Victoria university members of the Workers Party are facing charges of serious misconduct after burning the New Zealand flag. This leaflet explains the political background to the act.
Why burn the New Zealand flag?
The New Zealand flag is a symbol of imperialism. This is most obvious in its design, a tribute to the British Empire. This design was adopted after the Second Boer War, which devastated South Africa but resulted in a surge of Kiwi patriotism.
A simple re-design, while reflecting our emergence from the shadow of the British Empire, would not change the imperialist nature of the flag. It’s a tool of the ruling class, inseparably linked with militarism. From the Boer War through WWI and II, right through to armed involvement in Vietnam and Afghanistan, the flag has marked New Zealand’s presence. Flags mark military conquest, the subjugation of nations.
Flags and borders divide the working majority. ANZAC soldiers had more in common with their Turkish counterparts than with the bureaucrats who sent them to Gallipoli. The working majority has interests in common worldwide, including an end to imperial war. Ruling class nationalism is a barrier to recognising this.
What purpose does ANZAC day serve?
Many argue that ANZAC Day is not a glorification of war, but a commemoration of those who’ve lost their lives. However, the rhetoric of ANZAC Day does not simply honour the soldiers who lost their lives, it justifies those who sent them to die. This facilitates moves such as Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s decision to form a new ANZAC Task Force.
Every year we are told that the young men whose lives were snuffed out at Gallipoli died gloriously for our freedom. We are told that the liberties we enjoy in New Zealand today exist only because of the sacrifice of these soldiers. The message is that the soldiers’ deaths were worth it, and that the cause they died for was just.
Gallipoli was not about defending democracy or free speech. The Ottoman Empire did not pose a threat New Zealand. The Allied High Command ordered the invasion of Gallipoli for strategic reasons, primarily opening a supply route to arm their then ally, the Tsar of Russia. This battle served ruling class British interests.
If we truly wished to avoid a repetition of these horrors, we would use Anzac Day to teach this basic truth: Do not believe what you’re told. Imperialist war is never glorious, and the soldiers who bled to death in the Belgian mud and at Galipolli died for nothing.
To honour the men who lost their lives, we must condemn imperialist war. Only when ANZAC Day facilitates disarmament and solidarity with those resisting imperialism, only when the War Memorial is showered with white poppies, when speeches are made about a generation of men slaughtered to serve imperialist interests, only then will the Workers Party support it.
New Zealand: an imperialist nation
While New Zealand has eked out a degree of independence from the US, it remains a junior imperialist nation. Contrary to popular myth, New Zealand was a member of the coalition of the willing which legitimised the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan, sending troops to both countries.
Afghanistan is in the mess it is today because of Western involvement. Since the nineteenth century, Britain and the United States have deliberately stirred up communal divisions in the Middle East in a bid to prevent the formation of any united resistance to their plans for plundering the economic wealth of the region. During the Cold War, the CIA funded and recruited an army of Islamic mujahideen fighters based in northwest Pakistan to fight the Russians and their Afghan allies. Sectarian violence was exacerbated by this and by the subsequent occupation. The pro-Western government that replaced the Taliban has shown its stripes by legalizing rape within marriage. Yet the US and its NATO allies continue to peddle the line that the only solution to the worsening violence is greater Western military intervention.
Imperialism in the Pacific
More locally, we have treated Pacific neighbours as sources of cheap labour and trade, often interfering in governance.
While capital may flow freely across borders, workers only move when it suits the ruling class. When the post-war boom ended in the 1970s, the NZ ruling class turned to shutting off working class immigration, especially from the Pacific. 100,000 Samoans were stripped of citizenship rights, in a piece of legislation that has been maintained ever since. The Workers Party calls for open borders and full rights for migrant workers.
Despite the line of “democracy promotion” in the Pacific, the ruling class is primarily interested in having stable elites to trade with. In 2006, New Zealand and Australian troops were deployed to quell pro-democracy riots in Tonga. Only 9 of the 34 seats in the Tongan parliament are elected, and Tongans have voted for pro-democracy candidates in all 9 of those seats. However, New Zealand backs the monarchy, a major source of trade.
Yet paradoxically, New Zealand has isolated Fiji since the coup carried out by Bainamarama; why advocate democracy in Fiji and not Tonga? We did not isolate those who carried out the Fijian coups in 1987 and 2004. In fact, Fiji has never been a full democracy, with a voting system that entrenches a tribal elite, at the expense of Indo-Fijians. The current interim government however, is pledging to hold elections once there has been electoral reform, disestablishing the racially segregated voting system and instituting one person one vote. This may yet be shown to be empty rhetoric, indeed some of the actions of the interim government seem rather undemocratic and should be of concern, but New Zealand’s stance is clearly not based on democracy. There are powerful New Zealand interests in Fiji, which is New Zealand’s largest export market amongst the Pacific Islands. New Zealand’s attitude to Fiji is not based on humanitarian interests, but on the interests of capital.
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Accompanying every justification of New Zealand militarism and imperialism is the national flag. It stands for unthinking obedience to orders and the false god of nationalism – the idea that working class New Zealanders share common interests with their bosses against the rest of the world.
Workers and all oppressed people of all countries , unite to resist imperialism.