Race problem?  What Race Problem?

Revised 3 November 2008

 return to republican homepage

Three months ago the Chinese community in Auckland staged a mass demonstration  in implicit support of  China's right to rule over Tibet.    A month back they demonstrated in even larger numbers under the auspices of the Asian Anti-Crime Group against a perceived crime wave directed against the Asian community.    These unprecedented, but entirely predictable, demonstrations of Asian discontent, have roots which go deeper than the immediate and stated causes.   Asians, most of whom have direct historical  experience of British imperial rule in their home countries, are aware that New Zealand, as a creature of the British imperial system, is a race-based society.   And they also know that their particular ethnic groups occupy a problematic and marginal position within the overall structure of New Zealand society.

From one perspective, some Asian immigrants are partly to blame for their own predicament.   Grog shops owned and run by Indians (many of them Sikhs, who should know better) who ply working class Polynesians with alcohol tend to reap what they sow.   The Maori Party has not gone quite as far as to say that, but Pita Sharples has come out and said that the grog shops must be closed.   Battle lines are being drawn between Asian shop keepers who don't want to be shot, stabbed or bludgeoned to death by  young Polynesians, and Polynesian leaders who don't want to see their young people being lead down a path of crime and degradation by Asian grog dealers.

But it is also true that such Asians (and Polynesians) have simply adapted to the mores of "mainstream" New Zealand society which increasingly condones every form of social irresponsibility from the grog shop to the casino and the bordello.   The real problems of New Zealand society have their genesis within a majority European culture which is racist and amoral.   Social amorality is a phenomenon which can be traced back to the nineteen sixties, and which received official sanction in the social and economic liberalising legislation of the nineteen eighties.   But the roots of racism stretch back much farther, to the very foundations of the New Zealand state as a colony of the British empire.

In the nineteenth century, the British managed a host of different ethnicities and cultures in the name of an empire which extended over one quarter of the earth.   The stated object of British imperialism was to impose peace, progress and civilisation upon the peoples of the earth, and to that end the bureaucrats of empire sought to become expert in the management of different ethnic groups.   Unlike the more ideologically inclined French imperialists, they tended to favour pragmatic, race-based solutions to the problems posed by the demands of British commerce.  These solutions often involved the mass transplantation of ethnic groups into foreign territories.    Africans were shipped to the American cotton fields and West Indian  plantations, Indians were sent the Fijian cane fields, Chinese were transported to the Malayan rubber plantations, and Jews were settled in Palestine.    The British quickly discovered an effective division of labour:  immigrant populations provided the most pliable labour force, while indigenous peoples could be usefully employed in the British military and police forces.    The most extreme consequences of this strategy were seen in the Fiji Islands, where the descendents of Indian indentured labourers came to make up half the population, while the indigenous Fijians evolved into a military caste which is to this day employed in British imperial tasks around the globe.

There are two obvious differences between New Zealand and other British colonial states such as Fiji or Malaya: first, the indigenous people have been reduced to a relatively small proportion of the total population, and second, the immigrant population is largely of British ethnicity.    This combination of circumstances has allowed the institution of a relatively stable and benign race-based system, in which Maori have been able to assume a special relationship with the British crown, and this relationship has been a source of reassurance, rather than a threat, to the immigrant population.   Thus, in the twentieth century New Zealand was largely spared the savage race conflicts that erupted in virtually every other corner of the collapsing British empire.

But New Zealand is still fraught with latent racial tensions.   The political system remains race based, and the ruling European elite remain infecteds with a racist imperial hubris.   Following the old British imperial methodology, they induced a new wave of immigration in a bid to create new sources of wealth as the New Zealand economy went into stagnation and decline.   But the economic benefits of the latest influx of immigrants proven to be speculative, short-lived and insubstantial, while the consequent social tensions threaten to be deep-seated and long lasting.

The New Zealand government believes that since it has managed an exploitative race-based ("diverse") social system for nigh on a century, it could continue to do so under any foreseeable economic, social or demographic circumstances.  That is wishful thinking.   Just as the migration policies of the British empire have left a trail of damage from Fiji to Zimbabwe, so the immigration policies of the colonial regime in New Zealand will give rise to a host of unintended and potentially adverse consequences.

The first, and most obvious problem for the regime is the massive miscalculation it made about the loyalties of the large immigrant population from mainland China.    It should have been obvious to a colonial regime which still owes formal allegiance to Britain, that the mass of Chinese immigrants would retain their allegiance to the much older and grander civilization of their birth, particularly at a time when China is moving back into the first rank of nations while Britain has declined to the status of a third-rate power.    Yet it came as a rude shock to New Zealand's political elite to discover that the most important quality that most Chinese New Zealanders look for in their political leaders is not "loyalty to New Zealand" let alone loyalty to Britain, but rather "loyalty to China".

There will be at least one positive repercussion from this, namely that the colonial regime may never again be in a position to engage in Asian military adventures such as the wars in Malaya, Korea or Vietnam.   Nor will the New Zealand government be in strong position to join with the United States government in any future attempts to bully, coerce, or contain the Peoples Republic of China, whether economically, financially, or militarily.    The downside is that the Chinese community within New Zealand is at risk of remaining socially, culturally, and economically isolated from the European community, and that changes in the economic or political landscape could induce serious tensions or even provoke open communal conflict.

The are many other points at which the complex web of race relations is at risk of rupturing.   Many among the British migrant population still harbour a barely concealed resentment of what they perceive to be indigenous Maori privilege.    Even such a relatively intelligent commentator as John Roughan, writing in the New Zealand Herald complained that Britons had not come to New Zealand to become "tenants" of the Maori so-called "tree lords".   But many Europeans want to be landlords, and the implication that while Europeans can be landlords they must not be tenants is patently ridiculous.   Roughan's comments are indicative of the deep seated racism of a regime which is prepared to legislate against Maori ownership of the foreshore, while tolerating European ownership of vast tracts of coast line, and is resentful of Maori who acquire land based assets while believing that it is the inherent right of any European to become a residential, commercial or agricultural landlord.

As a direct consequence of the regime's failure to effectively manage issues giving rise to racial conflict,  New Zealand now has a Maori political party, "The Maori Party".   In fact, it has another Maori party of somewhat longer standing, the "New Zealand First" party, which does not call itself a Maori party, and is not generally recognised as such.  Both the New Zealand First party and the Maori Party were the product of the racial schisms within the "two main parties" in New Zealand politics, National and Labour.    "The Maori Party" splintered off from the New Zealand Labour Party, while New Zealand First was the product of a schism within the National Party.    Labour and National are typically referred to as "the main parties" on account of being electorally dominant.   But historically the one thing that they have in common is that they are British parties.   The first Labour Prime Minister proudly proclaimed "Where Britain goes, we go.   Where Britain stands we stand".    When the New Zealander, Edmund Hillary, and the Sherpa, Norgay Tenzing, first conquered Mount Everest, a  National Party Prime Minister declared the event to be a "triumph of the British race".   For both the National and Labour parties, "nationalism" in New Zealand means British nationalism.   Both parties supported an immigration system under which people of the British race had an automatic right to enter and reside in New Zealand, a right which was denied to British subjects of other ethnicities.   For most of the twentieth century New Zealand, under the Labour and National parties, was clearly and irrefutably governed as a fiefdom of the British race.

However, for nearly half a century from the end of the Second World War, the two "main" or British parties successfully accommodated a Maori element.   In both cases it was a convenient arrangement that proved mutually beneficial to Maori and British ethnic groups.   Most Maori supported the Labour Party, on the grounds that Labour was a working class party at a time when the overwhelming majority of Maori were confined to the working class.   The situation in the National Party was rather more curious.   Apart from a few Maori aristocrats, the most prominent Maori within the ranks of the National Party was one Winston Peters.  Peters was, and is, a charismatic politician, but he was never particularly popular with his European colleagues in the National Party, and eventually resigned from National to establish his own political party, New Zealand First.   From its inception, New Zealand First had strong support from Maori, even from those Maori who had been traditional supporters of the New Zealand Labour Party.   The "Peters party" as it was sometimes called also enjoyed a significant amount of support from first generation British immigrants, as well as older, socially conservative Europeans.   The Party was, in fact, an expression of one of the curious features of the British imperial system, which I alluded to above, namely its willingness and ability to recruit indigenous peoples into its armed forces, constabulary and machinery of government.   The New Zealand First Party was composed of people of pure British ethnicity on the one hand, and people of Maori descent who considered themselves British socially, culturally, and politically, on the other.   Peters himself was the offspring of a Maori father and a first generation British mother.  His parents named him after that most British of Conservative Prime Ministers, Winston Churchill.   Peters is the archetypal Maori British subject.   It is no coincidence that his party colours are black and white.  No other political party is such a clear  expression of the spirit of the Treaty of Waitangi, the document under which Maori became British subjects.   So it is something of a political mystery that Maori British subjects such as the lawyer Winston Peters, thoroughly schooled in British culture and the precepts of British justice, and Ron Mark, the army officer who had fought in defence of the British empire and commonwealth, could find no lasting political accommodation within that most quintessentially British of New Zealand political parties, the National Party.

Or perhaps not.   The Labour and National parties lost the majority of their Maori support within a few years of each other, and for much the same reasons.   Basically because their attitude towards the Maori voter was purely exploitative.  They valued the Maori as kupapa, that is, native soldiers who would be sent into battle under the direction of British generals.   But they could not tolerate ambitious Maori like Peters, or troublesome Maori like Tariana Turia, who asserted the rights of Maori in opposition to the rights and privileges of those of British ethnicity.    The end result is that in the twenty first century politics in New Zealand has begun to fragment along racial lines.

That process will not stop with the split between Maori and British elements of the National and Labour parties.   In the run up to the 2008 parliamentary election there is now a Pacific, or Polynesian party, as a result of a further racial split within the New Zealand Labour Party.   It is possible that the Pacific Party may not survive beyond the current election.   But more racial splits are on the cards.   Peter Low, the ethnic Chinese leader of the "Asian anti-Crime Group" has complained that (European) politicians are only interested in getting Asian votes, and have no real interest in doing anything positive for Asian communities.   And it is apparent that some, if not all, political parties have quite cynically exploited the Asian vote.   Peter Dunne's "United Future" party was one of the first to cotton on to the electoral advantages of putting Asian names on the party list in order to help propel the party leaders into parliament.   The Labour Party has installed Ashraf Choudhary on its party list, and Anand Satyanand in Government House.  National has put Pansy Wong into Parliament.   The Asian candidates, like Choudhary and Wong, who stand on the lists of the European parties are generally second-rate.     Many are of dubious moral standing.    The  phenomenon of Asian involvement in the European political parties is a scandal of mutual exploitation, and it is only a matter of time before Asian voters, like Maori voters before them, will tire of being manipulated and exploited by cynical European politicians and their ethnic stooges.

Already Chinese electors are block voting for Chinese candidates, without much regard to their European political party affiliations, and loyalty to China is considered to be the most important attribute of a political leader within the New Zealand immigrant Chinese population.   It is probably only a matter of time before we see the emergence of a Chinese political party to go up against the British and Maori parties.   Politics in New Zealand can be expected to become more overtly racial, as the "non-racial" claims of the British parties become exposed as mere pretension, and as other non-British ethnic groups begin to challenge British racial hegemony.    There are two obvious ways in which the British parties could act to thwart the emergence and ascent of non-British political parties.   One is to abolish the Maori parliamentary electorates.   The other is to abolish the proportional voting (MMP) system in favour of the "first past the post" system, which tends to keep power in the hands of the dominant racial group.   But both of these measures would have the effect of removing one of the safety valves which presently prevent racial tensions from developing into widespread civil conflict.

In the long run, all attempts to maintain British racial hegemony in New Zealand are doomed to fail.   The conviction among the ethnically British political elite in New Zealand that they can "manage" race politics to their own advantage is simply misguided, and dangerously so.  Nowhere else in the world  - not in India, Pakistan, Fiji, Sri Lanka, Malaya, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Cyprus or Palestine - have the British managed to establish a truly enduring and harmonious social order based on racial distinction.    New Zealand will not be an exception to that rule.   The system of British racial hegemony is already starting to unravel.   The sooner it is completely vanquished the better it will be for all of us.