Thoughts of our young, progressive thinkers

This work brings together the thoughts of young, progressive Kiwi thinkers, whose lived experience is the wonderland of Rogernomics and Ruthenasia, reviewer Victor Billot writes.

Morgan Godfery (ed)
BWB Texts


Having spent my adult life as a socialist, it sometimes feels like being carried out to sea on the ebbing tide of history.

Things have changed. In the early 1990s, you could feel a visceral anger at the fourth Labour Government, followed by National PM Jim Bolger's promised ‘‘decent society'', which combined mass unemployment, benefit cuts and a raft of changes that smashed the New Zealand working class over the head, courtesy of then Minister of Finance Ruth Richardson. Yet there was resistance, of a kind.

Scroll forward a couple of decades, and the outcomes of that era have been hard-baked into New Zealand society.

The Clark Labour Government made a course correction without altering the main trajectory. Now the blandly incremental John Key doesn't need to force through controversial policies, as the hard yards have already been done. All he needs to do is wait, as time is on his side. The young have grown up in a nation where the dominant values and organising principles are those of acquisitive individualism. The ‘‘money men'' have won. Or have they?

I was intrigued to read this concise collection of essays that bring together the thoughts of young, progressive New Zealand thinkers, whose lived experience is the wonderland of Rogernomics and Ruthenasia.

As a 40-something orbiting in the far reaches of the mortgage belt, I wondered what was going through the minds of people who have come of age in the 21st century. The answer is quite a lot.

This collection takes its title (and implied theme) from the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci, who wrote of European society in the turbulent 1930s that: ‘‘The crisis consists precisely in the fact the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.''

Morgan Godfery was an inspired choice for editor. His introductory overview is not lacking in intellectual firepower, bouncing between Marx and Facebook, Foucault and child poverty, and urging the need to remain ‘‘determined to resist melancholy - the feeling that progress is better mourned than desired - and replace it with optimism, politics and love.''

Courtney Sina Meredith opens the volume with a short but radiant poem, appropriately linking past and future. The brevity of the following essays means they are readable, but by no means shallow, as well as being largely free of jargon and pretentiousness.

Andrew Dean uses the Eleanor Catton controversy - the semi-hysterical response to her critical comments of the New Zealand Government at an overseas conference in 2015 - as a starting point to interrogate how dissent and non-conformity is controlled, discouraged and limited in our society.

Wilbur Townsend examines the future of work and advocates automated technology, a universal income, and socialising capital through sovereign wealth funds, to create a ‘‘socialism that can emulate capitalist dynamism without emulating its callous set of values''.

Trade unionist Edward Miller recounts how global capitalism undermines any serious attempt to deal with the climate change crisis, and Chloe King has an insightful essay on the way that precarious work and a punitive welfare regime is used to divide and disenfranchise a younger generation.

Lamia Imam is a New Zealander who has spent much of her life in Bangladesh, and writes on the effects of living in a globalised world. Former Green MP Holly Walker provides a personal account of the difficulties of being a political representative in a society where family, community and personal wellbeing are undervalued.

A couple of the essays I was unconvinced by, but it is essential that a book of this kind draws on as wide a range of thought and reflection as possible.

As such, it is appropriate for it to conclude with an original piece by Max Harris who seeks out a ‘‘politics of love''. Far from new age fluff, his demand is for such wider values to be brought to bear on the ‘‘stale and sterile'' language of the neoliberal political establishment and its agendas.

The Interregnum is a must-read political and social commentary for 2016.

- Victor Billot is editor of The Maritimes, the magazine of the Maritime Union.

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