Christchurch workers’ forum: Marx in the 21st Century

November 19, 2008


For many years, official pundits proclaimed ‘the death of Marxism’.  Marx and his ideas were a curio, possibly of some relevance in the 19th century but completely outmoded today, we were often told.

The current woes in the banking and finance sector, however, have led to a renewed interest in Marx in the First World.  At the same time, revolutionary developments in Venezuela and Nepal suggest that Marx retains relevance for people in the Third World struggling for liberation

Come along to this month’s Workers Forum and hear two prominent union and political activists address the subject and join in the discussion.


Tim Bowron (national organiser, Workers Party)

Paul Piesse (president, Alliance Party)

7pm, Monday, November 24

WEA (Workers Educational Assn)

59 Gloucester Street

Nature vs Nurture – genes vs environment

November 19, 2008

Talk given by Daphna Whitmore at the Marxism Conference in Auckland, June 2008

Every week a new gene is supposedly found for something. This week New Scientist has a headline: They’ve discovered the gene for religion. Dig a little and it’s clear that the claims are grossly inflated. Well, it turns out they haven’t quite found a gene for religion after all, but postulated it exists. The theory is based on a computer programme that predicts that if a small number of people have a genetic predisposition to pass along unverifiable information, that religion will flourish. And this passes for science somehow!

The popular notions of what genes do are interesting.

I caught part of a programme on TV a few weeks ago. It was about people’s behaviours and their sex lives. The participants were asked to record how many times a day they had a sexual thought. The results were a little mixed, but one male had a huge number of sexual thoughts, another male had a moderate number which was about the same as one of the women and one woman had very few. It was a small sample of only about 4 people, so not the most rigorous scientific study. The conclusion drawn by the programme narrator was that “men think about sex more than women, and this is because in evolutionary terms this is an advantage. A woman once pregnant gains nothing from further copulation, whereas a man can keep spreading his genes around to great evolutionary advantage.”

This sort of theorizing is rather typical these days. Yet in the sample there was as much difference between the two men as there was between one man and one woman. But hey, we all know that humans are driven by the need to spread their genes, don’t we? So how do we explain that bizarre anti-evolutionary practice of contraception?

The trouble with many of the crude genetic explanations is that they come about through a series of assumptions and are deeply coloured by social and historical context.

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Two tactics of trade unionism in the face of global economic downturn

November 18, 2008

- Tim Bowron and Nick Kelly



Photos: ANEF (Chile)

On Monday November 17 over 400 000 public sector workers in Chile began an indefinite nationwide strike demanding a 14.5% pay increase to combat spiralling inflation (9.9% in the last year alone) and the rising cost of living. This was in response to the refusal of the centre-left “Concertación” government of Michelle Bachelet to significantly revise its original 5% wage offer since a 48 hour strike by public sector workers last week.

Meanwhile here in New Zealand where workers are also currently faced with a decline in real wages as well as the prospect of mass redundancies, the Public Servants Association has put out a grovelling press statement praising the incoming National government for its willingness to “engage” with them and offering to provide “constructive suggestions” to National’s promised review of government expenditure:

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November 18, 2008
After committing to scrapping the ban on thermal generation and reviewing the ETS, John Key has discussed carbon tax as a market alternative. An adoption from the Greens, this policy would continue Key’s move to the centre. Overseas, it has been applied as a direct tax, affecting the pockets of road-users. The Workers Party opposes all measures that punish the consumer, as with GST, tax on cigarettes and the proposed levy on plastic bags.

More degradation occurs at production than consumption, and consumers have little influence over production. We must change the mode of production itself, so that it serves need rather than profit.

No illusions or delusions

November 17, 2008


The Workers Party has been rationally assessing the two main political parties for many years. This cartoon appeared with an article in The Spark February 2007 on the similarities between Labour and National.

Whereas a considerable section of the left had illusions in Labour and delusions about National, our analysis has proved to be sound.

Go Wellington versus environmental justice

November 16, 2008


-Ian Anderson

The conduct of Go Wellington demonstrates the struggle between capitalism and environmental justice.

 Environmental justice refers not only to environmental impact, but the full participation of those affected. ‘Sustainability’ is the current buzzword amongst politicians, generally meaning the capacity of capitalist practices to dodge points-of-no-return for environmental reproduction. However, working people are disproportionately affected both by environmental degradation and capitalist solutions; as phrased by Karl Marx, “Capitalist production [works] by simultaneously undermining the original sources of all wealth — the soil and the worker.”

Public transport is often touted as a solution, with companies such as Go Wellington subsidised by local government. This approach is insufficient, primarily serving capitalist ends. Resources must be managed in service of human and environmental need, rather than profit.

 One line currently popular amongst politicians goes, ‘You don’t have to choose between sustainability and profit.’ In fact, green practices can increase profit; avoiding waste cuts costs, and there are enormous PR advantages to going green.

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Standing up for socialist ideas

November 15, 2008

The Spark November 2008

The Workers Party is primarily an organisation of activists who fight for workers’ interests on jobs and in the streets. We recognise that the struggle for workers’ rights and workers’ power mostly takes place outside of parliament. Taking mass actions against an employer offers workers more chance of controlling their destiny than voting. However, parliamentary elections provide a chance to raise alternative ideas, and socialists should make use of the opportunity. The reports below show some of the initiatives taken by the Workers Party in the 2008 general election. You can see that we got stuck in and stood up for socialist ideas without mincing our words. If you like the look of our approach, why not join us and help make the socialist voice even louder in 2011!

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The Greens and their left-wing friends

November 14, 2008

-John Moore

At a recent election meeting at the University of Auckland, the prominent anarchist Omar Hamed of the Auckland Anarchist Network presented “an anarchist view on elections” but then admitted he would be voting for the Greens. This was a good example of how the left-wing friends of what is increasingly a party of the establishment must construct a false reality to justify their misfit between theory and practice. Like Christian obscurantists who, despite mounting evidence, continue to present their creationist themes, anti-capitalists who present the Greens as some form of progressive force not only obscure the facts but present an overwhelmingly deceptive image of reality.

The political nature of the Greens
To discover the truth of what the Green Party is all about, who better to go to than its fresh new leader. Russel Norman, a former anti-capitalist associated with the Democratic Socialist Party of Australia, has made explicit his desire not just to save the planet but to save the capitalist system. He has compared the role of the modern-day Greens to that of social democrats of the 1930s who introduced counter-measures against capitalism’s self-destructive tendencies.
In a revealing blog posting in 2007 on Frogblog, Russel Norman presented his thesis on the role of the Greens:

It’s a funny position we find ourselves in. Just as the social democrats (Europe), labourists (UK, Australia, NZ) and new dealers (US) of the 1930s and 1940s had to save capitalism from its own destructive tendencies by introducing a range of modifications and interventions on the market system, so now the Green Parties of the world find ourselves in possibly a similar position. The best of the old social democrats like Michael Cullen are too locked in the old paradigm to understand it, and the sectional interests like the business roundtable and Employers Federation are too narrow to see it, but we have to intervene in the market system to place a price on resource use and pollution so that we can save the planet. And in the process we will quite possibly save the market system from its natural tendency to destroy or consume all resources leading to its own demise as well as the demise of the planet and all of us living on it.

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Much of the left crying wolf over Nats

November 12, 2008

- Philip Ferguson

One thing the election and the days since have confirmed is the inability of many on the left to make a sober analysis based on reality and, in particular, the way in which bourgeois politics is related to the economy and how bourgeois politics is centrally concerned with the maintenance of conditions such as social stability which are necessary to the operations of the market. Instead much of the left has cried wolf about the new government, seeing it as a re-run of the 1984-1993 period of ‘new right’ dominance. John Key makes acceptance speech

For instance, the headline on the Socialist Aotearoa blog is “RESISTING THE NAT-ACT JUNTA- What is to be done?” Does the author of that piece really believe that we are about to be ruled by a “junta”? Are they unable to distinguish between bourgeois democracy and military dictatorship? If they are able to make the distinction why use terminology that bears no relation to the reality and simply misleads and misorients people?

Although, in the context of a worsening economic situation, there would certainly have to be attacks on the working class, Key is not creating a junta of any kind. In fact, he appears to not even be creating a National-ACT coalition but opting for Clark’s own strategy - a minority government with ministers out of cabinet from what he sees as both the ‘left’ (Maori Party) and ‘right’ (ACT) and support on confidence and supply. The temptation for the Maori Party to go for this will likely be pretty substantial, as Key and co. well know. This was apparent before the election - and was reiterated by Key on Saturday night, by Matthew Hooton on ‘Eye to Eye’ on Sunday morning, by Key again on TV on Sunday night and Monday night. In fact, Key even wants to talk with the Greens. (Since this was written on Monday 11 November, things have moved along further with the Maori Party.) Read the rest of this entry »

How capitalists get their profit

November 12, 2008

-John Edmundson

(The Spark, November 2008)

With the financial turmoil dominating the news over the last two months, commentators are talking about the end of the free market. Some panicked commentators have even questioned the survival of capitalism itself. With capitalism in a state of panic and all sorts of people in the media suddenly talking about Marx, it does seem to be a good time to look at what Marx had to say about capitalism that made his ideas so resilient. karl-marx

What concerned Marx was the fact that while there were a lot of critics of capitalism active in his day, there had been no scientific analysis of how capitalism worked, so socialist projects were idealist and unable to gain much traction. Marx decided to start at the most basic level of economic production, the commodity, to discover how and why capitalism seemed to be so productive yet also so prone to crisis.

Picking up where earlier political economists had left off, Marx showed that the key to understanding the economy was the production of commodities - goods or services produced for sale. The one thing that all commodities have in common is human labour. Assuming people work at an average pace (which Marx called “socially necessary labour time”), eight hours of shoemaking is equivalent to eight hours of farming or eight hours of weaving. If I work for eight hours making shoes, I can buy goods to the value of eight hours’ labour (using a special commodity - money). If those goods are enough to feed and clothe me, I will do that labour every day to replace my used-up labour power. Read the rest of this entry »


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