Chomsky speaking at Canterbury University, 1998

In late 1998 Noam Chomsky briefly visited New Zealand, receiving star treatment. The writer of this article attended Chomsky’s ticket-only performance in Christchurch and was less than dazzled. While we respect Chomsky’s long anti-imperialist record, there are also some important weaknesses in the man’s analyses. The article is part of our series of reprints from our print predecessors such as The Spark, revolution, MidEast Solidarity and Liberation; this piece appeared in issue #8 of revolution (Dec 1998/Feb 1999).

by Grant Cronin

Noam Chomsky certainly hit the big time when he visited recently to be a special presenter at the New Zealand Media Peace Awards in Auckland. His arrival was heralded by adulatory coverage in newspapers not usually known for their progressive politics, as well as a feature in The Listener. A few hastily-organised public meetings drew packed halls. In Wellington more than 1500 people turned out to hear him.

Originally trained as a philosopher, Chomsky subsequently made his mark in the early 1970s as a linguist, with his theories on language acquisition. Over the last three decades he has also established himself as a leading and often insightful critic of US foreign policy. His book At War With Asia was an important intervention in the public debate over Vietnam. Subsequent works, such as Manufacturing Consent, have been damning indictments both of US foreign policy and of the way in which the media effectively collaborates to create public consent – or the appearance of it – to the American ruling elite’s bloody wars and exploitative policies across the globe. Chomsky has also been a critic of many of the most glaring iniquities of the capitalist system. Through his outspoken criticisms of US foreign policy and championing of liberal causes he has also become a worldwide media star. For instance, Chomsky t-shirts were on sale after his talks.

At Canterbury University, Chomsky only had 50 minutes to speak before catching a plane back to Auckland. Of course, 15 minutes of it had to be taken up by the inevitable and totally apolitical Read the rest of this entry »

downloadby Phil Duncan

Last night saw the first of two meetings on the subject of child poverty currently being organised on campus at Otago University by the recently-founded Choose Kids group.  The first meeting was designed to feature politicians while the second meeting, next Monday night, will feature experts from academia.

The parties invited last night were National, Labour and the Greens.  National didn’t respond, so the third speaker was Bryce Edwards, a lecturer in the Politics department and prominent left political commentator.

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei spoke first, outlining the extent of the problem and focusing on low wages and low benefits.  She said a much higher minimum wage was necessary and beneficiaries needed more income.  My impression was that she is genuinely outraged by poverty levels and means well, but is stuck within the limits of parliamentary politics where no radical solutions are really on offer.

By contrast, local Labour MP David Clark engaged in quite a bit of dissembling.  He pretended that Labour cared deeply about child poverty and claimed the last Labour government had addressed this with Working for Families.  What he avoided in his speech was that the big growth of poverty began under the fourth Labour government and that the fifth Labour government never raised benefits, which had been substantially cut by the fourth National government, although it had nine years of surpluses in which to do so.  If it cared a hoot about the poorest, why didn’t Labour, blessed with all those surpluses, raise benefits.  It was actually left to the current National-led government to raise benefits for the first time in 43 years.  Moreover, the Working for Families package applied only to those in paid employment, drawing a distinction between the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor.  Clark’s speech, however, was only the beginning of his dissembling.

Clark suggested that people wanting to do something about child poverty could do so by Read the rest of this entry »

The short article below was written in late 1998 and first appeared in the December 1998/January 1999 issue of revolution magazine (issue 8), one of the print predecessors of this blog. It deals with Labour, a year out from the 1999 election which brought the fifth Labour government to power, led by Helen Clark. The original title was called ‘Labour farcade’; we used a made-up word to best express an analysis of the Labour Party at the time of its late 1998 conference. While written almost 16 years ago, the piece succinctly notes those very characteristics of Labour which are even more pronounced today. The piece also proved accurate in its predictions about the fifth Labour government, 1999-2008.

Growth of wealth among the richest NZers; note how well they did under Helen Clark's Labour government; the fall in the end was due to the global financial crisis, not from any intrusion on their wealth by Labour

Growth of wealth among the richest NZers; note how well they did under Helen Clark’s Labour government; the fall in the end was due to the global financial crisis, not from any intrusion on their wealth by Labour

by Linda Kearns

What can be expected should Labour get into government in 1999 was made clear at the party’s national conference in Auckland in November. While the mood was quite upbeat, indicating the party’s confidence in forming the next government, it was the lowering of expectations which stood out most.

The key phrase was “the National government has left the cupboard bare” and therefore “we” won’t be able to afford new expenditure. Instead, it looks like Labour will aim to reform things which don’t have any fiscal implications.

In other words, more tokenism for women and Maori, more social control for society at large, and more support for western intervention in the Third World, all of it dressed up, of course, under the guise of ‘human rights’. Deputy-leader and finance minister-in-waiting Michael Cullen gave a speech at the opening of which he disputed criticisms that a Labour-led government would be radical. Instead, he said, they would be very pragmatic. It was also clear that Labour is opposed to increasing the cost of workers to employers – ie they want to maintain low wage levels. While this is argued partly under the guise of helping the unemployed into jobs, it is really a message to business that Labour will serve their interests better than National.

It is also clear that important sections of the ruling class are swinging behind Labour. Right-wing Read the rest of this entry »

MauriPacificLogoEver hear of Mauri Pacific? Chances are, you haven’t – or you have forgotten it. It was essentially the vehicle through which Tau Henare transitioned from NZ First into National. It was one of several groups set up by existing MPs from various parties and which were wiped out at their very first election. The short article below was written in late 1998 and first appeared in the December 1998/January 1999 issue of revolution magazine (issue 8), one of the print predecessors of this blog.

by Huw Jarvis

Tau Henare’s new party, Mauri Pacific (‘Spirit of the Pacific’), is apparently not a ‘Maori party’. Instead it is more reminiscent of the unfortunate United Party, which was launched in 1995 as a ‘centre’ party by a ragbag group of seven defecting Labour and National Mps.

As with United, opportunism and policy vacuousness are the key features of the new party. At its launch, its leaders could not point to any real guiding principles or philosophies apart from Henare’s belief that NZ needed to “grasp another paradigm”, go on a voyage of “rediscovery towards cultural integrity” and “take the world by storm in a totally unique and awe-inspiring manner”. This is therefore another party that is formed around personalities, personal ambition and flakiness.

Typical of the vacuousness of the party, Henare said that Mauri Pacific is neither a Read the rest of this entry »

Palestinian children protest against the killing of 18-month-old Palestinian Ali Saad Dawabsheh, a toddler who was burnt to death by suspected Jewish extremists in the northern Gaza Strip. PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS

Palestinian children protest against the killing of 18-month-old Palestinian Ali Saad Dawabsheh, a toddler who was burnt to death by Zionist settlers on the West Bank. Photo: AP.


by Nizar Visram

NEWS coming out of the occupied Palestine on 8 Aug, 2015 said that Saad Dawabsheh, the father of a Palestinian toddler Ali who was killed in a firebombing of his home a week ago, has died from wounds he sustained in the incident.

Early in the morning of July 31, Israeli settlers hurled a Molotov cocktail into a window of Dawabsheh’s home in the Duma village in occupied West Bank. His 18-month-old son, Ali was burned to death in the arson attack, while his four-year-old son Ahmad, and his wife, Riham were seriously injured and remain in critical condition.

The arsonists left inscriptions on the wall of the house, saying: “Long live the Messiah” and “Revenge” on the wall of the house. Israeli settlers attacking Palestinian homes, churches and mosques characteristically use this “price tag” tactic. (Palestinian toddler burned to death)

Ali Dawabsheh is not the first Palestinian child to be burnt to death. Last year, another baby named Ali, son of Mohammad Deif, was also burnt alive after an Israeli airstrike on the house. Also, sixteen-year-old Mohamed Abu Khdeir was beaten tortured and burnt alive by a group of Israeli extremists in July 2014.

Little Ali is thus not different from over 500 Palestinians children killed in Israel’s last summer invasion on Gaza, which killed nearly 2,200 Palestinians, mostly civilians.  The Dawabsheh family home, which was completely burnt, was not different from the 20,000 Gaza homes which, according to the UN, were destroyed during the Israeli carnage in Gaza.

The Israeli regime’s illegal settlers have carried out 11,000 assaults against Palestinian residents and their properties across the occupied West Bank since January 2015. According to an Israeli human rights group, Yesh Din, 85.3% of police investigations into Palestinian complaints are discarded without Read the rest of this entry »

Continuing our reprints of material from our print predecessors, the article below first appeared in issue #3 of revolution magazine (August/September 1997). It appeared along with the piece on the crisis of liberal education.


by Philip Ferguson

Students today are continually confronted with substantial incrreases in fees. For instance, at Canterbury University full-time course fees went up in 1996 to $2,200, from $1,700 in 1995. In July 1996, on a motion from the students association president, the university council set a fee of $2,400 for 1997. Later this year the university administration will be meeting to set fees for 1998, with another increase likely.

Meanwhile, total student debt to the government edges up to around $2 billion. This figure is bound to continue to rise significantly thanks to ongoing fee increases and cutbacks in government subsidies to universities. In addition, it is likely that many students borrow from banks, parents and other private sources.

Increasing student indebtedness, the growing difficulty of making ends meet and the frustration of being treated as children and being made to rely on parent funding – 25 being the new age of ‘maturity’, if you’re a student! – all no doubt contributed to the anger and militancy of the student protests of the past few years.

Yet, clearly, the marches of thousands of students and several occupations, most notably at Canterbury University at the end of 1993 and Otago in August 1996, have failed to stem the tide of fee rises. In fact, at Canterbury opposition to fee increases has Read the rest of this entry »

The following article is another in our series of reprints of articles that originally appeared in revolution magazine, one of the print precursors of this blog. The article below appeared in the third issue of the magazine, dated August/September 1997. Although now 18 years old, it very much applies to universities here and now.

The modern university: Churning out the right subjects for contemporary capitalism

The modern university: Churning out the right subjects for contemporary capitalism

by Grant Pheloung

It is impossible to understand the fate of higher education in New Zealand without examining it in relation to capitalism. If we can see that the economics of universities are affected by the tendency of the rate of profit to fall then it is clear the kind of ‘knowledge’ produced in universities will be affected.

There is a clear connection between ‘money’ and ‘knowledge’, ‘profit’ and ‘pedagogy’ in universities in New Zealand and all other capitalist countries. As the economic slump continues, the ‘knowledge’ produced becomes increasingly apologetic in the face of shrinking opportunities for graduates.

Universities themselves reflect the sorry state of capitalism as a system. As fees increase and learning conditions worsen the student population has become less – rather than more – radical. Instead of the ‘brightest minds’ of our generation asking questions, they are passive and pessimistic about change.

Traditionally students were at the forefront of radical social movements and protest, taking collective action and fighting state repression; now it seems that students are more concerned with the economic viability of their degree than with engaging with the real world and trying to change it.

Understanding capitalism as a system

In order to understand the university in a capitalist society you must unnderstand capitalism as a historical economic and social system. Capitalism is characterised by three major aspects: Read the rest of this entry »