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John Passant

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December 2010



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And so this is Christmas

Christmas both contributes to and interrupts the profit system.

For many retailers and tourism providers in Australia Christmas is their most profitable time of the year – a time when emotion rules the wallet, and credit cards, of the working class.

Christmas expands and creates use values which are satisfied through exchange.

Yet in the run up to Christmas in Australia this year retail spending was subdued. Partly this is a response to the global financial crisis and the uncertainties it created. Further the winding down of the stimulus package means that there are no $950 bonuses this year for workers to spend. 

Higher interest rates are also biting into household consumption. According to Australia’s Reserve Bank mortgage debt in April was $1.1 trillion. Other personal debt, including credit cards, stood about $141 billion.

Australia has the highest household debt to disposable income ratio in the world. Australia’s interest rates are among the highest in the developed world. Interest rate increases, with more on the way, mean that, without real wage increase well above inflation, there is a spending cap imposed on workers. We may have reached it.

Certainly  under the industrial do nothing policies of the Labor Party and the Australian Council of Trade Unions there has been an historic shift in returns going to capital. According to a recent ACTU Economic Bulletin: ‘The profit share of national income is now near the record highs it reached in 2008, while the wages share of income is the lowest since 1964.’

Christmas is part of the ideology of capitalism. It was originally a Roman celebration called Saturnalia which the Christian pragmatists took over. Ruling classes the world over have not only themselves indulged in bouts of bacchanalia. They have sometimes allowed or been forced to allow their subjects to let steam off.  Saturnalia for example ostensibly saw master and slave swap places. It was a time of gift giving and celebration, and orgies and drunkenness.

More generally celebrations of the winter solstice are common in many cultures. As the days begin to lengthen again it is a time to think of the new and most winter solstices around the world honour birth or rebirth. It is a time of hope for a better world.

Capitalism took over the Christian variant of winter solstice and commodified it, as it attempts to commodify all things. Why? Because it is only in the exchange process that surplus value is realised. Production produces surplus; exchange brings it to life.

This capitalist commodification of Christmas appears to have begun in earnest in the mid 1800s as the working class strengthened its position as a class and revolutions swept Europe.

Of course it is more than commodification. It is ideological celebration. It emphasises the individualism or narrow community of family and divorces the holiday completely from the wealth the waged have created or realised.  It is a scrap from their table of plenty.

It is also inherently adaptable to and reinforcing of reformism – the idea of liberation from above , of salvation through the outsider,  someone or something other than our collective selves.

These concepts are often expressed in the language of religion but as history shows such language disguises the real class forces at play. They are the seemingly conscious expression of unconscious forces.

There is something else too. The working class took the holiday and turned it into its own escape and expression of its alienation. Apart from days off from the exploitative process for many workers, there is increased drunkenness. Violence is at its highest over Christmas as the inadequacies of the family as moderator and improver of human relationships become clearer.

The idea of a break from work is under attack. In many of the big battalions of productive business Christmas is just another working day.

Australian employees work among the longest hours per year of any developed country. They are taking less holidays as they contribute more and more unpaid hours to those who live off our labour.

The political leadership have used the themes of peace and love to praise their military for killing  in their name.

The seeming universality of peace and love contrast with the reality of killing and hate that is the essence of class society.

Only a complete turning upside down of social relations – the abolition of class society – can make peace on earth a reality.

When production is organised democratically to satisfy human need, we, the producers of all society’s wealth, will have no interest in killing each other. Then every day will be Christmas.

John Lennon Happy Christmas (war is over)



Comment from Walter
Time December 26, 2010 at 11:27 am

Please Mr Passant, for the New Year can you write about social equality, class and the NRL? Given the Greg Inglis situation, the Dragons shedding five second rowers to keep Gasnier and retain Green et al on massive salaries, isn’t Rugby League the ultimate capitalist system in operation? Young men earning hundreds of thousands of dollars, their managers ripping off the ‘system’, rorts, under the counter payments etc, players having to leave against their desires … and no control over their means of production!

Murdoch and packer have made millions off the NRL/ARL – anyone interested in overturning the class system and removing capitalism should start with abandoning the NRL and supporting non profit sports.

Comment from John
Time December 26, 2010 at 8:09 pm

Walter, please call me John. I was thinking about Inglis and the salary cap a few days ago but wasn’t sure of the angle. I think one of my previous rugby league articles looks at its commodification and loss of its working class roots. However I am trapped in my past – a working class Wollongong boy whose loyalty is set in the concrete of 1956 when I went to my first St George game as a two and a half year old.

Comment from Arjay
Time December 27, 2010 at 7:44 am

One of the stories of Jesus tells us about his rage against the money changers in the temple, driving them out by violence.The money changers were the bankers of this era.Some have suggested that Jesus many have been killed because of his rage against usery.

JFK had tried to free the USA from the debt slavery of the US Federal Reserve and had printed $ half a billion in new currency issued by Congress.After JFK’s assassinaton LBJ withdrew this currency and ended any plans of Congress following the Consititution which says that only Congress should have the power to issue currency.

Comment from Seamus
Time December 27, 2010 at 11:43 am

What we’re seeing in modern Australian sport, coming from an AFL background myself, is what Bourdieu would have looked at as the heteronomy of the neo-liberal mainstream culture impacting upon a field with its own set of values and standards (i.e. being a one club player).
With Garry Ablett defecting to the Gold Coast the old values have taken another blow. Yet at the same time I find it hard to blame a young man for wanting to see a greater share of the wealth he is producing in his own hands, rather than that of the club and the AFL.

Tis a tricky one, and like John I think I’ll be a diehard Bombers fan till the day I die regardless of the games’ increasing commercialisation.

Comment from juanR
Time December 27, 2010 at 1:57 pm

Hi Walter and Mr Passant (sorry… John) forget about those silly games (NRL, ARL and AFL), played with the honeydew shaped ball and think of the round ball game, “the beautiful game”, the game that unites the world. The game that gives poor African and Latin-American kids a chance to earn a decent living (no discrimination on the grounds of race or size). It is Football (or soccer as we call it here) that unites people. And, as you know John, el pueblo unido jamas sera vencido. Hasta la victoria siempre, viva la liga y Feliz (and peaceful) Año Nuevo a todos.

Comment from Seamus
Time December 27, 2010 at 5:30 pm

JuanR, that’s a pretty idealistic interpretation of the big business that is world Soccer. Most major sports offer a working class escape for the handful who are talented enough, it’s hardly a vehicle for serious change in the social order however.

I suggest you watch Vanguard: Soccer’s Lost Boys (youtube link to some clips – couldn’t find the original) for a different look at the effects of “the beautiful game” on poor communities in Africa.

Comment from juanR
Time December 27, 2010 at 6:16 pm

Nothing idealistic about it Seamus, world soccer is big business, as you say, and it keeps a lot of people employed and happy (a bit like the roman circuses of time past). Beats NRL/ARL/AFL anytime in terms of mass appeal and we could do something with it . Think what a “soccerleak” (you have already shown a pointer) could do to spread the rev/message.

Comment from Walter
Time December 30, 2010 at 3:13 pm

Qatar winning the World Cup only keeps the corrupt employed and happy!

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