Iceland: There are no peaceful revolutions (a reply to Jessica Ward)

memes such as this distort the realities on the ground

memes such as this distort the realities on the ground

This article, by Fightback member Ian Anderson, is a reply to Jessica Ward’s article Iceland: Become Part of the Heard (here).

This article is not a criticism of the people of Iceland, it’s a criticism of the way their story has been told. Globally circulated articles and memes have made extraordinary and only partially true claims; that Iceland’s constitution was rewritten by the people, that they have deposed their government, that they’re undergoing a total economic revolution.

For example, Jessica’s article claims that “members of parliament as well as the bank directors are being tried for their crimes against the people.” While it is true that some bankers have been jailed, members of parliament were cleared of charges.

In his speaking tour, Hordur Torfason conceded that parliamentary capitalist order had largely been restored in Iceland. However, he said that the movement had raised “awareness.” While awareness is important, critical thought is necessary to developing revolutionary consciousness and activity.

While the people have won concessions, the capitalist government of Iceland remains intact. As explained in an earlier Fightback article, (Iceland’s “peaceful revolution” – myth and reality, parliament was restored to power and is now directing the constitutional process. The right-wing parties have regained influence and may win in 2013, according to supporters of the constitutional process (

Narratives of a “peaceful revolution” prevail. Torfason underlines that movement leaders intervened to stop protestors from clashing with police. However, police have inflicted violence on protestors. There is no such thing as a peaceful revolution.

The capitalist state in Iceland retains a monopoly on violence. The police, and the army, hold the arms and enforce capitalist domination. When previous revolutions have not addressed the capitalist state’s monopoly on violence, they have been drowned in blood.

In Chile 1971, Salvador Allende was the first Marxist to be elected to national presidency in a capitalist state. Chile saw sweeping nationalisations and social programs, under the slogan “The Chilean way to socialism.”

In Chile 1973 however, a military coup led by Augusto Pinochet, and backed by the West, restored full state power to the capitalist class. Over the following years Pinochet’s government killed and disappeared thousands of dissidents. This is why Venezuela’s Chavez said of the Chilean revolution: “Like Allende, we’re pacifists and democrats. Unlike Allende, we’re armed.”

Right now throughout most of the Western world, non-violent civil disobedience makes tactical sense. In Aotearoa/NZ, we are nowhere near seizing power for the people; the Icelandic people may have come closer to this goal, but they have not achieved it. We must not lie to ourselves. If there is any chance of the masses holding democratic socialist power, this will mean overthrowing the capitalist state.

State-Owned Enterprises: Private profits, public losses

Daphne Lawless

Why does the New Zealand state own for-profit companies, anyway? We’re taught at school that the purpose of state ownership is to enable economic planning and fulfil social welfare functions. But the State-Owned Enterprises of today aren’t doing any such thing. In the last month, we’ve had announcements of at least 1000 jobs at Telecom, while Solid Energy have cancelled the $10 million in funding they provide to West Coast communities (to compensate for the ongoing despoilation of their environment).

Meanwhile, especially since the government abolished its Charter, Television New Zealand certainly has no public service character which distinguishes it from its commercial competitors. And with power prices for working families going through the roof, we certainly don’t get any benefit from state ownership of power generation.

The justification for the state hanging on to these large corporations is to keep them in “Kiwi” hands, and to pay the state a dividend on their investment. New Zealand has had a history of failed privatisation – both Air New Zealand and our national rail network had to be taken into public hands after being run down by their new private owners.

Why, then, are the National government so insistent on the part-privatisation of Mighty River Power, in the teeth of mass opposition? And why are they throwing a fit at the Labour/Green plan to bring in a “single buyer” of wholesale power? To understand this, we have to understand the real motives for the corporatisation and privatisation of state trading assets.

Corporatisation and privatization

We are almost four decades into a slow-motion crisis of capitalism. The old Keynesian-interventionist consensus was based on the government, as collective capitalist, using its economic leverage to expand opportunities for profit for the  capitalist classes. This “picking winners” and “demand management” approach is now strongly associated with the Muldoon government of 1975-84 – which happens to be the era when the strategy ran out of steam. All the government investment and administrative diktats in the world couldn’t make the New Zealand economy profitable in the era of the oil shocks and “stagflation”. What was needed was a new way for government to guarantee private sector profits.

The 1984-90 Labour Government pacified the left and the union movement with “social liberal” reforms on women’s rights, Tiriti o Waitangi issues, homosexual law reform and the anti-nuclear stance. This left them free to take a neoliberal machete to traditional models of welfare and public service. The old Keynesian consensus was dead – in particular, the idea of the State sector as a “sponge” to absorb excess labour from the market was doomed.

Labour politicians like Richard Prebble went around the country screaming about the amount of people employed by the railways and the state forestry service to do not very much. But this was always a social welfare issue, rather than a simple issue of business inefficiency. “Make work” schemes, money-losers though they be, encouraged social cohesion and passing on of skills from one generation of workers to another – they were also a payback to the unions for allowing real wages to be eaten away by inflation. [Read more…]

Fightback endorses Aotearoa not for Sale day of action

Fightback is endorsing the Aotearoa Not for Sale national day of action against asset sales, on April 27th 2013. The day of action has already been endorsed by the Council of Trade Unions, Unions Auckland, Unite, the Mana Movement, Occupy and Socialist Aotearoa among others.

“The government is set on asset sales despite opposition from 80% of the general population, and 90% of tangata whenua,” says Fightback member Ian Anderson. “We cannot take this passively, or vote and expect capitalist parties to represent us. We must fight in the streets, in workplaces and communities, to take control of assets.” Fightback supports full nationalisation of assets under community control.

The role of the centre-left in the campaign against asset sales

Joel Cosgrove

With the dismissal of the Maori Council’s water rights claim to the Supreme Court and the submission of the Anti-Asset Sales petition for a referendum, one phase of the broad campaign against the sale of assets has ended and the next has begun.

Within the initial campaign against asset sales there were three main approaches; the challenge in the courts, the attempt to build a protest movement, and the attempt to initiate a Citizen’s Initiated Referendum on the question.

Much faith was placed in the challenge made by the Maori Council in their appeal to the Supreme Court that the partial privatisation of the government-owned power companies would interfere with the ongoing Treaty of Waitangi settlement process. In the judgment Chief Justice Sian Elias outlined the reasoning of the court. In the reasoning it was claimed that the Crown provided reasonable assurances to Maori in regard to water rights, that the Crown had the capacity to provide equivalents and meaning redress, and that the Crown had shown a proven willingness and ability to provide redress.

The relatively quick resolution of the court case has meant that the majority of the news reporting and analysis has more recently been focused on the final moments of the campaign for the CIR.

The CIR campaign has been a relative success. It has achieved what it set out to do, namely to initiate a referendum on the question “Do you support the Government selling up to 49 per cent of Meridian Energy, Mighty River Power, Genesis Power, Solid Energy and Air New Zealand?”.

At its core though the referendum campaign has been a passive one, focused around the efforts of the Green and Labour parties to win an organisational arm-wrestle between the two.

In a document leaked to National Party activist David Farrar, at the point where 300,000 signatures were collected, the Greens had collected 150,000 signatures, Labour 105,000 and the Unions with 40,000. What this confirms is the political dynamic that became clear over the length of the campaign. [Read more…]

Annette Sykes: “We belong to the water and the water belongs to us”

annette hikoi

Fightback argues for nationalisation of resources, such as water, under community control. In 2011 a Waitangi Tribunal claim, on proprietary title to water, challenged government plans to sell off private shares in power companies – particularly Mighty River Power.

Annette Sykes is a lawyer involved in the water claim, a Mana candidate, and long-time tino rangitaranga activist. Fightback writer Ian Anderson interviewed her on Waitangi Day 2013.

Fightback: What is the nature of the claim?

AS: The water rights claim arises from a number of claims that have been in place for several years, on the relationship that Maori have with water. Many Maori say that “I am the water and the water is me,” so this connection gives rise to a sense of identity. For many Maori that identity is threatened once those resources are taken out of public control and placed in private use.

So the claim goes to these aspects; the Treaty affirms a relationship between hapu, iwi and tangata whenua with their water-ways; that water-ways are vital to the survival and essence of life, once they’re taken out of public ownership into private ownership, it threatens the very existence and identity of those tribal identities; and those rights have been extant by virtue of the Treaty, and have been upheld by various iwi.

In this particular case with the Waikato river tribes, this has been upheld by various settlements, but there has never been any serious effort to give those settlements force, to prevent commercialisation of those resources. [Read more…]

Fear and Loathing in the Public Sector

Ben Jacobs, Wellington branch of the Workers Party

One aspect of the government’s spending that was not widely covered by the media at the time of this year’s budget announcements was the reduction in public sector spending by one billion dollars over the next three years. This comes on top of the sinking lid on the number of public servants and raft of more specific cuts made since the National party came to power.

The effect of these cuts has been an increase in the contracting out of public sector jobs, from operational to managerial functions. For example, when Bill English asked government departments to reduce spending by 10%, contractors became a much more attractive proposition – not only because they don’t have the same rights as permanent employees (such as sick leave, holiday pay and collective agreement coverage) but also because it’s much easier to hide this spending from the public eye. The impact of this is to increase the proportion of fixed term workers and reduce union coverage, whittling what remaining culture of solidarity exists in the head offices of government departments. [Read more…]

July 14th: Thousands march against asset sales

Auckland march

Christchurch march, photo credit: Jonathan van der Pennen.

Christchurch. Photo credit: Jonathan van der Pennen.

Previous coverage of asset sales and fightback:

Against Asset Sales

Annette Sykes, Mana President: asset sales and tangata whenua
Ian Anderson, Chair of Mana Rangatahi ki Poneke: public control of assets

Asset sales legislation has passed despite opposition from some 80% of those polled, and up to 88% of tangata whenua. Kai and korero on the fightback at Wellington Library Mezzanine.

WSWS left-sect slanders against genuine socialist participation in the campaign against asset sales

Jared Phillips

In a May 17 article titled “New Zealand ‘Not for Sale’ campaign promotes anti-Chinese sentiment” World Socialist Web Site (WSWS) writer John Braddock lies and makes countless distortions about the campaign against asset sales and socialist involvement in the campaign. The essential point Braddock tries to make is that the left forces involved in the campaign are lining up in support of New Zealand nationalism.

Anti-privatisation or Anti-Chinese?
First-off, the opening paragraph of Braddock’s article is misleading. He states that:

Following a decision by New Zealand’s National Party government to allow the sale of 16 privately-owned farms to the Chinese company Shanghai Penqxin, a grouping of pseudo-left organisations, in league with the opposition Labour Party, the Greens, Maori nationalists, and the unions, have launched a reactionary protest campaign under the slogan “Aotearoa [New Zealand] is Not for Sale”.

However, the truth is that the anti-asset sales campaign is based on opposition to government plans to sell off several major state assets. The private sale of farms to a Chinese company is treated as a separate issue. This is reflected in the wording of the nation-wide petition aimed at forcing a Citizen’s Initiated Referendum on the issue, which is one arm of the campaign and is connected to the recent hikoi* and protests. The wording of the petition reads “Do you support the Government selling up to 49% of Meridian Energy, Mighty River Power, Genisis Power, Solid Energy, and Air New Zealand?”

The petition for the referendum is being promoted by unions, the Labour Party, social democrats, Maori justice activists, The Greens, and genuine socialist organisations. This is an important campaign to oppose the transfer of wealth to the ruling class that occurs through privatisation. It is also important because of the likelihood of increased power and heating costs which will hurt middle and low income people. In the petition there is no mention of the private sale of dairy farms to a Chinese company. [Read more…]

Thousands say: “John Key, you’ve got mail, Aotearoa is not for sale”

Ian Anderson

The Aotearoa is Not For Sale hikoi departed from Cape Reinga on April the 23rd and reached parliament on May the 4th. This march demonstrated that tangata whenua are at the forefront of struggle against privatisation, expressed widespread opposition to asset sales, and raised questions of how to move forward.

Broad kaupapa
The kaupapa was broad, and contested. Thousands were united by opposition to National’s plans of selling 49% of state-owned assets to private companies. Other issues of corporate and ‘foreign’ ownership included the AFFCO meat-works lockout, offshore drilling and the Crafar Farms sale.

In an article for Scoop, Anti-capitalism must feature at hikoi against asset sales, Valerie Morse argued the focus should be on capitalist ownership rather than foreign ownership: “A number of very well known ‘kiwi’ brands equally well meet the definition of a multinational corporation… The fight shouldn’t be about domestic or foreign ownership; the fight should be about ownership full stop.” [Read more…]