Monday, December 06, 2010

A miner problem

In the late eighties and the nineties the left and the labour movement were greatly damaged by the success of neo-liberalism around the world. As Reagan, Thatcher, and their many disciples sold off state assets, deregulated markets, and passed anti-union legislation, many of the traditions and institutions associated with the left were either damaged or destroyed. In New Zealand, for instance, dozens of trade unions ceased to exist, and the trade union movement as a whole more than halved in size.

There are some very negative legacies of the damage the left and the labour movement took in the 1990s. As Chris Trotter noted in a recent article, a generation has grown up with little understanding of left-wing history, and little grasp of the importance of the concept of class. Sometimes ignorance about these things can be found on the inside of the twenty-first century left.

A discussion thread under a post placed on indymedia to show solidarity with the victims of the Pike River mining disaster has shown off the ignorance of some of the site's most frequent and enthusiastic commenters. Instead of showing solidarity with the families and union of the miners, too many commenters have used the indymedia thread to call for the closure of New Zealand's coal mines, and thus for the sacking of hundreds or even thousands of workers.

Whilst I can understand that there are thoughtful arguments which can be made against a number of mining operations - my late friend the Reverend Leicester Kyle was a West Coaster and a prominent campaigner, in words and in deeds, against the Happy Valley Mine - it is surely a pretty basic left-wing principle that workers, and not outsiders, whether they be corporate suits or government bureaucrats or internet commenters, should be the ones making important decisions the futures of about worksites and communities.

To demand the closure of a mine - and some people at indymedia are demanding the closure of all mines! - is to demand the sacking of large numbers of workers and the devastation of a community. To make this demand from the outside, and in a thread under a post which is supposed to show solidarity with miners and their families, is grossly insensitive at best.

In New Zealand, miners have gone from being a minority which was revered by the left and feared by the right to being a group sentimentalised and pitied by the right and demonised by people on the left who have lost touch with concepts of class. During the revolutionary Great Strike of 1913 and in the Depression era the miners were the backbone of the labour movement, and the bourgeoisie was terrified by them. Novelist and historian David Ballantyne observed that after the Queen Street riot of 1932 rumours that the Huntly miners had formed a Red Army and were about to attack Auckland spread quickly through the city, panicking bosses and exciting militant workers. In 1942 wildcat strikes by coal miners in the Waikato brought down the wartime coalition government and forced the nationalisation of many of the country's coal mines. It's hard to imagine the halcyon days of the first half of the twentieth century now, when coal miners are a tiny, economically peripheral minority of the workforce.

For some years, Greenpeace has been campaigning for the closure of the country's coal mines, despite the views of the Engineers Union and of the wider trade union movement. According to Greenpeace, mining is a dirty business, and the miners who have built communities and cultures in isolated parts of the country like the West Coast need to find something more useful to do with themselves. The Green Party has frequently supported Greenpeace's campaign, though it confines itself officially to opposing the establishment of any new coal mines.

The sort of vituperation which is nowadays visited upon miners by organisations like Greenpeace has an unpleasant precedent. As the late ecologist Geoff Park noted, in the first half of the twentieth century Maori were often protrayed, by land-hungry Pakeha and by sections of the environmental movement, as a dirty, irresponsible people living in isolated, unsustainable communities - a people who needed to be dragged, kicking and screaming if necessary, into the enlightened modern world. Like the bourgeois environmentalists of today, the right used ecological arguments to justify breaking up Maori communities. Both the Urewera National Park and the famous park on Little Barrier Island were created by the forcible removal of Maori communities from 'pristine' landscapes they were supposedly despoiling.

Sara Watson, the most vociferous of the anti-mining commenters at indymedia, has called for 'legislative action' by the National-Act government to shut down every single mine in New Zealand. Watson claims that mining never existed before the advent of capitalism, and that the end of mining will hasten the end of capitalism. Apparently Watson thinks that the people who built Stonehenge were capitalists, as well as the Tongans who mined the massive stones that became the langi of their ancient capital Mu'a, not to mention the Maori who mined the coal reefs of the Waikato well before the arrival of Europeans in this country. Watson thinks that West Coasters should abandon the culture they have built around mining, and instead 'go rasta'.

Watson describes herself as a 'grassroots activist' and condemns those who query her strange understanding of capitalism as 'middle class wankers'. For Watson and her supporters (are they pseudonyms?) in the indymedia thread, anyone who tries to understand capitalism using theoretical categories is an enemy of the working class. Workers, apparently, need only 'passion' when they are making decisions about what stance to take on an issue. The miners' union and the trade union movement as a whole may oppose closing down New Zealand's mines, but Sara Watson knows better.

Sara Watson may well be an eccentric individual, or a right-wing wind-up merchant, or both, but I think her combination of legitimate anger at the Pike River Disaster and confident ignorance of the history and most basic principles of the left and the labour movement are a sign of what may be coming in nations like New Zealand in the next few years. With capitalism in serious trouble, unemployment and the cost of living rising, and the environment suffering, there are more and more issues for passionate young New Zealanders to get angry about. Without any idea about how to think about and organise against capitalism, though, people like Sara are easily reduced to counterproductive foaming at the mouth on the internet.

Here's a message I left on the discussion thread at indymedia:

Sara and several other people in this thread have argued that left-wing theory, and Marxist theory in particular, are alien and irrelevant to workers. Marxist analyses of capitalism are supposedly 'upper middle-class', and come from the university, not the real world. Workers don't need theory, we are told - they just need 'passion'.

We often hear this kind of ridicule of Marxism and other types of left-wing theory, but usually it comes from the right. Talkback radio hosts and right-wing bloggers often present workers as untheoretical folks with no interest in the sayings of out-of-touch left-wing intellectuals.

In reality, it was the workers' movement which was incubus and home of Marxism and other radical theoretical explanations of capitalism for nearly a century. Radical theory only really made it into the university in this country in the '70s, but it was alive and well in worksites, including coal mines, much earlier than that.

In Coal, Class, and Community, his classic history of miners' unionism in New Zealand, Len Richardson describes the study groups which proliferated on New Zealand's coalfields after World War One:

By 1917 the study groups were found on most coalfields and were especially strong at Blackball, Millerton, and Rewanui... [their members] pored over Mary E Marcy's Shop Talks on Economics and Karl Marx's Value, Price and Profit. The more dedicated wrestled with [Marx's book] Capital...[pgs 178-179]

Obviously the coalminers didn't think Marxist theory was 'upper-middle-class' and irrelevant. Why did these workers, who had to toil such long hours just to earn a living, use some of their precious spare time to study concepts like modes of production and surplus value? Len Richardson argues that they felt they needed theory to get a handle on the complicated world in which they were living. They needed to grasp their place in the scheme of international capitalism, and to interpret the strategies of employers and governments.

Richardson goes on to show how the miners in the Grey Valley used their theoretical training to win their 'less theoretically-inclined workmates' over to their plans for strike action against the bosses. Many workers in the Valley thought that their lot was improving, because their wages had risen after World War One. In reality, inflation meant that the miners were getting poorer. Richardson notes that the members of the study groups were able to use their training to explain this phenomenon:

With increasing skill, and by applying what they called the 'Marxian method', the members of the study groups put their case in terms that won increasing approval. They explained the difference between nominal and real wages...they explained that whereas real living costs had risen by more than forty percent since the war, earnings had risen, on average, by roughly half this amount...To end this drift in the cost of living, the Marxists called for 'a speedy increase in wages'; to bring this about they pressed for an immediate coal strike. The clamour for action in the Grey Valley could not be long ignored by the national executive... [pg 179]

This is only one example of hundreds which could be given to show that Kiwi workers who had never been to university, let alone been 'upper-middle-class', have studied Marxist theory seriously and applied it inside their unions. Besides the mines, the railways were a centre of Marxist theory - the old Otahuhu Railway Worskhops were so filled with study groups that in the 1960s and '70s they were were nicknamed 'the working class university of New Zealand'.

I'm not suggesting that we should all be reading what the Grey Valley miners were reading in 1918. Times change, and so do ideas. Some Marxist ideas are very valuable today - others are not so valuable, or at least need to be developed so that they become more valuable. Other intellectual traditions within the left besides Marxism deserve study.

The point I'm making is that it's a falsification of history to say that Marxism, and left-wing political theory in general, are something alien to workers, in this country or elsewhere. The notion that workers are uninterested in absorbing and discussing demanding political theory, and are just content to act on the basis of their immediate experiences and their passions, is a patronising myth created by the right. Some of the most well-read and intellectually acute people I have ever met are blue collar workers who never went near a university but have been through the same process of study as the Grey Valley miners. We need theory because our instincts and our immediate experiences don't always give us a complete view of the world. The world is a complex place, and if we don't balance our instincts and immediate impressions by stepping back from day-to-day reality and doing some theoretical analysis, then we can come to wrong conclusions. Sara's comments in this thread are an example of how such wrong conclusions can be drawn. She correctly sees that mining can be dangerous and environmentally damaging, but then jumps to the conclusion that the solution to the problems created by mining in a capitalist society is the passing of a law to close down coal mines. Such a law would throw large numbers of workers on the scrapheap and weaken our union movement, and it wouldn't do anything to stop capitalism.

If Sara's method of appealing to capitalist governments to pass laws to ban industries that have destructive side-effects were taken to its logical conclusion, would any of us end up with jobs? Roads in Auckland are very dangerous, because of capitalism's failure to invest in public transport: should we react to the road toll by banning businesses that use the road, like courier and trucking companies? Gambling creates serious problems in our society, because of the way people use it to deal with unhappiness and poverty - should we ban casinos, and thus shut down the biggest worksite in central Auckland? Alcohol leads to huge problems in New Zealand, as people seek to escape from negative experiences and situations - should we ban pubs and liquor shops? Where do we stop?

If we use theory to step back and look at the bigger picture, then we can see that mines, booze, roads, and so on are not evil in and of themselves, but have negative side-effects because of the way they function under capitalism. The way to deal with their side-effects is to change the way we organise our society.

One way we can ameliorate some of the worst side-effects of capitalism, like industrial fatalities, is to give workers more power over their worksites. Len Richardson's book shows very clearly that mining accidents spiked when unions were weak, and miners had less control over their conditions. As soon as they could get away with it, bosses shirked on safety. Only strong unions, the oversight of conditions by pit committees run by workers, and the threat of strike action on health and safety grounds kept employers in line.

In the last week a number of former miners' leaders have pointed out that the mines were safer when they were in government hands, and unions had a larger role in safety inspections. Media commentators have begun to attack the lack of involvement of union representatives in the investigation into the Pike River tragedy. A backlash may be building against the marginalisation of miners in New Zealand. To call for the closure of coal mines in these circumstances is both quixotic and offensive. The answer to industrial fatalities at Pike River and in other parts of the economy is to give greater power to workers, not to demand that the government sacks workers.


Blogger Sandra said...

Thank you thank you thank you Maps. You have articulated so well what I have been thinking but not had sufficient distance to write up, only your wider reading on the topic adds more than I would have included.

I have been thinking about danger, gender and work opportunities for working class men a lot over the past fortnight and I will attempt to write that up and post soon.

4:13 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

McCarten calls for workers' control:

4:28 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

indymedia is over-run with weirdos and irrelevant

sad but true

4:40 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the west coast should 'go rasta'...

what an idiot...

4:40 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Again you sweepingly and possibly quite erroneously assume that 9/11 (atrocities!!!) to the country that did the My Lai massacre -???)) think again!!...the nation that lies constantly that invades and bombs countries endlessly, is responsible for endless murders and atrocities, that instituted such monstrosities as Guantanamo, (or murder by default by dumping Capital on, and impoverishing, foreign nations) and using terror as a major weapon itself???); was done necessarily by Osama Bin Laden? A mythical figure (or a US agent in fact) to say the least. This is an open question. No one can verify who "did the towers" - or how many so-called terrorist attacks were or have been carried out (or aided and or abetted by), in fact, by the CIA or allied Security Organizations.

We simply do not have a reliable clock if we use the Justification Rules for truth verification and the Gettier objection (in epistemology). The "clock" being the US Government - and thus the CIA, FBI, the officials in NY, and the News media etc

This evasion of this vital issue is one reason the Left is now pathetically and laughably weak compared to the late 60s and 70s when there was powerful world wide protest. Now, virtually nothing. Just weak liberal crap.

5:06 pm  
Blogger Con said...

The notion that coal mining and other socially harmful practices should be permitted because the work is performed by working class people I find entirely unconvincing.

The notion idea the sectional interests of miners should trump the broader interests of the working class because of the historically progressive role of coal miners in the labour movement is similarly misguided.

Coal mining, and the rest of the fossil fuel industry, has to be reined in and actually abolished within the next few decades, not just in NZ but globally, or otherwise we are all in the shit, including coal miners. This is quite simply a matter of scientific management of the environment. It certainly is tactless to mention it in the context of the Pike River disaster, but it's a scientific fact that can't be ignored.

How many other workers will suffer because the ecosystems they rely on will break as a result of that coal being dug up and flung into the atmosphere? How many will lose their jobs or homes? Don't the interests of those workers count? Or are they "outsiders" whose views should be ignored because they are expressed via comments on the internet, and anyway they don't live on the West Coast?

5:28 pm  
Blogger maps said...

I'm sorry about the hard time you've all been having down in Greymouth in the aftermath of this tragedy, Sandra.

Richard: not the 9/11 thing again! The Troofer movement has collapsed even in the US. There's a reason for that.

Con: do you really fancy trying to use the demand for mass redundancies to build the left and the union movement? I can't quite see the masses pouring onto the streets to demand mass lay-offs, myself. The idea that workers have to pay for environmental problems lies behind the policies of both the major political parties and organisations like Greenpeace: we should reject it. There are many ways to reduce carbom emissions without sacking large number sof workers.

5:46 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...



5:51 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


5:52 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


5:52 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Maps - I'm not a "Troofer" - but I see you have deleted that part. We simply do NOT have any way of verifying. I don't care what has collapsed - the US Imperialists are capable of anything. Naive to think otherwise.

If criticism of US Imperialism has slackened, it is part of the general weakening of the Left and the ongoing effects of Revisionism throughout the world.

They couldn't even coordinate strikes, riots, potential revolutions, etc in Europe .

6:06 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Re the mines. Mining is risky, and management here may have cut some corners, but that is the way. Miners know the risks.

I have worked in some hard and dangerous jobs in my youth...none so much as mining. But you take those risks. That is what men do.

I didn't say it to Leicester (he wasn't too happy with the anti mining people in the end), but for me mining is essential.

Unions need to be stronger and more militant..apart from your (deleted) aside (lol!) I agree in principle with everything here.

The disaster at Pike Creek was terrible and I saw all involved as being quite sincere - Key included - and the Police and Pike River Management (as far as I could see it all on TV). Dave put the boot into management and the Government with his usual hostile rant...

It seems they are struggling on low funds - with so much borrowed capital they would have been pushing to make it. But they had sold some coal, and returns seemed to be increasing, and they may yet make some good profits.

Inquiries my help find if more safety was needed. But it has to be remembered that everything involves a degree of risk. No mine (coal or other) will ever not have death or injuries, but that is not a reason to close them.

We need coal and profits and exports, and workers need work.

6:24 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

There is nothing wrong with utilizing coal. There is no science that prohibits mining or coal use (!!) - as we would have to go back to roaming the fields chasing buffaloes if not butterflies in its absence !!

These Greenies and liberals raving about this puerile global warming nonsense and the end of the world are deluded - they are always well heeled with huge cars and massive houses - these anti mining or anti technology Greenies - note.

6:33 pm  
Blogger maps said...

Hi Richard,

sorry - I wasn't trying to decontextualise your comment when I deleted that part of my post, I was just attempting to make said post less rambling!

We'll have to agree to disagree about 9/11, as usual. I don't think Key's sincerity or otherwise really enters into the lessons of the Pike River disaster. Key may or not be sincere, and may or may not be a nice bloke in general, but his persistent attempts to marginalise trade unions mean that he is creating the conditions for workplace fatalities in a range of industries.

Where did Dave write about the mine disaster? I didn't see his piece.

6:34 pm  
Blogger maps said...


I must try that one with my father-in-law the next time he raises my current lack of a proper paid job! It at least sounds more resonant than 'I can't even get an interview'...

6:37 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Friday, November 19, 2010
Solidarity with the Pike River Miners and their families

'The victims of industrialism are more numerous than the victims of war.' - Ruskin.

Socialist Aotearoa sends its love and solidarity to the families of the Pike River Miners tonight, as they await news about their loved ones. The Miners are the backbone of the New Zealand working class, and they deserve the best of health and safety. One single life is not worth the millions the companies make from the sweat of the miners brow-

Joe Carolan, on behalf of Socialist Aotearoa

A dirge for the miners, the brave Huntly miners,
O'erwhelmed in the drive, where they labour'd for bread;
No more shall we see them, no more shall we hear them;
In the pride of their manhood, all crushed down and dead.
Sleep on, O brave comrades; your life's work is ended—
The breadwinner's sailed to a far distant shore;
Unflinching you laboured, for home and for kindred;
And now all your sorrows in this world are o'er.
O, think of their kindred--their nearest and dearest—
Their wives and their offspring, lamenting, and then
Hark! hark to the wailing, the fierce, bitter wailing,
The weeping of women, the sobs of the men!
Mourn, mourn for the miners, entombed 'neath the timbers;
Hot tears for our comrades, all mangled and torn;
And a curse for the system--the mad, cruel system—
That gathers its strength from the slaughtered and shorn!
For ages the workers have toiled on--have toiled on,
While Do-Noughts grew wealthy, without work at all;
And thousands received for a lifetime of bondage
Our dead comrades' wages--the earth for a pall!
Work on, then, O millions, in darkness and sorrow;
Be earnest and dauntless--the time yet shall come
When the gold-hunt that lures you will end with the morrow,
And a new hope arise like the throb of a drum! –

Arthur Desmond, 10 Jan 1891
[The Huntly (near Auckland) mine disaster occurred on 22 Dec 1890.

6:44 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


7:52 pm  
Blogger Michael Karadjis said...

Glad maps made this excellent post. It may be true that some forms of mining, particularly coal mining, will have to be phased out due to global warming ( not sure that has much relevance to other forms of mining), but that requires an overall social plan where socialists need to have one bottom-line: that NO COAL MINER IS WORSE OFF AS A RESULT. What this means depends on the circumstances. Perhaps it means that new forms of employment can be found in their communities; in this case, if the "market-price for labour" of such jobs is loower than for mining, then they must be paid above the "market-price". Perhaps it means demanding massive state funding for renewable energy development, in which case the state must pay for the re-training of the miners to do these jobs. Perhaps there may be times when there is no "work" in capitalist terms for a while; in that case, it is not the miners' fault, they still must be paid to feed their families and so that state must be made to dish out for them to "not work." Of course the last is absurd; there is always socialy useful work that needs doing, but that is capitalism's contradiction.

Whatever the case, anyone actually calling for mass redundancies in the mines under the cover of some environmentalist argument is an ecological charlatan at best and a hidebound reactionary at worst, who has nothing to do with any traditions of the left, labour or socialist movement.

8:33 pm  
Anonymous Ben Courtice said...

Calling for closure of the coal mines is beside the point and inflammatory in relation to this tragendy. That being said, maps seems to be in need of a refresher on ecology. Coal is the biggest cauuse of climate change. We must abandon coal (and the other fossil fuels) post haste: this is the stark message of the climate scientists. Politically, I agree with Mike Karadjis' points about how this can be done. Of course it's going to be a nervous transition for coal mining communities. Of course the employers will whip them up about how Greenies with big houses and big cars are trying to make them all redundant, just like Richard says here. If the coal miners are such class conscious fighters I expect they would see through such wilful ignorance and try to make alliances with the environmentalists. That is happening, tentatively, in some areas of Australia. But for the left to abstain on the climate issue would be to concede the ground to the mining bosses on that, if not on work issues.

9:17 pm  
Blogger maps said...

Thanks for your comments Michael and Ben. I'm probably a bit hidebound when it comes to coal mining because I have a sort of sentimental connection to it: I grew up very close to the ruins of what was almost the first commercial coal mine in New Zealand, ruins which were scenically overgrown with bush, I've imbibed all of the legends of the miners' movements in Australasia and Britain from left-wing writers, and my wife's family are traditionally coal mining folk from Yorkshire (her grandad went down the pit at fourteen, and still talks about the experience with a mixture of pride and indignation).

I think the basic principle that workers and vulnerable communities should not bear the brunt of environmentalism remains valid, though, especially in this country, where environmentalism is very strong - we had the first Green Party in the world nack in 1972 - and has often found itself in alliance with the right.

There's a section of the Kiwi bourgeoisie which is very keen on promoting this nation as a clean, green paradise, and which would be delighted to see coal mining and many other types of mining canned -at workers' expense, of course. The Marxist political scientist Bryce Edwards recently blogged about the continuing drift to the right by our Green Party, and about the way that openly pro-National Party business people like Craig Potton are now close to the centre of power in the organisation:

10:20 pm  
Blogger Con said...

I agree that “workers and vulnerable communities should not bear the brunt of environmentalism” but at the same time, ignoring the demands of environmental stabilisation is not at all a way to shield the working class and vulnerable communities. To the extent that global warming is not mitigated (including by closing coal mines), the negative effects of global warming are going to fall most heavily not on the rich, but on the working classes and most vulnerable communities of the poorest nations of the world.

If coal miners and their communities are going to get a fair go during the transition period, it'll be because they organise and fight for their broader class interest alongside workers elsewhere.

The alternative, of trying to “save coal”, objectively means lining themselves up against the interests of the working class (which coal mining certainly is), and that can't possibly be a winning strategy - it could only end in tears.

12:50 am  
Blogger Con said...

Of course I don't fancy "trying to use the demand for mass redundancies to build the left and the union movement".

The correct demand is for an economy that meets the needs of working people. That means a demand that mining communities are supported through the transition to zero coal.

Those communities can be supported with new infrastructure development (including broad-band internet and public transport), training, relocation assistance etc. That's the fight to pick.

1:19 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly told a Canterbury Workers Educational Association function in Christchurch on Friday that Whittall should have apologised for the tragedy.

“He’s now been called a national hero, but he’s the CEO of that company and he hasn’t apologised,” she said.

“Even if the company did everything right, if it was me, I’d say: `I’m the employer. This has happened and I’m really sorry. I don’t know why, but I’m going to find out why’. But he hasn’t said that.”

Questions about what happened had not been asked, Kelly said.

“This is a very serious event. That mine was open for just over a year. There are 29 miners dead. We’ve got to be more mature about who we honour, how we think about things, what we demand. If that had been public Department of Conservation [land] we would have gone after them and said what had happened.

“But because it’s a company and because the CEO gets to sit next to the Prime Minister at the memorial service, the hard questions have not been asked.”

9:15 am  
Blogger maps said...

'a demand that mining communities are supported through the transition to zero coal'

Fair enough, but the call we are getting from Greenpeace and from some of the rather curious characters at indymedia is for immediate 'legislative action' to ban coal mining, not for what you're talking about. Over at indymedia I talked about the Venezuelan government's apparent attempts to phase out some coal mining and simultaneously support communities through the transition. That's what a progressive government with an economic plan can do. Key's outfit ain't progressive, therefore any law they pass to curtail mining is going to end in tears.

3:16 pm  
Blogger maps said...

For the record, here's Sara Watson thoughtful reply to my epistle:

'Scott you're so behind.Yes should BAN trucking etc NO MORE public roads built through fragile communities.

Tube transport is the way, but Aotearoa is behind, and so are your comments.

Scott you're too complex.You have an argument for everything.The general feeling I get from everyday people IS:

They are sick of bearing the brunts (climate change effects, disease, increased tax and student fees) because of capitalism).The effects from all mining is devastating because it shifts our Mother's fragile natural balance.

See Gaia theories Scott.Live without anything for a week, and see how it is for people you ignorant TOSSER.'

How can one argue with that?

3:30 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Scott - I have been elsewhere. how can you disagree with me!!

Nonsense - get a job you lazy b----d!!

Work in a coal mine - oops!!

Dave was getting all upset on Face book.

I agree re Key's policies - but it is NOT Key himself - Dave doesn't see that.

This is very important. NOT irrelevant to your (great) post here on the relevance of theory for workers, and their need to take charge of their own destiny -in mines or anywhere else))

If you are to have any progressive society of any kind you need a deeper and more compassionate view of things. Workers need theory an practice. Theory and and ideas of all kinds.

Dave and many leftists seem to be always angry (often not at general conditions, social processes etc but at individuals, which is virtually a NON-Marxist approach) - now I share his intense dislike of the invasion of Afghanistan and the and the general policies of Key* etc etc but we can't lose sight of the human aspects.

Nor should we, of course let those aspects blind us to realities.

Dave means well and I have been on protests with him (one against sending NZ Army killers to Afghanistan - I respect his integrity and intelligence but - well - everyone is / aren't bad. We have to think there are some - in fact there are many good people even if their politics doesn't line up with ours...what ever that is. Just as we all have different "world views". Something Leceister taught me.

I once said (I had been to an AA meeting -lol!) that I didn't like saying that (necssarily) I wanted God's help (and I had said that to all there at the meeting)... it seemed that religion (theory) was slipped in as a "payment..I said this to Leicester and I said "Perhaps I shouldn't have said that.

He replied, even though he must have believed implicitly in God himself) (almost thunderingly):

"No, you were absolutely right to say that, as that is your world view."

* But Clark's Labour's foreign and other policies were not very god either. Both parties continue to administer Capitalism regardless of who the "names" are in power .

11:02 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

"One way we can ameliorate some of the worst side-effects of capitalism, like industrial fatalities, is to give workers more power over their worksites. Len Richardson's book shows very clearly that mining accidents spiked when unions were weak, and miners had less control over their conditions. As soon as they could get away with it, bosses shirked on safety. Only strong unions, the oversight of conditions by pit committees run by workers, and the threat of strike action on health and safety grounds kept employers in line.

In the last week a number of former miners' leaders have pointed out that the mines were safer when they were in government hands, and unions had a larger role in safety inspections...."

Yes! Mines will never be completely safe. But there are, as far as I know, no reasons to shut mines, either environmental [personally I think this global warming myth is an extension of the (basically right wing anti-people and anti worker) Doomsday theories I heard in the 70s - none of which came true)]* or because someone profits (someone always profits from something or we would all be broke).

We may as well shut down all industry and go back to crawling in the slime as protozoa.

No. We need coal and oil and other products for energy and other things. We need technologies of many kinds. Mining is an essential industry.

But worker and hence (good) union involvement and awareness is the key - theory and practice.

*Another one I argued against was the millenium hysteria thing - now I worked for the then NZED and I knew that electricity is not produced by computers!!! They are not needed for power generation for one nano second!! I'll bet the Otahuhu Power Station (regulator mainly) on that one and a few Teslas and some Webers of magnetic flux into the bargain. Have faith!

11:45 pm  
Blogger Dave Brown said...

Richard in class war there is only two sides. If you allow your sympathies for the apparent humanity of a ruling class executioner like Key to get in the road, you are dead.
Here's a nice song to illustrate my point!
Also a rant on Pike River at

11:47 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Dave - I know and hear what you are saying. Sometimes - e.g. re 9/11 - I have also spoken equally "ruthlessly" (because of my anger at US for certain bad actions thy did leading up to that time) but the focus is on the ruling class, not on the people.

Now I see it as class struggle, not quite a war.

I don't see Key's compassion for the miners as apparent or fake. It is possible for a person in the ruling class or whatever to feel for working people. To feel for people. This is part of the complexity of the deal here on earth.

And it is essential we realise that no matter how much we earn, or whatever our class; each of us has many sides, good and bad. I feel your attitude is , or comes across as, 'in print', always angry, always combative. I understand that we indeed often need such passion as you have.
But I feel we need more complex and subtle approach. (Without abandoning certain essential ideas or themes of Marxism)...

It can happen for example that at certain critical points in revolutionary struggle that certain of the capitalists actually become allies of the struggle of the workers.

More importantly we have to see things in more diverse shades. It is not always "them" and "us" (sure, there is real class struggle going on - that is true - and it can "escalate" into ruthless war, that is true); remember also that some of the most militant fighters for justice etc started out as very conservative in their views.

Marx and Engels were in fact from the "capitalist classes" - this doesn't invalidate their ideas or all their actions.

Taking Marxism further we need to take into account psychology and many other aspects of the socious that none of Marx, Lenin, Stalin Mao Tse Tung, Trotsky or other Marxists really went into ... Lenin however wrote about e.g. the nature of what Imperialism (versus Capitalism) is, and Mao Tse Tung wrote about hundreds of years of struggle, a struggle perhaps involving ideas and cultural things themselves and being about production. Other writers such as Trotksy have extended theory, the concept of world wide revolution for example, which I agree with. Engels and Lenin and later Trotksy all added to theory (and practice) and there are other theorists-practitioners who added ideas....and there are many other ideas and philosophies we need to take into account. Marxism is a kind of "skeleton key" or a guide book laying out a kind of structure. It is one, but a strong and I think a valid theory, lie the "theory" of evolution, or of relativity, these ideas or theories address different aspects of the human condition.

2:29 am  
Blogger Richard said...

I think it is essential we take into account the real humanity of John Key and despite his "bad" policies (he's not a Hitler or a "butcher")...if we are to be constantly at war, then Lange was "nice" (but supported Act and capitalism ) so he was a butcher, Clark was also thus a butcher. So it goes on. In fact so is anyone who is not a "pure" Marxist constantly on the boil and following the right "line" and always angry about "injustices"...

Even in a war there are times when the human, individual aspects, are important. And people are always for more complex than you, and many I have seen who are "committed to the Left will allow. And that includes Maoists, Trotskyists and many others. They default to a kind of simplicity, a rhetoric; which is not to say that in some cases we should avoid rhetoric. Rhetoric has its place. I have used it myself. And there are injustices, and we do sometimes feel strong anger and so on. But it is essential we take into account the humanity (or their personalities etc) of people of whatever class in order that we can make any progress in any future.

I see Key as in political party whose policies I don't always like (not all are bad or unwarranted - I think National under Key are doing some good things also) - but I like him as anindicidual. (And that is important. Vital in fact. ) I believe he was deeply sincere as was Peter Whittal who was there everyday to field questions. His job, his dedication, was heroic.

Until I meet Key and he winks and says: "Oh, I was only really kidding! I don't really care about the 29 wankers who were killed in that mine." Until then, I will accept that he was and is sincere.

Nor do or did his political policies contribute to deaths -
if anything the workers are responsible to fight for conditions and if it is anyone's fault - and I think it is not, it was probably really an (basically) unavoidable event by the way - it is THEIR fault - not the management or Key's that they died.

If it was the management's "fault" or Key's fault - it was also their own fault for not knowing the dangers and taking action. Ignorance is not a defence. Key killed no one. It was terrible accident basically. It may in fact have been unpreventable.

2:32 am  
Anonymous Edward said...

I agree with Michael and Ben's initial posts. The evidence shows that coal mining needs to be phased out. What that means for coal mining communities is another matter. So, we have the fact that it needs to stop (not immediately, but phased out while supporting the communities which rely on it). Secondly, we have the fact that communities rely on it. One doesn't trump the other, and I think it is more about balancing between mitigation guided by science and social need, rather than a political battle between 'bourgeoisie' greenies and the 'real working class'. History has shown us that communities cannot survive infinitely on specifically and heavily targeted natural resources - things change, and populations and cultures adapt. Perhaps this is the case with coal mining communities, sad though that may be. Obviously though, such communities need our support, not condemnation from ranting internet warriors such as those who lurk indymedia.

3:57 pm  
Anonymous Cameron said...

"Without any idea about how to think about and organise against capitalism, though, people like Sara are easily reduced to counterproductive foaming at the mouth on the internet."

This part of your analysis suddenly set off a bell in my head. I believe this here probably explains why there are some young people who are upset at the crimes of capitalism but start promoting things like the Zeitgeist conspiracy theory movies, rather than engaging in any proper activism. It is hard to go to a public meeting these days without a few usually well meaning but completely misguided young people jumping up and talking at length on why we all have to watch Zeitgeist and implement the crazy ideas promoted in that film.

The question is, how do we break these well meaning people from this conspiracy nonsense and introduce them to proper left wing struggle?

10:02 pm  
Blogger Unknown said...

I like to get up early to go out and breathe fresh air. I feel that it is good for health and a good habit

3:03 pm  

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