Home > Politics (general) > Marxism without revolution: Class

Marxism without revolution: Class

June 19th, 2011

I’ve mentioned Erik Olin Wright’s Envisaging Real Utopias a couple of times, and I’ve also been reading David Harvey’s Enigma of Capital and Jerry Cohen’s if You’re an Egalitarian How Come you’re so Rich. In different ways, all these books raise the question: what becomes of Marxism if you abandon belief in the likelihood or desirability of revolution[1]? To give the shorter JQ upfront, there are lots of valuable insights, but there’s a high risk of political paralysis.

I plan alliteratively, to organise my points under three headings: Class, Capital and Crisis, and in this post I’ll talk about class

The analysis of economics and history in terms of class struggle is the central distinguishing feature of Marxism, and remains essential to any proper understanding. That said, the specifically Marxist class analysis in which the industrial working class, brought together in large factories, and increasingly homogenized and immiserised, serves as the inevitable agent of revolution, clearly hasn’t worked and isn’t going to. In the standard path of capitalist development, the stage when industrial workers (defined broadly to include all kinds of non-agricultural manual workers) constitute even a plurality of the workforce turns out to be quite short-lived. In today’s developed economies, such workers are a small minority of the population, even if you throw in the 100 million or so in China. And the working class considered more generally, as people who earn their living from labour is too heterogeneous to form a self-conscious class-for-itself. In one way or another, Wright, Harvey and Cohen all make or at least acknowledge this point.

As Cohen puts it, the revolutionary working class postulated by Marx had to satisfy four conditions:

1) They constitute the majority of society;
2) they produce the wealth of society;
3) they are the exploited people in society;
4) they are the needy people in society.
To quote this summary from the Directionless Bones blog, 1. and 2. give the proletariat the capacity to revolutionise society, and 3. and 4. give them the reason to do so.

It seems clear, as Cohen says, that no sensible definition of the working class is going to satisfy all four conditions.

On the other hand, there clearly is a self-conscious and generally dominant class, centred on control of capital, but including plenty of people whose source of power and wealth is derived from their job rather than from capital income. On a narrow definition, it includes the top 1 per cent of US households which now receive 25 per cent of all income and hold around 35 per cent of all wealth. More broadly, the top 20 per cent of the population has, in broad terms, increased or maintained its share of national income as the top 1 per cent have become richer. This broader group controls more than half of all income and wealth.

Most of the political elite in developed countries, but particularly in the US, consists of members of the top 1 per cent, or aspirants to rise to this group from the top 20 per cent. Moreover as well as controlling much of the political process through direct participation or political donations, this class exercises power directly through ownership of capital and particularly through control of the financial system. Anyone who attempts to understand policy and politics without taking account of the central role of this class is doomed to failure.

Coming back to Cohen’s conditions, the case to be made against the top 1 per cent is that:

1) They constitute a tiny minority of society
2) they consume far more of the wealth of society than they actually contribute
3) they exploit their control over capital for their own benefit
4) they are the primary obstacle to meeting a wide range of social needs

In a Marxist analysis, it would be natural at this point to use the term “ruling class”, and to stress, even more than I have done, the point that much of what passes for political debate consists of little more than rearrangements of an executive committee derived from, and largely driven by this class. There is a lot to be said for this analysis, but in the absence of any prospect of revolutionary overthrow of the ruling class, it doesn’t seem to lead anywhere, except perhaps to defeatism.

And, in some parts of the academic left, defeatism seems to be seen as positively desirable. Once a critical analysis has been performed, demonstrating the hopelessness of any particular attempt to change existing structures without a revolution, the necessary work has been done, and it’s time for a well-earned cafe latte.

More commonly, perhaps, leftists continue to work on projects of reform and resistance with an implicit assumption that no fundamental change is going to take place, while maintaining a non-operational faith in the ultimate possibility or even inevitability of revolution.

If defeatism were obviously justified, this would just be a regrettable fact about the world. In reality, however, the dominant class suffered a series of historic defeats over the century or so between Marx’s own writing and the resurgence of market liberalism in the 1970s. The creation of a democratic welfare state, funded primarily by progressive taxation, produced societies with a more equal distribution of economic and political power than any seen since the emergence of agriculture, and with better standards of living for virtually everyone in the developed world.

And even after decades in which the upper 1 per cent has steadily gained ground, they remain far from omnipotent. Despite continuous attack, the basic structures of the welfare state remain intact, and there have even been some important extensions[2].

The existence of those structures mean that a relatively simple set of feasible political demands, primarily involving reversal of the losses of the past few decades, could form a basis for political opposition to the rule of the top 1 per cent. The key elements are fairly obvious, and include
* reimposition of control over the financial system
* restoration of a progressive tax structure, combined with a more vigorous assault on international tax evasion/avoidance
* shifting the burden of ‘austerity’ back to those responsible for the crisis, and rejection of cuts to the welfare state
* repeal of anti-union laws and measures to make union organization easier

Of course, setting out a policy program is one thing – the political movement needed to bring it into being is another. And for now, the ruling 1 per cent has managed to turn the anger generated by their failures to their own political advantage. But, far more than in the 1980s and 1990s, or even the first decade of the 2000s, the opening is there for a radical alternative. Even within the dominant class, faith in the beneficience of markets in general and financial markets in particular, has largely dissipated. What remains is a grimly determined class view that “what we have we hold”.

An effective political movement would mobilise the direct interests of the 80 per cent or so of the population who are losing ground in relative terms (and in the US in absolute terms) combined with the broader interest of those in the top 20 per cent of the population in a juster and more stable social order – unlike the top 1 per cent, this group can’t easily insulate themselves from society as a whole or count on passing on their own social position to their children.

There is no obvious political vehicle for such a movement. The social democratic parties (not to mention the US Democratic Party) seem either hopelessly compromised or ineffective, while the Greens seem to be stuck as a permanent minority. But there have been plenty of radical realignments of political party structures in the past, and they often happen just when they seem least likely.

That’s more than enough for a blog post. As always, I’m putting my thoughts out for discussion rather than claiming any finality for them.

fn1. I argued my position on this here. If people want to dispute this, please don’t derail discussion on this thread. Just write something to indicate you’d like it, and I’ll open a separate thread for this topic.

fn2. Most notable are the Bush prescription drug benefit and Obama’s health plan. Although these measures were riddled with gifts to powerful interest, they nevertheless represent a very significant extension of the role and responsibility of the state to protect its citizens against the risks associated with ill-health..

Categories: Politics (general) Tags:
  1. Peter T
    June 19th, 2011 at 14:50 | #1

    All good points, and broadly true. Now you need to ask why the grip of the ruling classes tightened between 1815 and 1880, loosened between 1880 and 1960, and tightened after 1980. The broadly accepted answers are “fear of revolution” and “the need to buy broad support to sustain their national positions against international competition” (see eg David Cannadine on Britain, E. V. Berghahn on Germany, Sandra Halperin on Europe generally, William McNeil on the whole process).

    So we need some countervailing force, and the record suggests that internal forces alone are not enough. Maybe environmental threats will do it – but they need to be coupled with a cohesive national politics, not one that can be undermined by the threat of relocation. So how about advocating tariffs and capital controls in the context of a strong policy on the environment?

  2. Freelander
    June 19th, 2011 at 17:06 | #2

    A problem with revolution is what quickly follows – betrayal of the revolution.

    The Labor Party and Union movements are two examples of this. After initial gains for those they claimed to represent, they simply became vehicles for insiders and, in some cases, families of insiders who became Labor and Union aristocrats; that is, aristocrats whose progeny gained significant bounty from these organisations by simple virtue of their heredity. Gains have progressively been betrayed and surrendered. Looking around the world it has been the same in every country, Labour Parties and Union movements evolved into vehicles to raise ‘who you knows’ above ‘what you knows’.

    Of course, to maximise the benefits from ‘who you know’ does require a certain natural talent and can be enhanced by knowledge and training. Unfortunately, investment in this skill, which is about getting a bigger share of the pie, to some extent involves a crowding out of investment in the skills that make the pie bigger. Of course, as benefits are enhanced by skill and talent, those who rise to the top are neither completely stupid or talentless, instead they are simply, as the commissars that ran the old soviet system, not exactly making the world a better place.

    How to solve the problem? Or if insoluble how to achieve the best outcome? Questions that don’t seem yet resolved. Grand schemes, so far, do not seem to have been solutions.

  3. SamB
    June 19th, 2011 at 18:33 | #3

    At the risk of being pollyannish (or is it really pessimistic), your analysis presupposes that the current state of affairs is stable and viable.

    An alternative view could come from the recognition that the financial crisis was not just “an accident”, but rather a direct result of the imbalance of wealth and power – and will continue to re-occur as long as that the underlying imbalances are not addressed.

    As such, while there is no real coalition for a “revolution” now, lacking real reforms there will increasingly be one after the next crisis (or the one after that). In the best scenario, once a prospect of a revolution appears on the horizon, we can expect a political force pushing for reform to forestall the revolution to emerge pretty quickly.

    One doesn’t need to look far … in a very real way, Roosevelt’s policies can (and should) really be seen as a conservative response to the more radical agenda of someone like Long. Likewise, Keynes always saw (and presented) himself as conservative trying to preserve the current structure of arrangements.

  4. Ikonoclast
    June 19th, 2011 at 18:48 | #4

    One key issue is that the corporate capitalists’ hold on public discourse via the now traditional media (print, radio, television) needs to be broken. It appears that the best hope to break this is by side-stepping it and rendering it obsolete. The internet with blogging, tweeting, forums and “visage-book” style media appears to be the best bet.

    A second key issue is that parliamentary democracy (as I have said before ad nauseum) has to be reclaimed by the citizenry from its subornment by corporate and vested interests.

    A third key issue is that the citizenry needs to become more militant in industrial relations and be prepared to strike early and strike often until the capitalistss power is broken.

    Citizens must actively and directly seek to subvert corporate agendas at every opportunity in their daily lives. I’ll post more about legal and peaceful ways to subvert the corporate agenda.

  5. iain
    June 19th, 2011 at 20:01 | #5

    @Ikonoclast

    1 key – also see http://www.wired.com/culture/culturereviews/magazine/17-06/nep_newsocialism

    2 key – representative democracy is a deadend – being able to vote on every bill through “senator-online” programs is a possible step forward.

    The ability to direct your taxes at your discretion to a choice of options would be nice.

    3 key – look forward to your postings

  6. Jessica
    June 19th, 2011 at 21:23 | #6

    @Peter T
    Perhaps 1880 is roughly when the non-ruling classes had a good enough picture of how things really worked in the then new system to fight back more effectively. And 1980 is when the structure system changed enough that the old explanations no longer provided enough guidance.

  7. Martin
    June 19th, 2011 at 21:42 | #7

    Have there been any good left songs written since 1980?

  8. Chris Warren
    June 19th, 2011 at 22:34 | #8

    Where in Harvey, does he:

    raise the question: what becomes of Marxism if you abandon belief in the likelihood or desirability of revolution[1]?

    The working class (for Marx) was not the industrial working class, but all who sold their labour. In effect the Australian “industrial working class” is now in the Third World. If you want to state:

    clearly hasn’t worked and isn’t going to

    then you need to relate this to Marx’s “countervailing tendencies”. If something doesn’t happen due to countervailling tendencies, then, unless you have a theory that countervailing tendencies are permanent, it can occur subsequently.

    Cohen is engaging in fabrication if he thinks Marx postulated 4 conditions that the working class had to satisfy. Any majority in society will, if it is exploited enough, seek to revolutionise society. This does not apply uniquely to the working class. Marx had only 1 condition for the working class – the source of their revenue irrespective of the level.

    As Marx would have said, Australian workers are exploiters of the rest of the globe. They are part of a Royal family of OECD jewels.

    Why would Australian workers rise to any call to revolutionise society, if they can fill their houses up with cars and commodities made with 100 thousand of labour hours, because of oppressed labour offshore?

    It is never a good method to base yourself on secondary sources.

  9. Thorstein
    June 19th, 2011 at 22:56 | #9

    @Freelander
    “…what quickly follows–betrayal of the revolution..”

    Revolutions are betrayed not only by venal “leaders” but also by the masses. Labor unionists (internationally, but especially in the U.S.) have become “labor capitalists”, promoting the profit of their own business with minimal regard for the rest of society. For such reasons, I am coming to believe that that the Greens are the only sustainable progressive movement. Greens may be “stuck as a permanent minority,” but their platform is not the usual ambidextrous Ponzi scheme of garnering votes by trickling down crumbs from the very profitable but ultimately unsustainable rape of Mother Earth.

  10. Foppe
    June 20th, 2011 at 01:33 | #10

    Harvey gives one possible (and therefore partial) answer to your question in this guest lecture he gave in Zagreb recently, in which he strongly emphasizes the importance of recognizing the places in which to find people to organize, and then seeing around which issues you can organize them. (The important point being not to assume that class struggle has to take a pre-given form such as factory struggles.)
    One example he gives if of the construction workers in NSW in the ’70s who refused to build new expensive housing unless social housing was also built.
    http://davidharvey.org/2011/05/%E2%80%AAvideo-emancipation-from-what-and-from-whom%E2%80%AC/
    Anyway, glad to see you got around to reading the Enigma already. :)

  11. John Goodwillie
    June 20th, 2011 at 03:15 | #11

    “In reality, however, the dominant class suffered a series of historic defeats over the century or so between Marx’s own writing and the resurgence of market liberalism in the 1970s. The creation of a democratic welfare state, funded primarily by progressive taxation, produced societies with a more equal distribution of economic and political power than any seen since the emergence of agriculture, and with better standards of living for virtually everyone in the developed world.”

    Is this really what happened? Were these things defeats of the dominant class? Or did the dominant class perhaps have an interest in a society where there was the promise (if unfulfilled) of achieving change through a formally democratic process, where there was an illusion of equality, where the reserve army of labour was looked after to secure its loyalty to the system and its availability for work opportunities, where untypical capitalists would be prevented from undercutting in areas which would give them an advantage over more typical capitalists, where better standards of living increased the size of the market?

    And if the dominant class was not defeated, would a programme of reform such as that suggested be a defeat for it?

  12. Barry Prindle
    June 20th, 2011 at 05:47 | #12

    @Martin

    I love this tune:

  13. Ikonoclast
    June 20th, 2011 at 08:34 | #13

    These are some peripatetic thoughts as I circle around this very large subject area.

    A. Cohen’s list can be condensed to the first three points re the revolutionary class.

    1) They constitute the majority of society;
    2) they produce the wealth of society;
    3) they are the exploited people in society.

    (Point 4 about the “needy” is essentially superluous. Being needy follows from exploited. If a person is needy he/she is being exploited either by act or neglect. Neglect is also an act of exploitation as the resources due to the needy, in the humanitarian sense, are being diverted for the discretionary or luxury use of those who are already adequately provisioned.)

    B. History teaches us that illegal or extra-legal revolutionary strategies and tactics have to be eschewed in many cases and approached with extreme care in the rest. Violent revolution is only justified in the final extremity when the violence of the ruling class has become naked, deadly and widespread.

    I do not accept the denigration of representative democracy as bourgeois. Representative democracy was won by and for ordinary citizens and workers to place political legitimacy in mass rule rather than in aristocratic, oligarchic or corporate hands. The subversion of representative democracy by corporate interests and its for-sale status to the oligarchs via the degraded convervative and labour movements is lamentable. Neither a true conservative nor a true labourite would recognise the current Liberal and Labor parties as representative of their historically true values.

    To attack and dismantle representative democracy would be to do the corporates’ work for them. Representative democracy needs to be reclaimed by a combination of ballot box action and legal and peaceful direct action. The parties now utterly venal and traitorous to all their better historical values (Liberal and Labor) should be wholly abandoned at the ballot box and thus destroyed. Green parties (as the only parties that have been correct on the crucial-to-survival environmental issues for 30 years plus must be supported to the point where they reach a critical mass capable of winning government in their own right.

    C. The moderate and green left (social democracy) need to develop a comprehensive social democratic manifesto (not a socialist or communist manifesto) as a counter to the Omega Project from the Adam Smith Institute.

    “ASI’s Omega Project report… argued in favour of the compulsory contracting-out of most local services such as refuse collection, the replacement of the welfare state by private insurance, and further privatisation of public sector services and industries, including aspects of the police force.” – Wikpedia.

    A social democratic manifesto (perhaps the Alpha Project since it is a beginning of social hope and not an end of it like the Omega Project) ought to lay out not just broad goals as JQ outlined above;

    * reimposition of control over the financial system
    * restoration of a progressive tax structure, combined with a more vigorous assault on international tax evasion/avoidance
    * shifting the burden of ‘austerity’ back to those responsible for the crisis, and rejection of cuts to the welfare state
    * repeal of anti-union laws and measures to make union organization easier;

    but a detailed, comprehensive and itemised action plan with strategy, tactics, prcesses and procedures for reversing the corporate capitalits omega agenda (re-)achieving social democratic goals. This would include a reversal of many aspects of privatisation.

  14. Sam
    June 20th, 2011 at 09:14 | #14

    JQ, I never know what to say on these general “what is to be done” posts. I suppose I’m just a gradualist, looking at each issue on its own.

    How to reverse the 4 decade long increase in inequality? The only way I can see is by increasing the number of people voting for a true left wing party, of which I exclude from consideration the various labor parties around the world. How to do that? I can’t see any way except by trying to convince ordinary people that that is where their interest lies.

    In Australia, I don’t think we should try to increase income taxes. It seems to usually backfire politically, even when most of the burden falls on the very top. The easiest redistributive pickings come from winding back middle class welfare. There is great potential for even a mainstream ALP politician both to make the economic case against it, and to appeal to populist resentment against millionaires getting handouts. Money could be freed up from various indefensible schemes such as: the first home buyers grant, the health insurance rebate, the baby bonus, family tax benefits, and others. If this was done there would be a large pot of money to plow back into domestic pro-poor programs and (more importantly in my opinion) well targeted foreign aid.

    I’ll also just add my support for most of what’s already been said: re-regulation of finance, international efforts at tax-harmonisation, reversal of the privatisation trend. All of these things would be good, it’s just that the left has been arguing for them for ages and no one seems to have listened.

  15. Fran Barlow
    June 20th, 2011 at 10:38 | #15

    During the 1980s, I looked with horror at the Fabian-like attachments of Swedish social democracy to social change. Walter Korpi was all the rage in soft-left circles.

    These days, I’ve rather mellowed on the idea. It’s hard to escape the fact that the tendencies outlined in PrQ’s post above make something resembling what most take to be the marxist-leninist description of working class revolution utterly improbable. PrQ is absolutely correct when he, along with many others, notes that that what our predecessors in the left in 1900 would have regarded as authentic proletarians have now become a modest minority of the world’s populations. There is something to Chris Warren’s claim that the proletarians of the developing world are a kind of subaltern group in relation to the first world labour aristocracy of the first world, including Australia, but even allowing this reality, it’s not immediatelty clear how that insight ought to guide those of us favouring equity on a global scale.

    Some years ago I wrote an extensive post in alt.politics.socialism.trotsky (usenet) on what it meant to be a communist in the 21st century. It’s far too long to reproduce here, so I won’t, but it does seek to bridge the gap between what we contemporary marxists not so very long ago regarded as authentic revolutionary goals and what today seem plausible and open to reverse engineering to the point we are now. The marxists of 1917 had very clear ideas on how to identify the bourgeoisie, the proletarait and the petit bourgeoisie, and more — what their possibilities for supporting one set or another or relations of production or assemblign one set or another of forces of production were. They asserted that they knew both the drivers of state power and their constraints. Nearly a century later, all these things are very murky. The world of 1917 was far less interconnected materially and culturally than is the case today. The butterfly wings of chaos theory are far more impressive today than they were in 1917 and the backwash from the ongoing soveregn debt crisis should teach us that the ruling classes of the world are as hard pressed to achieve coherent policy — or even to define their collective interests in any consistent way as the workers over whom they exericse power.

    Equally, it does seem very clear that the assumptions we long (implicitly) made about the capacity to extract energy to improve the productivity of labour are in at best, serious doubt, and therewith the notion, on any timeline meaningful to us now, of material abundance and an end to class society and state power — which was for a very long time the telos of the marxist vision. One need not abandon this vision entirely, but in the foreseeable future at least, it deserves to be put into a box marked “in doubt”.

    What we do need to resolve is the question of how to build and maintain equitable and productive communities, defining the vehicles and coalitions of people we can reasonably expect to support this project. We will certainly need to resolve the question of inter-jurisdictional equity as well as equity within jurisdictions, and while we can expect the heavy lifting in this to come largely from those we might be inclined to see as working people (defined loosely as those who derive no substantial income from trade in the labour power of others) we are going to have to make explicit and ad hoc alliances with those outside this class. Some of these alliances will appear opportunistic, but it’s worth bearing in mind that we are really trying to do at least two quite different things. We are both trying to preserve the position of working people against immiseration — knowing that a slide in poverty never advances empowerment — and also seeking to incite them to become active participants in the building of new and maintainable wealth — especially for those who don’t yet have it and whose deprivations may tell against humanity’s prospects as a whole. And all of this we must do, governed by the constraints imposed on us by the challenges of protecting the integrity of ecosystem services degraded by the growth of the very forces of production that we long saw as foreshadowing the liberation of working humanity.

  16. Freelander
    June 20th, 2011 at 11:20 | #16

    @Thorstein

    Yes, you’re right in regard to some strong unions like wharfies, for example. Initially badly treated but control of ports through strong unionism gave them exorbitant pay. When the pay became exorbitant through unionism the only people who could get those jobs were privileged insiders. Much the same as Labor and unionism generally.

    Unfortunately it is easy to get the proletariat to betray each other. Divide and conquer is a routine affair. This has been done best in the US. American workers were divided and conquered long ago. The American worker is kept down by continually selling them the idea each of them has an excellent chance of being one of the few at the top. Having that belief, they see little value in organising because regardless of their situation ‘the audacity of hope’ has them believe where they are, at the bottom, is transitory. As they see themselves ending up on top they aren’t interested in any equalization as this will mean less for them when they get to the top.

  17. MikeH
    June 20th, 2011 at 11:56 | #17

    The problem with Cohen’s 4 points is history. Consider the working class and the Russian Revolution of 1917

    1) they constitute the majority of society;
    No. They were concentrated in St Petersburg and Moscow
    2) they produce the wealth of society;
    See 1. Russia was still a largely peasant society
    3) they are the exploited people in society;
    Well yes – but not as much as the peasantry who were living in appalling conditions.
    4) they are the needy people in society.
    See 3.

    The role of the industrial workers in Russia 1917 was important not because they were a majority (they were not) or got grease on the hands as opposed to working in a call centre but because they concentrated in the 2 major cities and ironically because they were better educated and relatively well off they had time to go to political meetings and read an debate the new ideas of Marxism – ie they could be organised.

    I am not expecting a revolution in the West any time soon but I would not preclude it based on the fact that there are now more white collar workers than blue.

  18. okie farmer
    June 20th, 2011 at 12:02 | #18

    Its simple – register all the poor to vote and win every election. The media’s hysteria can be ignored, the just-wiped-out politicos can be ignored, and the oligarchs can be taken down by a left-wing populist congress and president; 90% top marginal tax rate re-established, the big banks disintergrated, derivatives done away with, and other financial system regulation re-established. That there is no “obvious political vehicle for such a movement” doesn’t mean that one couldn’t be invented – the Rainbow Coalition registered 8 million voters and delivered the Senate back to the Dems. Unfortunately the Coalition was betrayed before they voted their votes – like the populists in the 1890s, the Dems will movefairly radically left ifnecessary to pre-empt a left populist uprising. Have to do it Green.

  19. Lora
    June 20th, 2011 at 13:00 | #19

    First, I apologize for my not very good and expressive English, I am coming from this part of the world, where Marx philosophy and economic works were studied carefully. I also want to emphasize I am not and I have never been a communist, but I am a passionate humanist.

    The genius of Marx is not the communist manifesto, which I consider as the weakest of his works, because it is pure political. But as any other great humanist, he was very much touched by the misery of the working class at his time. His dialectic methodology of analysis and deep understanding of the capital and market driving forces is the best he left for the generations ahead. Marx’s deep understanding of capitalism is still proved right by capital development today. He believed and claimed that capitalism would be the most progressive system as long as it gives and creates opportunities and doesn’t obstruct the development of human potential, the science and technologies. In addition his analysis proved that capitalism is bound to become global and only then its conditions can change, because of its own internal contradictions and limitations for infinite growth. Most of economists or political writers ignore the fact that there is no even historical development and capitalism was diverted from its natural way of growth and development by the Russian revolution 1917 and Hitler’s fascism. The existence of these false and antidemocratic alternatives,which the totalitarian regimes in Eastern Europe and fascism presented, threatened the democratic foundations of the western civilized world and that was something which changed, at least temporarily the face and the way how capitalism developed during the 20 century. The western world was united, there was no extreme class formation and differences, because of the existence of the so called socialist system, which imposed high social cost on western capitals, because it was perceived as a treat or alternative to the free market. Marx never believed that socialism could win in a separate part of the world or in the least developed economy, which Russia was at that time. This was Lenin’s madness idea and it proved totally wrong, and which also proved Marx was right. As long as the world has underdeveloped regions, which are not under the capital control and under global financial power, no one should expect conditions, which can create high potency of class tension and extreme worsening of mass’ living conditions. “Capital drives beyond national barriers and prejudices as much as beyond nature worship, as well as all traditional, confined, complacent, encrusted satisfactions of present needs, and reproductions of old ways of life. It is destructive towards all of this, and constantly revolutionizes it, tearing down all the barriers, which hem in the development of the forces of production, the expansion of needs, the all-sided development of production, and the exploitation and exchange of natural and mental forces (Marx, 2002)”. The globalization must reach every corner of the world and everything is going to acquire value, because: “Value excludes no use value; i.e. includes no particular kind of consumption etc., of intercourse etc. as absolute condition; and likewise every degree of the development of the social forces of production, of intercourse, of knowledge etc. appears to it only as a barrier which it strives to overpower. (Marx, 2002)”

    Marx’s ideas cannot be understood without understanding the nature of capital evolution, its driving forces and contradictions. What he had predicted as phases of capitalism development is happening before our eyes. He predicted also the death of the gold standard with the simple argument that the infinite tendency of the capital growth cannot be served by any physical material in the role of money, because any physical material, like gold, has limited quantity on Earth. The material, which can play the role of the money has to have unlimited ability for growth, like capital itself, and tending to zero cost of issuing it as money. We can see how Marx predicted the replacement of gold by the credit money and FED money creating from nothing (zero cost of issuing credit just by electronic records).
    In conclusion, there will be many other crisis until people realize what they should do and how to live in a more sustainable society. Wisdom always comes through pain. And just a note, from his historical time Marx couldn’t have seen how exactly the technologies would developed and how the working class professional structure would change. But his methodology tells us that the huge and deepening quantitative differences between the 1% at the top of the global society and the rest of the working world speaks and requires different economic and social qualification and categorization. Whether this quantitative accumulation of extreme differences is close or far from its critical mass and potential for fundamental change of underlying social dynamic, this is what makes the future so interesting and worthwhile to live in. There is no other alternative, for now, and the political landscape is very boring with no genuine choice between the two almost tween parties everywhere. Globalization is nothing more than a stage of capital global expansion, because “capital posits the production of wealth itself and hence the universal development of the productive forces, the constant overthrow of its prevailing presuppositions, as the presupposition of its reproduction” and power taking (Marx, 2002).

  20. may
    June 20th, 2011 at 14:09 | #20

    out of my depth again.

    but,by revolution do you mean a violent replacement of current govt?

    because from where i am standing my life and the lives of my family going back to my grandparents has been one long period of revolutionary change.

    from candles,lanterns,horses and trains.no phone,film,tv,radio.

    no industrial farming.no organophoshate poisons.no miracle medicines.

    corporate power was empire power.

    and the revolutions didn’t really alter the industrial and agricultural agricultural changes,just the style of the ways the changes were carried out.

    “revolution” as a neatly bounded description leaves me a bit confused.

    (not unusual)

  21. June 20th, 2011 at 14:55 | #21

    You may have this the wrong way round. Was the commitment of young intellectuals to revolution motivated by the needs of the majority of the population, or by the fact that it was cool? The Napoleonic wars provided an outlet for the need to stand brandishing a sabre heroically; when the peace broke that urge was displaced on to “to the barricades” revolutionary rhetoric.
    Certainly, the collapse in the push for milleniallism in recent years has owed quite a lot to better knowledge about the Russian experience. Ignorance and wishful thinking really is a great help in firing up a base (if anything, the equivalent emotional outpourings now seem to be coming from the right, which would fit).
    Revolution is, quintessentially, the not boring. Moving from a less satisfactory state of society to a more satisfactory state of society is boring unless the boredom is compensated for by an exciting bit in the middle.
    See Saki’s The Toys of Peace –

    “There are no lions,” said Harvey. “Here is another civilian, Robert Raikes, the founder of Sunday schools, and here is a model of a municipal wash-house. These little round things are loaves backed in a sanitary bakehouse. That lead figure is a sanitary inspector, this one is a district councillor, and this one is an official of the Local Government Board.”

    “What does he do?” asked Eric wearily.

    “He sees to things connected with his Department,” said Harvey. “This box with a slit in it is a ballot-box. Votes are put into it at election times.”

    “What is put into it at other times?” asked Bertie.

    “Nothing. And here are some tools of industry, a wheelbarrow and a hoe, and I think these are meant for hop-poles. This is a model beehive, and that is a ventilator, for ventilating sewers. This seems to be another municipal dust-bin — no, it is a model of a school of art and public library. This little lead figure is Mrs. Hemans, a poetess, and this is Rowland Hill, who introduced the system of penny postage. This is Sir John Herschel, the eminent astrologer.”

    “Are we to play with these civilian figures?” asked Eric.

    “Of course,” said Harvey, “these are toys; they are meant to be played with.”

    “But how?”

    It was rather a poser. “You might make two of them contest a seat in Parliament,” said Harvey, “and have an election –”

    “With rotten eggs, and free fights, and ever so many broken heads!” exclaimed Eric.

    “And noses all bleeding and everybody drunk as can be,” echoed Bertie, who had carefully studied one of Hogarth’s pictures.

    “Nothing of the kind,” said Harvey, “nothing in the least like that. Votes will be put in the ballot-box, and the Mayor will count them — and he will say which has received the most votes, and then the two candidates will thank him for presiding, and each will say that the contest has been conducted throughout in the pleasantest and most straightforward fashion, and they part with expressions of mutual esteem. There’s a jolly game for you boys to play. I never had such toys when I was young.”
    http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/ToysPeac.shtml

    That was, of course, just before WW1, where Saki died in the trenches showing the limitations of the sabre-brandishing approach to life, but you see my point.

  22. John Quiggin
    June 20th, 2011 at 17:18 | #22

    @Lora
    Thanks for your comments – I’ll be writing more about crisis soon.

  23. Salient Green
    June 20th, 2011 at 20:30 | #23

    I’m with may#20 here, out of my depth, but reading Lora’s post was a blast, especially this,

    “In conclusion, there will be many other crisis until people realize what they should do and how to live in a more sustainable society. Wisdom always comes through pain. ”

    I have just finished reading an interview with Paul Gilding and Thomas Friedman.
    http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/content/2011/s3247216.htm
    Economic growth is dead in a post climate change world.

    I think perhaps the Supercapitalists, the Mega Corporations, will die without any sort of revolution as a result of the unsustainability of the Consumerist ideology. These Corporations are still run by real people with children and grandchildren.

    If I am wrong, if they don’t die a natural death due to increasing commodity prices, then they will die due to a Green revolution, a rebellion against population growth, economic growth and the destruction of the natural world.

  24. Mel
    June 20th, 2011 at 23:57 | #24

    A very interesting post that has stimulated me to dust off my “Collected Source Material, Political Studies” from two decades ago.

    A couple of thoughts * if you want to use the term “ruling class” then you need to describe how the ruling class actually rules. I never found the answers to this question provided by the major Australian Marxist theoreticians of my youth, like John Playford in “Who Rules Australia?” convincing although I wasn’t entirely unsympathetic to the arguments either.

    * Fear of the spread of Marxism was probably a major driver in the development of the welfare state. That fear is now gone, so it isn’t surprising that many on the right now want to dismantle it.

    * Civic society appears to be collapsing. People don’t join groups any more. This trend includes, but is not limited to, political parties. I recall someone telling me during my brief period of active membership in the Victorian Greens that a group of no more than a dozen or so active and organised persons could effectively seize control of the branch. The level of active involvement in the party by the membership was so thin that this was hardly an exaggeration.

    * In future I think right-wing ideologies like libertarianism will capture many of the best and brightest young minds while the best and brightest young minds drawn to the left will coalesce around single issues- animal rights, the environment etc rather than be drawn to any sort of grand, post-Marxist left-wing ideology.

  25. Ikonoclast
    June 21st, 2011 at 10:29 | #25

    Despite my self-billing as an iconoclast, I am conservative in some matters. Speaking as an Australian citizen, I would say Australians need to remember that our nation is a constitutional democracy. Legitimacy rests with the democratic will of the majority of the people, under and subject to the constitution, supported by the accumulation of law and practice.

    The broad movement of Australian social democracy, historical and present, properly seeks to maintain a tolerant, eclectic, pluralistic and egalitarian society with a mixed economy comprising strong public and strong private sectors. A proper appreciation of social democracy includes the understanding that all political legitimacy, rights and duties belong to and arise solely from the individual. This view asserts the primacy of individual and citizen rights over all other corporate “rights” and vested interests. This view however does not assent to the aggressive and wholly self-interested individualism of the libertarianism of the right. Rather, whilst asserting the primacy and legitimacy of the individual citizen it also recognises the collectivism inherent in democratic, cooperative action. This point of view asserts that there is such a thing as society.

    Both major parties in Australia, Liberal and Labor, are now operationally opposed (despite any protestations of rhetoric) to this concept of social democracy. Instead, they are corporate enterprises seeking to further corporate power in general and capitalist corporate power in particular. This is opposed to democratic principles, opposed to individual rights, opposed to a healthy public sector and even opposed to a correctly regulated and sustainable private enterprise market economy.

    The key thing we need to understand is the difference between democratic power and corporate power. A democratic nation state which promotes pluralism and guarantees rights of association (what might be called societies within society) will always experience a tension between democratic power and corporate power. Before examining this tension we must (at least cursorily in this blog) ask why social democracy must not just tolerate but indeed promote pluralism and guarantee rights of association thus facilitating societies within society. The simplest explanation is that not only is the nation state grouping now operationally real but also the formation of alliances and sub-groups of two or more in society is an operational reality on a daily basis. One might as well tell the tide not to come in as tell individuals not to form everyday alliances and sub-groups below the broad and rather abstract nation state. The natural tendency of humans to seek society and form societies is a bottom up process.

    Democratic power is the broadest collective and it serves the public interest. All enfranchised citizens are equal in rights and duties under the aegis of constitutional democracy. Every enfranchised citizen gets equal rights and no citizen gets special rights in the arena of democracy. Corporate power is limited and particular. Citizens seek to acquire and do acquire special “rights”, special privileges and special advantage under the umbrellas of corporate power. Corporate power is not (in the main) characterised by democracy, even internally. Corporate power is any and all of (within the ambit of its power) authoritarian, dictatorial, conspiratorial, traditional, oligarchic or plutocratic. Effective power is associated with possession of money, status, privilege, assets, resources and an embedded position in a hierarchy with command and control over an apparatus for generating wealth, power and influence. Political corporatism “is the idea that a few select powerful interest groups are actually (sometimes formally) involved in the policy formulation process, to the exclusion of the myriad of other ‘interest groups’…”(Fn1) and to the exclusion of the broad public interest of society in general.

    Large scale corporatism (for example that of Trans National Corporations or TNCs) generates wealth and power sufficient to overshadow that of many small to medium nation states and also sufficient to severely distort and even completely subvert, by patronage and influence, the democratic processes of very large nation states. The interference of Australian mining corporations in the recent question of mining taxes (properly a question for democratic government) is a case in point. Essentially, a conspiracy between the mining corporates and a set of servile and suborned Labor parliamentarians and apparatchiks changed both government policy and the Prime Ministership. The term “conspiracy” is apt and correct as a conspiracy is “an evil, unlawful, treacherous, or surreptitious plan formulated in secret by two or more persons”. Leaving aside “evil” as a subjective and moralistic word and leaving aside “unlawful” as that charge is not being made, we are left with this formulation; “A treacherous, surreptitious plan formulated in secret by two or more persons”.

    It is clear that certain mining corporate figures, certain Labor apparatchiks and the Deputy PM of the day were involved in “a treacherous, surreptitious plan formulated in secret”. It is quite clear (to all but the most politically naive) that a deal was done in secret behind the then PM’s back. If the mining super tax plan was abandoned, then mining corporation donations to Labor would continue and the Deputy PM would become the PM, by internal Labor machinations, to cement and assure the deal by removing the PM committed to the mining super tax. The winners were the mining corporates (assured of continuing untaxed super profits), the Labor party (on a narrow view of being assured of continued donations) the new PM and the Labor apparatchiks whose internal party power and influence was enhanced by the deal. The losses were extensive and included the former PM (essentially an issue irrelevant except to himself), the independence of the Office of PM and the independence of Parliament (heavy losses to democracy), the last shred of integrity of the Labor Party and worst of all the loss to the democratic polity of ordinary citizens of Australia who were robbed off the right to have their country governed in their democratic interest rather than in the vested interests of corporate wealth and power and a few very rich individuals.

    As Gore Vidal has said, “If you believe everything is a conspiracy you are a lunatic. If you believe nothing is a conspiracy you are a naive fool.” This above example serves as an illustration of how corporate power suborns and subverts the proper functioning of a democratic nation state and prevents democratic government from governing in the interests of the mass of ordinary citizens who do not have access to the special levels of corporate wealth, power and influence.

    A social democratic program as well as tackling the issues Prof JQ mentioned (proper financial regulation etc) would make a statement and a programmatic commitment to reasserting;
    1. The primacy of representative democracy, constitutionality and the rule of law.
    2. The primacy of democratic decisions over economic and corporate decisions.
    3. The primacy of individual and citizen rights over corporate and vested ‘rights’.
    To this end, we must undertake political action, both at the ballot box and as advocacy and all legal levels of agitation, to reword and enshrine in our Constitution the above principles. This would encompass a preamble recognising the intrinsic conflict between the unavoidable and even sometimes beneficial aspects of corporatism and the inviolable principle of democratic equality. Then it would go on to codify express limits on corporate power and corporations consistent with maintaining individual liberty but also consistent with maintaining the inviolable legitimacy and primacy of the democratic will of the majority of the people.

  26. Peter T
    June 21st, 2011 at 12:06 | #26

    The meme that “revolutions never solve anything” or “revolutions make people worse off” only very variably corresponds to the facts. Some revolutions have made lots of people much better off than any realistic alternative – and have been fiercely defended by those people. The people who defended Tula, Moscow,Leningrad and Stalingrad with a ferocity that awed the Germans (and was very different from the response of the same people in 1914-17) was because they were fighting for what they had gained.

    The people who often suffer most in revolutions are the intellectuals and the upper classes – who get the most sympathy from writers. Plus there seems to be a general attitude that suffering, so long as it’s part of the system, does not really count. So The Irish famines, and the previous century of deepening immiseration, is not seen as reprehensible in the way that, say, the Terror is. Never mind that more people died.

    It remains true that revolutions are a gamble, and that they do kill people. I have lived through one, and I don’t recommend them.

  27. Tristan Ewins
    June 21st, 2011 at 12:38 | #27

    Raising Walter Korpi reminded me of something I read in my studies recently. With regard to ‘Power Resources’ theory; and the idea that violent and ruptural struggle is against both the interests of capital and labour because of the costs of such struggle. I think for the labour movement, and for socialists, this also resonates with the issue of globalisation; the threat of isolation, autarky and economic disintegration should any thorough revolutionisation of property relations be attempted…. One response is to say we need a disciplined global movement again; the task which the (Second) ‘Socialist International’ has failed with regards for so long. But more immediately I think the task is to build an alliance of social movements, including labour, which is mobilised to such an extent that it can force favourable compromises; where it is in capital’s interest to compromise. I’m not necessarily talking about some insipid minimalist compromise either; but one of a democratic mixed economy; a substantial welfare state and progressive tax system, a substantial public sector, even willing to invest directly in crucial, profitable and strategic areas such as mining and renewable energy, and with the restoration of natural monopolies and GBEs competing and countering the logic of oligopoly and collusion; restoration of the rights of labour; and finally other forms of economic democracy, with tax breaks and subsidies for co-operative enterprise, and democratic forms of collective capital mobilisation – though not necessarily as radical as the original Meidner plan (for the capitalists that might be a ‘bridge too far’) What I’m imagining is to force such a compromise through mobilisation – where it’s in the interests of the capitalists to compromise; leaving a significant role for local and global corporations – as the basis for continued integration with the global economy; and the reason I believe it is possible is because I’m a voluntarist who believe in the potential power of some ‘collective progressive will’; And also because I believe new technologies will ‘level the cultural playing field’; I suppose and hope it could be a real ‘game changer’;

  28. Chris Warren
    June 21st, 2011 at 13:18 | #28

    @Peter T

    You seem to have a very romaticised and one-dimensional view of revolution.

    Universal suffrage was a revolution, as was the advent of the scientific method. Atheism is also a revolutionary advance on various modes of personified Gods. There is no reason why our economic arrangements should not go through the same process without be cobbled with all the nonsense about Tula, Moscow, Leningrad and Stalingrad.

    Its the counter-revolution you really have to worry about.

  29. MartIn
    June 21st, 2011 at 15:41 | #29

    @Barry Prindle
    gOOD, should be m or e oF it.

  30. June 21st, 2011 at 19:23 | #30

    John, this is an interesting critique but I’m not sure of what. A critique of Marx it certainly isn’t. Using late Gerry Cohen as a yardstick of “Marxism” only reconfirms Marx’s own complaint that with the behaviour of his epigones he was “no Marxist”.

    Most importantly, the straw man of Marx’s theory of class that you cut down here is so far from what the man wrote (and seems to be the product of some kind of sociological approach to the question) that it’s impossible to even start a debate on the value of your strategic proposals relative to your central critique.

    As in our short debate at Left Flank, your dismissal of revolution seems to be the a priori assumption and your engagement with revolutionary variants of Marxism unexpectedly minimal in light of how strongly you think Marx either got it wrong or no longer applies.

    Most surprising is your pessimistic view of the Arab Spring, which has shaken the idea that revolution was a thing of the past and has clearly fed into an emerging “European Spring”. It’s early and provisional, but you seem to be writing it off already.

  31. Tristan Ewins
    June 21st, 2011 at 19:38 | #31

    Tad; Though in none of these revolutions in the Arab world are they attempting to break free of the context of the global capitalist economy; so these are liberal democratic revolutions; or largely Islamic revolutions – in the case of Egypt against a repressive but secular regime. Attempting socialist revolution we would face the global reaction; and gain – possible isolation and autarky; But I think it’s also notable that revolution and insurrection are not the same thing; The Austro-Marxists, for instance, believed in ‘slow revolution’; But what comprises a revolution? If we recalibrate property relations and expand democratic forms of ownership – including the rise of participatory media and accompanying empowerment of ‘the polity’ – to the point where there can no longer be said to be a national capitalist ‘ruling class’; is this revolution? But more to the point – is it a revolution in a context where citizens and workers are so empowered, but there is still integration with a global capitalist economy, with local and global corporations participating in the local capitalist economy; Where those corporations maintain significant economic power; but are consistently ‘forced to the table’ by the mobilised power of the organised working class; and organised social democracy? Let’s say we had a ‘democratic’ sector comprising 50% of the natinal economy…. IF this is not ‘revolution’ – and I accept it might not be – perhaps it is nonetheless the best we can do in the coming decades….

  32. June 21st, 2011 at 22:00 | #32

    Tristan, I’d like to take issue with 2 things you raise here:

    (1) The way you foreclose on the potentials inherent in what is clearly a continuing revolutionary process (which has also clearly had massive impact across national borders and not just within them) actually leads to a dangerous set of conclusions — that we must somehow expect the very same states which have repressed these peoples and attacked the uprisings to suddenly change spots and perform a function counter to the interests they have so assiduously served.

    Yet, as we debate, Trotsky’s definition of revolution is in play in a way we haven’t seen globally since the late 1960s: “The most indubitable feature of a revolution is the direct interference of the masses in historical events.” And it’s not just in Arab world — there are green shoots of mass democracy in action in the city squares of Spain and Greece. For the latter, this piece in the Guardian is worth reading. For more on what’s been happening lately in Egypt, this is a detailed and quite sober account.

    Shouldn’t we on the Left first be concerned with deepening this process politically rather than immediately assuming it will stall at the liberal democratic stage (which is what its enemies want, anyhow)? In this context your use of the word “we” is ambiguous: Who or what is this “we”? Do you mean, for example, the state should empower the polity or should they be empowering themselves. Fuzziness over the “we” can well lead to being unhappy with the self-empowerment going on because it doesn’t easily fit into a more cautious program.

    (2) Why would the complex and interdependent networks of state and corporate actors allow even a 50 percent level of nationalisation to occur without first unleashing vicious reaction anyway? And what is nationalisation in this context? Nasser took large sections of Egyptian capital into state hands, but he built a thoroughly undemocratic regime out of this capture, one that could later quite easily shift towards privatisation and free markets under Sadat and Mubarak. Indeed, Nasser’s victory was in the context of the exhaustion of a powerful workers’ movement in the years before, allowing him to minimise virtually any direct (democratic) pressure from below on his state-centric regime.

    I think it is interesting that JQ raises class, capital and crisis, but not the nature of the state. But maybe it’ll be in there somewhere.

  33. Mick Peel
    June 21st, 2011 at 23:38 | #33

    I think, to step outside the traditional liberal-conservative democratic view of the world centered on the individual, that an anaysis of Michael Walzer’s ‘Sphere’s of Justice’ would add to this discussion. The basic tenant of communitarianism is that the ideally just state be constructed from the standpoint of how to realize an ideal COMMUNITY (as opposed to the liberal-conservative standpoint of how to foster the well-being of INDIVIDUALS in that society). Traditional political moral philosophy tends to reject communitarianism on the grounds that such a standpoint does not allow “critical moral distance.” However, in the ‘real world’ of ordinary citizens and non-philosophers, such criticisms are neither applicable or relevant and don’t hold the same weight that they do in academic consideration.

    Without going into the thesis of communitarianism at length, from the societal perspective (as agaist an individualistic one) political legitimacy requires a shared form of life. Furthermore, atomistic individuals will not feel committed enough to the public good to undertake the sacrifices required for the maintenance of a just social order. All the goods with which distributive justice are concerned are social goods, (Walzer, p. 7). They are not natural or individual, but acquire their meanings and values through conception, creation, and interpretation. The meanings of goods determine how they shall be distributed.

    Neoliberalism, as understood as a dominant ideology based around individualism and a strong belief in capitalistic individualism, is unlikely to survive a deep sovereign debt crisis. IMHO, Walzer’s idea of “complex equality” or some variation of such would be most likely to replace neoliberalism as a guiding ideology of distributive justice and social organisation.

  34. June 22nd, 2011 at 00:55 | #34

    I’d take issue with the statement “The Greens seem stuck as a permanent minority”. Over the last two years we’ve seen several instances of the Greens, in very diverse places, getting votes substantially higher than had ever been achieved before: Iceland, Tasmania, Brazil, Columbia and now in a couple of (large) German lander.

    It’s true the Greens were not anywhere near a majority in any of these cases, but where previously it was questioned if the Greens could ever go above 20%, that’s now been achieve a series of times. It’s possible there is actually a ceiling at 25%, or 30% or 40%, but I don’t think we’ll know that for a while.

    Of course the Greens have often failed when provided with opportunities to grow, and the fact that we can break through in some places doesn’t mean we’ll be able to do it everywhere, but I’m disagree that globally speaking, we’re stuck.

  35. Chris Warren
    June 22nd, 2011 at 09:15 | #35

    I think we can do without vainglorious citations from Trotsky. Silly romantic notions such as:

    “The most indubitable feature of a revolution is the direct interference of the masses in historical events.”

    merely dissolve and blunt historical initiative that would otherwise arise from objective circumstances.

    I think we can also do without all these gratuitous linkages into our needs of plastic insights from whatever overseas events hits our TV screens.

    In my experience, the grouplets who proudly call for such things as “deepening the process politically” are usually the ones who are splitting it into so many fragments that they simply become a waste of time.

    You can only deepen a movement you actually are a part of.

  36. Tristan Ewins
    June 22nd, 2011 at 12:04 | #36

    Tad; again I think the example of Sweden is instructive re: the ability of a strong and mobilised labour and social democratic movement to achieve a favourable compromise. Sweden maintains one of the most extensive welfare states in the world. And both labour and capital have an interest in not letting confrontation go too far. (loss of markets and wasted investments for capitalists, possibility economic of isolation/autarky for social democratic movements)

    Though perhaps any kind of initiative similar to ‘wage earner funds’ could rather be reconceived as ‘citizens funds’; including a broader range of people, and thus holding broader appeal. But as in the model ultimately attempted in Sweden, a ‘cap’ on such funds (again, let’s say 20% of the stock exchange) may be necessary to avoid an all out employer backlash.

    On top of this there could be encouragement for co-operative and mutualist enterprise, and a broadened public sector. In Australia perhaps there should be direct public investment in resources. (a response to the mining industry’s scuttling of the resources tax meant to address the ‘two speed economy’.)

    But ultimately success rests upon the strength and mobilisation of the social democratic and labour movements; Radical change can’t be achieved without real bargaining power backed by mobilisation.

  37. Peter T
    June 22nd, 2011 at 14:58 | #37

    Shorter Chris Warren: I’m sorry about all those centuries of blood and anguish. It was all really just a misunderstanding.

  38. June 22nd, 2011 at 16:34 | #38

    In essence, I read Prof. Quiggin’s piece as a call for a return to a past Golden Age of Enlightened Capitalism, roughly corresponding to the immediate post-WWII and up to the mid 1970s.

    I understand and sympathize with Prof. Quiggin’s call: “a relatively simple set of feasible political demands, primarily involving reversal of the losses of the past few decades, [that] could form a basis for political opposition to the rule of the top 1 per cent.”

    Leaving aside the question of how enlightened that Enlightened Capitalism really was, I still agree that such a simple set of political demands would be a step in the right direction.

    What I believe Prof. Quiggin has not considered is that the same forces acting over society during the original Golden Age, could easily result in a renewed Golden Age (if it was attainable, that is) going off track, just as the original one did.

    To put this in terms used in economics jargon: a Golden Age of Enlightened Capitalism is probably an unstable equilibrium. If the same causes are not treated, similar effects could follow.

    In any case, I would applaud Prof. Quiggin (and his regular readers) for giving this matter some thought and I would urge them to continue in this path: I do find some of the points raised interesting and worth considering.

  39. Mel
    June 22nd, 2011 at 18:11 | #39

    DR Tad:

    “Shouldn’t we on the Left first be concerned with deepening this process politically rather than immediately assuming it will stall at the liberal democratic stage …”

    I think the Coptic Christians, who are being raped, murdered, bashed and having their Churches burnt by the Muslim majority, including working class elements, would count themselves very lucky if Egypt was to stall at liberal democracy.

    The only viable alternative to liberal democracy is an autocratic Muslim chauvinist dictatorship (see Iran) or military rule.

    On second thoughts military rule might be a blessing for minorities. At least Mubarak gave some small measure of protection to religious minorities from a rabidly hostile majority.

    If you seriously believe that the largest Trotskyist group in Egypt, which I understand is the Popular Peoples Front for the Grand Caliphate Sheikh Marx, membership 17, is likely to be the vanguard of a workers’ revolution expedited through a “deepening process” consequent to Comrade Tad’s keyboard activism then I think you need some time away from your patients.

  40. June 22nd, 2011 at 19:00 | #40

    “More commonly, perhaps, leftists continue to work on projects of reform and resistance with an implicit assumption that no fundamental change is going to take place, while maintaining a non-operational faith in the ultimate possibility or even inevitability of revolution.”

    The scary thing is the realisation that this amorphous heaving mass of trouble and strife we call the global economy is out of anyone’s control and everyone believes that because of its incredible complexity. However it depends for its existance on the maintenance of a certain attitude amongst it adherents. Julian Assange put it as an allegiance and agreement by everyone towards a kind of selfishness.

    I think it an edifice largely constructed from so-much bullshit and it wouldn’t take too many doses of truth to see shrivel in a great heap of mortification and embarrassment.

    I quite liked this:

    “Rand’s Objectivism, we’re told, has given birth to a culture of selfishness among the world’s most powerful. For the uninitiated it discourages altruism and pushes for every man and woman to become solely selfish beings, driving their own interests to the bitter end. There is no time for weakness, religion or irrationality and each person should make their priority their own happiness. Rand set out this belief in her two best-selling novels, The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957). Generally, critics hated her but she amassed a cult following nonetheless.”

    Which came from a review of Adam Curtis’ latest, “All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace”.

    http://tiny.cc/nz6xb

  41. Chris Warren
    June 22nd, 2011 at 20:45 | #41

    Peter T :Shorter Chris Warren: I’m sorry about all those centuries of blood and anguish. It was all really just a misunderstanding.

    That is the Tory response. The associated thought is “the end of history” canard.

    But to normal folks, the romantic notion referenced eg:

    The most indubitable feature of a revolution is the direct interference of the masses in historical events.”

    is not necessarily attached to “blood and anguish”.

    Nor is “deepening the process politically”.

    In general those who invoke “blood and anguish” are paddling their own private canoe.

    If you want to know about “blood and anguish” just read Colonial histories.

  42. Peter T
    June 22nd, 2011 at 21:42 | #42

    Chris

    We have a misunderstanding. I do not think you can understand revolutions unless you take the commitment of the ordinary people who make revolutions seriously. And that includes the people who defend what obviously seem to them major gains (like the workers who fought for the Soviet Union). The “end of history” is nonsense – history is not teleological. It does move on, and if what was seen as worth fighting for in 1941 no longer inspires the same commitment in 1989, that does not devalue the sacrifices made in 1941.

    Whether you can get there peacefully is another matter. One hopes so, but the experience of history is that the rich and powerful rarely surrender without a fight – and almost never unless confronted with the possibility of a fight.

  43. Chris Warren
    June 23rd, 2011 at 08:26 | #43

    @Peter T

    OK, you can reasonably associate ‘blood and anguish’ with a counter revolution.

    But as Marx said, there is no reason why a revolution in economic structures cannot be entirely peaceful. He noted that this depended on the nature of democratic institutions.

    Lenin also implied the same thought, but his condition was different. His condition was that the middle class supported the changes so that such an overwhelming majority was achieved that a “dictatorship by the proletariat” was not necessary.

    All the sacrifices and travails in the past were under completerly different political and social institutional circumstances.

  44. Chris Warren
    June 23rd, 2011 at 08:26 | #44
  45. Fran Barlow
    June 23rd, 2011 at 10:35 | #45

    @Peter T

    Whether you can get there peacefully is another matter. One hopes so, but the experience of history is that the rich and powerful rarely surrender without a fight – and almost never unless confronted with the possibility of a fight.

    That’s very much the case, and one need only cast one’s eye in the direction of the proposed reforms attaching to decarbonising — a change far less swingeing than anything one might fairly revolution — to see how the ruling classes of the world react. large sections of them see Garnaut and Gore — fully paid up members of the boss class if ever there were such — as some sort of subversives — as c*mmunists even and to be fought in this way. A look at the latest offering in Quadrant on climate change, in which they reproduce Carter and Kininmoth is introduced with the culture war claim of Vaclav Klaus about the incipiently subversive agenda of mitigation proponents. All though their argumentation, the claim of “wealth redistribution” is never far from the surface.

    Revolution need not be violent, but in practice, we ought not to proceed assuming that it will be peaceful. That would be folly.

  46. Jim Birch
    June 23rd, 2011 at 13:44 | #46

    @Fran Barlow

    Revolution need not be violent, but in practice, we ought not to proceed assuming that it will be peaceful. That would be folly.

    Stock up on guns and ammo?

    We seem about a million miles from any kind of a revolution (except perhaps the appearance of some totally new type of iPhone application:) so the point is moot.

  47. Peter T
    June 23rd, 2011 at 23:45 | #47

    While I would agree with Jim that we do not seem to be close to revolution, political revolutions are the result of a radical mismatch between the expectations of the governed and those governing. As such, they are hard to predict (who predicted Tunisia, Egypt or 1989?).

    As for violence – it mostly seems to come after the revolution, in the form of counter-revolution or civil war. I would not recommend stocking up on guns – amateurs versus professionals almost always ends badly for the amateurs. A full pantry and a good network are better options.

  48. Ikonoclast
    June 25th, 2011 at 11:28 | #48

    I suppose everything in the civilian world is a kind of arms race just as it in the military world. For example, take cyber crime, we know that there is an electronic and counter-measures race going on in that sphere. The battle between capital and labour shows this same feature and each side keeps coming up with measures and counter-measures in the on-going battle between the two classes. Even when there is not outright rebellion, revolution or counter-revolution, there are always open and clandestine steps and measures continually being taken by each side.

    People are very fed up with the dishonesty and spin of virtually all politicians. We need to agitate for a number of measures to be taken. I would suggest a number of constitutional amendments are required;

    1. To give a bill of rights for all citizens.
    2. To limit corporate power and remove the fiction that a corporation is an individual.
    3. To prevent a former minister of the crown from working or lobbying in any area where he/she was involved as minister(s) for a period of 5 years after leaving parliament.
    4. To enable only individual private citizens to donate to political parties and preventing corporations and companies form making donations to political parties.
    5. To limit these donations to $100 per person over 18 per year.
    6. To add a carefully worded constitutional charge of “misleading the people on important matters of state, civil or economic life” which can lead to impeachment and/or imprisonment or any representative or minister. This charge would have certain national security exemptions and contain a high test of proof and a high test of the significance of the misleading statements or behaviour.

Comments are closed.