Cannabis: End Prohibition!

Helen Kelly’s fighting stand for cannabis law reform pushed the issue centre-stage.

There will be a referendum on cannabis reform at the same time as the 2020 general election. There will be a yes or no question on the legalisation of cannabis use, but the wording of the proposed legislation is not yet known.

The criminal justice system is racist. This has to be our starting point. Māori are more likely to be stopped, questioned and searched by police than non-Māori. They are more likely to be arrested. If arrested, they are more likely to be charged. If charged, they are more likely to be convicted. If convicted, they are more likely to be jailed. Jail time is psychologically scarring and sets someone up for problems all through their life. It is hard to get work again with a criminal conviction on your record. Poverty, abuse, hopelessness and long-term unemployment are all products of the prison system. This system is biased against working-class people generally, and especially prejudiced against Māori. It is destructive of human potential.

Our attitudes to drug laws, therefore, start from our opposition to racism and the racist justice system. The amendment to the Misuse of Drugs Act that allows greater police discretion to consider a “health-centered or therapeutic approach”, for us, is no solution. It will be little help to Māori, who will still face discrimination. As Fiona Hutton, a criminologist and expert on drug laws, points out, police discretion powers can actually increase inequalities. In a racist society, Māori are less likely to find “discretion” working in their favour. Current laws on cannabis give powers to the state to harass workers. Police can search your home, car, or person without a warrant if they have “reasonable grounds” to suspect you have illegal drugs. This is a huge intrusion on our liberties, and is used disproportionately against workers, youth, and people of colour.

Cannabis use is a fact of life in New Zealand society. Most people will have used cannabis by the time they are in their mid-twenties. Around ten percent of the adult population, according to the Ministry of Health’s most recent figures, use cannabis regularly, with 87 percent of them reporting no concerns from others about their drug use. Just like alcohol and tobacco, cannabis is a drug people use in a variety of ways. Many of these are harmless. Some self-destructive use is connected with coping with harm: alienation and the pressures of living in a capitalist society. The harm is going on anyway, but only cannabis is targeted by the law’s prohibition regime. Decriminalisation will take a power away from the state to regulate, control, and oppress workers. [Read more…]

The Roots of Racism

By Martin Gregory

Racism is not age-old, a trait of humanity, or an outgrowth of any metaphysical ideology. On the scale of human history racism is a recent, modern phenomenon. Its origins can be precisely dated and associated with actual, material, historical developments in human society. The nature of racism has been contingent on actual historical processes. The origins of racism correlate precisely with the rise of the Atlantic slave trade in the Sixteenth Century and the nature of racism was further formed in justification of European imperialism. As Marx said, capitalism came into existence “dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt.”

The dominant form that racism has taken and still takes, born as it was to justify the slave trade and imperialist conquest, is that of white supremacism: the belief that Whites, by genetic characteristics, are superior to any other supposed race, justifying domination by the supposed white race. White supremacist ideology reached its zenith as European imperialism reached its own climax with the Scramble for Africa, 1881-1914.

Racism has not been limited to white supremacism. For example, in Victorian Britain racism was whipped up against Irish immigrants, people who were not physically “distinct” from whites in Britain. Fake racial “science” created differences to suit the ideology, rather than being a result of any natural difference. In this instance the motive force is the material interests of the capitalist class in sowing division in the working class. In 1870 Marx wrote of anti-Irish hostility:

This antagonism is artificially kept alive and intensified by the press, the pulpit, the comic papers, in short, by all the means at the disposal of the ruling classes. This antagonism is the secret of the impotence of the English working class, despite its organisation. It is the secret by which the capitalist class maintains its power. And the latter is quite aware of this.

In Nazi Germany, that frustrated and Versailles-constrained imperialist power, racism reached its ultimate, but far from last, barbarity with the Holocaust. Jews were expelled from England in 1290, from France in 1394, and from other European states through to the Sixteenth Century. Until the Nineteenth Century anti-semitism was not grounded in racism but in the economic role of Jews as a “people-class” of merchants and usurers. For a thorough discussion of this question I refer readers to The Jewish Question: A Marxist Interpretation by Abram Leon. Leon was an heroic figure in his own right and deserves a separate article: he was a revolutionary, a leader of the Belgian Trotskyists during the Nazi occupation. Captured in 1944, he was gassed, murdered in a camp in 1944. Leon gave his brief life over to fighting racism and capitalism and to understanding their connection. In his book Racism, resistance and revolution Peter Alexander says:

Leon’s central thesis is that the survival of the Jewish people could only be explained by the distinct socio-economic role which they played within particular societies. In the process of presenting his argument he establishes two distinct periods and types of anti-semitism. One he links to ‘decaying feudalism’, the other to ‘rotting capitalism’. He associates the latter with the racism of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Leon’s analysis is important because it establishes that anti-semitism, like racism, is variable in nature and degree. It can only be understood if it is placed in its correct and specific historical context.

Slavery existed in Ancient Greece and Rome, and in the Islamic world, but these were not racist societies. Slaves were not taken from one “race” exclusively, but were taken from within and the reach of these empires.

The rise of racist ideology in the Seventeenth Century is a product of the specific development of the Atlantic slave trade, the triangular trade of exclusively black West- and Central-African slaves sold in the Americas by firstly Portuguese and Spanish merchants, then latterly French, British and Dutch merchants. Racism was developed to justify slavery in Christian minds. For this to work, the ideology had to be as horrible as the practice of slavery was barbaric.

In his great work, Capital, Marx describes in ironic terms the various violent elements of the “primitive accumulation of capital”, the prelude to the establishment of industrial capitalism in Britain.

The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signalised the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production. These idyllic proceedings are the chief momenta of primitive accumulation. On their heels treads the commercial war of the European nations, with the globe for a theatre. It begins with the revolt of the Netherlands from Spain, assumes giant dimensions in England’s Anti-Jacobin War, and is still going on in the opium wars against China, Etc.

Racism is inextricably linked with the genesis of capitalism. The end of the British and United States slave trades in 1810 did not lead to any respite from racist ideology for imperialism only intensified in the nineteenth Century. Racism continued to be deployed to justify the British and French empires until they receded after the Suez debacle.

Today’s conditions of mature capitalism are quite different from earlier phases. Slavery has been long banished and European empires have dissolved. With these dissolutions went the worst of white supremacist racism. Anti-colonial movements and the rise of Black resistance, particularly in the United States, played their part in undermining white supremacism. Furthermore, the world-wide working class has expanded massively and is evermore multicultural. Yet despite the advance of anti-racism, racism more than lingers and is a powerful force in the world today. Not only does the “muck of the ages” impinge on the present, but bourgeois ideology for consumption by the masses never ceases to stoke racism. As seen in the example of the Irish in England, the continued propagation of racism, in Western capitalist states at least, rests largely on anti-immigration politics preached by the bourgeois media and political parties.

Rightwing anti-immigration movements are the main bearers of racism today. In Europe the far-right are in governments in Hungary and Austria, the Alternative Für Deutschland makes electoral gains. In France the Front National have twice made the run-off vote in presidential elections. In Britain anti-immigration sentiment in depressed areas scuppered the referendum called to confirm participation in the EU. Trump plays on immigration across the border with Mexico, etc.

The racism propounded in our times is not necessarily overt. Racism is often shrouded in cultural nationalism. But despite the cloak of purported cultural identification, crude genetic racism lies barely concealed. This applies in the case of anti-immigration politics, but the most important contemporary case is that of islamophobia. Western military interventions in Afghanistan, and Iraq and support for the Israeli ethno-state, created political Islam. Islamophobia has been stirred up by torrents of scare-mongering media pieces and commentary by both reactionary and “liberal” figures. The success of Western ruling classes in infusing Islamophobia into their populations has provided another way in for the racist far right to gain a following.

Racism today is a political weapon in the hands of the capitalist class to divide workers and to agitate far right movements. Conversely, the world-wide working class has a material interest in anti-racism, in unity. This is true for anything from a simple strike over terms and conditions to revolutionary action. Racism is inextricably bound up with the struggle between classes. Socialists must be consistent advocates for inclusivity. We can only be consistent anti-racists by standing on our ground of thorough-going internationalism, making no concessions to anti-immigration politics.

There are no white people

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Bigoted Brash blethers because bothered by bilingual broadcaster

By Dougal McNeill

A pleasing irony to end the year: enrolments by non-Māori in Māori language courses in the Wellington region have surged recently, encouraged in part it seems by the reactionary campaign against the use of Te Reo Māori on Radio New Zealand. It’s a welcome sign.

Socialists support any and all efforts to revitalise, preserve and celebrate te reo Māori. Language and culture are democratic rights. Whānau have the right to have their tamariki educated in the language of their choice, and the state should massively fund Māori language instruction and support – in Kura Kaupapa Māori as well as in schools generally – to make this possible. Genuine open access to university and better student allowances would allow more Māori to reconnect with their language, as would further funding for wānanga and other language providers. We defend any moves to centre the use of Māori as a lived official language. The example of French in Canada shows that, where there is a political will, there is always a linguistic way. The Māori Language Commission, Māori Television, te reo Māori in schools, arts and culture funding: these are all products of the long struggle for Māori rights, and represent democratic advances. And they are a benefit to the whole class, not just Māori themselves. My daughter comes home from primary school proud of the waiata she has learned, and can say a karakia before meals. There is plenty around us to feel good about.

This year has seen a flowering of Māori intellectual, cultural and artistic life. Carwyn Jones’s prize-winning book on legal theory is being reviewed and debated internationally. Tina Makereti’s speech on Māori literature and what is taught (and not taught) set a challenge for literary critics working in New Zealand. Vini Olsen-Reeder graduated with a PhD from Victoria in December for a thesis written entirely in Māori. Rawinia Higgins, Jessica Hutchings and Olsen-Reeder have just published an important book on strategies for language revitalisation. And those are just examples from around where I live – much more is going on elsewhere. It’s an exciting time to be alive and be thinking. [Read more…]

A Letter from the Inside (I)

OCF We received this submission from Socialist Review reader RWK, currently a prisoner in the Otago Correctional Facility. We’re proud to print it here. Socialist Review subscriptions are available free to all prisoners on request.

 

Back in ’95, when I started coming to jail, prison officers were more confident in their role as wardens. Nearly all of them at that time had been wardens ten, twenty, or thirty years. They were more approachable, and more able to answer questions about policy or procedures. And if they were ordered to take a course of action they didn’t think was justified, they had the strength and conviction to refuse the order and advocate on behalf of the inmates. There were also committees run by the inmates that would liase between inmates and officers. These would help improve the day-to-day running of the prison for both officers and inmates. [Read more…]

Jai Davis’s Death: Corrections’ Disgrace

Jack Harrison

Jack Harrison, manager of the Otago prison where Jai Davis died. No doctor was called to see Mr Davis.

What is a man’s life worth? Very little, if they are a prisoner. That must be the attitude of the Department of Corrections, as the terrible details coming out of the inquest into Jai Davis’s death at Otago prison in February 2011 make clear.

Anyone with a conscience reading about Mr Davis’s death must feel anguish and anger. Anguish, that a young man’s life was lost in circumstances that were entirely avoidable. Family and friends are left grieving a death that did not need to happen with no sign, years after their bereavement, that anyone will be held to account for their loss. And righteous anger, observing this injustice and learning, with fresh detail each day, of the cruelty and neglect that are normal life in a New Zealand prison. [Read more…]

Prison reform on the path to prison abolition

corrections[Activist Olive McRae submitted this article to Socialist Review, and we were happy to print it in our latest issue. Nationals announcement last week of more plans for working prisons gives the article an added relevance and urgency. You can subscribe to Socialist Review here.]

“Those of us that identify as prison abolitionists as opposed to prison reformers, make the point that often reforms create situations where mass incarceration becomes even more entrenched and so therefore we have to think about what in the long run will produce decarceration, fewer people behind bars, and hopefully eventually in the future the possibility of imagining a landscape without prisons, where other means are used to address issues of harm. Where social problems such as illiteracy and poverty do not lead vast numbers of people along a trajectory that leads to prison.

In 1971  when the Attica rebellion took place, it was a really important moment in the history of mass incarceration, the history of the prison in this country. The prisoners who were the spokespeople for the uprising indicated that they were struggling for a world without prison. During the 1970s the notion of prison abolition became very important, in fact public intellectuals, judges, journalists, took it very seriously and began to think about alternatives.

However in the 1980s, with the dismantling of social services, structural adjustments and the rise of global capitalism, we began to see prison emerging as a major institution to address the problems that were produced by industrialization, lack of jobs, less funding in education, lack of education, the closure of systems designed to assist people who had mental and emotional problems, and now of course the prison system is also a psychiatric facility.

The question is, how does one address the needs of prisoners by instituting reforms that are not going to create a stronger prison system.” – Angela Davis (Val’s Show, 2014).

[Read more…]

The Easy Rider Tragedy and Capitalist Justice

ImageHarry Johnson, a Socialist Review reader, writes on the very different outcomes of the Easy Rider tragedy and the Pike River disaster in the courts.

The Easy Rider sank in the Foveaux Strait in 2012 after being hit by a rogue wave. One child and seven men, including the skipper, Rewai Karetai, drowned.

Faced with this tragedy, the government decided it needed to prosecute the partner of the skipper, Gloria Davis, in order to send a message to fishing vessel operators of the risks of ignoring government regulations.

Whether or not the message has been heard by the intended audience, it is not the only message to come out of the tragedy, especially when the event is considered in conjunction with the Pike River disaster.

[Read more…]

Family Court Reforms

The war on the poor has extended its reach to the Family Court. In the guise of protecting the vulnerable and improving the experience of those needing assistance to resolve family disputes the Government has reformed the Family Court fundamentally.

 

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Although the Minister of Justice consulted with an expert advisory group what became clear when the minister’s report and recommendations to Cabinet were released was that that the real purpose of the reforms is to reduce the cost to the state of providing such assistance.

 

From March 2014 when the reforms come into effect, parents who go to Court for assistance in resolving disputes about the care of their children will not be entitled or able to have legal representation in Court prior to the matter going to a Hearing. There are a number of pieces of legislation and Court rules and regulations over which the Family Court has jurisdiction the main one being the Care of Children Act 2004.It is unrealistic and unfair to expect those in crisis to understand and interpret its provisions.

[Read more…]

Free Teina Pora now!

freeteina-BANNER1When Pora was 17, in 1994, he was arrested by police in Otara and held in custody and questioned for over four days without a lawyer. The police got him to confess to a brutal rape and murder. He was charged and convicted despite the fact that he could not identify what the victim looked like or where and what her house looked like. During the trial prosecution witnesses were paid up to $5000 each by police to testify.

The real killer is believed to be Malcolm Rewa, who was jailed for other offences in 1998. But Pora has remained behind bars for 21 years. It is a clear case of the Police making someone take the fall, and railroading them into jail. [Read more…]

‘Pakeha Party’ page: Racist backlash against the Mana movement

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Te Hamua Nikora and Hone Harawira released the housing policy in Lower Hutt, 20th June.

A Facebook page – The Pakeha Party – has been launched in response to the Mana Movement’s Maori housing policy announcement during the Ikaroa-Rawhiti by election. This is the second racist backlash in as many months, the first being the cartoon in the Marlborough Times attacking Mana’s ‘Feed the Kids’ campaign.

[Read more…]