Archive for the ‘Moral panics’ Category

The piece below first appeared as the editorial in revolution #6 (May-June) 1998.  The trends it pointed to were very strong at the time and, sadly, remain very strong.

downloadby Philip Ferguson

The left was once synonymous with freedom.  This was particularly so during the ‘radical’ 1960s.  Freedom from the moral restraints of the austere and conservative 1950s, freedom for sexual experimentation, for viewing pictures and reading books that had been banned, and freedom for oppressed peoples in the Third World and in the advanced capitalist countries like New Zealand were exclusively the preserve of the left.

A great deal has changed since then!  Much of the ‘60s generation has grown up, gained a ‘stake in society’ and become the new, liberal prudes and social controllers, as fearful of freedom as they once were enthusiastic about it.  These days it is difficult to think of any activity which is not subject to concern or regulation by some middle-class snob or do-gooder.  From anti-smoking campaigns[1] to attempts to censor the internet to moral purity feminism, the grown-up flower children of the ‘60s would now prefer not to let a hundred flowers bloom.

There are, however, two ‘freedoms’ that are not included in their desire to control and constrain.  One is the freedom of the (more…)

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The following is the editorial that appeared in the various workplace bulletins produced by the Workers Fight group in Britain in the last week of April.  It deals with the findings of the independent panel established in 2012 to look into the deaths of 96 soccer fans at the Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield in 1989.

by Workers Fight

So after 27 years, a jury has finally decided that the 96 fans who were crushed to death on 15 April 1989, were “unlawfully killed”. And that the fans were “blameless”.

That is the great British justice system for you. After almost three decades – it finds that there was a cover-up; that police lied and that “authorities” were to blame. Well didn’t the fans, the victims’ families and indeed the general public already know that fans had nothing to answer for?

Yet in 1991, the then coroner ruled the 96 deaths to be “accidental”. And the allegation (by the Sun newspaper, among others) that “hooligans” had somehow caused the crush was never really challenged.

It was only thanks to an independent panel set up in 2012, after tireless campaigning by relatives of the victims and Liverpool fans, that the new hearings were ordered – which made its ruling yesterday.

So the victim’s families had to be put through (more…)

Even people like Adair Turner, Baron Turner, head of the Confederation of British Industry, had to face the reality of capitalist malaise

Even people like Adair Turner (Baron Turner), head of the Confederation of British Industry, had to face the reality of capitalist malaise and attack ‘unfettered markets’

The piece below is the text of one of the talks given back at the end of 1997, at a weekend Marxist educa-tional conference organised by revolution magazine in Christchurch; almost 20 years on, it is a mark of the political impasse in society – and the stagnation of much of the left – that it remains relevant.

by Philip Ferguson

At the very time that capitalism has returned to its ‘normal’ features of recession, poverty, social breakdown and war, Marxism is being proclaimed dead by academic commentators, sections of yesterday’s leftists and bourgeois pundits generally.

The latest discovery of the Marxist corpse has been a product of the demise of the Soviet bloc. Genuine Marxists, however, welcomed the implosion of Stalinism, a system and philosophy which had been for sixty years a major bloc to the development of the revolutionary project of human liberation. Its collapse means that one of the key props of capitalist ideology and the West’s ally in maintaining an unjust world order no longer holds power. Today, capitalism has to justify itself on its own merits – and is having an increasingly hard time doing so. Even such a capitalist ideologue as Michael Novak admits that capitalism is getting a bad press now (Christchurch Press, March 18, 1995).

In fact most capitalist commentators, certainly the more sophisticated ones overseas, are decidedly downbeat about the system. Their prognostications are a long way from the triumphalism of the period when the Soviet bloc imploded. Back then an essay called “The End of History” by an obscure figure called Francis Fukuyama was published in the National Interest. It basically argued that the market and liberal democracy had triumphed over all their rivals. The essay summed up the moment for the Western elite and made Fukuyama famous. Subsequently his book, The End of History and the Last Man was an international bestseller. Yet, mirroring the changed moment of the Western elite, his second book, published last year, Trust, is rather more pessimistic. It has to deal with the socially disintegrative trends of a free market system let rip.

Today, then, the concept of the end of history – so recently a cause for celebration in elite circles – has taken on a quite different meaning. It’s more that an (more…)

1416881010-white-ribbon-day-in-wellington-highlights-violence-against-women_6338025by Philip Ferguson

Yesterday, November 25, police around the country took part in White Ribbon Day events in opposition to violence against women.  The event included male police officers engaged in a “walk a mile in her shoes” exercise, trading in their regular footwear for high heels and other women’s shoes.  Part of the day’s focus was also on ‘informed consent’, a notion integral to contemporary establishment sex education and capitalist ideology (which is not to suggest it always ‘gets through’).  No wonder the police are at the top of the pile when it comes to the part of the state that is most sensitive around ‘diversity’ issues (see ).

Being politically-correct is very useful to the cops in the twenty-first century.  The much greater diversity of NZ society means the most effective ways of containing people these days, and preventing them from being any kind of threat to the status quo, are forms of ‘respect for difference’ and ‘inclusiveness’.  Get Maori to police Maori – not just through more Maori cops but through cultural correctness programmes which are even more effective in making Maori behave in particular ways, ways compatible, even necessary to, the maintenance of the socio-economic status quo.

At the same time, the cops continue to play their role in the frontline of defence for a system based on, and impossible without, exploitation and oppression.  Exploitation of labour-power by capital and oppression of those who won’t meekly submit to that order with all its offshoots such as alienation and its effects.

While embracing ‘diversity’, ‘informed consent’ and other liberal-left nostrums, every now and then the pc mask slips and we see part of the repressive face of this institution, and the secrecy that its repressive role entails. (more…)

Quick March, journal of the Returned Soldiers Association who made support for the White New Zealand their number one policy plank

Quick March, journal of the Returned Soldiers Association who made support for the White New Zealand policy their number one platform plank

by Philip Ferguson

Chinese numbers in New Zealand dropped through the 1890s and the first decade of the twentieth century – from 4,444 in 1891 to 2,630 in 1911, while the European population expanded substantially.  In April 1921, there were 3,266 Chinese and a total non-Maori population of 1,218, 913.  Whereas in 1881, the 5,004 Chinese were 1.02 percent of the non-Maori population, they were now an even more meagre 0.36 percent.[1]  Yet after WWI campaigning against the Chinese was renewed, as was the discourse of “influx”.  The dichotomy between the prosaic reality of the Chinese presence and the hyperbole of the discourse suggests the Chinese had become the focus of something resembling a moral panic.  This can, in turn, be explained by the growth of fears of racial decay and the emergence of new organisations whose nationalism and racial fears provided the backdrop for renewed campaigning against the Chinese (and other unwanted immigrants).

White New Zealand after WW1: intellectual thought

In the period from 1910 to the opening of World War I, White New Zealand ideas continued to be strengthened by organisations campaigning for various forms of ‘improvement’.  Eugenics groups, for instance, expanded, from 1910.  That year a Dunedin branch of the Eugenics Education Society was founded on August 2.  Its main figures were a collection of middle class professionals, such as J.H. Walker, the chairman of the Otago Hospital and Charitable Aid Board; W.B. Benham, professor of biology at Otago University and a strong advocate of banning the ‘unfit’ from marrying[2]; the Anglican Rev. Canon Curzon-Siggers, who was active in the Society for the Protection of Women and Children (SPWC); and Dr Emily Seideberg, another SPWC activist, who was also the country’s first woman medicine graduate and a feminist.  The Dunedin branch’s governing council consisted of three ministers, two university professors and seven doctors.[3]  In Wellington, a branch was initiated by H.O.B. Kirk, professor of biology at Victoria; leading figures included Stout; Plunket founder Truby King; T.M. Wilford, who would go on to lead the Liberals from 1919-25; and an array of medical men and leading figures in the state bureaucracy.  Feminism was represented by Mrs A.R. Atkinson, a vice-president of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and activist in SPWC.[4]  The WCTU warmly welcomed the formation of the Eugenics Education Society.[5]  The president of the national society was Liberal attorney-general J.M. Findlay, while fellow cabinet minister George Fowlds was a vice-president.  Findlay spoke and wrote on fears of national decay and the danger of extinction.[6]

The following year, 1911, saw the publication in Christchurch of Degeneracy, a work by  stipendiary magistrate H.W. Bishop.  This emphasised the “necessity for securing the purity of the race”.[7]  In July, a eugenics society was (more…)

by Philip Ferguson

While the Chinese Immigrants Bill was languishing for lack of a second reading, the Asiatic Restriction Bill was introduced, and passed into law as the Asiatic Restriction Act of 1896.  In fact, the first version of the bill failed but a rapidly-introduced second version passed.  This repealed the Chinese Immigration Act 1881, The Chinese Immigration Act Amendment Act 1882 and the Chinese Immigration Act Amendment Act Continuation Act 1889.  However, the repeal of these Acts would not affect any regulations under them nor discharge penalties against anyone who had been liable under them.  The new Act contained 24 sections.  Its preamble declared that it was “expedient to safeguard the race-purity of the people of New Zealand by preventing the influx into the colony of persons of alien race. . .” An “Asiatic” was defined as “any native of any part of Asia, or of the islands adjacent to Asia or in Asiatic seas, and the descendants of any such natives”, but not to include people of “European or Jewish extraction” nor “British subjects, being natives of that portion of Her Majesty’s Dominions known as the Indian Empire. . .”

The Act made owners and masters of ships liable to fines of up to £100 for each “Asiatic” over the limit of one per 200 tonnes of ships’ tonnage.  Ships’ masters were, upon arrival to provide the principal customs officer with a list of all ‘Asiatics’ on board, including their name, place of birth, apparent age, and former place of residence.  Failure to do so made the master liable to a fine of up to £200.  The master was to pay a poll-tax of £100 per ‘Asiatic’, and there was no legal entry without this tax being paid.  In the event of a master not paying the tax, or any “Asiatic” landing before payment or escaping ashore, the master was liable to a penalty not exceeding £50 for each, as well as still having to pay the tax.  ‘Asiatics’ evading the Act could be fined a similar amount or, if the fine was not paid, they faced 12 months imprisonment.  “Asiatic” crew members were only to be allowed ashore in pursuance of ships’ duties; breaking of this regulation made the crew member and captain liable to a fine of £100.  Masters had to muster Asian crew members on arrival in the presence of the Customs officer and provide him with their number and names, and repeat this on departure.  In the case of any discrepancy, there was a fine of £100 for each “Asiatic” missing.  In order to overcome the problem of Asian passengers being moved from one ship to another and then ashore, the Act stipulated that the original ship would still be deemed to be the ship bringing them in.  No ship could leave port without all the provisions of the Act being met and all monies being paid.  Vessels could be detained anywhere until monies were paid or a bond with two sureties.  In cases of default, ships could be seized and sold.

Every Asian not already naturalised was declared an (more…)

Anti-Chinese cartoon from California, 1870s

Anti-Chinese cartoon from California, 1870s

by Philip Ferguson

“It is said that women are mentally inferior to men. Why, Sir, have not women always shown themselves equal to men in an intelligent grasp of general questions whenever they have had equal opportunities, whenever they have had an opportunity of having their brains trained, exercised, and developed to the fullest extent? . . . I say the history of the past has shown us that we are justified in looking forward to their admission to the work of government with every confidence.” – William Pember Reeves, on votes for women1

“As to the arguments based on Chinese ancient civilisation, education, industry and frugality, Chinese civilisation was not civilisation as we understood it, but arrested development; their education was a fraud; their learning was limited to a few. . . Chinese frugality (meant) they did not observe the rules of sanitation and decency. . .” – William Pember Reeves on Chinese immigration to New Zealand2

In New Zealand, as in Australia, the 1890s was a decade of feverish attempts to legislate to keep out Asians, especially the Chinese. From the beginning to the end of the decade, legislation was introduced, ranging from naturalisation and aliens bills to undesirable immigrants bills, to prevent the Chinese entering the country and block those already here from becoming citizens and enjoying the normal rights and responsibilities of citizenship. Often the legislation included other ‘undesirables’ as well. Yet this was also a decade in which the banner of progressive social reform was held high – votes for women, factory reform, recognition of trade unions and attacks on the landed estates and their owners were being carried out, often by the same forces orchestrating (more…)