by Phil Duncan
The poppies are out again. We’re all expected to give to the RSA and to wear one of their poppies to show our respect for NZ combatants who died in wars abroad. But it doesn’t really take more than a second or two of reflection about Gallipoli, the centrepiece around which war is recalled in NZ and poppies worn, before a couple of questions present themselves.
Why was New Zealand invading Turkey?
What was World War One about?
And there’s the rub.
Was Turkey an imminent threat? Did it have weapons of mass destruction pointed at little ole New Zealand?
The truth, which seems unpalatable for far too many people in this country, is that NZ was the aggressor. We were invading them in a war that was about one set of empires (especially the British and French, supported by the American empire) carving up the German, Austrian and Ottoman empires.
NZ was at Gallipoli, and thousands of young NZ men were acting as cannon-fodder, because this was the price of membership of the imperialist club. The ruling class here was part of one imperialist side against another imperialist side. Our exploiters were not going to get any of the spoils of the division of the Ottoman empire – those all went to Britain and France – but they would get backing for their own claims in the Pacific. For instance, NZ wasn’t just part of the pack trying to rip the Ottoman empire apart, it was also the invader of Samoa, which it had been after for decades. Plus, as a small imperialist fish, in a world of empires and power struggles over territory, resources, markets and cheap labour, NZ needed to be aligned with much more powerful forces in order to feed off the carcasses of the defeated.
When I was young Anzac was associated completely with jingoistic, pro-war patriotism – the old variety of NZ nationalism. The gung-ho reactionary old leadership of the RSA – the kind of people who made support for ‘White New Zealand’ the RSA’s number one platform point when it was founded after WW1, are long gone, however, as is the kind of Cold War mentality that pervaded the RSA at the time of Vietnam.
The ideology has changed significantly. Today, the RSA present as rather more liberal and inclusive – in line, in fact, with the dominant ideology of the ruling class. A kind of liberal nationalism, liberal imperialism, now pervades the spirit of Anzac. We don’t go places to put the uppity natives in line, we go in order to ‘protect’ people from ‘Islamic extremism’, ‘dictators’ and so on – usually the kind of forces that were nurtured by western imperialism in the first place – and/or we go to ‘protect’ human rights, women’s rights etc (‘humanitarian imperialism’).
New Zealand specialises in this humanitarian imperialism – after all, it is ideal for a smaller capitalist power. The limited firepower of the NZ ruling class is made up for by their limitless moral high ground approach. It is the ’boutique imperialism’ of the NZ ruling class, to borrow a term Tom O’Lincoln has used to describe the policy of the Australian ruling class.
This pseudo-liberal ’boutique imperialism’ may find its apogee in the appointment of Helen Clark, a classic representative of it, as UN secretary-general, although let’s hope her ambition is thwarted on this one, as it was in her pursuit of being the first female prime minister of New Zealand, a pursuit in which she was prepared to drop any remaining vestiges of her youthful student radicalism. (This article was originally written and up on the blog in April 2016; since then Clark lost her bid for the top job at the UN.)
At Redline, we pay particular attention to New Zealand imperialism because workers here will never be able to act as a class pursuing their specific class interests until they fight their own rulers and join hands with the workers of the world. While the standard left campaigns around issues like the TPPA reflect – and reinforce – ‘kiwi nationalism’ the job of anti-capitalists, as opposed to forces that are merely anti-National Party, is to argue for working class internationalism.
This internationalism is based especially on solidarity with the masses of the Third World who make up the bulk of the global working class, and is directed against our own rulers and their wars, their nationalism, their political parties (Labour every bit as much as National) and their ideology in the 21st century.
Below are some key articles on these topics: