Storming Heaven or Blowing Hot Air? A critique of ‘The steam and the piston box: is autonomism an alternative?’


Over the last two hundred years a vast divergence of revolutionary ideas and theories have emerged as part of the struggle for emancipation. The relationships between different approaches have often been antagonistic and sometimes literally deadly. These days whilst the shooting has stopped it is not uncommon for a particular radical ‘tradition’ to caricature, mystify and turn into straw-men divergent ideas. A recent example of this practice is Sean Ledwith’s (2015) The steam and the piston box: is autonomism an alternative? Published by Counterfire, which is one of the many fragments and splits from the Socialist Workers Party – the centre of the International Socialist Tendency. Common to the genre Ledwith tries to critique a specific approach to anti-capitalism in the UK and locate this apparent error in the theory that stands behind it.

For Ledwith in the wake of the Tory election victory and the pathetic behaviour of the Labour Party and Trade Union leadership there is a danger that the new wave of struggles that have emerged may take the wrong course. There is a:

… danger that some involved in such events may believe that traditional organisations of the left such as the trade unions and the Labour Party are now obsolete and should be bypassed.

This notion may develop further into the view that any type of formal leadership is counter-productive and that the way forward for radical politics is total avoidance of anything resembling an organisation with a hierarchy.

The danger then is that people will act in a way different from the strategy of Counterfire and organise in ways different from how Counterfire organises. Behind this error lurks ‘autonomism’, which Ledwith defines as ‘hostility to formal organisation by sections of the left’.

Whilst this article is written in a UK context you can be sure that it will be used on a social media as an easy go to whenever this strange beast ‘autonomism’ needs to be addressed. Since it might be used as a blunt weapon to bash heads with it is worth showing just how bullshit it is.

Continue reading “Storming Heaven or Blowing Hot Air? A critique of ‘The steam and the piston box: is autonomism an alternative?’”


The (Ex)Secretary’s Speech: Jobs Plans, Unemployment And Illusions of the Future.





Thus capital presupposes wage labour; wage labour presupposes capital. They reciprocally condition the existence of each other; they reciprocally bring forth each other.(Marx 1978, 33)


To my friends in the union movement I say this: Every worker needs a successful company. To the business community I say this: No company is successful without an engaged, energised and motivated workforce.(Howes 2014)




This post was meant to be short and to the point – but it has really run away from me. The point of it is to use Paul Howes’ speech as part of a broader critique of the common-sense of the Left in Australia: that some kind of ‘capitalism with a human face’ is possible and that a set of policy options, specifically a jobs plan, could achieve this goal(Žižek 2000, 63). I want to show that Howes’ speech is the truth of such a claim and such a claim is both impossible and undesirable. Simply put such arguments fail to take into account the profound global crisis of capitalism. Thus the future such proponents imagine is a mystification. There is little chance of normality ahead of us, if by normality we mean the relative growth, prosperity and stability of capitalism in Australia post-WWII in both its social democratic and neoliberal forms.


This critique is aimed not only at the mandarins of the ALP nor the cretins of the centre-left commentariat but also at activists and the Far Left who continue to parrot such positions even if they add a radical gloss. There are no greater fools than those supposed anti-capitalists who believe that tailing social democratic illusions is a step on a torturous road to proletarian enlightenment. The truth is such a road never reaches its destination: it’s an endless illusion.


In discussions with comrades the use of various social democratic demands and slogans is often justified by an argument that goes this is where ‘the workers’ are at and we want to connect with ‘the workers’. However to my knowledge there is never any research that actually establishes this is what workers want, no mass investigation, no discussion groups, no militant inquiry: no one ever asks them their thoughts. Rather such an understanding is an assumption built on an ideological image of the working class that exists only in the minds of certain socialists. On the flip side these comrades who are workers themselves sublimate their own rebellious desires whilst hunting this ideological figment.


I also want to be crystal clear. My argument isn’t that we shouldn’t resist sackings, restructuring or privatisations or that we shouldn’t attempt to increase our wages and reduce our work. Far from it. My argument is against the idea that we can organise politically, focused on the state, to coordinate the generation of more employment as part of a return to some form of social democracy. Such a goal is neither possible nor desirable.

Continue reading “The (Ex)Secretary’s Speech: Jobs Plans, Unemployment And Illusions of the Future.”

Living the Dream – HooHa Podcast Work, Workers And Organizing Part 1

Bringing the theme of work back on the political agenda. How? With whom? The answer to the last question seems obvious: with the workers themselves. Getting to know them again, these unknowns. Getting them to speak again, these mutes. Bringing the place of work back into the non-places of today’s politics.(Tronti)



If international developments are any guide, in coming years there will be major social struggles in Australia over these and other issues. Workers would be best served by starting a conversation based around how to secure their collective interests, whether or not they are part of a union. It is a conversation that should not be delayed by the distant hope the existing union movement will solve it by itself.(Humphrys and Tietze 2014)



This is part one of our investigation into our days at work, experiences of work, the various forms of worker self-activity and the positives and negatives of our experiences with unions. We are talking to Michael who works for Qld Rail. You will hear Renee, Tom, Dave & Rob ( and Arlo in the background).  Hopefully you will be able to subscribe via iTunes soon.

Listen to this episode or Download this episode (right click and save)



Humphrys, Elizabeth, and Tad Tietze. 2014. Qantas and Job Losses: The Reality of Union Decline Must Be Faced. theguardian Comment is Free 2014 [cited 22nd March 2014]. Available from

Tronti, Mario. 2012. Politics at Work  [cited 30th December 2012]. Available from

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