The Freedoms and Rights Coalition, a creation of Brian and Hannah Tamaki, is associated with the Christian-fundamentalist Destiny Church. It came to notice last October when, in contravention with the health emergency restrictions, it organised an anti-lockdown protest on Auckland Domain. The FRC continued to organise or participate in anti-lockdown, anti-vaxx and anti-mandate demonstrations. It was not the organiser of the occupation of Parliament Grounds last February, but it jumped on the bandwagon, as did a host of far-right groups and fascists.
The FRC was preceded by Vision New Zealand, headed by Hannah Tamaki. Vision NZ stood 5 candidates in the 2020 general election. Hannah Tamaki got 1,171 votes in Waiariki where four far-right candidates shared a worrying 9.6 percent of electorate votes. Vision NZ opposed abortion, homosexuality, immigrants and the building of new mosques.
FRC politics are far from being confined to protesting public health responses to COVID-19. They aim to build a far-right party to participate in next year’s general election. In recent weeks the FRC has adopted calling for the fall of the Labour government as its headline policy. It has been attempting to exploit the cost of living crisis, without, however, coming up with any coherent policy.
Two recent examples typify the FRC’s disgusting politics. A 27th June piece by Brian Tamaki on their website is devoted to supporting Simon O’Connor’s ‘Today is a good day’ comment on the overturn of Roe v Wade. In a video posted on Facebook on 28th July Tamaki blames gay men and transgender people for the spread of monkeypox, which he falsely says is a sexually transmitted disease that he calls ‘AIDS in drag’. The FRC is misogynistic, homophobic, transphobic, and anti-Muslim. A Facebook post promoting an FRC public meeting on 26th June in West Auckland lists a range of grievances, including ‘Mass Immigration’ and ‘Mass China (India) Takeover’. Ridiculous conspiracy theories are aimed at the government. Other facets of their politics are extreme nationalism and a wish to return to a mythical Golden Age in this country.
The FRC appeals to insecure petit-bourgeois sections of the population and marginalised sections of the working class.
On their website they display a pictogram illustrating their politics, the first three categories displayed are farmers, businesses and tax payers. Like all rightists, they are for low taxes and low public spending. The FRC is seeking to mobilise such people into as militant as possible actions aimed against the left; at present that means primarily against the Labour government. These are classical features of fascist movements. However, today’s context is different from the 1920s and 30s. Then the fascists engaged in physical confrontation against militant working-class movements that had threatened revolution in the aftermath of WW1 and had the example of the Russian Revolution, but these movements failed to carry through successful revolutions. The crisis in society today is less extreme, and so far violence has not been promoted by the FRC. On characterisation, I agree with what Brandon Johnstone said in his 5th July article on the Ōtepoti confrontation. The label ‘fascist’ does not fit the FRC. Far-right is a better descriptor at present, while recognising a full-blown fascist movement could develop.
On Saturday 23rd July the FRC held a ‘Million Man March’ on the theme of multiple crises in New Zealand. The event was supposed to take place simultaneously Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. The largest march took place in Auckland behind a banner reading ‘Labour Must Go’. It was only about 1,000 people strong, but achieved national publicity by blocking the Southern Motorway for a while.
The next events of the FRC, on the theme of ‘Kiwi Patriot Days’, are marches in Auckland on Saturday 6th August, in Christchurch on Saturday 13th and in Wellington on Tuesday 23rd August. The event in Wellington is the culmination of “road trips” to the capital from Kaitaia and Invercargill. Brian Tamaki has made reference to Parliament sitting on the 23rd. There are shades of the February convoy and occupation in their rhetoric.
On its own, the FRC is not so much of a threat. But it is not on its own as it is but one of a plethora of far-right and fascist grouplets. In addition to mobilising supporters for street actions, the FRC has an electoral strategy that is to unite as much of the far-right as possible under an umbrella party to fight the 2023 elections.
Reference has been made above to the split in the far-right vote in Waiariki in 2020. The same sort of competition between the rightists was a feature of the general election as a whole. No far-right party did well, but seven of these minor parties combined got 89,984 party votes, 3.11 percent of the total. Similarly, there were four far-right minor parties competing in last June’s Tauranga by-election. Combined, they got 1,575 votes, 7.56 percent – a not insignificant result. It is entirely logical for the FRC to seek far-right unity. They say they will be announcing an umbrella party at their 6th August Patriot Day in Auckland.
The cost of living crisis is giving the FRC an opportunity. What is making this development dangerous, and will be still more dangerous if the economy slips into recession, is that Labour is overseeing a monetarist response to inflation that is driving down living standards. Furthermore, the far left is currently too feeble to mount opposition to the Labour government. The absence of the left is allowing the far right to express radical opposition to the politics of the Labour-National centre. The FRC uses pseudo-revolutionary rhetoric: Tamaki’s opinion piece of 11th June is titled ‘The Rising Revolution’. For their 23rd July march in Auckland, they publicly proclaimed that their aim was to cause ‘motorway mayhem’.
The rise of FRC and the other far-right and fascist groups can be halted by the left if it takes inspiration from the tactic of the united front, as developed by the Communist International in 1923 following Mussolini’s taking power in 1922. The tactic was soon dropped upon the Stalinist bureaucratisation of the Communist International, and that had a disastrous effect in Germany where the Communists failed to propose unity with the Social Democrats against the Nazis.
The united front tactic is to unite all those menaced by the common enemy in specific actions. It must be stressed that the tactic is to unite for specific actions and is not a general political alliance, especially not an alliance under which criticism of reformist social democratic parties is muted. The revolutionary left must keep its independence.
Before the term united front had been coined, the tactic had been used in Russia in the 1917 revolution. The Bolsheviks formed a common front with Kerensky, the socialist head of the Provisional government, against an attempted counter-revolutionary coup led by General Kornilov. The Bolsheviks mobilised Red Guards to defend Petrograd, and they fraternised with troops under Kornilov’s command. The would-be military dictator was beaten.
A more recent example of a successful united front comes from Britain when the fascist National Front was pushed back in the 1970s by the Socialist Workers Party-inspired Anti-Nazi League. The ANL brought together some Labour left reformists, the SWP and some prominent leftwing individuals. The success of the ANL owed much to the SWP’s tactical sense. The ANL was for broad unity in specific actions, mostly counter-demonstrations every time the fascists tried to march. The aim was to turn out great numbers of people; and it worked as the softer elements of the National Front fell away.
Applying the united front tactic to the FRC’s upcoming August events means organisations, such as the recently formed Pōneke Anti-Fascist Coalition, reaching out to all those menaced by the growth of the far right: the whole of the left, including Labour, the Greens, the trade unions; and oppressed groups, including women, gays and lesbians, transgender people, Muslims and immigrants. Even if we do not expect support from Labour and union leaderships, it is still important that they are asked to support counter-demonstrations. Inviting them proves our bona fides for unity to ordinary Labour supporters and unionists.
For too long the far right has got away with not being opposed. But on 2nd July Dunedin (Ōtepoti) anti-fascists counter-demonstrated, vastly outnumbering and demoralising the FRC. From now on, whenever we can, the FRC and the like must be counter-protested every time they come onto the streets. If the far right are not challenged their nasty politics will not be questioned. By taking on the far-right threat the left can do itself a huge favour in rebuilding itself.