A new decade begins in crisis

US kills Iran’s Qasem Soleimani in Air Strike. CREDIT: AP Iraqi Prime Minister’s Office

Trump’s assassination of Iran’s top general Qasem Soleimani by drone strike at a civilian airport, has caused an uproar and may lead to a regional war, with Iran striking back at US Military bases in the region. Every detail that comes out in this crisis is more shocking than the last. But focusing on the madness of the Trump circus and prelude to war means that the important movements for popular power and against sectarianism in Iraq and Iran are under threat writes ISO member Josh O’Sullivan.

On the 3rd of January the U.S. carried out a drone strike on a convoy traveling near Baghdad International Airport, Killing General Qasem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s Quds force, nine other passengers were also killed including the Deputy Chairman of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. In retaliation Iran has launched missile strikes against two US bases in Iraq, the al-Asad airbase, and in Erbil in Kurdistan area of Iraq. Though it seems that the outbreak of a serious regional war has been narrowly averted for the time being, Trump’s latest recklessness has made the situation ever more precarious.

Soleimani was meeting to discuss the easing of tensions between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran and the Iranian backed militias in Iraq. According to the Prime Minister of Iraq Adil Abdul Mahdi

I was supposed to meet him in the morning the day he was killed, he came to deliver a message from Iran in response to the message we had delivered from the Saudis to Iran”.

The attack itself was carried out at the direction of US President Donald Trump. According to leaks from the Pentagon itself, a presentation that detailed the possible options to the President had placed assassination by drone strike at the end. Stated by unnamed Pentagon officials this was put in to make the other proposals seem more reasonable. Trump ordered the strike and told the Iraqi government of its intention just minutes before the attack.

Soleimani was not just a general in Iran, but rather over the last 20 years he has been the architect of Iran’s regional power base throughout the Middle East. He oversaw the support for Tehran’s allied militias – in Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq and Syria. His support was essential in developing the PMF in Iraq, the Iranian backed Shia militias that now form a large part of Iraq’s military.

The situation in Iraq was already dire for U.S. interests in the region. The US had attacked PMF forces near Iraq’s border with Syria, and the Shia militias lead an occupation at the US Embassy in Baghdad on the 30th of December. The Shia majority in the Iraqi government in response to the strike voted to expel American troops from the country in a bid to extract the country from an escalating US-Iran proxy war. Trump’s response is the announcement of large sanctions against Iraq in retaliation for asking for troops to be removed. However, given the retaliatory attacks from Iran against US bases in Iraq, the Iraqi governments attempt to extract themselves from an Iran-US proxy war seems doomed to fail and given the wider association of Iranian backed militias across the region could lead to a wider regional conflict.

There is a myriad of reasons being proposed by commentators across the political spectrum for Trump’s war footing and destabilisation of the Middle East. Some contend that this is an escalation to ensure that US forces can maintain control of Iraqi oil reserves, and state that the US is jealously staring at the newly announced Iranian oil field that might contain over 50 Billion barrels of oil. It could be, as some have stated, that Trump is getting a war-footing to maintain his position as president through the presidential elections this year. The strike has caused a complicated mess that could easily devolve into a wider regional war. But delving into this cacophony of imperial clashes often covers over the agency and activity of real people on the ground – the popular movements clamouring for revolution across the Middle East.

Despite the claims of Iranian regime supporters, Soleimani is no martyr. He is a leader that has developed Iranian influence across the region, in an inter-imperialist regional struggle between Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Israel, with grander superpowers looming overhead such as Russia and the US.

His role in supporting and setting up militias and directing them has caused countless deaths across the Middle East not just against reactionaries like ISIL fighters and the like but also repressions against popular movements against sectarianism. In Iraq, the Iranian backed Shia militias have opened fire on Iraqi protestors fighting for major reforms from their government.

Always in the geopolitical response to these crises, states are recognised – but not the mass movements vying for freedom and inequality. Over the past 6 months – massive popular protests have swept through the Middle East region – from Baghdad to Beirut there is a clear call for revolution. In Tunisia, Jordan, Sudan, Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Iran and Lebanon people overcame the persistent repression and attacks from authoritarian governments to demand equality and political reform across the whole region.

In Lebanon, a country demarcated along sectarian religious lines, mass protests erupted against new taxes, morphed into a wide-ranging popular movement for regime change and an end to the sectarian government. “All of them means all of them” protesters chanted nationwide, demanding the ouster of Lebanon’s entire ruling class. That this includes Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Iranian backed Hezbollah, led to Hezbollah supporters attacking demonstrators, re-opening key roads and setting their tents on fire. Despite this, 1.5 million Lebanese Sunnis, Shias and Christians have been walking side by side and raging against the system, demonstrating the fallacy of religious sectarianism that has been the bedrock of political power in the Middle East.

In November in Iran, the largest protest movement since the 1979 revolution erupted last year in response to a 50% increase to fuel prices. This rapidly developed across the country with popular struggle burgeoning in towns and cities across Iran. The regime’s response was brutal with at least 1000 people killed, over 4000 injured and 12,000 arrested. Details have been scarce due to the regime blocking internet access. By assassinating Iranian General Qasem Soleimani last week, Washington has helped the Islamic Republic to supercharge its discourse of resistance to the United States and suppress dissent even more effectively.

Iraq Protests

Protestors in Tahrir Square, Baghdad in November, CREDIT: Copyright Associated Press 2019

In Iraq, Baghdad’s Tahrir Square has been the centre of ongoing protests since last October, starting with demands for clean water, jobs and electricity. When Iraqis stood up against rampant corruption and poor living conditions, they were met with brutality from Iraq’s security apparatus and Iran-backed militias. The tone of the protests quickly turned against Iran. Yet the movement—though very critical of Tehran’s overreach and role in the bloody crackdown on protesters—was never pro-American.

Tens of thousands of demonstrators have marched over the past ten weeks and the protests have spread across the country. The Iraqi people demand an ouster of the government, an end to corruption and a halt to the influence of both the US and Iran. “We Want a Homeland” is one of the rallying cries – calling out for an independent Iraq free from foreign meddling and ending the entire political system of sectarianism that is used to govern in the country.

The prime minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, has resigned but has remained in a caretaker role, and Parliament has yet to come up with someone to replace him, largely due to the aforementioned corruption. This turmoil and breakdown in government leaves the popular movement particularly exposed in Iraq and Iran.

After the storming of the US embassy by the Iranian backed Shia militias, a list was supposedly found on a laptop of people collaborating with the US. It was an obvious fabrication, but it targeted specifically the leaders of the anti-government protestors, a worrying sign for the popular movement, especially with the heavy pressure from Tehran to find a new Prime Minister friendly to Iran. But the protest movement hasn’t disappeared, far from it, on the 6th of January Iraqi protesters flooded the streets to denounce both Iran and the US as “occupiers”, angry that fears of war between the rivals was derailing the anti-government movement. As Ahmed Saadawi writes in the Guardian

The ongoing proxy battle between the Americans and Iranians – and the emaciated state of the Iraqi government – is driving this movement for a restored nation, which will persist despite last week’s events. It is the demonstrators who represent the country’s true will, which is a desire to restore Iraq’s independence and free it from its Iranian and American captors.”

As this wave of demonstrations engulfed the Middle East, one common factor connected the protests from Baghdad to Beirut: a deep and widespread feeling of anger toward the Iranian regime. This is especially true in the bloodied towns and cities of Iraq. Soleimani and Muhandis, both targeted by the strike, were possibly the two most influential men in Iraq and are responsible for the brutal crackdown on demonstrations since October. We have seen the stories about the US and its campaign for dominance and hegemony – but we also must recognise that the Iranian regime is just as much of a danger to popular movements for revolution.

Since the Iraq War of 2003 regional and local stability (for the imperial powers) in the middle east has relied upon sectarianism and exacerbating the separation between Sunni groups supported by Saudi Arabia and Shia groups supported by the Iranian regime. Any change in that balance is likely to have major repercussions for all the regional powers. It is likely that these peace talks suggested by Saudi Arabia and Iran, are more to do with making sure that the delicate sectarian balance between Sunni and Shia which empowers both states across the region continues in the face of mass revolt and democratic movements springing up from below across the middle east. The last thing Israel and Saudi Arabia want is US withdrawal from the region – both of these regional powers and their client states such as Egypt receive billions of dollars of support from the U.S. and utilise US military hegemony to go after their own interests such as the Yemeni-Saudi Arabia war and the continuing occupation and settling of Palestine.

US imperialism is nothing to support – but neither is Iran. Both look to foster sectarian divides to prevent popular struggle from usurping political power and creating a future for themselves. We cannot fall into the same trap as many in the international left found themselves in after Syria. We cannot adopt the 30 second soundbites or short headlines of the media that present the world as a simplistic black/white, US/Iran duality. Many anti-imperialists have long supported the brutality of the Assad regime in the name of being against the US, despite the barbarity of a ruling class trying to maintain power. Yet here again we have anti-imperialists turning Soleimani into a heroic figure who fought against ISIS – never mind the cruel calculated assaults on the popular movements across the middle east perpetrated by the Iranian Regime, and its key General, in its search for regional power.

For us on the other side of the world our task is easier – we must demand our government remove its troops from the region – we are acting as clients of an imperial power that is preventing democratic development and revolution in the middle east.

Secondly, we must support the nascent rebirth of the Arab Spring. From Algeria to Sudan, from Iraq to Lebanon, people continue to march on, demanding social and economic reforms, demanding a revolution, demanding an end to corruption and authoritarianism and fighting against the sectarianism that has kept them divided and under the thumb of their ruling classes.

“Neither Washington nor Tehran, but the People and the oppressed!”

A looming world recession?

At the ISO’s annual conference over the weekend 7-8 December a session on the international situation was led off with this introduction by Martin Gregory.

 

An assessment of capitalism internationally, both in its political domination and the state of its economy, is essential for forming a view of what might lie ahead for us in New Zealand. To state the obvious, New Zealand capitalism does not exist in a vacuum but is part of an international web of production, trade and imperialist political alliances. Ever since 1848, that year of revolutions, events in one country have synchronised with events in others. Therefore, an estimate of the global situation is the framework under which our expectations for NZ can be anticipated.

 

The 2008-2009 global financial crisis is still a useful reference point to start talking about the world economy. Under the cyclical theory of capitalism, crashes are supposed to be followed by booms, but a boom did not happen after the GFC. Governments intervened with bank bail-outs and spending schemes to boost their own economies. China helped out the world system with a stupendous spending and lending spree that stimulated a rapid recovery world-wide. But while there was a recovery there has not been an economic boom. No boom because the conditions for boom – increased rates of profit, and consequentially increased investments in the productive economy – were not created.

 

The creation of boom conditions would have required drastic courses of action by political leaderships of capitalist states. Here are three examples of drastic action that might be taken in a recession to create in a new lease of life for capitalism.

 

  1. Non-intervention by governments to allow more companies to go to the wall, leaving fewer competitors with greater global market share. This was the policy of Reagan and Thatcher in response to the 1982 crash. Mass unemployment is created.
  2. Repression of trade unions in order to drive down workers’ pay and working conditions to extract greater surplus value from their labour.
  3. War to destroy capital and competitors.

 

Because drastic actions like these did not happen following the 2008-09 financial crisis, or did not happen sufficiently, increased rates of profit and boom-level investment in the productive economy did not follow. Basically, the 2008-2009 crisis solved nothing. Shattering confrontations between states and/or between classes were postponed. Consequently, the long-term trend of the rate of profit to fall before the GFC has continued to trend down since.

[Read more…]

Land is the Price: colonialism then…and now

Nothing to “celebrate” in Tuia 250 – Cook is a symbol of ongoing colonial violence

By Josh O’Sullivan

Throughout history capitalists has searched the world for profitable exploitation. To create a paradise for capital, lands were sought, claimed and the people that lived there forced off their communal property. Those commoners then became the pool of labour that the industrial revolution was built on. From the enclosing of the commons in Britain to the colonisation projects the world over, this pattern was repeated. The robbery of land, and the subsequent creation of wage labour, is found throughout histories of colonisation.

The means by which this accumulation is first gathered has its roots in slavery, alienation, pauperism and genocide. As Marx stated “Capitalism comes into the world dripping from head to foot, from every pore with blood and dirt.”

Plotting an empire

The economic crisis and wars in Europe during the 1830’s drove the push for colonial expansion. There was not only the unemployed labour but also unemployed capital which could not be invested at a profit in Britain. This situation was driving down the rate of profit of capital already invested. Not only did the Empire need a place to send its “unwashed”, unemployed masses, it also needed new markets to sell in, new profitable investment opportunities and, most importantly, to accumulate natural capital.

Edward Wakefield was one of the most ardent British politicians to argue for capitalist expansion and accumulation in the colonies, particularly in Aotearoa. Wakefield deplored the fact that in the American colonies men acquired land easily, supported themselves by their own labour. This made it difficult to accumulate capital for there was little unemployed labour to put to work. He attributed this ability of some working men to acquire land and develop self-sufficiency as a direct cause of the American Revolution.

Wakefield was fixated on how to replicate British class society where, instead of each man having his own plot of land, some would have to work for others and accumulate wealth for their employers and not for themselves. Previously slavery had been used to generate a reserve supply of labour. For later colonies slavery was no longer an option as it had been abolished in 1833.

The convict method in Australia was the next evolution of the colonial endeavour. Vagrancy laws were introduced in Britain to round up the poor and dispossessed who were suffering from the effects of the economic crisis. Prison ships, “hulks”, were used at first then the poor were shipped to Australia. Because of their convict status, Australian workers were unable to accumulate capital themselves but made their employers rich. Convicts from Britain, however, were not enough. After clearing the numerous Aboriginal lands in Australia through genocidal policies, the new colony found itself with thousands of acres and too little “free” labour to do the work. [Read more…]

Ihumātao: a Struggle for Justice

Protectors march for Ihumātao

By Josh O’Sullivan and Lozza Kiff

 

The fight for land rights in Aotearoa is the essential question for radical social change for both mana whenua and tau iwi. To resolve this question requires challenging some of the most fundamental aspects of capitalism in New Zealand – the rule of private property. Property held purely for profit, for factories, for land farming and for speculation. This struggle is crystallised in battle over Ihumātao.

Ihumātao is considered to be the oldest settlement in Auckland, and holds cultural and historical significance as an archaeologically rich landscape. It holds evidence of early Māori agricultural activities and is one of the last remaining sites of stone field crop propagation, for which it has been recognised as an at risk site on the United Nations International Council on Monuments and Sites. The whenua tells us stories of the origins of Tāmaki Makaurau. It is the only place in Auckland where pre-colonial stone structures can be found, all other stone garden complexes in Auckland have been destroyed, and it contains the oldest example of pre-colonial architecture in the remains of the Whare. Ihumātao is Waahi Tapu, a sacred place to Tangata Whenua.

Ihumātao was stolen from Māori in 1863 during the Waikato Invasion, along with 1.2 million hectares across the North Island. The Waikato invasion was a premeditated war of conquest directed against the Kingitanga. Their land expropriated and military conquest birthed what we now call Hamilton. The Crown did this under the New Zealand Settlements Act, a parliamentary act that confiscated land owned by anyone deemed to be rebels. In the government’s eyes anyone who associated with the Kingitanga movement were rebels. The Mana whenua of Ihumātao went from feeding and protecting the fledgling town of Auckland, to being accused by the Crown of plotting to massacre those very same pākehā. A desperate lie by the Crown to fuel greed of land speculators, who expropriated all of South Auckland, forcing the Māori to become refugees in their own land.

The land remained in private hands for over 130 years until in 1999, as historian Vincent O’Malley writes, “Manukau City Council, Auckland Regional Council, the Department of Conservation and the Lottery Grants Board jointly purchased a 100-hectare site from several owners and two years later officially opened the Ōtuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve”.

The treaty settlement with one of the iwi, Te Kawerau a Maki, was completed in 2014.  The land however was not returned. Originally, the Manukau City Council tried to make the land an open public space, but after the merger into the Supercity, legal action forced the council to rezone the land. As a result Ihumātao was designated a Special Housing Area (SHA), and was sold from the Wallace family in 2016 to Fletcher Residential. It was at this point that SOUL was formed. Since that point SOUL has occupied the land and laid challenge after challenge in every possible legal avenue, through the environment court, the Land court, the Waitangi tribunal, and even the UN. [Read more…]

State ‘care’ and stolen generations

By Romany Tasker-Poland

Poster advertising the rallies from this winter

 

“Oranga Tamariki told me I had five minutes to say goodbye to my baby and then they were going to take it… I hung onto my baby but I was worried they were going to hurt me and the baby.” These are the words of a young mother who in May resisted multiple attempts by Oranga Tamariki, the Ministry “dedicated to supporting any child in New Zealand whose wellbeing is at significant risk of harm now, or in the future,” to take her newborn baby from her hospital room in Hawkes Bay. During the standoff, whānau and midwives were shut out of the hospital. The grounds on which the Family Court ordered the “without-notice custody order” have since been called into question. University of Auckland law professor Mark Henaghan has told the media that it was “doubtful” that the custody order used by Oranga Tamariki should have been granted in the first place.

Two midwives, Ripeka Orsmby and Jean Te Huia, of Māori Midwives Aotearoa, were there at the Hastings Hospital, and tried to prevent the baby from being taken. Te Huia described to Newsroom how at one point the mother was left on her own:

 

the police stationed outside her room and a hostile case worker in her room. Her mother and her Māori midwife spent the night outside in the hospital car park. The DHB locked everyone out. This is a 19 year old girl enduring day three of Oranga Tamariki trying to rip a baby from her, alone.

 

Footage of the incident was shared by the media in June. The media coverage, along the resistance from the baby’s whānau, midwives, and iwi leaders, resulted in Oranga Tamariki abandoning at least 3 attempts to take the baby from the mother. Instead, she was allowed to go with her baby to a care facility, ahead of a new Family Court hearing.

[Read more…]

Battling for Abortion Rights

ALRANZ President Terry Bellamak addresses a Wellington pro-choice rally in July (image credit: NewsHub)

By Andrew Raba

 

Anti-abortion politics have taken centre stage in the media following the passing of “fetal-heartbeat” laws this year in several US states: Ohio, Mississippi, Georgia and Kentucky. The new laws ban abortion beyond six weeks of pregnancy, before most people know they are pregnant. Alabama has passed an even more restrictive law that bans abortion at any stage of pregnancy. None of these restrictive laws are in effect because they are under legal challenges.

 

The real target of these state-level laws is the 1973 Supreme Court decision on Roe v. Wade that established the right for all American women to obtain an abortion. Alabama state Representative Terri Collins, who sponsored her state’s anti-abortion law, said “What I’m trying to do here is get this case in front of the Supreme Court so Roe v. Wade can be overturned.” These moves follow Trump’s appointments of Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court to give it a 5 to 4 conservative majority.

 

So where did these new state-level laws come from? The attacks in the US are a backlash against the gains of the women’s movement won out of the battles of the 1960s and 1970s amidst the general rise in the class struggle. The American conservative right would dearly love to turn the clock back but it is countered by lasting mass support for reproductive rights. Abortion has become a central issues in US politics. According to a poll taken on behalf of the pro-choice organisation NARAL, 85 percent of voters believe that abortion should be legal. [Read more…]

From Ōtepoti to Ihumātao

We’re at opposite ends of these motu, but the kaupapa is the same: protect Ihumātao.

26 July, an estimated 300 people marched in Ōtepoti in solidarity with the occupation of Ihumātao. The ISO was proud to be among those marching the streets of Dunedin, blocking intersections, and showing that there are people all across our country who are ready to answer the call to defend Ihumātao.

From an initial march to the David Clark Labour Party office, where he was, as expected, absent, the action spontaneously turned into a 2-hour long march down the streets of Ōtepoti. The sounds of Bob Marley’s ‘Get Up Stand Up’, and the chants of “Ka whawhai tonu mātou, Ake! Ake! Ake!” could be heard throughout the city centre.

And a spontaneous march this was! This action was an important lesson to never discount the potential of spontaneity. It only took one line of speech from the leading wahine to spur on the militancy of the crowd – “Who’s ready to disrupt some sh*t?!”

This spontaneity brought a major boon with it; police officers only arrived after the march had progressed half-way down George Street; the main street of town.

But this march was also a lesson in the need for experience and organisation in facilitating this spontaneity. This spontaneous action would not have had its level of success without experienced people readily taking up the duties required in these moments – traffic warding, police liaison, chant leading, march navigation etc.

Therefore this march showed the necessity of building up organisations, of which ours is one, as a means of facilitating and harnessing the spontaneous militancy of the masses. That is the responsibility and duty of a revolutionary socialist organisation. And that is our responsibility in spontaneous rebellions such as these which are, much like strikes, schools of revolution.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced the suspension, for now, of construction at Ihumātao. This announcement came only a short time after the demonstration in Ōtepoti.

[Read more…]

The Roots of Racism

By Martin Gregory

Racism is not age-old, a trait of humanity, or an outgrowth of any metaphysical ideology. On the scale of human history racism is a recent, modern phenomenon. Its origins can be precisely dated and associated with actual, material, historical developments in human society. The nature of racism has been contingent on actual historical processes. The origins of racism correlate precisely with the rise of the Atlantic slave trade in the Sixteenth Century and the nature of racism was further formed in justification of European imperialism. As Marx said, capitalism came into existence “dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt.”

The dominant form that racism has taken and still takes, born as it was to justify the slave trade and imperialist conquest, is that of white supremacism: the belief that Whites, by genetic characteristics, are superior to any other supposed race, justifying domination by the supposed white race. White supremacist ideology reached its zenith as European imperialism reached its own climax with the Scramble for Africa, 1881-1914.

Racism has not been limited to white supremacism. For example, in Victorian Britain racism was whipped up against Irish immigrants, people who were not physically “distinct” from whites in Britain. Fake racial “science” created differences to suit the ideology, rather than being a result of any natural difference. In this instance the motive force is the material interests of the capitalist class in sowing division in the working class. In 1870 Marx wrote of anti-Irish hostility:

This antagonism is artificially kept alive and intensified by the press, the pulpit, the comic papers, in short, by all the means at the disposal of the ruling classes. This antagonism is the secret of the impotence of the English working class, despite its organisation. It is the secret by which the capitalist class maintains its power. And the latter is quite aware of this.

In Nazi Germany, that frustrated and Versailles-constrained imperialist power, racism reached its ultimate, but far from last, barbarity with the Holocaust. Jews were expelled from England in 1290, from France in 1394, and from other European states through to the Sixteenth Century. Until the Nineteenth Century anti-semitism was not grounded in racism but in the economic role of Jews as a “people-class” of merchants and usurers. For a thorough discussion of this question I refer readers to The Jewish Question: A Marxist Interpretation by Abram Leon. Leon was an heroic figure in his own right and deserves a separate article: he was a revolutionary, a leader of the Belgian Trotskyists during the Nazi occupation. Captured in 1944, he was gassed, murdered in a camp in 1944. Leon gave his brief life over to fighting racism and capitalism and to understanding their connection. In his book Racism, resistance and revolution Peter Alexander says:

Leon’s central thesis is that the survival of the Jewish people could only be explained by the distinct socio-economic role which they played within particular societies. In the process of presenting his argument he establishes two distinct periods and types of anti-semitism. One he links to ‘decaying feudalism’, the other to ‘rotting capitalism’. He associates the latter with the racism of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Leon’s analysis is important because it establishes that anti-semitism, like racism, is variable in nature and degree. It can only be understood if it is placed in its correct and specific historical context.

Slavery existed in Ancient Greece and Rome, and in the Islamic world, but these were not racist societies. Slaves were not taken from one “race” exclusively, but were taken from within and the reach of these empires.

The rise of racist ideology in the Seventeenth Century is a product of the specific development of the Atlantic slave trade, the triangular trade of exclusively black West- and Central-African slaves sold in the Americas by firstly Portuguese and Spanish merchants, then latterly French, British and Dutch merchants. Racism was developed to justify slavery in Christian minds. For this to work, the ideology had to be as horrible as the practice of slavery was barbaric.

In his great work, Capital, Marx describes in ironic terms the various violent elements of the “primitive accumulation of capital”, the prelude to the establishment of industrial capitalism in Britain.

The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signalised the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production. These idyllic proceedings are the chief momenta of primitive accumulation. On their heels treads the commercial war of the European nations, with the globe for a theatre. It begins with the revolt of the Netherlands from Spain, assumes giant dimensions in England’s Anti-Jacobin War, and is still going on in the opium wars against China, Etc.

Racism is inextricably linked with the genesis of capitalism. The end of the British and United States slave trades in 1810 did not lead to any respite from racist ideology for imperialism only intensified in the nineteenth Century. Racism continued to be deployed to justify the British and French empires until they receded after the Suez debacle.

Today’s conditions of mature capitalism are quite different from earlier phases. Slavery has been long banished and European empires have dissolved. With these dissolutions went the worst of white supremacist racism. Anti-colonial movements and the rise of Black resistance, particularly in the United States, played their part in undermining white supremacism. Furthermore, the world-wide working class has expanded massively and is evermore multicultural. Yet despite the advance of anti-racism, racism more than lingers and is a powerful force in the world today. Not only does the “muck of the ages” impinge on the present, but bourgeois ideology for consumption by the masses never ceases to stoke racism. As seen in the example of the Irish in England, the continued propagation of racism, in Western capitalist states at least, rests largely on anti-immigration politics preached by the bourgeois media and political parties.

Rightwing anti-immigration movements are the main bearers of racism today. In Europe the far-right are in governments in Hungary and Austria, the Alternative Für Deutschland makes electoral gains. In France the Front National have twice made the run-off vote in presidential elections. In Britain anti-immigration sentiment in depressed areas scuppered the referendum called to confirm participation in the EU. Trump plays on immigration across the border with Mexico, etc.

The racism propounded in our times is not necessarily overt. Racism is often shrouded in cultural nationalism. But despite the cloak of purported cultural identification, crude genetic racism lies barely concealed. This applies in the case of anti-immigration politics, but the most important contemporary case is that of islamophobia. Western military interventions in Afghanistan, and Iraq and support for the Israeli ethno-state, created political Islam. Islamophobia has been stirred up by torrents of scare-mongering media pieces and commentary by both reactionary and “liberal” figures. The success of Western ruling classes in infusing Islamophobia into their populations has provided another way in for the racist far right to gain a following.

Racism today is a political weapon in the hands of the capitalist class to divide workers and to agitate far right movements. Conversely, the world-wide working class has a material interest in anti-racism, in unity. This is true for anything from a simple strike over terms and conditions to revolutionary action. Racism is inextricably bound up with the struggle between classes. Socialists must be consistent advocates for inclusivity. We can only be consistent anti-racists by standing on our ground of thorough-going internationalism, making no concessions to anti-immigration politics.

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…]

1968 in Aotearoa

download

A New Left made new media, such as the radical journal Red Spark from students at Victoria University.

It is fifty years since the world was shaken by events of 1968 such as: world-wide student demonstrations; a general strike in France; the Tet Offensive in Vietnam; liberalisation, and its crushing, in Czechoslovakia; the assassination of Martin Luther King and the iconic Black Power salutes by Tommy Smith and John Carlos at the Olympic Games. Against this global context New Zealand history can seem unassuming. But 1968 reverberated here, and the rebellions of that year spurred a decade of resistance: movements of newly-urbanised Māori; the Women’s Liberation Movement; anti-racist campaigning against apartheid; and, energising all of these, the biggest upsurge in strikes in the country’s history.

[Read more…]