Coffee with a communist

By Hazel Osborne

As I sit here watching a video of Wellington’s Mayor Justin Lester do some weird sort of push-up off of the lip of a remu table I blink, rub my eyes, and then flick to my open word document with the heading ‘JIM INTERVIEW’. I tap at the delete and replace this with the title you see above ‘Coffee With a Communist’. Since you’re most likely around my age (21) you pick it up because communism and socialism are quickly becoming something more than an obvious meme on your Facebook news feed. Jim, a man in his late 60s who has never seen a meme in his life, is English, from a working class background, teaches chemistry part time, and drinks coffee everyday at midday in the Midnight Espresso on Cuba Street. Jim is also a self-identifying communist. I sat down with him at midday for coffee and asked him questions about many things. My questions and his answers are as follows.

So where should I start?

Well how about you give me a little background about yourself then we’ll talk the big stuff.

Well I come from Eastbourne in England, my father was a factory worker and my mother worked in the same factory I was born just after the second world war… and I hold these political views because of where I came from. My mother used to always just say ‘oh we’re Labour party because y’know that’s the party for our kind of people’. That becomes a part of you without any rhyme or reason. I got lucky and I went to university for free… there are many people today who don’t have those chances. When a baby is born we’re all more or less the same, you can’t speak you can’t see; but some are born, as George Orwell said, more equal than others.

Do you think that the government should make sure we are all given equal opportunity when it comes to education?

There is no doubt about it in this country that the divide is getting bigger between those who have least and those who have most.

Are the disparities between wealth and poverty becoming even more obvious in New Zealand?

We all live in our own little world, and I live in my own little middle class world, and apart from coming to Cuba Street and seeing the beggars on the street I don’t have much to do with the very poorest people, y’know.

Well would you consider students to be a part of the very poorest in New Zealand?

Well you have a student loan, I mean okay, well it’s interest free now because of the Labour government, but when it was first brought in it was something like 6 per cent interest, so I mean there are some people who have got thousands to pay off before they can even think of owning a house in new Zealand, which seems to be everybody’s right.

Since I have the ball and chain of my own student loan, do you think that there should be initiatives in place that prepare graduating students for budgeting and the prospect of being in debt?

It’s all about security, everybody who is alive is entitled to a roof over their head and something to eat, err so, owning a house is a way of securing that right and if you look at a different system the state could over time, and nothing happens over night, but the state could supply lots more houses for people to live in.

Do you think Labour is guilty of stimulating students with big claims and little payback around the topics that mean the most to us?

I mean this is the party that’s supposed to be caring for all people in society… They’re always promising the earth as well. They think that’s what ‘ordinary’ people wanna hear. The government only have the money that we give them and how they spend it we sort of entrust that with them every three years when we vote.

Did you form your own political opinion when you were a student?

To tell you the truth it was the 1970’s and I wasn’t particularly political, I was down the pub an awful lot.

I’m keeping that in y’know.

They say that if you, err, remember the 60s and 70s you, err, weren’t really doing it right, and I think I did it a bit too much right.

Do you think the way millennial’s engage with politics and media, for example political memes, makes it easier to engage with potentially more abstract political opinions? 

Well I haven’t seen young people walking up the street with a copy of Das Kapital (Karl Marx) under their arm so I am quite surprised that you’re telling me this. I only know a few young people, I don’t have any children myself, err, but I’m pleased to hear you say so.

Well what do you think of these ‘memes’ that get 18,000 likes but voting numbers in New Zealand are dwindling still?

Well people have to get off their ass and go down the road it only takes a few minutes to go and vote.

So being political online is easier because they don’t have to make such an effort?

Yeah, I mean it must be the case. If you don’t wanna vote for anybody who is in your electorate you should go down there and cross ’em all out to show you have actually voted. I mean in Australia it’s illegal to not vote, and if you don’t somebody comes and knocks on your door and finds you.

So you think we should have a similar system in N.Z?


How would they introduce something like that?

Well a campaign telling you to vote or we’ll knock on your door.

So the orange man just ain’t doing it for New Zealand anymore?

Maybe he’s the wrong colour.

Why do you think people are frightened of Communism?

A couple of places in the last century, the leaders of those states were dreadful people. Joseph Stalin, no doubt, he killed 36 million people, starved them to death and shot them- it was just a dreadful, dreadful time. I mean Mao Tse-tung [Chairman Mao] didn’t turn out to be much better. Those countries needed to change because poor people had a dreadful life. Under the Tsar’s in Russia, people had an existence life, and they were still surfs, which is a medieval thing, a medieval idea.

There would be like ten people living in one room?

Well yeah that’s been happening in Auckland recently.

Like people living in their cars right?

Yeah, and that’s not this country’s way and we shouldn’t put up with it.

Well do you think these living conditions are avoidable with the assistance of the government?

Well yeah, you found out that it’s hard to get a place to rent and all the rent has gone up. Yeah, I mean there’s another thing for me, when I first went to university I did have to live in a bed-sit for a year but in my third year there was a student hostel. You paid for it yeah but it was a fair rent and it was okay, it was great. We don’t have enough of those places.

So do you think that because millennial’s see baby-boomers ‘pulling the ladder up behind them’ that we then think that capitalism works just not in our favour?

Capitalism works in the favour of those at the top of the tree, the trickle down theory does not work. The drips, there are only ever drips for the people at the bottom.



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