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…]

Fascism: then and now


Mass mobilization of workers, socialists, communists and Jewish workers groups beat back fascists in London in the 1930s

Josh O’Sullivan gave this talk to the Auckland branch of the International Socialists in September.


This talk is both a reflection and a call to arms. Political movements around the world are growing and although people are clamouring more and more for an alternative to capitalism, so to are people looking to the most backward elements of society to prevent any challenge to the status quo – to even thrust society backwards to darker times.

The political and institutional framework that has regulated and stabilized capitalism since the end of World War Two is facing concerted challenges that threaten to tear it apart. In much of Eastern Europe, far right parties have swept into government and gained a heavy foothold in Western European countries. Russia, under the authoritarian rule of Vladimir Putin, has begun to reassert itself as a reactionary force on the world stage. Then there is the dramatic rise of China,wWith now possibly lifetime President Xi Jinping. Most dramatically, the U.S., still the world’s most powerful state, is headed by a president who openly champions fascists and ultranationalists and is attempting to tear apart the liberal play book.

This is the context in which we find ourselves in, capitalist society in a continuing recession with no answers, resulting in a deepening polarisation between the left and right, with radicalisation on both sides. Socialist organisations, anti-capitalist movement and trade unions have swelled with the realisation that capitalism can offer no answers to our plight. But at the same time fascist organisations and sympathisers are growing, developing international links, supported by the racist rhetoric by those in power and emboldened by the growing support they have received.

In the wake of the emboldening of the far right globally, far right speakers have now made it to Aotearoa. This makes it all the more important to learn from the lessons of history and the links between the far right, fascism and its relation to capitalism.

[Read more…]

Alienation: The philosophical basis of Capitalism

alienLoss of control is the fundamental expression of alienation. Popularly, and particularly among psychologists, alienation is understood almost exclusively as a psychological state. It refers to a variety of disorders, including anxiety, despair, loneliness, apathy, meaninglessness and powerlessness.

Some if not all of these problems will be intimately familiar to us, but are these just psychological problems? If alienation is a state of mind then there is an implication that it exists only within the individual. But we do not live in a vacuum. Feelings of powerlessness result not from the individuals, but from the organisation of society.

Alienation, to put it simply, is the idea that an “alien” force confronts individuals, overruling their aims and designs and subjecting them and their lives to its initiatives. This force affects all human activity from everyday labouring to the creation of art. It is the loss of the power to choose what we produce, how it is produced and what it is used for. [Read more…]

Women, Politics and Class: a Socialist Analysis for Aotearoa

Women workers: in the vanguard of Aotearoa's working class

Women workers: in the vanguard of Aotearoa’s working class

Women face a contradiction. While equal pay for women and men working for the government became the law in 1960, it wasn’t until the Equal Pay Act passed in 1972 that equal pay between the sexes across the board became legal. The Domestic Purposes Benefit, providing state support to single parents, was introduced in 1973.

Yet, four decades later, women are still paid less than men. Women’s hourly earnings are on average 12 to 15% less than men. The weekly gender pay gap is much greater because women are more likely to be in casual and part time work. Women’s average weekly pay is $879 and men’s is $1059 – a gender pay gap of 17%. The annual gender earnings gap is much wider, and this gap is widening according to Statistics NZ calculations. The recession and the earthquakes in Christchurch have all hurt women significantly more.

The Human Rights Commission wrote in their report New Zealand Census of Women’s Participation last year that “New Zealand is making, slow, incremental but unspectacular progress for women in many areas”. What they mean by unspectacular is that 22 government departments have gender pay gaps bigger than the average pay gap in the labour market; 9 government departments have more than 20% gender pay gap; women are still less than 30% of judges, less than 25% of senior academic staff; and less than 20% of top legal partnerships.

I can think of a few other adjectives than “unspectualar” to describe these damning statistics. [Read more…]

Georg Lukács: the Actuality of the Revolution

lukacs-hungarian-soviet“Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.” This is how Georg Lukács opens his short book Lenin: a Study in the Unity of his Thought. Lukács was writing just as the peak of European revolutionary ferment had passed – his book was published in 1924 – and his message is clear. He restores the active, living aspect of Marxism – the self-emancipation of the working class – to full view, and, against the mechanical distortions of Marxism that had grown up through the period of the Second International, reminds us that historical materialism is, first and foremost, a guide to action, a tool for politics. At the heart of this politics is working-class agency:

Historical materialism is the theory of proletarian revolution. It is so because its essence is an intellectual synthesis of the social existence which produces and fundamentally determines the proletariat; and because the proletariat struggling for liberation finds its clear consciousness in it. 

The theory of proletarian revolution fuses knowledge about the conditions that create working-class life (the ‘social existence which produces’) with knowledge created by the struggle against that life. The class learns its world as it fights to change that world, to liberate itself. This is a radically democratic, flexible, open, living, breathing Marxism, a Leninism for learning. [Read more…]

Socialism and the Campaign Against Asset Sales

168822_3051468142566_1815936209_nWhy do socialists oppose asset sales?  The answer seems obvious: socialists want state ownership because it provides popular control of the economy.  People on both the right and the left generally agree socialists stand for ‘big government’ and ‘state intervention’.  But being a revolutionary means questioning accepted wisdom and although reformists in Labour and the Greens might be happy with the equation “state ownership = socialism”, we have a different approach. [Read more…]

Maori Money: A giant awakes?

Iwi corporates, estimated to be worth $37 billion in 2010, are changing the rules of New Zealand’s economy and politics. Maori capital has been criticised from the red-neck right as rent-seekers, from the pseudo-left as an iwi aristocracy, and from within Maoridom itself. But in two major battles this year, Maoridom’s elite weighed in on the side of the working class.

[Read more…]

National’s war on the poor

This article will be focusing on cutbacks to Welfare and what they mean in the context of the social, political and economic environment of New Zelaand. Firstly I will talk briefly about recent benefit history. Then I will talk about what the current welfare reforms are and some of the ruling classes myths to justify them. Then I will discuss how and why we should stop them.

[Read more…]

Te Reo Rangatira: The struggle for Maori language

Language is the lifeblood of culture. The struggle for Māori language is an essential part of the struggle for rangatiranga – Māori self determination – just as the struggle to suppress the language was an essential part of the colonisation of Aotearoa.

[Read more…]

Racism and ‘Real New Zealanders’

In 2011 broadcaster Paul Henry resigned from his job as host of TVNZ’s “Breakfast” after his appallingly racist comments regarding Anand Satyanand.

The comment was compared with statements made by Maori Party MP Hone Harawira, including from his 2009 email: “White motherfuckers have been raping our lands and ripping us off for centuries, and all of a sudden you want me to play along with their puritanical bullshit.” The right wing tried to compare these two attitudes.

[Read more…]