Friday, October 28, 2005

Bored of Chavez trivia and cricketing lore?

Don't e mail me and whinge, go and visit Len Richards' new blog, newsoc.
Len's a Phd student in the Auckland University sociology department and an inveterate parliamentary candidate for the Alliance Party. His first post shines a light on the shameful post-election job losses at Air New Zealand....

Update: the Engineers' union has issued an open letter to unionists about the lay-offs at Air NZ. You can read it here.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Chavez acts against coffee MNCs, slashes Expresso intake!

Non-news here. Can't post anything substanital as I fell off my bike AGAIN (second time this year!) and semi-stuffed my wrist yesterday...grrr...

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Chavez steals one of my fourth form jokes

I remember versions of this one doing the rounds in my Maori class.
Paul Dillon thinks the American left might have trouble dealing with Chavez's sense of humour...

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Spectres of the past

The World Socialist Website has a fascinating report on the return of the geriatric Mario Soares to the leadership of the country's Socialist Party. WSWS points out that Soares was the gravedigger for the Portugese revolution which broke out in 1974, and suggests that his return to politics is an acknowledgement of the instability which is besetting Portugese society today, thirty years after the revolution that overthrew fascism was diverted from the path of socialism. Even if Portugese society were completely stable, the revolution of 1974 would be of more than historical interest: as Alan Woods, Hugo Chavez's favourite philosopher, has often pointed out, the events in Portugal all those years ago provide one of the clearest parrallels for the revolution taking place today in Venezuela.

In Portugal, the long reign of the fascist Salazar government created a profound political vacuum and economic crisis, as all opposition was repressed or driven abroad and Portugese capitalism was attached surgically to the exploitation of the waning empire's outposts in Angola, Mozambique and to a lesser extent Portugese Guinea. A handful of oligarchs ran the Portugese economy by importing raw materials from the colonies, processing them in clapped-out Portugese factories, and selling the shoddy end-products to Portugese and the colonials, who were deprived of any alternative by an strict import restrictions and other autarkic measures.

Once guerrilla movements had made the Portugese presence in Africa unsustainable, Portugese society was bound to go into freefall, but the vaccum created by Salazar meant that it was the military, or rather a radical section of the military, which had to take the initial lead in overthrowing the regime. Sound familiar? Once the coup of 1974 had opened the floodgates of dissent and working class organisation, revolution began in earnest: workers occupied factories and organised soviets, small farmers seized land, and students took over their universities. The provisional government established in the aftermath of the coup was forced to pass all manner of progressive legislation, and to make way for the election of a Constituent Assembly. Tragically, though, the right was able to mobilise its forces and destroy the parrallel institutions that the insurgent workers and farmers had created, rolling back the revolution. It has been a different story, thusfar, in Venezuela, where the right-wing representatives of the national bourgeoisie failed in repeated attempts to destroy the Chavez government by illegal and electoral means, and have for the moment at least been reduced to a pathetic rump.

It'd be interesting to see someone do a detailed comparative study of the Portugese and Venezuelan revolutions and identify the key variables that account for their differing fortunes. For a detailed but accessible history of the revolution, see this article.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Magritte paints the new National caucus

here. Personally I think Jabba and (by implication) the rest of the Hutt species have always had a pretty rough deal from the media and entertainment industries.

Labour ain't red

That's what the Alliance is saying in this commentary on the government Helen Clark has just cobbled together. Sounds fair enough to me. The de facto coalition with Peters and Dunne will set a right-wing trajectory for Labour's third term, ruling out any improvements to industrial relations legislation or other union-friendly measures. The Greens are whinging about being left out in the cold, but they will able to resposition themselves further to the left of Labour, and pick up voters unhappy with the influence of Peters and Dunne over the new government. Depending on how far Labour moves to the right, and how much the economy slows down, they may even win a few unions away from Labour. With these opportunities for the Greens, I don't like the prospects of the Alliance, or any new party attempting to win working class support on the basis of a left social democratic programme. All a bit depressing really, isn't it? Venezuela it certainly ain't...

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Another victory for English cricket?

Harold Pinter has just scooped the Nobel Prize, and I'm ashamed to say I can only remember one of his poems (and an extremely short one, at that) off the top of my head:

I saw Len Hutton in his prime
Another time

Another time

I've been grazing Pinter's worryingly professional website (I'm not sure if it's ever a good idea to be put '.org' after an individual's name!), and I see that he is the President of the Gaieties Cricket Club, and has dedicated a poem to Justin Falkus, who holds the club's highest batting average. Can we chalk Pinter's Nobel up as another win for English cricket?

The World Socialist Website has put up an article which focuses on Pinter's political activism.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Deng Xiaoping, running dog of imperialism

Too late! This blog is already banned in China! We have been left out in the cold, on the wrong side of the The Great Fire Wall erected by the Chinese government to protect its citizens from such barbaric subjects as cryptozoology, the decline of Australian cricket, and the socialist threat to Venezuela's coke drinkers (to name three of the hot topics on this blog). That's what my mate Michael 'Diamond' Arnold, exiled poet turned travel blogger extraordinaire, tells me, anyway - he has searched high and low for this blog, across every cyber cafe in Beijing, and been disappointed. Fortunately, we can still read Michael's record of these and other intrepid journeys through the land that never ends, by visiting his Words from the East blog.

To read about a recent not-so-funny violation of civil liberties by China's gerontocracy, have a look at this article
on the BBC website. For another insight into the China of 2005, check out this letter from a dissident Chinese Marxist to the Socialist Appeal website.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Let them drink Pepsi

Times are apparently tough for certain disaffected sections of Venezuela's bourgeoisie. What with all these farm and factory occupations and nationalisations, they might soon be deprived of the privilege of drinking coke!

At the website of the Hands off Venezuela campaign, Alirio Real (great name!) offers a protrait of some of his country's 'fallen oligarchs'...

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Monkey magic

I've just watched Inherit the Wind, an account of the 1925 Scopes 'monkey' trial, courtesy of a gloriously scratchy old VHS cassette from Videon. The film actually seemed far more modern than it did on a rainy childhood afternoon back in the 80s. Depressingly relevant, even, when one considers reports like this. Methinks it's time for some militant materialism!

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Clash of the manichaens

Given the continuing march of events in Iraq, I'm inclined to see the recent much-hyped debate between Christopher Hitchens and George Galloway as a pretty quaint affair.

One thing that Galloway and the increasingly pathetic Hitchens have in common is a tendency to frame the war in Iraq as a sort of manichaen struggle between two monolithic forces, one of which represents justice and righteousness and the other of which symbolises all that is wrong with the world. His mind addled by alcohol and fat pay cheques from the Wall Street Journal and the Hoover Institute, Hitchens seems to regard the US occupation as some sort of struggle for the Enlightenment; Galloway has at least opposed the invasion and occupation of Iraq, but he seems to see every expression of opposition to the US as equally progressive and anti-imperialist. Hence Hitchens' ridiculous advocacy of corrupt and thuggish politicians like Ahmed Chalabi, and Galloway's simplistic, because uncritical, presentation of Islamist and Sunni chauvinist forces in Iraq. (Sadly, Galloway has a long record of support for dodgy characters - he once praised Saddam Hussein's 'courage and indefatigability', and he continues to praise Syria's dictatorial Baath regime. A record of parliamentary support for Blairite 'reforms' of public services, an oft-stated opposition to a woman's right to abortion, and a habit of scaremongering about the dangers of immigration round out a depressing picture of the man some see as the future of the British left.)

In a way, the insistence on seeing the Iraq war as a zero-sum game between two easily-definable sides represents the last illusion of the fools who argued for the invasion of Iraq on 'progressive' grounds. It is not to Galloway's credit that he buys into this illusion. As the situation in Iraq deteriorates, seemingly by the hour, anyone with an open mind is able to see that the war has become a struggle by a wide range of factions, each with its own agenda and its own (often temporary) allies, over the resources of Iraq.

A good example of the fluidity of the situation, and the impossibility of branding many players as simply 'pro' or 'anti' occupation or resistance, is the role of al-Sadr's Mahdi Army. As Steven Vincent showed before his untimely demise, the Mahdi Army last year established a de facto alliance with the British occupying forces in the south of Iraq. In exchange for calling off its rebellion against the occupation, the Mahdi Army was allowed to infiltrate the police, and to run day to day security operations in many areas, to the detriment of anyone who rejects al-Sadr's reactionary interpretation of Islam, including men and women immoral enough to picnic together. In other respects, though, al-Sadr's movement continues to cause trouble for the occupation - it has threatened to join forces with Sunni politicians to reject attempts to create a federalist constitution, and it has undermined other Islamist allies of the occupation like the Sciri Party. (The recent anti-British riots in Basra, which involved many members of the Mahdi Army, suggest that al-Sadr may be preparing to end all cooperation with the British.)

Some commentators now believe a mini-civil war could be beginning amongst different Shia factions, over the question of federalism and the division of resources through public office. This new conflict adds to the confused picture which has Shia and Sunni fighting pitched battles in places, Sunni opponents of both the occupation and Zarqawi attacking foreign jihadists in parts of the northwest, Turkmen, Sunni and Kurds facing off in the north, and so on.

There is simply no way to cover this chaotic and bloody situation with simplistic, 'black and white' schemas like the ones promoted by Galloway and Hitchens. If there is anything that seems to unite all the forces I have mentioned, from the US occupiers to the Mahdi Army to the Kurdish militia, it is a violent hostility to Iraq's secular left and trade union movement. And, predicably enough, the Iraqi independent workers' movement, which represents by far the most progressive force in Iraq, does not rate a mention by either Hitchens or Galloway.

What the left needs is not the verbal flatulence and manichaean worldview displayed by Galloway and Hitchens, but concrete, subtle analyses of the situation in Iraq, and political action based on such analyses, rather than on stereotypes and hysteria. Luckily, there are plenty of Marxist groups out there which are thinking carefully about Iraq. Check out, for instance, these incisive articles on Iraq , which have all appeared in the Weekly Worker, the paper of the Communist Party of Great Britain - Provisional Central Committee.

The CPGB-PCC (it's just as much of a mouthful as an acronym, I'm afraid!) has consistently combined uncompromising opposition to the occupation of Iraq with a clear-headed analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the different forces opposing the occupation. (It's no coincidence that the CPGB-PCC has been a consistent critic of Galloway within the Respect Party the MP for Bethnal Green leads.)

For a glimpse of an anti-war strategy that doesn't rely on Baathist dictators and suicide bombers, check out the call for strike action against the occupation here and (if you're a Kiwi) here.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Jack's Sampling

Jack Ross, my predecessor at the helm of brief and the poet laurete of Mairangi Bay, has an interesting essay on Sampling up at the Titus Books site (or should I say 'down' at the Titus Books site - how does one give directions on the internet?). Jack has a been trailblazer for the literary form now becoming known as the 'page work': typically, he mixes his own writing with found texts and dismembered classics in a very clever sort of collage. And if you're inclined to dismiss this sort of stuff as incorrigibly marginal, I'm sure Jack would take great pleasure in telling you that he's made the cut for the inaugural Aotearoa Literary Map, published recently by the New Zeland Book Council (check out the Northland and Auckland section - Jack's in good company...)

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Daylight savings starts

What a drag. I hate having to get up at two a.m. to put my clock forward an hour...

NB: Kirsty disowns this post and points out that Scott is so lame that he couldn't even get the time right - he originally wrote midnight when clocks go forward at 2 a.m. Duh!

Katrina unleashes killer dolphins