‘Respect for diversity’: modern NZ capitalism’s necessary ideology

. . . and remain passive, wrapped up in ur 'difference', while our existence continues to be stunted by the limits of capitalism
. . . and remain passive, wrapped up in our ‘difference’, while our existence continues to be stunted by the limits of capitalism

This post first appeared on the blog on October 31, but has been added to since.

by Philip Ferguson

On Tuesday, November 17 an interesting gathering of business leaders took place.  Over 30 key business figures and finance minister and deputy prime minister Bill English launched the ‘Champions for Change’ initiative.  The initiative, which takes its name from campaigns for healthy eating in the United States, is about encouraging ethnic and gender ‘diversity’ in business leadership in New Zealand; such ‘diversity’ is seen as crucial to fast-tracking the success of NZ capital today.

The co-chairs of the drive for diversity are Dame Jenny Shipley, NZ’s first female prime minister, and Anthony Healy, the chief executive of the Bank of New Zealand.

Bill English told the gathering that past attempts to improve diversity hadn’t managed to get business leaders to make the kind of changes that are now needed. Tao Lin reported on Stuff, “English said diverse boards and management teams encourage productive, innovative and forward-thinking organisations, which was crucial to New Zealand’s future success” (see here).  Shipley told the gathering that business leaders who didn’t get with the diversity game would be left behind.

Such support for diversity is, as we will examine below, mainstream bourgeois thinking these days – and has been for quite some time.

This is why, for the best part of twenty years now the demand of the liberal-left (or left-liberals) for ‘respect for diversity’ has part amused me and part indicated to me how most of the left in this country is simply the left of bourgeois society rather than an anti-capitalist left.  Just as chunks of the left still bang on as if neo-liberalism was running rampant here, when it hasn’t been the dominant economic ideology of the ruling class for about two decades, so the liberal-left – parts of which mistakenly think they are more than liberal – bangs on about discrimination and prejudice as if nothing much has changed since the even earlier era of Muldoon (National) and Kirk (Labour), both of whom were intensely socially reactionary.

Yet the ruling class, certainly its main elements, have long since abandoned the kind of social views that were dominant a generation and more ago.  The ruling class oversees a now entrenched system of political correctness in practically every significant institution of modern New Zealand society, from schools to universities to the military to the public sector to the private sector.  ‘Respect for diversity’ is, indeed, crucial to 21st century NZ capitalist society.  Several factors have brought this situation about.

One is battles waged by trade unionists, the old left (or sections of it) and the new social movements for an expansion of the rights of women, Maori, homosexuals and others who were intensely discriminated against in the past.  The old barriers to women in the professions have largely gone and a whole new female managerial class has emerged, as well as a layer of women who are capitalists in their own right, not simply the wives and daughters of male capitalists.

Winning legal equality

Women have largely won formal legal equality.  Housework, while certainly not equally shared, is far more so today than a generation or two ago.  Abortion, while still subject to tight legal restrictions, is in practice much more easily obtainable than in the 1970s and earlier.  While middle and upper class women have made huge advances, large chunks of working class women remain corralled in low-paid jobs, as so dramatically pointed up by the care-workers struggle for equal pay.

In terms of Maori, the ruling class is thoroughly committed to the Treaty of Waitangi and the industry that has been created around it.  Indeed, ‘The Treaty’, so beloved of the liberal left, is the chief mechanism through which the capitalist class, via the state, has created a Maori section of the bourgeoisie – capital itself couldn’t do it.  It has also been a mechanism for commodification and privatisation – yet still most of the left cling to their (reified) view of ‘the Treaty’.

Even 40 years on from the beginnings of the current race relations paradigm, most of the left haven’t grasped the fact that there is nothing progressive about ‘The Treaty’ – it is a mechanism for modernising capitalist social relations by incorporating Maori and expanding the operations of the market.

Once upon a time there was no Maori bourgeoisie and no Maori middle class, a potentially very dangerous situation for the (all-white) ruling class.  The almost totally proletarian class composition of Maori, along with the history of dispossession and institutionalised discrimination, could have had explosive consequences.  People who fought for Maori advancement back then tended to be overwhelmingly working class and critical of capitalism.  Today, Maori advancement very much intersects with ‘entrepreneurship’ – ie with capitalist ideology and capitalist economics.

We now also have a layer of right-wing professional and business women who have only been able to gain access to the professions and business because back in the 1960s and 1970s progressive trade unionists, the socialist left and the leftist women’s liberation movement fought to break down the then rigid confines on women’s position in society.

Impact of postwar boom

The second factor is the changing requirements of capital itself.  The gender and ethnic relations which prevailed until the 1980s were the product of earlier capitalist social relations.  For instance, during the colonisation of New Zealand society both men and women had to work, albeit in different (and gendered) ways to set up new families and new lives here, establishing small family farms and becoming the NZ working class, alongside those sections of Maoridom who were being proletarianised as they had been dispossessed of the land.  The roles played by women in New Zealand society gave impetus to demands for the vote and made the wider society somewhat more sympathetic to universal suffrage than in the ‘old country’ and NZ became the first country in the world where women were enfranchised.  Struggles by workers to improve pay and conditions over decades, and then the arrival of the long post-World War 2 economic boom, meant that working class families could now live on a single wage – typically that of the male ‘breadwinner’.  So paid employment outside the home became the domain mainly of men and domestic toil became the domain mainly of women – payment for their toil was essentially part of the male wage.

But the postwar boom produced another effect – the demand for more and more labour.  Increasing numbers of Maori were drawn from rural to urban areas and to blue-collar employment, including relatively well-paid jobs as in the freezing works.  During this period the economic between Maori and pakeha narrowed, Maori expectations and horizons expanded, giving birth to a new era of Maori protest.  The demand for labour also drew to this country tens of thousands of workers from Tonga, Samoa and elsewhere in the Pacific.  By the start of the 1970s the younger sections of this population, having developed higher horizons than were possible in Pacific islands, formed rights-based protest groups such as the Polynesian Panthers.  As the demand for labour continued to expand more and more women were also drawn into the labour market and for longer periods of time.  And as with Maori and Pacific populations, contradictions opened up between raised expectations and the set of more confining laws and social practices that remained in place from earlier decades.

A chunk of women began breaking into work that had been traditionally male – such as the meat workers, bus driving, high school teaching and so on – and also into the higher professions like law, engineering and medicine.  Maori  began breaking into previously pakeha-dominated professions; likewise with a section of the offspring of migrants from Pacific island countries.

Resolving the contradiction

This contradiction – between the old barriers of laws and social norms and the new reality – was resolved through the reform and modernisation of capitalist institutions in both the state and private sector and the incorporation of activists from the protest movements in this institutional (and institutionalising) reform process.  Once a upon a time militant trade unionists were tamed by drawing them into the Labour Party and parliament and offering them rewards for helping administer the system they’d once opposed; now it became the turn of Maori, Pacific, feminist and gay activists.

The services of all these folks were important for capital.  Who better to manage the working class and reconcile them to capitalism than upwardly-mobile members of the union bureaucracy?  Who better to manage Maori and reconcile them to capitalism than the new upwardly-mobile elements of Maori society?  The same with feminists and gay activists.  And both the state and private sector found folks aplenty in these movements who were up for being incorporated, beginning with the person who wrote the handbook on Maori Sovereignty politics, multi-millionaire Donna Awatere.

For a start, even though these ‘new social movements’ were essentially left-wing politically, the NZ left has long been ideologically weak.  Illusions about the state are particularly prevalent – so activists invited into the institutions of state and given a chance to ‘make a difference’ have always been very easy to suck in.  The revolutionary left has been almost non-existent in this country for decades now.  The absence of a revolutionary left and also of much working class struggle has meant that many activists see the way forward as being through the transformation of existing institutions rather their overthrow and the creation of new institutions based on working class democracy and workers’ power.

Needs of capital today and changing demographics

The other crucial factor in the ideological shift has been the needs of capital.  Capital can’t afford to keep a working class family of four or five (or more) by paying one wage as it once could.  It needs to have more people in the family working – and working for longer.  It doesn’t want women to give up paid employment when they start having children because it needs them to keep working and keep the process of creating surplus-value (the basis of capitalist profit) going.  And when they get pregnant and have children, it needs them back in the workforce, quick smart, adding once again to the pile of surplus-value.  This is why the dominant capitalist ideology about women, work and children has changed so dramatically.  In the 1950s and the 1960s capitalist ideology denigrated married women with children who worked.  They were ‘irresponsible’, ‘bad mothers’, the creators of a ‘generation of delinquents’ and so on.  Today, if you are a woman and have kids, even small kids, the dominant bourgeois ideology, backed up by state power, is that you are ‘irresponsible’ and some kind traitor to the economy if you don’t get back out to paid employment very quickly after giving birth.

The changing position of women, Maori and Pacific peoples and others in NZ society reflects, then, changes in the economy and also changes in the way that people actually live in society and changes in the balance of ethnicities.  For instance, a large chunk of the population no longer live in ‘traditional family units’. (Of course, these units were never really ‘traditional’ anyway; they came into being with industrial capitalism in the early 1800s and began significantly changing in the 1960s and 1970s).  So the morality that prevailed during the era when people did live like that has been replaced by a new morality, a modernised morality that is related to how people live now – while preserving what capital needs to preserve to maintain social stability and the best conditions for capital to reproduce on an ever-expanding scale.

In terms of the changing ethnic demographic, up to the 1950s the vast bulk of the New Zealand population were either of Maori or European descent; many of us were a mixture of both.  Today we are much, much more mixed.  First came waves of immigration from the Pacific, taking off 50-60 years ago; then came waves of Asian, especially East Asian immigration, taking off from the late 1980s/early 1990s.  People whose families came here in recent decades from Latin America, the Middle East and parts of Africa have also become much  more demographically significant.  Auckland, for instance, is now one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world, with 40% of its population being born overseas and the city being home to 200 ethnic groups – and it is predicted that by the mid-late 2030s, pakeha, while still being the largest group in the city’s population, will be a minority of its people.  A majority of Auckland residents will be New Zealanders of Maori, Pacific and Asian ethnicities.  New Zealand’s second city, Christchurch, although far, far smaller than Auckland, is already home to 180 ethnicities.

Growing ethnic diversity, moreover, is not just evident in the three big urban centres.  The Southland Chamber of Commerce invited Mai Chen to speak at a meeting in Invercargill on October 29.  Chen said that it was great that the Southern Institute of technology had attracted so many international students, now the task was to get many of them to make Southland their home.  Sarah Hannan, the chief executive of the Chamber of Commerce there agreed that Southland needed to welcome diversity and build “cultural capability”.  Hannan continued, “Mai Chen’s presentation was very relevant and timely for Southland. We need to be focussed on understanding the growing cultural diversity of New Zealand, as the regional development strategy has identified.”  About 100 people attended the Chamber of Commerce event.(1)  (For report on the event, see: http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/73503765/Embrace-youthful-migrants-for-Southlands-future-Mai-Chen)

These kinds of themes were evident, too, at the Champions for Change gathering mentioned at the start of this article.  Champions for Change figures, for instance, are very aware of the changing ethnic demographic within New Zealand and the new, key markets for business.  Moreover, ethnic and gender diversity are not the only diversity considerations for the NZ ruling class.  Shipley, for instance, told the gathering of business parasites who designate themselves as a ‘Champion’, “Westpac’s research has shown that of the 1000 Kiwis surveyed, nearly half of all employees in New Zealand, whether gay or straight, do not feel they can be their authentic selves at work.

“The Human Rights Commission tells us that 71.1 per cent of all women with disabilities earn $30,000 or less and that the most marginalised group in terms of labour force participation in 2015 is disabled females over 65 years of age” (see here).

It should also be noted that in a context where capitalism is so clapped out it needs more and more hours to be worked – and thus more and more people working – it is important for capital to include the elderly, the disabled, solo mothers and so on in the exploitable labour force.  (Forty years ago, of course, bourgeois ideology told us these groups of people shouldn’t be in the workforce because they deprived working-age male breadwinners of employment!)   ‘Diversity’ not only relates to a wider range of business leaders and front people in order to market to diverse sets of consumers; it also means the rest of us being worked harder and longer.

Managing diversity

How do you manage such diversity and prevent social conflict?  Well, you need an ideology of diversity, especially ‘respect for difference’.  Vancouver, another incredibly ethnically diverse city, has shown the way.  The ruling elite in Vancouver have long since adopted ‘respect for diversity’ as a crucial organising principle.  In 1989 the city’s elite decided to make diversity a consideration in everything the city does.  Toronto, another diverse city, has gone down the same road.

A further factor has added to ‘superdiversity’ in New Zealand: intermarriage.  Not only are we a more diverse country through immigration, we are intermarrying on unprecedented levels. The 2013 census reported that only 48 percent of Maori men have a Maori partner (down from 53% in the 2001 census); for Maori women the figure is only 47% (down from 52% in 2001).  Today, 53.5% of people designated as ‘Maori’ actually identify in their census returns as belonging to two or more ethnic groups.

Immigration and intermarriage not only means there are well over 200 ethnicities but an increasing proportion of the population identifies as multi-ethnic.  The total number of people who do this is still small in numbers and as of a percentage of the population, but there is a clear trend.  For instance, today 11.2% of the total population identify with more than one ethnic group (2013 census) compared with 9% in the 2006 census., but 23% of children 0-14 identified (or, presumably their parents identified them) with more than one ethnicity.  By the late 2030s it is quite possible that ethnic intermarriage could be the norm, especially in Auckland.

The dominant race relations paradigm adopted by the NZ ruling class to deal with demographic changes in the context of maintaining social stability and the rule of capital also involves diversity – more specifically, ‘respect for diversity’ – as a core organising principle.  That most of the left hasn’t copped onto this after all this time – decades! – was very clear by the response a few years ago to the appointment of Susan Devoy as race relations commissioner.  Even some sensible people on the left lost their balance, making absurd claims that Devoy’s appointment was the sign of an intensification of racism and would push back liberal race relations.  They took the state out of the equation, completely failing to understand that the state is thoroughly committed to the liberal race relations paradigm that has served NZ capital so well and that Devoy, whatever superficial impressions the left might have, would not have been appointed unless she fit in with the state’s policy on race relations.  And, of course, what has happened is that Devoy has turned out to be a very strong advocate for the liberal race relations paradigm.  She came to strengthen it, not bury it.  (For a sample of how absurd the left scaremongering about Devoy was, listen to this interview with her: http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/ninetonoon/audio/201777317/dame-susan-devoy-on-the-undercurrent-of-racism-in-nz.)

Moreover, diversity is linked to bourgeois ideology directly through economics.  Economists, businesspeople and business commentators now talk about a “diversity dividend”.  As the paper’s business editor, Liam Dann, noted in an October 19 NZ Herald article, business respecting diversity “isn’t simply a matter of window dressing. . . . It is a pressing economic reality.  Eurocentric businesses that struggle to understand and communicate with a wide range of ethnic groups will fail to sell to them.”

He notes that “employing a diverse mix of staff will provide access to a broader customer base.  Ethnically diverse employees will offer language and culture insights into the communities they come from.  They will also be able to identify new areas for business growth, and skilled migrants in particular will bring links back to birth-country markets, creating opportunities for export growth” (my emphasis).

For the past several years bosses at the NZ stock exchange have been trying to increase the number of female company directors and board members.  The BNZ carries out annual surveys aimed at improving ethnic and gender balance and in 2012 researched how to get a wider demographic balance into its senior management.  The accountancy firm Xero is another company at the cutting edge of contemporary bourgeois ideology.  As its managing director, Victoria Crone, told Holly Ryan of the NZ Herald (October 20), making the company more culturally diverse was essential to doing business successfully today.  The company is particularly keen to hire graduates who speak Asian languages.

Keep in mind, too, that China has overtaken the United States – and even Australia – as New Zealand’s largest trading partner and the trade is in NZ capital’s favour.  New Zealand business has not only substantial markets in China but also growing investments.  Our ruling class, viciously anti-Chinese from the 1880s to the 1980s, is now very keen on China and the Chinese.  And no wonder the more far-sighted folks cohering a bourgeois ideology for the 21st century are talking about “cultural intelligence” and its importance for business.

A brand new study by major human resources and recruitment company Randstand, which is often at the cutting edge of the needs of capital, looked at 34 countries and rated New Zealand business as at the forefront of global diversity and tolerance.  Penni Hlaca, the NZ branch of the company’s head of client solutions, noted the diversity of workplaces here, while adding, “We should continue to strive to set the benchmark as a country where nobody feels discriminated against.” (See: http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/industries/73688433/New-Zealand-workers-more-accepting-of-diversity-than-Australians)

Leading constitutional lawyer and a BNZ board director Mai Chen, the chief figure behind a major report on ‘Superdiversity’ to be published next week,(2) even makes explicit that businesses reflecting the cultural diversity of New Zealand today is “not about equity, it’s not about fairness. . .  The message to business is this is about your bottom line” (quoted in Holly Ryan article, NZ Herald, October 20).

Chen believes that continuing discrimination “is actually preventing New Zealand from fulfilling its full potential. . . We’re wasting a lot of talent in the New Zealand economy.  If we do not allow these people to fulfil their full potential then we will start to lose financial capital as a country” (Chen, quoted by John Anthony, July 28, Stuff.co.nz).

‘Respect for diversity’: a dominant and necessary form of bourgeois ideology today

Just how dominant diversity ideology is in the institutions of NZ capitalism is pointed up by the police.  The police website in available in over a dozen languages and the cops have been given a gold star for being the government department that is most super diversity-aware (NZ Herald, October 22).  The police brass are especially keen on having greater diversity of police officers.  In 2012 they organised a recruitment seminar programme that attracted over 2,500 people of whom 32% were women, 14% Maori, 13% Pasifika and 11% Asian.  They even began using street art to attract young people from diverse ethnic backgrounds to sign up to the state’s frontline repressive agency.  And the state’s attempts to make the cops more diverse have met with some success.  In 2002, 81.2% of the police were NZ European/pakeha, while by 2012 this had fallen to 71.5%.  In the same ten years, the number of female cops rose by 53%, Maori cops by 31%, Pasifika by 87% and Asians by 394%!

The police apparatus’ embrace of diversity can also be seen in the appointment of Louise Nicholas as special advisor on issues around rape.  Indeed, Nicholas was earlier this year in charge of a wing of police recruits, with the wing being named after her.  In the class she mentored 50% of recruits were women and 50% men, with 25% being Maori. Graduating police officer Shaun Murphy told reporter Amy Jackman, “The fact that she can stand up and be here speaks volumes for her character. She’s inspirational and has told us to always put the needs of the victims at the heart of what we do” (Stuff, May 28, 2015).

Far from changing the fundamental nature of the police, diversity strengthens it.  Better to have brown officers policing brown proletarian areas, for instance, than an all-white police force.  Having a diverse police force makes it look democratic and modern and provides far better cover for its key function of repression.  An interesting example of this has just emerged.  The cops have banned Canterbury University sociologist Jarrod Gilbert from doing research using police data that would normally be expected to be readily available.  When Gilbert tried to find out why, he was told because of his association with gangs.  Gilbert’s PhD was on gangs and so he necessarily, especially since he adopted an ethnographic methodology, associated closely with them.  When he then asked for the police file on him, it turned out to be 20 pages long, of which 17 were blacked out.  This morning Gilbert was interviewed on radio NZ about the whole issue; the police couldn’t take part in the programme because all their relevant people were at a White Ribbon meeting!

Both the cops and the New Zealand Army now have special gay liaison officers.  Indeed, the NZ Defence Force was recently ranked top defence force in the world in terms of being LGBT-friendly.  (The ranking was in the LGBT Military Index, a product of the Netherlands-based Centre for Strategic Studies think-tank; second place went to the Netherlands, third to Britain, fourth to Sweden and 5th to Australia.)  The NZ Defence Force even has a video, introduced by the then chief of the military Lt-General Rhys Jones,  who indicates how proud the armed forces of NZ imperialism are to be LGBT-friendly.  Uniformed members of the fighting forces of NZ imperialism march in Gay Pride parades and in 2012 the Defence Force created Overwatch, a project to support LGBT members of the force.

All this embrace of sexuality diversity in the military is hardly surprising.  As Dirk Jan Broks, a colonel in the army of the Netherlands, notes,  “(It) is not so much just a matter of human rights.  It’s also about work quality. If a person is gay and not having to hide it they can concentrate on other things without worrying about being discriminated against.”  (See: http://www.3news.co.nz/nznews/nz-military-most-tolerant-to-gay-soldiers-2014022109#ixzz3q6MSB3AD.)

It goes even further than this, however.  The state’s main ‘security’ and ‘intelligence’ services are currently all run by women – the SIS by Rebecca Kitteridge, the GCSB by Una Jagose, with the Inspector-General of Intelligence being Cheryl Gwyn.  All three come from legal backgrounds, law being one of the professions in which women have advanced most.  Indeed, of the top legal posts, Law News notes, “the Minister of Justice, Chief Justice, President of the Court of Appeal, Chief District Court Judge and, until recently, Chief High Court Judge, all being women” (http://www.adls.org.nz/for-the-profession/news-and-opinion/2015/5/8/the-trailblazing-women-who-guard-our-security/)

Gwyn was an active feminist who joined the Socialist Action League in the early 1980s and she is still a liberal.  When interviewed in the NZ Listener for an August 6 article by Rod Vaughan on the three, Gwyn intimated that she saw no big contradiction between the things she fought for then and her current position as Inspector-General of Intelligence, the supposed public watchdog of the spook services.  Gwyn said that the battles she was involved in fighting three decades ago around, for instance, gender issues had largely been won.  From the state’s point of view having a liberal woman – Gwyn even defends Edward Snowden – occupying this role is important; it deflects criticism of the spook services.

The ‘respect for diversity’ ideology that prevails in the ‘security’, police and military forces is also crucial for understanding where the ruling class are at.  These are the key repressive institutions of the ruling class.  They leave nothing to chance here.  The utter harmlessness of diversity ideology in terms of the interests of capital and the capitalist state – indeed, its importance for the maintenance of capital and the capitalist state today – is revealed most sharply in its hegemonic position in these institutions.

Additionally, forms of affirmative action – preferential hiring – have been generalised across the state sector, while swathes of the private sector are committed to more diverse management.  In the National Party a small team of people including Michelle Boag and Bill English worked away for some years to headhunt Maori, Pacific and Asian candidates for caucus and cabinet.  During the last term National had its first female, gay Maori MP.  National now has more Maori MPs than Labour, although they still don’t have a chance of winning any of the Maori seats.  Moreoverr, does anyone seriously doubt that if Sam Lotu-Iinga and Hekia Perata were white males they would have lost their positions in cabinet given their stuff-ups?  National clearly practices ‘positive discrimination’ in relation to them.

Key, while pulling the pony-tails of waitresses – they’re only working class, you see! – has pursued a policy of promoting women in the National Party.  As political scientist Bryce Edwards has noted, “Women ministers have been increasingly visible in John Key’s National Government this year”.  He cites Amy Adams, Paula Bennett, Maggie Barry and Anne Tolley (see here) and refers to Rob Hoskings of the National Business Review who argued, “This highlighting of National’s women ministers could be dismissed as coincidence but that seems a stretch. It certainly isn’t tokenism, however: most of these initiatives are part of the business of the government this year, in some cases major parts of it.”

Edwards also notes that many of National’s leading female MPs identify as feminists.

Moreover, Key is grooming a Maori woman as next party leader.  Although it’s far too early to say whether Paula Bennett will actually ever get to be prime minister, it’s quite possible that the first female Maori premier will be a National Party politician.

Political correctness and ‘respect for diversity’ now also permeate the education system and state departments in general.  A special government agency, the Office of Ethnic Communities, has even been established  to make sure government departments are on message and police them to ensure they improve their respect for diversity.  Whereas once upon a time, left-inclined educationalists were highly critical of the ideological role played by the education system and how primary and secondary education replicated inequality, they have turned into key advocates and organisers of a highly ideological, conformist education system that serves the interests of twenty-first century NZ capital and bourgeois society.  Primary schools these teach children to conform to the new dominant liberal ideology – and show the consequences of not doing so.  Indeed, the liberal ideological dominance produces far more timid and passive young people than the old conservative ideological dominance ever managed.  In the old days the natural exuberance of children almost inevitability created adventurous kids and adventurousness was one of the prerequisites for the emergence of a questioning generation, the ‘children of 68’.  Now the strictures of political correctness press down on kids and restrain any adventurousness – the ‘precautionary principle’ rules! – created tame subjects for contemporary capitalism to exploit.  And the politics of fear are carried forward by a large percentage of the small number of such kids as identify as ‘left’.  Thus the bizarre obsession with ‘safety’ among younger members of the left.  People who can’t survive without ‘safe spaces’ are simply not the human material that makes revolutions.  Nor are the diversity brigade.

Left behind

Indeed, one of the ironies is that most of the left – ie most of those who view themselves as left-wing – have been ardently demanding ‘respect for diversity’.  In effect, they have been lobbyists for the modernisation of bourgeois ideology and institutional practices and new forms of social control.  And it’s no coincidence that ‘intersectionality theory’ has been taken up by business figures like Flavia Dzodan, whose “my feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit” is repeatedly cited approvingly by chunks of the contemporary left.  Looking at how gender, ethnicity, sexuality, age and so on intersect is, after all, vital to the success of many businesses.  Far from wanting to exclude people on the basis of ethnicity, gender and sexuality, business now wants to be far more inclusive and inclusiveness and profitability are very much intersected.  Dzodan rather lets the cat out of the bag, saying:

“I believe that social principles of inclusion, diversity, fairness, equality, and respect are the foundation upon which we should build both our for and non profit organizations.

“I believe that inclusion and awareness matter in communications because, a message that is sent out without taking all parties into consideration is an ineffective one” (Dzodan on her hyperkinesis site: http://www.hyperkinesis.net/?p=409).

On the same page, she modestly describes herself thus: “I am a business developer, writer, ideas instigator, content creator, media facilitator and trend watcher living in Amsterdam. I started Hyperkinesis in 2007 in an effort to combine my beliefs and awareness activism with business needs.”(3)

Class, class, class

What has been buried in the left’s campaigns of championing liberal bourgeois ideology is any serious concept of human emancipation, let alone emancipation through anti-capitalist social revolution led by the working class.

Indeed, it is a comment on the perverse nature of so much of the left that at the very time capital is discarding old forms of discrimination, while stepping up the exploitation of the working class, that they (the bulk of the left) have taken up some form of identity politics (like intersectionality), reducing class to just one of the ‘intersections’.  It is, however, handy to the ruling class.  While people are encouraged to embrace their ‘diversity’, all being in their little different boxes, they are less likely to unite against the ruling class.  The exploitation of wage-labour by capital can continue untroubled by revolt or even the possibility of revolt.  And the architects of intersectionality theory can continue their privileged, upwardly-mobile professional careers while continuing to denounce the imaginary privileges of people who are actually below them in the 21st century capitalist food chain.

There is an urgent need for an anti-capitalist left in New Zealand.  Given the near-absence of class struggle, such a left will initially be tiny.  But it can play an important role by developing analyses of where capitalism is at in twenty-first century NZ, what the material needs of capital are today and how the various forms of bourgeois ideology essentially reflect those needs.  On this basis we can develop an anti-capitalist critique for this century rather than the last, a critique which can cohere a small anti-capitalist current that can punch above its weight – because of the power and correctness of its ideas – rather than always be trailing behind capital and bourgeois ideology as most of the existing left does.

For people interested in actual anti-capitalism rather than the swamp of left-liberalism masquerading as anti-capitalism, Let’s talk.  We can be reached at: redlinemarxists@gmail.com.


1. Interestingly, one of the Southland Chamber of Commerce’s most popular networking groups is Glass Elevator, which is for professional women.  Needless to say it functions in a way little different from traditional old boys’ clubs in business.

2. The Superdiversity Stocktake: Implications for Business, Government and New Zealand – note the order of the words and the absence of the working class – will be launched by the Superdiversity Centre for Law, Policy and Business at the Auckland Art Gallery on November 3.  This very new institution describes itself as “a multidisciplinary centre specialising in analysing the law, policy and business implications of New Zealand’s superdiversity.  The vision for the Centre is to enable Government, business and NGOs to maximise the benefits of the ‘diversity dividend’ arising from New Zealand’s transition to a superdiverse society.”

3. The term ‘intersectionality’ appears to have been coined in the late 1980s by law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw.  In fact, actual grassroots political activists had been discussing the relationships between different forms of oppression and exploitation (‘race’, gender, class) for many years.  In the 1960s leftist activists used terms like ‘double oppression’ and ‘triple oppression’.  Then an academic came along and made up a seven-syllable word and it is treated in middle class liberal and leftist circles as some new theoretical breakthrough.  Of course, if it threatened capital in any way, it would have been the end of Crenshaw’s career.  Far from it, it helped make her career.  Far from being on the outside, she is an integral part of the modern bourgeois establishment.  Her and her theory operate completely within the framework of capitalist society and its modernisation.

Further reading on capitalist/bourgeois ideology, how it arises and what it does:

On how capitalist ideology is formed: How capitalist ideology works

An earlier example of the changes in bourgeois ideology in NZ, specifically the case of Alasdair Thompson: The Alasdair Thompson Affair, NZ capitalism and ruling class ideology today

For an investigation of the socio-political impact of women’s changing role in the workplace – this is an Australian article, but highly applicable here – see: The impact of women’s changing role in the workplace

See also:
Class, class consciousness and left political practice 
What are anti-capitalist politics?


  1. I concentrated on NZ, but there are plenty of examples from abroad, too. In Ireland, a militant, proto-socialist national liberation struggle has been replaced by the call for ‘parity of esteem’ for the two populations in the British-ruled ‘Northern Ireland’. This has been easily accepted by british imperialism.

  2. Think the nuggets of truth are largely diminished by polemical jousting at imaginary fake-leftists, and vaguely macho posturing (revolutions are not made merely by some tough as nails folks manning barricades, we’re talking social revolution not a worker-led putsch)

    Agree re: security forces. See what happens when people point it out and oppose it too – trans women get their arms broken by Pride Parade security for their trouble.

    Heaven forbid the left be something where people who have been exposed to extreme trauma by how fucked up capitalism is are not then treated just as shittily by their comrades who are supposedly in favour of emancipation.

    I’d recommend Sylvia Federici for a very thorough account that more closely links the development of capitalism and gendered oppression – more so than the merger of liberal gender theory + Marxism that certainly does exist on some of the left.

    I don’t think it’s unreasonable to keep in mind what Lenin said about communists being attuned and opposed to all forms of oppression regardless of the class of those on the receiving end, or some such thing. That doesn’t mean political alliances or allegiances, of course, in which working class independence should remain foundational.

    With regards to moving ahead with analysis for the 21st century, I think there’s a distinct lack – and has been for some time – in a class compositionist + ‘Workers Inquiry’ approach. Angry Workers of the World are proponents of such an approach, with some updates to try and avoid the weaknesses of when it was implemented by Autonomists/Councilists in Italy and France in the 60s. Or the Johnson-Forest Tendency in the USA.

    • Thomas wrote: “Think the nuggets of truth are largely diminished by polemical jousting at imaginary fake-leftists, and vaguely macho posturing (revolutions are not made merely by some tough as nails folks manning barricades, we’re talking social revolution not a worker-led putsch).”

      That’s a bit sexist Thomas. You’re assuming that ‘tough as nails folks’ (your term) refers only to men (otherwise you wouldn’t have used the term ‘macho posturing’). A lot of people at the barricades will be women and a lot of the people doing whatever shooting might prove necessary will be women. Also ‘posturing’ means someone isn’t serious about what they’re saying – do you really believe I’m not serious about this???!

      Moreover, I wasn’t referring to brawn – I’ve seen plenty of brawny people sell out! In fact, physically ‘tough’ people often turn out to be quite mushy politically.

      I think you’re also wrong when you say ‘political jousting at imaginary fake-leftists’. I was criticising people who say they are left but are actually liberals (left-liberals or liberal-leftists) and are geared towards modernising capitalism and humanising it a bit rather than overthrowing it. They are not ‘imaginary’; they are the totally dominant force on the NZ left. And they ain’t going away any time soon.

      In terms of your reference to Lenin: Lenin pointed to the need for communists to champion the rights of all people who are oppressed and discriminated against. But that’s not the issue, I’m not disputing that. Indeed, a large part of my life has been spent doing exactly that. The issue is on whose political terms that championing is done.

      The second issue is the degree to which forms of oppression have changed. In the early 1900s, even women who were part of the ruling class (in the sense of whose daughters they were or who they married) were denied basic rights – voting rights, divorce, a lot of rights around property and money, and so on). That clearly is not the case now. There’s no point repeating Lenin if the preconditions for what he said on this or that no longer exist. A point that he made himself.

  3. This is a very important piece. It relates to some important issues for the political left at the moment, particularly the choice faced over class politics versus identity politics. More and more, that’s what the left is being divided into: those that are primarily concerned with social liberalism based around identity (and thus diversity) and those concerned with economic inequality and class politics. We’re seeing this divide playing out all around the world in many different ways.

    Therefore the above article is very much a litmus test for the New Zealand left. Those that recognise its value – even if they disagree or challenge aspects of it – are part of the genuine socialist and contemporary left; those that don’t see the importance of what it is saying or reject it, are essentially the social liberals who have capitulated on the struggle for class politics. Those in this second camp are therefore flunking the test of class politics, and can’t really be taken very seriously in terms of left politics.

    That is not to say that the social liberals aren’t radicals. The fact is that there is a huge amount of radicalism going on in the world at the moment. Ever since the GFC there has been an increase in all sorts of radicalisms and anti-Establishment politics. Much of this relates to materialism (economic inequality, the class struggle, etc) and other forms of radicalism relate to identity politics and liberalism. The task therefore is to distinguish between all these rising radicalisms in politics around the world.

    The social liberals obsessed by identity politics and diversity are indeed expressing a sort of militancy and radicalism, but it’s one that is increasing co-opted and part of the Establishment, as this article shows. It really is an easy option for ex-leftists to just jump on the diversity and identity politics bandwagon, because the Establishment is quite ready and happy to make concessions in this area. This might make such social liberals feel better about their political campaigns and their ability to change the world, but they shouldn’t fool themselves that it’s anything to do with class politics or socialism.

  4. It’s also amazing just how long ago the dominant forms of bourgeois ideology changed in New Zealand. We were writing about this in the very first year of existence of revolution magazine, way back in 1997. We went through the dominant bourgeois ideology again in ‘The Spark’ on a number of occasions, for instance when so much of the left were so rattled by, and so lacking in understanding of, the ascension of Don Brash to the National Party leadership. The scare-mongering around that was repeated when Susan Devoy was appointed race relations conciliator. We have a left which, in its majority, is absolutely determined *not to learn*.

    I agree that this stuff sorts out who is really serious and who just wants to repeat empty chants and slogans from 30 years ago, as if nothing has changed in capitalism and thus in bourgeois ideology.

    I must trawl through old articles and get the stuff about Brash up and even go back to the 1997 stuff from revolution mag.

    Phil F

  5. I listened to the long interview on Morning Report with Susan Devoy this morning. How so much of the left demonised her at the time she was appointed to the race relations post – presenting her almost as one of the three horse riders of the apocalypse – is peculiar.

    Devoy is probably the most high-profile and proactive holder of this position, strongly pushing the liberal agenda.

    Why do most of the left do this over and over again? Is this part of why so much of the working class sees the left as an alien political presence?

  6. I started listening about halfway through that interview as well. For a while I assumed it was an interview with the new Green MP!

    • Yes, extraordinary when you consider the fuss a lot of people on the left kicked up about her appointment. Moreover, this was the third time many of these folks had behaved this way.

      They did it about Don Brash. Then, not learning from that, they did it about John Key. Then, not learning from that, they did it about Susan Devoy.

      To me, all this nonsense was a clear indicator that we need a new left. One that isn’t based on know-nothing and learn-nothing, misplaced moral outrage, histrionics, stage-strutting and superficial liberal analysis dressed up as some kind of ‘socialism’ or ‘anti-capitalism’.

      People who are in it for serious and for the long haul will appreciate clinical analysis; while the childish antics brigade will hate it. That’s well and good. A new movement needs to start as it intends to go on and attract the best, most serious people. Quality over quantity.

      Phil F

  7. The Fourth Labour government was so adept at chucking the anti-nuclear bone at their liberal supporters while simultaneously making them swallow economic fundamentalist poison, and every government since then has managed to do something similar. In the current context it is interesting that the genuine Right are the ones who have the real measure of Key and Co. Matthew Hooton is good to read/listen to on this. He is scathing about their lack of ideological rigour and general pragmatism. Meanwhile the liberals chase reactionary cardboard phantoms of their own devising and think of themselves as heroes when they win a few concessions that Key never had trouble with anyway. They would rather do that it seems than the real hard work of tackling basic changes to the economic system, which is the only thing the ruling class truly fears.

  8. Agree totally with all of this Barrie, including Hooton being a more accurate guide to the Key-English government than most left commentary.

    Phil F

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