C'est nous qui brisons les barreaux des prisons, pour nos frères, La haine à nos trousses, et la faim qui nous pousse, la misère. Il y a des pays où les gens aux creux des lits font des rêves, Ici, nous, vois-tu, nous on marche et nous on tue nous on crève.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Confrontations

The Age, Melbourne's leading broadsheet newspaper, has an undeserved reputation for leaning to the left. In reality, the paper adopts a series of often meaningless causes in a tokenistic fashion (such as its support for 'Earth Day'). It is harder to find articles on class struggle, or imperialism, or with an anti-corporate message, or anything else that is recognisably 'left'. On the contrary - if we examine the glossier sections of the paper (particularly the lift-outs and magazines) - the paper is filled with expensive consumer items (and not merely as ads) presumably pitched to well-heeled, middle-aged bourgeois types who are happy to regard themselves as 'progressive'.

It was therefore pleasing to note an article included in yesterday's columns, re-printed from the Washington Post. Its author, Dionne, argued that we are presently at an economic juncture equivalent to the Great Depression of the 1930s, or the stagflation of the 1970s, and that we can therefore expect to see significant challenges to neoliberal economic orthodoxy. Dionne doesn't advocate anything too radical, merely additional 'regulation'.

Let us briefly consider the context of this economic moment. In Australia, inflation is higher than it has been for some years. An ailing labour movement has failed to assert itself in the face of this inflation, and some have argued that wages for workers have stalled, in spite of the economy having 'rocketed along'.

In the meantime, we are seeing an unprecedented focus on addressing issues of environmental concern. Or course, the politicians who are discussing carbon-trading schemes and the like are unwilling to consider the possibility that environmental destruction is a symptom of capitalism, and is not going to be cured by this latter economic system. The focus on the climate change pseudo-debate as the centre of environmental concerns is misleading. We do not require complex modelling to note the appalling pollution of many of the world's cities, or the fact of the Mongolian desert, the Gobi, expanding inexorably toward Beijing, or the massive deforestation that continues in developing countries. That industrial capitalism could fail to be implicated in these problems speaks volumes about the dishonesty of our politicians and media.

These problems, economic and environmental, provide a challenge and an opportunity to the left. In Australia, as elsewhere, electoral politics has almost entirely failed to provide left-leaning individuals with genuine representation. Yet almost never before have leftist politics and the critique of capitalism been more relevant or more urgent.

Naturally, a moment of crisis can also be seized upon by the lunatic elements of the right, whose constituent feels the effects of economic calamity just as keenly as anybody else. In addition, perfectly legitimate concerns about globalisation are displaced onto minority ethnic and religious groups. Hence, we see the (re-)birth of 'protectionist parties'.

Our tasks are becoming clearer - to develop a genuine worker's movement, which may mean unshackling trade unions from fat bureaucrats and other careerists, as well as the ALP machinery. Environmental problems are well-explained by a critical, Marxist viewpoint - just like the expropriation of surplus value by capitalists, environmental destruction is absolutely not the raison d'etre of capital. It is, however, its logical and inevitable consequence. This link, between the economic and the environmental, must be made explicitly and repeatedly. Finally, Green movements and parties need to appeal to an economic, class-based constituent, and not merely those who profess 'progressive' views on the environment and other matters. A Greens party whose sole focus is on elections, which cannot muster sufficient votes in working class areas to achieve anything of note, and whose modus operandi is merely to serve as an ideological chorus on the margins of parliamentary politics is a party that is stillborn before it could ever really take off.