Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Dick Scott and Karl Marx on Urewera

Trying to put the police raids in the Urewera's into a radical context, people have been referenceing the 1951 dock workers' strike, and the invasion of Parihaka in 1881. Dick Scott, who quite literally wrote the book on both these events, is probably the main reason that people are drawing parallels.

Scott contemplated a book on Rua Kenana, the Tuhoe chief arrested at Maungapohatu in the Ureweras in 1916 for sedition. Afte some research, however, he abandoned the project, as he found Rua a less attractive character than Te Whiti and Tohu:


Worthwhile information had been collected .... but with enough detail to know I could not face the man after engaging with Te Whiti and Tohu. Rua readily sold Tuhoe land, not least the land dowry his many wives brought him and, decked in fine clothes, bejewelled, servants on call - there were cooks to prepare their food - the ten chosen ones could pander to a near replica of any Pakeha evangelist on a downward path, this one ahead of the pack with the most rakish of expensive motorcars. No surprise to learn he had made a plea for mercy at his 1916 trial for liquor-selling offenses - a legal travesty aimed at punishing him for opposing wartime recruitment - and had been granted six months remission from a two and a half year sentence for agreeing to join in the recruiting. (1)
The tendency to romantacise resistance leaders is one of the traditional weaknesses of the left. Kenena shouldn't be presented as an anti-colonial hero. An objective view of history - no matter how many comforting myths and stories have to be torn down - is essential.

I'd go as far as to say Maori tribalism and the fetishisation of the Treaty of Waitangi belong in this category. Tribalism is a dead end, a divisive idea that the left should be rejecting, not supporting. Tribalism has nothing to do with social democracy or socialism. This makes the Treaty an irrelevance. Perhaps it has some use as a tool for addressing historical wrongs, but it is only useful if it improves the lot of individual Maori. If it strengthens anachronistic tribal structures, concentrating wealth and power in the hands of an elite, then it isn't serving any useful purpose. But dim-witted political correctness about indigenous struggles and rights leads well meaning activists to champion a reactionary cause. No-one should forget their past - see the next paragraph - but that doesn't mean anyone has to live in it.

The police raids brought to mind a favourite comment by Marx:
Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personage sappear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. (2)
Marx is being intentionally vague when he says that Hegel's comment about historical re-occurance is 'somewhere' - he would undoubtedly have been able to pinpoint precisely where, had he wanted to. Coyness and modesty are an endearing feature in a character usually associated with revolutionary terror.

A quick comparison of historical and recent events show the truth in what the old man said - Parihaka in 1881 was a tragedy. The raid on Rua Kenana in 1916 was also a tragedy and a despicable abuse of state power. But the current events are farce. A few middle-aged radicals and their teenaged acolytes playing che Guevara in the backwoods is not noble resistance movement, nor is it a terrorist movement. Tame Iti is not a figure like Te Whiti, Tohu or even Rua, but a clown, a "notorious self promoter .. .given to displaying his bare bum," (3) in the words of Dick Scott, a writer who has made a more significant contribution to Maori history and to progressive politics.

1 - From A Radical Writer's Life, by Dick Scott, published in 2004 by Reed Books, Auckland, page 296. Reading the book, one can't help but note that Scott has adopted a few Rua-esque qualities, having amassed a collection of ex-wives and former lovers. Also I raised an eyebrow on learning the great class warrior's book was printed in China.
2 - 1 - "The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, " by Karl Marx, 1852. (http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1852/18th-brumaire/ch01.htm)
3 - Scott, op. cit., page 297.

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