Oppose the Treaty
First Published In Salient
Over the last couple of decades much of the left have called for the New Zealand government to “honour the Treaty.” At
this last election the Maori Party won 4 seats in parliament and is likely to prop up the next government. A key demand
of the Maori Party is to honour the Treaty. The Anti-Capitalist Alliance believes this is a reactionary demand.
Leftists should reject the Treaty of Waitangi, which after all was an instrument of British imperialism and gave legal
sanction to a massive land grab. To claim that it was an honorable document is to distort history beyond recognition.
What is often forgotten today is that quite a number of chiefs refused to sign the Treaty, aware that the British
government was intent on annexing the territory and reducing Maori to ‘breaking stones for the road’.
The Treaty was not inspired by goodwill and partnership but at the insistence of British capitalists who wanted to seize
land and also prevent working class immigrants securing land independently. They were determined to avoid the experience
of the American colonies where settlers acquired land easily and supported themselves, refusing to be wage slaves. So
the Treaty ensured that Maori were only permitted to sell land to the Crown. It succeeded: only a minority of the
European population became settlers with farms. In 1858 for every farmer in New Zealand there were four farm labourers,
five general labourers, five craftsmen, two domestic servants and two workers in factories or offices.
Furthermore, the Treaty enshrined the rule of the monarchy over New Zealand, putting all citizens in the servile
position of being subjects of the Queen.
This is completely incompatible with any notion of equality.
The Treaty’s colonial motive was understood by Maori radicals in the 1960s and ’70s when they called the Treaty a fraud.
But by the 1980s a growing number of the emerging Maori elite figured that they could do well for themselves by putting
up demands for the Treaty to be ‘honoured’.
It was no accident that the biggest growth in the Treaty industry came with the neo-liberal reforms of the 1980s. Some
of the right now want to make out that this was some kind of left-wing initiative, and a lot of younger left people at
present, who weren’t around at the time, actually think that the Treaty process was a left victory rather than a
necessary aspect of neo-liberal social policy.
It is not just a fluke that this became the dominant form of establishment ideology in New Zealand at the same time as
neo-liberalism became dominant as economic policy.
Identity politics, state multiculturalism and ‘respect for difference’ is the necessary ideology that arises from,
accompanies and helps rationalise (and organise) neo-liberal economics.
The state created the Treaty industry with two chief purposes. One was to blunt Maori radicalism and incorporate Maori
radicals within the system, especially after the 1975 Maori Land March and then the occupations at Bastion Point and
Raglan in 1977-78. The other was to create a Maori middle class (and even section of the bourgeoisie) which, among other
things, would police Maori workers and youth on behalf of capital in general.
Both these purposes became especially urgent as the economic reforms of the 1980s and early 1990s devastated the working
class, especially blue collar workers who were disproportionately Maori. The ruling class feared an impoverished,
alienated and radicalised Maori population and sought new mechanisms of social control. Police batons are less effective
So giving Maori some cultural carrots and locking them up in a reinvented ‘traditional’ culture, was the compensation
for impoverishment and the mechanism for a more effective form of social control to stop them rioting in the street like
alienated black American youth.
Over the past two decades as the Treaty (and race relations industry
generally) has created a Maori middle class and burgeoning bourgeoisie, the class divisions between Maori are widening
drastically and becoming more and more significant.
The Maori Party and other bourgeois parliamentary parties who support the Treaty are pro-capitalist through and through,
no matter what ‘radical’ rhetoric they adopt from time to time.
Their approach amounts to arguing that a chunk of current surplus-value, exploited out of Maori and pakeha workers
alike, be handed over to the Maori middle class and aspiring Maori capitalists (and their pakeha business friends).
The last 20 years has shown that middle and upper class women can get equality, while working class women are ground
down. In the same way middle and upper class Maori can get equality while working class Maori are ground down.
Last year when Brash made his infamous Owera Speech, he used the slogan ‘One law for all”. Yet talk of equality from
Brash and his National Party is entirely hypocritical. It was Brash who, as head of the Reserve Bank, declared that 5
percent unemployment was necessary for the ‘recovery’. This is the man who has a couple of months holiday a year and yet
opposes one week’s extra holiday for workers. The same man who was part and parcel of the capitalist state apparatus
which oversaw the biggest transfer of wealth from the working class to the bourgeoisie in New Zealand history – the
In reality the market does not treat all people equally, but reproduces inequality (and not just class inequality, but
inequality along gender and racialised lines as well). So it is that ‘everyone is equal but some are more equal than
However, left critics of Brash, who are tending to portray him merely as a redneck racist, are wide of the mark. What
Brash favours is not some Pauline Hanson politics - Hanson is not a big fan of the free market, as she represents a
petty-bourgeois layer crushed by the market. Rather what Brash is presenting is the idealised liberal capitalist
position of complete formal legal equality - an equality which, in practice, is continuously undermined or thwarted by
capitalist social relations.
Ironically, it is the left’s abandonment of concepts like equality and needs that has allowed the right to appear as the
champion of these things and redefine their meaning to make them harmless to capitalism.
Much of the left have merely fallen in behind the Maori would-be bourgeoisie and the Maori Party in its claims for more
rights and privileges. During the Foreshore and Seabed debate in late 2003 the International Socialist Organisation (who
were still active on this campus at that time) said Pakeha might have to give up swimming at their favourite beach but
this was a sacrifice that should be made to show support for Maori (Socialist Review – Issue 16, Spring 2003).
Telling workers to sacrifice - isn’t that what the capitalists do? When the result of such sacrifice will not even be
beneficial to Maori in general, but will lead to an effective privatisation of public land, this is an extraordinary
call coming from a group claiming to be “socialist”.
The Anti-Capitalist Alliance believe that Maori should be entitled to full employment, free and accessible education at
all levels, free quality health care and an end to all current inequality and poverty that Maori face. However the ACA
does not believe that these goals can be achieved through separatist politics, or demanding the state honors an
imperialist con-job, namely the Treaty of Waitangi.
We believe the only way we can achieve true equality for Maori and all other oppressed peoples is for Students and
workers of all ethnicities to unite and fight for a better world for all.
If you agree with what you have read in this article, you should think about getting involved with the Anti-Capitalist.
Ph: 021 210 4414
Or visit our website: www.wpnz.tk
This article is by the Anti-Capitalist Alliance. It has been adapted from an article in the Spark (the official
publication of the ACA) by Philip Ferguson and Daphna Whitmore, “Brash’s ‘equality’ not for everyone” Spark, February