ACT: a pre-emptive autopsy

Maori-bashing millionaire Louis Crimp is hammering the last nails into Act’s coffin; but his outburst will encourage Act’s heir apparent, the Conservative Party, as well as the growth of real fascist forces.

In an extraordinary outburst, Crimp rehashed mainstream right wing views that blame Maori for being imprisoned and unemployed and lambasted funding of Maori language. But where the respectable right takes care to blame culture, not race, Crimp was more forthright. Asked if he was a racist, he said “I don’t give a stuff what I’m called. You have to look at the facts and figures. This is the problem with New Zealanders. Most of them dislike the Maoris intensely – I won’t say hate – but they don’t like to say so.”

He also said though, that when he expressed his views to people they were often so nervous he would ask if they had Maori blood. “They don’t like to say anything against the Maoris. They say it very quietly with their eyes looking around.”

The reluctance Crimp finds in his friends may be due to their fear of being seen as dirty racists (which, if they are, is no bad thing), but it is more likely because most New Zealanders don’t dislike Maori, but because they dislike (I won’t say hate) racists. There are many bad things about Act, and their defence of Crimp’s right to demand ethnic cleansing and their right to take his money is one more to add to the list, but this is one dead rat too far for a party founded on libertarian principles.

What we can learn from zombies

About two years ago, we wrote Act’s obituary, as their law-and-order spokesman retired following revelations of ghoulish grave-robbing. Since then, the rot has continued to spread but the corpse keeps walking. It’s like the reverse of the old marching song, “John Brown’s body lies a mouldering in the grave but his soul is marching on”. Act of course has no soul but whatever infernal spirit once moved it is lost while its mouldering corpse lurches on.

Its disintegration is an instructive process – as the flesh fall away, some of the forces that formed it and kept it in play are revealed. And they span the gamut of the ruling class, from internet millionaire Kim Dotcom at the libertarian end, to Louis Crimp, a foul-mouthed far-right rascist.

Kim Dotcom is a cuddly kind of criminal. Despite the exciting ad at the front of all films nowadays: “You wouldn’t steal a car…you wouldn’t steal a TV… you wouldn’t steal a video” almost all of us would steal all those things and more, so long as a) we were stealing from bloated super-rich media companies and b) we knew it was guaranteed we would get away with it.

The IT bubble

The rapid growth of information technology generates contradictions within capitalism, upsetting in this case property law – one of the foundations of capitalist order. The IT boom in the 1990s recreated in miniature the conditions of early capitalism, where a free market in ideas and innovation briefly existed, unfettered by the command economies of mega-corporations and undistorted by state contracts.

Such an anomalous situation in the land of the original military-industrial complex could never last. The ‘tech wreck’ of 2000-2001 burst the IT sector bubble, cutting off the industry from cheap credit and putting it firmly under the control of the finance sector and “traditional” capital. Microsoft emerged from the wreckage as the number one superpower, with Apple playing the USSR to Microsoft’s USA.

Kim Dotcom is a throwback to an earlier era, a swashbuckling privateer, plundering the fatcats with libertarian abandon. Megaupload is not a company so much as a manifestation of the natural inclination of ideas to spread. The desperate attempts by the US government to control internet piracy can only be compared to King Canute’s attempt to turn back the tide by royal decree.

The printing press allowed more people to read the Bible, and it allowed them to read the Bible in their own languages, setting in play the Reformation and the formation of nation states – two enormous and revolutionary reconstitutions of society – not to mention the newspaper and modern mass democracies. The internet will have an effect at least as far reaching and revolutionary as the printing press. We have not yet begun to understand the effects such an abundance of information will have on our societies. It may well be that a better comparison than the age of print will be with the dawn of literacy itself.

Information will allow police surveillance at an unprecedented level, but it will also allow greater public scrutiny than ever before. As Zack de la Roche put it: ”Orwell’s hell, a terror era coming through, but this little brother is watching you too”. Technological innovation is always a double-edged sword. It allows capitalists to lay off some workers, but when the remaining workers strike, they have more power than ever before.

War within the ruling class

In a similar way, innovation creates tension within the capitalist class. Marx described the bosses as a “warring band of brothers”. They share more in common with each other than with their employees (regardless of culture) but their way of life is competition, survival of the fittest, and callous arrogance. We, by contrast, are forced to cooperate regardless of how misanthropic we may be as individuals. Tensions and divisions are constantly created by the rivalries of our rulers, as alliances are made and broken and interests align and then clash.

At this juncture, capitalists who use the ability of the net to make information readily and freely available – innovators, entrepreneurs and buccaneers – find themselves in serious conflict with the established media companies, who have built and entrenched empires based on hierarchical control of distribution. This model will fall, but at the moment the media empires are stronger and have the ability to bend nation states (albeit puny ones like NZ) to their will.

When the struggle spills over from the economic to the political arena, capitalists try to enlist the support of wider groups. They appeal to principles of justice, freedom, or patriotism. The neoliberal reforms of the 1980s and 90s benefited most of all finance capital. Manufacturing capital took a hiding. It’s no coincidence that Jim Anderton, the leader of the most left-wing party in the 90s and 2000s, the Alliance, was a manufacturing boss himself. Patriotism fused with protectionism and appealed to working people to provide protection from the cruel winds of international competition.

The Alliance Party was a left wing split from Labour. At its peak it won 18% of the vote and at one stage was polling on a par with National and Labour.

But it wasn’t the only split from Labour – the party also spawned the neoliberal Act Party. Originally named the Association of Consumers and Taxpayers (note the absence of citizens or workers) and nicknamed the Association of Crooks and Thieves, Act was a weird anomaly on the world stage. In other countries, neoliberalism was smashed through by right wing parties – Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives in Britain and Reagan’s Republicans in the USA – but in New Zealand, it was a Labour Party that was bitten by the free market frenzy.

After the closed Keynesianism of Muldoon and his predecessors (both left and right), where domestic industry was protected by tariff walls and public morals were protected by puritanical laws, elements of the media and urban elites fell in love with the free market. The sharemarket boom was the best thing since sliced bread – right up until its spectacular collapse in 1987. This collapse did nothing to dissuade the devotees of the new world order – New Zealand was, according to them- suffering simply from lack of exposure to the wonderful world market: Everything must be privatised, competition is freedom. It would take two more crises, in 1998 and 2008, to shake enough of acts voter base awake and out of their selfish dreams.

In the meanwhile, though, the party of private enterprise, progress and freedom had morphed into a hideous hybrid – part libertarian, part conservative. Law and order and race relations policies were pilfered from the hard right and an uneasy alliance was attempted between urban professionals and the provincial petit bourgeoisie.

It is an unstable alliance that is unlikely to last past the next election. And while working people should be pleased to see it go, there is no room for complacency: They are likely to be replaced by something far worse.