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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. [Volume 39, Number 19, 1976.]

Theoretical Issues

Theoretical Issues

Despite the general quality of the papers, and the range of material they have thrown up, there are still considerable qualms. Nevil Gibson, in "Labour's Post-Socialist Phase" notes' There is very little Marxist writing on New Zealand that could stand up to much examination despite a history rich in radicalism." I would suggest that, in terms of Marxist theory the same could be said of these contributions.

The theoretical issues posed here have been extensively discussed in the debate between Nicos Poulantzas and Ralph Miliband (for which the best summary is Ernests Lacian in 'Economy and Society' Vol 4 No 1 1975). I will not go much into them here, beyond emphasising the distinction between approaching bourgeois theory on its own terms, rather than in a separate Marxist problematic.

To illustrate, Ken Stanton describes, with statistics, the process of concentration in New Zealand. Concentration (like the statistics) is used very much in a descriptive way - there is no attempt to realise the differences in the Marxist definition of concentration. Further, David Bedggood's article on the Welfare State outlines four tests for 'welfarism' theory. When these all turn up failures, the Marxist theory is looked to as a "solution".

The alternative, although it is very abstract from, can be seen in Michael Dunn's outline of the "National Question" The more rigorous definition developed there - of seperate modes of production and dominant class - suggest a Marxist problematic requires a different form of analysis.

The need for a correct theory is a vital one. As Lenin (who is cited) wrote: "Theory without practice is sterile. Practice without theory is blind". Most of the articles here are important in developing a critique of accepted theories, but on their own terms Thus bourgeois history is modified by the inclusion of aspects of class conflict (or the "secret history of World War Two"), but it is still bourgeois history - the underlying assumptions and implicit understandings have not been challenged.

The problems in developing a fundamental understanding are best illustrated by David Bedggood's definition of the core of Marxism: 'This is the definition of human needs and their realisation which consitutes the concept of alienation". At the risk of appearing uncharitable, this is totally wrong. "Human needs" is an idealist concept - characteristic of the young Marx before 1845. The materialist Marx, and scientific Marxism, get away from such notions to the rigorous concept of surplus value. This, not alienation, is the core of Marxist theory.

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There are some aspects of production (eg bad typing, the absence of page numbers) which can be criticised but the tone is getting somewhat negative. "Red Papers on New Zealand" is an important advance in our understanding of the country we live in. If the epistemology is suspect, then it is at least good that such issues can be raised and hopefully discussed. "Red Papers" is an excellent context.

Marxist theory internationally in the postwar period, with some notable exceptions, advanced little. From the mid sixties, spurred on by Vietnam, May 1968 and increasing economic crises, interest and developments have been growing. "The Red Papers on New Zealand" collect and formalise some of that work, as well as earlier material, on our own situation.

Very highly recommended reading.

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