Interview: Anarchism in New Zealand

The following interview was conducted in the mid-2000s via email between Spanish anarchist website Alasbarricadas.org and Omar, an Aotearoa Anarchist of New Zealand who is involved in Indymedia Aotearoa and the Auckland Anarchist Collective. We reproduce this article for reference only, and readers should take the contents with a big pinch of salt - see comments below for more information about the interviewee.

ALB - We'd like to know at first, if there is something we could take as an "anarchist movement" in New Zealand. Which is its nature? I mean, is it a popular movement, class struggle, community, counter cultural... ?

Omar---- When we speak of an anarchist movement is New Zealand we are basically speaking of around 200-300 people based mainly in the major cities, Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin and organised through a variety of collectives, organisations and social networks. The orientation of individuals within the anarchist movement is very diverse, with some people involved in primarily activist projects, like human rights, worker struggle, feminist, anti-racist, animal rights, anti-war, global justice, and environmental concerns. The other main trend are those others who are orientated more towards a counter-cultural outlook with an emphasis on the creation of local alternatives and community projects. Lots of people are involved in both types though.

ALB -Could you make a quick summary about the history of the anarchist movement in the recent decades?

Omar: Since 1999, the anti-globalisation movement has had a very important impact on anarchists in Aotearoa, as has the anti-war movement since 2001, the movement against genetic engineering, and the climate change movement now emerging. These are the main movements most anarchists have been involved in over the last ten years. During the 1990s, anarchists were heavily involved in activism against the neo-liberal reforms that changed the New Zealand economy and made life very difficult for the unemployed and the poor. Also they were involved in campaigns to stop logging of native forests which was a successful campaign. Another major campaign anarchists were involved in in the 1990s was in solidarity with the people of East Timor. In the 1980s anarchists were involved in the movement against sporting contacts with South Africa, and against nuclear-ship visits and testing of nuclear bombs in the Pacific, and against racism in New Zealand.

ALB- Are there in Aoteoroa "libertarian" social movements not explicitly anarchist? I mean, those movements that don't consider themselves as anarchist but share plenty of common elements with the anarchists. What can you tell about them?

Omar:There are lots of anti-authoritarian, anarchistic organisations that anarchists are involved in in Aotearoa. These include Indymedia, Food Not Bombs and Critical Mass. In Wellington there is lots of anti-war activity around the group Peace Action Wellington which many anarchists there are involved with. In Christchurch and throughout Aotearoa many anarchists are involved in the Save Happy Valley campaign against coal-mining in the South Island. I think these types of organisations and movements consume the majority of time of activist anarchists in Aotearoa.

ALB- To have a proper idea, in which cities, towns, areas,is the movement/scene more powerful?

Omar:Traditionally the stronghold of anarchism in Aotearoa has been Wellington, the capital city which has a well established anarchist community house, infoshop, anarchist press, and strong ties to the inner-city bohemian suburbs. This means Wellington has the most organised anarchist community. In Auckland there are less anarchists although it is a larger city, and there is no social centre or infoshop, although there was for some of 2007. In Christchurch there is a social centre and some fairly active collectives.

ALB- Are there different tendencies inside the movt. or is it more or less homogeneous?

Omar:The anarchist movement is quite homogenous and this means that people who are attracted to it are very particular. It is a mix of lifestylism and anti-authoritarian protest movementism that is quite common to most youth anarchist scenes. There are strong punk and hippy influences as well. Although there are a scattering of anarchosyndicalists, class struggle anarchists, most people are quite movement orientated and there is very little production of theory and analysis by anarchists in Aotearoa.

ALB- Which are the biggest or most important anarchist or libertarian organisations? Are there national federations, networks?

Omar:In my opinion the most important libertarian organisation is Aotearoa Indymedia, which has anarchists involved in five cities in Aotearoa. There was also an attempt to set-up an Aotearoa Anarchist Network, but that fell on its face. There is also the Anarcha-feminist Network which has collectives in three cities and is the most active of the national networks.

ALB- Are there any national anarchist gathering, national conference, bookfair and so on... ? which are the biggest events?

Omar:There was an anarchist conference in 2007 which attracted 60 participants but in my view was a failure, as it failed to achieve the objective we set it of establishing an anarchist network, and a 2005 conference which attracted around the same number and was mostly workshops. With the absence of cross-city organisation and networking there is little attempts to build anarchist movement through larger national events, which ends up reinforcing the isolation of collectives and individuals.

ALB- Is there any social movement in which the anarchist participate? Which degree of influence could they have?

Omar:Anarchists in recent years have had lots of participation in the anti-war, union, environmental movements and are very much at the forefront of many of these struggles, actively engaged in promoting direct action and direct democracy in the organisations of these movements. For example in the campaign to free some Iranian asylum-seekers held in jail, the Auckland anarchist collective was at the forefront of this struggle and did a civil disobedience action at the jail, as well as participating in the pickets. Anarchists also played a large role in the campaign for a living wage at fast food restaurants like McDonalds, especially through the anticapitalist youth group Radical Youth, which organised a high school strike.

ALB- In which campaigns are the anarchists actively involved?

Omar:At the moment the main work anarchists are doing is in solidarity with those activists including myself, Maori and anarchist who were arrested on October 15th 2007, and charged for having allegedly attended armed training camps and possessing rifles and molotov cocktails, in a mountainous remote area of New Zealand called the Ureweras, which is the traditional homeland of the Tuhoe tribe. Also campaigns anarchists are involved in are the Save Happy Valley campaign, anti-fur, battery farming and vivisection campaigns and others are involved in ongoing community projects to build peoples self-reliance and autonomy.

ALB- Which are the relationships with other political movements (ie communists, trots, greens, etc.)?

Omar:Anarchists have quite a close relationship with the Green Party and some are members. In Auckland anarchists work closely in broad political work with the two main Marxist-Leninist groups, and other smaller trot groups. Marxist-Leninists are mainly based in Auckland where they are relatively strong, where as in the rest of New Zealand they are quite weak.

ALB- What is the relationship of anarchists- with other countries, like Australia, Britain? Are there any anarchist people in other islands on the Pacific Ocean?

Omar:Anarchists mostly cultivate their own individual contacts with anarchists in different parts of the world. There is some co-ordination with anarchists in Australia, especially Melbourne, where anarchists from New Zealand often go to live or holiday. Throughout a year there are often anarchists/autonomist people from Europe and North America who come and live and stay and work in different collectives. My own collective in Auckland last year had an Italian, a Russian and a German involved as well as an anarchist from Melbourne and two anarchists from Tucson, Arizona. Sadly there are no anarchists as I am aware of on Pacific Islands but there are lots of anticapitalists especially in Tonga involved in the movement against the monarchy and in kanaky/new caledonia where there is a strong movement against French rule and the power of transnational mining corporations.

ALB- What is the relationship with the Maori people? Are there any "anarchist-Maori" collectives? Are there any convergence with them?

Omar:The relationship with Maori people is quite good, especially with the Tuhoe tribe as we both have been repressed by the state, shared the same cells, court-appearances and protests against this repression. There are also a number of Maori anarchists and projects which are both Maori and and anti-capitalist but no openly anarchist Maori collective. One example is Conscious Collaborations project which has worked to build recognition of Maori self-determination and supported Maori people victimised by the recent police repression.

ALB- Finally, which is the future for our movement in Aoteoroa?

Omar:Looming large on the horizon is the trial of us, 19 anarchists and Maori arrested on October 15th and afterwards, and we all face possibly long prison sentences if convicted. The trial will be sometime in 2009. My estimation of the movement is that lots of people are feeling quite tired and burnt out by constant activism especially under a state of tension, caused by the police. In 2005, Sam Buchanan, a veteran anarchist from Wellington, wrote an article called "Attack of the Headless Chickens" which was widely circulated because it struck a chord with many people who have been worn out with endless protesting for many good causes but little long-term strategy and planning on how to change the world and failure to develop anarchist organisation beyond campaigning groups or single issue projects. I think that if strong, cohesive and purposeful local collectives can be built which focus on issues that are important to everyday people, issues of the environment; human rights, worker rights, colonisation and the New Zealand government's ongoing collaboration with imperialist, militarists and repressive regimes in the United States, in China, and across the world, we may see an upturn for the anarchist movement in its ability in challenging the gross excesses of the powerful.

Posted By

Alan Gilbert
Apr 24 2011 19:07

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Jared
Apr 25 2011 09:04

Just a wee note: this is a few years old now so the situation in NZ has changed quite a bit wink

Anarchia
Apr 25 2011 11:02

And the perspective provided in this interview wasn't really very accurate at the time either. The interviewee, Omar, is now a leading member of Socialist Aotearoa, a splinter from Socialist Worker (the local affiliate to the same international as the British SWP). Around the same time as he did this interview he was also a member of the New Zealand Labour Party (at the time the ruling political party in NZ). He's also recently been called out in an open letter by a range of individuals and groups (including the group I'm a part of, the Aotearoa Workers Solidarity Movement) for a range of sexually predatory behaviour, including sexual assault, against women both inside and outside of political activist circles.

So, basically, I'd take everything said in this interview with a grain (or maybe even a whole bag) of salt.