Hone Harawira’s departure from the Maori Party was almost always inevitable. The contradictions that plague that party – resulting primarily from the fact its base is amongst left-leaning low-income Maori and yet its leadership is situated on the political right, has now led to a spilt. The party has attempted to be a movement for all ‘its people’ – that is, a pan-Maori party claiming to represent the interests of low-income supporters as well as elite Maori (sometimes referred to as the Brown Table). The party has also represented a uniting of both pro and anti-establishment currents from the tino rangatiratanga movement. The MP Tariana Turia represents the most conservative wing of the party, with her exposal of a pro-capitalist ideology, attacks on the welfare state and her claims that the National Party has always given more to Maori due to its pro-market philosophy. Harawira had clearly represented the left-wing of the party, what with his history as a militant activist, his links with left-wing figures such as Matt McCarten, and with his occasional statements of support for unions and poor pakeha. However, the contradictions contained within the Maori Party are also present within the ideological makeup of Harawira himself, who espouses and represents both the ideas of class politics and identity politics. In this guest blog, John Moore argues Harawira should be respected for standing up against the Maori Party leadership, but that his eclectic beliefs will act as a barrier to him building a lasting new political movement that reaches beyond a narrow ethnically–defined constituency. [Read more below]
Hone Harawira’s leftist supporters, such as Matt McCarten, claim the rebel MP has been much maligned by the media who have at times claimed he is a racist and an extreme Maori nationalist. Unfortunately, for these friends of Harawira, the Maori politician has on numerous occasions condemned himself by his own statements and actions. His most infamous gaff was when, once being criticized for skipping a parliamentary funded meeting in Brussels so that he and his wife Hilda could spend a day in Paris, the MP made perceived racist comments. In response to a critical email from former Waitangi Tribunal director Buddy Mikaere, a cornered Harawira lashed out. The MP’s response to Mikaere included: ‘Gee Buddy, do you believe that white man bullshit too do you? White motherfuckers have been raping our lands and ripping us off for centuries and all of a sudden you want me to play along with their puritanical bullshit’.
After receiving strong criticisms from both Maori and pakeha commentators, Harawira recoiled somewhat and apologised for making comments that could be seen as an attack on all Pakeha. He admitted that he would now have to repair relationships with non-Maori he has been working with over a number of years. Also, in a defensive mode after this incident, Harawira strongly denied being a racist. He highlighted his willingness to work with pakeha and stated, 'Hone doesn't hate Pakehas. Hone's part Pakeha'.
Maybe Harawera should be taken at his word – that is, that his comments were in contradiction to his desire to work alongside pakeha. However, this lash out does indicate the narrow prism through which Harawira often espouses his politics, which can consist of reducing politics down to a matter of Maori vs pakeha.
Yet, despite Harawira being open to working with pakeha, he has at times shown a crude racist attitude towards non-Maori. In mid-2010 the MP was widely condemned for comments that he wouldn't feel comfortable with his children dating pakeha.
Not only was Harawira advocating quite a backward view on inter-ethnic/racial relationships, but he was also speaking out against a reality of ‘integration between the sheets’ that is widespread throughout New Zealand society. (After all, in this country the intermarriage and cohabitation stats are actually incredible high; which gave rise to Ranginui Walker’s famous statement that, ‘the problems of race relations are being resolved in the bedrooms of the nation’).
Yet despite these outbursts, Harawira has become a darling of a section of the pakeha left. Most left-of-Labour leftists have now become totally disillusioned with the Maori Party, but they’ve now shifted to project onto the figure of Hone Harawira their dreams of a leftwing Maori warrior. Certainly it’s true that Harawira’s politics are well to the left of his former Maori Party colleagues, and he has a history of working with elements of the left in New Zealand. But, just how leftwing is Harawira really?
Harawira as a Leftist
In exiting the Maori Party Harawira positioned himself to the left of his former colleagues. He has been particularly scathing of his former party’s relationship with the National Party, and he’s been critical of the Maori Party’s acquisition to a number of rightwing policies. In an official statement following his suspension from the Maori Party caucus, Harawira laid into Tariana Turia, Pita Sharples et al. for supporting a government that is allowing the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer, and for generally hammering Maori. He also strongly condemned raising GST, which he has argued hurts low income workers the most, National’s proposals to sell off state assets, and tax breaks for the rich and bailouts for big business.
Coupled with such leftist statements, Harawira has been working with militant unionist Matt McCarten and former Green MP Sue Bradford to form the Mana Party. Hence there has certainly been some basis to believe that the rebel Maori MP might be moving beyond his limited focus on Maori concerns. His comments that he wanted to act as a voice of the poor in general, Maori, pakeha and Pacifica alike, gave some on the left hope that Harawira was acting to extend his base from poor and marginalized Maori to being a champion of the general working poor. This view has been reinforced by Harawira’s positive statements about the union movement and his close relationship with McCarten.
Yet despite flirting with class-based politics, Harawira does not appear to be initiating a multi-ethnic or working class centred political party, but what is mostly just another ethnic based party. At the moment, the Mana Party looks like it’s going to be sold to voters as ‘the Maori Party 2.0, with added leftists’.
With Hone Harawira staying put within the milieu of ‘race-based’ politics, where are these new efforts likely to lead him?
The inability of Harawira to form a pan-ethnic new left party does not bode well for him continuing to move to the left and reject ‘race-centred’ politics. His leadership of the Mana Party will inevitably mean he will continue to position himself within the framework of Maori nationalist politics, with occasional adherence to some form of leftwing and class critique. His new Maori party, as is the case with the official Maori Party – will be centrally based on an ethnic identification, and a focus on championing Maori concerns. So, although Harawira has dislodged himself from the right of the Maori political spectrum, he is still trapped within the narrow framework of ethnicity politics.
Of course, for leftists it is not an either/or proposition to champion Maori interests and to positioning oneself as a fighter for working class interests. Working class orientated movements need to both be concerned for the specific situation of Maori, but also embrace a more encompassing politics that unites people on the basis on class and not ethnicity/race. Clearly in Harawira’s case he would need to learn to be a bit more tolerant and comfortable if one of his kids bought home a pakeha partner.
In fact Harawira has made small steps towards transcending such a perceived divide, but his failure to initiate a multi-ethnic left party points to his reluctance to move beyond the prism of his ‘Maori vs pakeha’ ideology.
Harawira’s leftist rhetoric gave much of those to the left of Labour some hope that his expulsion from the Maori caucus could of acted as a springboard for a new left party. Sadly, however, such leftists remained blind to – or even acted as apologists for – his most divisive ethnic-based politics. They have failed to understand that Harawira has yet to move beyond his ‘pakeha vs Maori’ politics. He would need to undergo quite a radical transformation if he was to lead a non-ethnic based left party.
The reality is that Harawira’s new Mana Party will be mostly a threat to the Maori Party. The two will act as competitors for the Maori vote, with the Maori Party basing itself on that part of the Maori electorate who are ideologically to the right, champion Maori business ventures and the corporatization of Maori iwi. The Mana Party, by contrast, will appeal to those Maori who have failed to benefit from the rise of Maori corporate warriorism and the transformation of many iwi into capitalists enterprises. Both parties may well find an electorate base that can sustain their survival. However, the left’s hopes of a new socialist party, championing the interest of both Maori and non-Maori workers, looks now like a pipe dream.
Transcending ‘race’ based politics
Harawira has shown an affinity to the American Black power movement of the 1960s. Indeed, one of his heroes is Muhammad Ali, who in the 1960s stood up against the white racist power structure in America. Ali was a member of the Nation of Islam, which preaches a rather bizarre mix of Islam, black supremacy and anti-Semitism. Eventually, of course, Muhammad Ali transcended his early affiliation to this obscurantist sect, but has unfortunately accommodated himself to the American establishment.
Maybe Harawira needs to take an in depth look at another leading member of the Nation – Malcolm X. Like Harawira, Malcolm X was an uncompromising champion for his ‘race’, and as with Harawira he projected his politics through the prism of ethnicity. However this black revolutionary eventually underwent a radical transformation and actually dismissed his early politics as ‘racist’. Malcolm X moved beyond an ideology of race (seeing the world divided between black and whites), and began to gravitate towards leftist groups advocating a radical class-based analysis.
Malcolm continued his focus on a fight against black oppression, but came to realise the fight for black liberation needed to be within a poltical famework of the ‘oppressed fighting the oppressor’. Equally, he came to see capitalism as maintaining racist structures, rather than simply white people being the source of black oppression. In fact shortly before he was assassinated, Malcolm X argued that the struggle was not ‘a racial conflict of black against white…Rather, we are today seeing a global rebellion of the oppressed against the oppressor, the exploited against the exploiter’. Harawira might want to reflect on Malcolm X’s ultimate conclusion: ‘I believe that there will ultimately be a clash between the oppressed and those who do the oppressing... but I don’t think it will be based upon the colour of the skin’.
If Harawira is to move beyond his ‘race’-centred politics, and to live up to his desire to stand up for the general poor in New Zealand, he would do well to look at the political transformation that Malcolm X went through. He might then be a genuine rebel with a cause.