Foreigners are not to blame: nationalism and the elections

While the fall-out from Nicky Hager’s Dirty Politics is the standout feature of the general election campaign, some of the foremost policy questions have been around the interrelated issues of housing, land ownership, and immigration. Labour, Green and Internet Mana have taken a nationalist, anti-foreigner stand alongside New Zealand First, who claim this territory as their own. The Maori Party and Conservative Party have taken up the same tune. This has left the doctrinaire free-market ACT and National parties being able to pose as above resorting to low-down foreigner-blaming for social problems.

That the reformist left has taken up nationalist policies is no surprise. No other question better illustrates the yawning gulf between reformism and revolutionary socialism. Capitalism is a world system and revolutionary socialism can’t survive in one country, it has to be an international movement. For that reason revolutionaries are implacably opposed to nationalism, which ties working people to our rulers and divides us from working people in other countries.

Yet the revolutionary socialists, not having the forces to mount their own election campaign, prefer reformists over right-wing parties in this election. Socialists do not abstain from elections. We want to defeat National.

The International Socialist Organisation calls for a party vote for Internet Mana, which has the best policies for working class people, and an electorate vote for Labour or the Greens, where there is no Mana candidate. We do this despite the left nationalism of all these parties, which is abhorrent to our socialist viewpoint.

Speculators to blame for housing problem; not foreigners

It is alleged by Labour that foreign speculators are buying up Auckland properties, and that is driving prices out of reach of New Zealanders. Let us suppose there is some truth in this. The problem would be that they are speculators, not that they are foreign. There has been a long-term trend from owner-occupation to rental accommodation in Auckland. In the overwhelming majority of cases, the landlords are New Zealanders. The answer, surely, is to change the tax system to make property speculation less attractive. Labour actually has such a policy, a capital gains tax. They also have a policy, “Kiwi Build”, to create more homes. In other words they have solutions to the housing problem. Labour’s anti-foreigner talk is purely political rhetoric to out-bid National in the nationalism stakes in the belief that this will play well with the voters.

Unfortunately, it is not just Labour that has pinned the blame for housing problems on foreigners. In May Mana’s John Minto was in a minor parties’ debate on the The Nation. In the debate Peter Dunne said that Winston Peters’ blaming the house problem on foreigners was racist. Minto intervened to say:

“When we have a busload of women from Australia who come over to New Zealand and drive around and before they get back on the plane they have all bought two or three houses a piece, that’s a disaster for New Zealand. That’s bidding up the prices.”

Winston Peters backed up Minto saying, “[That’s] exactly what’s going on.”

John Minto was not being racist but he was being nationalistic on an issue where there is a danger of anti-Asian racism being whipped up. The blaming of foreigners by the left is playing with racist fire.

What’s wrong with nationalism

The proposed sale of Lochinver Station to a Chinese buyer has unleashed an avalanche of anti-foreigner comment. The reformists claim the exposure of land sales to international competition prices New Zealanders out of the market. Whether or not this is true, only a tiny minority of New Zealanders could possibly stump up the millions of dollars to buy a farm. The working class has no interest in farm sales other than as farm workers. What difference does it make whether the owner is a New Zealand boss or foreign boss?

The second argument is that farm profits will go abroad and not trickle down to ordinary people. The answer to that is that the trickle-down theory is bogus. The nationality of the owner makes little difference to where profit is invested or spent.

The third and most damaging argument is that New Zealand ownership is in the national interest in which all New Zealanders share. The national interest ideology binds workers hand and foot to their employers, blinding them to their true interest in working-class solidarity.

What’s the socialist alternative?

If revolutionary socialists argue that workers have no interest in the nationality of landowners, do they have the same policy as the free-marketeers? Only superficially. In fact there is little difference between the free-marketeers and the reformists. Both support private ownership and production for the market. The socialist programme is completely counter to that.

We are working towards the working-class majority taking power and implementing common ownership of land; including Maori control of Maori land.

After such a socialist revolution land use will change radically. Once freed from market forces, the land will be used to meet human need. Inevitably, that will mean less wasteful and ecologically destructive dairying and stock-rearing. There will be far more horticulture undertaken in a sustainable long-term manner.

Nationalism of the Greens and Internet Mana

Whilst the Green Party also has ecological aims, they do not recognise that they require a struggle against capitalism. The Greens have taken a position on landownership that is as nationalist as any. In the minor party leaders debate on the 9th August The Nation Metiria Turei said this on the Lochinver sale:

“… the Green Party has led on this issue now for well over a decade. We should not be selling off our land into foreign ownership. We have had a bill in Parliament to restrict land sales just to New Zealand residents — New Zealand citizens and permanent residents. And if that bill had been passed in 2012, the Lochinver Station would not have been sold. So National has deliberately allowed New Zealand land to be sold into foreign ownership, which is not good for our economy.”

This is similar to Labour’s policy, which is hardly less nationalist but it leaves open the possibility of foreign ownership where an economic case for good is made.

In view of socialists’ support for Internet Mana, they must take care to distance themselves from that party’s national interest statements. In the same The Nation debate Hone Harawira also took a nationalist position, as we should expect. He said:

“Stop the sale of New Zealand assets to overseas interests, regardless of what they are — whether they’re electricity, farms … Unless we take control of our own future and the destiny of our own children and our grandchildren, they will grow up in a land owned by somebody else. That’s the way — No, no, to waha. That’s the way of the global marketplace. It’s not a future I want for my children. It’s not even a future I want for his [Act leader Jamie Whyte’s] grandchildren. I want a future where New Zealand land is owned by New Zealand citizens and available for the benefit of all New Zealanders forever.”

Harawira’s invoking of public asset sales and the market is left-sounding camouflage to a reactionary policy.