Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A New Zealander on the Wall Street occupation

On 17th September 2011, I decided to join about 2000 people descending onto Wall Street. They called themselves the “99 percent”. People came from all over New York and other cities in the US. However, protesters were not the only ones who came to occupy Wall Streets. NYPD were there first. Hundreds of police officers blocked off parts of the Wall Street, making sure no one gets near the financial headquarters. Police even guarded the legendary raging bull!

As unemployment is climbing above 9%, and recent statistics showing that poverty is on the unprecedented rise, there is little surprise that there are angry people who feel cheated and left out. Though, it is surprising that the occupation had little or no mainstream media coverage here. Many New Yorkers probably aren’t even aware there is an occupation of the Wall Street.

Seeds, for the protest, were planted by Adbusters and Anonymous, other groups and individuals added water. Anonymous and Adbusters don’t get much exposure on local networks. Still, people came, and they are determined to stay. People have lost their jobs, they can’t afford healthcare, increasingly in debt, without any conceivable way out, resulting in feelings of utter helplessness and alienation. Yet, the elite tells them it is their own fault (John Key’s comments on poor making wrong choices come from the same script), they should get a second job, sell a kidney, or move to Mexico or something.

They are the 1 percent. They are the banks, the mortgage industry, the insurance industry, and so on. People gathered here know they are the 99 percent. They know that the 1 percent are the important ones, they know that when banks need help they get government bailouts, and when the 99 percent need help they get nothing. They get called entitled or lazy.

We are in day 10 now, and no one seems to be leaving yet. This weekend about 5 people were arrested, and 3 or 4 girls were maced by the police. Even though protests have been peaceful, the Police are trying to break demonstrators resolve through intimidation and bogus arrests (one person was arrested for taking photos!). Earlier in the week the Police threw a man over the table causing him injuries. His crime? He sat on the plastic sheet covering computers from the rain. Police called it a tent (You are not allowed to put up tents, or build structures in the park, according to some ancient law).

“We have problems with healthcare, with schooling, with the unemployment, we’ve had enough” said Jesse, one of the labour union organisers. I also asked him if he thinks there should be more support from labour unions for the occupation? “Initially labour unions were apprehensive over joining the demonstrations due to the confusion and lack of clarity.”

Indeed, there was no written statute, no charismatic leaders of the occupation. Organisers wanted to put it to the people to decide what the demands should be, for the people to decide what they want changed.

“However, as time went on, it is becoming apparent that we are seeing a birth of a movement.” Said Jesse, “and I believe more people will join”.

Who knows, enabled by social media and inspired by the Arab spring, maybe the necessary leadership needs to come from the people themselves. Maybe the crisis of Western democracy, and corruption of the political elite, has given birth to an organic horizontal democracy exercise on the Wall Street? Even if eventually occupation of the Wall Street ends, either through police breaking it up, or loss of momentum, we are seeing something new brewing. The fact that people are sleeping in the park (in what can be called a Capitalist Mecca) in protest to corporate greed, and are demanding change, is empowering for all those that feel powerless and frustrated in New Zealand and elsewhere. The time will tell.

-Emir Hodzic

Bellow is a recent letter of support by Noam Chomsky:
Anyone with eyes open knows that the gangsterism of Wall Street -- financial institutions generally -- has caused severe damage to the people of the United States (and the world). And should also know that it has been doing so increasingly for over 30 years, as their power in the economy has radically increased, and with it their political power. That has set in motion a vicious cycle that has concentrated immense wealth, and with it political power, in a tiny sector of the population, a fraction of 1%, while the rest increasingly become what is sometimes called "a precariat" -- seeking to survive in a precarious existence. They also carry out these ugly activities with almost complete impunity -- not only too big to fail, but also "too big to jail."

The courageous and honorable protests underway in Wall Street should serve to bring this calamity to public attention, and to lead to dedicated efforts to overcome it and set the society on a more healthy course.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Detonation- the Student Struggle rises like a Pheonix from the ashes of apathy at AK Uni

a university is the people in it, not the profits it makes.

the Student Struggle
rises like a Phoenix
from the ashes of apathy
at AK Uni
video, photo story
and commentary
from Joe Carolan,

3news report HERE

"The racist profiling used by the private cops on campus to trespass two leading Maori students, is an indictment of the warning given by Professor Margaret Mutu the security guards have senior leadership from a South African background who apparently think that the University of Auckland is a private area where premission must be sought to engage in political activity.

The University of Auckland is on Ngati Whatua land. The University of Auckland is funded by the taxpayers, who in this capitalist society, are largely the working and lower middle classes. Workers and Maori have every right to be on University.
Without our land and taxes, it would not exist."

Why was our comrade Marcus trespassed from Auckland Uni? Read NO COPS ON CAMPUSLink
Read the Anticapitalist Uni Occupation Special HERE
A Student Movement Reborn- Video an pics from the first occupation at Auckland Uni HERE
We broke into the VC's Office- memories of the Waikato Occupation 2000 HERE

detritus of an occupation

they were dressed in uniforms of brutality

liberated zone no2

echoes of a student uprising

plural: a movement of students

Ake, Ake, Ake!

Struggle Street

contagion- the struggle spills off campus and into AK City centre

Meet at the University Quad at 10am

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Liberation for Palestine - Solidarity from Aotearoa

"We should be voting on whether there should be apartheid or not," said Palestinian in Aotearoa, Billy Hania. Listen to the full RadioNZ interview with Billy here.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has quoted Gilles Deleuze in his letter of support for a Palestinian state to be recognised by the UN,
The Palestinian cause is first and foremost the set of injustices that these people have suffered and continue to suffer. And I dare add that the Palestinian cause also represents a constant and unwavering will to resist, already written in the historic memory of the human condition. A will to resist that is born of the most profound love for the earth. Mahmoud Darwish, the infinite voice of the longed-for Palestine, with heartfelt conscience speaks about this love: We don’t need memories/ because we carry within us Mount Carmelo/ and in our eyelids is the herb of Galilee./ Don’t say: If only we could flow to my country like a river!/ Don’t say that!/ Because we are in the flesh of our country/ and our country is in our flesh.
Mana spokesperson John Minto is calling on Foreign Minister Murray McCully to support the Palestinian appeal to the United Nation for recognition of a Palestinian state.

Mr Minto says 63 years of Palestinian oppression is an international embarrassment and New Zealand should get on the right side of history and vigorously back the Palestinian cause.
He says Peace in the Middle East can only come through justice and Justice is on the Palestinian side.

“MANA believes in self determination and extends to the Palestinian people who have suffered terribly from a 40 year brutal Israeli occupation, all the hope that their latest attempt at recognition at the UN is successful.

“We also want the Government to condemn Israel for continuing to block peace efforts.

“A number of us in the MANA movement have been long supporters of the Palestinian cause, which is something Maori who have been battling sovereignty can readily identify with.”

Mr Minto says when even conservative publications such as the NZ Herald are supporting Palestine entering the UN you know the tide of the debate has turned.

Yesterday in Assira al Qibliya, hundreds of Settlers attacked the village, immediatly a volunteer “settler-attack watchdog” arrived as soon as Israeli soldiers invaded the village and started shooting tear gas and bullets at residents for standing out against invading armed settlers. Several people were injured including a Palestinian journalist and a 14 year old boy who were sent to the nearest hospital. Video of the Israeli raid on the village:

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Minto for Mana- Campaign launch in Otara

Annette Sykes and Willy Jackson were at the Otara Rally to support John Minto

Mana leaders Hone and Annette are welcomed by local Mana South Auckland branches

Abolish GST- Tax the Rich. Jobs for All at a Living Wage.
Honour the Treaty. Pasifika Welcome Here. Free dental Care, Free Education.

A fighting alternative to Labour in Otara

Local branch leaders

Sisters in the Struggle!

The Big Three

Mana- Movement of the People

John Minto Launches His Mana Campaign

I’ve always believed that political activists can be more effective out in the community than in parliament so I’ve never joined any political party before. However this changed on 19 May this year when I joined the Mana Movement.

I joined because the struggles of working New Zealanders must be taken to the heart of parliament and the Mana Movement is the best opportunity for this to happen in a generation.

The Mana Movement is Maori inspired and Maori led but with policies for all New Zealanders. We know that if we get things right for Maori we will get them right for everyone.

The movement has endorsed my selection as the Mana candidate for Manukau East at the forthcoming election. I put up my hand to stand in Manukau East because I spent 12 years working in this electorate as a teacher at Hillary College (1986 – 1990) and Tangaroa College (2000 to 2005) and because it’s a community which has been left behind and abandoned by politicians for many decades.

The current MP is all but invisible and the votes of the Pacific Island, Maori, Pakeha and Asian workers who reside here have been taken for granted by Labour for too long. After pocketing their votes Labour has delivered little but unrelenting hardship for these people who are the lowest paid but the hardest working people in New Zealand.

At recent meetings in the electorate most people don’t have a clue who their MP is and some are pretty sure they don’t actually have an MP. While the party vote will be Mana’s top priority, I’ll be giving the electorate the chance to vote for an MP who will be highly visible, energetic and who will thrust the tough situation for families from low-income communities into the centre of political debate. Rather than being marginalized by National and patronized by Labour the families of Manukau East will have the Mana Movement as their champions in parliament.

This electorate has high unemployment (it had the highest in the country in 2006) and it’s here the neo liberal policies of the past 27 years have bitten the hardest. The communities throughout this electorate have serious issues of poverty, poor health and educational underachievement. The families typically have two or three breadwinners all working long hours on low pay in insecure employment. Housing is too often of poor quality and expensive.

Many families are struggling to maintain their dignity and respect against near impossible odds.

For the past 27 years Labour has been in government for 15 years and National for 12 years. Both parties have presided over the biggest redistribution of wealth this country has ever seen. Wealth has been transferred from those on low incomes and deposited in obscene, unearned amounts into the back pockets of a tiny number of super-wealthy. Last year the 150 wealthiest New Zealanders increased their wealth by seven billion dollars while tax cuts for the rich and GST increases for the poor continue to stretch the citizenship gap.

The Mana Movement will be presenting policies for the benefit of everyone in the Manukau East electorate but in terms of this election campaign I will be focusing on these Mana policies:

Economic justice:

- Abolish GST completely.
- Make the first $26,500 tax free for everyone with progressive taxation above this level.
- Introduce a proper capital gains tax where all sources of income are taxed at the personal tax rate.
- Introduce a “Hone Heke” tax on financial transactions.
- Introduce an inheritance tax.


- Put full employment at the heart of economic policy.
- Immediately increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour (1 April 2012) and raise it to two-thirds of the average wage (1 April 2013).
- Support changes to employment relations laws that give workers greater bargaining power to negotiate wages and conditions with their employers.


- Treat Pacific Islanders the same as Australians when they come to New Zealand to work. (New Zealand is a Pacific country and discriminating against a community which has done so much to build the New Zealand economy over several decades is unjust and indefensible)
- Mana would uphold the right to New Zealand citizenship for Samoans whose rights were stripped away by National (with Labour’s support) in 1982.

Building strong communities:

- Give every community the right of veto over new and existing pokie machines, alcohol outlets, fast-food outlets while the government heavily regulates the operation of loan sharks.


- Provide free breakfast and lunch for children in all schools (starting with decile 1 to 3 schools)

I’ve never sought parliamentary representation before but if I’m elected people will know I won’t be going to parliament to eat my lunch...

To help in the Minto for Mana Campaign, txt Joe at 029 44 55 702.

Anti-Capitalist: Uni special

12 pages of news, analysis and opinion on the student spring that is sweeping campuses across Aotearoa and the world. Read it online or email aksocialistaotearoa@gmail.com to order copies or the full pdf.

No Cops on Campus- a demand for a Free University

As staff unions and the student movement prepare for renewed struggle and protest this coming Monday, the role of the Cops on campus, both state and private, will be under intense public scrutiny. The Cops have no right to stop political activity, no right to trespass political activists, and no business taking the side of the VC and Management against the students in their own University.

The racist profiling used by the private cops on campus to trespass two leading Maori students, is an indictment of the warning given by Professor Margaret Mutu the security guards have senior leadership from a South African background who apparently think that the University of Auckland is a private area where premission must be sought to engage in political activity.

The University of Auckland is on Ngati Whatua land. The University of Auckland is funded by the taxpayers, who in this capitalist society, are largely the working and lower middle classes. Workers and Maori have every right to be on University.
Without our land and taxes, it would not exist.

Students in Auckland Uni have always played a political role in the life of this city- opposing the Vietnam War, organising against Apartheid, demonstrating in solidarity with local Maori at Bastion Point. It is the racist security guards, ignorant of this University's history and culture, who should be trespassed, and our comrades Wikatana Popata and Marcus Coverdale should be given their political freedom back.

Human rights defenders will be on campus in force on Monday to monitor the actions of security forces as the struggle for Free Education, democratic student unions, fairness for staff and free speech goes to its next level. These demands will be joined by another- No Cops on Campus- stop the University's crackdown on Political Freedom.

Day of Student Action Monday

On Monday 26 September at Auckland University, Victoria University and Otago University and Polytechnic hundreds of students are expected to turn out in a nationwide day of student action.

We are the University, a group organising in Auckland has listed a number of demands.

The Act Pary's 'Voluntary Student Membership' bill will destroy student unions and services nationwide. Stop the bill before it passes on Wednesday 28 September.

Three students were arrested and two trespassed last week for taking part in peaceful protest during Human Rights week. Stop the militarisation of campus.

Vice Chancellor Stuart McCutchoen is trying to remove key working conditions from union agreements. Democratise the university and stop the corporatisation of education.

Students are burdened with tens of thousands of dollars of debt by the time they graduate. Freeze fees, cancel the debt and fully fund education.


Students from Victoria University of Wellington, the University of Auckland and Otago University have called for a Nationwide Day of Student Action on Monday 26 September.

The government is trying to dictate how students organise on campus, with so-called 'Voluntary Student Membership' set to become law on September 28. This is one of the biggest attacks on student power and unionism in recent history.

Universities are under attack from their own management, with lecturers being sacked and research shut down at Victoria University in Wellington, under the leadership of Vice Chancellor Pat Walsh.

Auckland University management, under the leadership of Vice Chancellor Stuart McCutcheon, is attempting to remove key academic freedoms from lecturers, calling into question the whole idea of the university as a community of scholars. University management is already cutting papers that encourage students studying business to think critically, things will only get worse.

Over the past few weeks, over 200 university departments have been occupied by students in Greece, whilst in Chile hundreds of thousands of students have been joined by workers striking and occupying for free, universal education, and more.

In solidarity with students both locally and globally we are going to reclaim the university for critical discussion. Rally at the University of Auckland Quad, 1pm, Monday 26 September.

Monday, September 19, 2011

An open letter to students nationwide

At 8pm on Wednesday 14 September we began a teach-in with about 100 people in the University of Auckland basemen by watching video of students at Victoria University of Wellington breaking through security to deliver a letter to their Vice Chancellor.

When security came to shut down our teach-in having watched that video played a big part in inspiring us to put up barricades and stay.

About 60 of us stayed behind barricades for a few hours and 2 people were arrested for standing outside in support and refusing to leave their own university. Both were freed without charges at about midnight after we had marched to the police station chanting in solidarity.

When the police eventually got inside we gave them a list of demands which we had just written and we decided to leave together, but only because we would come back stronger and with more people. When we left one person was picked out and arrested and has been charged for allegedly damaging a window.

On Thursday at a Students for Justice in Palestine reenactment of an Israeli Occupation Force checkpoint, part of 'Human Rights' week at the University of Auckland, students were hassled by security and police and two people were trespassed for two years.

On Friday we had a meeting of about 50 people to decide how we would proceed and this is what we decided:

  • In solidarity with Wellington we would call ourselves 'We are the University'.
  • With the 'Voluntary Student Membership' bill set to be passed on Wednesday 28 September, we are calling for a second Nationwide Day of Student Action on Monday 26 September.
  • Under the banner 'We are the University' we have three demands: 1. Stop attacks on students/stop VSM; 2. Stop attacks on staff/democratise the university 3. Fully fund education/cancel the debt and make student allowances universal.
  • We are calling for the support of the Tertiary Education Union.
  • Despite intimidation from the university and police we have all come out of the last few days very excited and without fear. Many people have commented that the few hours we spent behind barricades in the library basement were the first few hours we've really been proud to be students.
  • We would like to call for you to join us on Monday 26 September in a second day of action.
The university is already fucked, we know that much. VSM is the biggest attack on student power in recent history. If it goes through on the 28th, then, combined with attacks on the power of the TEU and academic staff, we will really see what the capitalist university looks like.

In solidarity,
Guy Cohn

Joe Carolan - We broke into the VC's office

A mass haka at the end of the Waikato Uni occupation in 2000.

The following interview is with Joe Carolan, Socialist Aotearoa member and the leader of an occupation at Waikato University in 2000.

Could you give me a brief explanation of how you came to be involved in the Fightback campaign for free education?

I’d been active in the student movement in Ireland when I’d been in college there. And I had to go to Northern Ireland there was no free education in the south. So a lot of people who were from poorer backgrounds went to university in Northern Ireland which was still like the UK, a welfare state. Where it was free, even though it was under Thatcher. And Thatcher tried to start the ball rolling on privatising education and bringing in fees. My mum had warned me when I went to Northern Ireland, don’t get involved in politics.

Within about 4 weeks I was part of an occupation in the University of Ulster in Colhrane with people from the Labour Party, Sinn Fein, lots of different socialist groups and anarchists. We occupied for three weeks until we were evicted by the RUC violently. But that was pretty good. And then a year later I was part of a united left team with republicans and socialists that took over the administration and we put up signs in Irish and English and shit like that. So I’d had an experience of direct action and political organising in my time in the north of Ireland to defend free education. And then when I was an activist later on in the Republic we won a campaign for free education and the elimination of fees in the mid-90s. So although it had come too late for me I thought it was just a principle and education had helped pull my family out from a working class- my grandfather was a builder and my other grandfather was a coalman and both died in their mid-50s through hard work. So education was something that was pretty important to the family.

So I came to New Zealand about four days before the battle of Seattle, November 99. And I think the battle in Seattle really re-energised a lot of the left. Up until then we’d been involved in a lot of single issue campaigns but it really showed people, a lot of people that direct action could get the goods. So in New Zealand at that time there was the election of the Labour-Alliance Government, and this was after a whole decade, since 84 to 99 of neo-liberalism being rammed down people’s throats, and huge attacks on the education system. So just before the election of the Labour Alliance Government there was a massive occupation down in Canterbury and I think there was 3,4000 students involved in that. Couple of whom I’d met, people like Dave Colyer, so one of the demands that the movement had, that the student movement had was directed at the Labour Party and supported by its junior coalition partner, the Alliance Party which was for free education.

So we had a list of ten demands, abolition of fees, restore grants to liveable grants that students could survive on, cancellation of debt and really questioning why inter-generational solidarity had being broken. And that was what a left wing government should bring in. So I think it was in the early days of the Labour Alliance government that the student movement tried to continue putting the pressure on the Government to deliver on its promises, and a united group called Fightback the campaign for free education by students from Canterbury, Otago, Waitako and Auckland unis, and a number of the ITs as well, some of the polytechs we organised too. Like over in Waikato a guy called Hayden and the Maori students were really, really strong. And we did a couple of national huis, we did one down in Wellington, we had another one in Hamilton, we had another one in Auckland and it really built a network of student leaders all around the country. So our intention was to win the demands for free education through direct action and occupations.

What was your experience of the occupation?

Well we heard the stuff from the people in Canterbury, who had organised the big occupation there. And we didn’t really have a group or anything in it was just me and Heather who had gone from Hamilton. So we came back and set up a stall during o’week for the fightback campaign and we got about 180 people to join on that day and we also built a socialist branch from out of that as well, about 20 people in the Waikato.

So pretty soon, we had got into the student media, who did a feature demanding free education, we were given an office by the student union to run the campaign from and we also started liaising with the staff at Waikato Uni to support us, so when we went to occupy the registry which was the nerve centre where all the finance was done for the university, the staff had actually left the doors open for us and mysteriously disappeared, so kind of like unofficial strike action in support of us. So we actually took the building unopposed, and then locked it down. This was part of a wave of occupations which was planned throughout New Zealand. There was a smaller occupation down in Canterbury, there was an attempt in Wellington, also there was a big fight in Auckland Uni where the cops had been involved, and the cops and the policing was pretty hardline in Auckland at the time, there were a lot of students picked out for their ethnic background, Maori and PI students, punk rock students. And pulled by the nose and beaten by the cops, so Auckland was much more of a fight to occupy the clocktower or whatever targets they had and it was quite vicious.

So our occupation was one of the most successful on that day of action in that we got about 350 students to it and that we held the building for four or five days, which gave it a lot of media exposure and really put it out there to Labour what side were they one and unfortunately we found out what side they were on.

What was the effect of the occupation on the students who participated in it?

I think a lot of people had never been involved in any kind of form of direct action before, leading up to us we did a couple of other things like students weren’t getting their grants on time from WINZ, so we marched on the WINZ office, we had about 500 people on that march, it was really aggressive and loud and Hamilton had never seen anything before like it. So it was kind of that bring Seattle to your town, was the message of the movement at the time. And we fucking put WINZ under siege, and we hit them up again when they weren’t giving out accommodation supplements, we built a cardboard city with a few hundred students who blocked WINZ overnight. So those types of supportive actions helped build towards the big one which was the occupation itself.

At the stage the Labour Alliance government was very new, so a lot of people were willing to give Labour a chance, that was the political climate we were dealing in. New Zealand had shifted to the left, so there was a massive vote for Labour, the Alliance and the Greens, so people reckoned “Yeah, yeah free education that’s good, but maybe they need more time to win it through”. And certainly a lot of people who had supported the Alliance in Hamilton looked to us as sort of the direct action wing, to keep the Government honest.

But I think looking back on it now, Labour started the way they meant to go on. They were committed to running capitalism in New Zealand, and to running the market in third level education so perhaps we weren’t hard enough on Labour at that time.

"And we fucking put WINZ under siege"

Did people shift left during the occupation? Do you have good stories from the occupation?

Yeah the occupation was quite good fun. A lot of people still to this day would look back and go fuck that’s the way to do it. We broke into the office of the Vice Chancellor and spray painted it day-glo colours and had trance music in there so that was called the Spice Chancellors.

We had a band up on the roof, so a lot of the indy rock scene from Hamilton, which there has always been a good lot of, actually got political and came and played music. And I think the Blair Witch Project was out at the time, so we scared ourselves shitless watching that. People were quite on edge waiting for the police to storm the building, because people had had reports of what had happened in Auckland and we thought that the cops would get hardline with us.

There came a crunch point then where we were talking to the other groups around the country, and it was pretty apparent that we’d taken control of our building but they hadn’t been as successful. So carloads of students came down from Auckland and people came up from Welly, so it just goes to show that maybe not every social movement is necessarily succesful in the bigger cities, sometimes you have your breakthrough in the smaller cities. But then the question is what do you do to lead it, to spread it. We had a further big hui in Wellington and one in Lake Taupo. So it was quite good for actually radicalising a lot of the student left around the country and the Fightback network had around 4-500 people nationally at one stage.

I think then that you need a political solution, at that time we weren’t building a party like say the Mana Movement so you had quite a lot of smaller left wing groups but there was no sense of do we need an alternative or not. And I suppose people had some illusions in the Alliance that they would, with a bit of pressure from the outside, to deliver the goods in parliament. But obviously Labour was more committed to the market than free education.
Along the way we organised various forums. We had Steve Maharey and we really lampooned him as a fucking neo-liberal. Some of the posters were “He had free education but you can’t”. “Hard labour” was one of the slogans. We had Richard Prebble come down and we debated him until he was shaking, so the idea that these hard ass neo-liberals who fucked up New Zealand between 1984 and 1999 were untouchable, we threatened that you know? But I still think at the time, looking back in it, New Zealand still had illusions in the politics of Labour and the Alliance and that with a few more years they would have delivered the goods. Nine years later Labour was toughed out, we’ve got National in now, they had nine years to fix it but their politics and their politics today is still not committed to delivering what should be rights not privileges, like free education to the people.

-Socialist Aotearoa

Vic students make some noise

Building through practice and discussion a living, organic alternative to the authoritarian tendencies of VUW.

Students at Victoria University have started to fight the cuts and redundancies that have become commonplace over the last five-seven years.

The most recent attack that started the current fightback was a change proposal put forward by the University to radically change the focus and academic content of the School of History, Philosophy, Political Science and International Relations. The past modus operandi of VUW management has been to make some sort of half-arsed pseudo-academic or financial justification of the changes management want to make. This is window-dressing at best. What it amounts to is the domination that management have over the university as a whole i.e. staff, students and the wider community. They feel that they can change the perspective and direction of the university at their whim.

Previous management shut down the Russian Studies programme in the mid-90's, using the end of the Cold War as a justification. More recent management built some big black stone steps costing over one million dollars, the Vice Chancellor responsible was fired soon afterwards, and that is the beginning and end of his grand vision of that time. So there is a long history at VUW of various dominant incarnations of senior management feeling the need to assert 'their' 'vision' and get rid of the previous 'vision'. In effect this represents the usurpation of democratic decision-making and ownership of the university proper.

It's this situation that has been building up over the last couple of years and exploded in anger last Wednesday. VUW management have adopted harsh tactics to repress any student organising on campus. Whether this has been trespassing key activists or threatening/intimidating students with potential punishment. It reached a crescendo with VUW security's attempt to effectively stop the use of chalk to write political statements around the university, by washing them off with water as soon as the chalking appeared. They have done something similar to posters. Assuming that if they make it so labour intensive for students to organise and agitate, the barrier will be set too high for anything to happen. What this meant in practice, was that the level of anger and motivation just needed to rise higher before overcoming this barrier.

VUW have been washing away chalk protests.

This threshold was reached when 56 students met in the Student Union Building in anger at the cuts going on. A protest was organised for the following fortnight. The University’s attempt at suppressed political expression was smashed by focused, constant and decentralised chalking throughout the university. By the day of the protest, VUW security had given up on trying to stop this.

There was a highly charged peaceful protest, with security hitting and attacking students. That in itself is a manifestation of the attitude by management to students. The desire has been laid down to do more than militantly witness VUW slashing and burning. Some of the key ideas coming through in Wellington, are the need to organise to fight a long-term struggle against the whims and flights of fancy of VUW Management. As well as building through practice and discussion a living, organic alternative to the authoritarian tendencies of VUW.

-Joel Cosgrove, Workers Party Wellington
*Views expressed in this article are personal, and not representative of any groups.

Dare to Know: What is Enlightenment?

In 1784, Kant responded to the question ‘what is enlightenment?’ by asserting that it is ‘human being’s emergence from his self-incurred minority’. [1] Minority, which also translates as ‘immaturity’ or ‘tutelage’ is a kind of mental cravenness, an abject identification with authority as the possessor of truth. In the face of persistent ignorance and profound immaturity in our own time, the relevance of this question should be clear to us. For Kant the project of enlightenment is above all concerned with an inquiry into freedom, something that will emerge in effect from thinking freely. However there is a catch, to emerge from ‘minority’ requires character, and specifically the character of courage. To consider our contemporary situation against this challenge we must first look again at what it is we mean by enlightenment. Here the focus will be on defining enlightenment as aesthetic education, considering the importance of the relationship with critique and identifying with the ‘courage’ called for by Kant.

There is a long tradition of aesthetic education that moves through Kant and arrives in the present day.[2] We can take ‘aesthetic’ in this context as the embodiment of self-consciousness in the immanent realm of sensory engagement. In the simplest sense, enlightenment literally means to emerge from blindness. The world prior to enlightenment is given in representation, like the shadows on the wall of Plato’s cave. However, enlightenment has always been about the connection between nature and consciousness and whether we stand in or against it we cannot hope to perceive or indeed understand anything through the reductive focus of a singular sense. We exist in the world, our senses are the interface with it, and consciousness as it relates to being is a fluid transcription of our aesthetic experience through these senses. It is not enough to just ‘see’, we must emerge holistically in order to understand.

The significance of ‘blindness’ is also clear in Theodor Adorno’s work on cultural criticism. Adorno marks his engagement against the fetishised form of ‘cultural criticism that ‘shares the blindness of its object’. [3] More recently, Alberto Toscano echoes this sentiment when he highlights a contemporary ideological desire to present the Enlightenment as ‘something to be preserved rather than enacted, furthered or repeated’.[4] Liken this objectified idea of enlightenment, if you will, to a narrow aperture presenting a picture in monochrome, a field of view rounded of at the periphery, nothing but a nostalgic image. Not only is it fixed in time as an artefact, but also it merely exists to be looked upon.

Adorno gives us a tidy contraction of the speculative reasoning required for overcoming this problem by connecting to critique through dialectics. He notes that ‘dialectics also includes the relation between action and contemplation’.[5] A kind of sensory deprivation bears out with Adorno, and he projects a sonorous quality into the antagonism of consciousness when he notes with the ‘principle’ of harmony, that conflict eventually finds itself ‘stumbling on discord’.[6] The implication is that ‘blindness’ is not simply a problem of seeing but rather a numbing of our sensory experience in general, and the possibility of a rupture can be opened up through cultural dissonance. We know very well from Marx the significance of our relation to the ‘sensuous world’, consciousness takes on the reified form only after it is abstracted and estranged from its origins, and the same is true of enlightenment.[7] Here the aesthetic qualities of resistance are placed in the midst of the critique.

It is important to note the procession, the sense of continuous emergence that distinguishes the mode of enlightenment from the ossified ‘project’ at once frozen in time, historicised and discarded as something that has already been. Enlightenment in the radical sense has ontological roots that coruscate against the status quo. It is a configuration of thought, action and courage that enables intervention through ‘determinate negation’ in the process of becoming. [8] The point is that enlightenment cannot be essentialised as an achievement. It involves what Foucault calls ‘the critical ontology of ourselves’. [9]

Foucault also draws a direct connection between enlightenment and critique; one is in fact an enactment of the other.[10] Critique involves an assault on your own beliefs, a simultaneous interrogation of ideas embedded in their context. The critical intuition is an aesthetic reconfiguration and self-consciousness is a constant interruption of the mundane. This imposition of engagement involves a necessary trauma, what emerges in overcoming is paramount to the painful blinding of the eyes through the flooding of new light. It is necessary to consider the pain of feeling when measuring the demands for courage; an aesthetic education increases the surface area on to which the uncomfortable and inconvenient levers of distress can be tweaked. To dare to know, to force oneself through travails of uncomfortable knowing, to demand the kind of truth that has yet to be uttered, is to confront the fear of others and through the discord in their recognition endure the discomfort of what it is to look at ourselves. This requires nothing short of courage.

Marx is explicit in his own calls for courage, hinting at what may come from being face to face with uncomfortable conclusions, he says ‘criticism must not be afraid of its own conclusions, nor of conflict with the powers that be’. [11] We would do well to draw a line from Kant in this regard that acknowledges our fear of ourselves, for that is the crux of his answer to the question of enlightenment. Again from Marx, ‘we only show the world what it is fighting for, and consciousness is something that the world must acquire, like it or not.’ [12]

If we are to conceive of an intervention here, then it must be one of stupefying force, one that can continue to achieve a ‘reform of consciousness’.[13] We are not merely attempting to enter a conversation about something that has long since past, the static form of the historicised enlightenment ‘project’ must be shaken back into a mode of being. We have as our object the radical form, the transcendent demand to sift through a totalised fantasy of mystical disavowal and emerge with a kernel of truth. Radical enlightenment through this aesthetic education allows us to be the conduit between ideas and action, but we must be prepared for the pain of seeing. If we truly want change, then we must think once again of Kant’s motto for the enlightenment ‘Sapere aude!’, dare to know. [14]

- Jai Bentley-Payne


Adorno, T. (1983). Cultural criticism and society (S. Weber & S. Weber, Trans.) Prisms (pp. 19-34). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Adorno, T., & Horkheimer, M. (1976). The Concept of Enlightenment Dialectic of Enlightenment (pp. 3-42). London: Continuum.

Foucault, M. (1984/1997). What is enlightenment. In S. Lotringer (Ed.), The Politics of Truth (pp. 97-119). New York: Semiotext(e).

Kant, I. (1784/1996). An answer to the question: What is enlightenment? (M. J. Gregor, Trans.) Practical Philosophy (pp. 17-22). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Marx, K. (1843/1978). For a Ruthless criticism of everything existing. In R. C. Tucker (Ed.), The Marx and Engels Reader (pp. 12-15). New York: Norton.

Marx, K. (1959). Estranged Labour. Marx. Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, from http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1844/manuscripts/labour.htm

Schiller, F. (1954). On the aesthetic education of man : in a series of letters. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Toscano, A. (2010). Raving with reason: Fanaticism and enlightenment Fanaticism: On the Uses of an Idea (pp. 3-42). London: Continuum.

1. Kant, I. (1784/1996). An answer to the question: What is enlightenment? (M. J. Gregor, Trans.) Practical Philosophy (pp. 17-22). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

2. Schiller, F. (1954). On the aesthetic education of man : in a series of letters. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

3. Adorno, T. (1983). Cultural criticism and society (S. Weber & S. Weber, Trans.) Prisms (pp. 19-34). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

4. Toscano, A. (2010). Raving with reason: Fanaticism and enlightenment Fanaticism: On the Uses of an Idea (pp. 3-42). London: Continuum.

5. Adorno, T. (1983). Cultural criticism and society (S. Weber & S. Weber, Trans.) Prisms (pp. 19-34). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

6. Ibid.

7. Marx, K. (1959). Estranged Labour. Marx. Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, from http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1844/manuscripts/labour.htm

8. Adorno, T., & Horkheimer, M. (1976). The Concept of Enlightenment Dialectic of Enlightenment (pp. 3-42). London: Continuum.

9. Foucault, M. (1984/1997). What is enlightenment. In S. Lotringer (Ed.), The Politics of Truth (pp. 97-119). New York: Semiotext(e).

10. Ibid.

11. Marx, K. (1843/1978). For a Ruthless criticism of everything existing. In R. C. Tucker (Ed.), The Marx and Engels Reader (pp. 12-15). New York: Norton.

12. Ibid., 15.

13. Ibid., 15.

14. Kant, I. (1784/1996). An answer to the question: What is enlightenment? (M. J. Gregor, Trans.) Practical Philosophy (pp. 17-22). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press., 17

Sunday, September 18, 2011

What should a revolutionary do?

“Nobody can do everything, but everybody can do something.”

When we look at the world it can seem that the problems of the world are too huge to do anything about. Often you’ll hear people say, ‘What can I do? I’m just one person.’ It’s true that the amount of change one person can make is small. There are some things that every individual can do to make the world a better place but they are small compared to the problems the world faces. The most important things that revolutionaries can do is to work together with others to transform the world.

Every revolutionary should be involved in their union at work, fighting for better pay and conditions for all workers, showing support for other workers in their industry or city who might be on strike or protesting for better pay and conditions or improving their workplace to make it more environmentally sustainable, connected to the community and with more workers’ control of decision making.

Socialist Aotearoa also believes that revolutionaries should be involved in their local branch of the Mana Party. Mana is a Maori-led, working-class, pro-socialist organisation that links together radical trade unionists, tino rangatiratanga activists, artists and musicians and the revolutionary left. The leaders of Mana; Hone Harawira, Annette Sykes, Matt McCarten, John Minto and Sue Bradford have all spent decades fighting for the rights and freedom of working class people, living wages for workers, return of stolen Maori land, liveable benefits and against war and racism. Mana represents a direct challenge to the poverty and injustice at the heart of John Key’s New Zealand. Mana has the potential to link together a lot of different movements together from the campaign against deep sea oil drilling to the fight for a higher minimum wage and to give socialist ideas a national stage.

In the struggles of the day, socialists aim to be the most active and inventive fighters.

Another important thing is that revolutionaries must be involved in the struggles of the day, be they strikes, Palestine solidarity, student occupations, anti-war marches, environmental campaigns or whatever. It is here, where people are fighting already, that there is the best chance of people developing socialist ideas. In such struggles socialists must aim to be the most active and inventive fighters. People will take revolutionary politics seriously if they see it is of practical help in explaining and aiding their own struggles.

When people take action themselves in defiance of their boss or against a government or corporation they get a taste of their own ability, their own intelligence and power. People who have been told they are worthless by the media or their boss feel for the first time their importance to making the world a better place. People who feel alone or depressed at the state of the planet feel uplifted and intimately connected to those who they struggle alongside. These feelings are contagious and can spread quickly around a city, country or even the world. One strike can ignite other strikes, one revolution can inspire a dozen others, a few people fighting back can catalyze the resistance of many, many more.

This feeling of confidence and empowerment brings with it the realisation that ordinary people can not only transform the world but also control the world. All those old beliefs in the primacy of greed, laziness and selfishness in human nature fall away when people find themselves making great sacrifices and working hard to stop their country going to war or to get a corporation to pay its workers a living wage.

Always there are people determined to resist. Always their resistance brings them into confrontation with the rich and, in the process, makes them into socialists of one kind or another. Their resistance, moreover, relates to something which is happening, the solution to which demands some kind of action now. It cannot wait until the next election. All these people who fight back feel the need for solidarity. In any struggle whether it is against benefit cuts or against climate change will have a lot of different people involved. Some people might be members of a militant union like Unite. Others will be students new to the struggle. Others will be Maori activists with a tradition of resistance rooted in the experience of their iwi since colonisation. Some might be people who have been politically active before but are getting back involved again because one particular issue has reengaged them in the struggle.

Everyone involved in a struggle will have a different talent or ability. Some will be builders who can make props and signs, others will be artists who can create banners, some people will have spare money to contribute, others will have more hours to put into doing the hard work. Musicians and writers can inspire, teachers can educate, good cooks can warm bellies, home brewers can provide ale. Some will be good at talking to people, others will be good at designing websites. A revolutionary organisation unites all of these socialists together so we can pool our talents and skills and fight together. Revolutionary organisation creates the synergy of the people. It allows skills and information to be shared between those fighting back and provides a base from which to plan activism and organising.

Discipline allows revolutionaries to out smart and out fight the capitalists and the police.

There are also some things that revolutionaries and activists have to do to ensure we succeed. Some things we have to do are harder than others, some things are less pleasant but no less necessary. However many hands make light work, and the more people who work together to get things done the better. A revolutionary organisation co-ordinates and shares out these tasks according to people’s abilities and commitments. Making banners and placards, writing articles, leaflets and press releases, talking to the media or at meetings, selling pamphlets or collecting signatures for a petition are the nuts and bolts of activism that all socialists should know how to do and new socialists should be trained in. The more that people contribute to these activities the greater the combined reach of revolutionaries.

Even though Socialist Aotearoa is only a few years old, we have already proved our ability to lead and win struggles. We called the demonstration to sack Paul Henry after his racist outbursts and got him rolled, the weekend before Alasdair Thompson was dismissed for his sexist comments about women’s pay we were outside the offices of the EMA calling for his resignation. When Auckland’s bus drivers were locked out we joined them on the picket lines with a banner ‘Buses not Bosses’. When Telecom’s 800 lines engineers walked out on strike against an attack on their work rights, we organised a fundraising party to help the strikers feed their families. When John Key announced attacks on workers’ rights in 2010, we led hundreds of union activists into direct confrontation to disrupt the National Party conference. When Saudi Arabia sent troops into Bahrain to put down their democracy uprising, we called a demonstration outside the Saudi consulate in Epsom and brought the paint bombs. When the hikoi against the Marine and Coastal Area Bill marched through Auckland we showed our solidarity and linked the fight for tino rangatiratanga with the struggle of workers in the city, ‘They steal your land in the countryside, our sweat in the workplace’. Many of our members and activists are Palestinian and have over the years campaigned strongly against Israeli apartheid. When Israeli tennis players or turn up at the Auckland tennis tournament or Israeli politicians tour the country Socialist Aotearoa activists are always prepared to demonstrate calling for ‘Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions’ and if necessary be arrested. Our activists lead Rainforest Action, which working together with other environmental and human rights campaigners has stopped many companies selling rainforest timber. These are just a few of the successes of Socialist Aotearoa.
Yet all of these campaigns and activities has required socialists to plan, organise and work together with others. They require our members to know how to agitate, organise and mobilise people into the struggle.

Learning how to convince people of the necessity of socialist revolution, combat racism or sexism dividing a workplace, lead a strike, organise a picket of a company selling rainforest timber or co-ordinate a united front action in support of asylum-seekers cannot happen in a vacuum. These skills are not learnt at school, at work or even in mainstream political parties like Labour or the Greens. Revolutionary organisations are the only place that ordinary people will learn the skills and be given the encouragement to transform the world.

Some of us contribute a lot to the organisation, some of us a little. All of us have friends and comrades outside the organisation and we wouldn’t be any good as socialists if we didn’t. If we seem confident, it is not because of single-mindedness or fanaticism. It is because many of us have experience in dozens of different struggles including ones that were spectacular successes. Over the years we have learnt what works and what does not, although as times change we change with it. We know that with hard work and dedication, small groups of socialists can detonate larger struggles, political campaigns can yield important victories and we can change many people’s ideas through discussion and argument.

We know that revolution is possible but that it will require revolutionary organisation. If the conservative dream were suddenly to come true and every worker went along with pro-capitalist ideas, if there were never any strikes or protests, if no-one ever answered back to the boss, then there would be no point organising a socialist organisation.

We would be living in the kind of world George Orwell described in his book, 1984: a cowed and submissive working class afraid to even think a subversive thought and constantly monitored by Big Brother. In such a world the possibility of resistance, let alone revolution, would be reduced to nothing.

Similarly there would be no need for a revolutionary organisation if the anarchist dream of spontaneous immediate class struggle came true. If, without organisation, planning, strategy or leadership, workers across the country were suddenly to take action and defeat the bosses, there would be no need for revolutionaries to be organised together.

But real life is never as bad as the conservative dream and never as good as the anarchist dream. In reality, working class struggle is always uneven, never uniformly bad or uniformly good. Some workplaces will vote for strikes, others will not. Some students will attend demonstrations, others will go home to study. Some people will vote for the National Party and others ignore ‘politics’ altogether.
Organisations like Socialist Aotearoa co-ordinate the activism of the most revolutionary and committed activists, advancing social justice struggles for a better world.

Most of the time revolutionaries will be a minority and will have to work hard to get their ideas across. After a lifetime of pro-capitalist propaganda from newspapers, television, lecturers and family members revolutionaries face an uphill task convincing people of the need for socialism, and the possibility of revolution. Organisations like Socialist Aotearoa exist around the world and carry out similar functions, providing an anti-dote to right-wing, authoritarian and conservative ideas, co-ordinating the activism of the most revolutionary and committed activists, and advancing social justice struggles for a better world.

The more people that join and dedicate themselves to Socialist Aotearoa the stronger the revolutionary left will be. If hundreds of people joined Socialist Aotearoa tomorrow committed to revolutionary, anti-capitalism, we could pass on the historical and practical experience of revolutionaries around the world and build out dozens of struggles to isolate and defeat the capitalist class. We could organise gigs and meetings around the country to rock against oil drilling. We could use non-violent direct action to shut down the Huntly coal fired power station and demand the Government commit to reducing New Zealand’s greenhouse gas levels. We could blockade the country's army and air force bases until our soldiers were brought home from Afghanistan. We could organise boycotts of clothing labels like Nike who refuse to allow their workers to form unions in countries like China. We could occupy every university and polytechnic until the Government abolished fees and dropped student debt. We could win over hundreds of thousands of workers to the idea of a classless society where everyone was equal and the means of producing wealth in society were owned by everyone and the management of the economy democratically controlled by all.

With revolutionary organisation comes the ability to intervene and lead in struggles.

In fact the possibilities of social, political and economic transformation are endless. We can save the planet from the ravages of war and ecological destruction and rescue billions from starvation and poverty if we work together and commit ourselves to revolution. But we need organisation. No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.

Socialist revolution seems so far away, so impossible, so difficult that it can be an overwhelming idea. Yet we can bring change when we fight and organise together. Revolutionary organisation is a necessary step towards creating revolution here in Aotearoa and around the world.