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John Passant

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My interview Razor Sharp 18 February
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp on Tuesday 18 February. (0)

My interview Razor Sharp 11 February 2014
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp this morning. The Royal Commission, car industry and age of entitlement get a lot of the coverage. (0)

Razor Sharp 4 February 2014
Me on 4 February 2014 on Razor Sharp with Sharon Firebrace. (0)

Time for a House Un-Australian Activities Committee?
Tony Abbott thinks the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is Un-Australian. I am looking forward to his government setting up the House Un-Australian Activities Committee. (1)

Make Gina Rinehart work for her dole

Sick kids and paying upfront


Save Medicare

Demonstrate in defence of Medicare at Sydney Town Hall 1 pm Saturday 4 January (0)

Me on Razor Sharp this morning
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace this morning for Razor Sharp. It happens every Tuesday. (0)



Capitalism isn’t dead

News of the death of capitalism is premature.  The patient is sick, but she is not dead.

How sick?  Here in Australia unemployment is 4.5 per cent.  It will increase, but by how much?   A lot, I would suggest.  It is a slow train coming, but it is coming.

The pattern around the world appears to be that estimates about the impact of the crisis of profitability worsen almost weekly. For example the latest predictions for US unemployment suggest it could hit 9 per cent next year.  Only a month ago it was 6.7 per cent.

Couple that with deflation and we may be seeing a profound crisis of capitalism, something akin to the Depression in its impact.   However we need to be careful in saying that.  During the Depression unemployment (depending on which country we are talking about) was in the 30 per cent range.   We are  a long way from that, at the moment.

If it is a slow train coming, it might be our place of reference that means we can’t see how fast the wreck is approaching.

Even if the system is very sick or about to be come very sick doesn’t mean it is dead. As Lenin said, capitalism can survive any crisis if workers are prepared to bear whatever burden the bosses impose on them.

Before discussing Australia and its working class, let me stereotype US industrial relations to fit in with Lenin’s comment. Now I have little knowledge of the US but suspect workers there are even less prepared than in Australia to resist job losses and wage cuts.  Indeed the US economic crisis appears to be on speed. Hence Obama almost every week increases the economic stimulus package.

In Australia the position is contradictory, at least in relation to wages.

As I have written elsewhere the whole history of the working class in Australia over the last 25 years  (especially the leadership) has been one of class collaboration.  Independent rank and file organisation no longer exists.

The political leadership of the labour movement is even more conservative than the trade union leadership. Could you seriously imagine Kevin Rudd supporting workers on a picket line in defence of jobs or urging them to occupy the factory?

The Australian working class is totally unprepared industrially and politically to resist unemployment and wages cuts.  Yet the paradox is that having said that, recent wage negotiations (for example in the building industry, with teachers in WA and apparently even at Qantas) have produced what appear to be real wage increases. Now some of the  unions involved are more militant than most and negotiations began some time before the crisis of profitability manifested itself, but nevertheless the results are not a disaster.

The real question is what will happen from now on, and in other industries.  The public service at state and federal levels looks vulnerable, especially given the weakness of many of their unions.  Teachers and nurses are a different question and there could be real outbreaks of action there.

While I have mentioned wages and jobs, how do workers resist the fall in value of their homes and superannuation?  Wage increases to offset the loss of value seems to me to be an approach, but it won’t happen.

But enough of tea leaf reading.

There is another factor in all of this –  the weakness of the radical left. Our ideas about the labour theory of value, exploitation, the need to resist the bosses’ attacks and ultimately for democratic revolution have little traction in any sector of society let alone the working class.

That doesn’t mean this will always be the case, and certainly at the moment there is a greater questioning about the system than I have ever known.  That doesn’t mean the conclusions drawn will be revolutionary.

During the Depression the German ruling class supported Hitler to destroy the organised working class and thus, through attacks on wages and conditions, to drive up profit rates.   The failure of the Stalinists to unite with the social democrats in the fight against the Nazis allowed Hitler to succeed.

Indeed the main revolution during this period – the Spanish revolution – was arguably not a product of the Depression but the last gasp of the revolutionary movement unleashed by the first world war.

Similarly after the second world war, revolutions broke out.  Greece is one example.  Japan had major class conflicts. In Britain the people threw out Churchill.  They wanted a better world.  One English Lord and Minister said that if the politicians did not give the people reform they would give the politicians  revolution.

Mass revolutionary challenges from below to capitalism can occur at anytime but it may be the sufferings of war can sometimes create the conditions for a revolutionary response.

But that also depends on the strength of the working class.  A declining economic climate does not create a strong working class; it creates a frightened one.  And as unemployment increases, the working class loses its economic power to disrupt the flow of profit and learn through its own actions its strength and its ability to run society democratically.

Fear is not an organising tool.

The task for the radical left at the moment is to patiently explain our ideas and, where we can, help workers understand the strength they have in society as the creators of its wealth and to use that strength to defend their economic and social positions.

Of course the Keynesians are winning the battle of ideas at the moment but Keynes did not save the world from the Great Depression.  War did.   Keynesianism doesn’t address the crisis of profitability at the heart of today’s problems.

Capitalism may be unwell but it is not dead.  Its condition may well worsen but the alternative – barbarism – will be worse.  There is an historic need for a mass revolutionary movement with the ideas and actions to replace the crisis ridden system.   We on the revolutionary left must build and build and build, even if it is only the ones and twos.  That can become the tens and twenties.  And the trickle becomes a tide.   Our time will come.  And then the working class can build on capitalism and create a new world where economic crisis is consigned to the museum and war and want become but memories.



Comment from Frank Said
Time December 30, 2008 at 1:46 pm

If all of the below were in operation the present abuses of the capitalist system could not exist.
Tax records in the public domain.
A wealth tax.
Banning of market derivatives.
Relativity of wages(20 to 1).

Comment from John Passant
Time December 30, 2008 at 3:05 pm

Thanks Frank.

I wonder how these measures would address the business cycle or the tendency of the rate of profit to fall.

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