imagesThis article is a slightly abridged version of one which was written in 1997 and appeared in issue #3 of the Christchurch-based journal revolution, Aug/Sept 1997

by John Gillot and Manjit Kumar
(with additional information from Simon Faraday)

Is science the liberator of humanity, or the tool of despots? Is the attempt to control the laws of nature the handmaiden of progress, or the suicidal act of ignorant fools? These are the kind of issues being raised today, as the world’s pressing demographic and environmental problems make more people ask whether progress is such a good thing. What answers can we come up with?

Marxists support the unlimited growth of scientific knowledge and capacity. The dangers posed by the application of modern science arise from the nature of the societies in which it takes place not from the science itself. The system which dominates the globe – capitalism – is at best stagnant. Without the constraints this system imposes, the potential exists for fundamental scientific advances to be made and used for the good of us all. In opposition to the Marxist view, however, there is a growing belief among radical thinkers that humanity is inevitably threatened by technological and scientific advance.

This view has been put clearly by the modern Green movement. Discussing the environmental problems of today, Fritjof Capra has argued that these “manifold health hazards are not just incidental by-products of technological progress; they are integral features of an economic system obsessed with growth and expansion, continuing to intensify its high technology in an attempt to increase productivity.”

The Green view of science and technology as inherently dangerous makes sense to many people. Mention biotechnology, for example, and images of man-made mutants are more likely to come to mind than thoughts of a cure for genetic disorders. Such a reaction is understandable, given the misuse of scientific research. If people like Capra and his colleagues only wanted to expose the abuse of science by the capitalist system, we could have no objection. However, they go much further, asserting that “technological progress. . . growth and expansion” as such are the problem. This simply will not stand up to scrutiny.

Technological growth and scientific progress have vastly improved the state of human existence through the ages. A glance at Read the rest of this entry »

Andy Warren gets negative about a film before he’s seen it and takes a quick look at the history and themes of Hollywood science fiction cinema and their parallels in the real world

Interstellar: yet another misanthropic view of humanity

Interstellar: yet another misanthropic view of humanity

It is perhaps foolish to base too much on a film’s trailers. However, Hollywood generally can’t help but leak the key points. So I think I’ll be fairly safe. Once I’ve watched it I’ll write an update.

“We’ll find a way … we always have,” says Matthew McConaughey’s character, Cooper. “Mankind was born on Earth. It was never meant to die here.”

These quotes sound inspiring out of context – in the moody voice over. The reality is, I expect, rather uninspiring.

Recently released Interstellar (November 2014) will deliver the latest dollop in what I call the “humanity is doomed unless…” genre. The genre that likes to market itself as highbrow science fiction but which in reality manages only “we’re suddenly doomed but that brilliant man will save us – hey what does that lever do?” with as much glossy scientific credibility as the production can afford.

Interspersed with footage reprising the dust bowl depicted in The Grapes of Wrath (Depression-era US Midwest “bread belt”), farmer-but-also-engineer-and-brilliant-pilot McConaughey (the brilliant guy) is torn from his down-to-earth farming life (“good people”) because he is humanity’s only hope – the hope that we can find a new habitable planet elsewhere in the universe.

Judging by the sheer quantity of thrillingly impossible action sequences and dramatic moments in the various trailers I’ve watched, this film will have no choice but to quickly dispatch with its main justification and cut to the core of it’s mission – dressing up a basic dystopian morality message with special effects and bite-sized wisdoms delivered in McConaughey’s otherwise enjoyable slow, thoughtful Texas drawl. Yet another environmental story is dressed up in a relatively new and exciting form – this is the goal of the marketing machine’s influence on script and storyline. The environmental theme by now needs no introduction – the work has been done by dozens of previous Hollywood productions and the earnest bleating of the green movement. If the film has been done well, we might see some truly breathtaking space travel. I genuinely hope so.

About those Dust Storms…

John Steinbeck wrote in his 1939 novel The Grapes of Wrath: “And then the dispossessed were drawn west – from Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico; from Nevada and Arkansas, families, tribes, dusted out, tractored out. Car-loads, caravans, homeless and hungry; twenty thousand and fifty thousand and a hundred thousand and two hundred thousand. They streamed over the mountains, hungry and restless – restless as ants, scurrying to find work to do – to lift, to push, to pull, to pick, to cut – anything, any burden to bear, for food. The kids are hungry. We got no place to live. Like ants scurrying for work, for food, and most of all for land.”

Steinbeck was describing life for farming families driven from their farms by a period of intense drought which hit them on top of the Depression and a rapaciously brutal banking industry – subsequently bailed out by Franklin Roosevelt and the 1933 Emergency Banking Act – a forerunner of the US Congress appetite for bailing out Wall st on a more regular basis today.

Where Steinbeck based his work on brutal reality, Interstellar draws on the imagined reality that appeals to enviro-zealots and doom mongers. What Read the rest of this entry »

It would be good to get some discussion going on this issue, obviously a big one for the anti-capitalist left internationally anyway but an especially pertinent one in this country, where the working class remains almost perversely passive.

. . . and yet it survives. . .

. . . and yet it survives. . .

by Michael Roberts

Last weekend, I attended this year’s London version of the Historical Materialism conference (http://www.historicalmaterialism.org/conferences/annual11), which for those who don’t know is an annual gathering of mainly Marxist academics, students and activists organised by the Historical Materialism journal. A host of papers and book launch presentations are made, often bringing out new ideas in the analysis of capitalism.

This year’s main theme was “How Capitalism Survives” and was apparently attended by over 750 scholars, academics and activists. It’s not possible to attend all sessions, of course, so my review concentrates on the economics papers and even there is sometimes based on reading the papers presented rather than on actually attending the session (so be forewarned!).

How does capitalism survive? Well, according to John Weeks, emeritus professor at SOAS, it’s because the capitalist mode of production has had very few of what could be called proper crises (2014 Weeks_Crisis_Izmir). Weeks reckons that only the Great Depression of the 1930s and the recent Great Recession could be considered generalised crises (“episodes of severe contraction”) that affected the world capitalist economy for any length of time or to any depth. Other so-called crises were merely mild recessions or financial crashes that were short and limited to the national economy concerned.

As for the causes, Weeks argues that it was the Read the rest of this entry »

indexWe’re continuing our series of reviews of important books, this time reprinting a review from 1997 that first appeared in issue #4 (Oct 97/Jan 98) of revolution magazine, one of the precursors of this blog.

Manjit Kumar and John Gillott, Science and the Retreat from Reason, London, Merlin Press, 1996; reviewed by Grant Cronin

Science and the Retreat from Reason is an important intervention in our increasingly irrational times. As the discourses of New Ageism and mysticism proliferate, Gillott and Kumar argue that these have little to do with the objective failure of science and more to do with the impasse of capitalist society.

Science, in the past, was always tied to the larger project of progress and human emancipation. The philosophers of the Enlightenment held that natural science could improve society and the power of reason could emancipate humankind. Today, however, even after the significant scientific advances of the twentieth century, attitudes to science are very different. A fatalistic attitude towards scientific progress and technological advance is reflected in popular culture, in films such as Jurassic Park, Twelve Monkeys and Kenneth Branagh’s remake of Frankenstein.*

This new attitude to science is totally divorced from the reality of science and instead reflects a crisis of confidence amongst the ruling capitalist elites who are unable to offer any dynamic vision of society. As Gillott and Kumar argue,

“Behind the current crisis of science, we have ventured, lies the collapse of confidence in progress. The very idea of trying to improve human society is now held to be at best misguided, at worst dangerous. The emphasis of the Read the rest of this entry »

balfourThe following statement was issued by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine on Nov 2

On November 2, 1917, British Foreign Secretary Alfred Balfour delivered a treacherous stab in the back to the Palestinian Arab people, through a letter sent to Lord Lionel Rothschild, expressing the support of the British state for the establishment of a “Jewish national home” in Palestine. This promise marked the stamp of approval on the Zionist project in Palestine and its work to impel the migration of Jews from various countries of the world in order to constitute Zionist military forces, supported with various types of modern weapons, who proceeded to commit massacres as a prelude to the establishment of the Israeli state on the ruins of our homes and lands and the displacement of our people in the region and around the world in 1948.

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PFLP continues to resist the occupation and fight for a secular, democratic and socialist society

This historic crime, in which the British colonial state gave away what it was not its to give, continues to be a stain on the British state and global imperialism. The Palestinian people will not forget and will not forgive, over successive generations, the great crime committed against them.

The Palestinian people swiftly rejected this declaration on a popular level. Immmediately upon its announcement, Palestinians engaged in fierce clashes with the British occupation and the Zionists, refusing the dismantlement and destruction of their homeland, Palestine, and giving Read the rest of this entry »

The manifesto below first appeared in MidEast Solidarity #1, Spring 2001, the Middle East bulletin of revolution magazine. Although now thirteen years old, it is still highly relevant, given the Western powers’ ever-expanding, never-ending wars in the Third World.  It lays out a basic approach needed to build what is needed – an anti-imperialist movement – and is counterposed to simply accepting lowest common denominator peace politics, which often reinforce myths about this country’s ruling class, their political servants and their foreign policy.  In Christchurch, the Middle East Information and Solidarity Collective generally operated along the lines of the Manifesto, although its sphere of action was most specifically Palestine and Iraq.  Similar sentiments to those contained in the Manifesto animated the Anti-Imperialist Coalition in Auckland and the work of ACA activists in Peace Action Wellington.  As New Zealand’s ruling class plays its own part in the West’s wars abroad and migrant workers remain on the receiving end of discrimination here, we need to revive the spirit of this Manifesto; we need not a ‘peace’ movement but an anti-imperialist movement.  Lastly,  a few explanatory notes have been added.

Workers as a global class is the basis for internationalism and solidarity

Workers as both a global class and the universal class is the basis for internationalism and solidarity

The assault on Afghanistan points up the desperate need not for a wishy-washy peace movement, which treats New Zealand imperialism as morally superior to other imperialisms and pleads with Wellington to exert greater leverage in world affairs, but for an anti-imperialist movement.

1. AGAINST THE NEW ZEALAND STATE AND ITS FOREIGN POLICY

An anti-imperialist perspective in New Zealand can only begin with total opposition to the policies and initiatives of our own ruling class. New Zealand is an advanced capitalist society, part of the First World, presided over by an exploiting ruling class which is part of the problem not part of the solution.

New Zealand nationalism has been historically the ideology through which the capitalist class here coheres society around its own interests and power. In particular this ideology binds NZ workers to their lown exploiters, obscures class divisions within this country and keeps workers from developing an anti-capitalist outlook. At crucial times it serves to line workers up behind our ruling class in wars against workers of other countries.

Much of the left has been part of this reactionary nationalist consensus, most blatantly in the forms of labourism, Stalinism* and anti-‘foreign control’ groups. But even the Marxist left has succumbed to it, as war clear around the campaign against French testing at Moruroa, where most far left groups lined up behind the NZ ruling class.**

In contrast to middle class peace groups and leftists who make calls on the New Zealand government to take action against other capitalist governments, thereby prettifying our own ruling class, a genuine anti-imperialist movement in this country promotes Read the rest of this entry »

Created by Washington; executed without trial by Washington

Created by Washington; executed without trial by Washington

The article below was written in 2001 and first appeared in issue # 1 (Spring 2001) of MidEast Solidarity, the Middle East bulletin of the revolution magazine group.  Although 13 years old, it remains highly relevant, largely because the Western powers are engaged in an ever-expanding and seemingly never-ending war in the Middle East and Afghanistan against forces which they and their actions are largely responsible for creating

by Paul Hopkinson

Between 1978 and 1992, the United States spent at least $US3 billion (some sources estimate as high as 20 billion) on creating, funding, training and arming the mujaheddin ‘freedom fighters’ in Afghanistan. Every US dollar spent was matched by Saudi Arabia, as the US government and the Saudi oligarchy had an agreement to co-fund the establishment of the mujaheddin. A section of these ‘freedom fighters’ now make up the Taliban government , and the training camps created by these funds are the ones used by Osama bin Laden.

Wealthy conservative reaction

The mujaheddin started as a conservative reaction of wealthy semi-feudal landlords and the Muslim religious establishment (often one in the same), to the progressive policies of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA). The PDPA was committed to radical land reform that favoured the peasants, trade union rights, education for all (including women) and the separation of church and state. To carry out these policies, the PDPA advocated closer ties with the Soviet Union. Fearing the spread of Soviet influence and the example the PDPA might set for people suffering under the repressive regimes of America’s other Islamic allies, the US offered to support those opposing the PDPA government.

An internal power struggle in the PDPA that toppled the leader of the government in December 1979 saw Soviet soldiers enter Afghanistan to prevent the government’s collapse. The Soviet Union did not want to see the PDPA government fail, for it feared this could destabilise the southern Soviet Republics of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The entrance of the Soviet forces was used to legitimise the mujaheddin struggle as one of national liberation.

Bin Laden

Osama bin Laden, like many of the mujaheddin fighters and supporters, was drawn from fundamentalist Islamic groups outside of Afghanistan. Born in Saudi Arabia, he was one of twenty sons of a billionaire construction magnate. He arrived in Afghanistan in 1980 to join the Read the rest of this entry »