Rebel Lives: Walter Benjamin

benjaminBy Andrew Raba

Walter Benjamin was a German-Jewish writer who was born in Berlin in 1892 to a wealthy family with a background in banking and antiques trading. In 1912 he enrolled at university where he studied philosophy and developed a lifelong interest in Romantic literature and poetry. It was also at university that Benjamin first encountered the ideology of Zionism; a feature of Jewish political life that he had been sheltered from by his liberal upbringing. Benjamin arrived at a position which valued and promoted the spiritual depth and cultural value of Judaism whilst rejecting Zionist politics. His commitment to the reality of spiritual Judaism would remain a central feature through his life and writing. Then, in 1924, Benjamin made two discoveries that profoundly affected his philosophical and political thought. The discovery of Lukács’s History and Class Consciousness (1923) and his introduction to Bolshevism via the Latvian theatre director and Bolshevik Asja Lācis, led him to place Communism and later historical materialism at the centre of his thought.        [Read more…]

Should workers in Britain vote to Leave the EU?

Geldof Farage

The unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable: racist buffoon Nigel Farage of UKIP smirking for a Leave, and Bob Geldof and sundry Hooray Henrys and Henriettas braying for Remain

by Martin Gregory

The referendum on Britain’s continued membership of the EU takes place on Thursday 23 June. Aotearoa has been touched by the referendum in a couple of ways. Winston Peters has not hesitated to give the British the benefit of his advice. Rightwing, anti-immigrant populist that he is, Peters is for a Brexit. On Saturday 18 June this country’s news media widely reported an interview given to TV3 by the right-wing, anti-immigrant, ex-Tory Nigel Farage, the head of the UK Independence Party (UKIP). Farage said Commonwealth people such as New Zealanders will benefit from easier emigration to Britain if it leaves the EU. He argued that at present, under the EU, New Zealand migrants are disadvantaged by competition with southern and eastern Europeans to whom Britain’s borders are open. What Farage means by New Zealanders and the Commonwealth is, of course, the “kith and kin” White Commonwealth and those within it who can prove their descent from Britons. [Read more…]

French workers rise up against attacks on labour rights

demonstration in France

Clément is a university professor in Paris.  He is 32 years old and has been an activist in the New Anticapitalist Party (NPA) since it was founded in 2009.  He responds to the ISO’s questions on about the social movement against the labour law in France.

Translation was provided by Brittany Travers and Cory Anderson.

What is the code du travail and what significance does it have for French workers?

The “code du travail” (labour code), is a document that brings together the legal regulations governing the rights and duties of employers and employees. It is an important legal tool that offers workers special protection against their employers.

Obviously, the labour code isn’t a “gift” offered by just any enlightened, generous government. It was won with the sweat, tears and sometimes the blood of workers. It reached its first draft in 1910, due to large strikes that were repressed in 1906 and 1908. Since its genesis, the labour code is in a constant state of evolution. It is the culmination of more than a century of social struggle.

The labour code has always been the object of attack by employers. Today, these attacks are largely played out by the media, the right and François Hollande’s government (which still claims to be left). The labour code is allegedly ‘too outdated,’ ‘too complicated’, ‘too restrictive’ for employers who need more ‘flexibility’ – even for the workers who would apparently like to have the ‘freedom’ to work more.

But this propaganda does not take hold of the minds of most workers, and the labour code is still perceived to be one of our most important social gains. [Read more…]

Challenging war and racism after Paris

Vos Guerres Nos Morts

Your wars – our dead. Image from the New Anticapitalist Party in France.

[A statement by the ISO-US]

THE CRIMINAL slaughter of innocent people in Paris by gunmen and suicide bombers acting for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is being seized upon by the forces of militarism, empire and the anti-immigrant right. They want to exploit the outpouring of horror and shock over the ISIS attacks to widen the ongoing wars in the Middle East, block the tide of desperate refugees to Europe and elsewhere, and strengthen the national security state at the expense of civil liberties and democratic rights.

The International Socialist Organization expresses its utmost opposition to the cruel violence and reactionary politics of ISIS, and to the drive by the U.S. government and its European allies to inflict more suffering through stepped-up wars and repression–the very policies that created the conditions for ISIS’s rise. [Read more…]

Guy Fawkes: Myth and Reality

guyfawkes_1401691aRemember, remember, the fifth of November, Gunpowder Treason and Plot. I see no reason why Gunpowder Treason should ever be forgot.

We all know these words. For centuries they’ve been handed down through the generations, first as a nursery rhyme sung by English children, and more recently popularised by the film ‘V for Vendetta’. David Lloyd, the artist behind the original graphic novel, has written that the Guy Fawkes mask his character wore has become “a common brand and a convenient placard to use in protest against tyranny”, and a quick glance around the world today reveals widespread use of it in everything from Anonymous to the Occupy movement.

The tale of Guy Fawkes and his attempt to blow up Parliament remains an integral part of our culture, and one at times associated with revolution and social change… but has this always been the case? And do we truly remember all that we should about the fifth of November? [Read more…]

Who’s to blame for the Greek tragedy?

11214058_10153448063423637_1745574257028690087_nby Ben Hillier

Unpayable debts, a catastrophic economic depression and teetering on the brink total collapse. How did Greece get into this position?

The most popular answer is that public spending has been too high, and the government sector bloated. It sounds plausible when the entire story revolves around debt. After all, everyone knows that debt is the result of spending more than you earn. Yet it isn’t so straightforward.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development noted in 2011: “Greece has one of the lowest rates of public employment among OECD countries, with general government employing just 7.9 percent of the total labour force in 2008 … Across the OECD area, the share of government employment [averages] 15 percent.” [Read more…]