Monday, July 31, 2017

Crisis in the New Zealand Left.

The abysmal polling of Labour at the weekend, barely clearing 26% of the vote, followed today by the resignation of Andrew Little as leader, shows a party in terminal decline. The caucus has no discipline, the factions plot against each other, and non entity after non entity gets thrust before the poison chalice of "leadership".

Vacuous rebrandings, cautious timidity, and a lack of boots on the ground for the issues that are crucifying working people, make toast of the "Fresh Approach" (TM) that is stale as last months bread. The focus group that decided on the latest rebrand must have been well aware that Approach drips of caution, but we dont need caution- we need a head long attack, a War on Poverty, not on the poor.

Abroad, the Left rises in many countries, not only inspired by dedicated veteran leadership, but also by substance- by a rediscovery of Socialist politics. It has become crystal clear that the NZ Labour Party is in terminal crisis, and those who thought it was a reformable vehicle that could be won back to some golden age social democratic mission see nothing but smoking ruins.

Now more than ever, we need a Socialist alternative in Aotearoa- one that fights the evictions, holds the picket lines, and begins the hard work of building a real left alternative in each local community.

Join us for a Socialist Forum on the Crisis in the NZ Left this Thursday 7pm at Unite Union, 6a Western Springs Road, Morningside.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Must Watch Movie- Brave New World.

Having been sick in bed with the flu for the past 2 weeks, I amused myself with some movie distractions. My first one is the 1980 movie version of “Brave New World”. This is originally a sci-fi novel originally written by British author Aldous Huxley in 1932 in the middle of the great depression, about a dystopian future earth society set in London 500 odd years in the future.

Unfortunately it’s dated as movies were in those days before modern cinema. Compounded by the characters being shallow without much personality which is obviously part of the story. But it’s nevertheless a well told story about a man named Thomas who is the assistant director of the hatching and conditioning department, who travels from an advanced “civilized” society with a woman (Linda), on holiday to a New Mexico Indian reservation (called savageland as its uncivilized). While there Linda falls off a cliff and being presumed dead is left behind. Years later an awkward semi-outcast boy (Bernard ) on a similar holiday to the same place with a woman (Lenina), finds Linda and Lindas son John. John was born on the reservation to Thomas the man Linda went on holiday with. All four travel back to civilized London. At first John is curious and in awe of the new place/world that is technologically much more advanced, but then is repulsed by it. After starting an unsuccessful riot in a drug dispensing room John agrees with the Leader/controller of the area to go to an isolated island. But he becomes a sideshow as people come to stare at him and ends up hanging himself.

How could such an advanced society that had eliminated birth, sickness, doctors, hunger, senility, hard work, poverty and wealth inequality be so repulsed by John? Because it was a heavily controlled totalitarian society that had also eliminated the concept of "parents" and "couples", music, movies and books, free thought, questioning and emotional expressions especially love. In addition to this, everyone is on multiple daily doses of a drug called Soma to combat the alienation, boredom and lack of freedom and be happy with it. No one in the society could see how wrong it is. While there were a few unfulfilled citizens (Bernard and Hemholtz), it took someone from outside (John) to see how wrong and inhuman this future society had become. Which poses two trick or enigma questions - is it better to be drugged and happy but not free or free but not happy as John was and secondly, what is freedom? This theme is repeated in the movie ”Matrix” by the traitor Cypher who says “ignorance is bliss" when he justifies his decision to betray his friends and reenter the Matrix. All three of course get banished to “free” islands of their choice. On these islands they are not run by London’s advanced civilized state and you are allowed to read any books poetry and think and discuss and do whatever you like. But John is said to be unable to either go to back to the reservation or a free island as he knows too much. His questioning nature is too ingrained in him, implying he is untrainable/unbrainwashable and needs be isolated . This implies that those on free islands aren’t that free which raises the other question of what is freedom?

The society Huxley has envisaged in brave new world is unlike most modern movie depicted dystopian societies, as most, except for the movie “Gattaca”, show dystopian societies as controlled by terror. Whereas brave new world citizens are merely controlled by brainwashing and hiding of truth. They also combine this with a daily dosage of soma which placates their depression and misery and questioning, creating a “stable state” all the while monitored by alpha stability monitors.

While there is no story as to how society got to where it is in the movie, and it’s not clear what exact type of economy brave new world is, I think it’s a combination of Capitalism, Fascism and Stalinism. Huxley obviously disliked authoritarianism /totalitarianism system of which communism had come to be under stalin by that time. The movie is littered with references to Russian communism with one of the main characters called Bernard Marx referencing Karl Marx the writer of the communist manifesto, and another called Lenina referencing Vladimir Lenin one of the major players of the Russian revolution. The egg splitting/fertilization assembly line process was given a Russian sounding name. The riot police are called solidarity forces. Huxley just as obviously didn’t like the capitalist system and where it may end up and took it to its logical conclusion in his book. There is no distinction between the state and private business, and there is no mention of profit or buying and selling , possibly another reference to communism. But Part of the alpha graduation film is “which has given us the perfect endless assembly line for more things, for more wants, in perfect balance for more wants, for more things”, this being a right wing saying that there is no distinction between needs and wants and everything has a price and is for sale at a price. Further this is continued in the main reinforced goal of the society to be efficient at producing and consuming. Consuming and consumer products being a capitalist ideology and method of obtaining profit.

In the brave new world society they worship Henry Ford . The western controller is called your Fordship. They have a radiator grill from a Ford Model T as a podium stand in alphas induction room, where as part of the graduation they say “of sanctified life thoughts and holy works of our ford whose divine inspiration came the “. There’s a Ford monument. Everyone in a higher position is called sir. Their symbol when they meet is a crossing similar to the old catholic sign of the cross reminiscent of a army master/subordinate salute supposedly from the model T. The ultimate assembly line is used to remove human ovary eggs and split and fertilize them with a process called Bokanovsky's process to make up to 93 identical humans . These babies are given shock treatment to learn to hate nature and books to keep them in the city to help reinforce producing and consuming. There is an emotional engineering institute. There's no art or poetry, instead being replaced by short jingles which are propaganda carefully written to not alter ideas and status quo.

In real life Henry Ford invented the assembly line and revolutionized production with his model T in 1913 and was also a fascist and big admirer of Hitler. Even selling and supplying motors and other parts to Hitler’s war effort, thou that came after the book was written as Hitler hadn’t been elected to parliament in 1932. In brave new world embryos are assigned a future role in society and educated to that level creating distinct classes of humans and roles with different knowledge, ie a class system which is a strong element of fascism. Being divided into alphas (top class), beta, delta , epsilon (workers). The brainwashing is blatantly evident in the screening of the short film on ford’s history to alpha graduates being given as a synto culture lecture “ as select alphas conditioned to believe without knowing and to know without believing you have been chosen to view the surrogate revelations”

Huxley postulated god is eliminated by science and soma and to a lesser extent substitution of Ford by eliminating the need for the comfort of god and that the brave new world scenario is possible .

Huxley was a pacifist and a humanist which tend to go together, and basically means we should be nicer to each other and offer no violence - both fatal flaws of democratic parties in a world controlled by money power and violence . This may be what gave his story a non violent control aspect.

My conclusion is, that I think capitalism will never reach utopia where class war is eliminated to any extent to produce such a society that could be merely controlled by brainwashing, science and drugs because capitalism is too exploitative and unstable. Brave new world is a satire that is still applicable to modern society where govt uses terrorism and other scaremongering tactics to install itself as desired and necessary by the voting public all the while limiting freedom as voters who are workers produce more for less wages and consume endlessly. Meanwhile voters lap up unquestioningly, the lies and mistruths told at the govt education system - the schools . This is carried on by the media and government itself . With not only drugs but also religion, music, TV, video games, celebrities and consuming, distracting the citizens and voters into a self reinforced coma to live their lives and carry on voting producing and consuming as powerless individuals. Its foreseeable in the future that corporations and government who are already dangerously too big, get to where big corporations who already direct and manipulate government policy, simply just become government in the future.

Huxley’s riot squad is extremely prophetic – given that its method is to simply play calming music and speech over loud speakers and spray the pacifying happy drug soma in the air to rioters. The A riots only started by drugged out workers who prefer the drug to reality, because John destroys their current day’s dose. A very astute telling of society 500 years in the future when you can already see that today humans are acting like trained, subdued wild horses or dogs with the fight gone out of them compared to huxley’s time when by protesting, striking and fighting most of the population had just won workers and voters rights from the capitalists and the government that we still mostly enjoy today.

I am puzzled thou by the fact that huxley living in a time having just been thru a big economic bubble and large amount of hedonism and then a crash and in the grip of the world’s biggest depression when the book is written, does not mention it in the story as part of a possible future. I can only conclude that not having read Marx, Huxley failed to see the inherent problems of capitalism and perhaps didn’t attribute the great depression to capitalism, but only assigned other minor or symptomatic problems to capitalism to be solved ?

Thou not covered in the book, in a 1958 interview in north america where Huxley had moved, he described the citizens in brave new world controlled by a drug called soma. But he thought in future autocratic societies, citizens would be controlled not by terror by say Hitler or by drugs, but in order for dictators to preserve power indefinitely, dictators would need to get consent of the ruled by propaganda. Huxley thought the biggest danger to democracy was that democracy depends on intelligent and rational choice for voters enlightened self interest. He thought that propaganda bypasses this by persuading voters to vote for a candidate we don’t know, persuaded below level of choice and reason. This would bypass the rational mind and get citizens to like their slavery, appealing to their subconscious and deeper emotion, happy with their new slavery all the while they ought not to be, and therefore by passing democracy. He was of course talking about the propaganda of political parties which was just emerging, and in that way political campaigns merchandised themselves as if soap or toothpaste, using recent examples saying it would only get greater (worse). And it has come to be today.

While Huxley still thought the brave new world scenario would come to North America, he had no answer for its coming. His quote “It is a bit embarrassing to have been concerned with the human problem all one's life and find at the end that one has no more to offer by way of advice than try to be a little kinder” tells us, like others, while he knew of Marx, he remained ignorant to it as he hadn’t read or understood it. Yet he knew the answer to the brave new world happening would be to break society down into smaller parts of decentralization. Which is a very Marxist view and goal of a possible outcome of a workers revolution and that is to eliminate the class war and thereby make government smaller and even redundant.

Malcolm-Daniel Freeman SA
Brave New World 1980 Directed by Burt Brinckerhoff based on Aldous Huxley's 1932 novel of the same name.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

New Zealand General Election 2017 and Temporary Migrants

This year’s general election is a very strange affair in some respects and yet majority of the on goings are not unexpected at all. The anti-immigrant rhetoric that most political parties are employing is not only spreading racism against migrants but it has also deepened a division between well settled migrants and migrants on temporary visas. Such ploys are the norm for right wing neo-liberal parties but it is quite shocking to see the ‘left wing’ parties sing to the same tune.

Like most countries on this globe we live in a capitalist economy. To put it very simply the capitalist model’s primary goal is continuous growth of profit. All other forms of growth under this model are secondary, sometimes a by-product, and not necessarily a strategic part of the plan. In order to increase profit on an ongoing basis while competing aggressively, cost cuts are necessary for capitalism to thrive. In the process there has been and always will be exploitation of natural resources, environment and labour to say the least.

My focus in analysing the current political environment in New Zealand is labour in the form of migrant workers, particularly those currently in New Zealand on temporary visas.

The fact that thousands of migrant workers have been brought in year after year under the guise of world class education that could lead to permanent residence (as advertised by government websites), the fact that the English language requirements for studying in New Zealand are abolished when the vulnerable migrant labour pool needs to be flooded, the fact that we have a system of bonded labour by tying migrant worker’s visa to their employer and allowing exploitation to flourish, the fact that international students can be deported for being victims of fraud committed by immigration agents that the government refuses to license because it is too expensive to do so, the fact that the government provides no protection to whistleblowing migrant workers in exploitative situations, the fact that there’s only about 60 Labour Inspectors for the entire country, the fact that exploiting employers can wind up and open shop under different names and the fact that the government allows the wages and working conditions to be driven down for all workers in New Zealand by allowing sub-human treatment of migrant workers is enough to conclude that the ruling National party sides with the rich minority and not the majority working class (residents and migrants) that struggles to make ends meet.

The remaining right wing parties like NZ First, ACT, United Future and others are just varying shades of blue on either side of National and therefore don’t require further elaboration here.

Historically migrants have generally voted for the Labour party that is currently in opposition. However, that may not be the case in the upcoming election given that Labour managed to create an anti-Chinese sentiment by releasing a ‘report’ about the Auckland housing market back in 2015. The election policies announced by Labour mention tightening of rules for foreign property speculators to buy existing houses. The foreign speculators will then be allowed to buy new houses built under a Labour government? The policies do not include clear statement about houses are for living in and the owner must live in the house they own i.e. one family/person equals one house. Plenty of rich New Zealanders have also used houses as an investment. What will happen to them under a Labour government? Labour’s Fiscal Plan released few days ago is about budget responsibilities, the document looks very corporatised and is not easy to follow for a lay person. Workers don’t need to be blinded with gloss, they simply need to know if they will be uplifted enough to make ends meet. But Labour promises to increase the legal minimum wage to $16.50 per hour and then to two thirds of average wage when economic conditions allow. That could be never if it does not suit the ledger. Under Labour the living wage would only be for ‘core government employees and overtime for contractors to government agencies’. Why not pay all workers at least a living wage? Contractors to government agencies? That translates into Labour will continue to support privatisation.

And now in the race for vote grabbing Labour has once again proven to be anti-immigrant by announcing a severely reduced quota of migration into New Zealand should they form government. The reason being that the infrastructure cannot cope with recent migration of approximately 70,000 per year. The present government has certainly not invested in the infrastructure at the required rate. Nett migration has always been controlled and known to the government. Therefore the problem lies with the government’s inability or lack of will to fix the issue and not the migrants themselves. Let’s suppose cutting nett migration to low numbers (20,000 to 30,000 as suggested by Labour) would alleviate problems such as housing shortage, traffic congestion etc. in the near future. But that is a number for the future, what about the migrants already here on temporary visas? Temporary migrants who have invested all they have financially, emotionally and socially face a dim future. These workers have contributed to New Zealand economy heavily through international student fees, income tax and general living costs. On average each international student spends about $30,000 per year making up approximately $5bn export industry. Hospitality, tourism, farming and building industries are also heavily reliant on temporary migrant workers. It would be much more sensible for Labour to keep hold of these migrant workers permanently and strengthen their rights instead of replacing them with another set of vulnerable migrant workers like National plans to.

There is a glimmer of hope among the atmosphere of despondency and disillusionment. The Green party announced their election policies last week. All benefits will be increased by 20%, beneficiaries will be able to work longer hours without taking a cut to their benefit, minimum wage will increase to 17.75 per hour next year and will keep increasing until it is 66% of average wage by 2020, income above $150,000 per year will be taxed at 40%, removal of all financial sanctions on beneficiaries, no intrusive interrogation of sole parents by WINZ. For migration the Greens will increase the refugee quota to 5000 being the highest compared to all other parties so far and there will be no cap on ‘sustainable migration’ for all other categories. While in absolute terms these policies are not radical or revolutionary, but relatively speaking the Greens have announced the most positive, progressive and easy to grasp changes for the working class should they be in government. Despite the fact that the Greens’ policies do not address the settlement of migrant workers in New Zealand on temporary visas, we should be positive about the Greens’ leftward move. Should Labour form a government after 23 September we expect the Greens to keep travelling further Left and pulling Labour along with them.

As the temporary migrants have no voting rights, it is up to the rest of us to take their concerns further this election. It is also the responsibility of more settled migrants to take under their wing the newly arrived fellow workers and migrants.

Anu Kaloti
Migrant Workers Association of Aotearoa

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Must watch movie- Spirit of '45 by Ken Loach

This insightful 2013 documentary about the birth of Britain’s welfare state, by left-wing moviemaker Ken Loach, is both uplifting and depressing at the same time. Inspirational in that Britain’s post-war Labour reforms were nothing short of revolutionary: visionary social democracy at its finest. Depressing because of how far our own Labour party has strayed from these ‘for the many, not the few’ principles.
In 1945 Britain’s returning troops were hailed as wartime heroes… yet they marched back from the horrors of battle to the horrors of working-class life. Lice-infested tenements, overcrowding, hunger, mass unemployment, disease, a bleak existence all round. Against this background, Labour leader Clement Attlee swept to a landslide victory in the 1945 elections on the promise of, among other welfare reforms, a free health service for all (the NHS); public ownership of the railways, mines and banks; and a massive social housing programme. Miners actually wept when they heard of Labour’s victory. To know that no longer was profit to come before health and safety (at the time a miner had an average life expectancy of 42) was like a beautiful miracle. As one ex-miner told The Guardian: “We owed trillions to the Americans at the end of the war, we had nothing, but we said ‘knickers to the debt’. We are going to put this country back on its feet.”
Think of it. Here was a country that was financially and physically devastated. Slum housing was rife, and many cities suffered severe bomb damage. And yet the government undertook a massive house building programme. The political will was there to do so. Tens of thousands of homes were thrown up speedily, to house the poor. Sure, many were prefabs and intended as temporary housing (even though some remain to this day) – but the point is that it was accepted that housing was a priority, no matter the financial difficulties. As was free access to health and education, regardless of a person’s income or social background. It was a given that ordinary people had to come first.
As we head towards another election, we need to bear this historic precedent in mind. Our own Labour Party’s response to people living in garages and cars and most working class people barely able to afford their rent, never mind their own home? Cut down on migration. Scapegoating migrants is pathetic – not to mention anti-working class - at best, dangerous at worst.
We’re told that solving the housing problem is complicated. So much energy goes into explaining why we can’t meet the need. Yes, it isn’t straightforward. We need to launch widespread apprenticeship schemes so we have the tradespeople, and to relax some of the red tape around building among other things. But it is possible. There are many models in Europe and Scandinavia of affordable, safe, medium density developments built of sustainable materials and that foster community interaction. But first and foremost we need the political will. What we need is a return to solid socialist principles, where the wealth of a nation is measured on how well we treat ordinary people, on how well the most vulnerable are cared for.
The Spirit of 45 is about precisely that. Download it. Watch it. Then put it on a USB and send it to Andrew Little.
Review by Maria SA.