Are New Zealand’s Greens worth a socialist vote? Three perspectives

From Fightback‘s upcoming issue on Electoral Politics. To subscribe, please visit https://fightback.zoob.net/payment.html

Fightback asked for three perspectives from social justice campaigners over whether they would advise anti-capitalists to vote Green in the New Zealand election this October. Fightback offers these perspectives as part of debate and we neither endorse nor oppose a Green vote in this election.

1. Sharon Bell, on behalf of the GreenLeft Network within the Green Party of Aotearoa/New Zealand

What precisely is the “GreenLeft Network” and what is your relationship to the Green Party of Aotearoa/NZ?

The GreenLeft Network (GLN) is one of a few formal membership networks within the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand. Other networks include Rainbow Greens, Inclusive Greens, Young Greens, and a number of other smaller interest-based networks. The GLN was established in 2014 as a response to a shift towards centrism within the Green Party. It initially started as a Facebook-based group but, following the establishment of the Budget Responsibility Rules in 2017, a group of members worked to formalise some of our operating structures and develop our Kaupapa Statement and Rules of Operation that guide how we function.

We aim to provide a home for lefties in the Green Party, as we work within the Party through mechanisms such as remits at the annual AGM to make change. We have over 200 members and members of the GLN also hold Party office roles, and focus on working constructively within Party processes for progressive change.

2. What does “GreenLeft” mean to you, in terms of kaupapa? Would you call yourself anti-capitalist or social-democratic?

Our Kaupapa Statement includes the following:

The GreenLeft Network holds true to the existing Green Party of Aotearoa Charter.

Further, the GreenLeft Network believes that the way to honour these principles is through a strong commitment to intersectional left-wing policies and analysis, with particular regard to an anti-capitalist stance and a critique of power.

We honour Te Tiriti o Waitangi and the tino rangatiratanga of hapū and iwi Māori, recognising that they did not cede their sovereignty… We are opposed to imperialism and militarism.

We recognise that capitalism produces a hierarchical classed society, which privileges profit accumulation at the expense of the many. We acknowledge that the capitalist system we live under is a base from which systems of oppression, hierarchy and division flow. We reject this, the GreenLeft Network aims to defend the rights of the poor and the working class, and fight all forms of marginalisation and oppression that capitalist society produces. We work to promote class analysis within the Green Party, as well as supporting those external groups already carrying out this work.

We reject “sustainable capitalism” as an oxymoron; we do not believe the market will ever be able to provide a genuine solution to climate change, and we indict the inherent violence of capitalism… We believe that our vision, and the Green Party’s vision, for Aotearoa cannot be achieved by pandering, conservatism, incrementalism or arbitrary constraints on the political imaginary. We are in favour of the Green Party campaigning on a bold and radical left-wing platform in electoral contests.

Whilst our members hold a healthy variety of positions and interpretations, all our members have to sign up to our Kaupapa Statement, and this keeps us ideologically unified.

What role GreenLeft has played in debates within the GPA/NZ recently? What struggles have you contributed to, and what (specifically) do you think your impact has been?

GLN members worked outside and inside the Party to drop the Budget Responsibility Rules, which we were successful with. Related to the current election, many top candidates in this year’s Green List are GLN members and we support their campaigns. In 2019, we put forward a remit to make MP tithing [donation of a portion of their salaries] to the Party progressive, which was passed by consensus.

I’d like to remind you of a few things that your party co-leader James Shaw said about you in an interview with Stuff a few months ago.[1] Can you tell us in your own words what the context of your “alternative draft list” was? How would you describe your relationship with GPA/NZ leadership, including James Shaw, Marama Davidson and others?

The GLN list was drafted in the context of the Party list-ranking process where non-incumbent MP candidates don’t fare well once the list is sent to the wider Party membership to vote upon. To overcome that, the GLN Executive underwent a process, including surveying the candidates for their views on issues, to establish a list of candidates that aligned well with the GLN Kaupapa, and communicated it privately to our members. Neither James Shaw nor anybody else in leadership has told us this was inappropriate. We always participate in Party democratic processes in good faith and strive to keep GLN members informed of how they can be involved.

Would you advise people who are explicitly anti-capitalist (members of groups like Fightback or Organise Aotearoa, Labour Party socialists, even anarchists) to vote for the Green Party this election – or even to join the GPA/NZ in order to fight alongside you?

Yes. We have a diverse range of political affiliations and grassroots organisation memberships within the Network. Although parliamentary politics is by no means perfect, the Green Party is the best option, as its membership structure and member-driven policy, principles and values mean you can contribute more directly to creating change. We value the many different ways people contribute to Aotearoa’s politics and voting Green is a worthwhile vote. Even if it’s just one day out of 1094 days of being staunchly committed to other ways of creating change (awesome, please do!), voting Green is one way you can advocate for transformational reforms. And if you agree with our Kaupapa Statement, we’d love to have you on board!

Where do you see yourself in the context of other “GreenLeft” organisations overseas, some of which have achieved parliamentary representation or even government on their own (e.g. Iceland, Netherlands or Denmark)? What do you think you gain by being part of the GPA/NZ?

Being part of the GreenLeft Network, as with any Party network, provides solidarity and space to be ourselves, reflect and develop our vision according to our values and politics. It weaves together grassroots movements and the Party. We also have MPs who are part of the network. Creating another Party is not the aim of the Network, as the Greens are the only Party that can and will push for a Just Transition to a healthier, more equitable world.

It is heartening to see the ascendency of GreenLeft organisations overseas. We see it as the most natural and strategic alliance for an anti-capitalist politics. The Green Party in Aotearoa has radical roots, and by staying true to them we can see similar successes here.

What is your take on the compromises made to the Zero Carbon Act?

We are glad that there is broad consensus in Parliament that climate change is a crisis that cannot be ignored and must be addressed at a governmental level. A lot of us were disappointed with aspects of it, such as having a split target for methane which meant it was weaker than the carbon reduction target and counter to the preferred option based on public consultation, and the omission of citizen litigation for enforcement. But we see the Zero Carbon Act as a starting point to build from, not the end of action.

Sharon invites those who support the GLN Kaupapa to join up online: https://facebook.us18.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=e2c710e7fb7b15d0c9e3a6a5a&id=290e9d377c

2. PETER SYKES is an Anglican minister and a long-time activist based in South Auckland. He is one of the founders and CEO of ME Family Services, a non-government organisation based in Mangere East with an environmental and social justice focus, which offers support to the community with an Early Childhood Education centre, waste minimisation, community gardening, social work and other initiatives. Sykes is standing as a Green Party candidate for the seat of Māngere, currently held by Labour’s Aupito William Sio, the current Minister for Pacific Peoples.

What made you decide to put yourself forward as a Green Party candidate? Do you have a prior involvement with the Greens?

I have been Green at heart most of my life and was involved in the Values Party, an early form of green party, while at university. I have been a passive member for the past few years. The decision to step forward as a candidate was based on the lack of Green presence in Mangere, and a concern that Labour was not voicing the need for collaboration more strongly. I strongly believe in the vision and values of the Green Party … built on a commitment to Te Tiriti o Waitangi, the four pou [pillars] are: building on ecological wisdom (which I believe to be a regenerative understanding to the rhythm of ecosystems around us); social responsibility (a thriving community based on social and economic justice); appropriate decision-making (consensus decision making made directly at the appropriate level by those affected); and a commitment to nonviolence in all levels and contexts. Probably the major reason I have put myself forward as the candidate for Mangere is a belief that the Green Party is the only party which gives shape to my understanding a vision for a thriving, regenerative Mangere now and into the future; and links into a context where we exist. I believe the Greens’ principles challenge us to dig deeper into understanding the earth rhythms where we are … and therefore challenge us to understand indigenous wisdom.

What do you think of the Greens’ current leadership?

The party has leadership at three levels – parliament, party and membership. The party also seeks to have leadership which gives voice to the key values. Both these aspects are vital for me to be active at a local level – I can give voice to the issues and policy for myself and my communities. On a much more specific response – I am excited about the political leadership being shown by Marama Davidson and James Shaw. They are passionate and able voices to the diversity of the Greens. Beyond them those who have been put on the list are people I want to see in leadership – they have been tested by the party and by the members. I am proud to be associated with our list members, even though I choose not to put my name into the pool.

Mangere has traditionally been a strong Labour seat. Do you think the Labour government has been responsive to the needs of the voters in the past, particularly Pacific peoples?

The Labour Party has laid the foundation of an intergenerational wellbeing for our nation, which no other party has. However, because of the nature of politics in NZ, it has had to work hard for a significant middle ground. It has had to work at building an understanding of MMP in a time when aspirations nationally and internationally are in change and when we are facing economic, social and environmental challenges unlike any other age; and on top of that we are weaving (successfully?) through the global disruption of COVID-19.

However, with that strong foundation, I do not believe the voice of Mangere or the Pacific is heard within the Labour Party as a whole. I believe that Aupito, as local MP, is greatly supported by the Greens voice pushing for greater social and environmental justice.

Locally I think more needs to be done around 1] protecting our land and sea and streams – an issue highlighted by the beam of hope – Ihumatao. 2] Creating housing for our people – accessible and appropriate. Not based on economic models which continue to disconnect and isolate people. 3] We need an economic model which celebrates and builds local resilience – especially our networks, our small businesses, and allows local solutions for local people. This means more local control over power, food, water, and decision making.

You are the only non-Pasifika candidate in Mangere. What support do you have in the Pasifika community?

Personally, I am proud to stand in Mangere and believe being Pakeha is, ironically, a strength. It is too stereotypical and simplistic to identify Mangere as ‘a Pasifika Community’. Mangere is in fact a city of many villages and communities. It is not a single spirit or mind. It has enormous resources and diversity that are being shut down because in a national and Auckland context it stands different. And in the midst of that I am one voice. Whether I have support from any of the communities will be up to them to say.

As an Anglican minister, how does Christianity fit with Green policies? Other parties (particularly New Conservatives) claim to represent “Christian” values such as opposition to abortion, LGBTI+ rights, etc. What is your response to them?

My understanding of Christianity has always placed me outside the institutional church in the borderlands, and sometimes ‘wasteland’. I have always stood for social justice and inclusion of the vulnerable. The Christian faith is as diverse as any other faith or belief system, and it is not exclusive. My belief as a Christian encourages me to, “act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” [Micah 6:8] Conservative beliefs seek to hold onto whatever truth they gather around. But it is not the only way of being a believer. My belief is based on walking with the lost, lonely and wounded and showing a vision of hope and future. [eg. Isaiah 65:17-26]

The Greens’ principles allow for me to be me, and walk with my faith…. and recognise both social responsibility and appropriate decision making. When applied to the ‘issues’ of abortion, LGBTI+ and the referendums on creating a framework for cannabis and ‘euthanasia’ my stand in support of these is based on a belief that 1] I will not block other people’s wellbeing, particularly if it does not personally impact on me; 2] I ensure that law is used for social justice not social control; and 3] I will ensure that those most vulnerable have a voice.

What is your vision for future Aotearoa New Zealand?

My vision of Aotearoa NZ is that of thriving, regenerative communities working together with people and planet to ensure the ongoing embracing of future generations. In placing that vision, I believe we need to make significant changes to our political and economic structures to enable this to become reality. The seeds of these changes are embedded in the living standards framework of the Labour Party and given voice in the vision and principles of the Green Party. Therefore, a party vote for Greens is an essential next step to move things along.

3. SUE BRADFORD, former Green Party MP and long-time ecosocialist, wrote an article in 2019 saying that she could not vote for the Green Party under the Shaw/Davidson leadership.

I am still not sure how I will vote in the Sept 2020 election. The step towards wealth taxes and a minimum income for some people was progressive, and may influence a decision on my part to vote Green.

But at the same time, the level at which they set the income was too low for survival and didn’t go as far as the Basic Income which I support (in a progressive form). Also, I don’t know what else may emerge (or not emerge) from the Greens between now and Sept 20. I know in the past things have come out at the last minute that have reshaped my voting decision.

I regret deeply that the Greens have become so firmly a party whose scope remains within a framework of what I’d call ‘greening capitalism’ rather than firmly exposing and moving – at least to some extent – beyond the confines of neoliberal capitalism. The party’s position in earlier years was more ambiguous, especially during the period when Rod Donald was co-leader.

At the same time, I agree with you that often enough it is important to support a party and/or candidate whose position is not what I’d call ‘radical left’, and in fact my whole twelve years as an active Green Party member, candidate and then MP were an example of my own willingness to compromise sufficiently to take part in parliamentary politics, because I thought it was important to try and shift the Greens – and the public discourse – to the left, on social, economic, Tiriti and ecological issues.

I believe it was worth the effort, in part because of the three private member’s bills I got through, but also because I was able to use the MP platform to amplify advocacy for the causes I most strongly advocate for, and for people whose interests are usually not strongly represented in Parliament.

The Green Party of that period (1998–2009) welcomed me as a member and – for the most part – supported me as candidate and MP, with the most significant internal support coming from Rod Donald and of course quite a few others within the party. Losing the co-leadership contest to Metiria Turei in 2009 revealed clearly how much support I, and the left wing of the party, had lost since Rod’s death at the end of 2005 – and how much the party had shifted to wanting to be a safe, non-radical, more centrist and even blue-leaning party on both social and environmental issues. Despite a staunch fight back in recent times from some great left people inside the party that shift to the ‘safe’ centre has just kept going since then, accentuated by James Shaw’s co-leadership.

While I know some people would see me as reformist for this, I continue to believe it is important to vote and to engage in other ways with parliamentary politics. If we want to build for transformational constitutional change alongside Māori, we need to build strength on the Pākehā/tauiwi side of politics to become partners with the strength inside and outside Parliament to achieve that change. The big problem I have at present is that there is no party in whose kaupapa I have enough belief to go out and say to others ‘vote for ‘x’ or ‘join ‘y’. At this stage I do not feel able to do that for the Greens or Labour much less anyone else, which is not to say I won’t vote – just that at this stage my voting decision remains uncertain, and may stay that way until the last moment.


[1]              https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/121694108/portrait-of-green-leader-james-shaw-labour-wasted-its-political-capital

Being kind? The Ardern government and COVID-19

Jacinda Ardern gives a COVID-19 briefing alongside NZ’s Director-General of Health, Ashley Bloomfield
by BRONWEN BEECHEY. From Fightback’s upcoming issue on Electoral Politics. To subscribe, please visit https://fightback.zoob.net/payment.html

Aotearoa New Zealand, and particularly its Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, has been widely praised in the media for its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The government announced a state of emergency and Alert Level Four – the highest on the COVID-19 alert system – on March 24, meaning that the country’s borders were closed to all but returning citizens, who are quarantined on arrival; schools and all non-essential businesses closed; and all workers other than those in essential services were required to work at home if possible. People were only able to leave home for essential trips (such as to supermarkets) or short walks.

The government’s “go hard, go early” strategy paid off in its aim of “flattening the curve” – ensuring that the coronavirus didn’t take hold in numbers that would overwhelm the health system. By the time the government announced that the country was moving to alert Level One on June 8, the total number of coronavirus cases stood at 1,504 with 22 deaths. All of the deaths were people over 60 with underlying health conditions, and linked to identified “clusters”, without any widespread community outbreaks. Up until August, the numbers of cases increased by only 64, all of those in returning New Zealanders who were in managed isolation.

The government’s strategy was effective in its messaging, explaining the science behind the strategy in relatable terms, popularising concepts like “bubbles” (a household or group within which people isolate, to avoid spreading the virus), urging people to “be kind” and stressing collectivity with terms like “the team of 5 million” (Aotearoa New Zealand’s population). Although police were given powers to enforce lockdown rules, the numbers of those deliberately breaking them were low. Obviously in a country made up of islands, and with a small population, the ability to keep COVID-19 numbers low was easier. But the basis for popular support for the lockdown was that the government made it clear that it valued the health of its people over calls to prioritise the economy.

Much of the praise of Ardern and the government is justified, although it has to be said that compared to the performance of other leaders such as Scott Morrison, Donald Trump and Boris Johnson, any reasonably competent response to the pandemic would look good. However, there are equally justifiable criticisms of the government response to COVID-19, the main one being that the existing deep inequalities in society are at least being maintained, and at worst being deepened.

These inequalities have existed since the colonisation of Aotearoa, despite popular beliefs that Aotearoa New Zealand is a bastion of equality. Despite the assurances of Te Tiriti o Waitangi (the Treaty of Waitangi) of 1840 that Māori would maintain their land and culture, Māori were systematically dispossessed of both, and despite long-standing resistance are still over-represented in statistics of poverty, ill-health and other indicators of deprivation. The British colonists imported a class system which was also able to use racism to allow Pākehā (New Zealanders of European descent) a relatively comfortable standard of living.

In the 1980s, the Labour government headed by David Lange adopted a neoliberal agenda, inspired by those of Thatcher and Reagan. Known as “Rogernomics” after its leading proponent, Finance Minister Roger Douglas, wide-ranging cuts were made to public services, government entities were privatised and workers’ rights attacked. These economically conservative measures were accompanied by social reforms, such as legalisation of homosexuality and the ban on nuclear-powered ships. The National Party government elected in 1990 continued these neoliberal policies and also slashed social welfare benefits and introduced fees for healthcare and tertiary education. The combination of neoliberal economic and socially progressive policies has continued since. As a result, New Zealand’s economy has depended on low wages and even lower benefits, creating a class of working poor that is predominantly made up of Māori, Pacific peoples and new migrants.

The government’s response to COVID-19 included a $12 billion package to support the economy, over half of which went to a wage subsidy scheme aimed at allowing COVID-19-affected businesses to retain staff. Under the scheme, eligible full-time workers receive up to $585 per week for 12 weeks, paid as a lump sum. However, the subsidy is paid to the employer to pass on to workers and a number of employers simply pocketed the subsidy for themselves. Other large companies, such as Air New Zealand, took the wage subsidy then made staff redundant anyway. Even if workers received the wage subsidy, the reduction in income meant that those on low wages struggled to meet rent or mortgage repayments and feed their families. Over the course of the lockdown, food banks reported demand soaring by up to 200 per cent.

Beneficiaries received an increase of $25 per week, which was not enough to bring them up to an adequate level. The government also introduced a higher rate of benefits for those who were made redundant due to COVID-19, a move widely criticised as creating a two-tier benefit system and reinforcing an ideology distinguishing the “deserving poor” from “bludgers”. As increasing numbers of New Zealanders returned from living overseas, and were quarantined at the expense of the government, a campaign led by the opposition National Party demanded that people returning to Aotearoa New Zealand pay for their stay in managed isolation. The government caved under pressure and initiated a managed isolation fee of $3,100 for an adult entering Aotearoa New Zealand for less than 90 days, with additional charges for extra adults and children over 3. The fee will also apply to temporary visa holders and any essential workers entering the country. While there are exemptions for those returning to go into isolation to care for sick relatives, and anyone returning to visit dying or sick relatives or attend funerals can apply for charges to be waived, the fees will make it impossible for those on low wages to return. It has also been suggested that charging Māori in particular to return to the country where they are recognised as the indigenous population is in breach of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

Left out of the “team of 5 million” altogether were the approximately 300,000 migrant workers  on temporary visas. Many of those workers lost jobs or had their hours substantially reduced, but were unable to apply for benefits. While the Social Security Act has provision for the Government to authorise the payment of emergency benefits in an epidemic, the Government refused to do so, despite extending temporary visas through the issue of an epidemic notice. Instead, migrants were told to seek help through their countries’ consulates, or from Civil Defence Emergency management groups. These could provide only minimal assistance. On June 16, the government announced a $37.6 million program, delivered by Red Cross, to assist those on temporary visas with basic food and accommodation.  However, the refusal of the government to grant emergency benefits despite having the power to do so can hardly be described as kind or compassionate.

Although a reasonable effort was made to house rough sleepers in motels, many families spent the lockdown in overcrowded, cold, damp homes. High rents and decades of neglecting or selling of public housing have created a housing crisis. These conditions help coronavirus and other illnesses to spread. At the time of writing, Aotearoa New Zealand has re-entered partial lockdown, following an outbreak of COVID-19 originating in South Auckland, an area which has a high proportion of Māori, Pacific peoples and migrant families on low incomes or benefits who live in substandard, crowded housing. While inequality continues to exist, these outbreaks are likely to continue.

The success of the government’s COVID-19 strategy was not just because of its messaging and calls to “be kind”, but because ordinary people took action to look out for their neighbours, help distribute food parcels, do shopping for those unable to leave home, or just stayed home in their “bubble” and stopped the virus from spreading. There was also proactive action from a number of remote Māori communities who set up roadblocks to ensure that the virus did not get brought into their areas. Of course, many essential workers including health workers, aged carers, supermarket workers, warehouse workers, courier drivers and others are on low wages and struggling to pay rents and mortgages. While it seems likely that Labour will win the upcoming election with enough votes to allow it to govern alone, those who have made sacrifices to keep the pandemic from creating the devastation seen in other countries will be expecting Labour to use its majority to reward them for their contribution.

“Lawmakers, not lawbreakers”: Jacindamania as a bastion of the Third Way

by ANI WHITE. From Fightback‘s upcoming issue on Electoral Politics. To subscribe, please visit https://fightback.zoob.net/payment.html
(L) New Zealand’s kind, empathetic Prime Minister; (R) the Green Party co-leader she “threw under the bus” on her way up

For progressives around the world, Jacinda Ardern’s Sixth Labour government is seen as a bastion. However, this perceived beacon of light is in large part an index of the darkness that has taken hold internationally. In a world where a man like Donald Trump can hold the presidency, the bar is low enough for a minimally competent leader and government to appear exceptional.

It’s also obviously the case that Ardern’s Labour is preferable to the opposition National Party, especially with Judith Collins taking over leadership from the right of the party. To quote Marxist Hal Draper’s classic text on lesser evilism:

What the classic case [Hitler vs von Hindenburg in the 1932 German presidential election] teaches is not that the Lesser Evil is the same as the Greater Evil – this is just as nonsensical as the liberals argue it to be but rather this: that you can’t fight the victory of the rightmost forces by sacrificing your own independent strength to support elements just the next step away from them.[1]

Ardern’s personality is undoubtedly a factor in her appeal, as indicated by the term ‘Jacindamania.’ Yet politically, Ardern represents a form of centrist politics that has failed to address the challenges of our time. Early in her political career, Ardern worked for Tony Blair’s Cabinet Office, and this set the tone for her career. Ardern names her favourite election as the 2005 re-election of the Fifth Labour government, while also naming the 2008 election of Obama as a highlight.[2] Her government echoes the Third Way philosophy that predominated 20 years ago, but has gone into decline with the rise of right-wing populism. Although Third Way politics may be preferable to Trumpism, this is a low bar – it remains grossly inadequate to address contemporary challenges such as climate change and inequality.

This article will focus on how the coalition government has handled four key issues: climate change (with the Zero Carbon Act), indigenous sovereignty (particularly the Ihumātao struggle), welfare, and the March 15th Christchurch terrorist attack. You can find analysis of the government’s handling of COVID here.

Zero Carbon Act

In November 2019, the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Act, or simply Zero Carbon Act passed with near-unanimous support. This established a new Climate Change Commission, a quasi-independent advisory body. Although hailed as a ‘historic achievement’, the Act was fundamentally compromised.

The coalition government could have passed this bill alone, yet decided to seek bipartisan consensus. The opposition National Party successfully demanded many changes to the bill. This was reminiscent of the Obama government seeking a bipartisan consensus on healthcare, despite having a majority at the time.

The resulting Act was as compromised as you’d expect from a process that actively sought the input of forces hostile to meaningful change. Methane targets were unchanged, binding legal deterrents were not imposed, the date for the emissions target stayed the same, no explicit commitment was made to divest from oil and gas, and key industries were exempted.[3] The apparently positive changes – tighter regulation of carbon offsetting, and of offshore mitigation – embedded the ‘emissions trading’ approach to climate policy, which has created a new market and had little-to-no impact on emissions. Additionally, the new commission is entirely an advisory body, without teeth. Nothing is binding.

Ultimately, the Zero Carbon Act was a symbolic commitment, by a government unwilling to pursue the kind of confrontation with extractive capital which is necessary to prevent the impending climate catastrophe.

Ihumātao

The struggle over Ihumātao is a perfect example of Jacinda Ardern’s fence-sitting on contentious issues. Ihumātao is a site of historic significance for Māori, which was confiscated in 1863, and purchased by Fletcher Building to construct private housing in 2014. Fletcher Building’s purchasing of the land set off a struggle by local Māori to reclaim Ihumātao, which escalated into a mass struggle in mid-2019, as protestors clashed with police.

The government has been slow to intervene, initially taking the stance that the matter should be privately resolved, then moving to compensate Fletchers after significant public pressure. Rumours indicate that Fletchers will be compensated at a greater rate than they purchased the land for, allowing them to still profit from attempting to expropriate Māori land. Ardern refused to comment on reports of a potential loan of around $40 million for Auckland Council to purchase the land.[4]

Ihumātao activists made the moderate demand that Ardern simply visit the site. In August 2019, around 300 people participated in a hikoi (march) to Ardern’s office to deliver a petition with 26,000 signatures demanding Ardern visit the site. Despite advance notice, Ardern was not present to receive the petition.[5]

Ardern’s statements on the topic have been fuzzy and ill-defined. In August 2019, she commented: “On issues like Ihumātao, the difficult issues, the hard issues, we will be there, we are there in those conversations.” This fairly empty phrase came after months of refusing to take any explicit position on the issue. Iwi leader Che Wilson criticised Ardern’s lack of action or political commitment: “You asked us to keep you to account at Waitangi this year. But every big issue with regard to Māori, it appears that you hide away.”[6]

Ardern has said she will not visit Ihumātao until the struggle has reached a resolution.[7] Negotiations are ongoing.

Welfare

In the 2017 General Election, Green co-leader Metiria Turei admitted that as a single mother on a benefit, she had lied to Work and Income New Zealand (WINZ) to get additional money to cover expenses. This set off a vicious right-wing smear campaign that resulted in Turei stepping down. Ardern’s response reinforced the smear campaign: “When you’re lawmakers, you can’t condone lawbreaking.”[8] This set the tone for her government’s welfare policies.

In a press release in response to the Ardern government’s 2020 budget, welfare advocacy group Auckland Action Against Poverty said the following:

The Government’s 2020 well-being budget continues to fail low-income people, families and communities with the lack of investment in support for people receiving benefits. It contains no additional increases to core benefits outside of the indexation changes and we keep condemning hundreds of thousands of people to live below the poverty line.

People should not have to rely on charities or food grants to survive. The $25 increase to benefit levels earlier this year has not reduced the need for food grants from Work and Income. The increased pressure on Work and Income staff because of rising unemployment due to Covid-19 will make it more difficult for people to access hardship assistance.

The Ministry of Social Development is preparing for up to an extra 300,000 people to apply for a benefit in the coming months which means a huge proportion of our population will be living in poverty. The Government could alleviate the pressure on low-income communities as well as Work and Income by lifting benefits to liveable levels and let Work and Income staff focus on pastoral support, instead of processing food grants.

We are living in unprecedented times, which we know requires a response which is unprecedented. Too many families have been living in poverty for decades, and this budget further ignores the systemic changes required to change that for communities.

While people’s employment status shouldn’t determine their right to a life with dignity, we are worried that there are no guarantees by Government to ensure jobs created as part of this budget provide a living wage and decent working conditions. People should not be forced into employment that does not allow them to make ends meet.

We welcome the investment into Māori housing initiatives such as He Kūkū Ki Te Kāinga and He Taupua, but the bulk of the funding pales in comparison to community housing and transitional housing initiatives. We are calling on the Government to direct more funding into hapu and iwi led housing initiatives and return confiscated Crown land.

Despite the additional funding in public housing, the Government is accepting it will not be able to house all of the people on the social housing waiting list over the next few years. The additional funding for state homes won’t cover the burgeoning state housing waiting list, meaning families will still be homeless or struggling to make ends meet in private rentals.

We are disappointed no changes have been made to our tax system. This was an opportunity to introduce taxes on wealth and speculative transactions so that the wealthy few pay their fair share and the tax burden does not fall on low-income communities in the form of regressive taxes.

The Government has the resources to ensure that everybody has enough food on the table, access to housing, and public services. Given the circumstances of Covid-19 and against the backdrop of the climate crisis, this was an opportunity for us to be courageous and truly transformative as a way forward for all of us.[9]

The government’s decision to increase the benefits of the newly unemployed, while keeping those on existing benefits below the poverty line, was also condemned by AAAP as creating a two-tier welfare system.[10]

March 15th 2019 Christchurch terror attack

Jacinda Ardern was praised internationally for her response to the Christchurch terror attack, in which a far right gunman killed 50 people at two mosques. Prior to that point, New Zealand governments were complacent about the far right. In the wake of 9/11, the Fifth Labour government oversaw an expansion of ‘anti-terrorist’ powers that surveilled everyone but the far right – particularly Māori, leftists, Muslims, animal rights groups, and environmentalists.[11]

In the wake of the attack, many praised Ardern’s compassion, and images of her wearing a headscarf at the funeral for the victims became internationally iconic. Yet this is another sign of how low the bar is internationally for political leaders – simply respecting customs at a funeral is now worthy of praise. It’s also indicative of the way praise for Ardern has often centred on personality rather than policy.

Ardern’s government passed gun control legislation in the wake of the massacre – but also armed the police. Immediately after the attack, armed police became routinely visible.[12] The government then launched an official trial of armed police from October 2019 to April 2020. Māori and criminal justice advocates criticised this: even prior to the trial, two thirds of those shot by police were Māori and Pacific peoples, and Māori were not consulted.[13] Police shootings quickly became a regular occurrence, and three officers were charged with homicide.[14] The trial ended as a result of public pressure,[15] which amplified as the US Black Lives Matter movement triggered thousands to march against racism and police violence in Aotearoa/New Zealand.[16]

As with COVID-19, the fact that the government’s initial response to the attack involved increasing police powers indicates their ultimate class allegiance.

Conclusion

Ardern’s Labour Government is a competent manager of capitalism. Yet on policy issues, the government is defined by half-measures and empty symbolic commitments. For better or worse, Aotearoa/New Zealand is a bastion of centrist stability in a polarising world.


[1]              Hal Draper, “Who’s going to be the lesser-evil in 1968?”, January 1967, Marxists Internet Archive: tinyurl.com/lesser-evil

[2]              Adam Dudding, “Jacinda Ardern: I didn’t want to work for Tony Blair”, 27 August 2017, Stuff: tinyurl.com/jacinda-blair

[3]              Josie Adams, “How much did they listen? Here’s what just happened to the Zero Carbon Bill”, 24 October 2019, The Spinoff: tinyurl.com/labour-zerocarbon

[4]              Michael Neilson, “Ihumātao: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern refuses to discuss speculation of Government loan”, 28 January 2020, NZ Herald: tinyurl.com/jacinda-40m

[5]              Murphy, “Recap: Hīkoi from Ihumātao to PM’s office”, 22 August 2019, Radio New Zealand: tinyurl.com/jacinda-petition

[6]              Scott Palmer, “We will be there: Jacinda Ardern speaks out at Ihumātao”, 20 August 2019, Newshub: tinyurl.com/jacinda-hides

[7]              Radio New Zealand, “Jacinda Ardern ‘will visit Ihumātao … it’s just a matter of timing’”, 23 August 2019, Radio New Zealand: tinyurl.com/jacinda-visit

[8]              Dan Satherly, “‘You can’t condone lawbreaking’ – Jacinda Ardern to Metiria Turei”, 28 July 2017, Newshub: tinyurl.com/ardern-lawbreaking

[9]              AAAP, “The Government’s 2020 Well-being Budget Continues To Fail Our Unemployed”, 14 May 2020, Scoop: tinyurl.com/aaap-2020budget

[10]             AAAP, “Govt Income Relief Payment Creating Two-tiers Of Unemployed”, 25 May 2020, Scoop: tinyurl.com/aaap-twotier

[11]             Eleanor Ainge Roy and Michael McGowan, “New Zealand asks: how was the threat from the far right missed?” 20 March 2019, The Guardian: tinyurl.com/far-right-threat-nz

[12]             Lana Hart, “There’s no justification for police having guns after March 15”, 24 February 2020, Stuff: tinyurl.com/armed-police

[13]             Michael Neilson, Armed Response Teams trial: Police warned not consulting Māori could have ‘severe’ consequence, 29 May 2020, NZ Herald: tinyurl.com/trial-racism

[14]             People Against Prisons Aotearoa, “Police Homicide Confirms Fears Of Armed Police Patrols”, 2 June 2020, Scoop: tinyurl.com/police-homicide

[15]             Phil Taylor, “New Zealand drops armed police trial after public concern”, 9 June 2020, The Guardian: tinyurl.com/trial-ends

[16]             Radio New Zealand, “Thousands of Nzers march for Black Lives Matter”, 14 June 2020, Radio New Zealand: tinyurl.com/blm-nz

Death Star PR: Is all corporate media propaganda?

This article was published in Fightback’s Media Issue. Subscribe to the magazine here. NOTE: During lockdown, we may only be able to send out the e-publication.

This is an abridged transcription from an episode of the politics and pop-culture podcast Where’s My Jetpack: jetpack.zoob.net.

The episode was originally released on the 19th of August, 2019.

Transcribed by TripleA Transcription, with corrections and abridgement by Ani White.

Ani: Kia ora comrades, welcome to Where’s My Jetpack, a politics and pop culture podcast with sci-fi and socialist leanings. I’m Ani White and we’re on the line to my unfairly hot cohost Derek Johnson.

Derek: Thanks, Ani. This week we’re discussing the topic Death Star PR: Is all corporate media propaganda… We’ll be discussing the Herman and Chomsky propaganda model in corporate media. So first I’ll be introducing the propaganda model and then Ani will address some limitations to the model. According to Chomsky, media operate through five filters: ownership, advertising, the media elite, flak, and the common enemy.

So what is meant under ownership, which is the first filter, is that mass media firms, which are big corporations, often they are part of even bigger corporations. and their endgame is profit. And so it’s in their interest to push for whatever guarantees that profit. And naturally critical journalism must take second place to the needs and interests of said corporations.

The second filter is advertising, and it exposes the real role of advertising. Media costs a lot more than consumers will ever pay so advertisers fill the gap. So naturally what are advertisers paying for audiences and so it isn’t so much that the media are selling your product, their output, they are also selling advertisers a product namely you.

The third filter is [the media elite], the establishment manages the media through this filter. Journalism cannot be a check on power because the very system encourages complicity. Governments, corporations, big institutions know how to play the media game. They know how to influence the news narrative. They feed media scoops official accounts interviews with “experts” and they make themselves crucial to the process of journalism. So those in power and those who report on them are in bed with each other.

So after the media elite we have flak. If you want to challenge power you’ll be pushed to the margins. When the media, journalists, whistleblowers, sources stray away from the consensus they get what is known as flak. This is the fourth filter. When the story is inconvenient to the powers that be you’ll see the flak machine in action discrediting sources, trashing stories, and diverting the conversation.

To manufacture consent you need an enemy, a target. That common enemy is the fifth filter. Communism, socialism, terrorists, immigrants, Muslims at this point are common enemy, a boogieman to fear, helps corral public opinion.

Ani: Yeah. So I find that model is quite useful in a number of ways. It describes a number mechanisms that do take place absolutely in corporate news media but I do think it has some limitations, some tensions, and to illustrate one of those tensions [you have a show like The Simpsons]… the entertainment arm [Fox Entertainment] was directly mocking and attacking the politics of the news arm [Fox News]. And the propaganda model was primarily developed for news, so particularly if you’re going to apply it too non-news media, like fiction media, propaganda implies that people are consciously setting out to promote an ideology. It doesn’t just mean that there’s ideology, it means that they’re consciously setting out to promote it. And for example, I don’t think that the producers of Dumb and Dumber had any particular ideology that they wish to promote. I think they want to make money. It’s certainly not in any way subversive. My point is that the primary purpose of corporate media is making money. You can get subversive messages through because they can still make money… [with The Simpsons] the writers were surprised at how little interference they got. For example, the Frank Grimes episode or the episode with the strike action, they didn’t get interference. And that makes sense because why would the producers care, if they are making millions of dollars, if somebody on a TV show said something mean about them. So the primary purpose isn’t to convince people of the greatness of capitalism, it’s to make money. So that does mean some of the subversive messages can get through, but only to the extent that they’re profitable and also only to the extent that people don’t act on them. So with the example of the strike episode in The Simpsons… it relatively sympathetically depicts the strike action, like it kind of makes fun of the union but in general it is sympathetic. But if the writers go on strike, Fox isn’t exactly a fan of that. So [the] concept of repressive tolerance is useful to me, which means that basically in theory you can say anything, which includes sort of racist and oppressive things as well, but in terms of radical ideas, you can’t act on those ideas. And I think that’s important because that’s a different mode of power from purely propaganda. It’s still a power structure and a class structure, but it’s not always simply propaganda. It is just a more sophisticated mode of power. And the propaganda model points out some mechanisms that do occur but it’s not a complete theory of ideology, or a complete theory of media…

I think Fox News is kind of a paradigmatic example of the propaganda model. At Fox News you can constantly see all of these filters really clearly and obviously in the evidence. The constant construction of enemies, constant flak, the flak that socialists will get for example. But one thing to consider there is that Fox News is barely considered news. It is a good example in the sense that there’s a large enough audience that thinks of it as news, that it still socially functions as news, but for example in Canada [Fox News] shows are run with a disclaimer that they’re not actually news shows. So there’s a certain standard of journalism that’s expected even in bourgeois and corporate journalism which Fox doesn’t meet. So that’s a caveat, that lying is not generally considered a good practice… it does absolutely happen. I mean, the Iraq War example, even though it occurred well after the propaganda model was developed, it’s actually another paradigmatic example of the propaganda model where basically the press and particularly in the US just directly reproduced lies, and did not in any way investigate or criticize them.

[But] my problem is that people don’t distinguish very well, so people will basically argue that the coverage of Syria is exactly analogous to the coverage of Iraq in 2003, and I don’t think that’s true. There have really been no obvious lies on the level of, for example, Saddam Hussein’s links to Al-Qaeda, which was a bizarre nonsense and it was really obviously bizarre nonsense at the time to be honest. Whereas in the case of Syria it is true that Assad is flattening neighborhoods. That’s not just something Obama came up with. You can say… that certain things will be emphasized, it’s not necessarily that the press lies, but they will report on things that they consider important, and ignore things they don’t consider important, and that’s always a necessary process in any kind of coverage. There will be some kind of filtering but it doesn’t mean it’s lies. And there’s this populist mood out there that if you post something from any source that isn’t Russia Today people will say, “Well, that’s just propaganda.” And it’s this kind of populist kind of radical skepticism that is actually really edging into just anti-science conspiracy theory.

Derek: Yeah. It’s very very vaxxer, very QAnon territory. Yeah.

Ani: Yeah. You can’t just learn from things that confirm your preconceptions, because actually in that case you’re not learning at all. You need to be willing to look at a source and say, “Okay, I don’t actually agree with the editorial line of the source. My politics are not in line with those of New York Times or the Washington Post but I can’t really learn about the world without engaging with the work of people who I disagree with. And I certainly can’t learn about the world by denying all sources that aren’t my particular variety of communist.” And that’s not necessarily what Chomsky and Herman are arguing for but it is a populist mood, that their argument if put forward in a non-nuanced way icould play into.

Derek: …[W]e’ve kind of gone from a period where we had independent media and the Indymedia media period of the late ‘90s early aughts, that collapsed because of lack of funding, lack of money, and in some places like in Germany and on the West Coast here the FBI raided the info shops and Indymedia in Seattle and other places. And in this vacuum conspiracy theorists, people with various ideologies and motives whether it’s pro-Russia, pro-Putin, pro-this or that, or campists, or fascists, or whoever, they’ve come in, they’ve used this realistic skepticism you should have of the mainstream capitalist media and they’ve made it, flattened it so that you have skepticism of everything. And then when you’re told something true by CNN or BCC or the New York Times or whoever, now all of a sudden you treat that as a conspiracy and propaganda, and you don’t believe anything. But now conspiracy theorists treat it with the same level of seriousness as facts and science and news. And it’s not coincidental, we’ve seen how this model was played out in Russia, and under other authoritarian regimes, of pushing this idea that there is no truth to be gained from the media and that it’s all lies, it’s all fake news and that you can’t trust reality at any point. And this is an engineered process and we kind of see where this metastasizes by the time you get to Trump’s supporters and QAnon people, and people who will just not believe any true things that they hear, and just treat it all as lies and propaganda. And you’re seeing how the Trump administration has weaponised that thinking. We’ve seen how it’s been used to discredit even independent media, at this point, Real News, Democracy Now!, all of these independent sources have been completely discredited for not having enough scrutiny. CounterVortex has written about this very well. Eric Draitser has written about it very well over at CounterPunch. Even though CounterPunch I would say has some problems as well but…

Ani: Yeah, definitely. They do have some good material though.

Derek: I know Daphne Lawless has written about this very well. Alexander Reid Ross has written about this very well, and there’s been studies over at University of Washington, about how there is this ecosystem of independent blogs and news sources and pages, that have a lot of connections to a lot of right wing politics, and a lot of conspiracy theories, and to either the Russian government of whoever. And we’ve seen how right wing state propaganda from Russia and other countries goes through that filter, to the left and then you see people on the Green Party, and liberals and others, parroting the same stuff you hear people on the right.. when it comes to either Syria or Assad.

Ani: Yeah… A lot of people who wouldn’t buy into flat Earthism, or antivaxx, but then buy into things with the same level of rigour regarding Syria. So a good example would be Chris Trotter who’s New Zealand’s most prominent supposedly left commentator, on New Zealand’s most prominent left blog, the Daily Blog, saying that the CIA was arming the rebels in 2011, which is nonsense because it wasn’t an armed struggle in 2011, let alone one armed by the CIA, and the CIA didn’t get involved until about 2013, 2014. Now, that can just pass by, nobody cares. It’s a complete and utter fabrication, but a lot of people are perfectly comfortable with that because it’s Syria.

Derek: Yeah. And I would also say people are turning it around now and they’re saying “don’t trust CNN, don’t trust MSNBC, or the New York Times, or whoever because they’re owned by corporations but it’s okay to listen to state-owned media when they’re owned by dictatorships.” Because it took so long to get people to have a more radical view of the news media, and then go from that to then everybody can have a blog and there’s independent media sources, that maybe aren’t under the same control of the news networks, or don’t have the same biases. For instance, Israel. The whole Israeli-Palestinian subject shackles all of our media. I mean, you can get something like Democracy Now! or Real News or somebody or the Nation, or somebody to be really honest about that subject, in ways that the rest of our media cannot be.

Ani: Yeah. Those mechanisms are real. I mean, a great example is that backlash against, Trump’s called them ‘The Squad’ [US Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib], the flak against ‘The Squad’, is a perfect example of-

Derek: The four congresswomen. Yes.

Ani: Not being a Democrat at all I can’t help but feel a lot of sympathy for them. Politically, I’m feeling very conflicted, because I like them so much. Point being, they’re getting flak. They are also an example of the common enemy, so these mechanisms are occurring on ongoing basis.

Derek: Oh yeah. It’s being done on a fascist level, yeah. Attacking them as being un-American for their race. We have a fascist president in this country, who’s going to run on open white supremacy. And now we’re seeing how Ted Cruz and another senator tried to put up a motion in the senate to have Antifa recognized as a domestic terrorist organization…

Ani: Yeah. And I mean, the question of the complicity of the media there is interesting, because obviously Fox is fully onboard with it.

Derek: Well they gave him free media time to run for president. He got billions of dollars’ worth free media time to run for president because they thought it was a lark, and they thought it was cute that this racist billionaire was running for president.

Ani: Yeah, and there’s the thing. It’s the liberal sources that enable him in a way. So at the time, 2016, I was actually running a class on News Media and actually a surprising amount of people in my class were saying that they viewed the press as biased against Trump. And I gave an example from, it was MSCNBC, which was about the coverage of the disruption of a Trump rally, and I pointed out the chronology of their reportage, and what I pointed out is that you heard from Trump first and often, and his supporters first and often, and it wasn’t until maybe the next day that they actually interviewed one of the organisers of the disruption. So I don’t think MSNBC, I don’t think that was because they’re consciously sympathetic to Trump. It’s a matter of what you could call source dependency. Trump was the official source. Some random, probably communist, community organiser is not an official source. So Trump says these sensationalist things, which are news-worthy, and so a press can enable that, without necessarily being politically sympathetic to Trump.

Derek: And they don’t understand how fascists function, and that a fascist will say and do anything, and contradict themselves and lie at any moment…

Ani: Yeah. And I do suspect that while Fox will very openly and happily jump on this opportunity, the issue of liberals, people like Rachel Maddow, MSNBC, CNN, that kind of area, they will play into the civility narrative.

Derek: Respectability politics etc.

Ani: Yeah. So if this idea of criminalising Antifa is not just a passing brain fart, and we can hope it’s just a passing brain fart. If it isn’t then they may well enable it.

Derek: Well, the idea that all this violence was happening, and all these people were being violently attacked and stabbed and shot, but the second milkshakes were thrown, all of a sudden there was attention? That speaks to something.

Ani: So, I just wanted to move on to another point about limitations of the propaganda model. Which that it doesn’t really address, and it doesn’t even seek to address, the question of whether propaganda works, whether people are essentially brainwashed. An example being the popularity of socialism among millennials, a generation that’s been raised in a thoroughly antisocialist ideological environment. So in Media Studies there was kind of a move away from emphasis on propaganda. mostly because of a look at audiences, and I guess the crucial thing about audiences is that they bring their own experiences and knowledge. So for example, me watching a Donald Trump rally, I already have my own kind of preconceptions, my own experience, my own reading that I’m bringing to this. And what audience study has tended to find is basically that, media isn’t good at telling people what to think, but it’s good at telling people what to think about or talk about. So for example, if Trump is in the news whether you’re a communist, a fascist, a liberal, whether you think you’re apolitical, you’ll probably be thinking and talking about Trump. And you’ll bring your own experiences and knowledge to bear in understanding what’s happening with Trump, but you are likely to be influenced by what is being covered. So that’s called Agenda Setting is the term for that, which is that the press is good at setting the agenda for what’s talked about. It doesn’t necessarily directly tell people what to think, kind of thing. And that is something I think we need to be somewhat resistant to… seek out things that maybe aren’t being force-fed to you, share information. On the left in particular, we’re internationalists, which means we need to be talking about things other than the US and the UK, so share information and seek out information. Point being, don’t let the press set the agenda all the time, and that also means we need our own media to a certain degree, as well.

Derek: Yeah. And that’s what I was speaking to earlier is that we kind of were going in that direction and that movement stalled and failed and now the skeleton of Indymedia has now been taken over by negative forces, to be used to as propaganda against us. And I would say that, yeah, propaganda is about… reinforcing ideas or reinforcing confirmation bias. I think it’s a misreading of the function of propaganda, or how psychology works, to think that ideas are just deposited in human heads, and then people are brainwashed, because brainwashing technically does not exist as a concept, and it’s more about persuasion. And even that, measuring the success of propaganda isn’t necessarily based on, how successful were you at persuading X amount of people. I think it’s just more about putting out your version of events as the official line, as the official story that drowns out other analysis. Cause like the best propaganda is telling the truth, but adding maybe one or two little lies in there. People often think that propaganda means it’s automatically false, or that you’re being told false things by the government, and that’s obviously not the case.

Ani: Yeah. Like it might just be a matter of quoting one person and not quoting another person. Your quoting of that person isn’t a lie, but the fact that you chose to quote that person and not another person is obviously going to affect things. So it is a matter of what truth you choose to tell. And I agree, the propaganda model isn’t discredited by the fact that audiences have the capacity for critical thought basically. But part of my point is, not necessarily that the model is wrong, but that on its own without some additional work it, can feed into some kind of populist ideas. We also can’t completely disconnect the propaganda model from Herman and Chomsky’s apologetics for certain regimes. I’m thinking of Chomsky’s apologetics for the Pol Pot regime.

Derek: Yeah. And there’s also other criticisms of Chomsky’s readings of events. The Sbrenica attack in Bosnia, and a lot of people have criticised him, his writing on that. And more recently was the gassings in two different towns in Syria, by the Assad regime, and that’s when we saw a crossover from people being critical of what they hear, or thinking oh this is regime change propaganda, to full-on Sandy Hook trutherism, where suddenly people on the left were saying… human rights groups like the White Helmets were faking bombings, or they were faking the rescues and pulling people out rubble, it was all actors and sounding not dissimilar from Alex Jones. And Chomsky repeated without question, Postill’s writing on those attacks, and Postill was taken in by a propagandist for Russia, that I believe lives in Australia, Syrian Girl who was a Nazi-connected person.

Ani: Right. Yeah. Yeah.

Derek: And there was no critical assessment of that, because basically what happens is this critique becomes only about focusing on, how do these events reported implicate America.

Ani: Exactly.

Derek: Not where does the truth fall based on the information that comes out. And I find that very strange as somebody who, you really can’t question me on my dispassion and hatred for this country, and any other nation state in this world, but I can see when things are actually not the fault of American imperialism, or the fault of America, and I would not stretch my analysis to blame things that have nothing to do with America to be America’s fault. So I just find that strange, me personally, that people find themselves in that position, and it’s kind of a Cold War mentality and a campist mentality.

Ani: Yeah. I think not everything is about the US. The US isn’t the only evil in the world, and the official account also it isn’t always wrong. I think 9-11 is a perfect example of that. I mean, again a lot of people who wouldn’t buy into 9-11 Truth will buy into actually similar bullshit, but 9-11 is clearly a case where there are other evils in the world. And radical skepticism of the official account isn’t always progressive. It can be very regressive in many ways.

Derek: It could be hijacked for other purposes. And I would recommend as well Adam Curtis’ documentary, the last one that he did.

Ani: HyperNormalisation?

Derek: Yes.

Ani: I actually didn’t like that.

Derek: The last part he did there on Russia, which is very interesting because he’s very doubtful of any of the connections between Trump and Russia. And he’s a Russiagate skeptic, which is very strange given the part about Putin and Trump that he did in that documentary.

Ani: Yeah. Which pretty much exactly about that strategy you’re right.

Derek: Yeah. The point I was going to make is that that propaganda strategy, described in HyperNormalisation, used by Alexander Dugin in Russia and other propagandists. Basically the point is, it’s not that they’re trying to convince you with the propaganda, it’s to overwhelm you with as much bullshit all at once, that you cannot accurately gauge what is reality. And when you cannot understand what’s reality, how can you be an informed citizen in a liberal democracy? And that is the whole point, that Alexander Dugin was trying to do, because he’s trying to radically undermine liberal democracy, because he’s a fascist, neo-fascist, and this is very useful propaganda for any kind of administration, and any kind of regime, where you have this kind of reality management.

Ani: So yeah, radical skepticism. It needs to be about, learning about the world… that means learning from things that we don’t agree with. I mean, Karl Marx engaged a lot with bourgeois writers, and sometimes he was more supportive of things and bourgeois writing than he was of certain socialist arguments. So, particularly. I’m obviously thinking how his take on bourgeois political economy where, he found a lot of value in bourgeois political economy which other socialists hadn’t. Now obviously he critiqued it, and turned it into something entirely new. I’m saying we should do our own independent analysis absolutely, but not just saying, “Well, that’s the Washington Post. It’s a bourgeois source so it’s obviously lies. I don’t even need to read it.” Which is a very common attitude that I see around right now.

Derek: Yeah. And I would say if you have that same skepticism, why don’t you have that same skepticism about RT?

Ani: Yeah, or any, CounterPunch, what’s Greenwald’s one? The Intercept.

Derek: Yeah. They’re pretty good in spite of him sometimes.

Ani: Yeah. But there’s this weird inconsistency, with for example Reality Winner, who was a whistleblower on Russiagate, who as far as I know is still in prison for that. She pointed out interference in the voting machines. So The Intercept ran that story, and it’s been said that they basically let her go to the wall, I’m not clear on that, whether they did intentionally let her go to the wall, I honestly can’t make a solid claim on that. But it’s certainly the case she’s been completely ignored.

Derek: Yeah, that is 100% provable.

Ani: Yeah. And so there’s all these other whistleblowers who get endlessly romanticised. I mean, Assange who, yes, I think WikiLeaks did some good work but Assange is a total scumbag, he gets so much attention and so much defence. And then you got Reality Winner ho’s in prison and people just…nobody’s heard of her.

Derek: But I would imagine too though the connection is… like you’re saying is that the reason why Assange is still romanticized and why Reality Winner is ignored, is because she proved that there was Russian interference. And that goes against the popular narrative that has colonised a lot of the left in this country, to the point where we have a pro-Trump sector of the left,left media anyway, as exemplified by Greenwald and others. Where they’re actively defending Trump’s regime, and they’re actively defending him against impeachment, and they’ve completely lied about the outcome of the Mueller Report, and have totally parrotted Will Barr’s assessment. And now that that’s been disproven, that he was lying, nobody’s retracted on that, but all of those people, all of those writers, have demanded the head of Rachel Maddow, and anybody who reported on so called Russiagate.

Ani: And you’ve got Greenwald going on Fox News. Now if we’re going to talk about propaganda, right wing propaganda, again Fox News is the paradigmatic example. And you’ve got Greenwald going on there to basically say, “Well, the deep state is conspiring against Trump.” How can anyone on the left take him seriously at that point? To me, that’s a complete capitulation. People can’t conceive of, maybe learning something about Syria, but they’ll support somebody who goes on Fox News to defend the president of the United States of America.

Derek: …Nobody’s copped to it. When it was proven that those chemical attacks in Syria were not done by the rebels, and it was not a rebel stronghold, holding chlorine gas or something, that got bombed by the heroic Assad regime. Nobody issued any take-backs. Nobody said, “Hey, we were wrong, it turns out Assad did do those chemical attacks.”

Ani: [Robert Fisk rightly criticised] journalists embedded in the Iraq War. who went around with US troops who would show them what they wanted to show them, he was right to say that but he’s doing the same thing now with the Assad regime. His reportage on Syria is all guided by the Assad regime. He’s an embedded journalist, and embedded journalist sounds very objective, but it’s not because you’re embedded with basically one group or another, and in his case he’s embedded with regime forces. So when he speaks to some random guy who says, “Well, the chemical weapons attacks were faked,” he’s speaking to some random guy while on a regime tour, and then people will endlessly repost that article and ignore UN research.

Derek: So does propaganda work? It’s all over the place on that one. And as it’s been pointed out, like if advertising didn’t work they wouldn’t spend billions of dollars on Madison Avenue.

Ani: It’s easier to get people to part with their money, than to get people to fully subscribe to a political party or what have you. I mean, that’s the commonality of capitalist media, is that it’s capitalist media.

Derek: Yeah. And you know what’s funny about that, was how the media warned us about Trump in popular culture. Like in Back to the Future 2, Gremlins 2, Super Mario Brothers, and even the unfilmed Ghostbusters 3 had a villain based on Trump, and Dinosaurs.

Ani: So there’s certain amount of license artists have, particularly in comedy, particularly in satire, and particularly if it’s profitable. And there was a quote from Joss Whedon, I know he’s cancelled, but it’s an interesting quote, about basically what it’s like to work as a subversive artist in corporate media. Because, I would say shows like Buffy and Dollhouse and Firefly have dealt with some pretty interesting themes, considering again they were produced by Fox… This quote came during the production of Dollhouse, an interesting thing to note there is the production of Dollhouse was shut down for the writers’ strike, and that Mutant Enemy, Joss Whedon’s company, they ran a picket line so they were relatively a militant group, which interesting because some of them were libertarians. But anyway, this quote is kind of about dealing with subversive themes while being in a corporate media company.

Derek: In his quote he said, “Have you been in America? I like to consider myself a documentarian. The entire structure is designed to mess with your minds, to combine selling you things with entertaining you, to keep you in line, to make you think that you need the things they want you to need, and to stay away from the things that they want to stay away from, to keep them in power, to share none of it. This is all happening. There are lights in the darkness. The art we get to create because our powerful patrons letters is one of them. But sometimes, yeah, it’s like running the daycare on the Death Star.”

Ani: So, what is to be done? As I said, even where you can get subversive message into corporate media, it’s still limited to its acquisition of exchange value. So put simply, if it doesn’t make money it’s cancelled, as Whedon discovered with Firefly and Dollhouse. So, for that reason we need both publicly funded media, but also and for revolutionary leftists more importantly, our own independent media. Traditionally you have the papers, the newspapers, of the communist or socialist parties. Obviously now, we’re moving into more of a digital age, there may be still some place for print, but in any case we need our own channels, as you said, Indymedia was one, and now we’re seeing the rebirth of podcasts, the sort of second wave of podcasts on a somewhat meta note. So, podcasts are certainly a part of the infrastructure that is now being developed as a kind of alternative to mainstream corporate media. And despite my criticisms of an overly simplistic view of mainstream media, I do think it’s important that we have our own media, and podcasts are a part of it.

Derek: Yeah. I agree with that, and I’m very proud to be somebody who is part of both the original wave of podcasts, and now this current wave of podcasts, now everybody and their uncle, and standup comedians, and everybody have podcasts. And I think it’s something to definitely utilise for good. And we’re definitely seeing, with the loss of net neutrality in this country, and some of the copyright laws being passed in the EU and etc., that we’re seeing kind of this closing of the digital commons, putting to lie the libertarian and anarchist ideas of the freedom that the internet was going to bring, that is described in the California Ideology… We’re really seeing how authoritarian and totalitarian Silicon Valley is, we’re gonna have the ability to have our own alternative media, and have podcasts and everything, but we may not have the bandwidth, so we’ll ironically might have to go back to radio and pamphlets and newspapers and zines.

Ani: Well, I think we need multiple communication strategies.

“Was the Russian Revolution a Carrier-Pigeon Revolution?”: Digital media and communication in the Victorian Socialists

By Ian Anderson, RMIT Doctoral candidate in Media Studies.

This article was researched and written before the COVID-19 outbreak and implementation of physical distancing measures, which have affected the relationship between ‘IRL’ and online organising. Like many organisations, the VicSocialists have shifted towards online videoconferencing, for both public events and internal discussions.

This article is being published in Fightback’s Media Issue. Subscribe to the magazine here.

The Victorian Socialists (VicSocialists) launched in 2018, as a coalition of three socialist groups. That year, the campaign ran a number of candidates for the Victorian parliamentary election – two of the candidates already held seats in local council. Former leading candidate Stephen Jolly explicitly cited recent international polarisation as a reason to attempt his parliamentary bid:

[My campaign is] the first time in Australia that the left is tapping into the anti establishment mood on a large scale… In America and Europe you’ve seen the rise of far right but also a new left with figures like Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders. In Australia, it’s been unusual as it’s just been the far right with Pauline Hanson and Cory Bernardi, who have tapped into that discontent.1

The VicSocialists did not meet their goal of electing leading candidate Stephen Jolly to state parliament, but received the fourth largest vote after the Greens. In 2019, the campaign ran three candidates for the Federal Election – notably their prior leading candidate Jolly was not selected as the organisation was conducting an investigation for charges of abuse, and after the election he would be suspended over a separate abuse investigation2 – yet they received over 4% in three electorates despite not running Jolly. This article is based on interviews with 13 members and supporters, as well as my own experiences.

E-skepticism of activists

I do think sometimes there’s an overstatement about social media, like the Arab Revolutions, there were some people who want to refer to them as the Facebook revolutions, but I mean really was the Russian revolution the carrier pigeon revolution? People will find ways to communicate, and actually in that instance people had to find ways to communicate outside of the online forms because the government shut down the internet, and they still organised.3

This was the very last comment from interviewee Kath Larkin, a rail worker who at the time had just been pre-selected as the VicSocialists candidate for Cooper. Around 200 people attended the conference, held at the Maritime Union of Australia headquarters in South Melbourne.

Kath very much emphasised the value of face-to-face communication over the course of the interview, and considered the day-conference a success in bringing people together for democratic deliberation in person. Earlier in the interview Kath commented:

Obviously there’s a lot that we do on social media, and I think sometimes when you’re in the left you can kind of feel like what you see in your Facebook wall is what everyone sees, but actually we know that’s not true, we know that the way that Facebook is manipulated and run means that actually it’s quite hard for leftists to get their views out there. I do think social media will still be important particularly for young leftists in the area, but there’s also gonna be a need to get out to community events.

This is a common sentiment among Victorian Socialist activists. VicSocialists volunteer and librarian John Gao had this to say when explaining why he uses Twitter less than he used to:

I guess because I’m interested in politics, not just theoretical but to do stuff in practice, which requires face-to-face interaction, talking to the public in my own city, so therefore organising on a local level is very important, and the absence of that critical mass on Twitter, atleast in that area was not as useful in some ways.

Another interviewee who preferred not to be named commented more bluntly that “Twitter is an actual toilet”, and while less anti-Facebook stated that “I don’t think we should overstate Facebook because a lot of it was the boots on the ground that did the work.”

Activists’ skepticism of the digital included three key aspects:

  1. The digital divide, or uneven participation – Activists emphasised the importance of face-to-face communication in fostering constituencies that did not participate heavily in the digital sphere, particularly older working class voters.
  2. Criticism of utopian techno-determinism – Connected to pride in organising capacities not determined by the affordances of media technologies. Arguably some techno-dystopianism centred on the commodification of the net.
  3. Skepticism of ‘call-out culture’ and online criticism.

Despite these criticisms, there was little interest expressed in a programmatic decommodifying transformation of digital media. VicSocialist activists were simply more interested in other issues, such as migrant worker rights. The 2018 Election Manifesto did not mention digital rights, a strong focus in digital parties, coming closest to this in a reference to surveillance associated with the War on Terror.

…And yet
Yet digital media is strongly used for promotion. The VicSocialists Facebook page has over 5,000 likes at the time of writing. The page averaged 3 original posts a day during the week before the election in 2018, with posts routinely attracting hundreds of reactions, and regular video posts usually attracting thousands of views. This rate of posts and interactions is similar to the Australian Greens Facebook page over the same period, Australia’s third largest party with a relatively significant youth base. VicSocialists also had a number of location-specific Facebook pages, a meme page, an Instagram and a Twitter. The point here is not so much the success of engagement as the effort: despite the activists’ stated lack of passion for digital media, there was clearly concerted work to ensure visibility across digital media. Crucially, this was a fairly centralised effort with consistent messaging across major corporate platforms., freeing most activists to engage in other kinds of work and keep their digital engagement to ‘likes’ and shares. There was no pretension here of digital media as a horizontal structure: it was merely a tool for promotion.

Additionally, the finding that the VicSocialists are skeptical of digital media, yet strongly use it to promote socialist ideas, is paralleled by a study on parallel electoral group the Democratic Socialists of America or DSA,4 a group which has grown to around 50,000 members after backing the Bernie Sanders campaign. This study found that platforms such as Facebook and Twitter served contradictory purposes of cohesion and fragmentation. Interview subjects found the culture on Twitter particularly alienating or even “repellant”. This is a platform that “skew[s] young, male, well-educated” and tends to use in-jokey humour to promote cohesion, and members expressed concern that this was alienating to those outside the in-group. As a “normative strategy”, members argued for the use of collective social media pages for promoting socialist ideas, countering the tendency towards individualistic fragmentation. This is paralleled by the VicSocialists’ strong use of centrally administrated pages on Twitter and Facebook, with arguably less of an emphasis on in-jokey Twitter personalities than the DSA.

Doorknocking
VicSocialists activists strongly emphasised the importance of face-to-face work, particularly doorknocking. When asked what was required to scale up from a local government to a state level campaign, leading organiser Liz Walsh answered doorknocking first and foremost. More than 95,000 doors were knocked, with around 120 people attending doorknocking events each weekend for eight weeks. Activists express pride in hundreds of activists turning up to doorknocking, and recounted how Green and Labor activists were surprised at how many they mobilised.

A report from Marxist Left Review matches accounts from my interviews of successful connections:

It was common for volunteers to return from doorknocking with accounts of meeting old trade union militants keen to regale them about this or that struggle, migrants who had not forgotten their more radical traditions from their country of origin, or even young workers who responded with immediate enthusiasm when we told them our candidate was a construction worker who would only take a skilled worker’s wage. These were by no means the majority of experiences, but they indicated there was a constituency to connect with.5

VicSocialists’ success in mobilising hundreds for doorknocking campaigns is a success in face-to-face or ‘meatspace’ mobilisation, but it is also a success facilitated by digital technology. Doorknockers used an app to record which doors had been knocked, and the events were primarily promoted through Facebook. This illustrates a distinct conception from both utopian and dystopian accounts of digital media – the use of digital media as simply a tool, with pros and cons. As Kath Larkin said, “people will find ways to communicate”, and digital media is one of those ways. VicSocialists activist and casual academic Daniel Lopez noted that a resident he spoke to on the doorstep in Brunswick had read an article Lopez wrote for US socialist magazine Jacobin, which he found on social media – indicating the way digital connections and face-to-face connections can be complementary.

Legacy media

VicSocialist activists interacted with two distinct strands of ‘legacy media’ in two distinct ways: with ‘mainstream media’ such as right-wing newspapers, and with socialist media. Unsurprisingly their engagement with ‘mainstream media’ was largely critical, although not necessarily dismissive. An example of oppositional reading of mainstream media is offered by Kath Larkin’s account of daily engagement with newspapers as a rail worker:

One other thing at my workplace is that I clear trains that go to the yard, and people leave newspapers and so we all kind of collect newspapers and then we’ll read them in the lunch room, which means we read a lot of Herald Sun, which is obviously a really right-wing news source, but it is useful I think to know what’s being said in this newspaper, because it is so widely read.

Activists in general made an effort to engage with ‘mainstream media’ despite their criticisms. A number of activists spoke of a ‘blackout’ on coverage of the VicSocialists in mainstream media. This impression of unfavourable terrain is perhaps comparable with the perception of Facebook and Twitter as hostile corporate terrain, although those channels afforded more promotion. Of the few articles on the VicSocialists, one article participants often mentioned negatively was a Guardian article which appeared more sympathetic to Fiona Patten, a rival candidate who won the seat Stephen Jolly aimed for.

Although the VicSocialists do not have their own digital platform in the fashion of digital parties like the Pirate Parties (such as LiquidFeedback or Loomio), the various component socialist groups do have their own media channels. These include newspapers, journals, and websites (discounting social media channels which the groups do not own). Yet these print-centric channels are arguably ‘legacy media’, perhaps reflecting the fact that the socialist groups are ‘legacy organisations’, groups that have weathered decades in the cold. Central activists often engaged with socialist media as creators or distributors. Yet this was not universal, with a number of activists not regularly reading the press of organisations like Socialist Alternative and Socialist Alliance – more often, activists reported reading broad left publications like Overland and Jacobin, and some listened to left-leaning podcasts like Chapo Trap House. Although a number of activists did engage with socialist media, it didn’t appear to be particularly complementary with the VicSocialists campaign, with the exception of electoral propaganda on digital media channels – counterintuitively, given activists’ stated skepticism about these channels. This is likely due to the relative efficiency of social media channels compared with newspapers. More recently, that is after the VicSocialists’ State and Federal election campaigns, Socialist Alternative launched a podcast called Red Flag Radio, taking advantage of the wider wave of socialist podcasts such as Chapo Trap House.

If we also include snail mail, posters, yard signs and the like as ‘legacy media’ due to pre-existing digital media, then these forms of legacy media were perceived as decisive. Campaign organiser Liz Walsh makes this case:

The numbers of doors knocked on, letters distributed, corflute/yard signs erected, posters plastered on street poles and so on is absolutely decisive in being able to connect up with the left wing sentiment and discontent with the major parties that does exist among layers of people in Victoria.

To demonstrate this case, Walsh points to the example of the Western Metro region, which had similar demographics to Northern Metro but where the VicSocialists didn’t wage a ground campaign. Here the VicSocialists received 0.57%. Therefore the ground campaign was decisive in the VicSocialists’ more impressive result in Northern Metro. This arguably vindicates the VicSocialists activists’ strong emphasis on doorknocking and other ‘old-school’ methods, without eschewing digital communication. Walsh’s article, which is fairly extensive, does not mention social media either positively or negatively.

Conclusion
VicSocialist activists tend to express a strong ambivalence about social media. Activists emphasise the importance of face-to-face organisation, although in practice digital media and other forms of organisation are strongly complementary. Digital media is embedded but not fetishised, and used more for promotion than democratic participation (which largely occurs through bi-annual member conferences). The results of this study are paralleled by a study on the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), an organisation that has around 50,000 members after backing the Bernie Sanders campaign. DSA members used social media to promote socialist ideas, yet were often ambivalent about the medium. DSA members argued for collective social media pages to counter the social media tendency towards individualist fragmentation, a strategy used by the VicSocialists.

1Armstrong, Liam. “Could Steve Jolly Be Australia’s First Socialist Politician in 70 Years?” Vice, February 8 2018 (https://tinyurl.com/yxvjpsak ). Web. Accessed 18/06/2018

2 Jolly’s behaviour was not denied by his political supporters, who were open about the process that has occurred so far. That said, conflicting claims circulate about the adequacy of this internal process, with many external to the organisation saying it was inadequate or even a cover-up. The first problem arose prior to the foundation of the VicSocialists, when Jolly was a member of another socialist organisation, simply called The Socialists. Jolly had sent some text messages that constituted sexual harassment. This was investigated by the organisation, with the resolution that Jolly was required to apologise and undergo counselling. Jolly resigned from that organisation, and would later approach another group proposing the Victorian Socialists electoral project. In the early stages of the VicSocialist project, during negotiations between a number of socialist organisations, a group of Socialist Alliance members opposed Jolly’s nomination. When he was endorsed, those members resigned. Over the course of the Victorian Socialists state electoral campaign, claims emerged on social media that the prior process was not adequate, and that Stephen Jolly had engaged in other inappropriate behaviour. After the state election, the VicSocialists launched a second investigation into Jolly’s behaviour, and he was not selected as a Federal Election candidate because that investigation was ongoing. At that point some former members rejoined because he had not been selected. Shortly after the Federal election, Stephen Jolly’s membership was suspended as it turned out police were investigating another abuse claim. At this point, the situation finally entered into mainstream media coverage, after months of circulation on social media.

3 It may be worth noting here that her skepticism aligns with debates in academia about the techno-utopianism associated with ‘Twitter revolutions’ (Dumitru, 2012; Berenger, 2013; Musa & Willis 2014; Bebawi & Bossio, 2014; Kraidy, 2016).

4Barnes, Christopher C. “Democratic Socialists on Social Media: Cohesion, Fragmentation, and Normative Strategies.” tripleC: Communication, Capitalism & Critique 18 (1): 1-285, January 1 2020 (https://tinyurl.com/set6plj ). Accessed 29/02/2020

5Walsh, Liz. “Launching Victorian Socialists: an anti-capitalist electoral alliance.” Marxist Left Review, published by Socialist Alternative, No 18, pp. 19-38

No Concessions: Australian tertiary education workers fight back

By Ani White, NTEU member and casual tutor.

In Australia’s National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU), my union, a rank and file rebellion is challenging officials’ defeatist response to the COVID-19 crisis. This piece will begin by outlining the background situation, before outlining the No Concessions campaign led by members.

Background
Many university workers are not covered by JobKeeper, a payment for businesses significantly affected by COVID-19. The NTEU has therefore campaigned for JobKeeper, and full Federal funding. Over this period casuals have been sacked en masse, including 200 staff at my university RMIT. Universities are also seeking to implement a pay freeze, and to restructure Enterprise Bargaining Agreements.

However, the NTEU National Executive has been drawn into a managerial logic of helping balance the books, and a defeatist view of the crisis. A common idea, expressed both by the National Executive and those academics who support them, is that a sacrifice in pay is needed to protect job security. There is a liberal notion here of solidarity as self-sacrifice by privileged academics, rather than solidarity as a rising tide lifting all ships. Additionally, as highlighted by Kaye Broadbent in the Campus Morning Mail:

[N]ot everyone in the university sector is a highly paid academic. Universities are kept afloat by thousands of casual academics, fixed term research academics and casual and contract professional staff.

For the insecurely employed and low paid staff employed in universities reducing pay by any amount will create hardship – our rent and bills still need to be paid. For many university workers, their income is the only one in the household – especially since the crisis hit. And there’s no guarantee even with a pay cut that one more person will keep their job as a result.

Although negotiations are being conducted in secret, union militants have released information about the National Executive’s plans. According to an open letter by Katie Wood, a unionist at University of Melbourne:

On April 3, the National Executive of the NTEU unanimously approved a framework of negotiations that included the possibility of “general reductions in Agreement rates”. NTEU members were unaware of this decision until a Guardian article, published on April 17. Despite various denials from senior leadership that a reduction in rates is under discussion, a survey circulated in some branches asks members if they would be willing to take a reduction in hourly rates of up to 10%”

A document prepared for [the 25th of April’s] briefing of the NTEU National Council… states that the aim of the [National Executive] strategy is to secure “a strong Union role in managing the introduction of any cost saving measures” (emphasis mine).

In a more recent article for Red Flag, after the unconstitutional National Council meeting of April 25th, Wood reported the following:

This week, a hastily called national council “briefing” was rebadged as a “meeting of national councillors” to ram through a vote backing the national executive’s strategy of collaborating with management. The meeting approved the national executive’s motion by a vote of 89 to 13. That’s been touted as a vote of confidence in the strategy, but it has no standing in the union’s official rules – there was no procedure to propose motions beforehand, amendments were explicitly ruled out and procedural motions were repeatedly ignored.

Fightback
The No Concessions campaign began with a motion censuring the National Executive, passed on April 12th at a University of Sydney members’ meeting, by 117 votes to 2. Supporting motions have been passed at members’ meetings across the country. Over 800 members, including myself, signed a statement calling for no concessions by the NTEU National Executive.

Union meetings on Zoom have attracted hundreds of members. However, union officials often run these more like one-way seminars than democratic meetings. The managerial tone became apparent to me personally at a snap ‘rally’ of the Victorian NTEU, just before the No Concessions campaign kicked off: officials claimed that the state government was sympathetic, and members had no opportunity to speak. Members have used the chat function to challenge the official line, alongside establishing independent channels for communication between rank and file members.

After motions and statements being passed in various places, core activists are itching to translate this into action. Strikes are illegal outside of collective bargaining, with a risk of significant fines. However, refusal of unpaid work is under discussion as an industrial tactic. Alongside enforcing the Enterprise Bargaining Agreement, this would double as a statement of solidarity with casuals who should be performing that work – a vastly preferable tactic to trading wage freezes for job security.

This week RMIT Casuals, my own section, passed a motion calling on staff to refuse unpaid work. Members are also campaigning for a National Day of Action on the 21st of May.

System change, not climate change! But how?

By Jojo Klick.

This article was published in our magazine issue on Just Transition. You can subscribe here.

A sentiment that is shared by many within the growing climate movement is that there is a connection between the capitalist mode of production and the climate crisis. In this piece, I will analyse this connection and explore what that means for transformational strategies towards eco-communism as well as immediate demands for fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

For more than a year now, students have been striking for the climate each Friday all over the world, following in the footsteps of other movements for climate justice, often carried out by communities on the frontlines who are affected by carbon mining, oil drilling and other fossil projects. Yet, so far it does not look like the measures taken by politicians after this pressure from the streets will be likely to prevent crucial tipping points that will lead to an irreversible climate catastrophe that will make huge parts of this planet uninhabitable. Many within the climate movement are beginning to understand that this might have something to do with capitalism and that “if solutions within this system are so impossible to find, then maybe we should change the system itself”, as Greta Thunberg says.

But why does capitalism ruin the climate? Within capitalism, the means of production are owned privately and most goods and services we need (or sometimes don’t really need such as SUVs) are produced as commodities by private companies, which means they are not produced directly to fulfil a certain need, but to be sold on the market. On the market, companies compete against each other: Each of them wants us to buy THEIR product. They need to make a profit from selling their commodities, not only so the company owners (aka capitalists) can have a fancy life (which they most often do), but also to re-invest the profit as capital, e.g. to buy more effective machines or hire more workers or pay for more advertising so that they can produce better or cheaper and thus have an advantage within the competition against other companies. If one company would not do this, it had to fear that others are faster and that it would vanish from the market.

Competition also means that companies need to externalize costs wherever possible. If they can pollute the air without paying for it, they are likely to do it. On top of that, the need to reinvest money as capital in order to get more money (which Marx expressed with the famous formula M-C-M’, meaning money-commodity-more money) leads to what economists as well as environmentalist critics call “economic growth”. This abstract growth also leads to a growth of material production which means the use of more resources. Additionally, as digitalization and automation makes it continuously cheaper to produce goods, the use of resources might even grow more than the economic value produced. Unlimited economic growth is not possible on a planet with limited resources but within capitalism, this growth-imperative cannot be escaped.

States have some capacities to limit these destructive tendencies of capitalism and have indeed done so for more than a hundred years (capitalists are also dependent on this to some extent, since otherwise capitalism would destroy its foundations even faster). One recent example for this is the carbon price, e.g. in the form of a tax that companies have to pay for their emissions. However, these capacities are limited, since states also compete against each other. If one state would set accurately high environmental and social standards, companies would be likely to move to other countries where they can produce cheaper. Of course, states could also invest in “green” sectors such as renewable energies (which is discussed as a “Green New Deal”) and make economic growth less carbon-intensive. Even if such a “Green New Deal” might help fight climate change, it would not question economic growth and thus only lead to the extraction of other resources (such as lithium for batteries), which often happens under brutal conditions in countries of the Global South and would set the basis for the next environmental crisis in a couple of years or decades.

A truly eco-friendly alternative would mean the abolition of capitalism and thus of private property and the commodity-form. Initial stages of such a form of re/production1 can be seen in the commons, resources that people use collectively in a self-organized way and need-oriented.2 Commons are things like commonly owned land (historically in medieval Europe, today still in many indigenous communities), community gardens or social centres, but also Wikipedia or open source software. The way these things are used, managed and maintained, through commoning, gives examples of how society as a whole could be organized: Production and consumption would not be as separated as today, people would do freely what they find important and produce for their and other people’s needs and not to make money. Things would be re/produced as commons, not as commodities. Karl Marx describes the commodity as the elementary form of capitalism. In the same way, the elementary form of communism might be the commons.3(3) In such a commons-based libertarian communist society, there would be no need to produce more and more stuff and people could manage the eco-systems in a sustainable manner.

When it comes to strategies of communist transformation, this perspective means that anti-capitalist movements need to build and reclaim the commons from below. This also involves expropriating the means of production and other resources such as land or houses that need to be freed from private property and made into commons which is unlikely to happen on a big enough scale without some kind of revolutionary rupture. So far, the majority of the climate movement seems far away from such an approach. At this stage, it might thus be important to tackle the ideologies that present capitalism and market society as the only options (known as TINA, “There is no alternative”) and to discuss alternatives to capitalism and how to get there within social movements and beyond.

Yet, since climate crisis is an urgent issue, every fight for immediate reductions of carbon emissions is also worth fighting, even if they do not get rid of the root causes of environmental destruction. Besides fighting for immediate reforms, these struggles are also an opportunity for people to come together, to develop solidarity and to discuss about further horizons. In fact, within these kinds of struggles people often already practice commoning and reclaim or defend the commons.

This can be seen in a lot of indigenous struggles (e.g. at Standing Rock or currently in the struggle of the Wet’suwet’en people against the Coastal GasLink Pipeline in Canada), but also elsewhere, e.g. in the struggle to defend Hambach forest in the Rhineland coal mining area in Germany.4 This forest that had been managed as a commons for hundreds of years by the local communities has been cut down further and further every year for coal mining since the 1970s – a process that has now been stopped after years of protests, direct actions and legal actions against the coal mining project (while the forest will not be cut down now, it is still under threat by water shortages due to the mining project). Most prominent in this struggle is the occupation of the forest (with tree houses and huts) by radical climate activists that was started in 2012 and is still going on today. While the activists fought immediately against the deforestation and coal mining through their occupation but also through other means of direct action such as blockades or sabotages, they also reclaimed the forest as a commons and organized their lives in a way that can be described as commoning: You don’t have to pay to live there or eat the communally cooked food (often made from leftover vegetables from local farmers or saved from the supermarkets’ dumpster), everyone does voluntarily what they are motivated to do, there are no formal hierarchies and informal hierarchies are tried to be kept as flat as possible. Even though such a life is not without conflicts and contradictions, many people describe their experiences there as life-changing, seeing that a world without capitalism, competition and domination might be possible.

Another lesson that can be learned from the struggle about Hambach forest is the importance of direct action: By breaking the rules, occupying the forest and blockading coal infrastructure, activists did not only draw attention to the issue, but also damaged the electricity company RWE economically. Without these tactics, the struggle would probably not have been so successful.

These two lessons from Hambach forest, that if we build social formations of commoning within our movements, we can make libertarian communism an imaginable possibility and lived experience and that if we use direct action we can put a lot more pressure on politicians and companies might be helpful for the climate strike movement that until this point is rather tame. In addition, the rhetoric of the strike which is quite central in the movement could be a starting point for a more radical approach. If not only students would go on strike, but also the huge majority of workers, a climate strike could implement a lot of economic pressure. This pressure could force politicians to implement further reforms to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, even if these are bad for the economy. A strike that includes industrial workers would also be a direct action in the narrower sense of the word, since striking would mean less production (for at least a short time) and thus less CO2-emissions. The demand for a radically shorter working week could be one focus of such a strike movement that would link the immediate wellbeing of the workers with climate protection.5 A shorter working week would also allow people to spend more time building and experimenting with non-capitalist ways of re/production in commons projects.

These are just examples of (possible) reform-oriented struggles that can be linked to the broader goal of libertarian communism. Green capitalism is an oxymoron and the fight for climate justice has to be anti-capitalist which means that in the end we need to seize the means of production (probably also destroy a lot of them if they are inherently non-ecologic), do away with private property and the commodity form and organize the re/production in the principles of commoning. If we have this goal clear, we can think about how the current struggles for reforms and immediate reductions of greenhouse gas emissions need to be fought in order to get closer to this goal. We can explore where we already do commoning within our movements today and evaluate how we can expand that. We could link struggles of students who fear for their future with the struggles of workers for a shorter working week and the struggles of indigenous communities who have long been on the frontlines in the fight against fossil capitalism to a common struggle for climate justice and a sustainable libertarian communist world.

1 “Re/production” implies that production and reproduction are no longer separated.

2 See my article on counter-strategies against the far right and conservative leftism from last year‘ “International Perspectives“ issue: https://fightback.org.nz/2019/02/11/germany-far-right-conservative-leftism/

3 See Stefan Meretz on peer-commonist produced livelihoods: https://keimform.de/2017/peer-commonist-produced-livelihoods/

4 See my article “Fighting Europe’s biggest hole” in Fightback’s 2015 issue on climate crisis: https://fightback.org.nz/2015/10/17/germany-fighting-europes-biggest-hole/

5 See Phillip Frey, “The ecological limits of work”: http://autonomy.work/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/The-Ecological-Limits-of-Work-final.pdf

COVID-19 and the alt-right media ecosystem

Screenshot_2020-04-07 What is the coronavirus 5G conspiracy The dumb theory circulating the internet rn
Image from The Tab.

This article will be published in Fightback’s upcoming magazine issue on Media. To subscribe click here. NOTE: While NZ is under lockdown, print issues cannot be sent out, however e-publications are being sent out, and we will print and mail issues when it becomes possible.

“A mainstream media article, written by an academic from Massey university who has not gulped down koolaid to fawn over the government? We are taken aback, greatly.”

That was how the New Conservative Party (New Zealand) introduced an opinion piece by Steve Elers that was published on Stuff, New Zealand’s largest news website, stating the country should have closed its borders in February. The fringe right-wing party, outside of parliament and polling around 1%, has spent the past year telling their Facebook followers-  an audience comparable in size to the following of more mainstream political party pages- to distrust mainstream media and academia.

“Time to get rid of the China virus that’s infected our government. #chinaliedpeopledied”, comments one of their followers, a man with a profile picture proudly declaring hs support for the party. Another man comments with a link to a YouTube video claiming that telecommunications workers destroyed a cellphone tower to warn the public about 5G. “5g being set up during LockDown!!!! I do not consent to radiation”, comments a woman with a “top fan” badge.  “UN agenda 21 can only be implemented in a climate of fear”, states another follower.

While some comments are supportive of the government’s decision to place New Zealand on lockdown, closing all but essential services and banning gatherings of people in an attempt to stop the spread of Covid-19, the above comments are not atypical. For some followers, the New Conservative praise for Steve Elers isn’t convincing: “If you take a closer look at this guy, he is an Alt left Maori activist.”

Posting a link to an RNZ article about coming job losses at NZME, Stuff’s major rival and owners of the New Zealand Herald, a New Conserative follower comments “bye bye fake news.” While a number of NZME’s redundancies are occurring at Radio Sport which has ceased broadcasting as globally the pandemic puts a halt on sporting competitions, the email to staff from NZME Chief Executive Michael Boggs indicates a reduction in the number of news journalists is coming: “The ongoing decline in revenue caused by the impact of COVID-19 continues to be significant. This is uncharted territory, and no one knows when that will change.

We must now make changes to the scope and scale of our business and do so quickly. This will inevitably result in job losses.”

The pandemic is speeding up the decline of professional journalism, already well underway in New Zealand as elsewhere. Traditional media has struggled to maintain advertising revenue, in particular due to the shift in advertising to Facebook, which has become one of the primary platforms for the spread of misinformation.

In March, Wired published an article headlined Coronavirus Conspiracy Theories Are a Public Health Hazard: “Anti-vaxxers think the virus is an effort to force vaccines on them, possibly orchestrated by Bill Gates. Others blame 5G networks”, writes Wired’s Emma Grey. Ellis, showing linking the virus with 5G conspiracy theories is not unique to the supporters of a fringe right-wing party in New Zealand. In the UK people influenced by conspiracy theories claiming symptoms of Covid-19 are actually caused by 5G mobile towers have abused technicians and even destroyed telecommunications infrastructure.

There has also been a documented increase in racist incidents against Asians and Chinese in particular in a number of countries, including New Zealand and Australia. In February, before New Zealand had any confirmed cases of Covid-19, parents of children at a Canterbury school received an email stating “our Kiwi kids don’t want to be in the same class with your disgusting virus spreaders.” In Western Australia, shoppers who appeared Asian were removed from a supermarket, and in Tasmania a student from Hong Kong was assaulted by a man who first shouted “you’ve got the virus” and “go back to your country.” Notably these incidents occured after headlines like “China Virus Panda-monium” and “China kids stay home.” appeared in mainstream Australian newspapers in January. Politicians and pundits have continued to racialise the the virus with terms like “China virus” “Wuhan virus” and “kung-flu” the latter appearing in the title of an Australian alt-right podcast episode in February.

While new Facebook pages have emerged to take advantage of growing Sinophobia, other far-right pages have used the pandemic to spread false information about their usual targeted groups. A page primarily Islamophobic in nature has repeatedly claimed Muslims “were the first to bring the plague to NZ from Iraq”, possibly confusing Iraq with Iran, where an infected New Zealand citizen returned from (notably neither the ethnicity or religion of this woman is publically known).

Another post on the same page claims a private jet owned by a Saudi billionaire, which landed at Christchurch airport to repatriate Saudi citizens, was there to bring COVID-19 “to the hookers and street workers of Christchurch”, adding “No one else can travel to NZ, except Jacinda’s wealthy handlers.” One commenter suggested the plane was there to pick up the Christchurch shooter, who according to a baseless conspiracy theory pushed by the tiny One Nation NZ party was not part of the far-right, but actually a Muslim convert. One Nation NZ stood in a by-election in 2018, but otherwise barely existed beyond Facebook page- which has since been removed for violating policy of hate speech and graphic violence.

”All over the world, from Iraq to the United States, people have been spreading anti-Semitic memes and messages suggesting that Jews, or Jewish stand-ins like George Soros, the Rothschilds, and Israel, are to blame for the outbreak”, writes Ellis in Wired. “In the internet’s darkest corners, the scapegoating is being used to stir a movement that is less conspiracy theory than actual conspiracy.”

According to Oren Segel, vice president of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, white supremacists have discussed deliberately infecting ethnic minorities and exploiting tensions between ethnic groups to hasten “the boogaloo” an alt-right slang for race war. In the USA the FBI stopped a man who was planning to bomb a Missouri hospital treating COVID-19 patients. NBC News reported that he had done so to further the goals of his white supremacist ideology, and had told an undercover FBI agent he had chosen a hospital as a target due to “the increased impact given the media attention on the health sector.”

In the USA, polls showed that 42% of Republicans were “very worried” or “somewhat worried” about COVID-19, compared to 73% of Democrats. 83% of Republicans who consumed only a diet of outlets with right-leaning audiences believed the news media had exaggerated the risks of the virus. Comparable poll data is not available for New Zealand, but clearly a similar far right echo-system exists, though its reach has not been adequately investigated.

In Australia, the far-right have used the government’s Covid-19 response to stoke distrust in state institutions and encouraged mobilisation and violent action as a response to the crisis, according to Sydney based think tank The Lowy Institute. In the lead up to the first anniversary of the Christchurch shooting, Australian counter-terrorism police in New South Wales arrested a 21-year-old man for an alleged terrorist plot. The man had allegedly tried to buy military equipment and firearms and was planning to blow up an electricity substation.

“The situation is ripe for exploitation by the far right”, Cynthia Miller-Idriss, American University sociologist and expert on the far-right, told Al Jazeera “the uncertainty the pandemic creates creates fertile ground for claims about the need for change or the solutions the far right purports to offer.”

This is certainly evident in recent Facebook posts from New Zealand’s alt-right adjacent New Conservative Party, such as a picture of laughing women captioned “when someone who wants open borders sounds worried about the coronavirus spreading” and a screenshot of a BBC headline about the EU closing borders to non-citizens  with the comment “so nationalism is back and borders are good?” (This rhetoric ignores the fact that the borders of Europe were far from “open” prior to the pandemic- last year, over a thousand migrants drowned attempting to enter Europe on their southern sea border).

But New Conservative are, relatively speaking, moderates. On a page run by a Christchurch based man who in the months following the Christchurch shooting threatened to “destroy mosque after mosque until they take me out” an article from a known fake news website, alleging that France is not subjecting predominantly immigrant neighbourhoods to quarantine is shared with the comment “r@pe and sickness are just a part of the rich diversity pill we are all going to have to swallow.” (The @ replacing the a is likely an attempt to avoid Facebook algorithms removing the post).

Misinformation and conspiracy theories can move quickly from the far-right fringes to more mainstream social media with larger audiences. In April Buzzfeed reported that numerous lifestyle and parenting influencers on Instagram were “seamlessly weaving in evidence-free far-right conspiracy theories that are usually found in the significantly less Instagrammable parts of the internet, such as 4 and 8-chan, in between their usual idyllic family snaps.”

With millions of people confined to their homes there is also concern that more people will be susceptible to the kind of online rabbit holes that lead people to the far-right. Mak Kapetanovic, a young man who had previously been influenced by alt-right narratives encountered on 4chan and has since left the right, told Time of his concerns that the pandemic could lead people down the same path. “Feelings of isolation, anger, grief and frustration, all of those things are happening. A lot of people are scared, and people are not sure what to think.”

“It is the far right who always seem to take advantage of these insecurities.”

The impacts of climate change on New Zealand

By BRUCE ANDERSON

This article is from the new issue of FIGHTBACK magazine, “Climate Change/ Just Transition”. To order a print copy for $NZ10 + postage, or to subscribe in electronic or print format, see here. Note: production of the print version has been delayed due to the shutdown of all non-essential economic activity in Aotearoa New Zealand, but the electronic version has been mailed out to subscribers.

School climate strike demonstration, Wellington, September 2019

AUTHOR’S NOTE 20 March: Since this article was first drafted in early February, the coronavirus outbreak has been declared a world-wide pandemic, and is turning into a major economic and social crisis. Yesterday Australia and New Zealand both closed their borders. How its aftermath is handled may give us a clearer view of the likelihood of each of the three scenarios described in this article.

Some would consider this crisis unrelated to climate change, but evidence is building that our despoilation of the environment (driven by the need for growth, and cheap fossil fuel energy) may be linked to these outbreaks, as non-human life is stressed and adapts to the rapid changes we are causing (see for example“‘Tip of the iceberg’: is our destruction of nature responsible for COVID-19”, by John Vidal, for The Guardian).

Whether it is directly linked or not, it is one of those crises which increase the pressure on us as societies to change rapidly and transformatively. If our primary medium term response is “Phew, that’s over, now we’d better rebuild the economy and get back on track”, we will be heading down the “business as usual” path to environmental apocalypse.  If our response is “Phew, we got through that one, people have responded well to it, maybe we do have the political capital for a massive re-direction of resources to mitigate and adapt to the warming planet”, we may get closer to the “great turning” which is needed to build a better and more sustainable society.  And if our response is simply “So what lessons can we learn to help us prepare better for the next pandemic?”, we are on the “muddling through” path, making incremental changes in reaction to crises rather than working on the big picture.

Place your bets, please.  Or, better still, work out how you can best help influence our societal response so we move towards the necessary transformation.

Climate change is the “canary in the coal mine”

We are in a world-wide environmental, economic, and social crisis. The land and water are being poisoned by the expansion of industrial food production, and misused in the increasing production of “luxury” food such as meat, dairy (and almonds in California!). We will run out of fertile land in 55 years or so, on our current trajectory[1]. We are also poisoning the water and the air, heating the air and the oceans, and decreasing the species diversity which underpins the flourishing of life, through our expansion of industrial activity and distribution fuelled by coal, oil and gas.

Our dominant economic system is based on perpetual growth, which on a finite planet is clearly unsustainable, and on increasing concentration of ownership and wealth in fewer and fewer hands, through the exploitation of both people and nature. The social impacts of all this are steadily growing, with increases in the number and scale of local environmental disasters, instances of local food and water scarcity, and population unrest and dislocation. And the people least responsible for this crisis – such as our Pacific neighbours, living in low-lying atolls and islands, and contributing far less to emissions than Australia and New Zealand – are likely to face the greatest consequences. 

While the roots of this have been with us since the European “Enlightenment”, and particularly the Industrial Revolution, the major immediate cause is the unleashing of globalist capitalism over the last fifty years, and the spectacular increase in consumption this has enabled in the affluent world.

All of this is having increasing impacts on New Zealand. However, the rest of this article will take a relatively narrow view of climate change and its impacts. It will confine itself to impacts directly related to the increased warming of the earth’s atmosphere and oceans. This will understate and even in some cases ignore the potential effects of the various elements and their inter-relationships on our current crisis. On the other hand, climate change is both a leading indicator of the crisis, and also can only be addressed effectively through addressing most if not all elements of the crisis. So we can treat it as the canary in the coal mine. Or the rather large flock of dying canaries.

There is no room for denialism, or minimisation, here

I’m not going to waste much space making a case that climate change is real. The overwhelming scientific consensus is that anthropogenic climate change, primarily through increased carbon release, is heating the atmosphere and oceans. The effects of this are now becoming obvious even to the casual observer, with increases in the severity of weather events causing droughts, floods, and extreme temperatures.

Carbon levels in the atmosphere are going up by 2-3 parts per million each year and are currently at about 415ppm, compared with the pre-industrial level of 280. When they were last at this level, some millions of years ago, temperatures were significantly higher, and sea-levels were 20-30 metres above what they are now. But it takes many decades for the full effects of increased carbon levels to be felt – that’s why we’re not currently swimming for our lives.

The Planetary Boundaries framework developed by the Stockholm Resilience Institute[2] sets a “red-zone” boundary of 450ppm after which all bets will be off, and climate conditions and weather events will become so extreme and unpredictable as to probably make much of the Earth uninhabitable in the medium term. On our current trajectory, we will pass this boundary in 15-30 years (although it will some decades longer before all the extreme effects are felt).

Unfortunately, the science of all this tends to lag behind actual events, and things are likely to happen faster than science predicts. Each of the IPCC’s five yearly reports has been more pessimistic than the last, and their most recent reports are about as shrill as good scientists can get, for example: “We have till 2030 to cut our carbon emissions by 45% if we are to have any chance of keeping temperature increases below 1.5 degrees”[3].

Moreover, interconnections between changes may lead to tipping events (such as rapid deterioration of the Greenland or West Antarctic ice-sheets, or increased methane release in Siberia, or collapse of large chunks of the Amazon rainforest into savannah) which disrupt the linear projections currently be made.

So we as a species are likely to continue to be surprised by the increasing speed of change, and “caught short” in any preparation we do.

New Zealand as a lifeboat

New Zealand’s position (isolated in the middle of the Southern Ocean), geology (a volcanic spine on top of intersecting Continental plates), and political and social stability (few recent wars or major uprisings), give it certain advantages relative to many other places in the world as we face our climate crisis.

The ocean has a moderating effect on temperatures, severity of weather events, and unsolicited arrivals; we have enough moderately fertile soil to feed ourselves and then some; the high proportion of uplands means that retreat from the rising oceans is feasible; and as long as we don’t succumb to the extreme sorts of political behaviour currently infecting parts of the Northern Hemisphere, we might be able to manage all of this in a more or less orderly manner.

These are the reasons why an increasing number of wealthy people are starting to bunker down here, paying more or less attention to how they integrate themselves into New Zealand depending on their natures. Apparently Alaska and New Zealand are highly favoured locations for “weathering the storm” (or at least surviving the early parts of it).

We are a lifeboat. But, to extend the metaphor, let us not pretend that the seas we are in will be calm.

The impacts of climate change are pretty much locked in for the next decade

World-wide (and New Zealand) average temperatures are currently just over 1 degree above pre-industrial levels, and will continue to rise towards about 1.5 degrees over the next few decades. This “average” conceals wide regional variations in averages – for example, the Arctic has been averaging as much as 6 degrees above – and, more obviously, extremes – for example, the recent record highs in Australia and New Zealand (and pretty much everywhere else). Increasing temperatures in the oceans will combine with this to add more moisture – and more energy – to the atmosphere, increasing the number and severity of extreme weather events.

There are also regional influences which dampen or accentuate the general trends, in particular the El Nino-Southern Oscillation in the Pacific, and the Indian Ocean Dipole, either separately or reinforcing each other.

In New Zealand, average and extreme temperatures will continue to rise more or less in line with the world-wide trends – with the extremes rising more quickly than the averages, and becoming more frequent, and drought/flooding conditions becoming more severe.

Overall, the North and the East Coast will get hotter and drier (but still subject to torrential downpours), while the South and the West will heat more slowly, and get wetter in general[4]. The biggest impacts in the next decade will be from extreme weather events. Bigger droughts, storms, floods, fires and, close to my home, bigger wind runs. Wellington has over the last few years been experiencing relatively benign wind conditions, but this spring and summer the higher winds have begun to return – and we probably ain’t seen nothing yet when it comes to severe gales in the Cook Strait area during the next decade.

This will all put increasing strain on local communities and physical infrastructure. Some will be more or less unaffected and some will be moderately or severely damaged. Water supply will become a major issue in many communities; emergency and support services will come under more severe pressure, with less time to recover and re-plan between events; insurance will become harder or impossible to obtain for low lying areas and fruit and vegetable production; the calls for local financial relief will have an increasing effect on government budgets and spending; and some coastal communities will have to start looking at relocation (from greater storm surges rather than average sea-level rise).

How we as a national community respond to all this is one key to our future. In many cases, local communities will be unable to recover without outside help. So how those who are less affected respond, as the calls for help increase in number and severity, will be very important. They will HAVE to share some of their own time, wealth and support if we are to maintain New Zealand-wide social stability, which will become increasingly important as the century wears on.

And, even in the next decade, this may all be thrown into more turmoil if the state and civil society fail to adequately respond to increasing numbers of refugees caused by the greater deterioration of conditions elsewhere. More housing, more services, more investment in infrastructure will all be necessary. But external impacts such as these are likely to be more severe over the middle decades of the century rather than in the 2020s.

Our politics[5], current and future, determines impacts beyond the next decade

What happens beyond 2030 is a function of political decisions and actions we in New Zealand, and in the rest of the world, make over the next 10 to 30 years:

  • If political action continues as now, marginal changes will continue to be made within the capitalist perpetual growth model, and climate change will move into uncharted and extremely violent territory later in the century. We will be at about a 4-degree temperature increase no later than the early 2100s, a level which, when put to groups of scientists as a possibility, causes them to put their heads in their hands and despair. This is in line with Joanna Macy’s “business as usual” and “great unravelling” scenarios[6].
  • If enough of us manage to “bite the bullet” over the next few years, to look and act beyond capitalism, forming a renewed partnership with nature and building societies based on social justice and economic thrift, we have the capability to transform ourselves, and to mitigate, and eventually reverse, the more severe impacts of climate change. This is in line with Macy’s “great turning” scenario.
  • It seems most likely to me that we will end up somewhere between these two extremes, being forced by crises to take more radical actions than currently contemplated in mainstream politics, but never developing or acting out a coherent strategy based on real understanding and acceptance of the causes of, and effective responses to, the overall crisis. This is the “muddling through” scenario (my name for it), and its eventual outcomes are wildly uncertain compared to the other two scenarios.

The rest of this essay briefly explores the possible impacts on New Zealand of each of these three scenarios over the next generation (to 2050) and century (to 2120).

The climate-related impacts on New Zealand of the “business as usual” scenario

In the next generation (to the year 2050), we will see the extremes of the 2020s as described above continue to accelerate. In addition, crop failures will increase, and food security will reduce. As immigration increases, mostly driven by the impacts of the climate crisis elsewhere, there is considerable risk that populists will scapegoat the newcomers for the crisis, and that the state will respond by repression of various groups rather than concentrating on provision of adequate infrastructure for a growing population.

Health related issues will really start to bite, with pests, viruses, and the risks of epidemics, much more frequent. There will still be parts of New Zealand only indirectly affected by most of this, but the overall economic effects and sense of crisis will mean they are no longer able to pretend that they can distance themselves from the issues.

By 2120, weather extremes will be apocalyptic, and a subsistence existence will be the best most of us can hope for. A connected society as we currently know it will have largely ceased to exist, and international travel will be done only by the foolhardiest of sailors. There will undoubtedly be survivor communities in various parts of New Zealand, probably mostly on the west coasts, but many of the trappings of affluent society will be gone. Sea level rise will have caused retreat from areas of some cities (notably Christchurch), but the bigger issues will be collapses of infrastructure and failure of emergency and support services, making severe social breakdown probable, but not certain (we may still manage to struggle to survive together, but that’s all we’ll be doing).

The climate-related impacts on New Zealand of the “great turning” scenario

The next generation will be one of social turmoil, as we construct a useful common narrative to underpin the transformation. The current moves towards renewable energy, based on carbon-intensive manufacturing and electric vehicles, will be rapidly overtaken by low-energy realism, and a broadly local community-based “food, water and energy self-sufficiency” movement.

The air and oceans will continue to heat up for some time, and events will continue to get more extreme. But, as forest plantings increase, industrial dairying and large animal farming are abandoned, and other sensible techniques are used to begin drawing down atmospheric carbon, this trend will slow – and even potentially start reversing – by 2050.

This will be a hard period, both economically and socially. Costs will be high, both to mitigate the ongoing effects of global warming and also to bring the low carbon technologies that will form the basis of our more sustainable future up to scale. And the pressures from multiple sources will make negotiation and non-violent conflict resolution critical skill sets for many of us.

On the more positive side, a social narrative and economic system based on recognising the best of our impulses and behaviours, and not the worst, will steadily gain supporters. The efforts at community-rebuilding that are currently run as fringe activities by many groups will become more mainstream, as the cult of individual celebrity and personal consumption is replaced by one of mutual recognition and respect. In particular, tangata tiriti and tangata whenua will learn from and support each other in honouring the Treaty of Waitangi, and in protecting the land and water. We will also honour obligations to our Pacific neighbours, whether by investing in prevention and mitigation to ensure they are not forced to leave their homes, or by recognising theirright to sanctuary.

By 2120, the new narrative and lifestyles will be much stronger. Regional communities will be larger and more respected, as people-intensive multi-cropping agriculture has become the norm. Global warming and climate impacts will have been reversed, although how far this will go back toward or beyond where it is today is uncertain. International trade and travel will be largely confined to essentials. In New Zealand and other affluent countries, the material wealth of the rich will be substantially reduced, but there will be material improvements for the poor. Life will be slower, but emotionally and socially richer.

The climate-related impacts on New Zealand of the “muddling through” scenario

Place your bets everyone. There are potentially some very bad, and some quite good, impacts in this scenario. The climate will continue to deteriorate, but at a slower rate than in the “business as usual” scenario. Life will get harsher, and international trade and travel will drop considerably. But in terms of social impacts, there will be one of two broad trends, one towards authoritarianism, the other one towards democracy.

Over the next generation, the “constant crisis” mode of reacting to major events will be accentuated. This could lead towards either greater centralisation of power or greater decentralisation, as progress is made towards local resilience. There will be winners and losers from the piecemeal approach to climate solutions – this applies both to people and to places. Some places will become ghost towns, others will thrive. And none of this will be very predictable, as the complexities of the mix of status quo and radical changes will make their impacts very uncertain.

By 2120, the climate situation may have stabilised, at a hotter, wetter/drier, normal, or may still be on the path to complete collapse, albeit at a slower pace than in the “business as usual” scenario.

In social terms, any type of political system, from fascism through feudalism to democratic socialism, is possible. In economic terms, we can presume that the use of sequestered carbon (ie oil and coal) will be largely confined to high yield, long term products, but there will almost certainly still be high-end, luxury travel and transport available for privileged people and goods. And the gaps between rich and poor might be worse or better than now – if we go down the fascist route (probably via populism while still democratic in name at least), they will be worse; if a more democratic route, better.

Conclusion

If you wish to independently find out more about the potential impacts of climate change on New Zealand, the Ministry for the Environment has published national and regional climate change projections out to 2090, including some material on impacts. These are based on the IPCC’s models and projections, and so are quite conservative. Parts of this essay have used some of the Ministry’s projections, which are referenced in Endnote iv.


[1] See https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/only-60-years-of-farming-left-if-soil-degradation-continues/

[2] See https://www.stockholmresilience.org/research/planetary-boundaries.html

[3] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special_Report_on_Global_Warming_of_1.5_%C2%B0C

[4] See https://www.mfe.govt.nz/publications/climate-change/climate-change-projections-new-zealand

[5] Here I define politics as Colin Hay’s wide and perceptive a community’s use of its “capacity for agency and deliberation in situations of genuine collective or social choice”. Thanks to Ani White for pointing me to this.

[6] See for example https://www.activehope.info/three-stories.html, referring into “Active Hope: How To Face The Mess We’re In Without Going Crazy”, by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone, 2012

Patriarchy on the Radical Left, Part 2: a way out

Just after International Women’s day we are pleased to bring you part two of Kyra’s essay on patriarchy on the radical left. These discussions are important so please consider sharing. CONTENT WARNING: this article discusses topics that can often be difficult including sexual and relationship abuse, suicide, and addiction.

KYRA GILLIES has been involved in the radical left in her city and country for five years. She is a woman/genderfluid survivor of multiple intimate partner rapes from men. The most recent being from a man who is a member of the International Socialist Organisation. Passionate about our planetary health the author has been involved in Students for Environmental Action, supported School Strike for Climate and is currently involved with Environmental Justice Ōtepoti. They have been involved in anti-violence and alternative approaches to prisons as a founding member of Students Against Sexual Violence and a former member of People Against Prisons Aotearoa. They have volunteered for LGBT youth organisation InsideOUT and supported Dunedin Pride Month as an MC and poet for the Pride Poetry Night. They have been involved with the International Socialist Organisation Dunedin branch for more than 2 years, attending meetings, study groups and giving a public talk on anti-capitalist feminism, though never joined the organisation formally due to concerns about a culture of (white) male dominance and sexism. They are currently part of the Tauiwi mō Matike Mai Aotearoa kaupapa.

Fightback is pleased to publish Kyra’s thoughts on this subject, which are very close (though perhaps not identical) to our own on the problem of macho or patriarchal behaviours on the activist Left. This is the second in a two-part series of articles from Kyra; the first was published on the Fightback website last Monday.

a way out

the male dominated left, feminist antifascism and the need for men to front up

As feminists, we must view the nonfeminist Left as a reform movement. We must marvel at its moral bankruptcy, at the poverty of its revolutionary consciousness.

Andrea Dworkin1 1977

[Sexual/ gender violence] is not a secondary or tertiary question. It is the main issue facing the global Left.

Radical Women2 2019

Radical movements cannot afford the destruction that gender violence creates… [and] dismantling misogyny cannot be work that only women do. We all must do the work because the survival of our movements depends on it.

Courtney Desiree Morris3 2010

Radical softness as a weapon means that to present your emotional self is a political act, one which works against Western presentations of toughness. Vulnerability is a sign of strength. Sharing difficult experiences creates healing spaces and allows for others to feel less alone. 

Lora Mathis4 2015

a . b . c . a boys club

Let me be clear.

I do not want this to end in a suicide.

I do not want this to result in bullying or shaming.

I do not want the focus to be on him, some past tense ‘us’ or me. This is so much bigger than this relationship, this group, this city or this country. If the focus is purely individual, that lets the system(s) off the hook. Then we don’t look at or challenge the organisations, the cultures, what’s taken for granted. Male dominance: often cisgender, heterosexual, able bodied, educated, almost always white. Male dominance and its conspirators are not just within an individual, it is a network, a collective effort. The old boys club, as they say. You can’t challenge one boy; you have to challenge the whole club.

This is the second time I have survived multiple sexual assaults from an intimate male partner. I am sick of surviving, I want to live. I am sick of men making messes and women doing the cleaning up. Men5 do the raping and then women, queers, nonbinary people do the supporting of their friends, their daughters while they cry and rage. Men do some clean up work for a change. We are exhausted. Maybe then if you do the clean up work you will understand more about sexual violence, partner rape. The impact. You will hear the stories about anal rape, getting raped when you’re sick, the mental and emotional control they assert. How they apologise afterwards, tell you it won’t happen again. The pressure to be sexy, fun and up for anything. To compete with other women, with his previous sexual partners. How isolated we become, even and especially in rooms filled with other people.

Not only do other people tell us to put our struggles second, but we learn to put ourselves as a lower priority. We tell ourselves to wait, that now’s not a good time, he’s usually such a good guy. Don’t rock the boat, so a good time never comes. We internalise it, we hear the excuses and then we start to make them ourselves. We tell ourselves don’t detract from his good work. Don’t cause a breakage or drama, as if their rape wasn’t the cause of breakage. I’m sick of making myself a lower priority and of women being a lower priority. I am done supporting a ‘revolution’ that does not support us. A ‘revolution’ that does not care about women is no revolution at all. You’re lost. Women as a bottom priority is simply the patriarchal status quo, and the thousands of years of male supremacy which preceded this moment. Boring.

walking into a wreckage

I know I’m not the only one. I am writing this as a flare in the dark, to signal to other women. We are isolated, but not alone in our experience. Many women have experienced abuse from male partners, ‘comrades’, ‘friends’ in the radical left.

This is not about me. Always, I wanted to struggle to create space for other women, for it to be safer and better for them, for those young women and queers who come along after me. I wanted it to move along. That’s the thing about patriarchy, it evolves, yet is so stagnant, too. I know if women and queer’s engagement is up, the whole group, the whole world is richer for it. We have more insights, more ability to make change. Don’t get it twisted. I want our movement to flourish.

I came in to the radical left at 18 or 19. I came in hearing about this man who beat this woman, this man who threw this woman down the stairs, this man who raped this woman. I came in hearing about how poorly these rapes and beatings were handled. Hearing about how socially destructive it was, as well as to the woman herself of course. I came hearing about the years of ongoing fall out, the splits, fractures in groups, social circles. Yeah, sometimes the man was kicked out of the organisation he was part of, but did the culture in which it occurred change? Was there ever any reflection, repair? Did the man ever understand what and why he did wrong? Did he learn how to do differently? Did the trauma ever heal? or did it just linger, unspoken, unacknowledged.

I came in to almost exclusively men in meetings. Like walking into a wreckage. Knowing damage was down but not being there to have seen it. An aftermath which hung in the air. I would look around and never find many women. I walked into the direct consequence of men’s violence. Women’s political engagement is heavily impacted by men’s violence. You only need to look around and see who is there and who isn’t. How women left groups and cities and countries and never came back. I heard the whispers from women about how it’s hostile, it’s not safe. A full spectrum ranging from talking over you and talking down to you to rape and beating. I felt, I saw the absence of other women. That is what I mean when I say this is not about me. It is about the women before me, the women and queers after me. All of us. How the gender based violence is a filter, a border guard maintaining a near exclusively male* space.

Fuck you I don’t want to drop out. Fuck you I don’t want to leave a movement I care about. I want it to be better.

an heirloom, transmitted & maintained

The context in which I experienced control, verbal abuse and sexual abuse from an intimate male partner who was a member of a socialist organisation, was not isolated or out of nowhere. I had been vocal in challenging the male dominance in the organisations meetings. I had spoken repeatedly to members of the organisation. I tried to raise women’s and indigenous issues in meetings where only workers in some vague abstract sense were being talked about as some genderless, raceless human, who by default ends up being a white man. I was often shot down for these attempts and not supported by anyone. This happened in a context in which there were not many other women around, because it was an inhospitable environment. The other women/genderqueer people who spoke up got shot down too, or were too scared and unconfident to speak up due to what they’d seen happen to others. Male dominance has a disciplining function, it chills and silences. I found out later also that the man who mentored the man who abused me, mentored another man who also abused their partner. That’s not individual, that’s a pattern. That’s a power structure. Focusing on ‘individual perpetrators’ is a nonsense. It will never be enough. How is patriarchy/ male dominance taught? How is it handed down? Transmitted? Normalised like the air we breath, who talks about air? It’s just air, this is just life. How is patriarchy inherited? reproduced? we must disrupt patriarchy when and where it is reproduced.

No more ‘he’s a great man’ ‘he has all this experience; he does/has done so much’. Even men with much experience have much to learn. Perhaps we should be asking why, if they’ve been involved in the struggle for so long, they’ve never interrogated the patriarchy in themselves. No more protecting egos. No more ‘loyalty’ and ‘respect’ as a code for maintaining patriarchy. Leaving patriarchy intact, unchallenged and leaving the women in it’s wake. How much are you expecting us to bare? to hold in our bodies silently as we become sick and tired. And you wonder why there are few women at meetings, like you’re not the cause.

Even when women are silent publicly, we whisper, we know. There may not be many formal complaints or comments to your men’s organisation, but boy oh boy is there a reputation. Deftly circulated whispers about what its like in your meetings, to be in relationships with you, why we won’t go back and why we wouldn’t recommend it.

welcoming sharing learning

Let me be clear:

…sexual abuse, rape, verbal abuse, control, talking over women and queers, telling us we’re overreacting. This is all part of a spectrum of patriarchal behaviour. Each behaviour is not the same but they all contribute to trying to control and keep down women and queers, they sustain male dominance.

Beyond that, male dominated organisations lack welcomingness, lack hospitality, lack care, warmth. This is patriarchal macho bullshit and it is a deeply colonised way of being. Where is the loving greetings and smiles? The acknowledgement of people, land, those who have passed, the gifts of the earth? Do you ask people how they are? Where they’re from? Check in on them, get to know them. Be curious, empathetic. Don’t just act like they are objects for you to insert information into. Like they’re just people/ workers/ potential recruits who you need to teach something. You have something to learn from everyone, their lives, experiences. They have insights too, they could teach you. They’re not a hopeless human being and useless political subject until they’ve read Das Kapital or State and Revolution. It could be an exchange instead of an imposition.

Make people cups of tea. Don’t just leave it to the women. Have feminist books and Māori books, māna wāhine books, books on disability justice, art, earth, animals, parenting, education. There are so many ways to approach liberation, it can be joyful and life affirming. It doesn’t have to be so dry and harsh and cold.

Your posters don’t always have to be red and black and shouting!!!

Where are the flowers? the river? the love?

Even men such as Che, who so many macho leftists admire, said that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love for the people. Where is your love? show it. Live love in your actions.

True love is revolutionary, is anti-capitalist, anti-colonial and there can be no love under patriarchy, only delusion.

Communism is about sharing. Share your food and tea, welcome people, care for them. Share your time, listen and share stories. Connect. Capitalism is a brutal system of compartmentalisation. It is radical to connect. To resist isolation. To truly cultivate relationships of depth and intimacy. So we have a strong base of love, care and friendship from which to wage our struggle against the system, for love of life.

counter the death cult with care

Patriarchy is a death cult. War, violence, rape, addiction, self annihilation, neglect and destruction, unaddressed trauma cycling through to violence and more trauma. Colonial capitalist patriarchy will have men kill each other, kill women, children, kill animals, the earth, oceans and of course have men kill themselves. A death cult can only be countered with that which affirms life. Counter necropolitics with caring for each other and ourselves. Nurturing, loving.

Patriarchy is fuelled and sustained by generations and generations of violence and trauma stacking, compacting and cycling on and on and on. Being passed down, continuing. Transmitting the worst of our family histories forward: the alcoholism, the beating, the rape, the yelling, the betrayal, the heartbreak. We must be the generation(s) that stop it. That heal. That insist on ending violence against women, children, queers, men, earth. That fight to address addiction. Part of the struggle is for housing and food and clean water, enough to live, yes. Within that process is the struggle to treat each other well. To not inflict harm in spite of our stress, fear, crisis and pain. To be patient, to be gentle, to communicate. To take time out. To be honest with each other when we are frustrated, to acknowledge when we are struggling. To be aware of our emotions and how that could affect how we engage with each other. To ask for help when we need it. To support each other, mutual aid, to live and struggle in interdependence.

support systems, softness

I read once that when it comes to suicide, women’s ‘weakness’ is their greatest strength and men’s ‘strength’ is their greatest weakness. What does this mean? Women attempt suicide at higher rates than men, but die less. Men attempt less but die more by suicide. That’s the gender paradox. What keeps women alive partly it is believed, is that women have greater social support with friends, family and also reaching out for formal support. Women are more likely to have grown more friendships often with greater intimacy and depth. Men are at risk because they do not create such support systems for themselves and each other. Women talk about their feelings and ask for help more and this is seen as ‘weak’ yet it is a protective factor. Men are seen as tough/ strong for suppressing their feelings, bottling it up, manning up, being a tough guy, yet this is part of what puts them at risk. Whilst also functioning to outsource the labour of emotional support for men onto women.

In many ways, for men it is not toughening up but softening up that is needed. What is called radical softness, could be truly revolutionary. Softening up, being caring could be part of suicide and violence prevention as well as part of addressing trauma and addictions.

struggle within

If you have a conception of freedom that includes the existence of rape, you are wrong. You cannot change what you say you want to change. 

Andrea Dworkin6

We can struggle together better, more sustainably and continuously when there is trust, respect, when we are safe to be around each other. This is fundamental. We need to be able to work together, to struggle effectively to overthrow this capitalist, colonial patriarchal clusterfuck of a system. To work together at our best there needs to be no abuse (this is an aspiration to work towards here and now, there’s no perfection but we must try). The struggle is against the system(s). The systems are inside and outside of us. The struggle is to work together against the system(s). To address trauma and addiction, to prevent violence and abuse so as to be able to work together to struggle against the system. There are struggles within struggles; ultimately it is one struggle.

Let me be clear:

I am not doing this for revenge, to take someone down. It would be disingenuous to interpret my actions as such.

Saying it’s just personal, is patriarchal nonsense. Saying it’s a private matter, it’s revenge, she’s overreacting, she’s vindictive, she’s crazy, is sexist nonsense. This is personal, yes, thanks for noticing. It’s also very fucking political, it’s historical, it’s systemic.

I am doing this because while male dominance, abuse and women’s silence reigns, a movement for liberation remains quagmired in mud.

Stuck. Not moving.

Not much of a movement at all. I am doing this for growth, because I want us to get somewhere. Fuck, look past this as a personal attack, as being about your image or reputation and realise that gender based violence is you sabotaging the revolution you claim to care so much about. Show us you’re more than just lost boys using politics as an escape. I am inviting you to try to be a revolutionary not merely a hypocrite. I’m not saying I’m perfect, none of us are. Imperfection is no excuse for not trying and striving. This is a struggle isn’t it? Struggle with me, struggle together. We were never made to struggle alone.

Within every struggle, we have a gender/sexual violence struggle to contend with as well.

Housing. Women fear and experience violence in their home from man partners, friends, family members and flat mates. Women fleeing violence often become homeless or are unable to flee because of financial dependence, poverty. There is a feminisation of poverty, which is to say wealth is masculinised.

The climate crisis. Women especially the indigenous, experience rape, harassment and murder for struggling to protect the earth. The water. Women earth protectors often must struggle against capital and their own men.

The Workplace. Women experience harassment sometimes rape. Lower pay especially for pacific and Māori women.

Leftist meetings, conferences. Women are often spoken over, spoken down to, disrespected, demeaned, often harassed, sometimes raped or beaten.

Protests, blockades with police. Women and gender minorities often experience sexual and gender based violence from the cops, touching their breasts, invasive searches.

We have all the problems you men have as working people under capitalism and more.

collective healing

we must support women and queer people in our movements who have experienced interpersonal violence and engage in a collective process of healing.

Courtney Desiree Morris7

Sexual violence is a wound. It takes time to heal and recover. It’s a wound no one can see and it’s a lot of energy to tell people about it. Being wounded takes you out of the struggle as you struggle to cope. It can make you struggle to eat, to sleep, to go out in public. Make you self isolate, self harm and neglect, feel suicidal and depressed. Experiencing sexual violence has made it hard for me to stay working to address the climate crisis, to work in solidarity for Māori sovereignty. Experiencing intimate partner rape takes my energy and focus away from things because I’m trying to sleep and eat. Trying to cope with crying all the time and flashbacks and this all consuming rage at the unfairness of it.

I wish I could just focus on the climate crisis, Māori sovereignty, welfare, housing, the union movement. But I can’t ignore what is so disabling.

So often we hear about the important work men have done as a plea to not challenge him on his behaviour. What about women’s contributions? We contribute so much. Other people fucking with our ability to participate in the struggle should be of concern. What about the women taken out of the struggle, lost to rape and domestic violence? Why is it being looked at as if it is men who are the only ones contributing? Or the only ones whose contributions matter. Count us.

I refuse to bare this pain alone, in private. To bare it in private, would be an injustice on top of what is already unjust. I loved someone, they abused me. It’s the emotional pain that’s the worst. The sense that safety is unattainable. That trusting other people is just something you do which endangers yourself. I refuse to give up on trusting other people, what else do we have available to us but each other? It’s not just pain from one individual, it’s pain of feeling profoundly let down by a whole community. Feeling like not enough is being done or was done to prevent and address gender violence. Like the silence is screaming at me. This experience has made me feel so alone, so unsupported. So let down.

Can’t we collectivise pain? Collectivise healing, too? Isn’t change meant to be a collective project?

Leaving people alone is a betrayal.

As a woman in radical circles, I feel trapped. We’re not allowed to call the cops because we’re meant to oppose them. It’s not like I want to, or that I think the cops would help. But just because we’re prison abolitionists doesn’t mean we don’t want justice, nor does it mean you can abuse us with impunity. Just because I don’t want to go the cops doesn’t mean I don’t want this to be addressed, for you to be accountable. As if the cops would address it anyway, if you don’t address this you’re no better than them.

rape, race & resources

It tends to be women and queers who are indigenous and/or of colour who bare the brunt of sexual violence. Yet, it is white women’s ‘victimhood’ that is cared about, responded to, more than others, if at all. White women might not get listened to much, but if anyone is more likely to be listened to at all it’s us.

Men of all races are sexually violent, abusive. That’s patriarchy, it has cultural specificity but also is cross cultural. Yet it is often the white / wealthy / cis-het / men who most often evade accountability. Their position of power insulates. Often people are unable or never dare to fight the well off white men, with their social status, their connections, their money, the esteem they are held in. It’s easier to speak of the less powerful men and their violence. The institutions of media, criminal justice, are willing to convict and punish men of colour, to print their images in newspaper, to parade it across the TV screen. Fear the black and brown rapist, they say. Feeding into shaping the view that it is non-white men who are the violent ones. That it’s the poor and brown men who are violent, ‘uncivilised’, ‘backwards’ and ‘uncouth’. Men of colour are not unique in their violence. They are just more likely to be reached in their position of relative less power, in this nexus system of race, gender, class+.

I do not want men of colour to be the only ones challenged on gender based violence. But I do not want men of colour to go unchallenged either. White men, men who sit on higher positions of the ladder must be challenged especially.

We can’t pursue the issue of sexual and gender based violence without being critical of racial power dynamics, failing to do so would be destructive. Any anti-sexual violence struggle worth it’s salt must be anti-racist. It’s a false dichotomy to act like we must choose between caring about white women or men of colour. White women or white men. That is a bind. Women of colour, indigenous women matter. No men and their violence should be let off the hook.

If this is what a white able bodied women (/genderfluid person) goes through, then I know it’s likely to be much worse for disabled / trans / migrant / women / of colour / poor / sex workers / single mothers.

There is energy required to ‘speak out’ to talk, to write. It requires time. It requires a certain amount of financial, mental, emotional stability to be able to focus on gender based violence and challenge it. Rather than just focusing on surviving. I have a secure enough income, job and living situation. I have some supportive friends and family. I can usually afford to go to the doctor. I’ve been able to access free counselling. When I’m exhausted and struggling I have the money to buy easy food: soup and smoothies or order in pizza. If I feel like shit and am in crisis I can go drive my car to the beach or a friend’s place. I have a certain amount of money, resources and connections. I don’t want to use what I have available to me merely for my own comfort or advancement. I have been sick, sore and struggling, in emotional turmoil. I’ve had months and months of going round and round and up and down. A cycle of coping and crashing, but with what I have available to me and my own efforts, I’ve been able to get to a point where I can take the time and energy to write about this. Like most people in this world I occupy a position of oppressed and oppressor, for all my faults and flaws, I am committed to fighting that simultaneously, for women and queer liberation AND against white supremacy, the able bodied, class dominated society.

feminism = the opposite of fascism

sexism and misogyny are [central] to the far-right’s political agenda… fascism and the patriarchy are two heads of the same snake

Hope Worsdale8

Recently in my city there have been some effort to do antifascist organising particularly in the wake of a white supremacist terrorist attack. Even though most white supremacist and fascist attacks and organising is by white men, there is virtually no discussion or acknowledgement of this fact. Women’s political engagement has been low in this area and it has stayed man, mostly white man, dominated. Even an attempt at doing a karakia to close a meeting was dismissed as silly and ‘cultural’ rather than ‘political’. Tell me, man, what kind of space are you trying to create?

A key part of fascism is the male dominated family, household. A return and longing for the strong man. Seeking to push women/keep women in their place, in the home, as housewives, mothers. They seek white women to support the ‘great’ white men, to fuck him, birth his children, raise them, cook and clean, nothing else. White women are revered in the fascist perspective, we are revered in a subordinate role. To serve to enable the white man. We white women will survive if we serve, cook, fuck, clean. Others women of colour, queers, the disabled, fat people do not have that option. They are seen as ‘degenerate’, ‘inferiors’ to be gotten rid of, purged/ cleansed, whatever hideous language they may choose or mask in codes. Fascism is hetero-patriarchal. It is patriarchal white supremacist to the extreme. Fascism cannot be countered by a white man dominated left. You pour water not gasoline on a fire. You cannot counter something with something, that is from the same root. Challenging fascism and white supremacy necessarily requires challenging white / man dominance in all it’s forms, including in the white / men of the left.

These men are worried about this outside threat of white supremacy and fascism. But they are not concerned about their own domination which they sit atop of. If they really were to effectively challenge fascism and white supremacy, they would be challenging its root. They would be challenging a key pillar. Not just out there, but in themselves also. This is not an either or. Personal change or political change. We struggle simultaneously on both or multiple fronts, it’s time white / men did too. Women, queers, particularly women of colour’s, political leadership and participation will only strengthen antifascism. Improve it, refine it, hone it. Make it the powerful life affirming force that it needs to be.

a dare: don’t run

I haven’t seen a single man reckon with what he’s done.

Eve Ensler9

I dare you to face up to what you’ve done.

I dare you to face up to your complicity, your actions and your failure to act.

I dare you to acknowledge the harm you’ve done, the other men’s bullshit you’ve supported, enabled, looked the other way for, made excuses.

I dare you to challenge yourself to really investigate why and how you did what you did. Where it came from? How you’ll stop it.

I dare you to address your trauma, your addiction, your anger and all your other feelings you’re so uncomfortable with.

I fucking dare you to confront other men. You’re scared of him? Me too. How do you think we feel? But still we try to confront you anyway, what other choice do we have?

I dare you to support other men. To expect better of them, to hold yourselves to a higher standard.

Don’t you see, us women, us queers, us vengeful feminist bitches, we’re the ones who believe in you the most. We believe in your humanity, your capacity for growth, transformation, healing.

You’re not doomed to always be rapists, perpetrators, oppressors.

We insist on it, we require it.

We dare you to live up to our hopes for you.

We dare you10 to front up to it, don’t run away, dodge or hide. FRONT UP.

All this guilt and fear you have, of us ‘coming after you’ trying to ‘take you down’ that it’s a ‘witch hunt’. You’re delusional, you’re projecting. If this was a witch hunt you’d be burning at the stake, smelling your own flesh, right now, but you’re not are you? That’s because we have far more restraint than you have. We are merciful.

You can be free of your guilt, your fear. You don’t have to live always glancing over your shoulder, paranoid, like eventually you know you’ll get what’s coming. You can be free of your paranoia, if only you FRONT UP.

I will make you a promise now, far more than you deserve. Despite all the offers I’ve received, I will not send someone round to your house to beat the ever living shit out of you. I will not have your house egged or bricked. I will not beat you up myself. I will not tell you to kill yourself. As angry as I am, I do not want that. I have felt violence in this world. I have no desire for violence to cycle on. I want peace!

Stop being so fucking narrow minded about this all; imagine something other than violence. Why is it so hard to understand that

we actually want you to change your behaviour.

I am giving you a way out. You don’t have to move countries to some new scene where no one knows what you did, you don’t have to kill yourself. I don’t want to push anyone into a corner from which there is no coming back, there is no redemption, there is only death.

You may think there is no coming back from what you’ve done. We’re telling you you’re wrong. Redemption is possible, if only you work to have redeeming behaviour.

We are giving you a way out. If only you would take it.

Try being different to your father, your grandfather.

Thank us for the olive branch, you silly, silly men and take it.

We dare you to break the cycle. That would be fucking revolutionary!

Am I vindictive now? I am insisting on your life.

Perhaps more than I have seen you do so for yourself. Grasp life, live it. None of this living dead self annihilation bullshit. I told you patriarchy was a death cult. You’re the king of a prison. Get out. The top of a pyramid in a cage. Step down.

I won’t kill you, or beat you. But I will speak about what you did to me. And I will demand it be addressed. Don’t you fucking run away from me, from us, from this. Despite all your urges to hide, to bury yourself in drugs, escapism and self destruction. I want you to keep your feet firmly rooted in the ground,

Stay right where you are.

Listen,

Look

You fucked up, now

FRONT UP


1 Andrea Dworkin, Marx and Ghandi were liberals: feminism and the “radical” left archive.org/stream/Dworkin_Marx-Ghandi/Marx%20and%20Ghandi%20Were%20Liberals_djvu.txt

2 Radical Women, The meltdown of International Socialist Organization: How anti-feminism, racism and bureaucracy led to its demise radicalwomen.org/ISO%20demise.shtml?fbclid=IwAR2BmdVeG132deOercwl5YNVTQ1EX4XaA21jkqzhPgtoqJlyRfIYQOR94

3 Why misogynists make great informants: how gender violence on the left enables state violence in radical movements incite-national.org/2010/07/15/why-misogynists-make-great-informants-how-gender-violence-on-the-left-enables-state-violence-in-radical-movements/

4 Radical Softness as a Weapon loramathis.com/kipp-harbor-times

5 Yes, men are victims too, yes women and non-men rape sometimes too. However, it’s mostly men to mostly women and femmes. Don’t derail.

6 Andrea Dworkin, I want a 24 truce during which there is no rape nostatusquo.com/ACLU/dworkin/WarZoneChaptIIIE.html

7 Why misogynists make great informants: how gender violence on the left enables state violence in radical movements incite-national.org/2010/07/15/why-misogynists-make-great-informants-how-gender-violence-on-the-left-enables-state-violence-in-radical-movements/

8 Antifascism is a feminist issue. redpepper.org.uk/anti-fascism-is-feminist-issue/ 2018

9 Eliana Dockterman, I Visited Eve Ensler to Talk About Her Sexual Abuse. I got a Therapy Session Instead. time.com/5581726/eve-ensler-the-apology-book-review/ 2019

10 Inspired by Barucha Peller’s Patriarchy in Radical Movements, and a Call to Men (unpublished)

If you found this article difficult and/or are struggling with similar issues, please consider talking with your whānau, friends and/or contacting: Lifeline, Depression Helpline, Women’s Refuge, Shine Helpline, HELP Support for Sexual Abuse Survivors, OCASA (formerly Rape Crisis), Safe to Talk Sexual Harm phone line, and/or the Alcohol/Drug Helpline.