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John Passant

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January 2014



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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)

I am not surprised
I think we are being unfair to this Abbott ‘no surprises’ Government. I am not surprised. (0)

Send Barnaby to Indonesia
It is a pity that Barnaby Joyce, a man of tact, diplomacy, nuance and subtlety, isn’t going to Indonesia to fix things up. I know I am disappointed that Barnaby is missing out on this great opportunity, and I am sure the Indonesians feel the same way. [Sarcasm alert.] (0)



Alcohol, capitalism and king hits

The history of capitalism has running through it a history of alcohol.

Alcohol appeared at the beginnings of class society, with beer jugs found in the late Stone Age. Wine and beer existed in class society in Egypt, beer being brewed in the home. While most gods were local, Osiris, the god of wine, was worshiped across the country.

The nature of the relationship between alcohol and production and consumers changed with the advent of capitalism. Localised production became commodified and over time production become concentrated in fewer and fewer hands as a consequence of competition.

Beer became the drug of choice of the working class.  Taverns and pubs became meeting places for working class men to escape the rigours of work and attempt to address  the alienation inherent in capitalism. In contrast to work such gatherings gave those attending convivial community.

In fact the trend of alcohol consumption appears to have been one of decline since the beginnings of capitalism. Thus David Hanson in the History of Alcohol and Drinking around the World says:

In the sixteenth century, alcohol beverage consumption reached 100 liters per person per year in Valladolid, Spain, and Polish peasants consumed up to three liters of beer per day (Braudel, 1974, pp. 236-238). In Coventry, the average amount of beer and ale consumed was about 17 pints per person per week, compared to about three pints today (Monckton, 1966, p. 95); nationwide, consumption was about one pint per day per capita. Swedish beer consumption may have been 40 times higher than in modem Sweden. English sailors received a ration of a gallon of beer per day, while soldiers received two-thirds of a gallon. In Denmark, the usual consumption of beer appears to have been a gallon per day for adult laborers and sailors (Austin, 1985, pp. 170, 186, 192).

The reason for the decline may be that workers worked very long hours and capital requires sober workers to extract the most surplus value out of them.

The invasion of Australia by English capitalism bought with it alcohol and this was used not only as the equivalent of money at one time but as a form of social relief for prisoners and free men and women far from home and in inhospitable conditions for white people struggling in poverty and against the indigenous inhabitants.

The dispossession and genocide of those indigenous peoples drove and drives the dispossessed to poverty, crime, suicide and alcohol. Henry Reynolds estimates that, between 1788 and 1920, 20,000 Aboriginal people fell defending their land in an ongoing war against the invaders. The Indigenous population dropped from 300,000 at the time of the invasion to 70,000 130 years later.

For capital, alcohol not only provides an outlet for the working class to let off steam. It is a commodity that makes profits, big profits, for certain corporations. Big national and multinational companies today control much of the production and trade in alcohol.

The contradiction for the system is that the more profit alcohol companies make through workers drinking more the less fit the working class may be to produce profits for the rest of capital. So capitalism encourages and discourages that consumption.

There are not only constant private enterprise advertisements to consume alcohol. There are constant state warnings about the dangers of overdoing it. And there is constant advice about drinking in moderation.

The immediate costs of the effects of alcohol are borne by the state (regulation, hospitals, treatment etc) but other capital also bears the cost through sick leave, less productive workers and in some cases taxes to cover the adverse impacts of abuse of alcohol.

The contradiction between the private profits of alcohol companies and the lost profits of other capital being regulated by the state is being played out right now in Australia. There is a lot of reporting about recent drunken king hits (now evidently to be called coward punches) killing and maiming innocent people.

Alcohol fueled violence is the headline writers’ stock in trade at the moment.

In fact the evidence indicates Australians are drinking less now than in previous generations. Further, violent assault figures have been dropping.

What may be changing is that traditional community watering holes in a person’s locality are being replaced for young people especially by concentrations of drinking, eating and entertainment establishments in central city locations. These will often have very long opening hours (till say 3 am or 5 am).

That trend of long hours too has spread to some licensed clubs in the suburbs, those that can take advantage of poker machine players wasting their money till 3 am for example.

Alcohol releases inhibitions and in rage filled young men can unleash indiscriminate violence against strangers.

In New South Wales the latest king hit has prompted a flurry of suggestions as to how to deal with violence and alcohol. One suggestion is to cut back on opening times so that venues close a few hours earlier, perhaps midnight or 1 am. This would cut the profits of the venue owners and the alcohol producers, two groups who along with clubs contribute large funds to the two major political parties.

So it is that New South Wales’ Liberal premier Barry O’Farrell has argued against curtailing licensing hours, saying that people king hit at 9 pm won’t be saved by closing bars at 1 am. (Both recent king hit incidents have been around that time).

That is true. But what O’Farrell fails to address is why it is that people, especially young people, feel the need to go out and get pissed all weekend or why so many young men are so angry. There are I think a couple of answers or maybe things worthy of further investigation.

Capitalism is a system of alienation. As the glossary of terms at the Marxism website puts it:

Marx went on to show that the specific form of labour characteristic of bourgeois society, wage labour, corresponds to the most profound form of alienation. Since wage workers sell their labour power to earn a living, and the capitalist owns the labour process, the product of the workers’ labour is in a very real sense alien to the worker. It is not her product but the product of the capitalist. The worker makes a rod for her own back.

Alcohol or another drug becomes one way to both escape this alienated world and perhaps to reclaim the ownership of self and our products. Since alcohol is the main legal lubricant and profitable for a section of the ruling class it is the one whose use – in moderation, always in moderation we are told – capitalist society condones.

That partly explains the policing and crack down on competitor drugs like marijuana, although Colorado’s recent decision to legalise marijuana shows the power of widespread and untaxed commodity production and use can force legal changes to follow.

Indeed since marijuana may impede the productivity of workers as a class much less than alcohol a logical system might shift drug production and consumption from booze to dope. Of course the entrenched alcohol industry will resist that ferociously.

What O’Farrell and co don’t do is look for the underlying causes, let alone the underlying causes under capitalism, for getting pissed. They also don’t ask why so many young men are so angry. maybe the answer to that latter question can be found in part by looking at the specific alienation young people feel under capitalism, either as new employees, unemployed people with little future or students.

Weekend binge drinking may be one expression of that specific alienation of those new to the workforce of capitalist exploitation or denied access to it. Students, on the path to becoming workers, have a freedom workers don’t have and so can use or abuse alcohol more easily but have less wherewithal generally to do so.

Calls for more police and more police powers are often conflated with concerns about violence and alcohol. More police to control drunk working class people has been a staple of capitalist society from its beginnings. It is a method of social control over workers, using alcohol as the excuse.

Anger too is part and parcel of an alienated society. Throw in false definitions of manhood associated with toughness and aggression, and male group or gang violence becomes another outlet.

Those who call for tighter regulation of alcohol, for reduced opening hours, for more policing of hot spots miss the point that we live in a fundamentally alienated world where getting pissed or stoned is part of the escape from capitalism. It is an individual substitute for a communal response, class struggle.

The more workers who go on strike against the boss, the more class struggle generalises itself across society, the less isolated do workers, including young workers, feel. The struggle can become their drug.

Of course, to overcome the alienation that class society imposes upon workers and the violence, alcoholism and drug dependency that goes with it, we would have to overcome the society that produces it. That is what socialist revolution is about – liberating humanity from its alienation and restoring us to our own humanness.

Like all posts on this blog comments – see the link under the heading – close after 7 days. 



Comment from ateday
Time January 6, 2014 at 9:01 am

Communist Russia and its vassal states had, and still has, a huge alcohol problem.
Perhaps caused by the soul destroying nature of socialism.

Comment from Lorikeet
Time January 6, 2014 at 4:24 pm

If the government actually wanted to reduce alcohol consumption they would stop corporate retailers from constantly bombarding us via the email, snail mail and telephone. I had a helluva problem with harassment after buying a case of wine from an alcohol retailer owned by Woolworths. I had to become quite nasty for this problem to cease.

Comment from John
Time January 6, 2014 at 7:07 pm

Good point ateday.The alienation in those societies indicates that all the shit of capitalism continued. Which is why I call them state capitalist regimes. Their overthrow was a step forward for the real left and humanity. Stalinism isn’t socialism.

Comment from Byon
Time January 9, 2014 at 12:16 pm


It is necessary to take into account the existence of oppressiv social formations which are not capitalist:

Capitalism in Russia was quite clearly growing apace before 1917. NEP saw a controlled and partial recovery of capitalist elements. But I would argue that in carrying through a second revolution, in expropriating the peasant class, in destroying merchant trade and all petty capitalist proprietors, in developing the forces of production under conditions of terror and bureaucratic command, the Soviet Union of Stalin established unique social relationships and socio-economic categories. Refusal to countenance this simple truth is the source of all state-capitalist confusion.

Capitalism is a definite historical formation with specific laws and coloration. Capitalism is not a universal phenomenon. Marx was insistent: the subject, humanity, and the object, nature, endure in every society, along with labour, which “must constantly be performed”.7 So capitalism is not a generic description of inequality or exploitation, as many SWP members I come across seem to think. That would make Genghis Khan’s empire and the sprawling feudal kingdom of Henry Plantagenet capitalist. Nor is capitalism defined – as Chris Harman once said – by “production for competition, not need”.8 A deliberately evasive formula which cuts the hands and feet off capitalism in service of Cliff’s Procrustean theory. He dishonestly leaves out the cardinal fact that competition under capitalism, unlike the competition, say, between Rome and Carthage or European Christendom and the Muslim Arabs, is competition in essence for the sake of the accumulation of capital. If Harman owned up to that, it would be impossible for him or Cliff to call the Soviet Union capitalist.

Comment from John
Time January 10, 2014 at 8:15 am

Rapid accumulation and re-accumulation was in fact the very essense of Stalin’s five year palns. It was built on the exploitaiton of a working class, driven by competition with Western capitalism. What is unique to use your words about that? What is this new bureuacratic non-capitalist system you talk of and why is it not capitalist if it depends on exploiting waged workers for the sole purpose of further accumulation?

Comment from Bruce W. Scott
Time January 10, 2014 at 10:39 am

Marx had little argument with Ricardo. The worker would remain on the brink of destitution, although less due to his own incessant increase in population and more because permanent unemployment would ensure he had no bargaining power against the capitalist. The result was the same: economic progress would leave the working class behind. Yet it would be exacerbated by inevitable depressions of spiralling power, because the returns to capital would fall away as capital accumulated (which was observed during Marx’s time but not in the twentieth century) and because supply would always increase faster than demand. Inequality of wealth and depressions would become worse and worse until the workers would be forced to revolt.

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