Category Archives: Neoliberal capitalism

Happy Birthday 200th Birthday, Karl Marx!

Karl Marx, Helen Razer and May Day 2018: Marx’ 200th birthday Anniversary – May 5th

In Australia, in the middle of our month of actions to build the Change the Rules Campaign, we should pause for a while to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Karl Marx, May 5th.

That might be a big ask for many Australian labour movement activists. And probably also for those of you in the First Nations liberation, environment movements, feminist activity, anti-racism, refugee solidarity, and so on.

Therefore, “Why pay attention to Marx?” 

Back in the nineteenth century Marx gave our forebears – the workers of the world – the first coherent and worker oriented explanation of how capitalism worked in his day, and some basic principles for a true alternative, a true socialism.

21st century capitalist society is quite different from way back then, but in its essences it is so much the same. There is a connection between the way in which 21st century capitalism is different and the way it is the same. We are still living in a world of exploitation, with various levels of hyper exploitation, of both the majority of humans and of most of nature as we know it. The exploitation is driven by the dynamic of the system.

Karl and Fred, with Jenny and some others lending a helpful hand in many ways (see the recent bio, “Love and Capital”), explained that dynamic thoroughly. Even right wing commentators in the financial media can’t help but recognise it, especially to understand the 2007-9 financial crisis and why it is taking so long for a recovery to happen, and that so far there is no recovery for the lives of billions of humanity.

It’s worth paying attention to Karl for lots of reasons, including a sparkling and at times bawdy wit, and his contribution as a refugee solidarity activist with the rest of his immediate family (again, take a look at “Love and Capital”).

Earlier this week we in Australia were reminded in several ways why millennial workers, and others like me (post ww 2 generation), might find using a marxist approach to understand wtf is going on worth the effort.

They included the media coverage reports of

– what the Australian government is going to do to continue the failure of successive governments to tackle and reverse climate change at the rate that is desperately needed;

– and, the housing crisis: there was this summary of a new report from Anglicare that told us, among other horrible things, that out of 67,365 rental properties surveyed across the country, only 3 were affordable if you needed Centrelink (social security) payments;

– and this that described precarious employment plight for workers of the millennial generation … unemployment at 12.5% average, double the general average, underemployment at huge levels, the government driven destruction of vocational education and the apprenticeship system, and “wage theft”, the systemic payment of wages at less than the legal minimum rate.

Helen Razer and Marx

Helen Razer is a popular and sharpish marxist social commentator. Her most recent (2017) book is “Total Propaganda”, a plain speaking, witty and bawdy (in a way that Marx and his household would smile at) 21st century introduction to Marx and Marxism for workers of the millennial generation. I recommend it as a good (with a couple of weakness though) 21st century introduction from an Australian starting point.

Her Introduction includes this:

“You guys have it bad … There is nothing character building about not being able to afford a permanent place to live. There is nothing fun about a shrinking job market. Stagnant wages are not exhilarating.”

And this:

“You are not a pussy for feeling that the world has failed you. The world has failed you, and it’s hardly your fault that its systems have begun to break down. You guys are not choosing to flit from job to job. You are not choosing to hurt those Chinese and Congolese workers who made that iPhone with their blood. You did not throw your chance at a home after a gourmet sandwich.” (You can read the next bit yourself “Oh Millennial Sandwich Eater.”)

At the end there is a chapter about what to do about it and also a pretty good suggested reading list.  (It leaves out a couple that I would recommend. For example I would include Terry Eagleton’s equally entertaining “Why Marx Was Right”, and Malcolm Robert’s blog posts that offer good plain language explanations of how the economy we live in right now is working / not working, based on key marxian ideas, see below.)

In between there is a sparkling overview of how Marx was motivated by his passion for freedom for all people by analysing how freedom worked (works) in a capitalist system, including its cultural and political dimensions, not just its economic. She points also to what she sees as weaknesses in Marx’ thinking.

She gets into 2 key “economic” concepts essential to understanding things like exploitation and recurring and irresolvable crises. They are the labour theory of value and the tendency for profitability to fall. She doesn’t quite nail these, nor the value of dialectical thinking (eg capitalism changes by staying the same, but retains its impulse into crisis and inability to fully recover from it.)

She does nail pretty well Marx on alienation and the fundamental reality that our material existence is the foundation for all else. Its also funny and entertaining, using the “problem” of masturbation as the starting point.)

She also grabs hold of another core Marxian idea and shakes our brains with it: “The free development of each is the condition for the free development of all”.

This is a good entry point to understand the essential difference between individualism, as lauded by the employers and their Liberal Party, and individuality. The promotion of individualism – rooted in selfishness, greed, self-centredness – is a central idea of 21st century capitalism, just as it was in Marx’ 19th century. The material economics of individualism – capitalism – kills individuality. Individuality – the precious unique potential of each human being – nourishes and amplifies the possibilities for each one of us and, in itself, is dependent on the power of workers uniting across the boundaries varies of gender and race.

Her “what is to be done” chapter is simple and powerful: get engaged including through study and thinking. Act. Bring identity politics into the common struggle against exploitation and hyper exploitation. Study exploitation using Marx because his legacy provides the best perspective for doing that. It’s time for that now and over these next few years. No more whinging.

The place for millennial workers is in the struggle to Change the Rules, in the workplace. Its rescuing our environment. Its standing in solidarity with our First Nations peoples. And so on. It’s on the streets for May Day. It’s in the public meetings, the rallies, the demonstrations and the meetings that plan them. It’s in the development and driving of strategy, from below and the mid-levels of our movement, not just leaving it to “heroic” leaders, elected or otherwise. Its breaking out of the boring cycle of rapacious LNP governments followed by marginally better (oh we should be so grateful) Labor governments, followed by … more getting nowhere at all.

Everyone has the potential for it. Find a way.

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Australia’s weird new Federal Budget that advocates rapid wages growth: a quick critical note on the commentary

Here, Greg Jericho joins with other mainstream economists in agreeing with the lead analysis of Jim Stanford’s Centre for Future Work, that LNP government’s Budget expectation (requirement) for wages growth is not happening and shows no prospect of happening.

Again the usual high quality info from Greg. But this time, the analysis about why and what might be done is quite shallow, even absent.

Greg’s statistical causation focuses on underemployment. There are other deep factors at play than competing statistical tendencies.  But what establishes and further enables underemployment, and what is its connection to unemployment?

Another deep factor in keeping wages low is the Fair Work Act 2009 systemic, repressive scheme of penalties against workers who seek to exercise their SOLIDARITY power to improve their wages or to improve their job security. The Turnbull government’s only major change to Labor’s own version of this anti worker, anti solidarity wage and conditions fixing regime in the FWA is the harsher penalties against construction workers, including their extension to workers and their unions who do work in association with construction.

This is because Labor’s regime for bargaining and national wage fixing is working perfectly well for employers, not workers, as it was designed to do. This is one of the essential planks of neoliberalism, or Labor’s “neolaborism”, that is not going away … yet.

It beggars belief that this government, and arguably an alternative Labor government, will change the FWA so that workers can help solve their weird wages problem in the macro economy.

The other factor in keeping wages low is the union movement’s failure, so far, to develop a significant strategy that will genuinely restore worker’s right to strike and other forms of collective action, that will include rights to deal with international competition on wages etc., include climate change transition as a bargaining issue, and put worker solidarity back into both minimum legal rights and the development of society.

Mixed up in all of this is the “little matter” of profits. The discussion about profits, or its absence, in Australia is pathetic. Not just the volume of profit, but also what profit is, the exploitation of humans and nature upon which it depends, and profit in relation to total investment, that is the combination of investment in machines, hardware, software development, etc and the workers who bring all of that to life through their labour. We cannot understand the significance of the “wages problem” without grappling with profits and investment. Traditionally, Keynesians are not very good at that. So, we turn instead to our potential as union activists to do it properly?

Tsipras: the reverse shock doctrine

I think this helps to understand what SYRIZA is trying to do. It must continue to build its base in Greece and extend that beyond to other countries in a similar situation: suffering from the diktat of the Troika imposed neoliberal destruction of communities and societies. Their strategy appears to include NOT doing what the real enemy in the institutions of neoliberal capitalism either expect or want.

Australia-Greece Solidarity Campaign

Newly appointed Greek Finance Minister Varoufakis attends a hand over ceremony in Athens

Now the euphoria in Greece has subsided, it is being matched by astonishment in Berlin and the European Union institutions. On its first day in government yesterday, Syriza cancelled a privatisation progamme of the ports and energy sector, pledged to re-employ around 15,000 workers, and announced minimum wage and pension rises costing around 12bn euros.

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The ECB, QE and escaping stagnation (with an Australian perspective)

Who In Australia would trust the Abbott and Hockey (Liberal government) alliance with the Business Council of Australia to manage the economy in the next financial crisis?
Remember that when Rudd Labor came to office in 2007 it soon had to manage the impact on Australia of a global economic crisis, usually called the GFC. In a mild, Keynesian way they did a reasonable job.
Well, the Davos global ruling class gathering, frantically seaching for “inclusive capitalism”, and Mario Draghi are now talking and acting such that the handling of the 2007 crisis is now leading towards another global economic crisis, even before any real sign of recovery from the first one.
There is no chance that the Abbott government and the BCA will handle this “new” situation democratically, that is in the interests of the majority. Their current standards of competence suggest they wont even be able to handle it competently for their very own and precious 1%.
Well, that leaves the issue of the propect of a new Labor government, under its right wing led by Bill Shorten. What will they do? The next few months will tell us more.

Michael Roberts Blog

The announcement by Mario Draghi at the council meeting of European Central Bank (ECB) yesterday that the ECB and the national central banks of the Eurozone would inject €1.1trn of new credit over the next 18 months into the area’s banks has certainly had a quick result. The euro dropped to an eleven-year low against the US dollar.

euro

The ECB has finally joined the Federal Reserve, the Bank of England and the Bank of Japan is what is called outright quantitative easing (QE). This is the outright purchase by the central banks of government, corporate and real estate bonds paid for by ‘printing money’, or more precisely electronically creating reserves of money in banks.

Up to now, the ECB has shied away from doing this QE and instead merely lent money or credit to the banks for increasingly longer periods of time (now up to three years) at virtually zero…

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Global Union Federation calls for international union soidarity for SYRIZA and the Greek majority

“The Greek elections offer a potential breakthrough, but to carry out their program a government of the Left will need massive understanding and support abroad. Unions should be in the forefront of building that support.”(Excerpt from IUF statement.)

The IUF is maybe the first Global Union Federation (GUF) to both argue the case and call for international union solidarity for SYRIZA and its programme to challenge the horrendous austerity capitalism imposed on the majority of Greek citizens.

SYRIZA have not yet won the election, but they are expected to do so.

The IUF article explains the failed history of previous efforts to defeat externally imposed austerity in other European countries. SYRIZA is different and provides working people around the world as well as the Greek majority, with a real alternative foundation against austerity capitalism.

Of course, the global ruling class, will be planning how to bring SYRIZA down.

The Greek ruling class itself has the bloody hands of repression of the people in its own history to stop socialist and democratic momentums.

We are all in the Greek majority.

– See more at: http://portside.org/2015-01-14/breakthrough-greece-austerity-and-solidarity#sthash.TO9PuXky.dpuf

Common Action to Oppose the first budget of the Abbott- Hockey / Business Council Alliance

Common Action, starting in Sydney, is trying bring together the dozens of points of opposition to the Australian neo-liberal Agenda of the Abbott government. And out of that develop a common, comprehensive and independent alternative economics and programme.

For more on Common Action click here and also follow them at their Facebook page and Twitter account.

As part of their actions they are organizing a post budget activists meeting, details as follows:

Wednesday May 21, 6.30pm-8pm,
Sydney Mechanics School of Arts,
280 Pitt St, Sydney.
6.15pm for a 6.30pm start
$5

What an excellent idea!

We use to do this in Adelaide in the 70’s and it was a great opportunity for young activists to learn about the political economy of budgets, especially how to analyze a taxation or spending decision (or proposal) through the prism of what it would mean for working people, the unemployed, women, ethnic communities and so on.

Those post budget sessions analyzed the Liberal budgets of the Liberal Party’s Fraser governments.

The sessions and analysis was led by political economists who were committed to plain language and working class oriented perspectives. Economics was thus demystified and turned into the common property of workers and other activists who had not gained either secondary or post secondary economic learning opportunities.

The contributors ranged from Keynesian and the more powerful critical analysis of independent Marxist views. However, there was practically nothing in the line of ecological perspectives. Women activists insisted, sometimes but not always with support of men, that the specific discrimination against women in budget decisions, be brought into the analysis.

After a few years these events waned but not before a new popular economic concept evolved: the social wage. The social wage described the connected impact on the standard of living of BOTH the industrial wage (the outcome of industrial, union led wage bargaining) and taxation / government spending, ie the social wage. We could see therefore, that in the dominant framework of Australian capitalism, the possibility that industrial wage gains could be nullified by a bad outcome in the social wage, mainly delivered in budgets Federal and state level).

The connections between inequality, the industrial wage and the social wage were described in an outstanding pamphlet: Australia Ripped Off. Australia Ripped Off was produced by the National Council of then Amalgamated Metal Workers and Shipwrights Union (now the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union). Its foremost author was the recently late Ted Wilshire from the unions National Research Office.  (Australia Ripped Off followed close behind an earlier pamphlet, Australia Up Rooted, that dealt with the impact on manufacturing industry of the biggest mining boom (up till then) in Australian history. Australia Up Rooted sets the standard in Australia for plain language economic education and learning for workers. It featured the wonderful cartoons of Bruce Petty.)

There is an opportunity for this revived form of activist learning re-ignite this class based, critical analysis of the Budget, connect that to what is happening to the finance sector, and integrate a strong environmental / ecological dimension. We lay, then, a foundation for a strategy that can eat away at the dominant economic messages of neo-liberal capitalism.

On this point, we who attend must demand that this is what the Common Action organizers provide: pressure from below can prevent the tendency for economic analysis that is soft and founded on assumptions that accept the dominant economic framework.

The system, 21st century capitalism, is founded in two interacting and mutually depend exploitations: the exploitation of most humans by a minority, and the exploitation of NATURE by that same minority. Associated with this, the system can at best offer only a very stunted form of democracy, that is, a somewhat compromised parliamentary democracy.

Finally, we can – collectively – build a coherent and unifying ALTERNATIVE political economic dynamic: both in policy and also strategy for that policy and its underpinning principals to challenge and become dominant. The potential for this exists in the dozens of campaigns that are points of resistance already to the dominant destructive momentum that is in our face every day.

These resistance campaigns are fragmented but they can be brought together and harnessed in a new and dynamically democratic alternative. We then have class based struggle happening again in a 21 st century form, just as it is forming in many other places around the world.

From “Pig Iron Bob” to “The Mad Monk”

Once upon a time it was “Pig Iron Bob”, and justly deserved it was. I am talking about Robert Menzies former Liberal Prime Minister and devoted anti-unionist, among other craven things. He who begat in a political sense Malcolm Fraser (who happily wanted to jail union leaders in 1978 and thereabouts for being strong and intelligent), John Howard, and now Tony Abbott.
But what will we call Abbott? “The Mad Monk” does not quite fit in this new situation, especially in the light of his Royal Commission into unionism, as it truly is, and his swing last week through Japan, South Korea, and China.
Today’s Sydney Morning Herald carries commentary by John Garnaut about all of this. Garnaut refers to the Menzies backdrop to the Abbott free trade expeditIon and like most others, including Labor’s own free trade champion Craig Emerson, finds in favour of the Abbott effort although with some fault lines.
It’s not a surprise but Garnaut neglects why Menzies’ was called “Pig Iron Bob.” Because, as Deputy Prime Minister and Attorney General (Brandis and Abetz know it well) he launched a war against waterside workers who followed their consciences in 1937 to refuse to load pig iron that Menzies said should go to Japan. The when wharfie sand their leaders KNEW that it would be coming back from fascist Japan as weapons of war. And they were dead right. Millions were slaughtered by Japan in Korea and China, and other parts of East Asia as well. And tens of thousands of Australians, mainly workers, did also, defending our peoples from something that a Liberal icon had complied with. (Note that in the discussions with Japan Abbott suggests that Japan can re-arm. )
Abbott’s ruling class Royal Commission aims to destroy such union activity and its underpinning – a profound collective intelligence about fairness, justice, social progress and peace.
So far, there is no sign of ANY FAIRNESS, for Working Australians or their counterparts in Japan, Korea, and China, in these so-called free trade deals. There are no ILO core labour standards let alone arrangements to ensure they are complied with. Labour standards will be left in the hands of those workers determined enough to struggle for them against their so-called masters, their employers.
Each of these free trade deals rest upon the extra exploitation of workers across all 4 countries, and seek the continual handover of democratic sovereignty to the enhanced power of transnational corporations.
Against this, we must struggle and in doing so discover anew the possibilities of a society not based upon the exploitation of humans and of nature.