. But at least there is now an effective campaign that organizes antifascists and anti-racists.

The AfD’s election campaigns this year are interrupted by these actions and others, but that does not prevent the party entering several more regional parliaments and reaching results far over 10%. The party’s rhetoric radicalises further, e.g. AfD politician Beatrix von Storch suggests shooting refugees to prevent them crossing the border. In the Saarland region, the AfD cooperates with the neo-Nazi NPD; an attempt to kick out this regional branch fails.

3 September 2016: In Berlin, a nation-wide demonstration against the AfD takes place, organised by the alliance “Stand Up Against Racism”, but the participant numbers are below expectations. The intention of “Stand Up Against Racism” was to form a broad alliance including trade unions, the Social Democrats (SPD) and the Greens. However, the inclusion of these organisations does not lead to a bigger mobilisation. It remains mainly the job of the radical left to challenge the AfD.

New Year’s Eve 2016/2017: As a reaction to last year’s New Year’s Eve, the police in Cologne now use racial profiling to prevent every North-African-/Arab-looking man who is single or with a group of other men from entering the square in front of the main station. Once again, the state adopts far-right policies.

17 January 2017: Björn Höcke, a far-right politician of the AfD in former East Germany, holds a speech in front of the party’s youth organisation. He demands a “180 degree change” in the politics of commemoration concerning the Holocaust. He says: “We Germans are the only people in the world who have planted a memorial of shame in the heart of their capital”. He is criticised for this blatant anti-Semitism by members of his own party and the leadership tries to expel him. This debate is part of a bigger clash between factions within the party. After Frauke Petry took over from Lucke who was too moderate for her in 2015, now her faction fears that  ultra-radical politicians like Höcke could endanger the party’s image.

On 22 April, we at least succeeded in delaying the AfD conference for more than an hour. After the blockades, there are several big demonstrations in the city. As Cologne likes to present itself as an open city, it is easily possible to mobilise big parts of civil society here, including the Carnival committees. This day was a success for us, but the AfD seems to carry on despite their inner disputes. The leading duo for the federal elections will consist on the one hand of Alexander Gauland, who supports Björn Höcke and has similar positions, and on the other hand of Alice Weider, who was in favour of Höcke’s expulsion but said she would support his election campaign if he stays in the party. So the different factions seem to get along with each other. The prospect of ending the election success of the AfD in a short term is thus unlikely. While it is important to interrupt their election campaigns, the radical left needs long term strategies on how to go onto the offensive, push forward its own leftist politics and get rid of the basic problems in society that make the success of far-right populism possible.


“Wellington, here we come” – The Māori Land March (1975) as a claim on urban space

Ani White is a postgraduate Media Studies student.

This article was written for Fightback’s magazine on Urban Revolution and the Right to the City. To subscribe to Fightback’s publications, click here.

Te Matakite o Aotearoa: The Māori Land March is a documentary depicting the Māori Land March of 1975, which was a key moment in the ‘Māori Renaissance’ of the 1970s. A growing, youthful urban Māori movement fused with existing rural forms of Māori organisation to organise the March, which contested urban rhythms imposed by colonisation and capitalism, asserting an indigenous rhythm through unified ways of vocalising and walking in urban space. The narrative of this documentary presents unity between rural and urban Māori, and thereby contests colonial ownership of urban spaces. My analysis draws on European theorisation of urban space, while seeking to supplement its limitations with indigenous and Kaupapa Māori theory.

The city and indigeneity

Urban indigeneity poses a contradiction in colonial mythology. Colonial projects in Aotearoa / New Zealand and in other settler nations such as Canada and Australia have depicted indigeneity as essentially rural, thereby casting urban indigeneity as “inauthentic”. However, this image erases both the reality that most indigenous people live in cities, and that cities are built on appropriated indigenous land. More fundamentally, the call for indigenous sovereignty always has implications for urban space that are often neglected:

“Most cities are located on sites traditionally used by Indigenous peoples… The creation of Indigenous “homelands” outside of cities is in itself a colonial invention. Moreover, for many indigenous peoples, ancestral homelands are not contained in the small parcels of land found in reserves, reservations, and rural Māori and rural Aboriginal Australian settlements; rather, they are the larger territories that include contemporary urban settlements” (Peters and Andersen 7-8)

Indigenous claims could thus be considered in terms of the right to the city, a slogan coined by French Marxist Henri Lefebvre. Lefebvre suggested that “the city” as object is always falling away, leaving “the urban” as a surrounding space. He would later begin to more broadly theorise the role of the class struggle in “the production of space,” not simply the city. However, Marxist geographer David Harvey suggests that while Lefebvre’s intellectual legacy may be important to theorising ‘the right to the city,’ actually-existing urban social movements offer more explanatory value. Lefebvre himself similarly contends that “only social force,” in the form of “groups, social classes and class fractions,” can solve the problems of urban space.

The core of Kaupapa Māori has been defined as “the affirmation and legitimation of being Māori”. Although Kaupapa Māori theory has only recently been codified in academic work, its heritage is older, particularly drawing on oral history. I will therefore refer to both the filmed verbal accounts of participants in the march, and more recent Kaupapa Māori scholarship where relevant. Alongside centring the verbal speech acts of movement participants, I will also refer to Michel de Certeau’s discussion of walking as a kind of ‘speech act’ that defines and is defined by urban environments.

Historical context

Young urban Māori played a key role in the ‘Renaissance’ of the 1970s, undermining attempts at assimilation. Before World War II, 90% of Māori lived in rural spaces. The post-war era saw substantial Māori urbanisation, driven partly by state policy, both to meet labour needs and in an attempt at assimilation. However, despite this attempt at assimilation, the majority of urban Māori continued to identify with their tribal heritage. By the 1970s, “radical urban indigeneity” increasingly threatened the state as it mingled with other radical urban currents. Historian Aroha Harris explains the significance of younger, urban, educated Māori layers in the indigenous movement of the 1970s:

“Amongst the many critics [of ongoing land grabs] was a group of Māori university students and graduates, which evolved a few years later into Ngā Tamatoa. Members were young, educated, and urbanised; some were unionists, others experienced political activists. They were leaders and social commentators recently come-of-age, the new face of Māori activism. For Ngā Tamatoa, Māori affairs policy provided some immediate catalysts for modern Māori protest. Although many of the issues they raised were long-standing, like te reo and the Treaty of Waitangi, the reasons for protest and resistance were contemporary, like the politics of integration and marginalisation in the cities. Ngā Tamatoa also heralded a new analysis of the Māori experience of colonisation; one that understood racism and how it worked”.

The production of Te Matakite o Aotearoa: The Māori Land March was enabled in part by these new urban groups; Ngā Tamatoa, the Polynesian Panther Party and New Perspectives on Race (a group involving both Māori and Pākehā) are credited as key coordinators of the film, among others. The Māori Land March of 1975 was also a high point for unity between these younger urban formations and “older rural traditionalists”. New urban groups such as Ngā Tamatoa combined forces with older Māori collectives including the Māori Council, uniting to frame the Treaty of Waitangi as a tool for historical redress.

Cultural critic Brendan Hokowhitu contends that, although won through unified struggle, the ratification of the Treaty of Waitangi Act (1975) and the Waitangi Tribunal came to reproduce exclusion of urban Māori as “inauthentic” Arguably this is a case of the limited “decolonisation” seen in many settler-colonial polities over the 20th century, which saw a transition from classically assimilationist colonisation to a more sophisticated “incorporation by recognition,” leaving underlying power relations largely intact. The decades-long tension between sections of the Māori sovereignty movement, produced partly through negotiation and compromise with the Crown, was prefigured in the aftermath of the 1975 Māori Land March. Differences between young militants Ngā Tamatoa and respected elder Dame Whina Cooper emerged immediately after the march, with Ngā Tamatoa staying at parliament after Cooper had advised them to disperse. Despite this thorny aftermath, the march itself presented a unified front, and Harris concludes that “its dignity has made a permanent impression on New Zealand’s history”.Contention between sections of the movement is not presented in the documentary Te Matakite o Aotearoa: The Māori Land March, which concludes with the march arriving at parliament and presenting its demands.

Talking out and talking in

The documentary Te Matakite o Aotearoa: The Māori Land March “talks out” to Pākehā audiences as part of a strategy for historical redress. Barry Barclay, a Ngāti Apa filmmaker and Kaupapa Māori theorist, considers filmmaking in terms of hui, or conversation based on principles of mutual respect. Barclay suggests a distinction between “talking out” to Pākehā audiences and “talking in” among Māori. This perhaps chimes with Australian Aboriginal (Yiman) sociologist and film critic Marcia Langton’s suggestion that ‘Aboriginality’ in film can be defined by three overlapping fields of interaction – colonial stereotypes of Aboriginality, dialogue between Aboriginal cultures, and dialogue between Aborigines and non-Aborigines. I suggest that while the Māori Land March was enabled by “talking in” among Māori – between different iwi, between young and old, between urban and rural Māori – the documentary and march are also acts of “talking out” to Pākehā. As a Pākehā viewer, I seek to engage in the dialogical space created by the film.

On an institutional level, the documentary was produced for TV2, with a majority-Pākehā audience. Within the film, use of Te Reo Māori is usually repeated in English (especially in interviews and narration). This implies an audience that speaks English and not Te Reo Māori – not necessarily a Pākehā audience, but certainly including Pākehā. At the beginning of the film, prominent activist Eva Rickards explains the significance of whenua to Māori people, again implying an audience that may not be versed in Te Ao Māori, yet grounding the story in that world. In an interview after the outset of the march, leading Ngā Tamatoa member Tama Poata explains that he considers Pākehā awareness to be one of the movement’s key goals:

“Something extraordinary has to be done about [land theft], to make the bulk of New Zealanders aware of the situation because there’s not enough of them aware in my opinion what the real facts are related to Māori land.”

The film presents a united front to audiences; between rural and urban Māori, younger and older, men and women, between iwi, and with the minority of Pākehā who participated. In interviews, movement leaders emphasise the unity of the march, particularly across generational lines. Tama Poata underlines that “old and young” have come together for the march, describing the sense of unity as “extraordinary.” Esteemed kuia and movement leader Whina Cooper later echoes this sentiment, explaining in an interview before the final stretch of the hikoi:

“Our young people are changing. They’re finding out now that to go alone without the support of the old people, they won’t reach the goal that they want to reach. So now they’re following the old people around to get all the knowledge of the past, so as to stand as a kind of an instrument for the future.”

In a more incidental way, footage of meetings shows the cooperation between various actors necessary to organise this month-long hikoi. Practical affairs – allocation of vehicles, medical care for people with blisters or injuries – are delegated in a deliberative way acknowledging varying knowledges, skills and needs. Tama Poata also mentions in an interview that men are doing the dishes, acknowledging the division of unpaid labour necessary for a unified collective feat on this scale. The community forged by the hikoi could be considered a form of kaupapa whānau, a family forged out of common aims and outlook, not necessarily or solely out of kinship ties.

Walking as speech

The combination of verbal accounts and walking as a unified ‘speech act’ contests colonial arrangements of urban space and time. De Certeau suggests that walking “follows” place names, both mobilised by the names and investing them with new meaning. Early in the documentary, after marchers set out from Northernmost marae Te Hāpua, a kuia declares “Wellington, here we come.” In a sense Wellington, as a centre of colonial power, both hails and is hailed by the marchers, a form of karanga. Their hikoi follows and reshapes the possibilities of Wellington, as an urban and civic centre.

Lefebvre argues that urban rhythms can only be understood with reference to historical and natural rhythms. This is intended as a “poetic” approach as well as a “scientific” method. Rhythm-analysis of Te Matakite o Aotearoa: The Māori Land March reveals an interplay of natural, social, economic and urban rhythms, with the march setting a unified social rhythm that ultimately intervenes in urban spatial and temporal practices. Early in the film, a poem by Hone Tuwhare narrates the internal world of a marcher. Although this marcher is presumably Hone Tuwhare himself, with the poem containing biographical details relevant to his life, the particular embodies more general shared concerns. A number of significant, mostly slower rhythms run through the visual and aural elements; the rhythm of Tuwhare’s poetry, rhythms of the seasons and weather, the pace of aging, and crucially the rhythm of walking, a simultaneous rhythm that expresses social unity. Natural and social rhythms are interlinked, both at a measured pace. These rhythms exceed the urban, even the human individual – as the opening narration notes, “Whatungarongaro he tangata, toi tu te whenua; man comes and goes, the land is permanent.”
Despite this sense of slower interlinked natural and historic rhythms, there is also a more immediate urban economic insecurity to the poem, mentioning fears that Tuwhare may lose his flat in Dunedin. This worry of the everyday, the particular, the personal, manifests more general concerns. As de Certeau mentions, “to walk is to lack a place”, and in this case the commitment to participate in a month-long (economically ‘unproductive’) walk requires taking a risk in terms of economic security. Partly this is an urban concern, one of the necessary social “waste products” (poverty, insecurity) of the profit system, yet this insecurity also results from a more generalised alienation of land from the people. In other words this alienation is not solely urban or rural. Tuwhare refers to “all the different people worrying differently”, and underlines the togetherness of shared concerns. Marchers who stay the distance also have the comfort of shared homes, stopping off at marae each night, a prominent example of the “circular migration” that can allow urban indigenous people to retain connections with rural indigenous communities.

land march auckland

Source: National Library.

Unity and urban space

This conscious togetherness allows the marchers to contest urban spatio-temporality effectively; through Auckland to Wellington. In what has become a definitive image of the Māori Land March, thousands of marchers cross the Auckland Harbour Bridge. This image is arguably so definitive because it contests urban space, placing a claim on a notable urban landmark. In the documentary, the camera follows cars first, clear embodiments of urban rhythm, until the march passes through the background. Cars continue to dominate the foreground for a few shots (although waiata become more audible than cars), before the film moves in closer to the march, and finally cuts to a more widely photographed and circulated genre of angles on this historic moment; long shots facing back toward the marchers as they stream off the bridge in the foregound. Although the marchers are not blocking traffic, instead using the footpath, they eclipse the stream of cars, even dwarfing the bridge from certain angles. Urban codes of space and time are transformed, inverted, if only temporarily; Māori primacy is clear. Ngāti Whātua leader Joe Hawke, who led the march across the harbour bridge, explains in a filmed interview that the bridge was built on Ngāti Whātua land, and the iwi never received compensation. Soon after explaining the significance of this action for his iwi, Hawke explains the significance of the march more broadly, commenting that “this is the first time I have ever seen our Māori people in some way become a unified voice.”
The significance of the march is both in its display of indigenous unity and its claim on urban space. When the hikoi reaches Wellington, they march on the motorway, their unified social rhythm slowing the flow of traffic, urban rhythms interrupted through collective intervention. The motorway sequence begins with fixed aerial shots, narrated first by a Radio New Zealand commentator and then by Tama Poata, before moving in closer for a handheld interview. This movement in position is comparable to de Certeau’s ironic fears about the methodological “fall” from an elevated position of knowledge to the apparently unknowing space amongst the crowd, the move from “voyeurs” to “walkers”. However, the film clearly locates cosmopolitan knowledge among the crowd. Tama Poata discusses international indigenous struggles in Australia, the ‘Third World’ and the USA, finally asserting unity in diversity and dispossession:

“We vary in some things but basically the struggle is the same, those that have and those that have not.”

As the march enters the city, the camera joins, walking with the hikoi up Lambton Quay. Finally, the marchers enter parliament hailed by a karanga, vocalisation and walking again setting an indigenous rhythm in urban space. Without necessarily dichotomising urban rhythms against indigenous rhythms, this action interrupts colonial capitalist configuration of urban space and time. The film concludes with iwi leader Joe Cooper reading the “Memorial of Right,” signed by tribal elders, to parliament. Although these concluding formal demands do not advance an explicit programme for urban transformation, the march re-occupies urban space, a tactic that poses the question of ownership in the production of space. The formal demands are also more expansive and inclusive than what was ultimately implemented, including a “national referendum” of Māori for any changes to land rights.


The 1975 Māori Land March was a historic moment of Māori unity; between iwi, youth and elders, urban and rural Māori. As a speech act, a form of “talking out” to Pākehā, the Land March interrupted rhythms imposed by colonisation and capitalism, asserting a unified indigenous rhythm through collective ways of vocalising and walking in urban space. The narrative thrust of the march (and the documentary film) presents unity between rural and urban Māori, contesting colonial ownership of urban spaces.

Further reading

Barclay, Barry. Our Own Image, Longman Paul Limited, 1990.

Harris, Aroha. Hikoi: Forty Years of Māori Protest. Wellington: Huia Publishers, 2004

Harvey, David. “Introduction.” Rebel Cities: From the Right to The City to the Urban Revolution. London: Verso, 2012.

Hokowhitu, Brendan. “Producing Indigeneity.” Peters, Evelyn, and Andersen, Chris, eds. Indigenous in the City: Contemporary Identities and Cultural Innovation. Vancouver, BC, CAN: UBC Press, 2013. ProQuest ebrary. Web. Accessed 23 April 2015.

Langton, Marcia. “Well, I Heard It on the Radio and I Saw It on the Television”: An Essay for the Australian Film Commission on the Politics and Aesthetics of Filmmaking by and About Aboriginal People and Things. North Sydney, NSW: Australian Film Commission, 1993.

Lefebvre, H. and Regulier, C. “Attempt at the Rhythmanalysis of Mediterranean Cities.” Rhythmanalysis. Continuum: London, New York, 2004.

Lefebvre, Henri. “The Right to The City.” Writings on Cities. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1996.

Lefebvre, Henri. “Plan of the Present Work.” The Production of Space. Trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith. Oxford: Blackwell, 2000.

Peters, Evelyn, and Andersen, Chris. “Introduction.” Peters, Evelyn, and Andersen, Chris, eds. Indigenous in the City: Contemporary Identities and Cultural Innovation. Vancouver, BC, CAN: UBC Press, 2013. ProQuest ebrary. Web. Accessed 23 April 2015.

Steven, Geoff. Dir. Te Matakite o Aotearoa: The Māori Land March. Produced with the assistance of Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council of New Zealand, World Council of Churches Programme to Combat Racism (by agreement with Ngā Tamatoa and Polynesian Panther Party), coordinated by New Perspectives on Race, produced by SeeHear Ltd and TV2, 1975.