Priorities

By Humphrey McQueen
12 February 2009

Two previous items looked at the volume and value of comments from several socialist grouplets on the crisis in the accumulation of capital. Two of the biggest have the least impressive records. Instead of preparing for an implosion of global capital, each is locked onto the campaigns they had developed to attract recruits during two decades of capitalist triumphalism.

How are Marxists to refocus our activism?

The tardiness of most grouplets to front up to the crisis need not condemn their particular campaigns to irrelevance. Some have already become more than distractions from the main game. That complexity pressures us to distinguish all the wrongs that need to be righted from the organisational and ideological tasks that are both crucial and realisable in the short to medium term.

Far from seeing the crisis as competing with every other concerns for attention, we should recognise the ways in which the crisis is transformative of each interest. Not all will be affected in the same way. Those different impacts help us to identify priorities. Three cases studies illustrate criteria for re-ordering our agendas.

The impact is easy to see in regard to child care. Criticism of its provision by corporates had been made on social and pedagogical grounds before Groves carried on as if his adding 2 and 2 made 8. Indeed, the collapse of ABC Learning could have happened without the general implosion. The crisis precipitated chronic weaknesses towards disaster. In addition, parents had been protesting about availability and costs throughout the sector. Government intervention staved off chaos without redressing the systemic flaws. Employment levels will determine the effective demand for services.

Less direct or immediate are the effects of the crisis on the prospects for the Bolivarian project. Declines in effective demand are pulling down oil prices and thus challenging the capacity of the Venezuelans to finance their domestic and international programs. The news is not all bad because $150 a barrel also brought problems by driving up the exchange rate, thereby making imports more competitive with the local production. Nonetheless, $40 a barrel strains the revolutionary processes and assists local and US conspirators.

The third case takes us to the heart of how the crisis has re-jigged priorities. The threats to employment and conditions has put the right to strike, including the right to political strikes, miles in front of every other issue from a proletarian perspective. The bosses now need Gillard’s WorkChoices Lite and Construction Stasi more than they did Howard’s version. (See Chris White’s material – http://chriswhiteonline.org ) The crisis has made resisting the ALP’s assault on workers’ rights the single most important issue, qualitatively different from the others.

No one can predict whether the current crisis in the accumulation of capital is another big one like the 1890s and 1930s. One point is certain. If we carry on as if nothing exceptional is underway when the system is lurching towards catastrophe, we betray the working class more thoroughly than has Gillard.

On the other hand, if Marxists over-estimate the clout of this crisis, what will we have lost? The answer partly depends on how we present our analysis. We should maintain a degree of caution, remain evidence-based and grounded in first principles. One of those truths is that capital got through previous downturns during the post-war period only by intensifying the exploitation of workers, the plunder of nature and by the compounding the causes for the next crisis.

Even if capital can right itself by 2011, socialists will have left a residue of understanding on which to build a wider and deeper foundation for each of the campaigns promoted by the grouplets. More significantly, a renewal of Marxist critiques of capitalism will strengthen the case for socialism.

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