Ruth, Roger, and Me

Ruth Roger and ME

Ruth Roger and Me, by Andrew Dean

Published by Bridget Williams Books

Reviewed by Kevin Hodder


Ruth, Roger and Me was a bit of a left field media sensation when it came out earlier this year. Andrew Dean, Rhodes scholar at Oxford, is an unlikely voice for the struggling youth of 2015. However, his reflections on the challenges faced by young people today, on growing up in Christchurch and Ashburton, and the impact of the neoliberal policies typified by Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson are poignant and direct. [Read more…]

Nice Work if You Can Get It

don franks nice work

Nice Work if You Can Get It; Notes from a Musician’s Diary

By Don Franks (Steele Roberts, $19.99)


Reviewed by Shomi Yoon


If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to be a fly on the wall of the social functions of the rich and powerful but not be tainted by that experience, then Don Frank’s Notes are  whimsical retellings of being that musician. From playing for the Young Nats, to Piggy Muldoon’s birthday party at a high class Italian restaurant, even to the Police Association, Don has played for the lot. [Read more…]

Call Mr Robeson


Call Mr Robeson

The Moorings, 31 Glenbervie Terrace, Wellington

Until 1st March.

Tickets $18/$14 0800 BUY TIX

Reviewed by Daniel Simpson Beck.

Call Mr. Robeson is written and performed by Tayo Aluko. Through monologue and song, he brings to life the memory of a man who the American ruling class would rather we forgot.

Paul Robeson, born in New Jersey, USA in 1898, was a man who excelled in many different areas; athletics, law, singing, acting and languages to name but a few. He won a scholarship to Rutgers University and was one of only two black students thoughout his four years there. He excelled in his studies and became one of the best footballers of the time. But it was singing and acting, in movies such as Show Boat in 1936, that brought him worldwide fame. He was one of the world’s leading concert singers in the 1930s and 1940s. He starred in Othello in what became and remains the longest-running production of a Shakespeare play on Broadway. So why were his name and achievements omitted from countless books about the history of American musicians and actors? In Call Mr. Robeson we learn that it was his passion for politics that lead the ruling elite to try and obliterate him from the history books. [Read more…]



POATA: SEEING BEYOND THE HORIZON By Tama Te Kapua Poata; edited by Prue Poata (Wellington: Steele Roberts, 2012)

Reviewed by Shomi Yoon

Tama Te Kapua Poata [Ngāti Porou; 1936 – 2005] was born in Tokomaru Bay, on the East Coast. He represents the generation of Māori who migrated into the cities, and continued on to become leaders and fighters in the vanguard of the working class. He was part of all the key struggles of the ‘Māori renaissance’ of the 60s and 70s. He saw the struggle for socialism as synonymous with the struggle for Māori sovereignty.

Poata’s memoir is filled with anecdotes, poems, stories, photos, old newsletters from the struggle and campaigns that he was involved in and led over three decades. As a communist, he was on the front lines of and often the face of struggles that shaped New Zealand from the industrial struggles of the 60s – 70s, to anti-Vietnam war protests, to the Land March of 1975, to antiapartheid protests against the Springbok tour in 1981, and more.  So prominent was his activism that it even caught the eye of former Prime Minister Robert Muldoon who accused him of being New Zealand’s “leading Māori communist”. Poata had actually been expelled from the Communist Party close to a decade earlier.

This memoir is a must read. Behind its conversational tone is a goldmine of insights and experiences, and shows how quickly ideas and assumptions can change in a time of social upheaval and class struggle. There are countless examples of how seemingly fixed ideas like racism can be overcome through the course of the struggle. [Read more…]

Proving a villain: the Bacchanals’ Richard III

RichardIIIRichard III, directed by David Lawrence. Bats Theatre, Wellington, until 31st January.


Reviewed by Dougal McNeill

Stabbings, strangulation, child murder, an earl drowned in a barrel of wine, sword fights, dirty politics, and – naturally – one of the best baddies in the whole of literature: Shakespeare’s Richard III sets out how villainy needs to be done. The Bacchanals’ wonderfully rambunctious and satirical production is a delight. They manage to make the play accessible without patronizing their audience or smoothing off any of the script’s rough edges. This is a text-centred production – and the ‘keen encounter’ of wits on display makes that a pleasure in itself – as well as a physical and fun, almost farcical, performance. Those new, or intimidated, by Shakespeare will find plenty here to entertain them, while existing fans and readers will have their appreciation of the playscript deepened and enriched. [Read more…]

Inequality: A New Zealand Crisis

InequalityGayaal Iddamalgoda reviews Max Rashbrooke (ed.), Inequality: a New Zealand Crisis (Bridget Williams Books, 2013). You can find out more about Inequality here.

The title of this book is a compelling challenge of one of the great myths of New Zealand capitalism; that being, that real poverty and inequality exists elsewhere. It is an honest, clear and easily readable account of the fact that New Zealand has a severe problem of social and economic inequality.

The book is divided into 17 chapters; each chapter is contributed by a different academic or commentator and offers a broad set of perspectives, economic, sociological and political on the facts of inequality in New Zealand. Punctuated between the chapters are a series of ‘viewpoints’ collected by editor and contributor Max Rashbrooke, based on interviews with various people from various walks of life.

The most valuable resource contained in this book is the information it presents to substantiate its claim, that New Zealand is facing a crisis of inequality. [Read more…]

Daniel Bensaïd’s Slow Impatience


Daniel Bensaïd, An Impatient Life, trans. David Fernbach (Verso, 2013)

This absorbing, affecting memoir is a beautiful testament to a richly productive and dignified life. Daniel Bensaïd spent over forty years as a partisan of the revolutionary left in France, writing, campaigning, organising and agitating. Drawn into Communist politics as a young man and then radicalised, along with a significant section of his generation, by anti-colonial struggle abroad and the events of 1968 at home, Bensaïd was a leader and theorist in the Ligue communiste révolutionnaire, a Trotskyist party that emerged, as a libertarian, free-thinking and inventive gathering together of the best of 1968. He represents so much of what is admirable about the militants of his generation. As well as being a fine writer, if David Fernbach’s elegant translation is any indication, Bensaïd was a thoughtful and reflective strategist. Too many memoirs of 1968 grub about in complacent nostalgia; Bensaïd’s interest was always in our possible future.

[Read more…]

Film Review: Spirit of ’45

spirit_of_45_posterThe Spirit of ’45 was a movie centred around the political atmosphere in Britain after World War Two. With the victory over Hitler, British workers felt empowered, and felt they deserved more than the poverty of old Britain. They chose to kick out Churchill and elect Labour for the first time and implemented its radical policies of full employment, free healthcare, good council housing, better health and safety and free education. [Read more…]

Interrogating capitalist democracy


BOOK REVIEW: Brian S. Roper, The History of Democracy: a Marxist Interpretation  (Pluto Press, 2012)

British historian Geoffrey Ste Croix described the struggle for political control over the state as “class struggle on the political plane”. It is a neat formulation that Brian S. Roper effectively deploys to explain the history of Western democracy.

In one short book, he traces the rise and decline of Athenian participatory democracy and the Roman Republic; the rise of capitalism and the breakthroughs of the English, US and French revolutions; the European revolutions of 1848; the revival of participatory democracy in the Paris Commune and the Russian revolutions; and globalisation and the triumph of liberal democracy. He then provides a Marxist critique of the last. [Read more…]

Tui, Tuia: Gathering the threads of working-class history

sewing_freedomBOOK REVIEW: Jared Davidson, Sewing Freedom: Philip Josephs, Transnationalism and Early New Zealand Anarchism (AK Press, 2013)

We first encounter Philip Josephs, subject of Jared Davidson’s engrossing, lovingly-written, richly detailed and passionately political new book Sewing Freedom, as he addresses Wellington’s 1906 May Day demonstration: “This meeting sends its fraternal greetings to our comrades engaged in the universal class war, and pledges itself to work for the abolition of the capitalistic system and the substitution in New Zealand of a co-operative commonwealth, founded on the collective ownership of the land and the means of production and distribution.” This motion, for Davidson, captures the essence of Joseph’s anarchism – it was based in “internationalism, class struggle, and free communism.” [Read more…]