Don Brash: this old dodderer sent most of the NZ left into full-scale panic mode

Don Brash: this old dodderer sent most of the NZ left into full-scale panic

The October 31 article on how the necessary NZ capitalist ideology today focuses on ‘respect for diversity’, an outlook the ruling class shares with the liberal-left, mentioned the scare-mongering over Don Brash a decade ago.  Brash, we were ridiculously told, was going to ‘tear up the social fabric’ of the country and discard the liberal race relations industry.

Below are two articles, one from October 2005 and one from late 2006, on Brash, left scaremongering and capitalist ideology.  While so much of the left made themselves look quite silly indeed in relation to Brash, no lessons were learned by most of them.  They simply repeated the same mistake when it came to stuff like the appointment of Susan Devoy as race relations commissioner.  Sadly we have a left which, in its big majority, is far too preoccupied with histrionics over individuals to bother with dreary stuff like analysing the laws of motion of contemporary NZ capital and changing demographics in order to be able to also analyse changes in bourgeois ideology.  

Here on Redline and in earlier publications like The Spark (up til early 2011) and revolution magazine, we engaged in clinical Marxist analysis.  The reason we have been proven right about this stuff is not because of any brilliance on our part, but because of our determination to present that sort of analysis rather than just trail along with the liberal-left swamp.  

People seriously interested in the analytical tools of Marxism and the politics of anti-capitalism should get in touch with us:

How scarey is Don Brash? (2005)

by Philip Ferguson

To take some of the far left seriously, you would think Don Brash was practically a fascist.  In the run-up to the elections these elements scare-mongered that a Brash/National victory would be some kind of disaster for the working class and for Maori and race relations in particular.  It would mean a dramatic return to the neo-liberal 1984-1993 period of Labour and National; the Treaty industry and the funding of Maori institutions would be slashed, we often heard.

There are two basic problems with this approach.

Firstly, it underestimates the perfidy of the Labour Party and exaggerates what Brash actually stands for in reality, as opposed to what he stands for in the feverish imagination of some of the left.

Take the question of race relations and state funding of Maori institutions.  Brash’s ‘one law for all’ rhetoric and attacks on Maori institutions and the pervasiveness of the Treaty of Waitangi – much of which was a product of National policy in the 1990s – was designed for crass electoral purposes.  At the same time National sought to bring this vote in behind it, Brash and other National Party leaders were busy privately meeting Maori institutions and telling them they had nothing to worry about.  His appearance at the Wananga was typical.  Outside, in front of the media, he declared the Wananga’s days were numbered; inside, in private, he told them they were doing a wonderful job and long may it continue.  Maori health institutions were being told the same thing in private.

The leading figures of the wealthiest iwi, Ngai Tahu, were certainly not fearful of a Brash-led government.  Ngai Tahu’s official whakapapa adviser, for instance, declared in the Christchurch Press that he voted National.

The ruling class has spent thirty years constructing the current race relations set-up in order to ensure political stability.  There is no way, short of a major crisis of capitalism, that they are going to discard their own creation and tear up the race relations consensus which unites Labour and National.  This consensus has been very useful in building up a Maori middle class and a Maori entrepreneurial sector which is vital for the maintenance of social stability in New Zealand.

In terms of workers’ rights, the problem with the left’s demonisation of Brash becomes even more clear.  The reality is that the neo-liberal reforms began under the fourth Labour government.  If that government had not have been destroyed by the October 1987 stock market meltdown, they would have taken to organised labour in an even more serious way.  As it was, they launched the biggest attack on workers’ living standards and rights since the Depression era Forbes-Coates government.  National in the early 1990s merely continued the work; the Employment Contracts Act, vicious as it was, still only codified in legislation a series of defeats which Labour had inflicted on the unions and workers’ rights.  The union leaderships, especially those tied to Labour, then sabotaged workers’ resistance to the ECA.

The current Labour government has largely maintained the ECA, in the form of the Employment Relations Act.  Employers kicked up a bit of a stink when this legislation was being mooted, Labour duly amended it and employers have found they can easily live with it.  The ruling class has not shown any great desire to tear up the existing industrial relations set-up – in fact, the richest of the rich have grown even richer at a faster rate under Labour and the ERA than they did under National and the ECA.

So, how exactly, would a Brash-led government have been so much worse for workers?

When you think about it a bit, this kind of argument was a very odd one coming from the left and, especially, from people who would regard themselves as revolutionaries.  After all, revolutionaries don’t see workers and oppressed sections of society such as Maori as passive victims who need protection from ruling class attack anyway, least of all the kind of ‘protection’ they can expect from Labour.  Indeed, revolutionaries favour the sharpening of the contradictions of capitalism.

We recognise that attacks on workers and the oppressed are inevitable under this system and that both major capitalist parties, Labour and National, will carry out these attacks whenever and wherever they are necessary.  Our job is to help politically arm and organise the resistance to these attacks and then move from resistance to a struggle for the overthrow of the system.

So, far from fearing a Brash-led government and dashing into the polling booth to put ticks next to the other main capitalist party, Labour, we would see the advent of a National-led government as a gauntlet thrown down which we would seek to take up.  Far from shying away from social conflict, genuine anti-capitalists, such as ourselves, favour an intensification of class conflict.  How could capitalism ever be challenged without such an intensification of class war?

Frankly, if the left is so scared of National and an old duffer like Brash that they run to Labour for protection, how are they ever going to get up the political smarts and gumption required to seriously challenge, let alone overthrow, capitalism?

A Brash end (2006)

by Philip Ferguson

Don Brash is gone and good riddance.

However, we also need to analyse what the end of the political career of this old dodderer indicates about ruling class politics in New Zealand today.

For many on the left, Brash as leader of the National Party was a demon figure, all ready to reimpose neo-liberalism of the 1984-1993 variety on New Zealand, rip up the current race relations consensus and generally usher in a new era of social and economic reaction.

At The Spark we took a rather different attitude.

In fact, Brash was a social liberal.  He was an atheist, supported a liberal position on issues like abortion and gay rights.  What he said in his notorious speech to the Rotary Club at Orewa in January 2004 was very different from what he said in private to Maori leaders.

As we wrote last year, in connection with Brash’s views on ‘race’:  “The ruling class has spent thirty years constructing the current race relations set-up in order to ensure political stability.  There is no way, short of a major crisis of capitalism, that they are going to discard their own creation and tear up the race relations consensus which unites Labour and National” (The Spark, October 18, 2005).

The Orewa speech was more about mobilising the backwoods vote behind National than an indication of what National was likely to do in power.  Brash, after all, had been effectively in charge of affirmative action programmes for Maori when he was head of the Reserve Bank.  And, far from being some kind of radical policy at odds with neo-liberal economics, such programmes actually fit quite neatly with them – a link which evades the understanding of much of the left.

Similarly, with the attacks on political correctness.  Some form of PC is actually a core part of capitalist ideology today.  As the market reforms have fragmented society and old, conservative forms of social control have been rendered obsolete, new, liberal forms of social control, of which PC is one, have been necessary.  It’s no accident that one of the first acts taken by the new National Party leader, John Key, was to abolish the “PC Eliminator” position established by Brash.

Key and his new deputy, former National Party leader Bill English, have stated that they view Maori as the tangata whenua, Key has played on his state house background to affirm his support for the welfare state (or what is left of it), the position of women’s affairs spokesperson, abolished by Brash, has been reinstated and the nuclear-free stance has been unequivocally reaffirmed.  Women and Maori have been promoted within the party in the shadow cabinet shake-up following Brash’s demise.

While much of the left shares these kinds of positions, seeing them as “left wing”, they are actually part and parcel of mainstream capitalist ideology in New Zealand today.

Key and English both speak the language of diversity, inclusiveness and the whole liberal capitalist lingo –the same liberal hogwash that Labour and most of the professional middle class speaks and which is their alternative to liberation and real equality.

The Key/English election means there is even less difference now between National and Labour in any meaningful sense.

The Key/English team is also one which, unlike Brash/Brownlee, could actually win an election and be able to form a government.  Even if Brash had won the most seats in 2005, his chances of forming any kind of stable government were negligible.

National now has a good chance of winning in 2008 – ie beating Labour and being able to form a National-led government.

This is not because they pose any alternative to Labour from the right – in fact, they occupy the same mushy swamp that makes up the currently huge centre of NZ politics – but simply because they appear younger and fresher after what will, in 2008, be nine years of Clark/Cullen.

Dowdy, aging, non-personable social liberals committed to the maintenance of the key parts of the 1984-93 economic reforms will be replaced by younger, shinier, better-looking and more personable social liberals committed to the maintenance of the key parts of the 1984-93 economic reforms.

The need for a real alternative to these tweedle-dee tweedle-dum National-Labour politics is pressing.  If you want to be part of that alternative, you should join the Workers Party.*


  • The Workers Party no longer exists.  Its political approach, however, is represented today by Redline blog.

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