The Labourites are tapping into a long tradition of anti-Chinese racism in western colonial-settler societies

The Labourites are tapping into a long tradition of anti-Chinese racism in western colonial-settler societies, including that of the early Labour Party here

by Philip Ferguson

Labour’s attempt to scapegoat people with “Chinese surnames” for the shortage of “affordable” house properties in Auckland is blatantly racist.  

Firstly, they’re not targeting people with “English surnames” or “Welsh surnames” or “pakeha surnames”.  They’re targeting Chinese surnames.  Racist!

Secondly, when have Little, Twyford et al attacked white/New Zealand capitalists?  They don’t.  So the part of the term “Chinese capitalists” which is relevant is the word “Chinese” not “capitalist”.  That’s not  anti-capitalism, that’s racism!

Moreover, how likely are the Chinese super-rich to buy rental properties in Auckland anyway?  About as likely as Donald Trump or Gina Rhinehart or Eric Watson.  If you’re super-rich and interested in property, you build tower blocks, you own mines, you own big factories or massive retail chains.  You don’t piddle about buying a few rental properties in Auckland.

Classic racist scapegoating

Labour’s campaign is classic racist scapegoating.  And it’s part of a tradition.  A hundred years ago the Labourites waged racist campaigns against impoverished Chinese workers; today they wage racist campaigns against people with “Chinese surnames” who buy a few rental properties in Auckland.  The common theme is that if you’re “Chinese” – defined as such by the Labourites because you have a “Chinese surname”! – you just can’t win.  Poor Chinese worker or middle class with a “Chinese surname” and owning more than one house in Auckland, Labour doesn’t like you and will scapegoat you.  That’s racism.

On the positive side, however, are several things.  Firstly, a tiny and fairly poor community of Chinese in New Zealand targeted by Labour a hundred years ago found it extremely hard to fight back.  Today, that community is much larger, has a much wider network of friends and allies, and the confidence to fight back.  They are capable of doing damage to Labour and putting a stain on the Labour Party and its hacks that won’t be washed off.

Secondly, as tiny as it is, the far left left in New Zealand, thanks mainly to modern technology, can mount some serious resistance to the racist Labourites and their enablers and apologists.  We can put a much-deserved stain on Labour that simply wasn’t possible when they launched the dawn raids on Pacific Islanders in the mid-70s or ran their abominable campaign against the Chinese after World War I.

The enablers

But it’s not just the little band of people who thought up, planned and launched this obnoxious racist campaign who have stained themselves.  As odious as the little cabal at the top of the Labour Party are for scapegoating an ethnic minority, they simply wouldn’t be able to do so without enablers.  And it’s a sad, although also not surprising, comment on the ‘broad left’ that there is quite a queue of people rushing to enable Labour’s racism.

In a way they are possibly even more loathsome than the authors of the campaign, because they are key to giving the campaign traction, providing it with liberal-left cover and ‘respectabilising’ it.  Who, for instance, is ever going to look at Chris Trotter in the same way after this?  As one of the key enablers of Labour racism he has stained himself to the extent that will be remembered by serious leftists for a very long time to come.

But Trotter is far from the only one.  Martyn ‘Bomber’ Bradbury and his The Daily Blog have covered themselves with the same stain.  Matt McCarten, the former leader of Unite Union and current chief enforcer (officially chief-of-staff) for Labour leader Andrew Little has, at best, gone along with this vicious campaign and, at worst, actually acted as an enforcer for it.  After all, someone has to ensure all the Labour MPs, councillors, members, Labour Youth etc maintain the line and don’t speak out.

(So much for the ludicrous claim of my old comrade Mike Treen, national director of Unite, that the left should welcome McCarten taking the job as chief-of-staff for the Labour leader!!!)

Loyalty to Labour is bad for any decent political principles

One of the stark things that this sordid episode has shown – although it’s something we have banged on about over and over and over – is that for most Labourites and a great many of the soft-on-Labour types – loyalty to the Labour Party trumps everything.  They are anti-racist – but only until the Labour Party does racist stuff, then they become apologists for racism.  They are for the workers and against attacks on workers pay, conditions and living standards – but only until the Labour Party does anti-worker stuff.  They are against NZ imperialist adventures abroad – but only until Labour is carrying them out.

In other words, they are not really anti-racist, pro-worker and anti-imperialist at all.  They are Labourites who create apparently necessary fictions to sustain their self-image by faking anti-racist, pro-worker and anti-imperialist stances.

Frankly, I prefer honest National Party supporters to these moral bankrupts.


One of the ugliest aspects of this, is that the people who have orchestrated this campaign are perfectly aware of the sewer in New Zealand society that they are tapping into.  And it won’t be the architects of this racist enterprise – nor, for that matter, will it be people living in China who might have bought a few houses in Auckland – who will suffer the nasty and potentially violent actions set up by the way that Labour and their enablers have legitimised anti-Asian racism.  It will be people like the NZ citizen of Taiwanese origin that a friend of mine works with and who heard the word ‘chink’ the other day for the first time in twenty years.  And that is just the beginning, and just the tip of the iceberg.

On September 24, 1905 a racist called Lionel Terry walked into Haining Street in Wellington, found a 70-year-old Chinese man called Joe Kum Yung, who walked with a limp as the result of a mining accident, and shot him dead.  Terry want to test the idea that, given the level of anti-Chinese racism existing at the time, it would (or should) be possible to kill a Chinese with impunity and halt “alien immigration”.  Terry was found guilty but wasn’t hanged.  He spent the largest part of the rest of his life in pleasant surroundings at Seacliff asylum where he could pretty much come and go as he liked until in 1940 he assaulted a white doctor and was out in solitary.*  That’s the tradition in this country that the Labour racists and their enablers are tapping into.  Just how ugly can they get?

But as well as what we might call the guilty enablers, the folks mentioned above, there is a much larger group of what we might generously call the innocent enablers.  These are people who are anti-racist, pro-worker and kind of anti-imperialist, and are not keen on the scapegoating of an ethnic group.  Some, however, have failed to unequivocally oppose it.  Others have unequivocally opposed it but don’t understand that racist scape-goating is a logical consequence of one of the forms of politics they actually share with the Labour racists.

Socialism versus kiwi nationalism in all its varietes

What I’m talking about here is people who, however ‘socialist’ they might be, or see themselves as, they are really kiwi nationalists or left-kiwi nationalists.  And, however much some of them may distance themselves from the Labour’s anti-Chinese campaign – and such distancing is certainly a big plus – they don’t understand that NZ nationalism is inherently reactionary because it is the nationalism of a highly-developed capitalist country, an imperialist country.  The nationalism of oppressed nations has a progressive element, and radical potential, because it is directed at the oppressor – the imperialist power/s.  But the nationalism of an imperialist power is reactionary because it can only be directed at the peoples oppressed by imperialism or the working or a rival imperialist power or the working class of a rival imperialist power.  Moreover, nationalism isn’t just about who is in the nation, but who is to be excluded.  Oppressed people fighting for the right to national self-determination overwhelmingly develop an inclusive nationalism, because their conceptions are formed in struggle against the exclusivism of the oppressing imperialist/s.  The nationalism within the imperialist centres is about who is to be excluded, because they require ideological justifications for plundering and oppressing those abroad who they rule over, whether economically, politically or both.

Unfortunately, on the left in this country nationalism is more powerful than socialism. So people like John Minto will be pro-worker and anti-racist and even anti-imperialist.  But then the nationalist card is played and suddenly – but far from inexplicably – they subordinate their anti-racism and their socialism to their nationalism.  Nationalism rules.  Their nationalism is not an exclusivist political nationalism – its essentially economic nationalism.  But it’s still nationalism.  It trumps their anti-racism, it trumps their internationalism, it trumps their anti-imperialism, it trumps their socialism, it trumps their anti-capitalism.

And isn’t it time that leftists campaigning against “foreign control” realised that you can’t separate anti-foreign business from the people doing the business, including the workers producing the “foreign” commodities?

The simple fact is that you can’t be an anti-capitalist in this country – and I mean a consistent anti-capitalist – without being anti-nationalist.

Kiwi nationalism has crippled the left

Kiwi nationalism has crippled the left and the working class movement in this country for as long as the left and any sort of working class movement has existed.  The early labour movement here was dominated by the liberal middle class and their political conceptions, including kiwi nationalism.  Later they were dominated by social-democracy and its political conceptions, including nationalism.  And look at where the left and the labour movement are now.  Weaker than at any time since the 1800s probably.  The left nationalists need to have a rethink and decide: are you nationalists or are you anti-capitalists?

When you try to be both you end up producing a left and a labour movement as politically and organisationally weak as the one we have now.

As we say on this blog, over and over, we need a new left: a left which is internationalist not nationalist, a left which is anti-capitalist and not merely anti-National Party, a left which stands for the emancipation of humanity and doesn’t care about people’s surnames, skin colours, national or ethnic origins, gender, sexuality or other such ‘markers’ which capitalism uses to allocate roles and miserable scraps of resources.

* For a fuller account of the murder of Joe Kum Yung, see the major feature on the development of the White New Zealand policy in the 1900-1910 period, here.



Comments are closed.