From Hibernia to Aotearoa- thoughts on the Maori and Irish struggles
Commentary- Joe Carolan, Socialist Aotearoa
I first came to Aotearoa a few days before the Battle of Seattle in November 1999- I came here in love, following a green eyed Pakeha to the Waikato. Less than three months later, we were occupying the University Registry on Campus, where I had the first of many korero with Maori comrades about the similarities of the Irish and Maori struggles for freedom and liberation. Now, with the formation of the Mana Party, I thought I’d share some of those thoughts with others in the movement.
The Irish, like the Maori people, love ceol, craic and Clan. That’s folksongs, fun and whanau to you. Before the invasion of our land, we were a tribal people, and although we had chieftains and “kings” of our local provinces and counties, were highly collective and egalitarian- and the Clan was the Celtic equivalent of the Maori Iwi. Not to romanticize the "Celtic Communism" of pre-invasion days too much though- we had slavery and inter Clan wars, but these paled into insignificance with the rigid Feudal structure the Norman invaders brought with them in 1169.
“If you’re not strong…”
The resistance against conquest continued unbroken for over 800 years. The North of Ireland today is still occupied by British troops. There were uprisings and revolutions- the United Irishmen of 1798, Wofle Tone and 1801, the Young Irelanders uprising in 1848, and the Easter Rising of 1916, leading to the War of Independence in the early 1920s. Ken Loach’s film The Wind that Shakes the Barley is a good guide to the conflict that shaped the early years of my grandmothers life, as a risen people took on the greatest Empire in the world at the time and drove their forces out, only to suffer a terrible civil war, that left our land divided to this day.
So when I hear Pakeha racist commentators complain about the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, or the Land Wars and confiscations that happened in the Waikato and Tuhoe lands in the 1860s, I regard those events as having happened yesterday. The Irish were the first nation to suffer British Imperialism, and the Maori were the last. For a people who have fought since 1169, the crimes that happened in the Waikato or the Ureweras are raw and fresh. No treaty settlement timetable can rob Tangata Whenua of their land.
“Mar nach bhfuil tu laidir, is ann tu bheith glic”- if you’re not strong, you had better be clever. And up against a technologically superior invader, Maori resistance and bravery was outstanding- from Te Kooti’s mobile guerrilla warfare to the pioneering trench warfare at the Battle of Gate Pa- Tom Barry’s Flying Columns and the brave urban stand of the Citizen Army and IRA rebels of Dublin 1916 being their Irish equivalents. We fought hard for our land and our people, against crushing odds and forces.
Tino and the Republic
And we developed our own political ideologies too. Here, in Aotearoa, there was a declaration of Independence by the Northern Tribes in 1835. Five years later, the Treaty of Waitangi was signed with the British, which allowed settlers to come here and make laws, provided they respected the Tino Rangatiratanga- the sovereignty, the independence, the voice of the chiefs of the people. The concept of “Honouring the Treaty” means respecting that Aotearoa / New Zealand is a land whose establishing document was founded on partnership between the British Crown and the Tangata Whenua, the people of the Land.
Now my Granny Mamie always warned me that the ink wouldn’t have dried on a treaty signed with the bloodthirsty Saxon, before they’d be out breaking it again. And the thieving bastards of British Imperialism did precisely that- in Canada when the hung the rebel Meti leader Louis Riel, in Ireland with their barbaric executions of Robert Emmett, Wolfe Tone and James Connolly, and in Aotearoa with the Taranaki Wars, the Land Wars of the Waikato, the Confiscation of Tuhoe and the sacking of the peace commune of Parihaka.
So I can understand when people say the Treaty is a fraud. Any Treaty made with a militarily superior occupying force is not a Treaty made amongst equals, especially if one of those partners has subsequently murdered the people and stolen the land. Which is why the concept of the Irish Republic became our ideological version of Tino Rangatiratanga- the belief, in the words of our finest revolutionary James Connolly- “that the British Government has no right in Ireland, never had any right in Ireland, and never can have any right in Ireland”
So the struggles for both Tino and the Republic have some similarities and some differences. The idea of the Republic is an outright rejection of the Crown, influenced by the ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity of the French Revolution. The Crown for us can never be a neutral force for arbitration between settlers and natives- it is at the core of British Imperialism.
A Gentry of Our Own?
In 1922, the IRA fought the Brits and their Black and Tans to a standstill, and a Treaty was signed that gave limited independence to an Irish Free State within the confines of a British Commonwealth. After our War of Independence, a bloodier Civil War was waged, brother against brother, comrade against comrade. The Kupapa sell outs in Ireland became the new masters, the new ruling class. And although we had our own tricolour flag flying off our own parliament, the Dail- our children still starved, our workers still scraped by on poverty wages, and millions more emigrated to Australia, Britain and America to find a better life- sound familiar?
There’s a story Mamie told me about the Blacksmith and the Priest. The Blacksmith is a fearless republican, a proud IRA supporter and a member of Sinn Fein. The priest asks him why he’s looking so sad. “Well, Father, it’s like this. The way the war’s going, it looks like the Brits will be out of here by the end of the year”. The priest replies- “Sure isn’t that what you’ve been fighting for all these years, Jemmy?” Picking up his hammer, the blacksmith says “I know, Father, but I rely on the Gentry to buy horseshoes from me. With them gone, I’ll be out of work and my family will starve. What will I do when they’re gone.” The priest smiles, takes Jemmy by the hand, and says, “Don’t worry, my son. Soon we’ll have a Gentry of Our Own..”, and the blacksmith brings the hammer down hard through the priest’s skull.
A Gentry of our Own is the problem every struggle for National Liberation runs up against in the end. For those of us who supported the PLO- look at the rotten collaborationist state of the Palestinian Authority, asking Israel how high. For those of us who supported the ANC’s struggle against Apartheid- look at the slums and poverty of Soweto 20 years on, as a new Black Bourgeoisie lords it over them. And for those of us who supported the IRA, we see Sinn Fein in a coalition government with the arch bigots of Ian Paisley's DUP, where sectarianism has been institutionalized rather than abolished in the North of Ireland, and the poor people of the Short Strand and other enclaves are besieged by racist Orange hordes come Marching Season.*
A Hammer in our hand
Here in Aotearoa, the role of the Maori Party in propping up John Key’s National Party and its relentless attacks on workers, unions and the poor, led to the brave and principled decision by Hone Harawira to resign and form the new left wing Mana Party, in opposition to the sellouts of a New Gentry. The blacksmith has a hammer in his hand, and it is that incorruptible force that Wolfe Tone talked about, the “People with no Property”, that Mana draws its strength from.
The struggle for National Liberation should not result in a new ruling class, like the pigs in Animal Farm, exploiting our own and aping, then becoming our capitalist masters. That is why the leader of the Irish Revolution, James Connolly warned-
“If you remove the English army tomorrow and hoist the Green Flag over Dublin Castle, unless you set about the organisation of the socialist republic, your efforts would be in vain. England would still rule you. She would rule through her capitalists, her landlords, financiers, and through the whole array of commercial and industrial institutions she has planted in this country and watered with the tears of our mothers and the blood of our martyrs.”
The Maori working class is suffering hard at the hands of capitalists, landlords and financiers like John Key. If we hoist the Tino flag over a privatized Serco Prison, no one will be any more liberated than they are now. Real liberation means an end to unemployment and poverty, decent jobs and living wages for all, community and workers control over our land, resources and work. That means kicking the Browntable out of Sealord, and ending the practice of third world slave labour to maximize profits for the Iwi Leaders Group. That means building fighting unions and campaigns against multinational corporations and ruthless local bosses alike, where Maori, Pakeha and migrant workers find common cause fighting exploitation, low pay, underemployment and insecure hours.
It means building a society that puts the Clan, the Whanau at its heart- the needs of the Collective coming before the greed of the individual. Irish and Maori have long histories of resistance to draw from, and that is why I am proud to be a member of Mana- a party of struggle, a party of the working class, a party that fights for true Tino rangatiratanga- self government and independence for us all.
* Marching season- the equivalent being Pakeha marching with loud drums on local Marae, with banners boasting the date of the defeat of the local Iwi, before getting liquored up and throwing stones at local Maori…