Sunday, November 8, 2020

Democrats need to Galvanise the Working Class to Ensure Future Victories

      above: Court Appeals aside, a Biden-Harris victory now seems certain 
Dr Tristan Ewins
As a Biden-Harris victory becomes apparent in the United States Presidential race it’s well to consider the various stratum  of voters and how they have determined the result.  The future is still in question. Although Trump has lost, voters came out for both tickets in record numbers.  The Democrats need to sustain their current base, and indeed improve upon it in the future. There’s the question of how the Democrats might in the future do even better and win control of Congress as a whole, including the Senate.  At the moment policy gridlock is a real prospect.
Despite Trump's loss people are now speaking of the white working class as if it is a 'natural' Republican constituency.
In a way the Left in the US let this happen. Not only did the white working class turn away from the Democrats ; the US Left turned away from the white working class as well. Today class is seen as secondary to racial, sexual and gender identity.
In reality all of these things matter and the Left needs to build a united front.  But be careful telling a white working class man on minimum wage how privileged they are. Intersectionality needs to be more complex and nuanced.  We need to do more than just stacking a number of identity categories on top of each other. Rather we need to look at specific individual circumstance. The working poor – whether black, latino, white - are not 'privileged' in the big picture.  We also need to look at the social and economic ‘structure’ (ie: patterned social relations) , and the strategic position of the working class in this.
Another problem is the myth of the US 'middle class' ; standing in the way of solidarity between workers more broadly. The US class structure locks the working poor in place to support the consumption of middle income Americans ; but leaves 'middle income' Americans insecure enough to be vulnerable industrially. (the old reserve army of labour again ; with lack of labour market regulation and industrial rights ; and a lack of a ‘social safety net’ as well) We need solidarity across the whole working class ; against the top 10% - the rich and elements of the self-interested labour aristocracy. 'Middle income' is not the same as 'middle class'.
Again we need to emphasise solidarity across the whole working class ; but I think the privilege of working poor white people can be exaggerated. Race, gender and sexuality are seen as more important in determining privilege than class.  Again: In reality it all matters. That said, black people have problems with the police which white people don't have. Men don't have to worry about reproductive rights. There's still homophobia out there. But it's not helped when some people talk of 'poor white trash' and so on. The Right understands the meaning of 'divide and conquer', and the Left should not fall for it.
I'm not saying ignore sexuality, race and gender. I'm saying what we are doing to a large extent is ignoring class. I'm saying we're hurting ourselves electorally and culturally by not attempting to mobilise the working class as a whole. I'm saying you should not just write someone off because they're a white male. And our language should reflect this. They could be working poor, unemployed, disabled and so on. Or they could just be working class ; which is the layer with a broad enough and strategically placed base to potentially transition from capitalism.
I'm saying we should also look at peoples' individual circumstances when working out privilege. The New Social Movements arising from the 60s onwards are a crucial constituency, and reinvigorated the Left in many ways. But the fact is workers are still alienated, imiserated and exploited under capitalism. And the fact is the American Left needs a strategy to win back white workers - not because they're more important in of themselves ; but because the working class is stronger when united ; and there's an important (and sizeable) constituency which can be the difference between victory and defeat. 
For instance, there is the US Senate where a Republican majority could potentially stymie meaningful change.  A stronger electoral showing could overcome this.  Race, sexuality and gender are important ; but we can't allow them to become all-encompassing fault lines. Again ; it's about divide and conquer. Don't let it happen. So don’t 'write people off' because of identity categories. Take each person as an individual.  The point is many workers are voting Republican and they shouldn't be. What's gone wrong here and how can we fix it?
Some people are trying to pin the blame on ‘academic elites’ ; with ‘Critical theory’ and ‘Cultural Marxism’ depicted as alienating the working class. But critical theory is diverse. Habermas is less about 'identity' than Marcuse. While Habermas looks at 'Legitimation Crisis' stemming from attacks on the welfare state, Marcuse looks to New Social Movements to 'fill the vacuum'. The problem is that the working class as seen by Marcuse in the 1960s is not the same as today's working class. Today's working class has not been 'bought off' by prosperity ; but is highly exploited and alienated. In particular there is job insecurity, a weakened labour movement, and a falling wage share of the economy. But a 'popular front' of working class and New Social Movements is the only way to win today. So the Right pays great attention to dividing us against one another with narratives on ‘political correctness’ and the like.  The Left needs a narrative which engages with more socially-conservative workers while not compromising on principle.
In Australia we don't campaign effectively on class either. We need to make peoples' economic self-interest transparent. If we could do that we wouldn't have to worry so much about "aspirationals".
Looking at how many votes Sanders got the liberals still do need the socialists in the Democratic Party.  (and vice-versa)  Biden's victory is largely because the Left base turned out. This needs to be impressed upon Biden so that Biden makes it a top priority to deliver on policy.  An active industry policy creating new manufacturing jobs – especially in ‘rust belt’ states – could be offered in return for health reform (a public option) and a $15 minimum wage. (indexed) If the Republicans refuse to come to the table here they turn their backs on the working class constituency the Democrats must try and win back. So perhaps they will be open to a compromise favouring the Democrat policy agenda. And then the Democrats can take credit for the policy as well.
Antonio Gramsci talked of a ‘counter-hegemonic historic bloc’ ; an articulated alliance of forces – including the organised and conscious working class ; and ‘organic intellectuals’ embedded in that class – as the key to socialist transition. To this today we must add the New Social Movements.  A counter-hegemonic historic bloc must include the broad working class ; and if meaningful progress is to be attained the Left cannot allow large swathes of that class to remain feeling alienated from, and over-looked by the Left.  

In short, this means appealing to the working class as a whole ; and emphasising class at least as much as race, gender and sexuality.  It means not allowing a critique of race and gender to prevent us from identifying class-based disadvantage.  It means not "writing off" white male workers because of race and gender ; but rather applying a nuanced intersectionality which appreciates peoples' unique circumstances.  And building solidarity based on this inclusive approach.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Responding to the Legacy of George Orwell


When Rightists use Orwell to discredit Socialism and Antifa they often neglect that he was a socialist himself.   And his critique of Totalitarianism is broader than a critique of Stalinism.


Dr Tristan Ewins

Just today I was a participant in a debate on George Orwell. One person argued that Orwell was opposed to Left Authoritarianism, and as a consequence would be opposed to ‘Antifa.’  (For those who don’t know, ‘Antifa’ is a broad anti-fascist popular front, often led by anarchists)  Another person responded by saying Orwell was really a social democrat, and spent his life fighting fascism.  Orwell is used to discredit the Antifa cause – in a process that is, well, ‘Orwellian’.

Both people were right in their own way ; but despite the problems with Leninism it is best not to get it entirely mixed up with Stalinism. (though they are historically linked)   Orwell himself was a socialist, and fought in Spain against Franco.  (with the POUM – which translates as ‘Workers Party of Marxist Unification’)   The legacy of George Orwell is too important to reduce it to a critique of ‘socialist totalitarianism’.  Yes, there is an anti-Stalinist aspect to ‘Animal Farm’ and ‘1984’.  But Orwell’s opposition to ‘totalitarianism’ is deeper than this ; and capitalism is increasingly portrayed as an ‘absolute’: ‘total capitalism’.


Tactically and in principle it’s also dangerous to avoid the use of the word ‘socialism’ by arguing for ‘social democracy’ instead.  By using both terms together we get a better sense that ‘socialism’ and ‘social democracy’ once meant the same thing.   (and perhaps could again)  ‘Social Democracy’ is more complex than just ‘the post-war mixed economy, Keynesianism and welfare state’.   And the original social democratic (socialist) tradition deserves to be rescued, despite Rosa Luxemburg’s insistence it had become a “rotting corpse” on account of its response to World War One. 

In truth, most of global social democracy did capitulate on the issue of the War ; and this was the flashpoint which saw the rise of Leninism and its opposition to the rest of the Left.  (importantly, Luxemburg herself was what we may call a ‘libertarian socialist’ and was critical of Leninism’s practice of ‘democratic centralism’ following the revolution as well)  Here we have to distinguish, also, between ‘democratic centralism’ as a mode of organisation prior to 1917 on the one hand, and what it mutated into later under Lenin ; and worse so under Stalin.  But figures like Julius Martov and Karl Kaustsky resonated with their criticisms of Bolshevism, also, and in so doing left a legacy for radical social democracy. (socialism)  The Austro-Marxists and their so-called ‘Two and a Half international’ also stand as a reminder that there were alternatives between Leninism and Right Social Democracy.  For many years ‘Red Vienna’ was considered a model of radical (socialist) social democracy. It also involved a ‘workers army’ (Schutzbund) which was meant to be a ‘final defence’ for ‘the democratic path’)   Ironically,  it succumbed to an indigenous ‘clerical fascism’ itself because it could not decide how to fight ; or when.  But Austria’s levels of high quality public housing are an enduring legacy as well.

When people criticise Leninism they often neglect that Leninism originally still allowed for mass participation in the Vanguard Party. (ie: a party of professional revolutionaries whose job it is to lead the revolutionary working class ; often under conditions of capitalist state repression)   This goes to the question of whether a ‘one party state’ can be truly democratic. The answer depends on freedom of participation and organisation, and the absence of internal Terror) Stalin went one step further than Lenin and imposed Terror WITHIN the Party and the whole of society. Up until after the Revolution Leninism allowed for factions as well.  


Terror is undesirable anyway, and tends to expand as centralism increases beyond a certain point.  Thus far, Rosa Luxemburg is correct in her critique of Leninism. The problem is that war and foreign intervention left limited choices ; and this helped lead to tragedy.


So it depends what you mean by Leninism. There's democratic centralism and the Vanguard Party. Following the Menshevist/Bolshevist split of 1903 (see: 'What is to be Done?' - it is the definitive text on Bolshevist organisation ; written in 1901, published in 1902) And then there's certain policies which followed: Terror (first outside of, then inside of the Party as well – increasingly pervasive and indiscriminate), labour militarisation, banning of factions and of other socialist parties, and so on. The point is that Stalinism took all this to a different level ; and democratic centralism was originally predicated on freedom WITHIN the party (but discipline in between Conferences ; partly as a defence against state repression).

That said, there was a logic to Leninism, which in the context of Entente and other foreign intervention, civil war, the threat of starvation and of people freezing to death – helped lead eventually to Stalinism.  More and more extreme measures were taken (largely defensively) ; and led to permanent repression.

In contrast, though, I don't believe in Leninist centralism. One reason is that in certain contexts it means the suppression of debate between Conferences. I also believe it's inevitable factions will organise ; and suppressing factions just favours the ruling stratum. Finally, I share Rosa Luxemburg’s love of freedom, and recognise that while Leninism and then Stalinism resulted in certain ‘victories’, over the long term these resulted in an object lesson which was used to discredit the Left, and justify policies like McCarthyism. (anti-socialist hysteria and repression)

The problem is: What was the 'way out' in Russia at the time? A purely liberal response may have ended in White victory, a continuation of the slaughter of World War One, and Tsarist Restoration. Also remember that the Bolsheviks were the only Party willing to pull out of World War One pretty much unconditionally.  Maybe the solution was ‘dual power’ – with co-existence of Soviets, the Constituent Assembly and the Red Army.


Leninism - warts and all - has problems ; but remember the context of World War One, threatened starvation and social collapse as well. And the liberal parties wanted to continue that war.  Even the Left Social Revolutionaries took this approach - resulting in an assassination attempt on Lenin.


Remember that the French Revolution was bloody as well ; but the tactics of the Jacobins didn't forever discredit democracy or liberalism. By contrast we are constantly told that Leninism and Stalinism have forever discredited socialism.


Better to avoid the dilemmas the Bolsheviks faced in the first place - because it was bound to end tragically. But appreciate the moral complexity. The Russian Revolution came on the tail end of a War that killed over 20 million people. Some of the same people who are critical on Leninism will try and justify the First World War. And ignore the long list of Western Cold War atrocities. (for example, the brutal mass murder of half a million communists and labour movement activists in 1960s Indonesia)

Importantly: liberal democracy ultimately triumphed. But only because it was able to ‘tame’ and internalise the broad left within a practical capitalist consensus.  And eventually a virtual neo-liberal success.  Still: “liberal democracy” is worth defending as opposed to the alternative of Stalinism or a Corporatist State. (ie: fascism)  Now that it lacks opponents on the Left, we see liberal democracy attracting critics on the Right.   (so much for ‘The End of History – a term coined by the liberal Hegelian, Francis Fukuyama after the collapse of the Soviet Union) Here it is well to defend Liberal Democracy . At least it retains freedoms which make liberation imaginable ; and even its limited freedoms are preferable to the Rightist alternative)


Libertarianism of both the Right and the Left when authentically expressed are not as bad as fascism.  A true libertarian would defend the rights of unions and their workers to withdraw labour. And would treat free speech as a universal.  A fascist would work through a corporatist nationalist state that suppressed opposition violently, and promoted a literally illiberal Ideology.  By ‘corporatism’ we mean the forcible union of capital and labour under authoritarian nationalism.  A true Left libertarian would be sympathetic to the cause of ‘Antifa.’  A right-libertarian would accept their right to participate and exist. Personally, I consider myself a socialist liberal. That said, all organisations can be penetrated by agent provocateurs.  And ‘ultra-leftism’ is often mistaken.


Remember, also, Marx said of the bourgeoisie that it would 'snort' at its republic "Better end with Terror than Terror without End". (written in 1852, largely in response to the context of the 1848 Revolutions)  Trump understands this and seeks a predicate for repression based on 'law and order'. Agent provocateurs understand this also and act accordingly.  (‘End with Terror’ itself can also lead to ‘Terror without End’ under Fascism ; and Hitler came close to winning the Second World War at several points)

The Left needs to respond strategically.  We should not disavow militancy generally ; and practically disarm ourselves.  But neither should we support every act of militancy when this will result in our isolation.  There is a dilemma.  Rosa Luxemburg talked of “spontaneity of the masses” : a ‘dialectic’ between revolutionary working class self-initiative and the leadership of a revolutionary party.  In a way she is right.  On the other hand, unrestrained rebellion can work as a pretext for State Terror. Think of the rise of Mussolini and fascism in the 1920s in Italy following a period of revolutionary upsurge.


Also, under Stalinism Western Communist Parties were often restrained to further Soviet Foreign policy.  Dulling ‘the class struggle’.  But sometimes there is wisdom in restraint.

There is also wisdom in taking the initiative at the right time ; including militant strategies.  The Left needs to be nuanced enough to know the difference.

This article was originally published at ‘The Australian Independent Media Network’

Sunday, July 5, 2020

CoVid 19 has hit the economy ; But where is the Recovery going to come from?

above: Australia Institute Economist, Richard Denniss

Dr Tristan Ewins

CoVid 19 has hit the Australian economy hard.   By some estimates the Australian economy will shrink by approximately 7 per cent in 2020.  Maybe more.   That’s a virtually unprecedented recession.

Shutting down workplaces: hospitality and tourism, higher education and some manufacturing: comes at an enormous cost.

We can’t put a price on peoples’ lives and peoples’ health.  But many people will need to sacrifice to ‘spread the burden’ of funding recovery.

Some have suggested a ‘HECS-style loan’ for those unemployed as a consequence of this crisis.  Because this discriminates, it is unfair.  Richard Denniss – speaking on ABC radio – is correct about this.  Though I think he is wrong about HECS more broadly.  Income contingent loans to pay for government  support of individuals during the crisis would mean a veritable ‘labour market lottery’ as to who was left with debt.  But also ‘income contingent loans’ have a longer history of losing their progressivity as governments reduce thresholds to help pay for other endeavours – such as ubiquitous corporate welfare.

Also will the government temporarily increase corporate tax  during the recovery period to service debts incurred supporting the private sector during the crisis?

But one rational assumption is that the economy won’t simply ‘snap back’ at the end of a six month period ; and as a consequence the government cannot afford to ‘step back’ and just let the private sector ‘fill the breach’.  The real economy doesn’t work like this.

In hospitality and tourism the structural effects on the economy could last quite some time. We don’t know whether there will be a ‘second wave’ or whether we will ‘break the back’ of the spread in this country.  But global travel will take years to ‘get back to normal’, and the US and the UK are still deep in crisis.  The ACT and Northern Territory also understandably want to reap the benefits of wiping out the virus, and don’t want it reintroduced from interstate.

On the other hand the crisis provides an opportunity to broaden and deepen the public sector to create the ‘economic infrastructure’ around which recovery will occur.  Make strategic infrastructure investments, as well as structural improvements in public services ; unemployment services ; in Health, Aged care and disability services ; in welfare, transport, communications, arts.   Fix the NBN with ‘fibre-to-the-home’.  And coming out of the crisis: Have an active industry policy which strategically supports and invests in high wage manufacturing.

On ABC radio high speed rail was inferred as perhaps a ‘dubious investment’.  But it could drive growth in the regions, with a flow on of jobs and affordable housing.  As well as containment of urban sprawl and the transport crises that ensue from that.

The simple truth is that the public sector might have to pick up the slack on the economy for some time to come if there is to be any chance of a recovery.  And if we navigate this in the right way it can present an opportunity.

Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) holds that as the issuer of the currency the government can create money at will to invest and ensure a ‘full employment guarantee’.   Though this is limited by real economic constraints concerning the scale and nature of goods and services actually produced in the economy at the end of the day.  In some instances there might also be inflation ; and you cannot ‘create money’ to fund an infinite influx of imports.

But full employment is in everyone’s interests: so long as there is an ‘efficiency dividend’ which provides benefits for all ; and so long as consultation with unions ensures there is no endless ‘wage-price spiral’.   Higher employment has a ‘multiplier effect’ on the broader economy that also makes debts easier to service. At the same time, the wage share of the economy has been falling for decades ; and long term there is a need for a structural correction which could also create extra demand in the economy.   As part of this picture there should be reform of the labour market improving compensation in low-paid jobs – either with regulation, or through the social wage. (or both)
Modern Monetary Theory has been somewhat sceptical of the role of taxation, claiming it ‘takes money out of the economy’.  But this need not be the case if all that money is spent ; if indeed there is a stimulus.  Taxation also allows for a much more finely targeted redistribution of wealth: which should be desirable for progressives.

The current public health crisis is going to cause much more pain before it is overcome.  But the right kind of policies on investment, industry policy, welfare and stimulus can minimise that pain, and even help ensure in the end we come out of the crisis stronger.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

On Socialism Today - Planning a Way Forward

The following article - which the author plans to submit for publication by the Australian Fabians - is an in depth survey of the background and options for democratic socialism in Australia and the world. The idea is to spark debate in the lead up to a series of events in Victoria planned for 2020. Your contributions to the debate are also welcome!

Dr Tristan Ewins

Socialistic sentiment can be traced back to the slave revolt of Spartacus and Peasant uprisings in Europe ; for instance that led by Thomas Muntzer in Germany. But ‘modern socialism’ began with those labelled as ‘utopians’ by Karl Marx. Figures like Robert Owen – who personally wanted to convince the bourgeoisie (and nobility) of an egalitarian, communal society based around the means of production. (specifically communes of up to 3,000 people) And all those others who depended on a ‘socialist vision’ to convince people of the desirability of a socialist order ; as opposed to Marxists who based their approach on ‘the fact of class struggle’.

Generally, socialists preferred equality ; an end to exploitation ; extension of democracy to the economy. Marxists wanted to socialise the means of production to end both exploitation and the destructiveness and wastefulness of capitalism and its boom-bust cycle.

But Marx had another criticism of capitalism ; and that was the way in which the division of labour and demanding nature of much work traumatised workers. This was his theory of Alienation. Today in Australia for instance we are a world away from the working conditions of the 19th Century. But in call centres, offices and factories the division of labour can still exclude creative control and work fulfilment. Indeed, work conditions can still be traumatising.

In Germany where the class struggle was advanced the Social Democrats arose as a combination of the Marxists (Eisenachers) and the Lassalleans. Lassalleans (led originally by Ferdinand Lasssalle) believed in industry-wide co-operatives with state aid. Eventually Marxism became dominant. But by 1914 in Germany right-wing ‘socialists’ had come to predominate in unions and the parliament, and those people eschewed internationalism and supported the First World War.

Before World War One both the European and British socialists supported the class struggle and the fight for universal suffrage to advance workers’ rights. But Britain was relatively liberal ; and this resulted in less emphasis on revolution and more emphasis on incrementalism.

Fabianism arose in the 1880s ; and came to represent a movement to influence opinion in liberal and progressive circles. Especially in the Labour Party in Britain. Beatrice and Sidney Webb (prominent British Fabians) expressed sympathy with the achievements of Soviet Communism – but that view did not last. Some Fabians would focus on practical public policy ; others on the more radical aim of incrementally replacing capitalism. Again: Generally Fabians were gradualist rather than supporting a ‘sudden rupture’.

Modern Australian Fabianism shared the British Fabian principles and was formed organisationally in 1947. The height of Fabian influence was in the Whitlam Labor Government.

After World War One the broad Left was generally divided into Communist, Social
Democratic and Labourist Camps. Although pockets of Social Democracy remained highly radical – as in Austria in the 1917 to 1934 period. (Austro-Marxism) These sought a ‘middle path’ between Bolshevism and ‘mainstream’ international social democracy. And there were anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists – who were significant in the Spanish Republican forces and the fight against the Nazi-backed fascist insurgency of Franco in the Spanish Civil War.

From the 1940s through to the 1980s Swedish Social Democracy enjoyed remarkable success (replicated to various degrees in other Nordic countries) with full employment, active industry policy, strong unions, and a strong welfare state. For the overwhelming majority of this period Social Democrats held government. Basically workers received social security in return for a ‘corporatist settlement’ including wage restraint. The full employment achieved under the ‘Rehn-Meidner model’ also made a stronger welfare state possible. Though Walter Korpi conceived of the Swedish situation differently: as a ‘democratic class struggle’, involving mobilisation of ‘Power Resources’ and compromise depending on the balance of class power. But in the 70s and 80s Sweden also had to respond to the Oil Shocks and devalue the Krona. The ‘Meidner Wage Earner Funds’ plan sought to compensate workers for wage restraint by giving them collective capital share. But this implied a radical redistribution of wealth over time. Also - because it appealed only to workers and not to citizens, it could be argued that the funds could have included a wider base. (which is democratically preferable anyway) Capitalists went on the offensive : socialists on the defensive. And there has been a slow retreat since.

Up until and including the 1970s and 1980s there remained strong pockets of radicalism in many Labourist and Social Democratic Parties. But the Oil Shocks of the 70s and the drive to restore profits divided the Left and led to Socialist retreat. Also the Soviet Collapse during 1989-1991 had an enormously demoralising effect on the Western Left ; despite the fact the Western Left had long distanced itself from Stalinism. It’s not unreasonable to see the Gorbachev reform movement as a window of opportunity ; and a missed opportunity.

From Hawke and Keating onwards Australian Labor has broadly internalised neo-liberal Ideology. Small government, privatisation, free trade, limits on the liberties of organised labour, trade agreements which give capital an effective ‘veto’ on regulation and public sector expansion. Marxism used to have a strong base in the Socialist Left. But increasingly the factions have lost ideological cohesion ; and have been subsumed in the mainstream political discourse.

Indeed, the experience of Hawke and Keating inspired Tony Blair and Antony Giddens with their ‘Third Way’ or ‘Radical Social Democratic Centre’. In the 19th and early 20th Centuries ‘Centrism’ had been a largely Catholic phenomenon including limited support for trade unions, labour market regulation and welfare. Since Giddens and Blair the ‘Third Way’ has come to represent ‘neo-liberalism with a human face’. Punitive welfare on the one hand, but also the principle there should be an economic and social ‘floor’ below which no-one should be allowed to fall. Blair also marginally increased tax. (will Australian Labor still consider tax reform for the next election?) But he would not retreat an inch in opposing any re-socialisation – no matter how badly privatisation had failed. (eg: of railways) In Australia more recently ‘Centrism’ as epitomised by the ‘Centre Alliance’ struggles to maintain a credible liberalism – let alone any kind of social democracy. For instance there is conditional support for the ‘Ensuring Integrity’ union-busting legislation. Today ‘Centrism’ in Australia can mean a shallow populism cashing in on broad disillusionment with the two party system. Significant parts of the ALP Right consider themselves ‘Centrist’ after the Blairite model. Blairites also generally accept capitalism as a given.

Fast-forward to 2019 and ‘What is to be done?’.

Capitalism remains more vulnerable than people think. There is much focus on public debt, but private debt is a ‘ticking time bomb’ that could lead to loss of confidence, panic and collapse. In Australia, the US and much of the world private debt is many times the level of public debt. The Australian economy especially has come to rest on the housing bubble. Millions are locked out of home ownership ; but sudden and radical devaluation would cause panic and collapse. The boom-bust cycle remains a fact: but governments focused on public debt are less likely to engage in counter-cyclical measures. This could one day mean recession (or Depression) as the ‘solution’ to indebtedness. Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) has it that government can ‘create money’ at will ; but this is not without limits. It involves a degree of redistribution which capitalists hate – but also inflation. Progressive tax is still more effective at redistributing wealth in a targeted and progressive way. But certainly the MMT crowd are on to something.

The Labor Party today is probably inclined to want to ‘save capitalism from itself’. The welfare state and higher minimum wages can assist by boosting expenditure and demand. A return to a meaningfully mixed economy can help by reducing cost structures via natural public monopolies. This could flow on to the private sector as well. As well, this could counter oligopolistic collusion – for instance in banking. (actually promoting competition) Higher government expenditure can also add money to the economy ; increase demand ; and ameliorate the explosion of private debt – which is a ticking time-bomb for the economy. (here and globally)

An expanded social wage, welfare state, collective consumption and social insurance – can also provide social justice and social security. Think reformed pensions – easing means testing and increasing payments. Public housing. Better-funded schools and hospitals. More money for the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. More efficient public provision of infrastructure. (because of a better rate of borrowing and a ‘public interest test’ rather than share value and dividend maximisation) Also consider National Aged Care Insurance and a withdrawal of regressive user-pays mechanisms. As well as a retreat of user-pays in Education.

These are ameliorative reforms that can improve peoples’ lives. But Australia is still captive to the global economy and will suffer along the rest of the world in any ‘general downturn’ or ‘collapse’.

Over the long term we still need to think about an alternative to capitalism. Sub-Prime and the Global Financial Crisis did not only reveal instability – It also revealed the gap between Use Value and Exchange Value as Marx would put it. That is: there was an abundance of housing amidst widespread destitution and homelessness. This is a real capitalist failing and vulnerability.

Marx’s weakness was that he did not propose any concrete alternative vision to capitalism. He assumed ‘the class struggle would take care of things’. So maybe in part the ‘Utopian Socialists’ were on to something? The context of class struggle had to be engaged with ; but also concrete visions for the future. Today perhaps we need ‘provisional utopias’. We cannot afford to be ‘a force of pure negation’ with no vision for the future. Especially after the real historical experience of Stalinism.

But capitalism is a globally-reinforcing system. You can’t just ‘go it alone’ in revolutionising the entire economy. There are economic AND political constraints.

But what can be done is to begin a process of ‘revolutionary reforms’. Say in the spirit of the interwar Austrian Social Democrats. Even today in Austria there is a legacy in Vienna of 60% public housing – and overwhelmingly high quality public housing. A ‘democratic mixed economy’ would stabilise capitalism (through strategic socialisation and redistribution) while at the same time advancing towards an alternative. As in Austria this would also involve a counter culture: a rebuilding and reassertion of the labour movement ; but also a coalition with other social movements. What Gramsci would have called a ‘counter-hegemonic historic bloc’. That also involves establishing online presences ; other publications ; public meetings ; progressive radio and television ; social events of various kinds ; plays ; workers’ sport ; radical music etc. Establishing footholds where-ever possible.

Importantly the decline of industrial labour (with ‘deindustrialisation’) has widely meant a decline in class consciousness. Service sector workers can be just as exploited ; but are more likely to think themselves ‘middle class’ or lack class consciousness. We can and should fight this. But the industrial working class might not any longer be seen (in the Marxist sense) as a ‘finally redemptive’ ‘universal historic subject’. The labour movement is central: but the modern Left also needs alliances.

And should another Global Financial Crisis occur the big finance houses should not be ‘bailed out at the public’s expense’. Where the public sector steps in (if that occurs) it should retain a share in ownership.

Of course when it comes to advanced socialist transition bourgeois economic and political resistance has to be expected.

The ‘democratic mixed economy’ should be the short to medium term model. That includes a key place for natural public monopolies, strategic government business enterprises , consumers and workers co-operatives of various sorts (including multi-stakeholder co-ops which bring workers, governments and regions together) , mutualist associations . As well as ‘collective capital formation’. ( The Meidner Funds were such ; In Australia superannuation was a very pale imitation which may actually endanger welfare into the future by narrowing its base) ‘Multi-stakeholder co-ops’ are an important idea - as they could enable expansions of economies of scale to retain competitiveness under capitalism. All these are part of a concrete alternative.

There is also a need to restore and consolidate industrial liberties ; to increase organised labour’s power ; its ability to deliver ; and hence its coverage, strength, and ability to contribute to change.

Furthermore: how do we tackle ‘alienation’ today in Marx’s sense? Even with deindustrialisation, workers still find themselves alienated in modern professions – for instance call centre workers. The ‘post-industrial utopia’ has so far failed to emerge. At the least we can improve wages and conditions for the most exploited and alienated workers with low-end labour market regulation. (and maybe government subsidies where the market will not bear higher wages) Perhaps enabling a reduction of the working week for many. (though others would crave longer hours) ‘Free time’ is perhaps one alternative (for now) to Marx’s vision of a communism where workers regained creative control ; and labour becomes ‘life’s prime want’. (a quote from Marx) But ‘alienation’ is a feature of broader Modernity and not only capitalism. The rise of co-operatives could at least facilitate worker control – also ameliorating alienation.

In the final instance we need to think of where improvements in productivity could lead. Either to greater equality, plenty and free time for everyone. Or in the capitalist context only the intensification of growth, profit and exploitation. And possibly greater inequality if we do not socialise much of the gains of productivity. What Marx called the ‘coercive laws of competition’ means that competition forces a focus on productivity for capitalist profit and short term economic advantage. The problem is finding a way out of this ‘circuit’. (as well as the intensification of exploitation ; and a 'lagging behind in wages' in labour intensive areas where productivity improvements are hard to come by) We need to think where free trade and internationalism fit in to this problem. There are environmental implications as well. Capitalism by its very nature will trend towards the ‘endless growth’ option. Perhaps if the emphasis is on information and service industries it could be more environmentally sustainable.

But Sweden is also a warning. Again: there has been retreat since the Meidner Wage Earner Funds. The ‘corporatist consensus’ delivered for several decades in Sweden. But since the bourgeoisie ‘got cold feet’ and organised more overtly against Swedish social democracy – there has been a retreat. Swedish social democracy now has to work with Swedish Liberalism to keep the right-wing parties out ; and the price has been a retreat of the Swedish welfare state and progressive tax. In short: Socialists and social democrats have to be ready for capitalist backlash.

Class struggle creates change. That remains true. But so too do broader coalitions, cultural and electoral strategies. The Fabian Society in Australia is placed to mount cultural interventions ; and hence influence the electoral strategies of the Labor Party and the broader Left. We won’t get all that we want all at once. But we need a critique of capitalism. We have to be prepared for future crises. We have to think what a transition would look like: under what circumstances and what time frame? But all the time considering the reality of power – economic and political ; including the power of the State. And all in a global context: where global progress remains limited without global consciousness and organisation. Which is something the Fabians also need to be thinking about. Building ties with Democratic Socialists of America, for instance, could be a fruitful endeavour.

The Fabian Society re-embracing its place as an organisation of democratic socialism means engaging with these problems. For the short to medium term it is to be hoped we have an important strategic place in developing a ‘democratic mixed economy’ ; critiquing capitalism ; and imagining ‘revolutionary reforms’ which could decisively shift economic and political power over the long term.

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