Crisis! What crisis?

by Humphrey McQueen
11 February 2009

Shortly after the Austrian aeronautical engineer Ludwig Wittgenstein arrived in Cambridge in 1911, he drove Bertrand Russell to distraction by refusing to admit that there was not a rhinoceros in the room. These days, I find myself sharing Russell’s frustration because so many socialist grouplets are unable to focus on the probability that, not only is a rhinoceros loose in the global economy but also herds of elephant and wildebeest.

Wittgenstein contended that only asserted propositions existed. None of the grouplets suffer from so extreme a form of Philosophical Idealism. Rather, they remain consumed by the good causes they took up in the decades of capitalist triumphalism. The loss of class consciousness was apparent when the national gasworks reopened with protests about the environment, the Northern Territory intervention and barbarism in Gaza. Unlike the French working class, no Left group demonstrated about the loss of jobs.

A similar bias was obvious in the flood of emails over Mick Dodson’s call for a debate about Australia Day. The volume of those reactions contrasts with the paucity and poverty of responses from the socialist grouplets to the crisis in the accumulation of capital. Twenty and more years of being in the dust bin of history have rendered many among their leaderships slow to accept that our enemy is again going down the garbage chute. ‘Rhinoceros! What Rhinoceros!’

The rest of this item surveys the degrees to which competing grouplets have been paying attention to the crisis. A companion item will go past quantifying the coverage to considering its qualities. A third piece will propose a template for how the crisis should re-order our priorities.

In October, GreenLeft Weekly had three cover stories on the crisis, including one issue with ‘Crisis Explained’. Otherwise, the paper struggles to fill two out of its twenty-four pages with the subject.

The poster for the Socialist Alternative’s Marxism 2009 conference over Easter does not mention the crisis. Three or four of the talks at that conference deal with it. Its Sydney Branch, however, is devoting a day to the significance of the Bolshevik Revolution and nothing to the crisis. The Melbourne Branch advertises one out of its four meetings on the crisis.

In Melbourne, the Socialist Party has made the crisis the sole subject of its annual Marxism conference in March. (Is it too instrumentalist to suggest that this focus is because of the SP’s hourly involvements with Yarra residents and by organising young workers through Unite?)

In December, Vanguard from the CPA (M-L) allocated five of its twelve pages to the crisis, and almost four out of twelve in February.

Guardian from the Communist Party in January had three articles related to consequences of the crisis.

The purpose of this sampling has been to encourage members and sympathisers of each grouplet to undertake their own interrogations of their favoured body. Your politics are askew if your response to the above has been to revel in criticisms of rivals and luxuriate in commendation of yourself.

Size is significant for judging how serious each grouplet considers the crisis to be. Content is decisive: are the grouplets making a start towards a Marxist explanation in the next item?

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