Archive for the ‘Origins/preconditions of capitalism’ Category

Regina Elsea and her fiance

by The Spark

Regina Elsea was killed last year when the robot she was trying to repair suddenly moved and crushed her. She was working for Ajin USA, a car parts company, earning $8.50 an hour.

Chambers County, where the company was located, offered tax breaks and other financial aid to companies to locate there. Encouraged by such free taxpayer-backed money, car companies, with their high-tech robots and technologies, started to move to the region. People were hired, but most of the wages remained very low. In addition, much of the work was supplied through staffing agencies and was temporary.

Elsea was not an Ajin employee. She was employed through a (more…)

images-2by Sarah Black

Art critic, novelist, writer and academic John Berger died last week, aged 90. Amid the media accolades, Suzanne Moore writes an opinion piece for The Guardian entitled ‘I do not recognise the stereotype of John Berger as a dour Marxist – his work embodied hope’. Though the headline is provocative, Moore’s piece does remember the man as kind, interested and warm.

Berger originally trained as a painter at the Chelsea School of Art, but stopped painting in the late 40s, as the post-war images-1nuclear threat seemed to him to render his work trivial. Instead he threw his energies into writing. He managed to enrage the art and media establishment by his pro-Soviet stance, as well as his criticism of big figures in the art world, such as Henry Moore, Francis Bacon and Pablo Picasso (whose work he felt further mystified art). Berger wrote extensively throughout his career – not just criticism, but fiction and other non-fiction works. In 1972 he won the Man Booker prize for his novel, G. His 1975 book, The seventh man, focuses on the plight of the urban poor.

Berger’s warmth comes across in his most well-known work,Ways of seeing. Unlike contemporary programmes of the time, this 1972 BBC four-part series of films-turned-essays was not presented by a stuffy old man in an art gallery with a suit and a pipe. Filmed in an electronics workshop, Berger, sporting an Aztec-patterned shirt, talks to the viewers at home in a laid-back, conversational manner – the aesthetics of the production have a dynamism that transcends the very 1970s look. Berger places advertising images next to still lifes and soft porn beside nudes, in order to make the viewer interrogate the image, the artist and the subject. His aim was to demystify western European painting from its holy status (where criticism’s purpose was to help us pray) and instead find a different way of (more…)

pb57793-300x459Our latest meeting took place at the weekend and we were privileged to be joined by John Smith, author of Imperialism in the 21st Century, one of the three books we’re studying.  We were also joined by his associate Andy Higginbottom.

John gave a presentation on several key themes of the book, which led into a discussion on the size, scale and weight of the working class in the Third World compared to the First World, where this leaves the working class (and the anti-capitalist left) in the First World, the issue of monopoly and how it does or does not relate to imperialist super-profits and much more.

Indeed, the meeting went on over several hours.

Over the next couple of weeks, we will get John’s introduction to the study meeting up on Redline, along with some articles that summarise the chapters of his book.

Our next meeting will be taking place in late November.

james-connolly-starry-ploughA wonderful extract from the great Irish marxist, mass workers’ leader and insurrectionary James Connolly, executed by British firing squad in 1916:

“. . . This will be the rule of the people at last realised. But, says Father Kane, at last showing the cloven foot, ‘the will of the people would be nothing more than the whim of the tyrant mob, the most blind and ruthless tyrant of all, because blindly led by blind leaders’. Spoken like a good Tory and staunch friend of despotism!

“What is the political and social record of the mob in history as against the record of the other classes? There was a time, stretching for more than a thousand years, when the mob was without power or influence, when the entire power of the governments of the world was concentrated in the hands of the kings, the nobles and the hierarchy. That was the blackest period in human history. It was the period during which human life was not regarded as being of as much value as the lives of (more…)

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Foxconn’s largest factory is in China and employs several hundred thousand workers (estimates range from 230,000 to 450,000 in this one factory); the western left needs to understand that the centre of gravity of the global working class has moved

by Susil Gupta

Every week over 100,000 people join the ranks of the proletariat.

When Engels wrote The Condition of the English Working Class in 1844, Manchester had a total population of 177,760, or 300,000 if you count all the surrounding borough and towns.  The first figure is estimated on the basis of the 1801 (90,000) and 1861 (338,900) census.

In 1861, the 4 largest English towns had populations of:

London – 2,804,000
Liverpool – 443,900
Manchester – 338,900
Birmingham – 296,000

Today there are:

500 metropolitan areas globally with a population of one million people or more.

Mainland China has (more…)

61KZcsFsm4L._UX250_Mark Lause is a veteran Marxist and author of a series of books on the history of the working class in the United States, especially in the 1800s and in relation to ‘the race question’.  We talked to him about his new book which examines the interconnections between free and unfree labour, the US civil war and the emergence of a distinctly American working class.  

Philip Ferguson: What interests you about this period of US history in particular? How did you come to write this book?

Mark Lause: This marked a very critical point in shaping the United States. Both Marxists and contemporary Lincoln Republicans and Unionists
– ie supporters of the union of the states, as opposed to the confederate separatists – described the conflict as a “Second American Revolution,” and it arguably marked far greater, more pervasive, and more rapid changes than the first one, marking American Independence from Britain.

downloadWar in general is under-studied by social and labor historians. I had a friend—another historian—who used to take great pride in never teaching about war in his history classes. I understood his point, of course, but history can’t be understood without studying the subject. To me, something like the Civil War represented a kind of Hadron Collider that smashed ordinary social relations and permits us to see what makes a society tick.

In the case of this particular conflict, we are discussing an essential period in the making of an American working class. In many respects, the conflict of 1861-1877 represented the most indispensable few years in that entire process.

Phil: I guess to most people in NZ, the American civil war was about the north wanting to end slavery and the south wanting to keep it. Could you elaborate on the wider issues?

Mark: It’s an accurate generalization, though there were many different kinds of Northerners with many different reasons for getting rid of slavery. From the (more…)

downloadby O’Shay Muir

The relationship between Marxism and Hegel has always been peculiar. On the one hand we have Marxism. A materialist philosophy and revolutionary movement that seeks to create a classless and stateless world. On the other hand we have Hegel the ultimate idealist and firm believer in the idea that the right kind of state (constitutional monarchy) can mediate between the various social contradictions that arise under capitalism. In other words a reformist. This divide or opposition between the two is our first clue into their peculiar relationship. This is a relationship that expresses the very heart of both; dialectics.

Since Marxism, through the ideas of Marx and Engels, was originally born out of a critique of Hegel and others influenced by him during Marx’s time, then the relationship between them involves a unity of opposites. Any serious study of Marxism brings one into contact with Hegel and anyone seeking to understand Hegel today will most likely have prior knowledge of Marx and his relationship to Hegel. Due to this relationship, Hegel for us should not simply be a name in a book, but a theoretical point of reference that allows us to understand Marx better and advance Marxist theory.

The question now becomes how do we (more…)