"Peace" Bureaucrats Sabotage Anti-Tests United Front

published by the International Bolshevik Tendency, New Zealand Section in The Bolshevik No 7, October 1995

When French imperialism detonated a nuclear device at Mururoa Atoll at 9.30 am (NZ time) on 6 September, the first in its latest testing programme, the eight-kilotonne blast boiled the water of the lagoon. The political blast was even stronger. The following day the airport in the Tahitian city of Papeete, the capital of French Polynesia, was torched after French gendarmes, armed with teargas, stun grenades, rubber bullets and batons, attacked a peaceful demonstration. The impressive airport bonfire was fuelled by outrage at the Chirac Government’s act of imperialism and by the aspirations of Tahitians for independence from French colonialism.

When the political shockwave reached New Zealand it wasn’t quite capable of igniting riots, but outrage was nevertheless widespread. In Wellington a significant demonstration had been prepared for the day after the first test by a united-front organisation called "NON". This 7 September demonstration was intended to be the first of a number of large-scale actions in Wellington organised by NON, a coalition which included members of the trade-union movement, organisations of the left, and peace activists. But that kind of continuing mass-action campaign now looks extremely unlikely, for NON has been torpedoed and sunk by the "peace" movement.

The Peace Movement Gets Respectable

When French President Jacques Chirac declared on 13 June that the French Government would resume its testing programme, the leading pillars of bourgeois respectability in New Zealand immediately sought to position themselves as spokespeople for the popular outrage sparked by the announcement. Prime Minister Bolger’s advisors know a vote-spinning foreign policy issue when they see one, and so Bolger has taken every opportunity to appear concerned, purposeful and "statesmanlike" on TV and radio. Labour leader Helen Clark tried to match Bolger in the indignation stakes. Her problem was that Bolger’s new eco-friendly performance was hogging the limelight on an issue which had traditionally belonged to the Labour Party. Her inability to distinguish Labour’s own position from that of the National Government added to her frustration.

The recent French decision has also given the political representatives of the capitalist class in Wellington the opportunity to improve the position of New Zealand little-imperialism in its South Pacific backyard. All the huffing and puffing and conference-hopping engaged in by Bolger and Co gives them the chance to cement New Zealand as a principal player in the region. The National Government’s "environmental" stand on French testing is therefore only so much political expediency, and a facade for colonial ambition. There are clear parallels to be drawn between French colonialism and the role of the New Zealand capitalist state, past and present, in the oppression of Maori.

The scramble in the Beehive to be the most vocal opponents of the French testing programme was appreciated by New Zealand’s liberal-left peace movement, which was pleased to have such powerful people vying for its favour. With all mainstream political forces in New Zealand lined up against the tests, the likes of Greenpeace and Peace Movement Aotearoa (PMA) no longer look like noisy, scruffy hippies. Now they enjoy a more wholesome role as the "pets" who do the stunts while Bolger and McKinnon do the stern suit-and-tie diplomacy. With these important new allies in the Beehive, the peace/green movement has taken on the task of ensuring that expressions of opposition to the French tests remain politically comfortable for the Government. From the outset this new political dynamic exerted its influence on the anti-tests campaign in Wellington, which took the form of the coalition "NON".

The Fight for a Broad-Based United Front

The New Zealand comrades of the International Bolshevik Tendency (IBT) became involved in NON soon after it was founded. At the beginning the precise political basis of the new coalition was unclear. Some wanted NON to address issues of colonialism in the Pacific. There were others still who wanted NON to adopt their own eco-pacifist politics and declare itself opposed to all nuclear testing and weaponry. The IBT comrades who attended argued that in order to maximise NON’s success as a broad-based united-front opposition to the tests, the platform of the group should be limited to a single and very simple demand: Stop the tests at Mururoa. We opposed expanding the basis of agreement for NON, as the different groups and individuals all had very different political perspectives. Of necessity the platform of the united front had to be confined to the single concrete issue which had brought all these activists together. The natural corollary to this, we argued, was that the different groups and individuals who made up NON should be free to make use of an open microphone at its public events to put forward their own politics in their own name.

This conception was adopted at a sizeable NON meeting of 9 August, marking a victory in the fight to establish a non-sectarian united front movement in Wellington. However, the agreed basis of NON was challenged after the Stalinist government of the Chinese deformed workers’ exploded one of its own nuclear bombs at its Lop Nor testing site on 17 August. As well as being attended by two IBT comrades, the subsequent NON meeting included representatives from the Council of Trade Unions, Peace Movement Aotearoa and the Socialist Workers Organisation (SWO). After some debate, the following motion was put forward by an IBT comrade:

"NON is a united front dedicated to ending French nuclear testing at Mururoa. We recognise that NON is made up of various groups, organisations and individuals, all with different politics and social programmes, but unified in opposition to French testing at Mururoa. As such NON as a group will only make statements and organise around opposition to French nuclear tests at Mururoa. Individuals and groups within NON are free to make statements and put forward their own views, but not on behalf of NON."

The IBT motion was passed, being supported by the CTU and the SWO, with only two votes against. Lou, the PMA representative, was one of those who opposed the motion; she identified her main area of concern as anti-colonialism, and declared that NON was now incapable of addressing this issue. She also stated that her energies could be more effectively utilised in other arenas. The other peace activist who voted against argued for opposition to all nuclear weaponry, and walked out after the vote was taken. NON had therefore been dismissed by the local peace movement as irrelevant and ineffective. Events were to prove them wrong.

The 23 August meeting went on with the task of building a substantial movement against the tests, drawing on the power of the union movement. The meeting resolved to organise a Wellington demonstration for the first weekday after the first test. The work in preparation for this demonstration was an important example of an effective workers’ united front, and one which should be emulated. This work was carried out by comrades of the IBT and the SWO, and by trade unionists from the CTU, the Trade Union Federation and the Seafarers Union. Activists from the peace movement made no contribution.

The demonstration organised by NON in Wellington on 7 September was the only significant public protest to occur in New Zealand after the first test at Mururoa. It was also one of the largest demonstrations seen in Wellington in some years. Around 500 people marched from the Cenotaph to Civic Square, where a variety of speakers took advantage of the open microphone to address the crowd.

Communists fight for effective united-front coalitions around limited demands as an important tactic in the struggle for revolution against capitalism. While providing a framework for the necessary defence of existing gains and the acquisition of new ones, the united front also provides an opportunity for the constituent organisations to put forward their various political perspectives. So the 7 September demonstration was valuable, not just as a militant expression of opposition to French testing in the Pacific, but also because it provided a forum for the differences among the various left organisations and unions to be aired and assessed.

IBT Denounces French and NZ Imperialism

The International Bolshevik Tendency was the only political group to present a revolutionary working-class perspective at the demonstration, counterposing itself to the little-New Zealand nationalism which was a pervasive feature of most of the speeches. Adaire Hannah, the IBT speaker, denounced not just French but also New Zealand imperialism, condemning their roles in the Pacific and in Bosnia. Against head-in-the-sand pacifism, she defended the right of China, North Korea and the other remaining deformed workers’ states to maintain and develop their own nuclear weapons against NATO’s massive arsenal. She also proposed a course of action for stopping the French Government’s continuing plans:

"What is needed to stop these atrocities is international working-class unity against the tests. Not consumer boycotts which pit French and New Zealand workers against each other, but industrial action against the tests, from France, to New Caledonia, to Tahiti, to New Zealand."

This call for internationalist solidarity stood in stark contrast to the repugnant nationalism evidenced by some of the placards at the demo, such as "Fuck the French" and "French Scum". The trade-union bureaucracy’s slogan "Don’t Let French Business Boom in the Pacific", participates in pushing this nationalist garbage. It leads towards popular-front blocs with New Zealand capitalist bosses, diverting the attention of workers from the fact that the main enemy is at home.

Moreover, only the IBT counterposed a perspective of militant class struggle to the bankrupt pacifism which dominates the opposition to the French tests. This was in contrast to the position taken by the Socialist Workers Organisation, the product of a recent fusion between the longtime Stalinists of the Communist Party of New Zealand (CPNZ) and a small number of supporters of Tony Cliff’s International Socialist Organisation (ISO). The fusion is not yet consolidated, but this ex-Stalinist outfit seems to have taken on much of the Cliffites’ ideology. At the 7 September demo the SWO fell over itself in order to ingratiate itself with the peace movement, its speaker making the bizarre declaration that "workers have no need for weapons of any sort."

On the contrary, the working class has no chance of achieving a socialist victory if it does not arm itself, for those who stand on the walls of capitalism will not allow this system to be overthrown without a fight. What’s more, this question has frequently been one of immediate physical survival. The history of the workers’ movement this century is littered with cases where the reformist leaders of the working class attempted to persuade the rank-and-file that they had "no need for weapons" against the rise of the right, the price for this disastrous policy being paid for in rivers of workers’ blood.

At the close of the 7 September action plans were announced for a further demonstration on 4 October, and an invitation was issued to attend the following NON meeting to help prepare for this next event and to plan others. Around $350 was collected at the demo to help this effort. The next meeting of NON was held on 13 September. Those who had participated in organising the previous demonstration came for the purpose of planning for the next activity. However, seven peace activists came with a different agenda. The central figure among the PMA supporters present, Nicky Hager, had not attended any of the earlier meetings. He was asked what he had thought of the previous Thursday’s demonstration, and admitted that he had not attended.

PMA Puts NON into "Suspension"

The meeting opened with an attack from the PMA on slogans raised by the IBT at the demonstration, namely: "Defend the Deformed Workers’ States Against Imperialism" and "China/North Korea Have the Right to Nuclear Defence". An IBT comrade explained that the basis of NON was opposition to French testing in the Pacific, and that the various groups and individuals that made up the coalition were therefore free to raise their own slogans. Hager responded by reading a prepared motion: "The policy of NON is against all nuclear weapons and all nuclear tests, and we will not provide a platform for people to advance nuclear weapons or nuclear weapons tests by any state." Despite an attempt to get a quick vote there was a heated discussion. During the debate the IBT stressed the importance of having an open microphone at NON demonstrations. Hager’s answer was that if people would not be "responsible" they would not be allowed to speak. With the meeting effectively stacked by the newcomers, the bureaucratically engineered outcome was a foregone conclusion.

As well as being a democratic forum which allowed a variety of political approaches to the question of French testing to be aired, NON was a valuable coalition which had succeeded in mobilising large numbers against the testing programme. The peace movement has wrecked it, pure and simple, exposing the liberal-democratic convictions of these activists to be so much hypocrisy. After they forced the IBT and other elements of the coalition to quit NON by stacking it and ramming through a blanket anti-nuclear position, they proceeded at the 13 September meeting to put NON into "suspension". They cancelled further meetings and abandoned the plan for a second demonstration.

Any chance of an effective anti-tests movement in Wellington has therefore been sabotaged. Against the kind of mass-action campaign which NON was building, the peace/green movements counterpose small-scale theatrics. When the second bomb was detonated on 2 October, the subsequent protest at the French embassy featured the usual slick Greenpeace stunt, involving no more than a dozen people.

Working-Class Power Is the Key

The NON demonstration which followed the first test was important not just because of the numbers involved. The involvement of the labour movement pointed out the course that must be taken if the bloody legacy of capitalism is to be overcome. The working class is the only force capable of smashing the capitalist order, a system that in this century has routinely placed workers’ bodies on the front lines of inter-imperialist wars.

Like most things, the tests in the Pacific could be stopped, given the right strategy and enough will. But they won’t be stopped by PMA/Greenpeace-style politics, in this country or anywhere else. The peace/green policy of media stunts combined with pressuring our capitalist rulers to "Ban the Bomb" hasn’t even given the French Government pause. On the other hand, the combined power of the workers of France, Tahiti, New Caledonia/Kanaky, Australia and New Zealand, if it were harnessed, could stop the tests tomorrow, and could prepare the way for further victories against capitalist austerity. This is the perspective fought for by the International Bolshevik Tendency. Our detractors have been willing to destroy an important united-front campaign in the attempt to silence us.

Posted: 06 May 2005