Santa is a communist


In today’s Sydney Morning Herald, Peter Saunders displays the atrophy of the anti-communist argument since it had to deal with real live communists.

Following a travesty of Raymond Williams and Marcuse, the basic argument goes like this: (1) capitalism is synonymous with material progress, (2) socialists don’t want you to have the stuff you like, (3) let’s show them by enjoying ourselves this Christmas and drinking some wine!

Let’s start with number one:

Capitalism has certainly performed better than any alternative system. In 1820, 85 per cent of the world’s population lived on less than a dollar a day. Today it is 20 per cent. This dramatic reduction in human misery owes nothing to socialist engineering, nor even to ageing rock stars demanding we make poverty history. It is due to the spread of global capitalism.

Plus, if capitalism had stopped in 1977, we wouldn’t have the internet or cellphones. This reminds me of the stock giggle in countless pieces coming to terms with ‘the anti-globalisation movement’ (or whatever) after Seattle: They wear Nikes! Ha! They organise over the internet! Ha! Not really anti-capitalist, now, are they?!

Alas, this kind of argument could equally be applied to Soviet Russia: ‘Russia’s industrialisation and the dramatic reduction in human misery it brought owes nothing to capitalist markets, or even to self-satisfied entrepreneurs. It was due to the spread of global communism.’ And: ‘They went to tear down the Berlin Wall in public transport? Their shoes were made in state-owned factories? Not really anti-communist, now, were they?!’

Here’s the fallacy: if a society is capitalist, everything about it is capitalist in essence. Criticise the relations of production, and you are criticising production tout court.

Which brings us to point two. Saunders may be right about Clive Hamilton. Hamilton does indeed see the consumption as the primary problem of today’s capitalism. (This is perhaps why he is the favourite ‘anti-capitalist’ of the mainstream, and certainly the only one to get in the op-eds.) But this is far from the arguments of Williams or even Marcuse. The problem was never the consumption as such, but the way our lives are dominated from cradle to grave by the alienated labour necessary to produce and acquire the stuff. Technological progress is full of potential for a reorganised society to liberate us from necessity and take real democratic control of the productive machinery.

Number three, the punchline:

So enjoy the prawns and the chardonnay, and don’t feel guilty about the money you spend on the children’s presents. Download Bing Crosby from iTunes, phone the relatives in London at a couple of cents a minute and have yourself a really good Christmas!

What does a socialist say to that? Hell, enjoy the prawns and chardonnay, get your kids presents. (Fuck iTunes, though, steal the Bing Crosby – if that’s your thing – with filesharing software.) But give a thought this Xmas to why you can’t relax and enjoy yourself all year round – and for that matter, why the holidays are so bloody stressful when they only come but once a year.

As a postscript: it’s funny to read this kind of thing despite the total absence of a radical critique in the mainstream. What is Saunders so worried about? Where does he hear these people complaining? The Herald op-ed page runs a rabid reactionary almost every day of the week: Miranda Devine, Gerard Henderson, Paul Sheehan, Michael Duffy, Miranda Devine again on Sunday… These people are always lashing out at some outrage from the left. Which is where? They are haunted by ghosts (or should that be ‘spectres’?).

Published in: on 20 December, 2007 at 9:19 am  Comments (9)  


I don’t know how you feel about electro-noise music; I go through phases. (Raych, for once I doubt you’ll regret not having a soundcard on the work computer!) But this is the best video I’ve seen in some time. It’s ‘Kokomo’ by Black Dice. It makes me nostalgic for the future time, which is surely not too far away, when all this archival TV and video detritus is dumped onto the net and bandwidth is cheap and easy enough for all the 20th century’s visuals to be searchable and browsable. It will be fun! But as this makes clear, also nauseating.

Published in: on 17 December, 2007 at 5:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

Razor gang vs. Treasurer

If inflation is rising because demand is outstripping supply capacity, it’s natural to think: ‘it would be a whole lot nicer to solve this with an increase in supply capacity rather than a slowing of demand’. This has been the favourite line of every government faced with inflation since World War II – with the possible exception of Fraser’s – and it was new Federal Treasurer Wayne Swan’s line yesterday too:

The combination of strengthening wage growth and continuing weak productivity growth implies nominal unit labour costs are increasing.  This provides further evidence of capacity constraints such as skilled labour shortages and infrastructure bottlenecks.  Skilled labour shortages and infrastructure bottlenecks do require urgent attention following a sustained period of economic growth… Now this is why the Rudd Government is focused fairly and squarely on expanding the productive capacity of the economy. That is our objective.  That is our number one priority and all of the material in these figures show why that is urgent.

Trouble is that tomorrow’s supply capacity grows through today’s investment, which is also part of today’s demand, which is what’s outstripping today’s supply capacity. Swan’s invocation of education to fix the “skills deficit” and public investment to fix the “infrastructure deficit” has to be set alongside his comments in the same press conference that public spending has to be trimmed to the bone.

That means running strong surpluses and as you know we’ve got surpluses of one percent or more across the forward estimates. But we have indicated, because of the inflationary pressures, that we need to add to those surpluses by making further savings and that is why we’ve talked about the razor gang process. We understand how important strict fiscal discipline is in the inflationary environment that we are in at the moment.

These two lines are contradictory. How does the government cut back spending growth while investing in skills and infrastructure? One of these lines is an empty incantation. Guess which one.

Published in: on 6 December, 2007 at 8:34 pm  Leave a Comment  

Building your tomorrow today


I meant to write some more about this, linking it to the latest episodes in A Current Affair‘s or Today Tonight‘s (I can’t really tell them apart) long-running campaign to tell the unemployed how easy it is to get a job if they just had confidence or wore a shirt. But the footage has disappeared from the web, so I’ll just pass on this link: Owen Hatherley’s fantastic account of his day of ‘Jobseeker Mandatory Activity’.

Every job is a service. All organisations provide a service. All organisations have values, and visions. You too have values and visions, you just have to match yours with the organisation’s. Curiously enough, rather than demystifying, the motivational training makes the grimly mundane world of work (Southwark Pest Control is one of the examples we are given) into a baffling, messianic world of entrepreneurs sharing with each other their visionary visions and their valuable values….

Right at the end, as everyone hurriedly picks up their travel expenses, we’re told that we’re not to be seen here again. ‘I will next see you…’ ‘On TV!’ someone interjects. ‘As an entrepreneur!’ He’s impressed. ‘An entrepreneur, that’s the aim, isn’t it’.

Published in: on 3 December, 2007 at 10:10 am  Comments (1)