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 Read the rest of this entry »

7311854._UY200_The Imperialism study group is finally getting underway.  We have participants from Ireland, Britain, Spain, Canada, the United States, Australia and NZ.  The first two sessions are being led by Tony Norfield.  Below are his notes for the first session, in which we examine the ‘economic’ aspects of Lenin’s Imperialism: the highest stage of capitalism.  This session is taking place at 9am, Sunday, July 24 (NZ time).   Sorry Australian comrades; it’s going to be very early for you!


The following points are based around Lenin’s arguments in Imperialism, but with the intention of raising questions (and giving my answers to some of these) about what this means for imperialism today. After the more general introduction, my comments discuss the ‘economic’ aspects of imperialism; the ‘politics’ of imperialism is planned for next time.

US factory workers make 76 times as much money per hour as their Indonesian counterparts

US factory workers make 76 times as much money per hour as their Indonesian counterparts


Lenin worked on Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism in early 1916, nearly two years after World War One began. When published, it was subtitled ‘a popular outline’. It is often seen as a political response to the war, rather than a work that has much depth or much theoretical content. But this would be to underestimate two important things. Firstly, that the pamphlet grew out of more than 800 Read the rest of this entry »


Over the next couple of weeks Redline will be bringing you what we consider to be interviews with some really interesting people on subjects from British firefighters and the state of the working class since the Brexit vote; US labour history; radical politics in the United States in ‘the sixties’.  We start off by talking to Paul Embery, a firefighter and London regional organiser in the Fire Brigades Union.  Paul was also the national organiser of Trade Unionists Against the EU.  Please note that Paul’s views are his own – he isn’t speaking officially for the FBU and there are clearly some differences between himself and this blog in terms of Keynesianism, whether austerity has simply been a policy choice or a capitalist necessity and whether any Labour Party, even one which has historically (and unlike the NZ  Labour Party) had a significant left, can act as vehicles for social change.  At the same time, Paul tackles issues which are very relevant to the NZ situation, both in terms of firefighters and the wider working class, its fragmentation, the substantial decline of union density, the divide between public and private sectors workers and much more.  It would be great if people enter into discussion on this interview around all these issues.  Please do think abut saying something in the comments section attached to this article.

13532991_10154908282459688_4108085410397077891_nPhilip Ferguson: A lot of us as kids wanted to be firefighters and ended up taking safer options.  What made you want to be a firefighter?

Paul Embery: I was always playing sport as a kid, and wanted to do something active for a career. When I was 15, my school arranged for students to attend a Careers Convention. The London Fire Brigade had a stall there. I got talking to a couple of firefighters, and they sowed the seed.

Phil: How did you come to get involved in union activity?

Paul: I’d had an interest in trade unionism and politics since I was young. My mum worked for the GMB (one of Britain’s major unions), and my dad, a lorry driver at the time, was shop steward at his workplace. They weren’t politically active, but I have a vague memory from when I was eight of my dad, a Labour man, being angry when he woke up to discover Margaret Thatcher had been re-elected in the 1983 general election. I joined the GMB at 15 when I stacked shelves in a supermarket and was nearly sacked for trying to organise a wildcat strike! I joined the Labour party at 19. Then, when I joined the London Fire Brigade, I was posted to a fire station – Islington – with a great reputation for union activity and organisation.

Clerkenwell3Phil: How has the fire service changed during the time you’ve been in it?

Paul: I joined in 1997, and the service has changed hugely in my time. The role of the firefighter is wider than it has ever been. There is far more emphasis now on fire prevention; it’s no longer just about intervention. We are out and about in the community all the time, educating people about the risks of fire, fitting smoke alarms in homes and so on. Changing threats – such as different types of terror attacks – mean that firefighters have acquired wider skills and work with a new range of equipment. Major floodings are becoming more frequent, with firefighters always in the front line. There’s even talk of changing the term ‘firefighter’ to reflect the fact that much of our work is no longer Read the rest of this entry »

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for Irish citizens and/or Irish passport holders: https://www.gofundme.com/socialistrepublic


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for non-Irish: you can’t actually donate to the party, but you can shop at the éirígí online store: http://www.siopaeirigi.org/
Further reading:

Building the Irish revolutionary movement

Ireland: the class struggle is the source of the national struggle

Building an alternative movement in Ireland: interview with eirigi national chairperson Brian Leeson

And check out éirígí TV: https://www.youtube.com/user/eirigi

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 Read the rest of this entry »

41408-ffmThe piece below was first written for The Spark newspaper back in 2006.  We re-run it here as Douglas is speaking in Chirstchurch later this month on the relationship between trade unions and Labour and thee has been some discussion of Douglas and this meeting on a union facebook page. The piece here was a review of the television programme Ken Douglas – Traitor or Visionary (TV1, Saturday, June 17th, 2006).  I stand by the arguments in the 2006 article and am able to provide factual reports relating to all the struggles it refers to.

by Don Franks

In the words of its producers, this program ‘attempts to answer the question: did Douglas betray ( his ) socialist beliefs  and trade union principles to kowtow to the employers; or is he a man of great integrity and vision, who understood how the world was changing in the 20th century?’

In fact, the programme was centred on the personal, at the expense of the politics. Much time was devoted to the doings of Ken’s alcoholic mother, his schooldays and his talents at ballroom dancing. Later in the show viewers learnt of Ken’s golf, his extra-marital affairs and his battles with obesity. The connecting theme was Ken’s rough diamond personality. The show presented  a folksy image bolstered by interviews with Ken’s former union colleague Peter Harris and National MP (and former minister of Labour) Max Bradford. If this programme was to be their only source of information, viewers would see a hard-case battler, honest, realistic, getting what are probably the best possible deals for workers. Maybe not quite a visionary, but at the very least, an honest joker doing his best for the lads.

Such personal frames of reference don’t properly assess political people like Ken Douglas. An ambitious union functionary who rose to key positions of leadership, Douglas was also a lifelong self-described communist. In sum, a person who’s chosen to assume huge responsibilities to the working class.

To see how Douglas actually handled his chosen responsibilities requires more than an appraisal of his personality, although persona was always an important part of his manoeuvring. His Read the rest of this entry »

downloadThe following was the editorial in the May 1 workplace bulletins of the American left-wing workers group The Spark:

At the end of March, lawmakers in the two biggest states, California and New York, bragged that they were increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour for more than nine million low-wage workers. Democrats and a few Republicans, along with top union leaders, called these new laws victories and breakthroughs.

Of course, when you are working a minimum-wage job, ANY increase is better than none. And, compared to the current $10 an hour minimum in California and $9 in New York, $15 an hour might not look bad.

But it’s not what it looks like.

No one gets a raise until Read the rest of this entry »