Archive for the ‘At the coalface’ Category

January 30 marks the 68th anniversary of the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi.  While widely held up as the key figure responsible for the independence of India and a pacifist icon, the story of Gandhi and Indian independence is much more complex.  Whether his pacifism really worked is highly debatable.

See our two critical appraisals here:

Creepy old Gandhi: demystifying the Mahatma

How successful was/is Gandhian peaceful civil disobedience? 


Below are two parts of an interview conducted with John McCusker, a leading figure in the Irish socialist-republican movement, éirígí.  The interview was conducted in Belfast by Alan Meban, who was a very fair interviewer although he doesn’t agree with the politics of éirígí.

While the interview is now nearly five years old, we think it is still informative about the politics of the encouraging developments represented by éirígí.  Since this interview, the organisation has gone on to play leading roles in campaigns against the household tax and the water tax, as well as the rip-off of natural resources by Shell on the west coast of Ireland.

In the first part of the interview, John talks about what éirígí stands for and what differentiates it from, on the one hand, other republican currents, and, on the other hand, the groups that describe themselves as only socialist:


In the second part, John talks about militarism and policing:


For the éirígí document From Socialism Alone Can the Salvation of Ireland Come, see here.

For the text of an excellent interview a Basque journal, Ekaitza, did with éirígí general-secretary Brendan Mac Cionnaith, see Ireland: the class struggle is the source of the national struggle.

For our own interview with éirígí chairperson Brian Leeson, see Building an Alternative Movement in Ireland.

For an example of agitational speeches by leaders of éirígí at protests in Ireland, below is one of the party’s most well-known figures, Louise Minihan, speaking at a mass protest outside 2012’s Fine Gael national conference – the Fine Gael-Labour coalition government has been imposing extreme austerity measures on the working class.   Louise’s speech is very relevant to NZ today.  It’s particularly interesting to see the enthusiastic response Louise gets from this gathering of thousands of workers for her call for the removal of the existing top union leadership and for a labour movement on the class-struggle principles of James Connolly:

And here is an éirígí protest in Belfast against state attempts to normalise the British army presence in the six counties, a presence which is totally ignored by ‘socialist’ groups who find it more to their liking to take up much safer issues.

One way that you can help support éirígí is by buying posters, calendars, books, key rings, engravings etc from their on-line shop.  See here.

Several members of the Redline blog collective are also members of Clann éirígí and involved in events here in New Zealand around the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rebellion in Ireland.  See here.



Walter Nash, Labour’s immigration minister, helped keep doors largely barred to Jewish refugees from Nazis

by Phil Duncan

While the Labour Party showed its knee-jerk racism in relation to the Chinese yet again last year – a modern-day equivalent to the early party’s keen support for the White New Zealand policy – few people are aware of the first Labour government’s shoddy record in relation to refugees, particularly Jewish refugees, from Nazism in Europe in the late 1930s and early 1940s.  Below is essentially a summary of chapter 13 of Oliver Sutherland’s Paikea, a book about his father (I.L.G. Sutherland), which throws an interesting light on this.

Michael Joseph Savage: first Labour prime minister wanted white British immigrants, not Jewish refugees from the Nazis

Michael Joseph Savage: first Labour prime minister wanted white British immigrants, not Jewish refugees from the Nazis

I only became aware of this hidden part of Labour Party history when, by chance, I saw Paikea in a display in a public library.  I knew of Oliver as a prominent figure in the Auckland Committee on Racial Discrimination (ACORD) way back in the 1970s, so I picked up the book and had a look at it.  I was interested to see that Ivan Sutherland had been very involved in campaigning for European refugees in the late 1930s and into the 1940s and had been up against it as the first Labour government wasn’t keen on (more…)

51Gblu33XmL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Donny Gluckstein (ed), Fighting on all Fronts: popular resistance in the Second World War, London, Bookmarks, 2015; reviewed by Philip Ferguson

This is a fascinating book.  Its ten contributors provide eleven chapters – two are by Gluckstein – on people’s resistance to dictatorship in Europe and Asia/Pacific during World War 2 and struggles within two capitalist democracies (Australia and Ireland, the latter not being formally involved in the second great imperialist conflagration).

The struggles range from Jewish resistance to the Nazis and the Holocaust in Eastern Europe, especially Poland, to the Slovak national uprising of 1944 to resistance to French rule in Algeria to Burmese resistance to both British and Japanese imperialism to the Huk rebellion in the Philippines.  While the countries covered exclude key imperialist players, and sometimes the choice of places to cover seemed a little strange, hopefully there will be a second volume to cover struggles in the United States, Britain and Germany – especially since Gluckstein is an expert of Nazi Germany and has already written a fine book about the rise of the Nazis and the course of their regime.


One advantage, however, of covering the places that are covered is that these are generally the least-known.  I certainly found that most of the chapters added considerably to my knowledge of resistance during what several generations of us used to call “the war”.  Perhaps the most fascinating for me was Janey Stone’s impressive account of struggles by East European Jews, and non-Jewish supporters, against repression and annihilation.  The ‘mainstream’ impression is that Jews went meekly to the slaughter but Janey, (more…)

by Kenan Malik (January 7)

Copertina anniversario Charlie Hebdo

It is a year today since Islamist gunmen burst into the Paris office of Charlie Hebdo, killing 12 people, including eight of the magazine’s staff. A few days after the attack I was interviewed by the BBC. ‘Don’t you think’, the interviewer asked, ‘ that the degree of solidarity expressed towards Charlie Hebdo represents a turning in attitudes to free speech?’ ‘I doubt it’, I replied. ‘There may be expressions of solidarity now. But fundamentally little will change. If anything, the killings will only reinforce the idea that one should not give offence.’

A year on, my pessimism, unfortunately, seems justified. Shock and outrage at the brutal character of the slaughter led many in the immediate aftermath of the killings to close ranks with the slain. ‘Je Suis Charlie’ became the phrase of the day, to be found in every newspaper, in every Twitter feed, on demonstrations in cities across Europe. But none of this changed underlying attitudes to free speech, nor challenged the climate of censorship in any meaningful sense.

Indeed, many found it difficult even to show solidarity. Hardly had news begun filtering out about the Charlie Hebdo shootings, than there were those suggesting that the magazine was a ‘racist institution’ and that the cartoonists, if not deserving what they got, had nevertheless brought it on themselves through their incessant attacks on Islam.

Perhaps the most disgraceful refusal of solidarity came with (more…)

imagesThe article below was written in 1898 and was part of Rosa Luxemburg’s struggle against the creeping reformism that was overtaking the German revolutionary movement.  It appeared in Sachsische Arbeiterzeitung, September 30, 1898.  It was transcribed by Dario Romeo and Brian Baggins in 2000 for the Marxist Internet Archive.  The Rosa Luxemburg section of the MIA can be accessed here.

The issues that Rosa deals with are highly relevant in NZ today.  Like Germany in her time, NZ is an imperialist player and the mass of the population, including most of those who identify as ‘left-wing’, are essentially what we might call ‘kiwi nationalists’.  They support economic nationalism in particular, as shown by campaigns against ‘foreign control’ and free trade agreements, agreements which the NZ ruling class favours because it benefits from them.

It’s important to remember when reading this that, at the time, Social Democracy was the name often used by Marxists.  When WW1 broke out, however, most social-democrats in the imperialist world sided with their own rulers against the workers of other countries.  Social Democracy became, in Rosa’s memorable phrase, ‘a stinking corpse’.  Unfortunately, the corpse survived and continues to stink up the labour movement, while trying to manage the working class on behalf of capital. 

by Rosa Luxemburg

Comrade Heine, as is well known, has written a pamphlet for the party conference entitled To Vote or Not to Vote? In it he comes out in favour of our participating in Prussian Landtag elections. It is not the main subject of his pamphlet that leads us to make a few necessary remarks, but rather the two terms which he mentions in his line of argument, and to which we react with particular sensitivity in consequence of the well-known events that have taken place recently in the party. The terms are: the art of the possible and opportunism. Heine believes that the party’s aversion to these trends rests entirely upon a misunderstanding of the true linguistic meaning of these foreign words. Ah! Comrade Heine, like Faust, has studied jurisprudence with zealous endeavour, but alas, unlike Faust, not much else. And in the true spirit of juridical thought, he says to himself, In the beginning was the word.

If we wish to know whether the art of the possible and opportunism are harmful or useful to Social Democracy, we need only consult the dictionary of foreign words and the question is answered in five minutes. For the dictionary of foreign words informs us that the art of the possible is ‘a policy which endeavours to achieve what is possible under given circumstances’. Heine then proclaims, ‘Indeed, I ask all rational men, should a policy attempt to achieve what is impossible under given circumstances?’ Yes, we as rational men reply, if questions of politics and tactics could be solved so easily, then lexicographers would be the wisest statesman and, instead of delivering Social-Democratic speeches, we should have to begin holding popular lectures in linguistics.

Certainly our policy should and can only endeavour to achieve what is possible under given circumstances. But this not say how, in what manner, we should endeavour to achieve what is possible. This, however, is the crucial point.

The basic question of the socialist movement has always been how to bring its immediate practical activity into agreement with (more…)

by Daphna Whitmore

Last Sunday ten thousand people marched to the graves of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht in Berlin.


Since the late 1920s Luxemburg and Liebknecht have been commemorated on the second Sunday of January to mark their deaths on 15 January 1919. In the former East Germany it was an official state event but since the country’s unification in 1990 the tradition has continued without state support. (more…)