The Christchurch atrocity and the need for a class political response

Today we mourn with our Muslim brothers and sisters all those killed and injured in the Christchurch terror attack, and send our solidarity and condolences to their families and friends. Today we condemn these horrific attacks and their rightist perpetrators, and voice our outrage at the anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, racist and anti-worker prejudices that fuelled the murders. Today, across the country and around the world, there are vigils and rallies where those who abhor this terrible crime can publicly repudiate both the crime and the racist ideology which generated it. That is the best possible immediate response.

Tomorrow we organise to put an end to such attacks.

And when we organise, we need to consider carefully the political basis on which we do so. For already the political manoeuvring in response to the atrocity is in motion, and political leads that confuse the issues, disguise the source of the violence, and frustrate efforts to end such attacks are already being widely circulated.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, in one of her press conferences after the attack said “We – New Zealand – we were not a target because we are a safe harbour for those who hate. We were not chosen for this act of violence because we condone racism, [nor] because we are an enclave for extremism. We were chosen for the very fact that we are none of these things… Because we represent diversity, kindness, compassion, a home for those who share our values, refuge for those who need it… We are a proud nation of more than 200 ethnicities, a hundred and sixty languages, and amongst that diversity we share common values.”

The world news media have summarised her speech with the words ‘this is not who we are,’ thereby linking Ardern’s speech with similar comments made by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf after the synagogue shootings of October 2018, and Hillary Clinton after the cop shooting of Terence Crutcher in September 2016.  Although as far as I’m aware Ardern did not use those exact words, it is not an inaccurate summary of her ideas.

A friend writes in response: “This absolutely IS who we are. I see and hear prejudice almost every single day. Christchurch has always had a notorious underbelly of culturally intolerant people. Let’s tell it like it is, let’s get some truth and honesty and integrity going on to call out this rubbish and actually make some real life changes.

“I’m gonna be straight up here; I hear my friends, work colleagues and strangers say horrible things about minorities every week without fail. For some reason many white males tend to think they’re so freakin superior and that they have the God-given right to frequently pass judgement on everyone. This creates an environment that nurtures hate crimes. It’s everywhere in this country.

“We may not have many mass murderers these days but we’ve sure got a bunch of supremacist thinkers with colonialist viewpoints.

“My extreme and heartfelt condolences go out to all of my Muslim friends, my religious friends, my coloured friends, my female friends, my gay friends and every other friend of mine that has to put up with the very real and present fear that results from unjust discrimination and judgement every day.

“Oh, and my condolences to the tens of thousands of Māori who have been slaughtered, raped, imprisoned, displaced and condemned for practicing their own beliefs in their own country. We’ve had plenty of mass murderers here too. Crusaders (worst team name ever).

“This IS who we are. But we can change.”

I stand with my friend in his efforts to tear away the sentimental claptrap and examine the truth about the nature of New Zealand society (and by no means only Christchurch.) It is absolutely true that the “environment that nurtures hate crimes [is] everywhere in this country.” That needs to be said.

However, my friend also makes an error which weakens the point he is making. The error lies in the little word “we.” Ardern is quite clear about who is the “we” she is talking about. For Ardern, “we” is “the proud nation of New Zealand.”

But there is no “we” that encompasses the whole people of New Zealand. This country, like every other in the world, is a class-divided society, made up of opposing classes, with conflicting class interests. And only one of those classes rules: the capitalist class, the small number of super-rich families which owns the banks and finance institutions, the major industries, the ports and transportation companies, the land – in short, the means of production. That is the class for whom Jacinda Ardern speaks. There are no “common values” between their class and ours, just as there are no ‘common values’ among all ‘white men,’ as the murderer believed.

The ruling class and their institutions spawn the white-supremacist filth that carried out this attack. Their economic and social system pits worker against worker in merciless competition for jobs and the means of life.  Their armed forces evicted Māori from their land through force and violence in the nineteenth century, and established the capitalist mode of production based on their monopoly of the means of production. Their police, their justice system, their political parties in their parliament, their spy agencies, their news media, their educational institutions maintain that system.

They have a long history of violence of the kind we saw yesterday – from the land wars of the mid-nineteenth century, to the South African war of the late nineteenth century, to the colonial conquest of Samoa in 1914, to the imperialist assaults in Turkey, Palestine (where between 40 and 100 villagers at Surafend were massacred by New Zealand and Australian troops in retaliation for the theft of a soldier’s bag) and elsewhere in the First and Second World Wars (including the massacre of 48 Japanese prisoners of war at Featherston, on New Zealand soil), to Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries in the period since then.

For this class to feign shock and horror at yesterday’s atrocity is rank hypocrisy. In pursuit of their imperialist ends, they had no problem with killing Turkish Muslims at Gallipoli in 1915 and Palestinian Muslim civilians in 1918, Iraqi Muslims in the 1990s and Afghani Muslim villagers in this century. They will do it again when it suits them. The fact that it was the armed forces of the state that carried out these crimes, rather than private individuals, makes them no less criminal. For their Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to claim that New Zealand is a “refuge for those that need it” when Syria lies in ruins, with millions displaced and seeking refuge, while only a tiny number are admitted to New Zealand, is a disingenuous appeal to national pride, not a statement of fact. The Australian state adopted the White Australia policy at its foundation, New Zealand adopted similar measures against Chinese and other Asian migrants at about the same time. To this day, the Australian government still incarcerates thousands of mostly Muslim migrants in offshore prisons, in appalling conditions, who have been convicted of no crime. It’s in their imperialist DNA.

For Scott Morrison, their Australian Prime Minister, to say We stand together to condemn the hatred & intolerance behind this attack” is equally hypocritical. Let us not forget that in 2011 Morrison “urged the shadow cabinet to capitalise on the electorate’s growing concerns about “Muslim immigration”, “Muslims in Australia” and the “inability” of Muslim migrants to integrate.”

It is significant that the individual arrested for this crime was not on the watchlist of the police or any of the spying agencies, despite the fact that he had links with ultra-right organisations in Europe and a conspicuous on-line profile. Apparently he published his plans online, including a lengthy ‘manifesto,’ shortly before the attack. The reason is because their spy agencies are aimed at us. And this white supremacist was not one of us, but one of them. I found this series of tweets interesting. In them, Wellington man Asher Wilson-Goldman describes his efforts to keep police informed of the activities of ultra-rightists, and their response, which was to try to get him to finger environmental activists. This is entirely in keeping with the nature – the class nature – of the police.


Why is the little word “we” so important?

Because if we – and when I use the word “we” I mean the working class and all those who seek to align themselves with its interests – identify ourselves with our exploiters and oppressors, we absolve those guilty of these crimes of their responsibility, and blame ourselves – and each other – instead.  The source of racist violence gets obscured, and the road to ridding the world of such violence gets closed off.

Another friend shared a post which falls into this trap.

This post said “White men like the New Zealand shooter cling to racial identity because they are losers. They’re unintelligent, uninteresting, unsuccessful, unimportant people who have so little to show for their lives that they can only find validation in a fatuous mythology created by slave traders back before we knew to wash our hands after taking a shit.”

“unsuccessful, unimportant people who have so little to show for their lives”? How many of the oppressed and exploited could be described as ‘successful, important people who have a lot to show for their lives’? How many could be described as ‘winners’?

It continues: “The frequency of this pathological racial psychosis will only increase – as our culture descends further and further into vicious and narcissistic rage, our psychological and social lives will grow colder and colder in response, and more and more white people will cling to white identity harder and harder in a futile attempt to imbue their increasingly empty lives with meaning.” God forbid that these ‘losers’ should attempt to imbue their empty lives with meaning.

Using radical-sounding language, this post traces the source of white-supremacist ideology to the ‘unsuccessful and unimportant’ layers of bourgeois society, that is, to the working class, and reveals – unwittingly, perhaps – the author’s contempt for that class. This is a dead end.


The hope dies hard that somehow New Zealand could be spared the outbursts of reactionary violence of the kind that has become all too common in the United States. Calls for national unity against racism were repeated at many of the vigils and protests across the country, echoing Ardern’s appeal to ‘common values.’ But it is, unfortunately, a fond illusion, and like all illusions, better discarded.

The stable, relatively peaceful democratic capitalist society of the past sixty years has disappeared, never to return. On the centenary of her assassination, it is worth recalling the words of the great revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg, at the opening of the German revolution which had just ended at Great War. The deepening crisis of capitalism, Luxemburg explained, poses only two alternatives : socialism or barbarism. “The establishment of the socialist order of society is the mightiest task which has ever fallen to a class and to a revolution in the history of the world. This task requires a complete transformation of the state and a complete overthrow of the economic and social foundations of society… From the uppermost summit of the state down to the tiniest parish, the proletarian mass must therefore replace the inherited organs of bourgeois class rule – the assemblies, parliaments, and city councils – with its own class organs – with workers’ and soldiers’ councils. It must occupy all the posts, supervise all functions, measure all official needs by the standard of its own class interests and the tasks of socialism. Only through constant, vital, reciprocal contact between the masses of the people and their organs, the workers’ and soldiers’ councils, can the activity of the people fill the state with a socialist spirit.”

In the Christchurch atrocity, we saw a glimpse of that barbarism on New Zealand soil. But far more importantly, we also saw a tiny glimpse of the forces that will ultimately defeat the racists.

As the shooter carried out his deadly task, at least two of the worshipers confronted him. At Linwood mosque, Naeem Rashid approached the gunman and attempted to stop him firing. The victims have not yet been named, but it seems likely that Rashid lost his life in the attempt.

Also at Linwood, Abdul Aziz confronted the gunman and drew his fire as he ducked between cars. Aziz then picked up one of the shooter’s discarded guns and chased the shooter away. Again, few details have emerged, but it appears that the without efforts of these two worshipers the death toll at Linwood could have been much higher.

These were individual acts of heroism. Eventually, forces such as these – from among the “unsuccessful, unimportant people who have little to show for their lives” of all ethnic originswill get organised, with the same courage and spirit of self-sacrifice for a higher cause, and break from the political leadership of their class enemies. Then the working class will be able to take political power into its hands, disarm the racist gunmen of all kinds, and dismantle the state and the economic system that breeds them anew in every country of the world. It is, as Luxemburg explained, a colossal task, but nothing less will be sufficient.


5 responses to “The Christchurch atrocity and the need for a class political response

  1. Pingback: Consider carefully how to end such attacks as the Christchurch massacre – Redline·

  2. This is an excellent response. I have a similar response, although not nearly as eloquent and comprehensive as this, whenever any of my friends uses the word “we” to assign responsibility for the horrors of capitalism.

  3. This is good and you are absolutely correct to say the ruling class promotes racism and division, but we must also remember the white nationalist movement aims to overthrow the state (or as they call it, the multicultural liberal establishment) too. They are not merely tools of capitalism and we who oppose them must understand that. They are trying to mobilise working class white people against the rest of the class AND the ruling class. History shows the ruling class will use them against us if necessary, but we have to remember they are independent from the ruling class.

  4. Pingback: Reflections on the George Floyd march in Auckland | A communist at large·

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