Archive for the ‘Poverty & Inequality’ Category

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The following article first appeared in issue #6 of revolution magazine, May-June 1998.  Although nearly 20 years old, the article – which is actually based on talks given between 1995-97 – unfortunately remains highly relevant.

by Philip Ferguson

Over the last few years the term ‘political correctness’ has started to enter the vocabulary here.  Originating with a layer of liberals and leftists in the United States, politically correct practices and outlooks have gained a hold among elements of the professional classes in New Zealand.  The Anna Penn case in 1993, in which a trainee nurse was expelled from the nursing course at Christchurch Polytech for allegedly being “culturally unsafe”, and several cases in other nursing schools and social work courses, have garnered widespread media coverage.

In many ways, political correctness is stronger in New Zealand than anywhere else in the world.  It has become an important industry, with lucrative financial rewards, for a host of touchy-feely middle class liberals.  We have a range of counsellors now operating in most spheres of human problems, along with various consultancy agencies and individuals doing very nicely for themselves advising establishment institutions on how to be “culturally sensitive” to the people upon whose oppression these institutions depend.

In a real sense, political correctness in New Zealand has become the new (more…)

Tame Iti and mate Jenny Shipley, the Tory prime minister of NZ at the time and a keen advocate of ‘respect for diversity’.

The article below first appeared in issue #14 of revolution magazine, dated Xmas 2000/March 2001.  The introduction to the article stated that it argued “Trendy liberal race relations nostrums are more about social control than emancipation”.  Footnotes have been added for this re-publication. 

by Philip Ferguson

From cultural safety in nursing training to the banning of vegetables from primary school play groups – use of vegetables to make, for example, potato stamps is now regarded as ‘culturally insensitive’ because ‘traditional’ Maori society didn’t use spuds for such frivolous activities – Maori culture appears to be increasingly important and respected.

Virtually everyone from the far left through to much of the National Party (with the exception of the minor-league redneck element typified by the now-retired John Banks)[1] appears to be in favour of cultural diversity and the ‘empowerment of Maori.

Yet, as has been noted in this magazine before, the cultural revival coincides with a worsening of the actual material conditions of the majority of Maori (see, in particular, revolution #7) and the collapse of old forms of collective class organisation.  It is in this situation that some Maori have retreated into idealised versions of the past.  This retreat coincides with an interest on the part of the ruling class in finding new forms through which to mediate conflicting interests and establish social control in the midst of the decay of society itself.

Changing ruling class ideology

The ruling class ideology today is clearly not the one which existed in the decades before 1984 and was reflected in commitment to the welfare state, monoculturalism and the kind of old-fashioned patriotism and nationalism epitomised by powerful right-wing groups like the Returned Servicemen’s Association (RSA).

Today’s ruling class, for instance, actively promotes multiculturalism, liberal pluralism and has no problem with homosexuality and other things that were taboo in the past.  A lot of formal legal inequality has been abolished as it was an obstacle to the needs of a new round of capital accumulation and the new style of managing an increasingly fragmented society.

For someone seen as right-wing economically, such as recent National Party prime minister Jenny Shipley, ‘respect for difference’ is a key principle, as she made clear when (more…)

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…)

Ernesto Che Guevara, Marx and Engels: a biographical introduction, published by Ocean Press, Melbourne.

by Phil Duncan

Ocean Press is a fascinating little publisher, specialising in publishing the work of Cuban revolutionaries in English.  Some years back, while visiting Melbourne, I picked up a book of theirs on Haydee Santamaria, one of my personal revolutionary heroes, so it was gratifying to come across this little book by Che on Marx and Engels late last year.

Che actually wrote this modest, but highly interesting, little work after his involvement in the revolutionary struggle in the Congo in 1965 and before his final misadventure in Bolivia.  It was originally envisaged not as a stand-alone piece but as part of a much larger work on political economy.  Pressing attachments elsewhere, most particularly his decision to go to Bolivia to help foster revolution there, meant his book was not completed, although fragments that were have been published.  The book arose out of Che’s disquiet about the Soviet bloc and his concern that it was headed more towards capitalism than socialism.  He grappled, both in his role as a leading figure in the shaping of the revolutionary Cuban economy and later in Africa and Bolivia, with the problems of the transition from capitalism to socialism, becoming more and more convinced that things in the Soviet Union had taken a wrong turn.

Left in imperialist world

This small book contains many words of wisdom for today’s left, especially those in the imperialist countries who too often turn their noses up at what they see as mere Third World struggles and revolutions, believing that the imperialist countries are the centre of the world and the only ones that really matter.  And, of course, who are blissfully unaware of their imperialist chauvinism and what they’re missing out on.  Certainly every individual on the NZ left should read this.  They will find little gems like (more…)

Today, March 8, is International Working Women’s Day – or what feminists have hijacked into the classless International Women’s Day.  Last month also marked the 100th anniversary of the February 1917 revolution in the Russian Empire, a revolution sparked off by working class women. 

Working class women sparked off the Russian Revolution

by Anne McShane

The centenary of International Working Women’s Day in Petrograd (St Petersburg) in February 1917 is an important moment to take a more critical approach to this history.

Most of us on the left are familiar with the events themselves. In his classic work, The Russian Revolution, Leon Trotsky provides us with a dramatic and inspiring depiction of the uprising in Petrograd – he describes in detail the five glorious days of struggle. How the Petrograd working class rose up in grim determination against the tsarist state. How the strikes, which began on International Working Women’s Day, ostensibly in protest against the war, developed rapidly into a mass movement with the power to oust the imperial regime. How it advanced on the citadels of power, precipitating mutiny after mutiny among the armed forces, as soldiers and Cossacks refused to massacre the workers. In less than a week the centuries-long rule of the tsarist autocracy was routed by the Petrograd working class.

However, it must be admitted that the revolution was premature. There was no party leadership in place and the left, including the Bolsheviks, was caught unawares. The uprising was also confined almost entirely to Petrograd. It has often been described as a purely spontaneous movement – an angry working class letting off steam against the war, conscription and prohibition. But, as Trotsky makes very clear, to argue that the working class of Petrograd were just acting instinctively or in an unconscious way is absurd. Those (often in academic circles) who want to portray it as such are anxious to deny the depth of revolutionary ideas among workers, or their ability to analyse, decide and act on their own behalf. They want to separate off this movement from October and argue that the provisional government and ‘bourgeois democracy’ was the natural conclusion of February. The October revolution is presented as a putsch in contrast to the spontaneity of February. It is more concerning that some on the left also distinguish the two revolutions in the same way. As always, however, reality is a lot more (more…)

paula-bennett-and-bill-english-nzh-and-gettyby Phil Duncan

We are only in the early days of the English-Bennett government, but it still feels we are living under the Key-English government.  Nothing has changed and nor is there likely to be dramatic change.  When Key and National won the 2008 election we were among the very, very few people on the left to make a correct assessment of the incoming regime.

While most of the left continued their pre-election scaremongering that Key was some kind of ideologically-committed new right politician who would pick up where Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson left off, we pointed to the fact that NZ capitalism needed more ‘new right’ economics like it needed a hole in the head, that the Key-English government would be a middle-of-the-road one, and that most of the left were making themselves look both stupid and hysterical with their idiotic denunciations of Key.

As the first term of Key-English drew to a close, with nary a ‘new right’ policy in sight, the crank elements of the left shifted gear and said Key was just trying to lull us all and the attacks would come in the second Key term.  Well, the second Key term came and went too, with nary a glimpse of ‘new right’ economic policy in sight.  For some, the penny began to drop.  Part-way through the third term of Key-English,  Mike Treen, something of a weathervane in terms of the wider non-contemplative left, did actually admit that Key was far from the new right devil he had been painted as.  In fact, as Mike pointed out, some of Key’s policies – borrow and spend during recession – were far more Keynesian than ‘new right’.

Bourgeois economists and political commentators, so often a few steps ahead of ‘the left’, had already noted years before that Key was a highly pragmatic, middle-of-the-road politician.

We, meanwhile, had not only noted that Key-English were not ‘new right’, but that that whole era in NZ had climaxed and petered out years and years ago.  And, as Marxists, we didn’t merely describe – we (more…)

c5dm4cyumaavjed-1by Phil Duncan

Echoing some commentators, Labour is claiming a great win in last Saturday’s by-election in Mt Albert.  The reality is more mundane – and less encouraging for Labour.  Jacinda Ardern, already a high-profile Labour MP, having been a list MP since 2008, won 10,000 votes – less than half the votes won by retiring Labour MP David Shearer less than two-and-a-half years ago in the 2014 general election.  And over 4,000 fewer than National achieved in the party vote in 2014.

National didn’t stand a candidate in the by-election – a fairly sensible decision as this is a Labour constituency seat but one in which National comfortably won the party vote in 2014.  Given that there is no party vote in a by-election, there was absolutely nothing for National to gain by running a candidate.

In 2014 Shearer gained more than double the votes of National candidate Melissa Lee (20,970 to 10,314) but National took the party vote by 14,359 to Labour’s 10,823.  Snapping at Labour’s heels were the Greens with 8,005 party votes.

Mt Albert is one of the seats in which the Greens are prepared to sacrifice their own standing as part of their recent pact with Labour.  This is why the Green candidate registered less than 1,500 votes last Saturday.

However, Labour’s result – (more…)