by Don Franks
 
ceasebgIn a week of  sickly sentiment-coated militarism,  TV One’s Tuesday movie Field Punishment No 1 rocked the boat  wonderfully. The Archibald Baxter book We shall not Cease, on which the film was largely based, is one I read in my early twenties.
 
Then, it made an indelible impression on me. Not so much for the pacifist outlook of the writer, which I found unconvincing.
 
What impressed me was the radical stance and courage with which Baxter and his comrades fearlessly delivered their message. In a clear, irrepressibly buoyant voice, Archibald Baxter records a level of sustained, committed protest action that has seldom been equalled.
 
As well as being well-directed and -acted, Field Punishment No 1 is true to the spirit and message of Baxter’s book. The result is an exposure of the futility of WWI in terms of its impact on ordinary working people. The film does not set out the underlying imperialist causes and currents of the war, but it lays a firm basis for that discussion to take place.
 
This stone of subversion in the ANZAC Day propaganda flood has already made waves.
 
After paying quite fulsome respects to aspects the film’s worth, Dominion Post film reviewer Jane Clifton nervously cautioned:

Read the rest of this entry »

by Don Franks

On April 30 this year, a new political party was formed by former Maori Party MP Hone Harawira – Te Mana Party. It was formed from a left split, as Harawira was expelled for opposing his party’s support for the National Government. It’s clear from the policies Hone has so far offered that he is determined to broaden his support beyond his Te Tai Tokerau electorate by appealing explicitly to the working class. Mana will be ‘pro-worker’ and for trade unions, anti-neoliberal (going so far as to call for a ‘planned economy’)”. June 2011, Andrew Tait, NZ International Socialists

dotcom

Kim Dotcom

“Mana upholds the primacy of extra-parliamentary action by the people. As Hone told a protest in the capital this year : “When we finally realise the power that we have outside of this House, this House will fall down stone by stone” - a speech given at a Socialist Alliance public meeting in Melbourne on 7 November 2012 by Fightback member Grant Brookes

“Mana unapologetically puts forward solid socialist demands. Full employment and jobs for all, starting with a massive programme building quality, healthy State Housing. Free public transport in major cities to end gridlock and alleviate climate change. Free Education for All, from Playcentre to University, and abolish the naked intergenerational theft that is artificially created student debt. Free broadband on demand with no data caps, and defending the digital commons from the corporates and the spooks. Feeding all the children of the nation at school so that poverty statistics are no excuse for hunger. All to be funded by freeing up some of the $22 billion accrued by ACC, and of course, taxing the rich until they squeak.” 2014, Joe Carolan, Socialist Aotearoa blog

In New Zealand, frustrated far leftists have long had a bad tradition of talking things up to ridiculous extents. There is a King James New Testament ring to the socialist left’s sycophancy surrounding the Mana party. It must be admitted, there is a small grain of justification for that. In this country’s arid drought of working class struggle and rigorous political debate, smaller knolls appear as big mountains. Read the rest of this entry »

31sMMmlMGOLRichard Levins and Richard Lewontin, Biology under the influence, New York 2013, pp400, £17.95; reviewed by Steve Masterson

Making sense of complexity
In this review I discuss one particular chapter of the book, entitled ‘Dialectics and systems theory’. Though prolific writers, these two famous research biologists and evolutionists, Richard Levins and Richard Lewontin, are mostly known for their classic, The dialectical biologist, a gem more relevant today than when written in 1985. The chapter I am investigating here was written by Levins.

When Hegel, Marx or Engels wrote of ‘things’, they were commenting on the dynamics of everything: all things (matter-energy) are born or emerge (from other things); they live or exist, then decay and die. These things are all that exist – everything is in permanent flux and “all that is solid melts into air” (Communist Manifesto).

The general dynamics of this birth, life and death into chaos before a new emergence of things, with their new patterns, processes, tendencies and rhythms; their specific cluster of contradictions, their form and content; their appearance and essence; their quantitative change and qualitative transformation processes; their emergence from other things – all these general ‘laws’, and more, of nature’s development are the content behind the method of dialectics.

Dialectics these days can be deeply grasped much easier when all ‘things’ are defined and grasped as ‘systems’. Biologist Ludwig von Bertalanffy began lecturing and writing articles on general systems theory in 1937, but the idea only took off in the 1950s and then even more so in 1968, when Bertalanffy published his defining book, General systems theory: foundations, development, applications.

However, I agree with Levins that long before all this Marx was the first practical systems theorist with his work on the whole capitalist system. Capital is still the best example to date in applying systems theory, but Marx never called it that. Bertell Ollman’s Dance of the dialectic explains in detail the systems character of Capital – yet even he did not quite call it that either.

Before we go on I should briefly define reductionism, which today still dominates bourgeois science, especially economic, social and political sciences. Reductionism tears up any Read the rest of this entry »

Gina Rhinehart; world's richest woman

Gina Rinehart; world’s richest woman

The feature below is by a leader of Australia’s largest Marxist organisation, Socialist Alternative, and appears in the latest issue of their theoretical journal Marxist Left Review, here; while there are obvious differences between Australia and New Zealand, the feature deals with fundamental questions going beyond national particularities – indeed many of the trends towards formal legal equality, promotion of women in business etc have gone further here than across the ditch

by Louise O’Shea

“When I am by myself, I am nothing. I only know that I exist because I am needed by someone who is real, my husband, and by my children. My husband goes out into the real world… I stay in the imaginary world in this house, doing jobs that I largely invent, and that no one cares about but myself.”
“Woman and Her Mind: The Story of Daily Life”, Meredith Tax, 1970[1]

Apprentice carpenter: working class women have no interests in common with ruling class women

Apprentice carpenter: working class women have no interests in common with ruling class women

“I always feel like I’m about to collapse. Since I am physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted – the kids are just irritants, and so is the job. Every day is a giant struggle, and all I can see, for years and years ahead, is more of the same.”

“I’m so tired of feeling like I don’t measure up in every aspect of my life. Go to work? Miss time with kids. Work from home? Can’t give undivided attention. House dirty, laundry piled up, kids sick. The thread is breaking.”

“My partner is great about sharing tasks. That’s not it – it’s the finite nature of time and money. And the complete lack of financial security that I guess almost everyone feels – it hangs over me like a cloud.”
Testimonies from a survey of women, 2011[2]

The lives of women today are a world away from those of their counterparts fifty years ago. In the early 1960s, unequal pay was accepted as legitimate, divorce was restricted and stigmatised, abortion was illegal, women in the public service did not have the right to work after marriage, rape in marriage was not recognised as a crime, sexual harassment was rife, childcare virtually non-existent and women could not get a bank loan without a male guarantor. Governments, the mainstream media, bosses and other powerful forces regarded the concept of women’s rights primarily as a target for ridicule. Mainstream popular culture was prudish and held little place for women outside traditional romance. Representations of women typically involved aprons, meal preparation, smiling children and vacuum cleaners, reinforcing constantly that the primary role of women was to create an environment of domestic bliss. Boredom and a sense of isolated frustration, summed up by Betty Friedan as “the problem with no name”, came to symbolise the experience of women – if in reality mainly middle class women – in this period.

Today, the contrasts couldn’t be starker. Formal equality in relation to the law in most of the Western world has effectively been achieved. Women account for nearly 50 per cent of the workforce in most of the developed world and can be found in a range of traditional and non-traditional industries.[3] Gender studies courses of some description are offered at most major universities, and there is an entire academic industry dedicated to the study of women and gender. There has been a proliferation of government departments and programs aimed at the well-being or advancement of women in some capacity. Women’s representation in high office and in boardrooms and war rooms has risen dramatically. Brutal imperialist wars are justified on the basis of liberating women, and the Western world is presented as superior and a sense of national cohesion forged around its supposed “tolerance” and “respect for women”.

At a personal level, far from being afflicted primarily with soul-crushing boredom, the majority of women today struggle with conflicting demands of Read the rest of this entry »

A sizable revolutionary insurgency exists in India today

A sizable revolutionary insurgency exists in India today

 

National elections are currently taking place in India, the country routinely described in the capitalist media as “the world’s largest democracy” and a new “Asian tiger” economy. For the truth about the Indian economy, start here:

http://rdln.wordpress.com/2013/12/13/india-an-emerging-economy-in-the-capitalist-crisis/

One thing the dominant media isn’t so keen to report on is how the world’s biggest strike occurred there recently. See: http://rdln.wordpress.com/2012/04/14/historys-biggest-strike-indian-workers-show-us-how/

We’ll also be getting up material showing the levels of repression in “the world’s biggest democracy”. In the meantime check out: http://rdln.wordpress.com/2012/07/25/stop-the-repression-free-the-political-prisoners-india-and-the-philippines/

FordMarking the 100th anniversary of Henry Ford’s development of the assembly line in 1913 and his institution of the $5 day in 1914, the Ford Motor Company praised Ford as the genius who opened the door to a wide consumer market and the so-called “middle class” standard of living. The media joined in, noting also that Ford, a few years later, began to bring significant numbers of black workers into his factories, at a time when no other auto company and few other industries did, paying them essentially the same wage as the rest of the workforce.

A-FordThese three things taken together created Ford’s reputation, making him, in the words of one of his biographers, “an American hero”; for another, “the people’s tycoon.” Ford himself certainly devoted a lot of time to creating a populist image for himself, an image the Ford Motor Company tried to burnish when it quoted Ford from 1917: “I do not believe that we should make such an awful profit on our cars. A reasonable profit is right, but not too much. So it has been my policy to force the price of the car down as fast as production would permit, and give the benefits to the users and the laborers.”

Many of the tributes to Ford’s accomplishments acknowledged there was a “darker” side to the man. After all, it was widely known that, among other things, he resorted to violent gangsters, the dregs of Read the rest of this entry »

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Tweeting to the future?

by Paul Demarty

At the end of 2011, The Guardian published a short interactive quiz entitled ‘How revolutionary were you in 2011?’1 It was, after all, a good year to be a revolutionary, with the overthrow of Ben Ali and Mubarak, the student protests and the Occupy movement. Time magazine named “the protestor” its person of the year; the BBC’s in-house leftie and sometime-Trot, Paul Mason, published, to wide acclaim, Why it’s kicking off everywhere.

Answering the quiz is odd, however, because, according to The Guardian, invariably the most ‘revolutionary’ response in 2011 was to … follow the Twitter feeds of various protestors and their chosen hashtags. We had inklings of this political approach previously, when mass protests erupted after the Iranian presidential election, and were promptly credited to the revolutionary power of the same microblogging platform; not three years later, the Twitter Ideology was well-rooted, and here in Britain animated small protest movements such as UK Uncut.

According to this view, Twitter allowed a message – a ‘call to action’ – to spread like wildfire without the apparent mediation of traditional activist institutions, such as political parties, trade unions or ideologically-defined small groups. Techno-utopianism is hardly new, but older versions had proposed technology as a way to overcome resource scarcity and eliminate human labour, leaving us free to live in peace and luxury. The claim of the Twitterites is different – technology allows disruption. As Finley Peter Dunne said of the press, technology comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. It erodes oppressive hierarchies, allowing not the stifling quiet of the techno-utopias past, but a carnival of creative chaos. Anarchism has finally come true.

That ideology persists to this day. It persists perhaps most strongly in inverted form, among enraged authoritarians, great and small. Alex Callinicos infamously called the Facebook social network “the dark side of the internet”,2 as the Socialist Workers Party crisis spilled into the public eye and was raked over, point by point, by an audience largely on social media. Martin Thomas of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty wrote an article linking social media to shortening attention spans among comrades, shortly after the AWL had its own Facebook-driven scandal.3 Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has recently blocked Twitter in Turkey, blaming its users for “all kinds of immorality, all kinds of espionage and spying”.4

On the face of it, however, the notion that social media is that transformative is absurd. The student movement in this country was utterly defeated, and the remnants of its key organisations are in tatters. The SWP has basically lost its entire student cohort, many of whom were players in 2010-11, and the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts is quietly drowning in mutual recrimination between the AWL and identity politics fanatics.

Occupy is, by all reasonable measures, dead as a doornail; it has dissolved into various liberal campaigning groups. The ‘Arab spring’ is very definitely over. The Tunisians and Egyptians replaced their military dictators not with techno-literate liberals or left-wingers, but with Islamists, and in the case of Egypt, supported in large numbers what amounts to a counter-revolution by the old regime. UK Uncut got a brief wave of press attention for its anti-tax avoidance protests; but in the years since it has become easier for corporations to avoid tax. All of the supposed social media-enabled protest movements have failed, abjectly.

And yet, the idea persists. Understanding why requires placing social media in its broader historical context: firstly, of the ‘web apparatus’, the technical-social structure of production in information technology; and, secondly, of the underlying political and ideological dynamics of our period.

Web and decline

To understand the web apparatus, we must first reverse a commonplace concerning the significance of the internet.

It is commonly thought that the ‘information age’ confirms the continuing vitality of capitalism as a system. The productive forces have advanced, in this sphere, with extraordinary rapidity in the 25 years since the first Read the rest of this entry »