Monday, October 28, 2013
On a warm Labour weekend Monday, Coal Action Auckland staged a roadside protest near the Waikato town of Mangatawhiri along State Highway 2 to draw people’s attention to the looming threat of a new coal mine adjacent this popular holiday route. The threat doesn't come from where you would expect though, not from the traditional mining companies you hear about, but Fonterra; the largest dairy co-operative in the world.
At first glance it may appear strange that a dairy company wants to open a coal mine, but Fonterra, through a direct subsidiary; Glencoal, already operate many coal mines throughout the country. Fonterra use this coal in it's boilers, to produce powdered milk for export. This is where a large proportion of New Zealands carbon emissions come from. Glencoal has been granted consent to extract coal from the site for eight years, providing an additional 120,000 tonnes each year for Fonterra's milk drying plants at Waitoa, Te Awamutu and Hautapu.
It's a reckless and unethical move by Fonterra when burning coal has been proven to be a major factor in accelerating climate change. By phasing out the use of coal, and using wood waste in their boilers instead, this is one of the most easily achievable ways to reduce carbon emissions in the agricultural sector.
While this is by no means a perfect strategy, it would be a vast improvement on the current practice and was the message Coal Action Auckland was trying to get across to the thousands of holiday makers returning from vacation. Perfectly situated just off the highway, banners and placards were a welcome distraction for the near deadstill traffic, while pamphlets were handed out to the idle vehicles. Support was near 65% based on toots, thumbs up and yells of support. A very low 5% were openly opposed, consisting mainly of older white males in high end vehicles.
Along in solidarity and support were two Kanak anti mining activists from New Caledonia, who are here for a week to work on a film about the struggle in their homeland. Florent Eurisouke and his uncle Jojo are from a prominent Kanak family from the province of Houailou on the east coast of Grande Terre, the large island of New Caledonia, Kanaky.
Their people's ancestral tribal land includes the rugged and nickel rick Cap Boccage, a peninsula appropriated in the 19th century by the Ballande family originally from Bordeaux. The Ballande family are what they call 'Petit mineurs' (little miners) which is misleading as their Cap Boccage nickel mining operation is amongst the largest in private ownership in New Caledonia.
This private ownership status, the physical isolation of Cap Boccage and the historic arrogance of the Ballande family make for lax mining methods which have resulted in serious environmental damage. One particular event in 2008 was the collapse of a sump after heavy rain. This tailing's pond used to contain the acidic minerals scraped off the mountain tops to access the nickel ore was built too close to the typically very steep edge the of the operation.
The resulting collapse of the containment wall sent the toxic sludge crashing down into the coral lagoon below. The sea was red, the colour of the soil, killing all sea life for near on 20 kilometres along the coast. Florent, his father Vincent and 20 to 30 locals barricaded and occupied the main entrance to the mine for several months. He has made it his mission to protest not only the environmental concerns surrounding open cast mining but to question the legitimacy of their operation in his area on cultural grounds as well.
The group that he has formed includes staunch unionists, tribal elders, and many young people. It is an umbrella group that includes twenty-seven different environmental and independence groups and is firmly anti-colonialst, anti neo-colonialist; specifically the increasing power of foreign multinationals. Their struggle is very relevant to what we have lived with the still-on-the-reef Rena and what we are living now that mining seems to be gearing up around the country. They are interested in forming links with various groups around the country and will be speaking on Monday night at the University of Auckland at 7:30pm. Details here.
Saturday's protest at Queen Street McDonald's was instigated because McDonald's sacked a union delegate for whistleblowing.
In New Zealand we call it Utu, or "revenge"; the purge of delegates and prominent workers that we have come to expect after every successful union campaign.
Well, no more. This stops now.
Attacking and sacking union delegates for defending workers results in workers being left leaderless and defenseless against corporate victimisation. In the 1980's, corporate attacks on union delegates were systematic and remorseless. This meant that workers were unable to resist divisive individual contracts, resulting in the loss of benefits which took half a century to earn. Unions lost their spine, and all the poverty, inequality, crony capitalism and corporate terrorism that we have today is the result.
These attacks stop here. Socialist Aotearoa is calling for the creation of a new campaign to protect and defend workplace union delegates whenever or wherever they are attacked.
If, as has happened to Sean Baily, a union delegate is attacked for doing their job of defending workers for any reason short of criminal misconduct, there needs to be a massive and automatic response from all union members and supporters to protest the actions of management in that instance. Rallies and solidarity protests should be held at the place of work where the attack occurred. This massive, automatic response should become an "instant reflex" of the union movement, irrespective of which unions are involved or affected.
This call goes out to all unions, to all union delegates and to all union members and supporters. Our intention is nothing less than cultural change; to defend the right of workers to organise in workplaces, to defend workplace democracy, and to defend the right of workers to elect their own representatives.
We are additionally calling for the establishment of a new movement of union delegates, across all unions, across all industries, and across all borders, to provide support and coordination to stop the victimisation of union activists.
Please join us in defending union delegates everywhere, regardless of their union affiliation. Please support us by forwarding this call to everyone you know who can help.
Wednesday, October 23, 2013
Lessons for socialists, from The Art of War
The Art of War is frequently quoted by activists, but many on the Left shy away from actively grappling with the deeper lessons of this ancient text.
Written in approximately 544 BC, The Art of War is a timeless treatise on the role of the General as protector of the State. However the principles expressed, and the systematic nature of Sun Tsu's arguments ultimately constitute a way of thinking, or a state of mind, rather than a literal set of prescriptions such as those of later scholars like Carl Von Clausevitz. It is this almost philosophical approach to the subject that makes it so useful and broadly applicable to almost any protracted conflict, including and especially activism and political struggle.
|"There is a proper season for making attacks with fire, |
and special days for starting a conflagration."
From this challenging introduction, Sun Tsu takes us progressively from First Principles to ever greater levels of detail, extrapolating the principles he has laid down. Chapters follow the natural course of any major conflict, from estimating and calculating the prospects of success to the waging of all-out total war, involving the entire State from lowest to highest, and every resource available.
Sun Tsu does not confine himself to matters pertaining only to fighting, but rather ranges from Grand Strategy to the deployment and disciplining of individual soldiers and the management of their moods and moral.
In his chapter on "Estimations", Sun Tsu advises the reader to carefully count the costs of war before embarking upon it. Even a casual reading of his formula reveals the astonishing breadth and sweep of Sun Tsu's mind, weighing everything from the value of the national treasure and the capacity of the populace to pay for the war, to the moral rightness of the cause and the willingness of the people to fight. If these factors are not in one's favour, Sun Tsu makes plain, one should sue for peace and avoid conflict at all costs. Sun Tsu never minces words; "If a General follows my methods for estimation, and you employ him, he will certainly be victorius, and should be retained. If a general does not follow my methods for estimation, and you employ him, he will certainly be defeated, so dismiss him."
Sun Tsu continuously saw every campaign and action in economic terms. Campaigning is expensive; while wars are being fought, normal life is disrupted. Every day of fighting costs money, even if the troops sit idle. Death and defeat can come as easily by running out of money as by anything the enemy might do.
|"The onrush of a conquering force is like the bursting of |
pent-up waters into a chasm a thousand fathoms deep."
Sun Tsu's sense of economy extends even to his writing style. Almost every practical prescription made by Sun Tsu is founded upon a small handful of key philosophical principles, which if understood, would enable the wise "General" to divine what needed to be done in almost any situation, no matter how chaotic.
Sun Tsu uses single words to encapsulate entire precepts, and these words form the basis of "meditations" one may perform to gain wisdom and understanding.
One key precept is contained in the word "Deception". Sun Tsu states categorically, "Warfare is the Tao of Deception." He goes on then to explain how in a multitude of ways, deception can and ought to be used to trick the enemy and gain advantage, and thus assure victory. By using the word "Tao" in conjunction with this, the highest spirit or essence, he is in effect saying that no victory can possibly be won without resort to deception, not merely occassionally, but continuously.
It is worth noting here that States routinely practice deception, to the point that it is almost impossible to believe they are not lying every time they speak. From the Prime Minister, down to the lowest Policeman tricking a frightened girl into confessing to crimes she did not commit, lying and deception are the bread and butter of the State, it's stock in trade.
|"He who is skilled in attack flashes forth from |
the topmost heights of heaven."
Contrast the deceptiveness of the State with the openness and naivity with which most activists conduct their affairs; there are few if any secrets, politics and passions are worn on the sleeve, communications are not secured, even when they are known to be spied on and recorded. We may consider this conduct "high", "moral" or "principled". But in war, there is no quarter given to honour or naivity. Sun Tsu would have called this reliance on mercy of our foes folly.
The failure of deception may be in part compensated for by use of the other principles Sun Tsu sets out. For many of Sun Tsu's principles act as weights to counter advantages and relative strategic and tactic weaknesses. Where deception is not entirely possible, there is the interplay of the "orthodox" and the "unorthodox".
Sun Tsu uses the principle of "Orthodoxy" to describe diversity of tactics, a term which today in activist circles has come to be associated with pointless anarchistic violence. To Sun Tsu however, tactics are either "orthodox", that is, normal and expected, or they are "unorthodox", ie they involve an element of surprise or uncertainty. Sun Tsu advocated that the orthodox and the unorthodox should be mingled and intertwined constantly, so as to prevent the enemy from anticipating one's moves. And sometimes, even the simplest thing could contrive a sudden and unassailable advantage out of a hopeless situation.
|"The highest realisation of warfare|
is to attack the enemy's plans."
"When deploying the military in battle, a victory that is long in coming will blunt their weapons and dampen their ardor."Sun Tsu shared a disgust of violence and the waste it entailed because he as a soldier had done violence, and was repulsed by it. It is only arm-chair warriors and those who will not actually have to fight who glory in war and wish for chaos. This is why Sun Tsu repeatedly advocated that victory should be obtained whenever possible without fighting. As in his section on Estimations, the war begins first in the mind, and is fought and won there, the rest being merely the manifestation of the genius and skill of the great General. Indeed, to the degree that bloodshed is necessary at all, Sun Tsu lays the blame at the feet of the General, and makes it plain that this resort to violence is a mark of his lack of ability. It is evidence of the General's lacking in intelligence, that he could not figure out a way to win without violence and destruction.
"No people has ever profited from protracted warfare."
"The army values being victorious, it does not value prolonged warfare."
"Subjugating the enemy's army without fighting is the true pinnacle of excellence.”
"Thus the highest realisation of warfare is to attack the enemy's plans; next is to attack their alliances; next to attack their army; and the lowest is to attack their fortified cities. This tactic of attacking fortified cities is adopted only when unavoidable.”
"Thus one who excels at employing the military subjugates other people's armies without engaging in battle, captures other people's fortified cities without attacking them, and destroys other people's States without prolonged fighting. He must fight under Heaven with the paramount aim of preservation."
|"This tactic of attacking fortified cities is|
adopted only when unavoidable."
We must commit ourselves to political resistance, while at the same time learning the lessons of the Art of War as if our very lives depended upon it. Because who is to say that they do not?
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Rapping and crooning over multi-textured beats and synths Dallas' latest album displays his trademark well-placed samples as well as pulling in some interesting talent for guesties, notably Ruby Frost and Sid Diamond. The opening and closing tracks 'The Wire' and 'The Gate' both feature Frost's ethereal vocals and these tunes give the album real lifts.
Some of the songs on this album are super-sick. 'Runnin'' has already been widely recognised for its superb sound, making it onto the soundtrack of football video game FIFA 14. The video features a boy running around the landscape surrounding Pawarenga, a small Far North Maori settlement. 'Southside' with lyrics like, 'Could be rough here, if your parents come here from an island, in the hope of a better life for the child and an education. But they ain't got time to keep an eye on them, they're working every day, they won't ever see retirement. School don't teach you to deal with this environment.'
'Transmitting Live' has got some nice rhymes on it. 'Follow' is also a sweet track with Dallas knocking out nicely flowing lyrics in homage to Aotearoa, 'I came from the future, my today is your tomorrow. Whatever we do, then the world gonna follow.'
But some of the tracks just don't deserve to be on the album. 'Right There' and 'One More' could have easily been left off without offending anyone. By the end of the album the omnipresent career commentary can make the whole thing feel like a sonic CV rather than a hiphop album. And although Dallas's obvious hard work and easy confidence will take his music far, it misses its full potential.
I mean sure WINZ and the Department of Corrections get backhanders on the album but can you really release a hiphop album in 2013 without any serious politics? Doesn't Dallas, who plays up his Papatoetoe roots have anything to say about the increased poverty and unemployment John Key's government has brought to South Auckland? What about putting some of his verbal viscosity to telling the world some real stories about life in Aotearoa right now? Surely they want to hear about life in Christchurch after the quake or about Auckland during the RWC or something...
Dallas needs to let his listeners off the hook, we know he's a good rapper with high production values, so now he just needs to deliver us more party anthems, social commentary and lyrical motivation and less resume filler. That said, the rapper from Papatoetoe's new album has got swag.
Monday, October 21, 2013
On Saturday the 19th October 2013, around 25 people gathered outside the Canadian consulate in Auckland to show solidarity with the Mi'kmaq warriors under attack from RCMP state forces in Canada.
Those who came expressed outrage at the violence that had been used to break up the First Nation encampment defending their land from fracking.
Video messages of support were filmed that drew on the common struggles of indigenous peoples around the world defending their land from the state and the interests of transnational capitalism.
Powerful speeches and chanting reflected the sober yet determined mood of the protesters, culminating in the burning of the imperialist Canadian flag.
|According to the Council of Trade Unions around half of the wealthiest 184 New Zealanders do not pay the top tax rate. Victoria University estimates the value of tax evasion at $1 billion per year.|
|40% of all Maori males over the age of 15 years have either been imprisoned or served a community sentence.|
|Since the 2008 crash New Zealand taxpayers have bailed out South Canterbury Finance ($1.8bn), Allied Nationwide ($130m), Equitable Mortgage ($188m), AMI Insurance ($254m) and exclusive private school Wanganui Collegiate ($3.8m).|
A conversation with Ralph Anspach, the man behind Anti-Monopoly | Monopoly is Theft; A history of the world's most popular board game
"There is a million dollars of student debt sitting on the road!" a student reminded the protest blockade yesterday at Auckland University.
The remark was in reference to the around 100 students from Auckland University yesterday who swarmed onto Symonds Street to block a main arterial route in protest at the University Council voting to raise fees by 4% or some $300 per year. For a number of hours traffic was severely disrupted as the protest blocked the road, burning an effigy of Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce.
The protest comes two weeks after a large rally in the campus Quad against the National government's programme of commodifying education and the increasing privatisation of the university experience. Student activists use Facebook pages and the twitter hashtag #reclaimuoa to co-ordinate the movement.
Ben, a sociology student and one of the protest organisers said, "The rally started off small but lots more students joined in when they saw us take the road. People talked on the megaphone about their personal stories of living with debt. The mood of people was angry but resigned to the fact fees were raised."
"However yesterdays protest and the action two weeks ago have opened up a space for more people to get involved in all the campaigns happening on campus right now like the living wage campaign for cleaners and the fight against the abolition of university democracy."
Ben and his fellow organisers saw the protest as successful because, "The blockade was an event that ruptured the normal conditions of the financialised university and inspired people to fight. That's always a good thing."
Photos via Facebook and Twitter
Saturday, October 19, 2013
It's gone from bad to worse for John Key's shaky coalition government. The ministerial resignation of John Banks this week, triggered by Graham McCready's private prosecution is a blow to the Nats. It's also a surprising example of people power. How one pissed off bloke can take on the corruption of the politicians and the double standard of the police and win.
One of the interesting things about the SkyCity deal is that public opinion is fluid over it. As Brian Rudman pointed out in July 2013,
The latest Herald-Digipoll survey shows 61.5 per cent of voters disapprove of the deal and only 33.8 per cent approve. That was a sharp turnaround from a year ago when a similar poll found 40.3 per cent disapproved and 57.3 supported it.That support will likely drop as Banks heads to court and the deal gets more scrutiny as it heads back before Parliament. Like the GCSB issue, the more the public finds out, the more pissed off they will be.
Churches, unions, community groups and the political parties of the opposition all have a vested interest in taking on the deal. A big demonstration in mid-November with a march on SkyCity will provide some political form to the intellectual content of the debate to be held over the next few months.
As the political stability of Town Hall and Beehive melts in the late Spring heat, it's probably time for the Aotearoa is Not for Sale coalition backed this time by churches, charities and gambling watchdogs to take the streets once more and say our city and our gambling laws are not for sale.
Posted by - at 9:36 PM
Tuesday, October 08, 2013
To register you attendance email: email@example.com
|SOCIALISM 2013 – Socialist Aotearoa Conference,|
OPENING SESSION: What changed in 2013? | Friday 1 November: 7.30pm
From the election of a neo-liberal government in Australia to the beginning of an American fast food rebellion; Ed Snowden’s NSA revelations and the anti-GCSB protests, to the elevation of David Cunliffe to Labour leader, the welfare reforms and the super-charging of Auckland’s housing crisis; What changed in 2013 and why? And how should the radical left relate to the struggle today?
With: Paddy Gibson, co-editor Solidarity Magazine, organiser Stop the Intervention Collective Sydney;
Joe Carolan, Socialist Aotearoa, McStrike campaign organiser;
and Nicola Owen, Linda Miller, Bevan Morgan.
SATURDAY SESSIONS: State of the Struggles | Saturday 2 November: 10.30am to 5.30pm
10.15am -10.30am | Registration
10.30am – 11.30am | Strike!: The Battle in the Workplace
With: Grant Brookes, Nursing unionist and Fightback member; Meredydd Barrar, Vice President NZEI West Auckland branch; Taylor McLoon, Unite delegate and McDonald’s striker.
11.30am – 12.00pm | Morning Tea
12.00pm – 1.00pm | Te Kapehu Whetū: The Future of Mana
With: John Minto Mana’s Auckland Mayoral candidate; Lisa Gibson, Tamaki Makaurau chair; Roger Fowler, Mangere council candidate and Respect Our Community chair; Cheyne Timmermans, Auckland University Mana on Campus co-ordinator.
1.00pm – 2.00pm | Lunch
2.00pm – 3.00pm | Rebel History: The Role of Revolutionaries in NZ History
Eoin Sher on the Red Federation of Labour and New Zealand’s 1913 Great Strike; Mike Treen on the 1970s and 1980s heyday of the Socialist Action League in the meatworks and campuses of New Zealand; and Joe Carolan on the first five years of Socialist Aotearoa
3.15pm - 4.15pm | United We Stand: Marxism and Liberation
Jayson Gardiner on tino rangatiratanga today; Nicola Owen on women’s liberation; and Eva Allan on LGBT struggles.
4.30pm – 5.30pm | What sort of Marxism do we need in 2014?
Paul Brown, on Lenin's theory of the party and the making of the Russian revolution; Dave Josling on the contemporary debates within Marxism on the economic crisis; Jared Phillips, Fightback and CWI supporter on key questions for the left in 2014; and Shane Malva on Marxist storms in academic teacups, what we can learn from Badiou and the Zizek-Chomsky debate.
5.30pm onwards | BBQ
BBQ and radical folk music by Matt Billington and Paul Brown
Registration: All members and supporters welcome | Email aksocialistaotearoa@gmail.
Koha on the door ($10 suggested for waged members and supporters
Morning Tea, Lunch and Dinner provided.
On Thursday September 19, 2013, Russian special forces illegally boarded and seized control of the Arctic Sunrise: a Greenpeace vessel that was conducting peaceful protests against an oil rig in international waters. An estimated fifteen or sixteen armed FSB (Russian internal security agents) boarded the ship from a helicopter and arrested all thirty activists at gunpoint including two New Zealanders. This was an escalation of the quasi-military protection that Russia had been providing for Gazprom; the world's largest extractor of natural gas and the first company to drill for oil in the Arctic. According to Argentinian greenpeace activist Camila Speziale, the day before the Russian authorities had fired automatic weapons in the air and water, used water cannons on two activists scaling the oil rig and threatened to open fire on the ship if they didn't leave the area.
Arctic Sunrise was then forcibly taken to just out Murmansk despite no official charges having been laid at that point. After illegally detaining all thirty activists under armed guard and without legal representation Russia's Investigative Committee announced that they were to be investigated for piracy, these charges which have been upheld so far carry a maximum sentence of 15 years. Piracy, as defined in Article 101 on the UN convention on the Law of the Sea, only applies when "illegal acts of violence, detention or depredation are committed against a ship or aircraft for private ends". Any reasonable consideration of the sequence of events inevitably leads to the conclusion that it is the Russian state authorities who have in fact committed acts of piracy for the private gain of Gazprom. Legal experts and academics around the world have condemned the actions of the Russian Federation and petitioned them to suspend the piracy investigation immediately.
The actions of the Russian state authorities demonstrate a total disregard for international law and human right conventions. Greenpeace say that more than a million people have petitioned Russian embassies to free the activists and there have been protests around the world. If you would like to join the campaign to Free the Arctic 30 you can do so on the Greenpeace website.
On Wednesday October 9, 2013, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key and Russian President Vladimir Putin both attended the Apec conference in Bali, Indonesia. Key displayed his trademark impotence in dealing with any issues pertaining to democratic or civil rights by failing to exert any diplomatic pressure on Putin to drop the piracy charges or to release the two New Zealand citizens. Instead, Key coat-tailed Putin like a love crazed fanboy waiting for a chance to snap a pic with the Russian oligarch which he quickly uploaded to Twitter. In a media release Key said with regard to the Greenpeace activists "in the end people need to consider their actions" and in reference to the Russian piracy prosecution "we can't interfere in their system". The Russian legal system also enforces a law banning "gay propaganda" which is used to persecute LGBT activists, presumably Key thinks that this should be allowed to continue unimpeded as well. The national shame of having John Key as our leader is increasing every week.
- Shane, SA.
Sunday, October 06, 2013
What's also interesting is Aslan's looking at the development of the Christian faith after Jesus' death, though its not gone into in any great detail. The alterations and innovations made by those writing for a Greek and Roman audience completely changed Jesus as a figure and what he was preaching. Aslan looks at the significant opposing views of Paul, who had never met Jesus, and the person who was most significant in the years following Jesus' death, his brother James, who led the early Jesus Movement out of Jerusalem. James and the movement he led were very much tied to their traditional Jewish cult and practices, maintaining that Jesus was the messiah, whilst Paul proclaimed that in essence, Jesus was a cosmic being, a concept that was not only bizarre, but heretical, in traditional Jewish eyes. Once James had been killed and following the events of the Jewish Revolt in which Jerusalem and the temple were razed, Paul became the leading figure of the early Christian church. From this moment, Christianity took on a form that was born and molded in a Hellenistic world view, a view that deliberately distanced itself from the revolutionary actions and political messages against the Roman empire.
In what I think is very telling of how ideas can evolve over time (and become warped by those who appropriate the message to their own ends) ,we can look at the story of Jesus' death, in which many (Bible) stories, progressively over time, turn Pontius Pilate(who was known for his disregard of Jewish religion and his huge number of death sentences and crucifixions) into a figure that tried his best to save Jesus, and in turn makes the Jewish people look the villains, crying out for Jesus' blood. Though this version of events is quite obviously not true, given the nature of Roman rule and the reputation of Pontius Pilate, as well as the mysterious motive of why the Jewish people would wish for Jesus' death, it is the foundation for thousands of years of Christian anti-Semitism.
This book probably received plenty of criticism from the academic community for its simplification of the study of Jesus. Personally I was unacquainted with the historical background or even the general basic information regarding the historical Jesus, and so as a layman I found this book really interesting, useful and an enjoyable read. I think the fact that Aslan makes (his) arguments for the historical Jesus and the historical and cultural context easily understandable and accessible to the general public, to those like myself who are unaware of the academic study, is really good. It was a good introduction and provoked my curiosity to continue reading into the area, which is made easier by the excellent notes and references list at the end of the book.
This book is not making any kind of faith-based argument for or against Jesus Christ. Any criticism coming from a Christian faith perspective is irrelevant; this is about the historical Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth. Reading about what we can infer about Jesus and the events surrounding him from historical fact is fascinating, and I would venture to say that the historical Jesus is one that is every bit as interesting, if not more so than the one that has become a Godhead for the global religion. For me, the Jesus of faith has always been detached, unrealistic, unattainable. People imagine him as some white guy (he was a JEW) in immaculate linens, far above any kind of human politics or hardship, healing the sick and preaching about God
Overall, as Aslan passionately states, the loss of the Jesus of Nazareth to history is a huge shame "Because the one thing any comprehensive study of the historical Jesus should hopefully reveal is that Jesus of Nazareth - Jesus the man - is every bit as compelling, charismatic,and praiseworthy as Jesus the Christ. He is, in short, someone worth believing in."
As a side note, its really worth checking out the disastrous and ridiculous Fox News interview with Reza Aslan and the interviewer's insistence that despite Reza Aslan's impressive scholarly credentials, he has no right to write about Jesus, because as a Muslim he must have an agenda.
Michael Kyriazopoulos, or Mike Kay as he is known to his comrades, has just published his first work of fiction, Cloudy Sunday. The beautifully written novella with a well paced tempo and elegant story-line is equal parts history of the 28th Maori Battalion, Athenian war romance, informal tract on the philosophy of the Mana Party and anthropology on the origins of Greece's 'rebetiko' musical subculture.
Cloudy Sunday set during World War II follows the story of Tuatahi, a young Maori man from the East Cape of New Zealand through his enlistement in the Maori Battalion and deployment to Greece to fight the invading Nazi forces on the slopes of Mt Olympus.
Cut off and wounded during the New Zealand Division's fighting withdrawal to Crete, Tuatahi ends up hiding out in Pireaus, sheltered by a beautiful, young Greek woman Dora who makes a living singing rebetiko - a type of Greek folk-blues, whose name translates as 'of the gutter'. In the working-class nightclubs and ghettos of Athens' port Dora and Tuatahi's love blossoms. As German searchlights menace overhead Tuatahi drinks ouzo, smokes hashish and makes love before he falls in with a band of Εθνική Αντίσταση, the Greek resistance. Alongside Alexis the Anarchist and Panos the Trotskyist Tuatahi gets involved in leafleting Wehrmacht barracks with calls for mutiny.
Mike, a leading member of socialist group Fightback, former AWUNZ organiser and office holder in the Mana Movement's North Shore branch was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease at the beginning of this year. Mike, forced by the disease to dictate the conclusion to his wife Joanne, has used the story to nail down his experiences as a Greek Jewish socialist in Aotearoa, his observations of the similarities between Greek and Maori cultures and his personal and political outlook on the world - The meaning of life is life itself, to live it as fully as you can.
In the novella we meet Tuhoe followers of Te Kooti's Ringatu religion, John A. Lee inspired socialist soldiers and Greek partisan rebels influenced by the Trotskyism of Michalis Raptis. Tied together in the book all of these ideologies have also come to influence the DNA of the Mana Movement, an organisation to which Mike dedicated much of his recent political life, canvassing in the bush and harbour enclosed streets around his Beach Haven home, selling hangi packs at the local markets and cementing the political infrastructure of a movement that weaves together the militant leftism of John Minto and Sue Bradford with the radical indigenous activism of Hone Harawira and Annette Sykes.
Through Cloudy Sunday Mike also elucidates a political history of events such as Stalin's invasion of Finland, the sinking of the Hellas, and the tearing down of the Nazi flag from atop the Acropolis through the eyes of a working-class Maori. In a nightclub with the Greek resistance celebrating the now venerated act of Apostolos Santas and Manolis Glezos at the Acropolis, Tuatahi tells one of his new comrades "But symbolic acts are important brother. A century ago the Maori chief Hone Heke repeatedly chopped down the British flagstaff at the first colonial capital. That sparked a massive rebellion against the Crown."
The novella's title, Cloudy Sunday, refers to a rebetiko song composed during the Nazi occupation to honour a young Greek murdered at a German checkpoint. And indeed the text is littered with homages to the classics of British literature - James Joyce, William Blake, W.B Yeats, intermixed with references to Greek and Maori mythology and discussions of Marx's method of historical materialism. These cultural plugs enrich the plot and animate Cloudy Sunday's characters. When Tuatahi and his C Company comrades mass for haka before the German assault on Olympus, Mike tells us, "Tumatauenga, the red-faced god of war, was in possession of their bodies as their eyes flashed and teeth were bared. Tuatahi imagined the ash clouds of the volcano Whakaari billowing from his flared nostrils."
My only criticism of Cloudy Sunday is that at seventy pages it is all too brief. However what it lacks in breadth, it is redeemed in depth. Well done Mike, you have produced a beautiful story that is a tribute to the erudition of your writing, the intelligence of your politics and the mana of your character. I thoroughly hope that there is another print run of Cloudy Sunday because I have no doubt it will become a classic work in the emerging literature of our antipodean socialism.
If you would like a copy of Cloudy Sunday purchase the ebook off Amazon or petition the Kyriazpoulos's for another print run on Cloudy Sunday's Facebook page.
Saturday, October 05, 2013
Over 300 residents in Mangere went home encouraged and ready to fight a proposed motorway every step of the way from a rally in South Auckland today.
Residents of the South Auckland community of Mangere, inspired by Mana Movement local government candidates, have today established Respect Our Community, a group to organise resistance against the proposed Option Four of an East to West motorway through South Auckland and on the Saturday 5 October called a public meeting at Sutton Park school in Mangere East. The venue was symbolic as this is one of the three schools that the new motorway would cut through. This may result in anything from the loss of a large portion of the school fields to the demolition of the entire school. Because of this the school opened up the hall free of charge to the Respect Our Community campaign.
Among the speakers at the packed meeting were representatives from three political parties as well as local board members and local Labour MP Su'a William Sio. The local board members were insistent that due process had to be followed and that the community should not get involved until the local board had done all they could to stop the motorway while Su’a William Sio said he hoped that residents got decent prices for their properties if the motorway was constructed. However members of this strongly working-class community were forthright in calling for protest action to be taken as soon as possible emphasising the importance of making a stand against the new motorway before Auckland Transport has chosen their preferred option, due to be announced early next year. Another concern raised at the meeting was the proximity of the motorway to local child care centres and the impacts of the pollution on the children of the Mangere community.
At the end of the meeting a resolution to oppose Option 4 publicly was drafted by Respect Our Community chair Roger Fowler. This was later amended, by a proposal from a local, to a resolution to oppose the East-West link regardless of its form. As well as this a petition has been provided to be circulated amongst the Mangere community to be returned before November the 5th.
-Eva A., SA
Petitions available at the Mangere East Community Learning Centre, 372 Massey Rd (behind the library).
Being a psychology student, you don’t really learn a lot about left-wing politics, or anything remotely related to politics for that matter. We’re mostly just taught to memorise the facts. But recently I had a lecture on intergroup relationships, specifically on this phenomenon called Contact Theory which led me to ponder oppressor-oppressed relationships in the modern era.
In short: contact theory is the idea that the mere interaction between a dominant group and subordinate group can produce harmonious relations.
There have been numerous studies testing this phenomenon, the earliest coming from 1978. S.W. Cook hired a white worker for a railway task, and informed him that he had to co-operate with a black colleague in order to complete his job. At the end of the task, Cook found that the white worker rated the black worker higher in likeability, competence, and even attractiveness (Cook, 1978).
The problem with this phenomenon is that social equality may be achieved, but economic equality is not. Not only is economic inequality perpetuated, but it’s now presented with a smile. The harmonious relationship that’s established merely gives the illusion of equality. In the study “The Irony of Harmony”, Saguy et al. (2009) divided participants into two groups, those with and those without money. The groups were instructed to discuss their commonalities; to encourage intergroup harmony. The group with the money would then distribute as much money as they wished to the group with no money. This study was also repeated where intergroup conflict was encouraged instead of harmony. The results showed that even though a harmonious relationship between the groups was established, it did not result in the even distribution of money. Surprisingly, they found no difference in the distribution of money between the harmonious groups and the hostile groups.
As I sat through this psychology lecture, the immortal words of Oscar Wilde kept echoing through my mind: “… the worst slave-owners were those who were kind to their slaves” (Wilde, 1891).
The façade of equality presented when a boss pays you your annual bonus or by social democrats accepting modest wage increases benefits no-one but the ruling elite. The maintenance of this illusion of equality means that the ruling class no longer need to placate the disgruntled plebs since we, under this delusion, have mollified ourselves. This blindfold of social harmony prevents us from seeing the fundamentally unequal structures hidden within society. Peace between the oppressor and the oppressed results to nothing but the perpetuation of the status quo which is, of course, the perpetuation of inequality and oppression.
- Cook, S. W. (1978). Interpersonal and attitudinal outcomes in cooperating interracial groups. Journal of Research & Development in Education, 12(1), 97-113.
- Saguy et al. (2009). The Irony of Harmony: Intergroup Contact Can Produce False Expectations for Equality. Psychological Science (Wiley-Blackwell), 20(1), 114-121.
- Wilde, O. (1891). The Soul of Man Under Socialism.
With names like Wrecking Ball and Lost Generation a new generation of pop songs is giving a voice to working class anger and disillusionment in the wake of the global financial crisis. From Lorde's Royals to Aloe Blacc's I Need a Dollar and Macklemore's Thrift Shop popular culture is shifting with popular antipathy to the times and reflecting the mood of the streets.
Wednesday, October 02, 2013
Grand Theft Auto V is the latest edition of the Grand Theft Auto or GTA series of video games in which players run around large-scale simulations of famous American cities completing various missions to take their character from rags to riches. GTA, developed by Rockstar is one of the most influential video game series ever with the ten games selling over 135 million units, topping Guinness World Records for sales and impact and being amongst the most popular Playstation games. Throughout all the games are three key constants; the need to steal cars (and buses, trucks, helicopters etc) and drive them quickly, the need to kill people using a variety of weapons, and the need to accumulate money.
For a consumer capitalist market obsessed with commodities like new cars, addicted to gratuitous violence on TV and enthralled by stories about poor people finding freedom, opportunity and wealth in America the GTA series is the crack-pipe of cultural products. Since its mid-September release GTA V has already become the fastest selling entertainment product with over 10 million units sold as of 3 October 2013. It has been met with rave reviews by gamers impressed with its massive open world gamescape, stunning graphics depicting neighbourhood diversity of architecture and social character, and the sheer breadth of game activities available from mountain biking and skydiving to golf and yoga. It has also been subjected to sharp criticism from pundits and politicians for its violence, misogyny and graphic depiction of US government approved torture including water boarding, tooth pulling and electrocution. Perhaps the most stunning impact GTA V has had was for Zachary Burgess a 20 year old American college student in Louisiana who in late September 2013 was arrested for stealing a truck, kidnapping a woman and crashing into nine cars. Burgess told a police officer, he 'wanted to see what it was really like to play the video game Grand Theft Auto' . At least for these reasons GTA V is worthy of the critical attention of Marxists.
GTA V is set in Los Santos, a virtual simulation of present day Los Angeles and its surrounding counties where the three main characters reside; a middle aged and now retired bank robber living it up in luxury with his family, a tweaking meth dealer living in a trailer park in the desert, and a young Black man working repo for a credit defrauding car dealer. In terms of overall plot GTA V draws heavily on the 1995 Al Pacino heist film Heat, and the characters, missions and dialogue show the strong influences of TV series The Wire, Breaking Bad, The Sopranos and films like Ocean’s Eleven and Zero Dark Thirty. The missions and plot revolve around three central themes. Firstly, the need to accrue money through various robberies (a device driven by producers to give the game an authentic austerity feel); secondly, being caught up between the Feds and the Agency in an inter-department war, and a string of socially conscious missions that see you assassinate the Mark Zuckerberg-sketch CEO of Lifeinvader with a smartphone bomb, blaze a pharmaceutical industry executive peddling heart attack linked Viagra, snipe the bribed jurors on a big tobacco class action, merc a corrupt construction boss and humiliate the presenter of an exploitative reality TV show called Fame or Shame.
Imbued within the game’s mirror image of America is a comedic cynicism about the world. For example in GTA V Facebook is Lifeinvader, Twitter is Bleater, Fox News is Weasel News and America’s largest mercenary army Blackwater becomes Merryweather. On the street homeless men complain about veteran’s payments and on talkback radio shock jocks peddle Tea Party inspired propaganda. Right near the start our jaded ex-stick up artist tells our aspiring gangster from the hood, “Go to college. Then you can rip people off and get paid for it. It’s called capitalism.”
Marxist interpretations of GTA are not novel. Nick Dyer-Witherford and Greig de Peuter in their book Games of Empire: Global Capitalism and Video Games extensively discuss the series in the chapter Imperial City. This chapter analyse the GTA as a ‘game of empire’ drawing on the work of anti-globalisation leading lights Antonio Hardt and Michael Negri to examine how wealth, power, corruption, brutality and social conflict are concentrated in imperial cities which creates the multi-ethnic precaraiat, a working-class without social security, a plutocracy, a state without democracy and a geographic segregation of rich and poor turning the world into a planet of slums and gated communities. The authors also draw on the work of Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek to point out the reactionary power of GTA’s cynicism, “it is as if in late capitalism ‘words don’t count,’ no longer oblige: they increasingly seem to lose their performative power; whatever one says is drowned in the general indifference; the emperor is naked and the media trumpet forth fact, yet nobody seems to mind-that is, people continue to act as if the emperor is not naked.” Dyer-Witherford and de Peuter thus draw the conclusion,
GTA is a cynical game that simultaneously satirizes, indulges, and normalizes individual hyperpossesiveness, racialized stereotypes, and neoliberal violence in a self-cancellation that allows these elements to remain intact, a structure that is, in a very precise way, conservative. ...The world city that most fully actualizes Rockstar’s vision of ferociously violent, ethnically segregated war is American occupied Baghdad. It is no wonder a marine records his urban experience in Iraq in the following terms: “I was thinking just one thing when we drove into that ambush... Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. I felt like I was living it when I seen the flames coming out of the windows, the blown-up car in the street, guys crawling around shooting at us. It was fucking cool.”Karl Marx in the Grundrisse wrote, “The object of art – like every other product – creates a public which is sensitive to art and enjoys beauty. Production thus not only creates an object for the subject, but also a subject for the object.”
Video games like GTA are no exception to this. Numerous studies show that video games increase aggression and like for our American marine, desensitise youth to killing and chaos. Without sounding like a member of the Christian right it seems right to point out that these games can have very negative impacts. Young adults or the mentally unwell can fall into a spell after prolonged playing. In 2008 a Thai taxi driver was killed by an 18 year old who wanted to ‘find out if it was as easy in real life to rob a taxi as it was in the game’ and in New York six teenagers claiming GTA inspiration ‘mugged a man, knocking his teeth out, attempted to car-jack a woman driving a BMW and smashed a passing van with a bat’.
In revolutionary times however, when a multitude of GTA-trained youth are ridding themselves of the muck of all ages, perhaps the countless hours of GTA gameplay may come to play a deciding factor. In Turkey during the June uprising against the destruction of Gezi Park and against neo-liberalism, demonstrators hijacked a bulldozer and broke through police lines and knocked out a water cannon. Over the next few days graffiti appeared around Gezi Park’s autonomous commune. One read, “You’re messing with the generation that beats cops in GTA”, another, "We now have six stars. Tanks will be coming soon."
|Graffiti in Istanbul, June 2013. "We now have six stars. Tanks will be coming soon."|